Season 1
Episode 10: Greenland: The Monster Hunter

Hunting monsters at the top of the world.

This week, Passport is off to Greenland – a country whose awe-inspiring natural wonder is only matched by its terror-inducing monsters, ghosts, and spirits!

The world’s biggest island, Greenland, is a harsh and unforgiving place. Think minus fifty temperatures, three-month long nights and deadly storms. To have any semblance of control over this chaotic world, the native Inuits developed a belief system of spirits, monsters and taboos; ways to make sense of the senseless violence inflicted upon them by mother nature.

In modern Greenland these same spirits live on today, having survived colonisation, christianity and modernisation. But how? And perhaps more importantly, why? In this episode of Passport, we journey through Greenland’s past and present with a monster hunter whose weapon is her paintbrush and a historian descended from some of the earliest Greenlanders – all to confront the ghosts, spirits and monsters that shape modern Greenland as it is today.

MORE TO EXPLORE

SAVED PINS

5 ways to create some mythic memories of your own in Greenland.

  1. GODTHAAB BRYGHUS (GOT-HAB BREE-GOOS)
    A brewery that also serves monsters: caribou and crocodile meat.
  2. SARFALIK RESTAURANT
    Authentic food of Greenland, gone swanky. 
  3. KATUAQ CULTURAL CENTER
    Your first stop for Greenlandic cultural immersion.
  4. DOG SLEDDING IN TASSILAQ
    No roads? Try dog sledding!
  5. VIEWING THE NORTHERN LIGHTS IN ILULISSAT, GREENLAND
    An ideal place to see the Northern Lights. Just don’t whistle.

CONNECT WITH US!

On Instagram: @passportpodcast

On Facebook: @passportpod

On Twitter: @passportpod

On The Web: frequencymachine.com/passport

CONNECT WITH OUR GUESTS!

Maria Kreutzmann: on Facebook on Instagram

This week’s episode of Passport was written, produced and edited by Billy Craigan-Toon.

Huge thanks to Maria Kreutzmann and Ujammiugaq Engell for helping us make the show. 

Theme music by Nick Turner with additional music by Cape St.Francis, Kristina Boassen, Lt Fitzgibbons Men, Serenity and Musicbox.

Our production assistant is Eliza Engel. The show is mixed and mastered by Julian Kwasneski.

Stacey Book, Dominique Ferrari and Avi Glijanksy are fjord stalking mountain wanderers. They also executive produce the show… 

Which is hosted by Neil Innes and a man who isn’t afraid to whistle at the aurora, Andres Bartos.

See you in the next place!

 

 

Banner image: Nuuk, Greenland: Photo by Filipe Gielda on Unsplash.

EPISODE 10 – TRANSCRIPT

NEIL: This is the first episode where neither myself or Andrés know what we’re about to hear.

ANDRÉS: Well, I know where we’re going, but that’s it.

BILLY: Today, everyone, we’re going to Greenland, with me, your host, Billy Craigan-Toon.

[Laughter]

[PASSPORT MAIN TITLE]

ANDRÉS: A destination isn’t always a place.

NEIL: Sometimes it’s a new way of seeing things.

I’m Neil Innes

ANDRÉS: And I’m Andrés Bartos.

NEIL: From Frequency Machine, this is Passport.

ANDRÉS: Your ticket to everywhere.

[END MAIN TITLE]

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: The world’s largest island, Greenland, is a harsh, unforgiving place. Its 56,000 inhabitants have to deal with a lot. Isolation, the blistering cold and ice.

NEIL: You see, despite the name, Greenland is mostly ice, 80% of it in fact. The ice cap that sits in the center holds 7% of all of the fresh water on the planet.

ANDRÉS: But Greenland is so much more than an icy bowl. It’s starkly, terribly beautiful.

NEIL: Even old Donald Trump has a soft spot for the country.

TRUMP: Well, Greenland, I don’t know, it got released somehow. It’s just something we talked about. Denmark essentially owns it. We’re very good allies with Denmark. We protect Denmark like we protect large portions of the world.

NEIL: The expected 533-billion-dollar price tag and the fact that the place wasn’t really on the market didn’t really phase him when he tried to buy it back in 2019.

TRUMP: So the concept came up and I said, certainly, I mean strategically it’s interesting, but we’re looking at it, it’s not number one on the burner.

ANDRÉS: But with the country looking to increase accessibility and grow tourism starting this year, the focus will surely be on the thrill seekers. Insane winter sports at the top of the bill with hunting, hiking, and fishing coming right behind. But if you’re thinking of making the trip, you need to be aware.

There are scarier things here than polar bears or blizzards. There are monsters in this place. So many monsters.

[Song playing]

NEIL: Today on passport, Billy Craigan-Toon takes a look at how the past, present, and future of Greenland is equally touched, tainted, and blessed by the spirits, ghosts, and monsters of this truly incredible place.

BILLY: There’s this idea that the further north you go in the world,

ANDRÉS: Yeah.

BILLY: The scarier, the stories get.

