Greenland –> Naalakkersuisut – and Inuit cinema and music


Though Greenland has been home-ruled since 1979, on 21 June 2009, the Danish government made steps toward granting Greenland full independence. In a 2008 referendum, 76% of the 58,000 residents of the sparsely populated island voted for self-rule and the Danish government has been handing over control of services to the local government and making symbolic changes, like changing the official language to Kalaallisut (the Inuit language of most Greenlanders) and renaming the country Naalakkersuisut.

Satellite image of North America


Every schoolchild has at least a vague awareness of Greenland, that conspicuously white island (decidedly not green) near the top of most globes. According to Eiríks saga rauða (the saga of Eric the Red) and Íslendingabók (the book of Icelanders), the name was chosen to attract settlement by promoting Greenland as an attractive place to live.


Although part of the North American Tectonic plate, Eurocentric models of North American discovery either credit Columbus or Bjarni Herjólfsson with discovering the New World when they sighted the Caribbean and Canada, respectively. As Wikipedia‘s entry on the Norwegian explorer states, “Bjarni is believed to be the first European to see North America,” which he did in the summer of 986 on the way to visit his parents in Greenland, and island which is itself part of North America. So Europeans (including Herjólfsson’s parents) had already “discovered” Greenland, although many before have quite reasonably questioned one’s ability to discover something already known for thousands of years to many people.

Nares Strait between Nunavut and Naalakkersuisut  Naalakkersuisut the Norwegian Sea and Denmark

Although Naalakkersuisut is economically and geographically closer to the Inuit state of Nunavut (separated only by the narrow Nares Strait), it is nonetheless still viewed by many as a remote corner of Europe. Now, with moves toward independence and changes that reflect its Inuit majority, that all may begin to change.



Independence I site

The Saqqaq Culture (2500 BCE to 800 BCE) and the Independence I Culture (2400 BCE to 1300 BCE)

The story of Naalakkersuisut’s settlement involves successive waves of people who came and went until the arrival of the proto-Inuit Thule people, who’ve been there ever since. The first inhabitants, referred to as the Saqqaq Culture, are mostly known of due to the discovery of their stone tools and harpoon heads and other traces of their settlement in the western part of the country. No one knows why they disappeared, but conditions on Naalakkersuisut have always been pretty severe, with most of the island an uninhabited arctic desert, and it’s believed that it got colder around the time of their disappearance. The Saqqaq culture was joined by the Independence I culture which existed in the northeast part of the country. Though they arrived later than the Saqqaq Culture, they disappeared before them too, leaving behind large mammal bones, walrus bone artifacts and other remnants of their settlements.

The Independence II & Dorset Culture(s) (800 BCE-1500AD)

Dorset artifacts

The Greenlandic Dorset came as the Saqqaq culture was disappearing and its people lived in a much more extensive coastal territory, building long-houses and hunting with quartz blades. Although historically viewed as separate from the intermediate Independence II Culture in the north, recent finds have suggested a greater continuity. The Dorset Culture were probably one of possibly several peoples referred to by the Vikings as the Skraelings. The Vikings thought of the Skraelings as separate from humans and more like trolls and described them as ill-favored little people who used whale teeth and sharp stone tools, who had ugly hair, large eyes and were broad in the cheeks. Nonetheless, it was the Skraelings (although possibly a different people) who summarily destroyed the Vikings’ colonies in Vinland.

The Norse (985 AD-1408AD)

Hvalsey Fjord Church Norse Greenland

When the Norse arrived in Naalakkersuisut, the once extensive Dorset people had already abandoned the southern portion of their realm and the Vikings settled there. Unlike the previous inhabitants, the Vikings weren’t at all self-sufficient and relied on trading local products with Europe in exchange for timber, iron and other goods. During the Little Ice Age, the Vikings lost contact with Europe. When contact was reestablished, the Vikings were gone.

The Thule & Inuit (1200 AD-present)


Thule House
The proto-Inuit Thule Culture first arose in Alaska around 1000 AD. Employing superior technology (like dog-drawn sleds) and bow & arrows, they quickly expanded over the next two centuries, arriving in Naalakkersuisut around 1200. At apparent odds with the Viking accounts of the Dorset Culture, the Thule described the the Sivullirmiut (first inhabitants) as giants… albeit giants that were easily driven out of their homeland by the Thule.


Greenlandic music can generally be divided into two camps, Danish and Inuit. The largest label is the tiny ULO in tiny Sisimiut, which releases rock, pop, rap and traditional Inuit music. Inuit Greenlandic traditional music, not surprisingly, shares many characteristics with their Inuit cousins to the west in Nunavut and Alaska and is comprised of three main genres.

