Society / culture / language
Characterised by remoteness
Geographic and climatic conditions prevented East Greenland’s colonialization for a long time. As a result, the Wast Greenlandic people were not influenced by European culture. Until the end of World War II they carried on their traditional nomadic culture, which was based on the hunt of sea and land mammals as well as on tribal meetings for socializing,
storytelling, drum dancing and producing tools and cultural objects from animal bones. In today’s smaller villages, this cultural background still plays an important role. In Tasiilaq there is more of a mixture of traditional and modern culture.
Traditional hunting culture
The meaning of property as understood by Europeans differs from that of the East Greenlandic people. For example, the so-called earth houses, which were built by a family for shelter in the winter, were left behind in summer and could be used in the following winter by any other family. These houses were built with stone and sod after digging into the earth. During summer, the people lived nomadically in tents made from seal skin, which were set up wherever it was convenient for the hunt. Even today the family is the main focus of life. It is a bastion against the months of cold darkness. Families depend totally on one another. The seal is still the basic source of nutrition and the most successful hunters enjoy the best social recognition. The rocky soil enables a rich arctic flora but is not suitable for agriculture.
Confirmation Sunday in Tasiilaq - On festivals the locals proudly wear their colourful costumes.
The word „Kamik“ comes from the Inuktitut language and means “boots.” The Greenlandic Kamiks are made from seal skin and provide the best protection against the freezing cold thanks to the perfectly insulating furs. In historic times this was essential for the hunter’s survival when persevering in extremely low temperature and through heavy storms. The women’s boots were richly adorned and are still popular for festivities. In The Red House you may admire what is possibly Greenland’s largest Kamik collection.
From stone age into modernity
A reconciliation of cultures, between western European society’s foreign values and those of indigenous people, has had to happen over only a few decades. At first sight it seems that at least in the town of Tasiilaq this reconciliation has been successful: the clothing is modern, the supermarket provides products of European origin, and people in the streets still share their open-hearted smiles.
Gedion Qeqe, the well-known carving artist lives and works in Tasiilaq.
His sculptures made of narwhale tooth are unique.
The influence of western European culture does still cause occasional conflicts. The East Greenlandic people still project traditional values. These values continue to live on in their behaviour, their social interactions, their music, and their art, which is still expressed with carvings from animal horns, bones and teeth and pearls. A lifestyle based on traditional values and habits still commands social respect today. Despite all of their challenges, the peoples’ smiles are authentic. The East Greenlandic people are friendly and open minded. Foreigners are truly welcome here.
The drum dancer Anda Kuitse from Kukusuk – the last of his artistry who was born in an ancient earth house. He is an unique talent and was a frequent guest in The Red House.
The drum is dancing, not the shaman.
Varna Marianne Nielsen Apaloo interprets the modern drum dance with west greenlandic influence.
East Greenland’s separation from the rest of Greenland is also expressed in the language: East Greenlandic is a specific language different from West Greenlandic and spoken by only 3500 people in the east part of Greenland. It is a spoken language only, and commonly recognised spelling still does not exist today.
Here you can take a little glimpse into East Greenlandic vocabulary which also might help you to get into contact with the locals during your visit.
If you like to get more and detailed information about Greenland in general and East Greenland specifically we are glad to provide some of our recommendations to you.