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.
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 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.
ANCIENT HISTORY OF THE ISLAND
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)
The Norse (985 AD-1408AD)
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)
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.
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.
Inuit Music on CD
CINEMA OF NAALAKKERSUISUT
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 (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).
In the Alaskan Inuit homeland, several films have focused largely on Inuit, including:
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:
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).
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 Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los 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 Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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