Coat of Arms
World's Biggest Island
With an area of 2175600 sq km Greenland is the worlds largest island. About 85% of the island are covered by an ice cap, the so called inland ice. This vast ice cap measures 2500 km from north to south and 1000 km from east to west.
It contains 10% of the entire freshwater reserves of the world. If the ice would melt (e.g. caused by the hole in the ozon layer), the sea level would rise an estimated six metres! Many coastal cities could do nothing to prevent this and thus would be lost.
The population of about 59800 people lives in settlements along the coast, mainly in the western and southern part of the island. 87% of the inhabitants are Greenlanders, the remaining 13% of the population are mostly from Denmark. Greenland has a polar climate, that means that there is no month with an average temperature exceeding 10°C; only the south of the island has a more "moderate" subpolar climate.
As a part of the Danish Kingdom, Greenland cannot make agreements with other countries concerning foreign relations. As compensation, the constitution guarantees that Greenlandic authorities must be consulted on issues involving Greenland.
Greenland can, however, participate in international negotiations regarding matters of significance for Greenland. Moreover, it can be authorized to carry out negotiations under the auspices of the Foreign Ministry. Greenland is an independent customs region and in this regard the rest of the Danish Kingdom is regarded as foreign territory.
Greenland in North America
Greenland is the world's largest island covering an area of 2,175,600 sq. km. Geographically, it belongs to the North American continent. Across the Nares Strait there are only 26 km separating North West Greenland from Canada. To compare, Svalbard (Spitzbergen) and Iceland are 500 and 275 km away, respectively.
It is 2,670 km from the farthest point north, Cape Marris Jeppup (only 740 km from the North Pole) to the southern most tip, Cape Farewell, which lies at the same latitude as Oslo.
The inland ice-cap covers an area of 1.8 million square kilometres and represents 10% of the world's total fresh water. At its centre the ice-cap is 8 km thick. Greenland's ice-free regions cover an area of 341,700 sq. km.
Greenlanders enjoy a unique position among the world's indigenous people in that Greenland is recognized as an autonomous nation residing within the Danish Kingdom. In every respect The Greenland Home Rule Government has complete legislative power over Greenlands internal affairs.
Peoples of various cultures have migrated to Greenland throughout the ages. The ancestors of the present day Greenlanders have inhabited the country for about 4 to 5,000 years. Today's Greenlander is a rich mix of the land's aboriginal people and it's migrants, and those - many of whom where whalers - who have frequented Greenland.
The Inuit, Greenland's indigenous people, share a common language and culture with the Inuit in Canada and Alaska. Eighty percent of Greenland's 55,000 residents are Inuit; the rest are primarily Danes. The population is distributed among 120 localities, 65 of which have less than 100 residents each. Nuuk, the capital and largest town, has a population of 13,000.
Language and Literature
Greenlandic is an eastern branch of the so-called 'East-Eskimo language' categorized by linguists as Inupik which is also spoken on the northern coasts of Canada and Alaska and the eastern-most tip of Siberia.
Southern Alaska and Siberia utilize the western branch of the language, known as Yup'ik. Only Aleutian is related to the Eskimo language.
Greenlandic is roughly divided into three dialects: East Greenlandic, West Greenlandic and the Polar-Eskimo dialect. West Greenlandic includes several sub-dialects although the Central West Greenlandic dialect is the dialect that has become the language of communication throughout the nation.
In the middle of the 1800's, the missionary and teacher, Samuel Kleinschmidt, began analyzing the language and systematized the grammar, a pioneer accomplishment which had great impact on the analysis of other Eskimo languages throughout the Arctic. Shortly thereafter, Inspector H. J. Rink began publishing in Greenlandic which led to a rapid increase in literacy. One of the oldest newspapers when first published in the world,
Atuagagdliutit, started in 1861. The newspaper played a significant role in Greenlandic society by providing information about the outside world and later by providing a platform for debate on social issues and Greenlandic identity. Social debate accelerated at the beginning of this century, as the people began to more openly express their opinions publicly. The people's desire to steer their own destiny, coupled with the courage to express their convictions led to the formation of The Home Rule Government in 1979.
Several Greenlandic authors born at about the turn of the century have had a great impact on the extensive literature which is being published today. Compared to other Inuit in the Arctic, Greenlanders have produced a wealth of literary works. It is significant that language has always been of great importance to the Greenlandic people. The value placed on the language is reflected clearly in the Greenlandic culture, there has always been a continuing effort to maintain the integrity of the language despite considerable negative pressures.
By the 1960's, Greenland had achieved a literacy rate of approximately 98%.
