Dancing With The Devil
The hambo is a traditional dance with origin in the 19th century. It is a couple dance in ¾ time; the music has a strong accent on the first beat and a tempo that varies from moderate to fast (100 to 120 beats per minute).
The hambo is a dance with a fixed pattern and tunes almost always have a corresponding eight measure structure. The name “hambo” is derived from the name of the parish Hanebo, where the dance is said to have originated.
In the province of Hälsingland, about 300 km north of Stockholm, in the parish of Hanebo, lies the small village Hårga at the foot of a steep and rocky mountain, Hårgaberget, i.e. Hårga Hill or Hårga Mountain.
Twenty thousand years ago, the mountain and the entire landscape was covered by a huge continental glacier, which, like glaciers always do, was sliding towards warmer regions, scraping and polishing the bedrock. When the ice, another ten thousand years later, finally receded from the rocky landscape, it left the top of Hårgaberget polished and flat as a tabletop.
This unusually shaped mountain, with its flat top and wide view in all directions, has of course attracted people in all times, and even if there are no signs left on the flat rock face, we can imagine that it has been a place for ceremonies, rituals and celebrations for many thousand years. And there are old legends that talk about bloody sacrifices, of animals, slaves and prisoners.
But even if the rock face bears no sign, it has made its mark in people’s minds: there is a dark age-old tale about what once happened on the mountain. The first known written version of this tale is dated 1785, written by the then vicar in Hanebo, but the core of the legend is probably much older.
Long time ago, in the evenings of early summer, when haymows and barns were empty, awaiting the upcoming harvest, people used to sweep the barn floors and arrange dancing nights, called logdans (~ haymow dance).
On a Saturday evening many, many years ago, a number of young men and women had gathered for logdans in Hårga. The dancing had been going on for several hours, and the short midsummer night was giving away for the light of dawn.
Suddenly the door opened and an unknown fiddler entered, wearing a long coat and a wide-brimmed hat. He began playing a wild tune that grabbed the dancing youngsters and gave them new force and energy. The fiddler’s eyes were like burning coals under the brim of the hat, and his pointed goatee beard wagged up and down as he played.
The music went on incessantly, and the dance became wilder than ever. The fiddler led the procession of young dancers out through the neighbourhood, ”out through doors and in through windows”, over hills and meadows, up to Hårgaberget.
It was Sunday morning, and the church bells were ringing, summoning people to church service, but the dancers didn’t hear, couldn’t stop dancing.
Only one person, a girl, heard the bells and threw herself down. Lying on the floor she noticed that the fiddler had cloven hooves under his long coat! She tried to warn the others, but no one listened, and she was left alone lying on the barn floor when the dancers went on dancing up the hill.
Another version of the tale says that a boy, seeing the cloven hoof, tried to stop the happening by hacking his knife into a doorpost – goblins, ghosts and devils are said to be afraid of steel – only to find that his arm, still holding the knife, was torn off.
The dance never stopped. The youngsters kept on dancing on the flat hilltop in Hårga; they wore out not only their shoes, but their feet, the flesh from their bodies, and the bones in their skeletons. In the end, there was nothing left but a number of skulls rattling around in a circle on the flat rock face.
There’s still a circular pattern visible on the mountain top. The tale says that on dark and cloudy Saturday nights you can see shadow-like, restless souls dancing on the flat mountain top.
Hälsingehambon is a Hambo Dancing Contest (claiming to be the Hambo World Championship) which is held in Hårga every year in July.
The tale about dancing with the devil is retold in a song, Hårgalåten (the Hårga tune), which is a hambo. The hambo dance tunes, in ¾ time with a strong accent on the first beat, is rather catching, even to people like me who don’t practise folk dance or aren’t particularly fond of it.
The Hårgalåten tune is popular and there are numerous recordings. You can hear one version here:
(Sung by Sandra Dahlberg, accompanied on guitar. Pretty, sounds romantic, but really totally wrong: it should be a fiddle in higher tempo, arranged so as to reproduce the horror of the text. But as said – it’s pretty. )The Swedish original lyrics are rendered below, in parallel to my flatfooted translation; it doesn’t rhyme, it doesn’t follow any previously known metre, but…
(For those not familiar with the Swedish alphabet: the letter ”å” looks like an ”a” with a ball on top, and it is pronounced like the ”a” in the word ”ball”. Easy to remember, isn’t it?)
|HårgalåtenSpelmannen drog fiol ur lådan
och lyfte stråken högt mot söndagssolens kula.
Då blev det fart på Hårgafolket,
de glömde Gud och hela världen
Dansen gick på äng och backar,
Varifrån kommer du som spelar,
Klockorna hade ringt i dalen,
Dansen gick till Hårgalåten,
Hejda din stråke spelman innan,
|The Hårga Tune
Fiddler took the fiddle from its casing
lifted bow to greet the dawning Sunday sun
In Hårga village people started bustling
Once was God and all the world forgottenDance, they did over hills and meadows
to the crest of Hårga ?mountain
Soles and heels ?they soon wore out
Since the dance? could not be stopped
Wherefrom are you, amazing fiddler
The bells were ringing in the valley,
They swirled and danced to Hårgalåten
Fiddler, hold your bow? before