ANDRÉS: Interesting premise.

BILLY: Back when we used to live around campfires in colder places, where it’s darker, where the wilderness is more dangerous, it’s far more important to make sure that the kids or anyone doesn’t stray too far away from the campfire.

And then I thought, Greenland’s pretty far north. I bet they’ve got some good ghost stories. I discovered way more about the country.

ANDRÉS: Yeah.

BILLY: And, and its monsters and what they mean today than I was ever expecting.

NEIL: Now what’s the reputation of the people of Greenland because it’s so remote and so new.

BILLY: They are a sort of a hardy people and that’s, you know,

ANDRÉS: There’s a need to be.

BILLY: Understand, yeah, there’s a need to be, you know, they’re survivors and they live in a place where you kind of have to survive on a daily basis, but that, because of that, they’re also a sorts of, um, roll your sleeves up and get on with it.

When myself and my interviewees were recording, we were both in quarantine and we were reflecting on those experiences. For most people in Greenland, this is just exactly the same thing.

You know, people are used to being told that they can’t leave their homes for a couple of days. They’re kind of, they’re unfazed by the types of things that we’d be phased by.

ANDRÉS Right.

NEIL: Yeah.

BILLY: They don’t get hung up on the same shit that we get hung up on.

You know, if their plans get fucked with, that is a normal part of life, whereas we’re like what I can’t go drink a beer in a terrace?

ANDRÉS: It’s raining.

BILLY: It’s raining.

ANDRÉS: We can’t go outside.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: I like where we’re headed. I mean, this sounds like a very moody kind of, you know.

NEIL: It sounds amazing.

ANDRÉS: Yeah, we’re heading into the land of monsters and ice.

BILLY: There’s definitely both of those things.

NEIL: Look, he’s excited, look at his little face.

[Sound effect]

BILLY: Let’s take a look at Greenland on a map. That huge, ominous block of pure sheet ice, cold, empty and dark for half of the year, is the ideal location for a ghost story.

UJAMMIUGAQ: I was about 17 and I remember this breaking as a story and everyone just being mortified. And I remember emailing my mom, like what is going on?

And she was like, I can’t even begin to tell you what’s going on.

[Sound effect]

BILLY: It was January 2003 in Greenland’s capital city of Nuuk. The city was in wintertime, covered in snow, icy cold. Greenland, a member of the Faroe Islands that shares rule with its colonial leader, Denmark, had recently elected a new Greenlandic coalition government.

UJAMMIUGAQ: There had just been an overturn within the party that had been in charge in Greenland for the past I think 30 years at the time. There were a lot of odd ideas going about, and the election that led up to this had been the first one that really took in the idea of criticizing the earlier government for not being critical enough of the Danish rule in Greenland.

BILLY: The stability of this new coalition was put to the test when Jens Lyberth, a high-ranking politician appointed as acting director for Greenland’s home rule, hired the services of a spiritual healer to perform a cleansing ceremony of a government building. Greenland’s political scene was beginning to feel more like an episode of Stranger Things.

UJAMMIUGAQ: My own mother worked in the government at that time. I asked her about it and she did this shudder thing. And the thing is that it just, it sort of happened without being approved anywhere.

BILLY: During the ceremony, the healer reportedly felt vibrations of conflict between Danish colonialists and Greenlandic home rule government members. Greenland has been a colony of Denmark since the early 1700s. Jens’ decision to hold a seance in this way was widely taken to be a direct attack on the Danish presence in Greenland.

UJAMMIUGAQ: If this had been sold as a cleansing, like a holistic, ritualistic cleansing of a building, that would have been passive aggressive on its own, but the fact that it was worded against a group of people, an ethnicity, a part of our history, felt very aggressive.

BILLY: His actions outraged and embarrassed the nation. Along with two other colleagues, Jens was fired.

Eight members of parliament pulled their support from the coalition government, which unable to cope with the controversy and internal quarrelling, totally collapsed.

We’ve all seen a lot of political protests and a lot of people rise up against their colonial ruling governments. I mean, that’s how America got to be America.

So, what is it about Greenland that a political protest of their colonial rulers takes the form of a spiritual cleansing along the lines of a séance? While it was considered to be out of the ordinary and frankly, out of order for a Greenlandic politician to act in this way, it’s true to say that Greenland has a unique relationship with superstition and the spirit world.

[Spiritual sound effects]

[Song playing]

I got in touch with Maria Kreutzmann, a visual artist who a few years ago began a monster hunt searching for the hidden parts of Greenlandic mythology. She wanted to restore and preserve a part of her culture that she cherished but felt was under threat of being forgotten. She uncovered hundreds of ghosts, spirits, creatures, each with its own history, meaning and cultural significance.

And along with the team of artists and historians, she documented and beautifully illustrated these creatures into the first book of its kind: the Bestiarium Groenlandica – or Greenlandic Bestiary.

