What is it, and where did they come from?
A BUEKORPS (literally "Bow Corps" or "Archery Brigade") may, very superficially, be described as groups of boys who take to the streets of Bergen each spring and march to the beat of drums, flying their flags and showing their uniforms. They are a traditional and very popular feature of the Constitution Day celebrations in the City of Bergen on the 17th of May each year.
There is, of course, much more to it than meets the eye, and the citizens of Bergen regard the BUEKORPS movement as being as much part of their home town as are the seven mountains or the rainy weather.
To understand how the BUEKORPS came to be, and why they have existed in their present form for almost a century-and-a-half, it is necessary to have a look at the history of Bergen itself:
Up to the 1880's most Norwegian towns, including Bergen, had their own Citizens' Guards. This was a "Home Defence" force to be called upon in times of crisis, and they had weekly marching exercises on suitable open parade grounds in town. Around 1850, political events in Europe put extra emphasis on the defence capabilities of a young nation, and in Bergen perhaps more than anywhere else in Norway, the growing feeling of a national identity was very strong, indeed.
Although there is evidence that groups of boys imitated their fathers in military-like games perhaps a hundred years earlier than this, defending their own street or home district against "hostile intruders"; the BUEKORPS as we know them today were organized by and for the young boys themselves from 1850 and onwards, in accordance with strict military patterns with Companies, Batallions, Platoons and Troops. The boys elected their own leaders among the oldest, fittest and most popular boys in the street; and made them officers with extensive executive authority.
The movement caught on, and through the years there have been BUEKORPS in several cities and towns in Norway. Only in Bergen, however, has the tradition lived on to this day. Ardent BUEKORPS fans and supporters in Bergen claim that the survivors are those who accept no parental interference with internal affairs; and that the autonomy of the boys' own leadership is what it is all about.
The BUEKORPS movement today
There has been a large number of BUEKORPS in Bergen, today only twelve remain. Among them can be found several of the very first ones to be organized, and therefore have 170 years of un-interrupted history behind them. They all march through the months of March, April and May, and to the un-initiated observer they still have the military character of years gone by. Armed with cross-bows and mock rifles the 9-15 year old soldiers march and exercise to heavy drum-beats and the sharp commands of their elected officers in their late teens.
Parading, of course, still is a significant feature of their activity, but is now the only remnant of the original war-and-defence game of the founders. More and more, other events that would be expected in any organized group of young boys become increasingly important in the short "marching season" as well as off-season. Sports, notably soccer and athletics play a very important role, as do excursions and meetings, social evenings, members' newsletters etc. Old boys' societies have been formed, and on very special occasions the Veterans march with their old brigades.
Recognizing the folkloristic value of the BUEKORPS, the local authorities and the tourist organizations make use of show platoons and drum beaters (some of whom are brilliant drummers) to underline the very special, living traditions of Bergen.
The Buekorps Museum
The Buekorps Museum is a private museum, established in 1977. It is devoted to the preservation of history, literature and objects of historical interest from the BUEKORPS traditions in Bergen and elsewhere. The Museum's locality is in the building "Muren" (wall gate), an old stone building downtown Bergen from 1562.
Already, about a hundred BUEKORPS have come and gone and, particularly during WW II, invaluable historical matter have been lost. Much more than just an expression of children’s play "somewhere in Norway", the BUEKORPS movement is now regarded as an important expression of a sociological phenomenon completely devoid of political undertones or the class distinctions of adult society.
Consequently, the aim of this museum is to contribute towards the BUEKORPS movement's continued existence, through an increased awareness of its historical significance.
The Museum administers a large collection of items, of which the present exhibition shows only a small part.
The first room in the Museum gives some of the historical background, and also shows some humorous caricatures. Here is also a map which identifies the present twelve BUEKORPS and their home districts in Bergen.
In the next room, a large exhibit of various medals of honour takes the floor, while the pictures on the walls show glimpses from various activities and epochs.
The third room is dedicated to alternating exhibitions of various topics. Here, the BUEKORPS themselves may show samples from their archives, or the Museum may show some special collection of e.g. flags, books, posters etc.