Friday night folklore: The Bakki-brothers and the keg

Every nation has stories about fools and simpletons and their antics. The Bakkabræður or "brothers from Bakki" stories are an Icelandic example. In the weeks to come I will be posting one Bakki-brothers story every Friday.

Long ago, on a farm called Bakki in Svarfaðardalur there lived a farmer who had three sons: Gísli, Eiríkur and Helgi. They were famous far and wide for their stupidity and their antics were a source of fun for the neighbours. 

Once, when the brothers were almost grown men they rowed out to sea with their father to do some fishing. The old man was suddenly taken ill so he had to lie down to rest.

They had brought with them a keg of whey mixed with water (a traditional refreshing drink). The old man called out after a while to his sons, asking for the keg. 

Then one of them said: “Gísli-Eiríkur-Helgi (which is what they used to say when one of them spoke to one of the others), our father calls for the keg.”

The second one repeated after the first: “Gísli-Eiríkur-Helgi, our father calls for the keg,” and this was taken up by the third brother. They repeated this over and over until the old man was dead, since none of them understood what he wanted the keg for. Since then it has become a saying “að kalla kútinn” (“to call for the keg”) when someone dies. 

The brothers then headed for land, trussed up the old man’s body and tied it to the back of an old brown mare that had belonged to him and sent the mare off with the body, saying that old Brownie would know where to go. 

Later they found Brownie again but without the body, and so were certain that she had taken the old man where she was supposed to take him, so they didn’t bother to find out what had happened to the body.

They inherited the farm from their father and farmed the land and were called after the farm and were alternatively called the Bakki-brothers or the Bakki-fools. 

Copyright notice: The wording used to tell this folk-tale is under copyright. The story itself is not copyrighted. If you want to re-tell it, for a collection of folk-tales, incorporate it into fiction, use it in a school essay or any kind of publication, please tell it in your own words or give the proper attribution if you choose to use the wording unchanged.


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