Tales from a hardy society
In former times, belief in spirits and witchcraft was well-rooted in the Inuit people. The harsh nature, the winter darkness and the violent storms outside the turf huts and igloos provided plenty of opportunity to tell tales in the self-built homes which were heated only by oil lamps and body heat. It was a society where people lived close together, but isolated from other local communities. So it gave rise to excitement and pleasure when good storytellers retold classic tales and when visitors from outside had something new to recount.
A nature endowed with spirits and the transmigration of souls
The early Inuits believed that nature was endowed with the spirits. Every single stone, piece of straw, animal and organism was alive and had a soul. They also believed that the human soul could migrate from animal to animal, and this led to a lot of imaginative stories. In fact, this belief is not really so surprising for a people who lived so close to nature and who were completely dependent on nature's living resources.
Stories with morals
For countless generations the narrative tradition was the only way of communicating the Inuits' traditions and lifestyles. The stories of the Inuits' outlook with regard to religion and life often contained morals with categorical commandments and prohibitions. The stories thus helped to establish norms for people's behaviour. For hundreds of years - perhaps even thousands - stories such as Navaranaaq, Kaassassuk and other well-known legends were passed on by word of mouth amongst the Inuit people in Alaska, across Canada and to Greenland, until eventually they were written down by people such as Knud Rasmussen.
Collection of myths and legends
The Arctic explorer Knud Rasmussen, who was born and grew up in Greenland, collected the Greenlandic myths and legends throughout the many years in which he travelled and lived in Greenland, as a result of which a large part of the country's cultural history became available to readers in the rest of the world. Today the book 'Greenlandic Myths and Legends' is read by a wide circle of people interested in myths, and both public and private companies in Greenland still look to the old tales for inspiration with regard to names, logos and art.
The Mother of the Sea statue in Nuuk
Kaassassuk painting by Miki Jakobsen