Erik the Red and Other Stories

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August 11th 2019
Published: August 14th 2019
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Today was an adventurous day. It started out with meeting a NASA scientist who measures the effect the ocean has on the glaciers. They were going out that day on an airplane to do measurements. He calls himself “Climate Elvis” and has a patch that says “OMG, Oceans Melting Greenland”.

On the map I’ve included there are numbers 1 through 4. That is the route we took today. #1 is Narsarsauq; #2 is Qussiarsuk, #3 is Itilleq, and #4 is Igaliku. This will make more sense as you read on.

We checked out of our hotel and got on a small boat to travel from Narsarsuaq across the Qooroq Fjord to Qassiarsuk, just across from Narsarsuaq. This place is supposedly where Erik the Red settled when he went to Greenland in 985. At the dock, Jan did some fishing and immediately caught a fish, which he released. But later he caught 2 cod and gave them to the chef at our next hotel and we had cod for dinner.

We walked to Brattahild where there is a reconstruction of a longhouse and a church. The way the story was told to us is this: Erik the Red was banished from Iceland for murder. He knew about the continent from another Viking ship that was going from Norway to Iceland and got off course due to a storm and found this other continent. This ship founds its way back to Iceland and told them about the land.

Erik the Red came here during his banishment. At first he went to East Greenland, wintered over, then went to the south. It is here he established a farming community. He wintered over here and then explored the west side of Greenland.

He sent his son Leif (pronounced “life”; I’ve been saying it wrong my whole “life” – pun intended.) Ericsson back to Norway to negotiate with the king that Erik did not want this new land to be governed by the King. When Leif reached Norway he tried negotiating with the King, but the King wanted everyone to convert to Christianity or face death. Leif and his crew converted, they wintered over, then went back to Greenland. His father was furious, and would not convert. Erik’s wife converted, and eventually Erik converted and built a church for his wife.

The Greenland colony had to get lumber and iron

Showing the movement through the day.
supplies from Norway, and the ships would go back with narwhal and walrus ivory, and other items that no one in Europe had ever seen. This trade worked for many years until Europe started getting ivory from Africa. The decrease in trade had a serious effect on Greenland colonies.

When Erik the Red’s banishment period was over (3 years) he went back to Iceland to entice people to move to Greenland. That is why he fooled them by calling it Greenland. This was successful in the long run. The Vikings went on to discover what is currently called Baffin Island, Labrador, and Newfoundland, and possibly as far south as Cape Cod. But the Vikings had some skirmishes with the Natives and decided, after 2 winters, that it wasn’t worth staying, and they went back to Greenland.

The Greenland colonies grew to about 4000 people scattered over the south and west, and then the population started dropping. The last record of people being there was in 1408. There is a theory that the climate was mild when they arrived in late 900’s so that they grew crops and had cattle, sheep, goats, and chickens, but the climate got colder in the 1300’s and they couldn’t compete with growing glaciers, more icebergs to navigate around, and loss of their cultivation. The climate change and loss of economic trade probably led to the demise of the colonies. It has also been suggested that increasing Inuit population pushed the Vikings away from their established colonies and then out entirely.

In the meantime, the Inuit showed up in the 1100’s. This was the 6th documented Inuit migration to Greenland. The Inuit stayed there and prospered because their diet was sea based. The Danish showed up in the 1600’s and declared the land part of Denmark, which to this day the Inuit are not happy about. However, no colonization happened till 1721 when the Danish established a trading company and Lutheran mission near Nuuk on the west side. In 1776 Danish established full monopoly of trade with Greenland and the coast was closed to foreign access. This lasted till 1950.

Greenland was under the protection of U.S. during WWII when Germany occupied Denmark. Greenland officially became part of the Kingdom of Denmark in 1953, and was granted home rule in 1979. The Inuit want to be independent of Denmark, but Denmark pumps a lot of money into Greenland’s infrastructure, and children can go to college in Copenhagen. Our guide is from Denmark so he is very biased about what should happen here.

So, after we looked at the longhouse and church and other Viking sites, we got back on the boat and went to a boat landing at Itilleq, where our luggage was transferred by car to our next hotel, and we walked to Igaliku. The weather today was beautiful and warm, and the hike was pleasant. We stopped at a viewpoint for lunch, then made our way to the Igaliku Hotel.

Igaliku is a farming community mostly based on sheep. Supposedly the population in 1950 was 146, but there’s less people now. There are summer homes here so the population is up but not more than 100. In winter apparently it drops to about 30.

We had happy hour on the porch, drinking Greenland beer, then went for a walk at 5 p.m. We saw the church which is also used for a school, and the general store which stocks a little of everything. We had our fabulous dinner of fresh cod, and stayed up awhile just talking. Our group is very compatible and we all have interesting stories. All of us are well traveled so there are lots of stories.

We are at this hotel 2 nights, and there is no Internet, so these will be posted later. Jan tells us the weather will change and we will have foen winds (kinda like Santa Ana winds in California). This could give us problems on Tuesday when we travel by boat to our next destination.

Additional photos below
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Brattahlid reconstructionBrattahlid reconstruction
Brattahlid reconstruction

This is area Erik the Red settled. This is the church for his wife. Note iceberg in back.

14th August 2019

Great Stories
Thanks, Sue. This is very interesting. Makes we want to book a flight there today!
14th August 2019

So, the happiest country on Earth also imperializes! Sounds like it would be tough to be a vegetarian in Greenland. Not enough green! Given your trials (from later blog-I’m reading these in reverse order), isn’t it amazing to imagine the toughness of people living there and emigrating from more comfortable home countries? Not to mention never seeing a cactus or sipping a drink on a sandy beach during a Santa Ana.

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