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Atuagagdliutit: The First Inuit Newspaper Published in Greenland (Kalâtdlit-Nunât)

(The following is a post by Taru Spiegel, Area Specialist, European Division.)

Among the many fascinating items found in the Library of Congress collections is a volume consisting of the first 45 issues of Atuagagdliutit, the Inuit-language (Kalâtdlisut) newspaper from the years 1861 to 1864. Published in Greenland under difficult conditions where paper occasionally froze during the printing process, Atuagagdliutit is among the earliest illustrated newspapers in the world.

The first issue of Atuagagdliutit published on January 1, 1861. The woodcut depicting the capital Godthåb (Nuuk) appears in each subsequent release, and is attributed to the local artist Aron of Kangeq.

The first issue of Atuagagdliutit published on January 1, 1861. The woodcut depicting the capital Godthåb (Nuuk) appears in each subsequent release, and is attributed to the local artist Aron of Kangeq.

The newspaper’s founder, Dr. Hinrich Rink (1819-93), was a widely-traveled Danish geographer who spent years mapping Greenland and writing about the local conditions, customs, and culture. He first came to Greenland to conduct geological and glaciological studies in 1848-1851. In 1855 he became involved in the printing and publishing business in Greenland, and in 1861 he founded Atuagagdliutit. He eventually became the Danish Royal Inspector of South Greenland (the highest ranking officer in the Greenland, a colony of Denmark at the time), but had to leave for reasons of health in 1868.

Atuagagdliutit, which literally means “distributed reading matter,” was a free publication intended to inform the local population about their own world, as well as that of others. Its artwork shows, among other things, polar-bear hunting, dogsledding, Native Americans, buffaloes, elephants, European scenes, and the marriage of the Danish Princess Alexandra to Crown Prince Edward of Great Britain in 1863. The serialized adventures of Robinson Crusoe are also illustrated in a number of issues.

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The dogsledder appears in Atuagagdliutit No. 2, 1861.

In addition to Atuagagdliutit, Dr. Rink’s small printing press in Godthåb (Nuuk) issued various other publications, many of which were illustrated by the acclaimed Inuit artist Aron of Kangeq (1822-1869), whose work is valued both for its artistic quality, and vivid descriptions of contemporary life. Previously a hunter, Aron had to find another profession because of poor health. Encouraged by Rink, Aron used woodcuts and watercolors to depict Inuit stories and myths, as well as accounts of contemporary life that focused on whaling, hunting, and fishing. His human subjects, both local and foreign, were careful, and occasionally amusing, or quite unflattering.

Aron of Kangeq spent some time observing and copiously illustrating the simultaneous visit of the British collier Bulldog and the American schooner Nautilus, whose names appear in the caption of the Atuagagdliutit watercolor shown below. While Aron was drawing and painting, G.C. Wallich, the ship’s doctor for Bulldog, wrote an account of the very same event. When the Bulldog dropped anchor in the harbor of “Goodhaab” (in Kalâtdlisut Nuuk or Nûk, in Danish Godthåb) on August 7, 1860, Dr. Wallich wrote:

After being tempest-tossed for nearly three weeks in the midst of an ice-covered sea, it is pleasant to find ourselves, in company with four other vessels, resting placidly in a land-locked bay, over which the Arctic blasts may blow their fiercest, but whose surface they would find it difficult to arouse into any greater commotion than a ripple. On three sides it is encompassed by steep hills rising up to a height of several hundred feet, with deep water extending almost to their bases. On the fourth, a long spit of rock stretches to the westward and overlaps a bluff headland that closes in the harbor from the fiord outside.

(Wallich, G. C. “The North-Atlantic Sea-bed; Comprising a Diary of the Voyage on Board H.M.S. Bulldog, in 1860; and Observations on the Presence of Animal Life, and the Formation and Nature of Organic Deposits, at Great Depths in the Ocean.” London: J. Van Voorst, 1862, pp. 26-27.)

Dr. Wallich further notes that the other “vessels consist of a couple of Danish barks…come in here for shelter until the state of the ice admits of their going into a southern port to load with cryolite.”

The other ship noted in the caption of Aron’s painting was “a smart American schooner, carrying a live cargo of fifty students of Williams College, Massachusetts, bound to these parts on a scientific excursion, under the superintendence of Professor Chadbourne.” A sea-faring people like the Inuit must have found these vessels, not to mention their exotic crews, worth observing.

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Aron’s signature is at the lower left. Atuagagdliutit, January 1861.

Atuagagdliutit was edited by Greenlanders Rasmus Bertelsen (1827-1901, a teacher, poet and artist) from 1861 to 1874, and then by its original printer, Lars Møller (1874-1921), from 1874 to 1922. Kristoffer Lynge, an author and journalist, oversaw the paper until 1952, when it was merged with the Danish-language Grønlandsposten (Greenland Post). In 2010 that publication joined with Sermitsiaq (named after Saddle Mountain which is near Nuuk), and the combined result is still in circulation and may be found online.

One Comment

  1. Georgette Dorn
    November 7, 2016 at 12:29 pm

    Thank you for this superb article. This scholarly and beautifully illustrated goes a long way to shed light on a little-known area of the world.

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