"The only thing we know with any certainty is that whatever is meant to happen will happen"

(Knud Rasmussen reproduced in 'Myths and Legends from Greenland, selected by Jørn Riel', Published by Forlaget Sesam.)

This was the answer to the question of life and its many mysteries given by an old man from East Greenland who lived many years ago. An outlook on life that is characteristic of a society and a people who on the one hand had a strong belief in fate and its darker sides and on the other were quick to laugh and found it easy to strike up good friendships.

The Inuit societies had no class structure and there were limited property rights. Everything except personal hunting gear and clothes were regarded as shared property.

The Inuit societies had no class structure and there were limited property rights. Everything except personal hunting gear and clothes were regarded as shared property.

"The Inuit societies had no class structure."

Status according to ability

Some people had a higher status than others, however. The shaman occupied a central role in society. It was he who went on a transmigration of souls to, for example, Asiaq, the Mistress of the Wind, or the Mother of the Sea.

Higher status was also endowed on the fertile woman, the skilled seamstress, the successful hunter and the able fisherman, etc. However, you could not afford to rest on your laurels, but had to constantly demonstrate your ability as long as you did this you also carried greater weight in decisions within the community and thus had greater power.

"Higher status was also endowed on the fertile woman."

"If hunger and natural disasters hit the settlement."

Great sense of responsibility

The older generation would typically take over the role of bringing up the children and transferring their knowledge to the children. The feeling of solidarity and sense of responsibility was very strong.

If hunger and natural disasters hit the settlement, it was expected that the elderly would 'go walkabout' and surrender their lives to the elements. It was important not to be a burden on the rest of the community.

Respect for souls and the dead

The many commandments and prohibitions that governed life in the settlements were often startling and surprising. There was an unquestioning belief in myths and legends, with their powerful and gruesome creatures, which were regarded as absolutely true and indeed necessary for the maintenance of life and community at the settlement.

"There was an unquestioning belief in myths and legends."

Souls could live in people, objects and animals. The body was regarded as a temporary home, and the name given to a newborn child was not unimportant, as it was regarded as the soul name of one of the dead.

This respect for deceased ancestors still exists today, as demonstrated by the fact that many Greenlanders are given names that belonged to deceased members of the family.

"Souls could live in people, objects and animals."