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Geographical and Social Background

The east coast of Greenland is influenced by a cold ocean current which flows from north to south and carries enormous amounts of pack-ice. Whereas on the west coast Danish ports were established during the 18th century, colonisation of the east coast had been prevented for a long time by this pack-ice. This also shielded the inhabitants of the east coast from influence by European culture. It was not until 1894 that a mission station was established on the east coast - Ammassalik, later called Tasiilaq.

In spite of that the inhabitants in East Greenland continued to live according to their traditional culture until the end of the Second World War.

And some still do, especially in the small villages outside Tasiilaq. Owning property is not a tradition for the people of East Greenland. The earth hut, e.g., a hut for the winter partly dug into the ground, partly built of rocks and grass, was abandoned in summer and used by any other family the next winter. During the summer the East Greenlanders lived - half-nomadic - in tents of seal fur which were put up wherever hunting grounds were promising. Even today the family is the centre of life - due to many months of cold and darkness close contact among the family members is welcome. Also diet is still traditional: mainly seal, and whales are still hunted with kayak and harpoon.

Tasiilaq has about 1,600 inhabitants and is the economic centre of the east coast. 80 per cent of the inhabitants are Iivi, the remaining 20 per cent mainly Danes. The Danish government provides the main part of the administration. Infrastructure includes port, heliport, hospital, school, kindergarten, church, a few shops, post office, administration and police. Besides that there are two small garages and a cabinet-maker's workshop.

The Iivi on the east coast of Greenland had to cope with Western European culture and Western European values within five decades. This and the high un-employment rate lead to problems: drug misuse (alcohol), depression and an extremely high suicide rate (1 person among 216 in comparison to 1 among about 6,000 with us). Especially young are endangered. Many move from their villages to Ammassalik to seek work or to lead their lives in the supposedly higher standard of the city. But only very few find work; the others not only are without a job, but by moving to the city they have also lost their connections with their families.
In West-Greenlandic, the inhabitants call themselves "Inuit", in East-Greenlandic "Iivi", both expressions simply meaning "human beings". The expression "Eskimo", still commonly used outside Greenland and Canada, is not used here since it means "eater of raw meat" (in former times the Greenlanders had no fire for cooking), and is felt to be an insult.

Social respect depends on success as hunter. Agriculture is not possible, the coast is made of rock, trees or bushes do not exist.

Based on Protestant-Lutheran religion the Iivi are friendly and open to strangers.

For more information about East-Greenland please visit the website of Tuning Incoming Agency Greenland ApS www.east-greeland.com.
© Copyright by Ostgrönland-Hilfe e.V. 2005 / 2006