Drum Dances

Drumdances are a frequently competitive form of music in which, to the beat of a bear bladder drum, contestants insult and make fun of one another, trying to get bigger laughs than the opponent out of the audience. Other times drumdances are performed solo by shamen.



Piseq are more along the lines of most folk music, ancient songs passed down through the centuries and told with a more personal bent.


In Naalakkersuisut, throat-singing is done only by females, much as in the tradition of the distantly-related Ainu of Japan and Sakhalin. The music is a form of game in which two competitors try to elicit laughter by imitating animal noises and other techniques.

Tanya Tagaq Gillis  Susan Aglukark   Inuit - fifty-five historical recordings

Inuit Music on CD
The filing of Inuit music at the Hollywood Amoeba perhaps reflects some of the confusion and lack of awareness about these Native American peoples and it can be hard to find. Tanya Tagaq Gillis, an Inuk singer from Ikaluktuutiak, Nunavut, has her music filed in the Icelandic section (although Inuit have no historical presence there). On the other hand, fellow Inuk singer Susan Aglukark is filed in folk. The Greenland section (not yet re-named Naalakkersuisut) is located within the larger section of Europe, despite all Inuit regions being in North America. At the time of writing, there were only two CDs filed in the Greenland section. One was a collection a collection of Evenk music. Evenkia, for the record, is a nation in North Asia. The other CD is called Inuit — Fifty-Five Historical Recordings and features recordings from wax cylinder’s dawn in 1905 all the way up to 1987. It provides a fascinating listen and even the earliest recordings have surprisingly good sound quality.



Although not exactly Bollywood, there have been several films made and/or filmed in Naalakkersuisut over the years, including:

s.o.s. isberg  Qaamarngup uummataa  Le Voyage d'Inuk

S.O.S. Isberg
(1933), Nâlagkersuissut okarput tássagôk (1973), Narsaq – ung by i Grønland (1979), Uuttoq – Kaali på sælfangst (1985), Qaamarngup uummataa (1998), Godnat – Sinilluarit (1999) and Le Voyage d’Inuk (2009).



Nunavut has produced, on the whole, more widley accessible films and better known Inuit films including:

Nanook of the North  Atanarjuat  The Snow Walker  The Journals of Knud Rasmussen  Ce qu'il faut pour vivre   Le jour avant le lendemain

Nanook of the North (1922), The White Dawn (1974), Atanarjuat (2001), The Snow Walker (2003), The Journals of Knud Rasmussen (2006), Ce qu’il faut pour vivre (2008) and Le jour avant le lendemain (2008).

Inuit Alaska

In the Alaskan Inuit homeland, several films have focused largely on Inuit, including:


Igloo 1932  Eskimo 1933  Never Cry Wolf  On Deadly Ground
Igloo (1932), Eskimo (1933), Red Snow (1952), Snow Bear (1970), Never Cry Wolf (1983) and On Deadly Ground (1994), Sikumi (2008)


If you’re in the mood for less authentic representations of Inuit, you could check out these films in which mostly white and Asian actors (or cartoon characters) portray Inuk characters:

Frozen Justice Sin Sister Girl From God's Country The Savage Innocents
Map of the Human Heart Smilla's Sense of Snow Far North Shadow of the Wolf North Star


Little Pal (1915), Justice of the Far North (1925), Frozen Justice (1929), Sin Sister (1929), Man of Two Worlds (1934), Girl from God’s Country (1940), The Savage Innocents (1959), Legend of Amaluk (1971), Electric Eskimo (1979), Seabert — The Adventure Begins (1987), Map of the Human Heart (1993), Smilla’s Sense of Snow (1996), Mama, Do You Love Me? (1999), Inuk (2001), Far North (2007), Shadow of the Wolf (1992) and North Star (1996).

There are also several documentaries about Inuit throughout their various homelands, including:
Edge of Ice: Polar Ecosystem and Inuit Culture, The Great North, Baked Alaska, Arctic Dreamer: The Lonely Quest of Vilhjalmur Stefansson, The Complete Alaska, Grønland, In the Footsteps of the Inuit: The History of Nunavik, Mother, The Living Edens: Arctic Oasis — Canada’s Southhampton Island, The Year of the Hunter: The Story of Nanook, Knud, If the Weather Permits, Seeking the Way: The Hockey Journey of the Tootoo Brothers, Broken Promises: The High Arctic Relocation, Inuuvunga, The Prize of the Pole and The Ultimate Kings of Thule.


Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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