June 21 is Greenland’s national holiday, a look back at 4,000 years of history

Every June 21st in Denmark, the Greenland flag is flown as it is the national green island day, commemorating 4,000 years of history. Greenland is an immense territory of 2.2 million km² (4 times the area of ​​France), but which has only 60,000 inhabitants living mainly along the coast. The continent-sized island was populated from 2500 BC, Vikings settled there around 980 to disappear in 1450. The Danes were the first to colonize it from 1721 and it is still in an autonomous Danish territory. ..

The national flag of Greenland was raised on June 21 in Copenhagen ©Joëlle Borgida

The first settlements in – 2500 BC

The first men to settle in Greenland arrived from North America on ice before the Bronze Age in search of caribou and musk oxen. For several centuries, groups of immigrants followed one another, until the arrival of the Norse (the Vikings) in Greenland around 980.

The arrival of the Vikings with Erik the Red in 980

Erik Thorvaldsson, known as Erik the Red, is considered to be the founder of Greenland’s first community. His nickname would be explained by the flamboyant red color of his hair and his red beard, but also by his fiery temper.

Expelled from Iceland, he headed west around 980 and landed on the uninhabited southwest coast of Greenland. Vikings settled there and Erik named the island Grænland the “green land” to attract other populations to live there. It must be said that although Greenland is currently covered in ice, at the time it is possible that Greenland was green.

According to the Icelandic sagas, some Norse people lived by raising sheep and goats, while others hunted seals, polar bears and narwhals to sell their fur, hides and ivory in Europe.

Around the year 1000, Christianity came to the island through the son of Erik the Red, who returned from a stay in Norway with Christian missionaries.

Its population reached around 2,000 people at its peak, while the Inuit lived in other parts of the island, although some historians believe that at some point these two peoples may have cohabited.

End of the Viking Age in 1450

The Vikings disappeared from the island at this time and different theories explain this departure: climate change making life difficult, conflicts with the Inuit, inbreeding problems, a drop in income linked to the fall in demand for ivory.

For the next two centuries, the Inuit remained the island’s only inhabitants, but European whaling ships continued to hunt in the surrounding waters.

“Danish Land” from 1721

Norwegian pastor Hans Egede establishes a mission on the west coast commissioned by the King of Denmark. The kingdom then declares the island as “Danish land” and in 1728, the first city is founded, Godthåb, which will become the capital and which will be renamed Nuuk in 1979.

Scientific explorations of the early 20th century

The expeditions of polar scientist and anthropologist Knud Rasmussen reveal to the world the Inuit culture that is considered one of the fathers of the Eskimos. Other explorers will follow, such as the Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Charcot in 1926, Paul-Emile Victor in 1935 and Jean Malaurie in 1950.

See our article: Centenary of the 5th Thule expedition carried out by the Danish Knud Rasmussen

United States and Greenland

The United States claims part of Greenland on the theory that the territory is separated into two distinct parts by a river. Danish expeditions in 1906-1908 and then in 1909 managed to gather evidence to the contrary.

During World War II, Denmark was occupied by the German army from April 1940 and Greenland requested protection from the United States, which established military bases there in 1941.

In 2019, Donald Trump will declare his desire to “buy Greenland”, but Mette Frederiksen, the Danish prime minister reacted by commenting, “I really hope it’s not serious. This argument is nonsense.” The American president, not appreciating the response, in reaction decided to cancel his meeting with the prime minister scheduled for the following month.

See our article: Mette Frederiksen, debut minister from Denmark

a village in Greenland in an icy landscape
©Visit Greenland

A Greenlandic rock album as a sign of opposition to Danish culture in 1973

sum is a Greenlandic rock band considered the pioneer of Greenlandic rock music that was created in 1972 by singer, guitarist and songwriter Malik Høegh and guitarist, singer and songwriter Per Berthelsen. Your first record Sumut “Where to go?” is bought by 20% of Greenlanders, denounces the forced assimilation to Danish culture.

Demand for more autonomy in 1979

Greenland increasingly claims its identity, its language, its customs, its dances. The island has the status of a Danish province in 1953, so the former colony manages to form its own government and its territorial assembly.

Greenland leaves the EEC in 1985

Greenland joined Denmark in 1973 in the European Economic Community, but following a referendum over a disagreement over fisheries that would have been unfavorable to it left it in 1985.

The national flag is chosen.

According to Christiansen, the creator of the flag, the white upper part of the flag represents the glaciers, which cover 80% of the island. The red bottom represents the sea, the red semicircle recalls the sun and the white semicircle evokes the ubiquitous icebergs in the landscape.

more and more independence

A new statute allows Greenland to dispose of its natural resources, keeping Denmark in control of the army, currency and international relations. Like Iceland, Greenland wants to attract tourists in search of extraordinary landscapes: a project to expand the international airport is planned for 2023 in Nuuk.

See our article: Greenlanders say no to uranium

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