A visit to the Upernavik museum brought us to ‘Edvard’ a young Greenlandic and the local museum curator. Embracing the opportunity to practice his English he enthusiastically spent time sharing the historic art and past of the community and his experiences as a young adult growing up in a Greenland that is shifting from one set of cultural norms to another.
The first building of the museum is dedicated to traditional Greenlandic art. An entire room is filled with the creatures of Greenlandic mythology dating back to well before the Danish arrived in the land. The focus of the art revolves around the challenge of the life of a hunter: Ingnerssuit the underground spirits who weep with the springtime cracking of the ice which ends the winter hunt season; Imap Ukua, mother of the sea who must right the evil deeds of all mankind by releasing the seals that have become bound, thus enabling the hunters’ success; Anguit the spirit and looks like a seal who guides the success of the hunt.
The second building is filled with skins, boats and the tools of the hunt. Seals dominate the display but a walrus and narwal are also on exhibit. The life of a hunter is hard, it is a test of strength, seal against man. Edvard explains that one will lose and it is sometimes the hunter. A choice must be made whether to release the catch or be pulled to their death. It takes physical strength, understanding of the situation and conditions and the ability to judge when to continue and when to let go of the hunt. A hunter is a respected member of the community, there is much to know in being a good hunter.
Here Edvard begins to talk of his own father, born a hunter. For many years he supported his family hunting seal, polar bear and whale. Both Menke & Narwal (monodon monoceros – meaning one horn one tooth) were part of his catches over the years. He loved the life of a hunter and Edvard, his son, was anxious to join in his trips, asking as a young son if he too could go. His father was careful in sharing this hunting life with his son, seeing that change was coming and that the life of a hunter was no longer going to be a way for many of the people. He did not want Edvard to join him in hunting for fear he would like it too much, for he knew that Edvard was born with a hunter’s spirit just as he was himself. He wanted his son to be free to have a different life.
By 2000 Edward’s father’s love for hunting could not continue to sustain their family. The ice season had shortened, and the changes in the ice meant that he could hunt for only 5 or 6 months, not enough to support his family. For musk ox there was a lottery designed to ensure that not too many were taken, while offering a protection for the animal it caused problems for the hunters who depended on their meat and skins. Hunters today must also be fishermen taking advantage of the open water where the ice once filled the bay. That is a hard life.
Edvard’s father now drives a truck in the town hunting only as a hobby, able to join a friend who continues to fish and hunt for a livelihood. The knowledge of where the prey will be, the water depths and currents, all the pieces that are essential to a successful hunter are still valued, but the changed conditions means there is not the ability to support all who once hunted. The changes in the ice are having a direct impact on the Greenlandic people. Perhaps we should turn to the Greenlandic mythological spirits and ask for their help. Where are Anguit and Imap Ukua? Are the Ingerssuit weeping so loudly the other gods can not hear?
Project Information: Dave Porter and Margie Turrin are in northwest Greenland working with local community members to collect water column temperature profiles. The Leveraging Local Knowledge project will work with members of local Greenlandic communities to collect water measurements in the fjords. This will assist in determining if warming Atlantic Ocean water is circulating up through Baffin Bay where it enters the fjords to lap against the frozen glacier footholds, causing them to loosen their hold on the rock below. Alison Glacier (74.37N and 56.08W) is selected as the project focus. Emptying into Melville Bay to the east of Kullorsuaq Island and has been undergoing dramatic change over the last decade.
The project is funded by the Lamont Climate Center with support from the NASA Interdisciplinary Program and logistical support from NSF.