Drawings: Karale Andreassen (see picture gallery)
Text Anders Stenbakken
Destination East Greenland
Greenland is Christian (Protestantism) and the church has a central role in the daily life of Ammassalik, but belief in supernatural mysteries or ghosts is widely spread.
Christianity is a relatively new religion in East Greenland. Consider this: The first baptism in Ammassalik took place in 1899 and it wasn't until 1921 that all adults were baptised.
Worship of Nature
The Inuit religion was very complex nature worship. Everything had a soul and was spiritually connected. The universe was at harmony with its elements and the powers of nature possessed a neutral position towards man. When evil (bad hunting, bad weather or illnesses) happened, the source was most likely to be found in people's bad behaviour.
The Inuit didn’t have sacred buildings. The nature was sacred, and the Inuit was a child of nature; but life was not a paradise; man’s capability of doing evil represented a constant threat to harmony.
Life after death.
The Inuit believed that life was eternal. Death was only a transformation from one world to another. When you died you went to the other side. This transformation didn’t happen instantly, but was believed to take more than a year. The soul had to crawl under an enormous skin carpet. This journey would free the body of juices. Arriving on the other side two worlds appeared. A world under water and earth, where the seal meat was plenty and a world in the sky rich on berries. Hell didn’t exist.
A human was believed to have not one but several souls. Each part of the body had it’s own soul. The strongest souls where the souls of the larynx and the soul of the left side of the torso. When a person became ill it was a sign of one or more souls had left the body. To be cured the souls had to be found and brought back to the body. Illness was considered as a “small death”.
As protection against illness and death all Inuits have several amulets. They were worn hidden in amulet harnesses, hair ribbons, hidden in the turf house, the summer tent, in kayaks and umiaq’s. A person could have 10 or more amulets. These “guardian angles” only had the power if they were hidden from other people. The amulets could be almost anything. Small pieces of bone, teeth, wooden figures, stones, bird wings, dried intestines. To lose an amulet was a true disaster.
The Angakok (Shaman)
Gods and spirits, many of them evil, ruled the nature, and the Inuit had not only to behave correctly but also to be able to interpret their mysterious ways to survive. A person who had this skill was the Angakok. Far from everyone had the gift of becoming an Angakok, and if they had it took years of training before he would become one.
The Angakok was thought to have special abilities in relating to the Gods and spirits. They believed the Angakok had the power to influence events such as weather, food and illnesses. The Angakok was therefore seen as possessing the abilities of curing the sick, controlling nature and predicting future events.
When illness fell upon an Eskimo, it was viewed as one of two things. Either the illness had been caused by the loss of a soul or the intrusion of a foreign object (black magic in shape of a Tupilaq). Despite the cause, there was only one way to cure the illness and that was to seek the aid of a competent Angakok.
To get in touch with the spiritual world the Angakok would have to go into a trance. Laying on the plank bed in the turf house with his hands and feet tied he would be able to free his spirit from the body. Then he would be able to let it fly through the air in search for the soul, do battles with tupilaq’s or communicate with the spirits or a deceased relative of the patient.