There have been several migrations to Greenland and in every case, living conditions bordered on the edge of what humans can survive and where minimum subsistence threatened even the heartiest. Greenland has always represented the outer frontier for where humans could settle.
The first group of hunters in the Arctic are called Paleo-Eskimos. The first to come to Greenland were of the Independence I and Saqqaq cultures. Only small stylistic variations in stone implements differentiate these two cultures.
The Palea-Eskimo hunters spread out over the Arctic with surprising speed. Around 2,500 B.C. and in the space of just a few generations, the pioneer group reached Nares Strait, "the gateway to Greenland", from their point of origin in Alaska.
During the first migration, Greenland's rich hunting grounds were settled. The people of the Independence I culture settled in Peary Land where, a thousand years later, the people of the Independence II culture would also settle.
Following in the wake of Independence I (and prior to Independence II) the people of the Saqqaq culture arrived.
Shortly after Independence II, another group of Paleo-Eskimos migrated along the same route to Greenland but instead, spread south along the west coast. These were the people of the Dorset culture. The oldest sagas in Inuit mythology have garnered their material from this period.
The advance guard of the people of the Thule Culture arrived around 900 A.D. and during the next 1,000 years occupied Greenland, both in the West and the East. The people of the Thule Culture are the forefathers of contemporary Greenlanders.
The Thule culture's superiority was based upon hunting sea mammals from kayak and the "umlag". Their most important prey was the 40 to 60 ton Greenland whale. This style of hunting depended on the development of larger settlements. The establishment of permanent settlements then led to a social structure which developed leaders who arose based on their innate abilities. Eventually the population spread throughout the country. The Thule culture declined and is found today in its original form only in the Thule district. To accommodate changing conditions, new techniques for hunting seals and small whales from kayaks were developed, which led to a changed social structure. This new culture is designated as the Inussuk Culture.
The return migration across the North dominated the Inussuk Culture. These people travelled across North Greenland and along the eastern coast. Hunters from the Thule Culture continued as an independent people until 1500 A.D. The Norsemen established the Eastern Settlement in South Greenland in 985 A.D. and subsequently spread to establish the Western Settlement in the Nuuk region. These Norsemen, farmers of the Viking culture, originated from Iceland. The Western Settlement was last heard of in the 1300's whereas the Eastern Settlement in south Greenland lasted for 500 years (into the 1400's). The last migration from Canada and Alaska took place between 1700 and 1900 when the present Polar Eskimos, the Inughuit, came to Avanersuaq (Thule).
As in the past, life today is based on hunting, even though fishing has become a very important part of the modern economy. Many people still depend on traditional hunting.
Following the deliberations of the 1948 Greenland Commission, the older pattern of life was gradually changed providing a higher standard of living and the modernization of Greenlandic society. As the standard of living in Greenland increased, the quality of health care improved greatly, the mortality rate fell and the birth rate rose.
During a period of 15 years this progress had reduced by half the number of people involved in the primary occupation of hunting while during the same period the work force doubled. By 1970 the percentage of the work force engaged in hunting had fallen to under 20%.
Hunting is still the chief occupation in certain areas today, for example, in North and East Greenland.
With the help of the Danish king's assistance in 1721, the Norwegian priest, Hans Egede, equipped an expedition to Greenland to convert the Greenland Vikings to Christianity, little knowing that they had long ago disappeared. For obvious reasons a Lutheran mission and trading station was established among the Greenlanders instead. Colonialism was thereby established, lasting until constitutional change in 1953.
In the beginning, colonialism in Greenland was synonymous with an isolationist policy. The Danish authorities feared outside competition and felt that the Greenland society was too vulnerable to foreign influences. Progress took its own course as the introduction of trade and the concentration of the population upset the social structure. In a short time Greenlandic society underwent change and became based around the colonies. The first sign of Greenlandic participation in the decision making process was seen in 1857 with the establishment of Superintendentships which were responsible for some aspects of governing at the local level of society. In 1908 two Greenlandic Country Councils were established, one in the North and the other one in the South. Simultaneously, the Superintendentships became the equivalent of town or county councils based on the Danish traditions for organization.
As in other places, World War II changed social and political conditions and in 1950 the two County Councils were amalgamated into the Greenland Council. Municipal administration was re-structured and made more efficient in preparation for major social changes already on the horizon.
With constitutional change in 1953, Greenland became a part of Denmark. Colonialism was annulled and as in the Faeroe Islands, Greenland was granted two seats in the Danish Parliament. As Danish citizens, Civil rights accorded to the Danes were granted to the Greenlandic population. Health conditions and educational possibilities were radically improved.
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