Greenland: Ghost Town

Assaqutaq

We have been traveling on the southwest of the island, in and around Sisimiut, on the Davis Straight and east of Baffin Bay.

Greenland is a place of coming and going, for at least the last 4,500 years, as successive waves of people have arrived from many parts of the globe.

Settlers include Siberians, Inuits, Canadians and various Europeans, especially the Norwegians and Danes.

Today, Greenland is part of Denmark though not part of the European Union.

This part of the island is currently warmer as a result of ocean currents though over time it has been both warmer and cooler.

No trees exist now but at one point parts of the island were forested.

The name, Greenland, was a nice bit of marketing sleight-of-hand by Viking Erik the Red who correctly assumed that no one would want to visit a place that was 80% ice.

A Greenlander today could be Inuit, Danish or a mixture of those or other peoples.

Greenlanders are in favor of full independence from Denmark though the hitch is they receive at least a $500,000,000 dollar annual subsidy from the Danes; try filling that budget gap in a country with only 55,000 people, less than 1/2 the population of Bushwick, Brooklyn.

The modern history of this part of the island is urbanization where sparsely populated villages have been closed down and people moved to larger settlements to support the cod and shrimp operations.

That narrative comes with a certain bittersweet sadness counterbalanced by the beautiful stillness of  places left to decay in solitude.

Assaqutaq is one of those former villages, located in a small fjord just east of Sisimiut.

From 1906 the village supported the cod fishing industry underwritten by Royal Greenlandic Trade.

It never counted more than 135 inhabitants including a midwife and a catechet, or church teacher.

We visited Assaqutaq on a cloudless summer evening at about 2200 when the fjord was as calm as a pond and perfectly reflected the beauty of the place.

In 1969, the villagers were forced to move to Sisimiut partly to work in the fish processing factory there, leaving the village as a cultural artifact.

Today it serves as a window into the past, a touchstone for children to understand the winds of change and a simpler time.

 

3 Comments

  • Jinny Fleischman says:

    Fascinating. What is the estimate of how many people were there when the island was more populated?

  • Joe blow says:

    It could have been worse, Harold could have sent you to Siberia!

    Enjoy your trip, it’s an adventure. BTW, have you been to Iceland? Fascinating place.

  • Dottie says:

    Relocation of villagers occurred in New Foundland, as well–for similar reasons.

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