We spent many weeks at sea… We got hungry, dirty and cold… We learnt not to talk, to be silent. But then, at the end, we reached the state of mind when we were able get that close to these normally very shy and easily intimidated beings.

Being “first” never really mattered to the Eskimos. They did not travel to win, to conquer, to make a statement or to proclaim superiority. They travelled because they were adventurous. As descendents of the Eskimos, the modern Inuit of Greenland still have this “adventurous element” in their blood. In many ways, “Cultural Expedition Avannaa 2012” was ignited by this very element.

It was a journey in two small open boats “the North Greenlandic way” - the hard way. Equipped the laconic “hunter’s” style which implies minimum of comfort and gadgets, Expedition Avannaa travelled to the world’s northernmost communities in Avanersuaq (Thule District).

Our small open boat may be too small and too open for the sea like that. But we chose to travel this way – the Greenlandic way – to be able to see the smallest things, the nearest things.

The Inughuit, in former times known as “proud Polar Eskimos”, is one of the smallest indigenous groups in the world, with a population of less than 800.

Some of them are descendants of polar explorers Robert Peary and Matthew Henson.

Unlike most cultures of today’s Arctic, the Inughuit have succeeded to avoid the ego of “consumer civilization” and to maintain the immaterial way of life. They still use kayaks and harpoons to hunt narwhal in the summer and dog-sleds in the winter to hunt seals, walruses and polar bears.

Like in the old days, the feast is shared with the community. The weak, the sick and the old get their share first.

Once being forcefully relocated to Qaanaaq from their sacred home in Uummannaq when it was designated as a site for Thule Airbase in 1951, they are now facing a threat of being squeezed out of existence entirely.

The abrupt climate change, the new hunting quotas and the anxious desire of a few to obtain independence at any cost, gives this ancient culture a narrow chance for survival.

We were lucky to see the last piece of Ahnighito, the Cape York meteorite that once was stolen from the Polar Eskimos by Admiral Peary and moved to New York City as a part of his fund-rising compaign for the final conquest of the North Pole.

‘How was life in Avenersuaq 90 years ago?” Something magical happens when Isigaitsoq Qujaukitsoq - the oldest citizen of Qaanaaq and a living legend - talks about those times as if she was talking about something that had happened only yesterday.

We met Navarana K'avigak' Sørensen, a polyglot Inughuit linguist who is the great-great-great-niece of a Baffin Island shaman who had led the migration in 1860. Those of you who have seen Vanishing Point, will recognize her right away!

When the old people – tradition keepers - are gone, the hunting culture and the language will be gone too.

On our way, we observed and filmed rock and soil, earth and ice, water and sky, wind and currents, wildflowers and ancient lichens, foxes and ravens, seals and phytoplankton that too has to adopt to abrupt changes – often with little success.

On our way, we observed and filmed rock and soil, earth and ice, water and sky, wind and currents, wildflowers and ancient lichens, foxes and ravens, seals and phytoplankton that too has to adopt to abrupt changes – often with little success.

We slept during the day and travelled during the night. Sea is much calmer at night and often you can see more than you can during the day. Like this iceberg in Kangerlurraaq, a.k.a Inglefield Fjord.

After months of midnight sun we forgot that the night exists: until we returned to Savissivik and saw our first Moon. It was a sure sign that the fall was just around the corner.

We listened to the stories of the great polar bear hunter Qaanngaaq Nielsen and his wife - the stories about the change. "Politicians used to come and visit us during elections, but now they don't do it anymore. They don't need us anymore. I think they will be happy when our small settlements will close down".

Expedition Avannaa was not about speed. We made stops in every single settlement on our way visiting people who reside in the world’s northernmost communities.

 Thus, we were able to find out first-hand what they think about changes in climate, travel, hunting and fishing.

We visited  abandoned Polar  Eskimo settlements such as Moriusaq.

We stayed in hunters hut in Innaanganeq a.k.a Cape York.

We became friends with children and elders who gave us shelter and shared food with us. Judith, the granddaughter of the Great Polar bear hunter Qaanngaaq Nielsen from Savissivik, would tell us: "I would like to go with you on your boat all around the world and then come back to Savissivik!"

We were lucky to share seal dinner with our new friends in Qeqertat at 3 am in the morning....

and go on a midnight norwhal hunt and then join the early morning feast that followed.

We followed the elders and listened to their stories about old days when love and mutual assistance were abundant.

Qaanaaq has many faces. One of them is Paulina Peary. Paulina is a granddaughter of Admiral Robert Peary, the mother of Hivshu Ua, and the matriarch of a big family that still stands strong in the world’s northernmost town.

Some 68 years ago she used to live in Uummannaq, Thule, with her father Karl = Kaali, actually he was called Kaalipaluk. By the age of 10 she was an experienced

dog-sledder. In those days it was not really customary for women to drive the dogs, but she was the oldest among her father’s children while his son was still too young.

When she turned 13, and had to go for confirmation, her father asked her to have her own dog team. Pauline was crying: “Father, but women don’t do it!” But he told her that she had to carry meat for the people who were hungry. He said it was not good to be hungry. “When I arrived for my confirmation I was very ashamed, says Paulina. I was a woman on dog sled by myself! But then we stopped by every house and gave people meat. And I saw their faces! This was such a happy moment. And by Christmas I received more presents than I ever did before.”

"I would like to visit New York, and Paris and some other big places. But most of all I would like to go to Japan, to see my grandfather's homeland", - says Kiyoko Oshima, a grand-daughter of Ikuo Oshima, a legendary polar explorer and alpinist from Japan who some 43 years ago came to Siorapaluk, Greenland to live a life of an Inughuit in the northernmost inhabited settlement of our Planet.

Qulutannguaq Jerimiassen turned 90 in August 2012. He is a “Piniartorsuaq” = "A Hunter Extraordinaire" ... and a drum-dancer. The Grand Old Man of the High Arctic. He still plays his drum and has many stories to share.

We would come and visit the Church in Qaanaaq and see for ourselves that Jesus also loved Polar Eskimo children.

This is Akku Suersaq. (Avgo Suersaq) He is 73 years old. He is Ajoqi = the Priest's Assistant in Savissivik – one of the most remote and inaccessible settlements in Greenland and probably on Earth. He is always with his people - in happy times and in sad times. We asked him "What is the meaning of Life?" and "What is Happiness?"  His answer was: "To be free from anger, envy, and jealousy". He does not judge, and he does not scold. He forgives, he adopts, and he accepts  all of us - including the most hopeless ones.

"It's a full time job all year round - 24/7 - to have sled dogs. No matter how hungry I am, after a 10 hour long journey, I first need to feed my dogs. They can't survive without me, but neither can I. This is High Arctic!" - says our dear friend Peter Avikke from Qaanaaq settling down for the night just steps away from Qeqertarsuaq, Herbert Island.

Contrary to popular belief, small isolated communities often described as the “Edge”, or even the “End” of the world my be just its beginning. A small isolated settlement is very often the place where one can equally see the distant and the near. And this is the place where you can look at the world with the eyes of a child. If Expedition Avannaa had a face, this would be our face. Like in an open book, you will read here everything you may want to know about us – there is very little we can add to that.

You are welcome to read the diary of The diary of Expedition Avannaa 2012: http://avannaa.blogspot.fr/

Cultural Expedition Avannaa


Thank you to all those who continue to support my work and occasionally are crazy enough to jump into a frozen river to see if the whole thing is real!

© Copyright 2010 Galya Morrell. All rights reserved.

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