MARIA: I felt very much that the creatures came to me because they wanted to be preserved. A lot of the drawings I did, we had never seen, illustrated before, but I felt like they were allowing me to illustrate them because of what I saw in the mind’s eye and that my ancestors were kind of guiding me to try and interpret these monsters.

BILLY: I couldn’t help but think that Maria might be the perfect person to go exploring with.

I kind of wanna do like a little bit of myth-busting. Because I read a couple of times at least that lots of Greenlandic people today believe in ghosts and spirits.

Is there truth in that? Is that, or is that just nonsense?

MARIA: Yes, that is very, very, very true. Greenland’s a very superstitious culture. You know how, when you say you’re afraid of ghosts as a child, then your parents might go, you know, ghosts aren’t real.

And it wasn’t like that for me, my mother’s Danish and my dad’s Greenlandic. And when I was little, if I was afraid of ghosts, he would just be like, just recognize their existence. It’s going to be fine. Like I would never go outside and whistle at the Aurora because everybody up here knows that that is, you know, a death sentence because the spirits of the…

BILLY: Whistle at the Aurora?

MARIA: Whistle, yeah, the, the Northern Lights, you don’t whistle at the Northern Lights because the Northern Lights are the spirits of our ancestors and they will come down and rip your head off and play ball with it.

BILLY: Maria has infinite ghost stories. Listening to her, talk about them, it’s striking how a part of everyday life they are. There was one creature she would repeatedly mentioned called:

MARIA: The Qivittoq, the mountain wanderer.

BILLY: A fearsome troll-like being who roams the mountains alone, possessed by the spirit world and dangerous to humans. Until Maria’s book, this creature had never been depicted in images.

In Maria’s version, the Qivittoq is a faceless ghoul, wearing a shaggy hooded cloak with glowing red eyes.

MARIA: There’s a really fun story about a couple who lived in a small settlement up north in the center of town. And they had this big problem where people would come all the time to either look for somebody or borrow sugar or whatever.

And sometimes in the night, people would be knocking, and they were really, really tired of it. So, they moved to another house on the outskirts of the city and immediately, the moment they moved to the new house, nobody was knocking on their door.

[Sci-fi sound effects]

MARIA: They thought it was so weird. They started asking, what’s going on?

Why is nobody coming, knocking on our house anymore? It’s nice that we don’t get woken up, but we miss people.

BILLY: The couple, knowing very little about the creatures feared most by Greenlandic locals, suddenly found themselves living in a no-go area.

MARIA: And it turns out that that house was far away enough that if you went there alone, the Qivittoq, mountain walkers, would take you.

[Sci-fi sound effects]

BILLY: Perhaps more than anywhere, ghosts, monsters and spirits play a pivotal role in the shape of life in modern Greenland. A society that has experienced a rapid and intense change in the later part of the 20th century.

MARIA: We are a culture of constant change. So much has happened in terms of the modern era coming up here.

BILLY: Greenland today is a thoroughly modern place. In the capital city of Nuuk, you’ll find restaurants, clubs, bars, cinemas, and chain coffee shops like you would anywhere else.

It has a promising tourism industry. Greenland boasts some of the most epic and beautiful landscapes you’ll find anywhere in the world that the country is capitalizing on.

If you visit the southern part of the country during the summer, the temperature can rise to more than 20 degrees Celsius, that’s 68 degrees Fahrenheit. And due to the fine air quality and low levels of moisture, you’re able to see super far into the distance.

The winter gets a little bit colder, like minus 50 degrees cold. However, it’s this time of year that you’ll get the best views of the Northern Lights.

And Nuuk is pretty much entirely powered on renewable energy, making it arguably more modern than many of its international counterparts. So why are Greenlanders still holding on to their ghosts and their monsters?

[Song playing]

MARIA: We’re very, very old country, but we are a young culture and that’s actually where the difference is. You know how they say Africa is the cradle of life. If Africa is the cradle of life, we’re the womb, the oldest bacteria in the world has been found in Greenland.

BILLY: An old country, but a young nation. This is because, although there are traces of people in Greenland that go back 5,000 years, modern Greenland’s ancestors, the Thule people, only arrived during the 1300s, having migrated from Canada.

Today, we know native Greenlanders as Inuits, although as Maria explains, it’s not a simple term to define.

MARIA: We have a very small percentage of what I would call true Inuit up here.

BILLY: Record keeping wasn’t exactly sophisticated back then.

MARIA: And we also had some really, really fun traditions up here. So, in the olden times we had something called qaminngaarneq, which basically means the turning down of the lamps.

So during the winter, and you were really bored and you were just stuck in your hut, you would have kind of like a sexual social game where people would have these beautiful lamp, the old silks and you would turn the lamps off and then you would have a orgy. And it was a way for people to release stresses, but it was also a way to welcome travelers into your community.

You know, you would meet and you would eat and they’d be like, let’s turn off the lamps and let’s have some good times, you know, and you would basically not know who you were mixing with. And it was a way to also interchange genes. And when you would have an outside traveler come to a very small community of maybe 20 people, our ancestors knew that it was a good idea to mix the bloodlines.

