East Greenland Inuit

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East Greenland Inuit

ETHNONYM: Tunumiut

The East Greenland Inuit are found in the Ammassalik (65°40 N) and Scoresbysund (70° N) regions on the east coast of Greenland. Two other east Greenland groups, the Northeast and the Southeast Greenland Inuit, are now extinct. In 1980 the East Greenlanders numbered some three thousand with about twenty-four hundred in the Ammassalik region and four hundred in Scoresbysund. The East Greenlandic language is a dialect of Central Greenlandic and is mutually intelligible with the West Greenlandic dialect.

East Greenland was settled by peoples migrating east from West Greenland, beginning as early as the fourteenth century and continuing to modern times. As Europeans preferred to settle in the west, the East Greenlanders come under sustained European influence only after 1900. Early contacts were in the form of schools and churchs, followed by stores and colonial rule by Denmark. Scoresbyund was settled in 1925 by migrants from Ammassalik. Since about 1950, the East Greenlanders have experienced considerable cultural changemost significantly, a shift from a subsistence hunting economy to a money economy based on the sale of sealskins and cod fishing.

Prior to Danish rule, there were no permanent settlements, with new winter settlements established every year or so and more frequent movements in the warmer months. The extended family longhouse with nuclear families occupying "apartments" was the typical dwelling in the winter village. Tents were used in the summer. Traditional housing has now been replaced by expensive wood houses that have led to a more settled life, but that have also put new financial burdens on East Greenlanders.

The traditional subsistence economy was based heavily on seal meat and skin as well as whale, sea birds, and fish. Productive equipment included dog sleds, umiaks, kayaks, wooden boats, harpoons, knives, sealskin floats, and seal nets. The motor boat has replaced traditional modes of Transportation, though the kayak remains important for sealing. Sale of sealskins and cod along with craft sales, wage labor, and welfare are sources of income today.

The basic social unit is the patrilocally extended family usually consisting of three generations residing in one dwelling. The oldest male heads the family, though leadership in most activities vests in those who are most skilled or knowledgeable. A few households formed a settlement, although ties between the family units were loose and families could join or leave a settlement as they chose. The Ammassalik and Scoresbysund regions are governed by municipal councils and represented on the Greenland Municipal Council.

Missionary activity in East Greenland was very successful, and most East Greenlanders are now Christians. The traditional religion included beliefs in a tripart universe, a soul (tarneq), and various gods and spirits. Shamanism was not highly developed, as individuals could use magic to approach the supernatural world directly.


Petersen, Robert (1984). "East Greenland before 1950." In Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 5, Arctic, edited by David Damas, 622-639. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.

Petersen, Robert (1984). "East Greenland after 1950." In Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 5, Arctic, edited by David Damas, 718-723. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.

Trap, Jens P. (1970) Gronland. 5th ed. Edited by Niels Nielsen, Peter Skautrup, and Christian Vibe. Danmark, Vol. 14. Copenhagen, Denmark: G.hE.C. Gads Forlag.

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East Greenland Inuit

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