Sisimiut, Greenland

Aug 26, 2017 - National Geographic Explorer

Sisimiut, which means “the inhabitants at the fox holes” in Greenlandic Inuit language, lies just north of the Arctic Circle. It is the country’s northern-most ice-free port in the winter, but is also the country’s southern-most town where dog sleds are used during winter and spring. The town was founded as a mission and trading station in 1756 and was originally named Holsteinsborg. Many of the early buildings still stand in what is known as the Old Quarter, part of which is now included in an outstanding museum complex (photo A). This museum contains the second oldest church in Greenland – built in 1775, a very cozy sod and stone house, a blacksmithy and various other buildings and objects, such as drying racks, an umiak (a large, open seal skin boat), and dog sleds. Today, Sisimiut is Greenland’s second largest municipality with more than 6,000 inhabitants.

Some of us enjoyed a locally guided walk through the town, identifying the important sites of the community and learning a lot about modern Inuit life. We also learned about Danish colonial times and the efforts to reinstall original Inuit traditions since Greenland became an autonomous country with the Kingdom of Denmark. 

It is important to point out that this region has been appreciated for habitation since very ancient times.  Saqqaq people, the first humans in the area, arrived perhaps 4,500 years ago but disappeared after living here for about 3,000 years. Thule people (the forerunners of modern Inuit) settled here perhaps 1,000 years ago, shortly after the Saqqaq disappeared, and were the native people living here when Europeans first arrived. Many of us opted to walk out to Tele Island to enjoy nature and see several of the original Thule home sites, as well as the site of a mid-18th century whaling base.

In the early afternoon, several members of the School of National Clothing Education in Sisimiut came aboard with beautiful examples of traditional skin clothing, including decorated seal skin boots, pants, and parkas. This was followed by a drum dance performance in the lounge. Just before we sailed from Sisimiut, a local kayak champion paddled out to the ship while she was still berthed and proceeded to give a very impressive demonstration of rolling his boat…that is, tipping it over on purpose and then righting himself in the frigid water. See photo B for the roll sequence. This is an important survival technique for people who hunt marine mammals in these tiny, fragile boats.

Another highlight of the day was an afternoon presentation given to us by our Global Perspectives Guest Speaker Aleqa Hammond, past prime minister of Greenland (photo C). She gave a very insightful talk about ancient Inuit, or Thule life and their customs, modern life in Greenland and a bit about her political career. This generated lots of questions after she finished her presentation and kept her on the podium for about 90 minutes!

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About the Author

Tom Ritchie


Tom is a zoologist and naturalist who has worked in the field of expedition cruising almost since its inception by Lars Lindblad.  Growing up near the Everglades allowed him to spend his youth exploring the swamps, marshes, forests, and reef systems of South Florida, a perfect training ground for his life with Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic.

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