Some may think of a place that has an expansive horseshoe shaped black sand beach on a pristine clear fjord that is bordered by majestic mountains and glaciers as an exotic tourist sight. This particular description is of Illorsuit, Greenland. The small settlement is located on the Ubekendt Island about 300 miles north of the arctic circle.
Jarte Korneliussen describes activities in Illorsuit as “…when summer and the sun starts to rise, our settlement livens up. We cook on the ice, play soccer and rounders, we do everything together. Children, grown-ups, toddlers and old people join.” –September 2016
And Erik Qvist notes life in Illorsuit…“We are not that many here. The population does grow and diminish from time to time. We’re used to living in such a place like this, so no big rants about it. We all know each other pretty well because there’s so few of us here. Perhaps I can summarize it that way.” –September 2016
Illorsuit was a fishing community with halibut being the cash crop. Seal and whale are still being hunted for food and for the dogs. In mid-2017 a large rock slide into the Illorsuit Sound created a title wave that struck Illorsuit and deposited sea water into more than half of the town. With the probability of more landslides, authorities evacuated the community and have prohibited residents from returning.
The Greenlandic name Illorsuit means the place with big houses. The settlement is approximately 100 km from the district’s main town of Uummannaq. The area is an extensive fjord complex with many glaciers along the jagged coast of central West Greenland. Geographical Illorsuit lies between the parallels 71˚14’30 N and 53˚34’00 W. According to historical accounts Illorsuit was established in 1859 as an outpost on the northeast corner of a large teardrop shaped rocky island. The decisions and management were carried out by the administration system Royal Trade Department – KGH. Early on the main exports were sealskins, fat, and shark liver. Illorsuit was a distinguishedarea with many seals, white whales, sharks and a variety of sea birds. In 1931 when Kent arrived in Illorsuit the population was about 165, and in 2016 the population was about 75.
During Kent’s time in Illorsuit, The small turf houses made by sod and stone were standard housing for the large inuit families. Pavia Nielsenaccounted that they as a family lived in a house with his parent, siblings and grandfather and grandmother, besides his uncle and his wife. It was common that one or both grandparents lived with their children and grandchildren. They were part of the nuclear family, to help and support with life experiences. Even with the bringing up the children, every skill makes a survival matter. For boys and girl’s traditional knowledge has been shared for each in many generations. Today the turf house is a museum relic as many wooden houses were built in the 1950’s and 1960’s to replace the antiquated traditional homes of the past.
1.KGH shortening of the Danish words Kongelig Grønlandske Handelestablished in 1774 by the Danish colonial administration.
2.Informant from Uummannaq, who lived as a hunter most of his life. Pavia were born in Qaarsut, a settlement in Uummannaq district.