While it remains a part of the Kingdom of Denmark, Greenland has its own unique culture and identity. Join us as we go beyond the ice, snow, and fjords to uncover the secrets of this enchanting island.
Want to learn more about Greenland?
- Status: Autonomous Constituent Country (Danish Realm)
- Capital and Largest City: Nuuk
- Population (2016): 56,483
- Total Area: 2,166,086 km² (12th)
- Official Language: Greenlandic
- Other Language: Danish
- Currency: Danish krone (kr.) (DKK)
History of Greenland
Some of the first people to settle in Greenland were ancestors of Inuit tribes. These ancient people appeared in several different groups over the centuries. Eventually it was the Dorset culture (which can be traced back to around 800 BCE) that grew to dominate much of coastal Greenland. Making a living off whale and caribou hunting, the Dorset people flourished on the land for many years.
Of course, the Dorset culture wasn’t the only one to find a place on Greenland. Beginning in 986 CE, Norsemen (from Iceland and Norway) led by Erik the Red settled on the shores. Together, the Norsemen shared much of coastal Greenland with the indigenous peoples. Norse and Viking culture flourished, with the island also being used as staging point for further ventures to Newfoundland and Labrador. There were vast changes in the indigenous population during this time too, as the Thule people migrated from around Alaska to become the dominant group. Today they are the main ancestors of current population. By the 1500’s, Greenland was under the purview of the Kalmar Union (a union of Scandinavian countries).
Early Modern History
After Portuguese sailors set off in search of the Northwest Passage, they returned to Europe with a map of the southern coastline. The following centuries saw Greenland the target of various expeditions and machinations. Many of the Norse settlements vanished or died off, resulting in de facto Inuit control over the island – though the Danish crown (in a union with Norway) controlled the territory officially. Some Danes settled in Greenland and the island was opened up to further trade with the European country.
Foreign Rule and WWII
Though previously under the purview of Norway before the union between Denmark and Norway, the dissolution of the union and the Treaty of Kiel in 1814 gave the Danes sole control of Greenland. Despite this, Norway settled parts of the island before an international court ruled against them.
During World War II, Greenland was occupied by Nazi Germany in 1940. After a year, the United States moved in to to defend the island against the Nazis – with the American occupation lasting until the end of the war. The military infrastructure built by the Americans helped Greenland expand its civilian infrastructure in the post-war period. American interest in Greenland continued well after the war, with an attempt to purchase the island rebuked by Denmark. Despite this, the US did establish Thule Air Base, which remains in use today.
Self-Rule and Modern Greenland
In 1953, Greenland became a constituent country within the Danish realm – improving the position of the territory within the kingdom. Greenlanders were granted citizenship of Denmark, while the European country made great efforts to assimilate Greenlanders into Danish culture and translate Danish customs to the island.
After the Home Rule Act of 1979, Greenland began to take power over more domestic politics. Since then, the island has achieved even further autonomy – though Denmark maintains control of foreign affairs and defense. It is not unreasonable to expect that someday soon, Greenland may well be a fully independent sovereign country.
The culture of Greenland is based largely on Inuit traditions mixed with a healthy amount of Scandinavian and Norse culture. With the majority of the population of Inuit heritage, these are the dominant traditions – which can be seen manifested in art, among other things. Hunting is viewed as a defining characteristic of Inuit culture, with the practice hugely important in Greenlandic life – even though the need for subsistence living has largely been phased out.
The flag of Greenland consists of horizontal red and white stripes with a half red and half white circle in the middle right (with the opposite orientation of colours). It is the only Nordic flag without a Nordic cross.
Sports are popular throughout Greenland with Arctic sports (or Inuit games) – a type of wrestling – the main traditional sport. That being said, handball is often considered the national sport, while soccer, athletics, and skiing are also enjoyed throughout. The national soccer team is not yet a full member of FIFA.
Geography of Greenland
Greenland is the largest island in the world (that is not a continent) and is geographically considered a part of North America (it lies close to Canada). Much of the land is crushed by the weight of a massive ice sheet, with large parts of the country under sea level. Along the coast are mountains, fjords, and other areas of higher elevation as the ice sheet ends before this. All towns and settlements are found along the coast with Nuuk (the capital and largest city) home to fewer than 20,000 people.
Facts about Greenland
- It hosts the Worldwide Championship of Ice Golf
- There are no roads or railways between settlements. Don’t worry…you can always travel by dogsled
- Greenland was described in Viking legends as green and fertile. It is not.
- The price the US offered Denmark for Greenland in 1946 was $100,000,000
- Greenland was economically self-sufficient until WWII
- ‘Kayak’ and ‘igloo’ are Greenlandic words
- ‘Greenland’ was named as such because the Norse wanted to entice settlers to the frozen land
- Locals are Kalaallit (the largest group of Greenlandic Inuit)
- The temperature only really goes above freezing in July
With a unique history entwined with hardy indigenous people and Norse explorers, Greenland now looks to forge a bright future for itself.
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