Greenland Peoples

The Greenlandic Inuit, Kalaallit (pronounced kalaallit) are an Eskimo people, the indigenous people of Greenland. In 2016, the Eskimo population of Greenland was about 44,000 people. Another 15,000 Greenlandic Inuit lived in Denmark.


Greenland woman

The Inuit of Greenland are descendants of the archaeological culture of Thule, who came to Greenland through the Canadian Arctic archipelago in the XIII century. At that time, Greenland was inhabited by Paleo-Eskimos, representatives of the archaeological culture of Dorset, and the Normans, natives of neighboring Iceland. The arrival of the Inuit led to the disappearance of the Dorset culture, and geneticists found that the Inuit did not assimilate their predecessors. In the XIV century. Inuit attacks on Norman settlements were recorded twice in writing, but the role of the Inuit in the disappearance of the Greenlandic European colony has not been definitively clarified. By the end of the XV century. the Inuit remained the only inhabitants of the world’s largest island. The movement of the Inuit from Canada to Greenland lasted until 1864.

From the end of the XVI century. sea ​​waters south of Greenland were visited by European pirates, explorers and whalers, who sometimes came into contact with the local population. Formally, the right to own Greenland belonged to Denmark. However, it was not until 1721 that the Norwegian Lutheran missionary Hans Egede persuaded the royal authorities to send a mission there. As a result, a Lutheran diocese based in Gothab was established in southern Greenland, spreading European culture and education.

Greenland children
Greenland children

The real interest in the colonization of Greenland arose only after the Kiel Peace Treaty of 1814, when the territory of the island was finally secured for Denmark. In the XIX – early XX centuries. Greenland was visited by a number of scientific expeditions, which, along with geographical research, studied the culture and language of the Inuit, imitating their experience of survival in the difficult Arctic. Danish missionaries translated the Bible into the Kalaallisut language. From 1861 the mass media were published on it. In 1859, the Greenlandic Inuit formally received equal rights with the citizens of Denmark. But for a long time they could only be used by the inhabitants of a small part of Greenland, where the influence of the Lutheran Church and the Danish administration spread.

After World War II, Greenland was actively developed by the US military, 2 military bases were built here, commercial fishing began to develop, Danish entrepreneurs became interested in local mountain resources. The development of the post-war economy and the gradual urbanization on the one hand contributed to the improvement of Inuit living conditions, but the most promising positions were distributed among Danish and foreign specialists. This stimulated the Greenland independence movement. In 1979, autonomy was proclaimed, in which the Greenlandic language became official. In 1980, the Inuit Polar Council was founded, the largest non-governmental organization involved in the development of various aspects of the life of the Greenlandic Inuit, as well as the coordination of joint actions with the Eskimos of Canada and the United States.

Traditional culture

Inuit woman carrying her child
Inuit woman carrying her child

Greenlandic Inuit are divided into 3 main groups:

  • The Inuit of West Greenland, who make up the vast majority
  • Subpolar Inuit – a small group of inhabitants of northwestern and northern Greenland, with whom European researchers established contact only in 1818.
  • Inuit of East Greenland

The main occupations of all three groups were hunting and fishing, with hunting whales and pinnipeds being paramount. In western Greenland, Inuit whaling was already in the XIX century. acquired a commercial character. Subpolar Inuit hunted pinnipeds more often. In eastern Greenland, where terrestrial and marine animals were scarce, fishing predominated. Along with this, Greenlandic Inuit hunted caribou, bulls, polar bears, foxes, hares and others. In summer they caught birds and collected eggs. Harpoons with a movable top were used for hunting sea animals. Whales were hunted from kayaks – light frame boats covered with animal skins. Whale harpoons were attached to floats that did not allow the injured animal to go under water. Birds were caught with nets. Transportation took place in kayaks by sea, on sledges, which were pulled by themselves or with the help of dogs. In winter they used snowshoes.

The dog was actually the only pet. In Greenland, the local breed is common, which differs from the Canadian Inuit dogs in light weight and greater growth, endurance and aggression. Nowadays, the Greenlandic government bans the import of other breeds. The Inuit used dogs predominantly as a vehicle, valuing their dignity. But eating dog meat was considered normal.

In the early period of the Tula culture, large settlements predominated. The Inuit built so-called long dugout huts on a stone platform covered with skins. The frame of the huts was made of wood fin and whalebone. In the early parking lots, male huts of qasse are singled out. Since the XVII century. seasonal and permanent relocations were observed, which led to the fragmentation of large settlements. In the summer, families usually left the dugouts as thawed water accumulated there, and moved to camps from tents. Such summer camps could have from one family tent to several. Sometimes families from different winter settlements stayed in summer camps.

Traditional clothing was made of leather. Men’s and women’s clothing included furs, pants and boots. Women were engaged in making clothes. The Inuit even had a saying: “A man is what his wife does.” From the XVII – XVIII centuries. European fabrics were used for tailoring. At the same time began to use glass necklaces, which adorned women’s clothing. Modern folk costumes include both traditional leather clothing and borrowed items from fabrics and glass.

greenlanders inuit boot glacier
greenlanders inuit boot glacier

From the middle of the XIX century. small nuclear families predominated, however the system of close kinship of ilaqutariit which included relatives and cousins ​​of several generations on a man’s and female line remained. Family ties played a very significant role in the relationship between the inhabitants of one settlement and entire localities. They prevented possible hostile clashes and regulated the management of the community. Residents of a certain area enjoyed the right of joint ownership of natural resources, there was neighborly and family mutual assistance. Older people have always enjoyed considerable respect. There was a custom of suicide during an incurable disease, famine or other circumstances. Even today, Greenland has a high per capita suicide rate.

Inuit have a rich oral folklore – tales, myths, legends, fables. In the past, drum dances were performed for religious purposes. After the adoption of Christianity, they were banned and revived only in the late twentieth century. In western Greenland, the Christian community developed a tradition of choral singing. Greenlandic Inuit are excellent carvers. Small bone sculptures of animals and people are in great demand.


peoples greenland culture
peoples greenland culture

The ancient religious beliefs of the Greenlandic Inuit were based on the belief in the existence of many spirits of nature. Man was considered only a part of the general world. Even after Christianization, belief in magic and protective magical rites persisted. Old people who practiced shamanism treated the sick and wounded.

Since the XVIII century. Lutheranism was actively spreading in Greenland. Today, most believers belong to the Lutheran Church.


Greenlandic Eskimos speak 3 main languages:

  • kalaalisut, or West Greenlandic
  • tunumuiit, or East Greenlandic
  • Inuktun is the language of the polar Eskimos of northwestern and northern Greenland

Only the Kalaalisut is official, although Greenlandic laws do not prohibit local authorities from using other languages in official documents.


The despair of Greenland’s Inuit youth

Old film of inuit from East Greenland

We Are What We Eat: Greenland

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