The Greenlandic name for Greenland is Kalaallit Nunaat, “Land of the Greenlanders.” The first pre-Eskimo immigrants came to Greenland from North America approximately 4500 years ago. The last major Inuit immigration took place in the centuries after the first Nordic immigration came from Iceland in AD 982.

The first Nordic immigrants probably died out in the Middle Ages, but Europeans returned to colonize the island in 1721 and Greenland became a colony of Denmark. Colonial status ended in 1953, when Greenland was recognized as one of three countries within the Kingdom of Denmark.

In the 1970s, a political movement opposing the European Economic Community led to the establishment of the first Home Rule Government, and eventual withdrawal from the EEC. In 1992, the Home Rule assumed responsibility for the last of its potential fields, health care, and has responsibility for all matters except foreign and security policy, the monetary system, mineral and hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation, and some aspects of the judicial system.

Kalaallit are the people of Greenland

In 1994, the population of Greenland was over 55,000, of whom 87 percent were born in Greenland. Most of the non-indigenous population comes from Denmark. The relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous people is good, and the two groups treat each other with mutual respect. The introduction of Home Rule in 1979, and the improvement in Greenland’s educational system, have reduced the number of non-indigenous people working and living in Greenland.

Using materials from animals for equipment and clothing has always been an integral part of Arctic indigenous cultures. In East Greenland, the use of seal intestines for making the traditional water-proof anorak continued until this century. The same material and sewing techniques were used in the oldest known Greenlandic clothing found on frozen mummies. The depicted anorak was made in Ammassalik in 1935. The owner, Jens Rosing, has drawn the pictures and described how it was made.

Seal intestines were cut in one-meter long piece, turned inside out, cleaned, and “wind-cured,” which makes the skin turn white. When ready, the material was cut lengthwise into strips, which were sewn into a pattern with double-layered ornamental strips for strength.

The ornaments resemble polar-bear features that have also been found on a Dorset bear figure from 500 BC. Seen from the side, the hood resembles the head of the polar bear, with the triangular ornament symbolizing the ear and eye. The opening is the mouth, while the pattern on top is the ridge of the nose.

Fishing industry and hunting are major occupations

Almost 80 percent of Greenlanders live in towns, and the remainder reside in smaller villages. The largest city and capital of Greenland is Nuuk.

Commercial fishing and the fishing industry is the most important business. The focus has been on shrimp, cod, and halibut, but in recent years the catches of cod have been poor.

About 20 percent of the population is directly or indirectly dependent on hunting activities. The most important resources are ringed seal and harp seal, but a variety of species are taken. Whaling is part of the hunting tradition and still very important in Greenlandic society. The focus is on fin whale, minke whale, narwhal, and beluga. Hunting and fishing practices differ from location to location, but most hunters use modern equipment such as rifles. Traditional hunting methods are rare outside of Avanersuaq, where kayak and harpoon are still used, especially in connection with the narwhal hunt.

The hunting areas and the species vary by location and season, and traveling far from the villages is not uncommon. For example, caribou are usually hunted in August and September in deep fjords far from the villages. Walrus, minke whales, and fin whales may only be available at sea or in the mouths of fjords, whereas certain seals, fish, and birds can be hunted much closer to home. Polar bear are hunted regularly in Avanersuaq, Ittoqqortoormiit, and Ammassalik.

Subsistence foods are shared between the participants of a certain hunt, and also traded and distributed via outdoor markets and to local processing plants. Fish are sold to the major processing plants.

Most people eat local foods several times a week

Forty-four percent of hunters and fishermen eat their own products daily. For the Inuit population as a whole, 31 percent eat local products daily, 22 percent three to four times a week, and 25 percent at least once or twice a week. According to another survey, 63 percent of the residents of villages eat Inuit food daily during the summer, compared with 26 percent of the people in towns.

In the south, sheep farming provides a local supply of lamb meat, even if some lamb is also imported. Beef, pork, and chicken are imported from Denmark.


Disease patterns in Greenland include a high mortality from natural causes and a relatively low mortality from heart disease. Furthermore, there is a high incidence of injuries from accidents and suicide. The average life expectancy in Greenland is 68.4 years for women and 60.7 years for men. Smoking is very common among all age groups. 84 percent of Inuit men and 78 percent of Inuit women are currently smokers.