The district of Namdalen is located in Nord-Trøndelag County in the middle of Norway. From this area, two large market places from the late Middle Ages are known: One was located in Nærøya in Nærøy Municipality, and the other was located in Melen on the northern side of the ‘river queen’ Namsen. The market was named the Mela Market and it became the largest and most important of the two markets.
Traditionally, the Mela Market was held in October. Farmers, craftsmen and fishermen arrived from distant rural areas, from the city of Trondheim – as well as the Jämtland County in Sweden – to buy and exchange goods. It is uncertain when the market was established, but the oldest written evidence is dating back from 1642. Historians assume that the market has existed from the 1500’s.
The market place had many functions. Not only was people buying and selling goods, but it was also a place for amusement. For many people in Namdalen, the Mela Market was one of the major festivals of the year. It also represented a new and unfamiliar world: Inside the circus tents people could watch monkeys, elephants, snakes, sword swallowers, jugglers, knife throwers and ventriloquists. Traditional refreshments could be purchased from local cake-wives and in so-called ‘Sodd-tents’ (Sodd is a traditional soup-like dish from Trøndelag consisting of potatoes, carrots and small meatballs). The dance lounges were also a meeting place for young people where many found their future wives and husbands.
Abel Margrethe Hammond Holst Meyer was the closest related person to the Mela Market. Born in Trondheim in 1706, she moved as a young woman to Melen together with her first husband. Mrs. Meyer was widowed and owned farms throughout the whole of Namdalen. She was considered the richest and most powerful woman in the district. As a landlady, she demanded rent for stalls and tents, and the income was a large contribution to her famous prosperity and wealth. After Mrs. Meyer’s death in 1787, the sales sum of her estate brought close to 42,000 Riksdaler (about 35,000 dollars) – an unimaginable sum at that time.
People from coastal areas and from Trondheim arrived at the market in ‘fembøringer’ (traditional longboats), sloops and other large vessels – rowing up the Namsen River. The river has some challenging streams which make it difficult to cross by boat, and those who came from the north had made their own type of vessel; ‘Lafaren’. Archeologists have found several boats of this type in burial mounds alongside the river, some are dating back to around 600-800 ad. These types of boats were in use until the early 1900’s, and were important when it came to transportation of goods and personnel.
These earliest markets offered butter, cheese, tallow, hops, textiles, turnips, flour, grain, fish and cod liver oil. One hundred years later, the sample grew larger and included a number of imported goods from merchants in Trondheim: Ironwork, steel, glass, and of course modern groceries was offered – such as sugar, coffee, tobacco and liquor. Suits, coats, gowns and finer fabrics like cotton and silk were also for sale. Even musical instruments could be bought at the Mela Market. A common gesture was to buy a gift for those back home.
In the 1850’s, when the market was at its peak, it could be up to 18 large sloops out on the Namsen River. A few years later, the first steamboats arrived at Melen. In 1878, it was decided that the market had to close down due to economic problems – and in 1881, the last market was held.
Today, the old tradition is re-introduced. In October every second year, the Mela Market is held and locals dress up in contemporary clothing from the late 1700’s. The market offers local foods and handcrafts, in addition to farm activities, exhibitions, competitions and heritage trails.
The next Mela Market will be held in October 2014.
Text and photos by: Anette Broteng Christiansen, ThorNews