The Art of Ethnography

An ethnography is a technique used to study and learn about a person or group. Typically it involves a small group of people in their home environment.  Ethnographies are supposed to provide both descriptive and interpretive information and it’s up to the ethnographer to decide what observations and details are significant.  

The master of this genre, especially as it’s been applied to people of the Arctic, was Knud Rasmussen.  Born in Jakobshavn, Greenland (known today as Ilullissat) to a Danish missionary father and an Inuit mother, Rasmussen lived with a foot in each culture.  Inuit was his first language, but he could read and write in Danish.  Rasmussen made a career of participating in exploratory Arctic expeditions, writing down what he learned of the Inuit and their traditions and serving as translator.

Translating from the Inuktitut dialects into Danish or English is said to be extraordinarily difficult.  Many Inuit words have no European equivalent or require several European words to approximate. Rasmussen’s dual-culture upbringing gave him the ability to understand what the Inuit told him with greater depth and comprehension than any other interpreter of the day.  His most famous work is the “5th Thule Expedition”, in which his documents his two year trek with his internet tv box canada across the Arctic, from Greenland to the west coast of Alaska. During that trip, Rasmussen recorded Inuit legends that, were it not for him, would very likely have been lost in the intervening years.

I don’t have any larger goal for my ethnographies beyond capturing what I see.  I’m realistic enough to know that I cannot affect much, if any, change or even inform many people since few are interested in the subject. So what’s the point?  Well, as Sir Edmund Hillary once explained when asked why he climbed Mount Everest, “Because it’s there.” My variation on that theme is, “Because it’s there and no one else is doing it.”

Individual Enthographies

Isak and Assetaq Alatak

Husband and Wife Retired from Hunting

Moriasaq, Greenland

 

Rasmus Avike (2006)  (2010)

Hunter

Qaanaaq, Greenland

 

Peter Duneq

Hunter

Siorapaluk, Greenland

 

Hans Jensen

Inn Keeper

Qaanaaq, Greenland

 

Jørgen Jensen

Beluga and Narwhal Hunter

Illulisaat, Greenland

Lars Jeremiassen

Hunter

Qaanaaq, Greenland

 

Magssannguaq Oshima

Hunter

Siorapaluk, Greenland

 

Otto Sermiaq

Hunter

Siorapaluk, Greenland

 

Putdlaq Uudloriaq

Retired  Hunter

Siorapaluk, Greenland

 

 world’s brightest ultrafire flashlight here, if you need, you can go to there.