BILLY: Wow. So the orgy, the qaminngaarneq, I think I’ve got it down,

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: I should not laugh, but you just changed personalities as you said that.

NEIL: As he’s thinking about orgies.

BILLY: It’s almost the weekend. That was, I think the first thing that Maria said to me.

ANDRÉS: Really? Wow, that’s where you guys started?

BILLY: We were on the phone for about, I think, I mean, I can check the interview record time, but I’m pretty sure it was like five minutes max.

She was great, man, do you want to talk about orgies?

[Laughter]

NEIL: There’s like, there’s like a Wicker Man, Midsommar horror film to made there, like an unsuspecting backpacker. Just like there he is, the one from the outside, come to our party, get in and get out.

BILLY: There is a porno to be made there as well.

ANDRÉS: Absolutely

[Laughter]

BILLY: We’ve had quite a few conversations now, um, cause I keep on going back for more, just like, tell me, tell me more. Um, but yeah, that was one of the first things she told me and I kind of knew that I was like,

ANDRÉS: This is a special place

BILLY: And that’s the fun of it.

[Song playing]

BILLY: Maria put me in touch with her best friend, historian and cultural queen of knowledge, Ujammiugaq Engell.

UJAMMIUGAQ: My name is Ujammi. I am a professional nerd.

BILLY: There are traces of people in Greenland going back 5,000 years. Mainly nomadic travelers and descendants of Vikings who scratched out a hard tribal life on the island, but none were able to successfully settle there for more than a few hundred years. I asked Ujammiugaq why it took until her ancestors for people to successfully populate the world’s biggest island.

UJAMMIUGAQ: I usually say that the Thule culture is the first culture in Greenland to really live and not just survive on a daily basis. The one thing that really made them step ahead of everybody else was the fact that they had invented traveling devices. They had the kayak and the umiak, which is like an open boat, and the dog sled obviously.

BILLY: The ability to mobilize meant they could take advantage of the wide expanse of land they were living on. With kayaks you could go hunting for days and come back with a whole bunch of fish, a bit of seal, maybe even a whale.

UJAMMIUGAQ: And then you could just, you know, hang out with your family, hang out with your wife, have additional kids, you know, stuff like that.

And it’s so evident in every part of their culture that they have this extra time because they created a lot more. Every time we put a shovel in the ground, we all find some sort of toy or some sort of like arrow that they could just sit and fiddle with until they were like perfect.

BILLY: And the fact that the Thule people were able to adapt and survive and even thrive in Greenland is actually incredible when you think about it, because frankly, living in Greenland is bonkers. Here’s Maria again.

MARIA: It’s the most extreme place you can be, really. It’s where it will go dark for three months in the winter, you will have the sun out three months in the summer, it gets extremely cold. We have something called bitsalaq, which is an extreme kind of storm.

There’s these winds that blow in from the inland ice and then blow out over the Eastern side of Greenland and it is crazy.

[Wind sound effect]

UJAMMIUGAQ: I was about six years old and we had to go from one place to another and they had to tie a rope around me to make sure that I wasn’t blown away.

BILLY: Nothing even grows in Greenland. There’s no trees, no fields, just rocky mountains, minus 50 temperatures and endless, barren ice.

UJAMMIUGAQ: We had these people from London, I think, and they were quite shocked to see, we tend to litter here in Greenland and they were so shocked to see that we would litter, because you know, you have to protect mother nature.

And it occurred to me that we have wildly different understanding of what mother nature. Like if you have to personify the nature in Europe, she tends to be this beautiful, dainty creature with long, green, flowy hair. And here, she is quite frankly, a bitch, who’s not only trying to kill you, but is wanting to kill you all the time.

BILLY: And when you live in a world that seemingly wants you dead, you’re going to start to ask why.

[Song playing]

NEIL: See you after the break for more myths, monsters and how the future of Greenland is incorporating them into tales. We’ll be right back.

BILLY: Myths hold sway in the places where they’re needed most. To have any semblance of control over their environment, the Inuits developed a strict belief system, a system that involved spirits and monsters, incarnations of the terrors of nature, beings that they could refer to when things got difficult.

For example, the origins of the Qivittoq, the mountain wanderer, who we spoke about earlier, come from the fact that people would often want or need to leave the community.

MARIA: If somebody did something that was really shameful, they would be ostracized by the community, or they would choose to ostracize themselves.

BILLY: But since leaving the community would have meant certain death, if that person were to survive, it would have meant they must have made some kind of deal with the spirits, trading their soul for dangerous superpowers.

[Sci-fi sound effects]

UJAMMIUGAQ: The spirit world was on top of the human world, but it was a dangerous place. It was a vicious place and the spirits were tricksters and dangerous to the humans. To uphold the balance between the spirit world and the human world, you have to abide by a billion different odd rules and rights and taboos.

BILLY: The rules help make sense of a chaotic world. They meant you could take back some control, but as is often the case, women were most objected to these rules. Everything from childbirth and menstruation to what they could eat and how, had to be done a very specific way. And if you didn’t abide, things would go wrong and it would be on you.

