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Greenland Overview

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History

Ancient History
The unique artic environment that makes Greenland travel so celebrated has also proven a challenge for both historic and modern-day Greenlanders. The tale of Greenland’s history is dotted with the reoccurring theme of incredible strength and endurance of its inhabitants, and their remarkable ability to turn an artic climate into their home. Unlike the majority of developing nations, Greenland’s ancient inhabitants were less concerned with conquering or protecting the large island, but rather concentrated their energies on survival. While there is still speculation as to the first people who made this region their home, the majority believes that the island’s first civilization appeared on Greenland roughly 5,000 years ago. They were made up of two tribes of a Paleo-Eskimo culture. Little is known about these first inhabitants. The Saqqaq tribe followed, leaving behind a great deal of artifacts. The Saqqaq would eventually die out for reasons unknown.

In the 10th century, Greenland experienced the arrival of its most influential cultures: the Thule. These people were respectively sophisticated and introduced Greenland to two of its most instrumental survival tools, the kayak and the dogsled. During Greenland travel today, visitors can still see strong influence from the Thule culture; the modern-day Greenlandic Inuit people are the offspring of the original Thule civilization, making them the most successful population to inhabit the island.

The European culture did not make its way to Greenland until the year 982 when Eric the Red, a legendary Viking, was exiled from Iceland as punishment for murder. He journeyed with his family and slaves in search of the land rumored to be across the oceans. After settling two colonies along the southwest coast of the island, he named the place Grænland or Greenland in order to attract more people to come settle there. The fjords of the south were lush and had a warmer climate than you will experience on a tour of the island today. The warmer climate allowed for successful farming and hunting. The settlements appear to have coexisted peacefully with the Inuit, who were beginning to migrate south around 1200. In 1261, Greenland officially became part of the Kingdom of Norway, which in turn entered into a union with Denmark in 1397. For 500 years the colonies endured, but then suddenly vanished. Famine or the effects of the Little Ice Age, and even the possibility of a massacre by the Thule or pirates have all been speculations of their disappearance.

Modern History
Denmark-Norway reasserted claims to the colony in 1721. Then in 1814 the Treaty of Kiel placed the island under the possession of Denmark. Norway tried to make claim based on the original establishment by the Icelandic colonists, but lost in court in 1953 officially giving control to Denmark. Although they were made an equal part of the Kingdom of Denmark, the Greenlandic people still balked at being under Denmark control. Twenty years later, Greenlanders gained independent rule save foreign affairs which would remain Denmark’s responsibility. Greenland later joined the European Union, only to withdraw in 1985 due to some stringent fishing quotas. Greenland’s modern-day politics and energies have widely been influenced by the whaling industry.

One environmental feature you are sure to witness during your Greenland travel is the island’s abundance of ice. Future plans are afoot to tap this resource. Current estimates attribute Greenland to containing one fifth the world’s drinkable water, which could possibly bring a more stable economic venture to the small population.

Wildlife

Consisting of a harsh and cold terrain and climate, few species of wildlife are found in Greenland. However, the animals found in the region are very unusual and a treasure to witness in their natural habitat. Many people decide to take a Greenland tour specifically for the unique wildlife opportunities. In all, eighty-four species of birds regularly visit the area, and in the high Arctic, this number reduces to forty-seven. A limited thirteen species of mammals inhabit the island, and only six of these are land animals: lemming, ermine, Arctic hare, wolf, Arctic fox, and musk ox. The other seven – polar bear, narwhal, ringed seal, bearded seal, bow whale, hooded seal, and walrus – are marine mammals living on the ice and in the sea.

The most dominant “wildlife” seen in Greenland are the dogs kept in the towns by people needing dogsled teams to get around in winter. These animals are not domesticated pets as some may presume, but rather are very territorial and protective of their homes. During a tour of Greenland you are also likely to come across musk oxen. These large mammals may seem docile from afar, but the oxen are temperamental creatures and have been known to charge with little warning. For this reason in the Kangerlussuaq area, Norwegian wildlife authorities have set a 400-meter danger zone around the musk oxen.

Polar bears are also wild animals that should be treated with great caution, however the likelihood of coming across one is extremely rare. The polar bear is mainly a seal hunter, residing predominantly along the eastern coasts where few settlements are found. For the most part, polar bears live on the ice, and can be spotted annually drifting down to the southern tip of Greenland on a broken off ice shelf. To view a polar bear, you should make special arrangements during your Greenland tour to visit the north or in the east at a particular time of year. But the chances of spotting these elusive and rare animals is exceptional.

Whale watching is a popular option. Some seasons offer better opportunities than others to witness these large marine mammals.

Cuisine

Founded on a way of life sustained by hunting and fishing, Greenland cuisine consists largely of wild game, fish, and whale. Produce is not very prominent, as the land does not provide the opportunity for commercial harvesting. On a trip to Greenland you will have plenty of chances to try the local dried cod, cubes of whale skin, dried seal and reindeer meat. These are fairly typical entrees served usually with condiments and desserts.

Most small towns do not have cafés or restaurants available, but larger towns tend to offer more choices for dining out. Self-catering is very common for travelers on the Greenland tour.

You will find multiple opportunities to purchase fresh fish or sea birds from local fisherman simply by wandering down to the waterfront. A supermarket or shop might also have a good selection of local meat and fish. Almost every town also has what is known as a "Brædtet", or a market place for hunters and fishermen. Typical selections at these markets include geese, ducks, other sea birds, arctic char, wolf fish, red fish, cod, halibut, reindeer, musk oxen, and lamb. Other larger marine options may include seal meat, minke whale, fin whale, and other narwhal.

It may be difficult to decide what market would be the most appropriate to visit during your travels, dependent on your desires. Locals tend to have excellent recommendations as to finding the best cuisine opportunities in the area.

Politics

When visiting Greenland, you can easily see the Danish influence on the island. But while still under Danish rule, Greenland became a self-governing administrative division of Denmark in 1979. The Head of State is the Danish Monarch, Margrethe II, but the Danish government appoints a High Commissioner over Greenland to represent the Danish government and monarchy.

Greenland has a thirty-one member elected unicameral parliament, led by the Prime Minister who is generally the leader of the majority party in the Parliament. The prime minister is elected to office by the parliament.

Greenland has a number of political parties that participate in government, the most popular of which are Siumut, Demokratiit, Inuit Ataqatigiit, and Atassut.

The legal system operates according to the Danish laws, and Denmark is responsible for all foreign affairs, but includes Greenland’s participation in such matters. A High Court resides over matters in Greenland. The highest court authority is the Supreme Court in Copenhagen.

Weather

Covered almost entirely by an ice sheet, Greenland summers afford residents the opportunity to enjoy a little bit of sun and some warmer temperatures, reaching the upper 60's. The summer months are the most obvious time to tour the island. While the sudden chill makes wearing a jacket in summer a necessity, residents are able to get outside and enjoy the nice weather.

Winter brings another picture – a colder one – with temperatures dropping to -20°F in the north and routinely lingering around 5°F in the south. Up north, in the Arctic Circle, the sun disappears altogether for a time during winter.

The weather in Greenland can be extremely unpredictable given the different topography of the area. Low pressures from the southwest combined with high polar pressures in the northeast make for unstable conditions that can change suddenly. If you are taking a Greenland trip, be sure to be adequately prepared for all types of weather. Trekkers especially should never set out without proper communications equipment; a sunny afternoon can quickly turn into a brilliant blizzard.
 

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