By Hanne Tuborg Sandell and Birger Sandell, eskimologists
On September 4th 1925, the ship Gustav Holm arrived Ittoqqortoormiit with 70 colonists from Ammassalik on board. During the journey from Ammassalik they had called in on Iceland, where the colonists had caught a form of influenza, which developed into an epidemic that soon claimed some of the oldest of them. The first period was therefore anything but encouraging, with sickness, the dismal and barren surroundings, uncertainty, and lack of knowledge of the new country. However, it transpired that hunting conditions were far better than had been imagined. In the first year over 1000 seals were killed, 70 walruses, 115 bears, 8 narwhales and 71 foxes. It is descendants of these colonists, who live in the district today. Kangersuttuaq / Scoresby Sund on the East coast of Greenland is the world’s largest fjord system. Together with all its bifurcasions it covers an area of about 38.000 km2. Apart from Jameson Land, which is distinctly lowlying, the terrain surrounding the various branches is markedly mountainous, and in many places the mountains rise sharply from the edge of the fjord. “Staunings Alper” reach heights of almost 2500 meters. The climate in the area of Ittoqqortoormiit is characterized as high-arctic. The winter is long with severe cold and frequent storms. The summer is short with a mean temperature of under + 5’ Celsius. there is a dark period, when the sun does not rise above the horizon from approximately November 23th to January 17th. The first snow falls in the beginning of September and disappears again the following year in July. In October / November the fjord begins to freeze over and an edge of ice is formed at the mouth of the fjord. There is open water at the mouth of Kangersuttuaq all year round and because of the potential food resources of the polonya it is a wintering place for ringed seals and walruses, spring migrations of bears and summer sojourn for narwhales, lesser rorqual, harp seal and hooded seal. Moreover, there is a large concentration of birds in the spring ( little auks, guillemots and other sea birds ). The outer coast is sparsely vegetated with a low, creeping flora of willow and birch together with various mosses and lichens. The vegetation within the fjord system itself is far more fertile, with heather, mountain avens and grassland and in the wetter areas by the lakes and rivers, there are pools with sedges and grasses, where large flocks of musc ox and geese congregate in the summer. Kangersuttuaq distinguishes itself from all other East Greenland fjords because of the open water of the mouth of the fjord, even in the winter. Because of the polonya, this area of open water creates particular biological and physical conditions. Therefore an extremely well represented section of marine fauna are found here. Over thousands of years, the people in the arctic have settled near polonyas and exploited the favourable hunting conditions. The presence of the polonya, is the reason why even today the population can bebefit from the large number of different animals that can be hunted in the area. Terrestial mammals such as musc oxen, polar wolves, ermines and lemmings, which have all migrated from North America via North Greenland, have their southern boundary along the East coast at Kangersuttuaq The stone age of Greenland included different cultures. The first people immigrated about 4500 years ago and near Røde Hytte on Jameson Land, we can see the first remains from these immigrants, who have a common background with peoples of Alaska. The first immigration, the Saqqaq-culture, can be dated to 2500-1900 BC in Ittoqqortoormiit. From the next people,-the Dorset – we have remains in Uunarteq and Ittaajimmiit from the period 500 BC-50 AD. With umiaq’s, kayaks and high developed hunting implements the Thule-culture people immigrated north of Greenland 1000 years ago and these people also settled in Kangersuttuaq. Today you can see remains of their winter settlements and tent rings all over the fjord. The excavation of a “death house” in 1983 on Jameson Land showed an almost complete set of tools and household utensils from the last Thule Culture settlement. After finding a great number of beads – 623- in the excavation it got the name “Perlehuset” ( House of Beads” ).
In 1823, when Clavering landed on the island, which now bears his name, he met a group of 12 eskimoes living in tents. For four days Clavering stayed among them, but on the fifth day all eskimoes had disappeared. Since then, no living Northeast Greenlanders have been seen in the area until Ittoqqortoormiit were colonized. In 1822 the English whaler William Scoresby jr charted, and named the mouth of the present Scoresby Sund – Kangersuttuaq. Today about 550 people live in the town of Ittoqqortoormiit and the two villages Ittaajimmiit and Uunarteq. The majority of the population are still dependent on hunting and while the kayak and umiak are now replaced by motorboats and ice dinghies, the dog sledge is still the best means of transport in the winter for travelling and hunting. Until today hunting, particularly of seals, walruses, narwhales, bears and musc oxen has been the stable and only productive occupation in the district. Today the people, besides selling the skins, have the possibility of trading meat for resale on the West Coast of Greenland. In the summer there are good possibilities for trekking in the beautiful valleys and the many peaks offer a challenge to mountaineers. Voyages in motor boats, kayaks or canoes in the different fjord branches are an unforgettable adventure. Here, fishing for arctic char is a possibility. The spring has a special charm with trips on dog sledding to the ice edge, where the rich animal and birdlife can be seen. There is also a good opportunity for skiing.