Greenland’s two main types of folk music are Inuit, created in the tradition of the region’s indigenous Inuit people, and Danish (mixing in a little influence from the U.S. and the U.K.), created by the Danes who colonized several hundred years ago and still technically rule the island.
Greenland’s Inuit share cultural and musical traditions with Inuit people all over the world’s north–the Yukon, Canada’s Northwest Territories, Alaska, eastern Russia etc.. Most Greenlandic Inuit music features singing and drums–mainly hand-held frame drums. Greenland’s musicians also use buzzers, whistles and even bull-roarers.
The main surviving Greenlandic musical tradition is the Drum Dance, a competition during which two musicians come to the town’s “qaggi,” which a snow-house built to host community events, and chant lighthearted songs while each beating a frame drum (made of an oval frame with a bear bladder stretched over the top as the drum head), competing to see who can get the most laughs from the audience. One of the best known Greenlandic drum dancers is Anda Kuitse. Watch him perform a drum dance, the story of which a YouTube commenter summarizes in the following way: “a raven and a goose whom fall in love one summer. When autumn comes and the goose must fly south over the big ocean the raven follows its loved one. But the raven cannot swim nor flote. So when the goose landed in the ocean to rest the raven also landed. But for each time the goose landed in the ocean the raven sinks deeper (the drumdancer shows
with his drumstick how deep the water reaches the raven each time they land in the ocean) and finally the raven drowns into the deep for its love.” Watch a short of performance of the drum dance song we sing in class, “E Qee Qee.” The performer is Danish researcher Aviaja Larsen, who was also kind enough to provide All Around This World with a transliteration of what she’s singing. Learn a bit more about Inuit drum dancing.
Greenlandic “piseq” songs are personal narratives, often telling stories about daily life in a charming, slightly teasing way. These songs often replace real words with “vocables,” which are sounds that take the place of syllables. For example, a common Greenlandic Inuit vocable phrase is “ai-va-vainga,” which technically means nothing, but when Greenlandic vocalists sing it…well, what doesn’t it mean?
When the Danes came to Greenland they brought European instruments such as the accordion and, of course, the Danish fiddle, not to mention a steady stock of Christian hymns. Missionaries introduced brass instruments and violins. Danish folk-style Greenlandic bands often play to support an Inuit polka known as the Kalaattut–watch some kalaattut here. (the dancing starts at about 0:50).
Inuit folk games are generally light and airy, full of songs, juggling, playful rhymes and riddles. A characteristic game is called “katajiaq,” in which two Inuit women stand facing each other and sing funny songs–using their own style of throat singing (here’s an example) or imitating animal noises–to try to make each other laugh. Watch two Inuit women try to crack each other up using a katajiaq known as “Dog and Wolf.” They somehow make it to the end of the video without ending the game. Watch Kathy Keknek and Janet Aglukkaq share their masterful katajiaq techniques.
In class we’ll try a little katajiaq, doing our best to get each other to laugh.
In Greenland the winters are darned cold, and with darned cold comes icy ponds that are just right for fishin’. When the Inuit of Greenland want to fish in the winter they almost always have to factor in the freezing temperatures and the imposingly thick ice that sits between them and
their very chilly fish. After eons of fishing through thick ice, though, the Inuit have figured out what to do. All you need is:
— an ice auger: a large drill to cut through the ice
— a spud: an ice-pick shaped like a wedge
— a “split shot”: a lead weight
— a jigging rod: a regular fishing rod, and
— a “tip up”: a contraption that allows you to lower a line down into the ice and that “tips up” a spring-loaded flag to alert you when the fish takes your bait so you can reel in the fish by hand.
What kind of fish can you and your chilly friends expect to catch in the freezing cold? Other than some perch, walleye and pike, you may find yourself nose to nose with a fish known as “nipisek nipisek,” which means “the one that is stinking.” Apparently this is a springtime fish, best eaten raw, that doesn’t even smell that bad and is supposedly good enough for you that it can give you a long life. PilotGuides.com’s guide to Iceland and Greenland says nipisek nipisek makes it “a great lunchtime snack.”
Ice fishing may sound like great gobs of fun, but be aware–it can also be dangerous. If you fall into the ice water hypothermia can set in within minutes. Always bring a friend with you when you go ice fishing, or two!, and of course a long ice augur of fishing pole, just in case you fall in and someone has to fish you out.
In class while we’re ice fishing we’re going to listen to “Oitik” by NUUK POSSE, who bill themselves as the first Greenlandic Rap act. That may be true; the crew’s members, all Inuit, came together to rap as early as 1985. By 1991 the group had officially become Nuuk Posse. Watch the video for the video for “Qitik,” which the self-proclaimed first Greenlandic rap act puts forth as “the first Greenlandic rap.”
Greenland.com introduces us to ice fishing | Let’s watch a short documentary
about ice fishing in Greenland. Sure, it’s in German, but you’ll get the gist | Look to Squidoo.com for your guide to ice fishing gear and safety (with tips like, “Thick ice
is rotten after rain,” “new ice is almost always stronger than old ice,” and, “when in doubt, don’t go out!”)