Approximately 5000 years ago the first arctic peoples migrated to Greenland from North America. This migration is termed the Independence I Culture and they travelled north east by land. 2000 years later around 1000 BC, another wave of people known as the Independence II Culture moved in over the northernmost Greenland which is also characterized as the earliest phase of the Dorset Culture. The Saqqaq Culture entered Greenland simultaneously with the Independence II Culture and they wandered south along the west coast towards.
Around the time of Christ’s birth the coasts of Greenland were occupied by a people which in many ways seemed Indian and they were the bearers of the Dorset Culture. We have a saga titled “Anngannguu- junnguaq” which tells of a boy who was kidnapped by Tunersuit (the Dorset people). According to the saga these people were great inland people who spoke a form of baby talk. The last migration of Inuit took place around 1250. This migration, the Thule People, whos members are the forfathers of modern Greenlanders, came from Canada – primarily as whale hunters using skin boats, kajaks and dog sledges.
Inuit from Canada were, however, not the only people that established themselves in Greenland. We were visited by Nordic Vikings. In the year 982, the Nordic born Erik the Red, who was banished because of a murder committed in Iceland, sailed to Greenland. A few years later he established a settlement along with other Icelanders in the souther portion of Greenland. The Nordic settlers remained in Greenland for about 500 years and disappeared under uncertain circumstances. The best maintained ruin from the time of the Nordic settlers is located in Hvalsey in the municipality of Qaqortoq and has now been restored just as Tjodhildurs Church in Qassiarsuk, then called Brattahlid.
In the 1700s and 1800s, Greenland was invaded by whale hunters from Europe. Whale hunting was practiced in a big way in order to obtain enough oil for Europe’s lamps and whale bard was used as stiffeners for women’s gowns, amongst other applications. The popular so-called Greenlandic dance is a holdover from the time of the whale hunters.
In the year 1721, yet another Norman came to Greenland. It was the priest Hans Egede who attempted to re-Christianize the Normen but they had disappeared. Instead, he found the Greenlanders who thus became the object of his missionary work for Christianity. After several years on Hope’s Island, Hans Egede moved to the mainland and established the colony Godtháb. Here he continued his missionary work along with his merchant occupations. Thus began the colonization of Greenland. In 1733, King Christian the Sixth sent him three Moravian Brotherhood (Hermhut) missionaries as assistants to his mission.
Quite honestly, it was not a fortunate “delivery” because Hans Egede could not cooperate with them and at the same time a smallpox epedemy broke out amongst the Greenlanders. It was a very difficult period for the colony and many died of the sickness. Lastly, Hans Egede’s wife, Gertrud Rask, also passed away.
The year after, in 1736, a disappointed Hans Egede left the country after 15 years of missionary work while their sons Poul and Nils Egede stayed. Other missionaries and merchants took over and during the period from 1734 through the rest of the century, the colony became well established on the west coast. Along the way, in 1774, the state monopoly The Royal Greenlandic Trade (Den Kongelige Gronlandske Handel – KGH) was established which then took care of supply, trade and production.
Greenland was a protected and closed colony. However the Second World War (1939-45) functioned as an “eye-opener” for the Greenlanders. They experienced that there was another world outside of Denmark because they began receiving supplies from the United States and Canada. After the war the Land’s Assembly expressed a wish for restructuring and greater influence. In 1950, the Greenland policy was revised so that the monopoly was dropped at the same time as Greenland was opened to the rest of the world. In 1953, Greenland attained status as an equal part of the Danish kingdom and thus lost its status as a colony.
During the 50s and 60s, Greenland underwent an amazing development with fishing as the main industry. Many settlements were emptied and the population was concentrated in “cities of development” which proved not to be constructive for the people because many felt they were made into passive observers to the development.
A new generation of politicians that appeared in the beginning of the 70s desired a break from the remote control from Denmark and wanted greater influence in the process of development. The Land’s Assembly had only an advisory function. A desire for home rule appeared and became a reality on the 1st of May, 1979.
In his journal from 1750, Hans Egede’s son Niels writes that a shaman, “who was born in the south near the warm bath”, that is, the island of Uunartoq, where hot springs utilized by the Norsemen were located, related that following story:
“Some time after the first Greenlanders had arrived in the area and had begun to settle near the houses of the Norsemen, three small ships came and plundered, killing some of the Norsemen. When the Norsemen were able to master the situation, two ships sailed away, while the third ship became their prize.
The next year, a whole fleet arrived and fought, killed and plundered. The surviving Norsemen loaded their vessels with what was left and set sail to the south of the country, leaving some behind, whom the Greenlanders promised
to assist if something should happen. A year later, the evil pirates returned and, when the Greenlanders saw them, they took flight, taking along some of the Norse women and children, to the fjord, leaving the others in the lurch.
When the Greenlanders returned in the fall and tried to find them again, they saw to their horror that everything had been pillaged, houses and farms set ablaze and destroyed.
Upon seeing this sight, the Greenlanders took the Norse women and children with them, fleeing far into the fjord. And there they remained in peace for many years, taking the Norse women into marriage.”
Extract from the book “A short history of Greenland” by Jergen Fleischer. Aschehoug