Last week, there was an election in Greenland. Though Greenland is an autonomous constituent country within Denmark, there was much talk up to the election about the stirring movement for Greenlandic independence, and about whether the political parties Nunatta Qitornai and Partii Naleraq, agitating for an independent Greenland, would gain much support.
Danish ethnographic collections contain multitudes of Greenlandic artefacts dating back over 4000 years of cultural history. Many Danish explorers have travelled the length and breadth of Greenland, most famously Knud Rasmussen and Peter Freuchen, who in the first decades of the 20th century brought home exciting stories and vast collections from their fabled Thule expeditions. At The Ethnographic Collections at Moesgaard Museum, we also have some beautiful collections of Inuit artefacts; sleek kayaks and hunting gear, fur clothes, tupilaqs, and even an umiaq; a large open boat, usually rowed by women (thus, the Danish name “konebåd”, or “wives’ boat”).
We also have a curious little collection, from whence the artefact I chose for today, comes. It is a small collection that was donated to the museum in 1954, without much information attached: all we know is that the artefacts (some fragments of whittled bone, two combs, a wooden needle, a little wooden bear-figurine, and this little wooden man), were found in a grave. But how old that grave was, and where it was, we do not know.
Despite the lack of provenience, there is something about this little man. Who made him? Who is he? And what kind of daily life did he and his maker live? We do not know.
When it came down to it, the people of Greenland chose not to rush to independence. But that does not mean that it will not happen in the future, and that many Greenlandic people do not wish for their nation to be independent of Denmark. There is no knowing whether this little figure had been made by the time Greenland became a Danish colony in 1814 – but it definitely had, when the country became part of the Danish Realm in 1953, just the year before the little collection of grave goods was donated to Moesgaard. And just maybe, the little man will be waiting in our collections when Greenland someday becomes fully independent.