And some of these rules got pretty intense.

[Song playing]

UJAMMIUGAQ: If a child died, it couldn’t die inside of the hut that you were living in at the time, it had to die outside so that the spirit of the children didn’t become malicious spirits, but there was also a taboo around touching a dead person.

So, the mother would have to carry out a dying child and sit with it until it died. And then having touched a dead person that would have tainted you, and the only way that you could ensure that nothing bad would happen and that the spirits wouldn’t come back was to not speak to this one person for a full year. And this person would always have to be facing away from everybody and not speak to anybody.

So, in one of the most awful circumstances of life, a thing that nobody wants to experience, this parent would have to go through that entire trauma on their own.

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: That is brutal.

NEIL: That’s, that’s a turn that hurt.

ANDRÉS: Yeah. It’s just hard.

NEIL: 300, 400-year-old stories, you know, nursery rhymes and fables and things

ANDRÉS: Ring around the rosie and all

NEIL: Yeah, you know, where they actually come from and instead of using it to scare and to, you know, have the quote unquote cautionary tales for children to stop them from crossing the road or going into the woods or whatever, to have that at the extent that it exists in a country like Greenland, for it to go that way.

ANDRÉS: Yeah.

NEIL: For it to go into superstitious to the point of craziness is, is, is shocking.

ANDRÉS: But it’s also, it also kind of makes sense, because you have to, if the weather is that extreme, if the place you live is that extreme, your attitudes have to be as extreme.

NEIL: Yeah. Yeah.

[Song playing]

BILLY: The first Danish missionary arrived in Greenland during the 1700s. His name was Hans Poulsen Egede, a fanatical Christian who was obsessed with finding the Vikings who by that point had long since died. Disappointed to have only found settlements of Inuits up and down the coast, Hans decided to cut his losses and focus his energies instead on saving these strange people from their odd spirits and monsters with the good word of the Bible.

This began the unique colonization of the Greenlandic people. Unique in the sense that it didn’t mirror any other typical colonization story.  It didn’t involve armed forces pointing guns at people and forcing them into schools and churches.  It did involve corporal punishment, perceived to be the norm in the 1700s, but no one was pointing guns at anyone. And for many people, the introduction of Christianity was a way of setting yourself free from an incredibly restrictive taboo system.

UJAMMIUGAQ: He presented them this idea that there aren’t like a million different evil spirits, there’s really just three spirits and they’re very good and they’re very forgiving and you just have to be good and kind.

BILLY: This was a major selling point to the women for whom the current system was not working at all.

UJAMMIUGAQ: I have this mental image of women just running into a church. And once the women sort of took that to heart, the men followed, because they always do.

MARIA: I actually love that story that Christianity was a source of female empowerment. It’s so baffling, but it’s a really interesting aspect of how Christianity was brought up here because a lot of the women and the indigenous peoples weren’t forced.

BILLY: However, this was still colonization. And with it came a lot of problems. To name just a few: there was a measles outbreak that wiped out the vast majority of the population. Then, rather than following game where it went, people were suddenly huddled around churches, which meant they over-hunted the areas they occupied, leading to periods of prolonged and serious hunger.  And ultimately, it pushed one set of ideas on a people. It began a process that would change Inuit life forever.  Culture was shifting into Christianity which meant that everything needed to adapt. And along with everything else, the spirits had to adapt too.

[Song playing]

UJAMMIUGAQ: Although it was widely accepted, there were, of course, a load of stuff that couldn’t just be left behind.

You will always take something with you, regardless of how much you tried to rid yourself, emotionally of everything that you grew up believing in, they couldn’t get rid of the spirits. Like, regardless of how much they tried, spirits sort of translated their way into Christianity by translating into ghosts.

MARIA: Jesus and God is spiritual forces and people mix that with superstition as well. Like you’ll use the Bible to ward off evil demons and evil demons, like the bad spirits we have up here are not mentioned in the Bible. Like you’re not going to find domanyak or qivittoq or anything in the Bible, but if you have a superstitious thing happen to you, you know, a Bible is a good ward off for that.

BILLY: What’s more, from the 18th century to the mid-20th century, the Danes took a particularly noninvasive approach to colonizing the Greenlandic people.

UJAMMIUGAQ: It became very popular at the time to believe in this philosophy of the noble savage.

BILLY: The idea that all men were created equally.

UJAMMIUGAQ: And then the Europeans evolved from there and they became civilized, but also remove themselves from the light of God,

BILLY: Lying, cheating, stealing, and whoring in big sinful cities.

UJAMMIUGAQ: Indigenous people, even though they were savages, they were actually just living the way that the Lord intended us all to live.

BILLY: So in general, the Danes left the Inuits in peace, but also kept them isolated from the outside world. It was not possible to travel in and out of the country. And trading was kept to an absolute minimum as not to corrupt their pure way of life.

UJAMMIUGAQ: There were so many restrictions because it was believed to be the most humane thing to do to a native people.

