Greenland is the world’s largest island with
approximately 75% covered by ice. It measures 2600 km from north to south
and has an arctic climate with below 10°C in the warmest month. Protected fjords in South Greenland have subarctic conditions. The
landscape is characterized by mountains, valleys, rivers and fjords; important game animals are caribou, muskox and, in the past, also polar
bears; the marine fauna includes seals, walrus, whales as well as fish.
First inhabitants of Greenland were the Paleo-Inuit (2500 BC-1100 AD), rooted in
Stone Age cultures of North-eastern Siberia. The Paleo-Inuit were not
directly related to the later Inuit culture, and they had already left
Greenland, except for the North-west region, when the Thule people
Before the Thule culture, the Viking Norse established two
settlements in Southern Greenland, around 1000 CE. They belonged to
the Nordic farming and trading culture, and disappeared from
Greenland in the mid-15th
century, probably due to collapsing networks.
Contemporary Inuit Greenlanders are descendants of the whale hunting Inuit Thule
culture, which originated in Alaska and spread from there to Northern
Greenland around 1200 CE. During the following centuries, using big
skin boats, kayaks, and dog sledges, they made their camps all
around the coast of Greenland. Culturally, close ties
to the Inuit of Canada and Alaska are maintained, sharing the same
heritage of traditional myths and worldviews.
In 1721 a Danish/Norwegian priest set out to find the successors of the
Norse in Greenland. Instead, he found the Inuit, and he started a
mission among them. Later Greenland became a Danish colony, gaining home rule in 1979 and autonomy in 2009 but is still part of the
commonwealth with Denmark and Faeroe Islands. Human population is
The Inuit were hunters, primarily of sea mammals.
They knew all details of the animal interior from cutting up the
killed body for use. They used flesh, heart, liver, blubber, skin,
guts, and bones for food, clothing, heating (the blubber), tents,
boat covers, tools and utensils.
The interior of human bodies was considered and known to be identical, if
only cut up in case of murder. In that event the pieces were widely
spread, and a part of the liver eaten by the murder(s) in order to
prevent the soul from avenge. Thus, the interior of the human body
was no mystery, if invisible to the ordinary eye in daily life.
Only shamans, who “could see what was invisible to others” and in
possession of an inner light, qaamaneq, were, when in trance able to
look into another person’s body as well as into “the Other World”
of the spirits and dead humans.
Among the guts, the lungs were indispensable to all live beings. Breath was
the sign of life, its disappearance of death. The Lung-Eater living
in a star close to Moon lived from the lungs of dead humans going to
the heavenly realms of death, one in heaven, the other below the sea.
Breathing was indispensable to the animals as well. Thus, the sea
mammals living mostly in the invisible, airless other world of the
sea had to surface at intervals into this world for a breath. In
both this and the other world aggressive animals and spirits were
feared. The rare birth in its caul, a pooq, made the child immune to
aggressive beings, protected as it was in the pooq, meaning “mother”
in the language of the Other World. The gutskin- anorak had a similar
effect in both ritual and myth.