Wednesday, 20 January

Article Index


Part 1/4:- The first visit in Qaanaaq in 1976

By Pentti Kronqvist, originally in Swedish.

Part of the Duneq family, 1976. Ilanquaq, Karen, and Kale

Ilanguaq Duneq - Big-Game Hunter, Artist, and Friend

I met Ilanguaq Duneq for the first time at the end of March in 1976. It was during my first visit to the northern parts of Greenland. We were a group of three men, Christer Boucht, Hans Koivusalo and me. We had planned a journey from northern Greenland to the northernmost village in the arctic Canada, the village of Grisefjord. We calculated that the journey from Greenland to Canada would be 500-600 kilometers, but the journey ended up being much longer -- about 800 kilometers, due to difficult ice conditions and open water in the Smith Sound. We were not able to cross over at the predetermined location, which we had chosen based on satellite imagery. We were forced to continue another 150 kilometers up along the coast of Greenland.

During the first stage of our journey, from Pituffik, by the Thule Air force base, to Moriusaq, and from there on to Qaanaaq, I injured the ligament in my right knee when descending a glacier. We decided to recoup in Qaanaaq for three days. The village is the largest of the six villages in the Thule district.

On the second day in the village, I decided to take a short walk in the center of the village, to see if my knee was holding up. As I was passing by a recently built house, there was a small boy, maybe five or six years old, sitting on the steps. The boy was wearing pants made of real polar bear skin. On his feet, he wore kamiks, which are boots made of seal skin. His anorak was made of dog skin and he was holding a dog whip, which is used to control sled dogs during a pull. Maybe the little boy was dreaming about becoming a great musher and hunter when he grew up.

I stopped, tried to talk to the boy, and took a few pictures. I was admiring that mettlesome boy standing on the steps when the door to the house opened, and a man stepped out. I introduced myself to him, telling him where I came from. The man told me he is the boy’s father and that his name is Ilanguaq Duneq.

I was invited into the house, and greeted the rest of the family: his wife Karen, and two older boys, Kaviaq and Putlaq, 12 and 15, and the youngest boy, Kale, the one who was standing on the steps.

I conveyed greetings from Erik Isakson, a Swede I knew, and was aware that he had lived here a whole year. The visit ended up being long, and we went through many cups of tea. When I thanked them for the chat, about ready to go back to Hanne Kemniz’ house, where I was staying, I and Ilanguaq agreed that I would come back in the afternoon of the next day.

Such was the way I met Ilanguaq Duneq for the first time, and we immediately became good friends. I had heard and read about him and knew that he was one of the best known hunters in the district. Erik Isakson had told me about him, when I was in Stockholm a few years earlier to gather information about northern Greenland and the polar Eskimos. I was so happy to get to visit him again.

The next day dawned, and we met as we had agreed. I stopped by the store at the center of the village, by the river, purchased a few packages of cigarettes, tea, coffee, and bread, and candy for the boys. I was really looking forward to the visit. This time I brought Hanne Kemniz with me as translator. She knew Danish, and thus I would be able to get more out of the discussions. Hanne was the nurse in the district.

Everyone in the family was home. Tea was served, and we all enjoyed the visit. Ilanguaq told about life in the village, about hunting, about the different seasons, about the long, cold polar night when almost all hunting is down. He talked about the bright springtime when all the hunters head out toward the Smith Sound, on their dogsleds, to hunt walruses, narwhals, and a few polar bears. He also told about the short but intense polar summer when hunting excursions are done by boats and kayaks, and about how whole families live in tents out in summer camps.

I also inquired about the conditions along our planned route to Canada. Ilanguaq was the man to know that. He said he has travelled the areas countless times while hunting. He knew that the ice conditions change greatly from year to year and the weather changes on a daily basis. Strong winds, called “pideraker” in Greenlandic, can suddenly build up locally. But storms with winds up to 30-50 meters per second, that can last several days, are also common. Those winds sweep down from the North Pole along the west coast of Greenland. One is then better off finding a sheltered spot for the tent, and stay in the tent.

Some years, the strait between North Greenland and Canada is frozen. Other years it’s open, due to strong currents, and new ice is formed, which is too weak to travel on. Ilanguaq also warned about polar bears, because there is a large population of them on the Canadian side.

It was interesting to listen to Ilanguaq’s stories, and it became late in the evening. We thanked him for letting us come over. But before we departed, Ilanguaq showed us his carved amulets, made of teeth from walruses and narwhals. He made small polar bear heads, narwhals and seals. He was known all over Greenland as a skilled hunter, but also as an artist.

According to an old legend from Eskimo mythology, a polar bear head taut around the neck gives the bearer power and strength. I received a head as a gift, and immediately placed it around my neck. I still have the polar bear amulet in good keeping after all these years. I was now much more knowledgeable, and thankful for all the information I received from the wise and experienced Ilanguaq. It was a visit I will never forget. We also decided that if I visit northern Greenland, and Qaanaaq again, I will stay at their place.

We left the village the following day, to continue our journey to the northernmost village in the world, Siorapaluk. The village is located 70 kilometers north, and has a population of about 70.