BILLY: And so for generations, the Greenlandic people pretty much remained hunters and gatherers, untainted by the outside world. That was until…

[Sounds of WWII]

BILLY: World War II comes along. Denmark is occupied by the Nazis. Left stranded and vulnerable, the two Danish officials who were posted in Greenland at the time, decided that they would negotiate a deal with the USA. But in order for the U.S. to recognize Greenland as a legitimate partner to negotiate with, they had to form the first government of Greenland.

A deal was struck. So in exchange for military protection against the Nazis, the U.S. could mine minerals found in Greenland, which were important for producing aluminum, a super valuable resource, particularly in the war effort. And this deal ended up being incredibly fruitful for the Greenlandic people.

[Song playing]

UJAMMIUGAQ: For the first time ever, the Greenlandic people were giving any free goods that they wanted. They just sent over a whole bunch of Sears catalogs and then the Greenlandic people could just go, I want that thing.

BILLY: So the kinds of modern conveniences that you could find in American houses, washing machines, toasters, vacuum cleaners, coffee machines, came to Greenland courtesy of the American government and Sears.

Communication vastly improved up and down the coast. They built base posts, radio contact, and often wouldn’t mind taking a few people from one place to another via boat.

UJAMMIUGAQ: We also got a sense of national identity because up until then, because it’s so difficult traveling up and down the coast in Greenland, there really hadn’t been any kind of unity.

BILLY: Greenland had become something of an independent country.

UJAMMIUGAQ: So while the rest of Europe was burning down, we’re doing really good up here. Like we have our own first proto government and we had free trade and things were going really great.

BILLY: So life was going well in Greenland. And now that the Greenlanders had been given a taste of the modern world, they couldn’t, nor do they want to, go back to how things were pre-World War II.

UJAMMIUGAQ: Luckily, the Dane’s government was, was quick to sort of pick up on that. And then they sat down with this proto government and sort of tried to figure out what, what do we do from here? And this was with the best of intentions on both sides. Like no doubt about it. The thing is that what followed was two decades of absolute disaster.

[Song playing]

BILLY: The first decade, right after World War II.

UJAMMIUGAQ: They did this whole thing where they wanted to educate the Greenlandic people.

BILLY: Up until then, Greenlanders had very limited access to education.

UJAMMIUGAQ: So, they were like, okay, how are we going to do this? The children of Greenland are spread all the way up and down the coast and we can’t provide teachers for all of them.

So, what did we do? Well, let’s send off some Greenlandic kids to Denmark and educate them there. It had horrific results, and to understand how they could ever do this in the way that they did, you have to understand that the fifties were a different time, a different universe to what we live in today.

Just thinking about how children all over the world were treated at that point, you got beaten up in school by your teachers. And the general idea was that children weren’t really children, they were just like very early stages of adulthood and at some point, if you were strict enough, you could transform them into proper adults.

And most of them grew up to be very traumatized adults.

BILLY: Children are absolute survivors and to survive this harsh new environment, they’d often lose their native language and return not being able to recognize their own families. Their sense of identity was shattered. This happened so recently that four children from that first round are still living today and they continued to do this for years.

It got slightly better with each generation, but eventually they realized that as a system, it was unsustainable.

UJAMMIUGAQ: Instead, let us modernize the cities, because at that point, people were still living mainly in the small villages. So, they wanted to centralize people and they wanted to create modern housing and modern facilities for all of these people.

So, the government of Greenland started closing down a bunch of villages and settlements that weren’t profitable enough. So they closed everything down up there and then moved people.

BILLY: And often wouldn’t have known where you were going. Extended families were split up between different cities.

And at that point, there was no concept of how the individual psyche reacted to being uprooted from one place where you might’ve been somebody like the main hunter or the carpenter, to being thrown into a big city where you didn’t have any sort of identity, where you were just some person.

UJAMMIUGAQ: One of the things that is profound to me is the fact that the Greenlandic history is often not fully taught.

Which means that the way that they learn about Greenlandic history is through the trauma that their families experienced. And often, when, when something happened, like when you have to close down settlement or move kids from Greenland to Denmark, it was often done by Danish hand. Like quite physically, when, when you had to move, some sort of Danish official would come out and say, we have to close down the settlement.

Um, and you would have to speak to them to figure out where am I going to live? What’s going to happen? So often, what was perceived was that the Danish people did this to us, and most often it was done because there was a Greenlandic government who wanted this on behalf of the Greenlandic people and that makes it so much more difficult to handle today.

BILLY: And that’s the thing about Greenland. While the rest of the world was able to leave their myths by the campfire, Greenland modernized so fast that it was impossible for those superstitions to ever go away.

UJAMMIUGAQ: The first 200 years of the colony of Greenland was like, went kind of slow. And then within like a second, we went from being hunters and gatherers to being civilized people with long educations and everything in between. It’s so crazy.

[Song playing]

BILLY: Greenland modernized within the blink of an eye and with a change so rapid many aspects of the Inuit culture and heritage that didn’t quite fit with the modern world we’re lost and that’s a heavy price to pay.

