Inuit – the population and culture in Greenland
For millennia, Greenlanders has lived under extreme Arctic living conditions. It is reflected in language, culture, and social conditions.
Immigration to Greenland has happened in waves. Simply put, we count four waves, mainly Inuit from the west and European immigration from the east. Approximately 4,500 years ago, the first Inuit came to the country. It was the Saqqaq culture. The Dorset culture followed approximately 2,500 years ago.
Large parts of the present Greenlandic population are descendants of the Thule culture, which came to the country approximately 1,000-1,100 years ago. Finally, there is the Norse immigration between 982 and 1500, and the immigration that followed after Hans Egede arrived here in 1921.
Inuit culture in Greenland
A trip to Greenland will certainly give you an insight into the Greenlandic culture and a warm and welcoming population who have lived off and in the Arctic nature for many centuries. Greenland’s historical roots are based on a mixture of different peoples’ adaptations to life in the Arctic over the centuries.
The population today
Spread out on a coast that is as long as most of Europe, you find fewer people than what would fit into a medium-sized football stadium elsewhere. This vast community is affected by nature’s whims to such an extent that the Greenlanders usually shrug if the weather forces them to change plans or wait for days.
Approximately 56,500 people live in Greenland today. You will find approximately 48,000 of them in 16 towns and the remaining 8,500 in the country’s 60 settlements. About 89 % of the population is born in Greenland, while 11 % have immigrated from Denmark or other countries. 90 % of Greenland’s population lives on the south and west coast of the island, from Nanortalik in the south to Upernavik in the north. Greenland’s capital is Nuuk with approximately 17,500 inhabitants. The other major towns in Greenland are Sisimiut, Ilulissat, and Qaqortoq.
The Greenlandic language
Greenland is named Kalaallit Nunaat in Greenlandic, which means the Country of the Greenlanders. You also sometimes hear Inuit Nunaat, which means the Country of Man.
The mother tongue in Greenland is Greenlandic, with Danish as the second language. Greenlandic, Kalaallisut, is closely related to the languages spoken by Inuit in Canada and especially in Alaska. In Greenland, you will find three main dialects; one in the north, one in the east, and finally the West Greenlandic dialect, which forms the basis for the Greenlandic spelling.
Many people speak Danish and English, especially in the tourism industry. However, you cannot count on everyone speaking foreign languages. In these situations, you can get far with gestures and smiles and maybe get some help from people around you.
Greenland has always attracted adventurers from all over the world, and you and those who came before you are welcomed by a people of pioneers who show the way and build bridges between traditions and modern life. The Greenlanders are a hospitable and energetic people, who through generations have lived from what nature gave them. The greatness of nature instills an admirable calm in the minds of the people and a respect for the elements.
Today, conditions are not as incomprehensibly harsh as before, and Greenlanders do not live in peat huts or igloos. Today, Greenland is a modern society. It may sound boring, but it is not. The climate, the cultural history, the flora, the fauna, the light, the sounds, the landscapes, the language and, not least, the Greenlanders themselves as a population, create a society that gives a unique edge to life in Greenland.
You will find that the traditions and the original hunting and fishing culture continue to live relatively unspoiled in the small settlements and some towns. A lot of Greenlanders have an everyday rhythm, where, in one moment, they sit in an office, and, in the next moment, they find themselves in a dinghy on their way to adventures in a nearby fjord.
Read more about the food in Greenland. / coming soon
Immigration to Greenland
Immigration to Greenland has happened in waves. Simply put, we speak of four waves. There are those of Inuit descent from the west and the European immigration from the east. About 4,500 years ago, the first Inuit came to the country. They were named the Saqqaq culture. The Dorset culture followed from the west approximately 2,500 years ago. Large parts of the present Greenlandic population are descendants of the Thule culture, which came to the country approximately 1,000-1,100 years ago.
The first two major immigration waves of Inuit people were paleo-Eskimos, who had their primary life on the tundra in search of reindeer, musk, etc. The people of the Thule culture were neo-Eskimos who based their lives on the capture of marine animals.
Almost simultaneously with the arrival of the Thule people, the Norse came from Iceland and settled in lush South Greenland. Throughout their 500 years in Greenland, they build farms from the southern tip of Greenland and up to the Nuuk fjord.
In 1721, pastor Hans Egede came to Greenland and made Greenland a Danish colony. At the same time, he Christianized the Greenlandic population, and, today, the country is a Lutheran society.
The Greenlandic identity is changing
Life in Greenland has always been in transition. From the first waves of immigration to today’s cultural diversity and movement towards independence, for the most part, the country has been characterized by people who have taken control of their destinies.
These years, we discuss what Greenlandic identity really is, especially in a society that has to accommodate very different lifestyles over large geographical and social distances. Most Greenlanders try to meet each other in spite of differences, and this characterizes everyday life, which you clearly feel when you visit the country.
Experience life in small settlements
No matter where you are in Greenland, you will see that the traditional hunter’s culture lives side by side with a state-of-the-art modern society. However, in the smaller settlements, you will get a better sense of what it means to live in harmony with nature in a small, isolated community. Here, you will see that the dog sleds are ready for winter, fish are dried on racks, and the hunters’ gear is ready for fishing and hunting.
Dog sledding with locals
If you choose to go dog sled riding in Greenland, you will be greeted by a local driver who knows his dogs and the area inside and out. Greenland is not touristy as such. You will find that you are met by a human being and not a guide whose sole job is to take tourists on excursions. The local drivers do not necessarily speak English, but using short sentences, laughter, and body language, think of this as part of an authentic experience.
Coffee in a private home
In several towns in Greenland, you can go to a so-called “Kaffemik,” a get-together with coffee, with a local family or a women’s organization. This is a variation on the typical kaffemiks of Greenland. As a traveler, it is a great opportunity to talk to the locals and hear about life in Greenland and exchange experiences and, not least, laugh together.
A traditional kaffemik is an “open house” with coffee, tea, and lots of cake. People come and go, and they make sure not to overstay their welcome, as people literally come and go all day. At the end of the day, dozens and dozens – if not hundreds – of people have dropped by.
Worship and Christianity
Christianity is our main religion. Actually, it is a state religion, and in all towns and villages, you will find a church. There is a service on Sundays, and if you are lucky, you may experience confirmation, a baptism, or a wedding. On such occasions, people are often dressed in the national costume. You are welcome to enter the church at these services. Remember to ask nicely if you would like to take a picture.
Greenland’s National Day is June 21
If you are in Greenland on June 21, you can look forward to happy celebrations. National Day is celebrated throughout the country by Greenlanders, often wearing national costumes at parades and services. In many places, you will find an open house with a Greenlandic buffet. If the weather allows for it, these celebrations are held outdoors.
Popular trips to Greenland
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Summer impressions in Greenland
Jul 2021 - Aug 2021
| 8 days
| 7 nights
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All in one: The grand tour of Greenland from south to north
Jul 2021 - Aug 2021
| 15 days
| 14 nights
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