MARIA: People don’t understand how vast it is up here, how amazing and huge it is. And there’s parts of our culture that needs to be preserved that are bound in our nature and our environment.

BILLY: But although it’s possible for people to adapt in this way, our beliefs are something much harder to let go of. That’s why people won’t venture into certain places for fear of the spirits that lurk there.

That’s why you shouldn’t whistle at the Aurora. And that’s why a politician might rebel against their colonial rulers by way of a cleansing. Today, Greenland continues to be a part of Denmark who takes control of its foreign affairs, currency, civil rights and defense.

However, in 2009, Greenland gained self-governance, achieving significant autonomy over the freedom to sign major business deals, manages education, healthcare, fisheries, environment, and climate.

MARIA: In the face of adversity, one of the things that I have seen is that people are taking a deep breath and reinventing themselves.

BILLY: Today, Greenland isn’t moving further away from its roots. In fact, it’s having something of a rebirth and is reconnecting with many of those lost parts.

[Drum dance music]

BILLY: Greenlandic drum dancing, an ancient brand of music and dance, traditionally used for a variety of purposes, including entertainment, exorcism and witchcraft has just been entered for the UNESCO world heritage.

And as well as hearing Greenlandic culture, today if you find yourself a Nuuk, it can literally be seen on the hands and faces of Greenlanders.

MARIA: There is the art of traditional tattooing, which is coming back. If you go downtown, you see people with traditional facial tattoos. I have both my hands tattooed.

I don’t know if I will get my face tattooed. I don’t know if I’m there yet. But that’s something to do with being allowed to embrace your traditional culture without it being seen as something that’s like archaic or wrong. Not to like abandon all modern way of living or anything, it’s just embracing your own indigenous background.

BILLY: Rather than using machines, the tattoos of made in the traditional way of hand poking and stitching, a much slower process using a single needle. They have a linear style and depict symbols and imagery from Inuit culture.

MARIA: I have amulets on my right hand, hunting amulets. And I use my right hand for like drawing and writing, so for me, this right hand of mine is what brings me bread on the table.

BILLY: And you know what, it’s not just the people of Greenland who are finding their place in the modern world. Many of their spirits are too.

MARIA: We were talking about qivittoq, it’s an old myth and it also grounds in to modern myths. We’re are a giant, giant country, so people go missing, unfortunately all the time, but the most interesting aspect of the stories is when people choose to disappear.

I think it’s not uncommon in every nationality that people will simply for whatever reason, be it mental health or you know, it’s like, he wasn’t doing so well, that they will disappear themself, but here in Greenland, it is very much bound into the idea of the qivittoq, the mountain wanderer.

BILLY: One of the more famous myths that has found new meaning of the 21st century is the mother of the sea.

MARIA: She’s called Sassuma Arnaa. She is a creature that lives at the bottom of the sea, and she controls all the animals. The animals would live in her hair and then she would release them onto the community so they could hunt and they could have something to eat. And if you broke rules, it would turn into muck that would go into her hair and she would feel filthy and then she would hold the animals back.

And she’s really, really interesting because she has become a symbol of global warming and keeping the oceans clean. Now, people talk about how we shouldn’t put our filth in the oceans to not upset Sassuma Arnaa, and we should take care of the sea ice and everything so that we don’t displease her.

BILLY: Spirits have integrated into the modern world so well that you might even bump into one on a night out.

UJAMMIUGAQ: If you’re having a bad day, if you’re, if you’re going through a tough time in your life and you go out partying to sort of forget about everything, an evil ghost might latch onto you because you are inviting that sort of energy in because you’re, you’re giving off a negative energy.

BILLY: Hmm.

UJAMMIUGAQ: Yeah. Don’t go out drinking if you’re down on your luck, that’s not hangovers, honey.

[Song playing]

MARIA: With that shift where we lost some of our traditional beliefs, it was kind of like replaced with something else. And I find that really, really interesting what the monsters mean and how it affects our culture, because you can’t take my superstition away from me. It’s been with me my whole life. And it’s such a part of my culture.

Like when my friends tell scary stories at midnight and I go home and then I don’t sleep for five hours because I keep thinking, somebody’s in the room, you know, even though I’m an adult lady of 34, that doesn’t go away, ever.

[Song playing]

NEIL: You were saying that when Maria left Greenland, she didn’t understand that the rest of the world didn’t believe in ghosts 

BILLY: Ujammiugaq and Maria, they had to kind of like tell me that, they can get a little bit nervous of talking about ghosts with outsiders, you know, even me. Because they didn’t realize that the rest of the world doesn’t believe in ghosts.

NEIL: Why is the politician doing the exorcism of a building offensive?

BILLY: Well exactly, it’s like on one hand you could look at it like, um, a totally legitimate way for someone in Greenland to expel the, the spirits of, you know, your enemies or whatever, you know, it could be seen as something that’s like totally legit, but,

NEIL: It was pointed.

BILLY: It was pointed at a part of Greenlandic society, you know, on one hand it was offensive and aggressive. And on another hand it maybe reinforces some of those kind of like perceptions that the outside world has of Greenland that it’s this crazy place where people are sort of, you know, always performing seances is of their political rivals and things like this.

Uh, and that’s just not true, you know, a politician performing anything like that. Greenland is probably the only place where that could happen, but when you sort of scratch the surface of that, it still shouldn’t have happened. And there’s a reason why eight members of parliament pulled their support, that government collapsed within, I think a couple of months.

NEIL: Take your Ouija board.  

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: The thing I love is that you have this impression you’re headed into, you know, a straight monster story or straight ghost story, but what’s amazing is the fact that it’s actually the history of a place through its monsters.

NEIL: And a future of a place through its monsters potentially.

ANDRÉS: That’s the thing. When you come back to the monsters now, it’s for the very same reason that the monsters were made in the first place. To scare you, but to make you connected to the place you’re in and to look at it in a way as though it’s alive as well.

BILLY: Well, I’m really glad you enjoyed it.

ANDRÉS: It’s a wild ride and I mean, incredible characters and just, a place like that makes incredible people.

BILLY: Yeah, I got, I got, I hit gold, straight up. Totally hit gold, like and I knew it within the first five minutes of both of my interviews. I mean, I’ve interviewed both of those ladies multiple times, mostly just for the chat.

[Laughter]

NEIL: Mate, that was,

ANDRÉS: Thank you.

BILLY: Thank you for listening and the opportunity in that.

ANDRÉS: Well, we’ll call you. Don’t call us.

[Laughter]

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: This week’s saved pins aim to help you get the most out of your monster hunting on the world’s largest island. So here we go.

Number one, Godthaab Bryghus. The oldest brewery in the country, Godthaab Bryghus was established in Greenland in the early 2000s. The largest brewpub in Nuuk is known for its famous Baja and Pullarkat beers and the best nightlife in Greenland.

It also serves a couple of monsters on the menu, caribou and crocodile meat.

NEIL: Number two, Sarfalik restaurant. Sarfalik combines the best of the Greenlandic and the global kitchen into a restaurant that reflects the catch and produce of the season. They have an amazing six course tasting menu, including halibut, cod, snow crab, and more.

ANDRÉS: Number three: Katuaq Cultural Center. A waived wooden building inspired by the shapes of the Northern Lights, Katuaq is a cultural venue for the whole of Greenland. It is used for concerts, exhibitions, conferences, and as a cinema. If you want to learn more about the culture of this intriguing place, it should definitely be on your list.

NEIL: Number four, dog sledding in Tassilaq. East Greenland is probably the most isolated part of the country. If you want to find the old traditions and the old monsters, this is the place to go. And there are no roads in Greenland, so the only way to get there is to dog sled. check out Greenland.is for all of the adventures you can handle.

ANDRÉS: Number five is Ilulissat in Greenland. It’s the best place to see the Northern Lights. And the third largest city in Greenland, Ilulissat is home to almost as many sled dogs as people. The nearby Ilulissat Icefjord is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s the best place to see the Aurora Borealis in the whole country.

Just don’t whistle.

[Song playing]

If you like the show, please rate and review us in your podcast app. If you do, we’ll send you your very own polar bear. And if you don’t well, Billy made really good friends with the Greenlandic spirits, so, I mean, you know, it’s up to you.

NEIL: Next week we’re off working on some future episodes… a Supreme Master who changed the Taipei food scene, how to propose in the most romantic city on earth and much more, but we’ll be here.

We’re dropping a bonus episode for you, featuring a longer chat with our Greenlandic monster hunter, Maria Krutzman and Los Angeles dark encyclopedia Duke Haney takes us back to Charles Manson. Plus, a touching story of how me and Andrés actually met. So, we’ll see you next Tuesday.

This week’s episode of Passport was written, produced and edited by Billy Craigan-Toon.

Huge thanks to Maria Kreutzmann and Ujammiugaq Engell for helping us make the show. We’ll have all of their details in the show notes if you want to check them out.

Our theme music is by Nick Turner with additional stuff by Cape St.Francis, Kristina Boassen, Lt Fitzgibbons Men, Serenity and Musicbox.

The show is mixed and mastered by Julian Kwasneski.

Stacey Book, Dominique Ferrari and Avi Glijanksy are fjord skating mountain wanderers. They also executive produce the show.

Which is hosted by myself and a man who isn’t afraid to whistle at the Aurora Borealis, Andrés Bartos.

We’ll see you in the next place.

Episodes

1 Comment

  1. Olivia Pisano

    Hello, your show is delightful. Thank you for helping us all to continue marveling at the world in this odd time. Is Maria’s book available in English/ shipped to the US?
    (We obviously have some monsters of our own, but I’d like to read about someone else’s for a change.) Thanks!

    Reply

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© 2018, Frequency Machine Studios.
© 2018, Frequency Machine Studios.