“The queen was respected in Greenland, but the new king will be loved” | Polarjournal
Queen Margrethe II of Denmark in the Greenlandic national dress. This photo is from a 2010 stamp. Photo: Post Greenland

Despite increasing criticism of Denmark, the royal family has secured a special place in Greenlandic hearts through their understanding of differences. On Sunday January 14th, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark will leave the throne to her son, Frederik, who is even more popular in Greenland.

“Since the announcement my Facebook has been flooded by people posting their own photos, standing arm in arm with Frederik. He really is a man of the people, and as the king, he will be loved in Greenland.”

These words, given to Polar Journal by Ujammiugaq Engell, curator at Nuuk Art Museum, encapsulate the reaction in Greenland to the recent announcement that Queen Margrethe II of Denmark will leave the throne to her son, Crown Prince Frederik.

Because the Danish royal family does not only reign over the country of Denmark but all of the Danish Realm, which includes the Faroe Islands and Greenland. And through the years, the Danish royal family has managed to build a special relationship with Greenland and its people.

The new king, for instance, has spent a significant amount of time in the country. Back in 2000, he participated in a 4-month and 2500-kilometer-long dog sledding expedition from Qaanaaq in the northwest of Greenland to the Danish military station Daneborg in the northeast. Before that he spent time with the hunters of Qaanaaq, getting to know their traditions and their dog sledding practices.

And in 2011, when Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary had a pair of twins, they were given Greenlandic middle names: Prince Vincent Frederik Minik Alexander and Princess Josephine Sophia Ivalo Mathilda.

“The king-to-be holds an enormous place in Greenlandic hearts. The joy and enthusiasm he has shown traveling around here, and the fact that he chose Greenlandic names for two of his children, really shows his appreciation of the country. It really means a lot to people here,” said Ujammiugaq Engell, who has a background as a historian and will give a lecture in Nuuk before the coronation on Sunday, January 14th. 

Crown Prince Frederik, who will become the king on Sunday January 14th, is especially popular in Greenland. Here, seen smiling in 2020. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The queen is also well-respected

According to another historian, Evi Kreutzmann, who wrote her thesis at the University of Greenland, Ilisimatusarfik, on Greenland’s relationship to the Danish royal family, the fact that the new king will be loved, certainly does not mean that Queen Margrethe II has not been popular.

“Most people in Greenland only remember Queen Margarethe being the monarch. People have a lot of respect for her. They remember, for instance, how she wore her long sealskin coat to support Greenlandic hunters, while the actress Bridget Bardot was campaigning against the use of sealskin fur in the late 1970s,” Evi Kreutzmann told Polar Journal. 

And her popularity is also reflected in the fact that it causes no protests when she dons the Greenlandic national dress.

“The queen often wears the national dress. If a regular Danish person did this, it would not necessarily be well-received, but when the queen does it, everyone in Greenland loves it,” Evi Kreutzmann said. 

She agrees with Ujammiugaq Engell, though, that because of his special connection to the people of Greenland, Frederik will become even more popular.

“The queen is very well-respected but I think Frederik will be loved,” she said.

Thought the king was God

There is no doubt that today, the royal family has won the hearts of Greenland. But this has not always been the case. Evi Kreutzmann recounts a time when the royal family was associated with fear.

Part of this was caused by language. The word ‘naalagaq’, for instance, which means ‘overlord’, was used to describe both the Danish king and God the Almighty. And the word ‘kunngi’ was used to describe both the Danish king and biblical kings, creating a lot of awe and respect. To Greenlanders at the time, the king appeared to be inapproachable and above them.

“When Danes first started colonizing Greenland, the locals had neither met a king nor a God, so they had a lot of respect for both. And because of kidnappings of Inuits by whalers and traders in the 17th and 18th century, it wasn’t just respect, they were also afraid,” Evi Kreutzmann said.

Queen Ingrid of Denmark helps her daugther Princess Anne-Marie put on her Greenlandic National dress during their 1952 visit. Anne-Marie would go on to become the queen of Greece until the abolition of its monarchy in 1973. Photo: stamps.dk

Turned duty into love

But the relationship of fear changed in 1921, when King Christian X and Queen Alexandrine visited Greenland as the first royals ever. Denmark had just lost the overseas possession known as the Danish West Indies, (the US Virgin Islands today) and were eager to secure the remainder of their colonial empire.

However, during the visit, according to Evi Kreutzmann, duty turned into love.

“The king and the queen went to have coffee with the printer Lars Møller in his own house, which was unusual for Danes to do at the time. And after the visit, Queen Alexandrine started a fund for widows of men who had died kayaking,” Evi Kreutzmann said:  

For Greenlanders who viewed the royal family as above them, almost like deities, this was unexpected.

“Right away, this endeared the king and the queen to the local population, and at the time many positive letters to the editor were written to the Atuagagdliutit newspaper.”

In 1952, the royal family returned with the new King Frederik IX and Queen Ingrid. The king had participated in the visit 31 years earlier as a crown prince and was recognized by some who had seen him during his previous visit. He made sure to continue the loving relationship.

“Back then Greenland, like much of the world, was battling tuberculosis, and after the visit Queen Ingrid started a sanatorium in Nuuk for inflicted Greenlanders. This sanatorium later turned into the hospital, Queen Ingrid’s Hospital, that is now the largest in the country,” Evi Kreutzmann said.

Supports weighty causes

In recent years, Greenland’s relationship to Denmark has become increasingly more complicated, and many voices are calling for more independence. However, through all this, the royal family seems to have remained immune to criticism.

Evi Kreutzmann explains this curious fact by the royal family’s steadfast support of important social causes, like the historic support of poverty-stricken widows and tuberculosis victims.

“Recently, we have also seen the royal family support causes like anti-bullying and stipends for Greenlandic students. It is always weighty and important causes that they support and people in Greenland respect that,” Evi Kreutzmann said.

“Of course, it has also been an advantage that the royal family never takes a side in political questions,” she added.

Ujammiugaq Engell, a curator at Nuuk Art Museum, believes that the royal family has developed a unique ability to appreciate the difference of Greenlandic culture. Photo: Glaciem   House
Ujammiugaq Engell, a curator at Nuuk Art Museum, believes that the royal family has developed a unique ability to appreciate the difference of Greenlandic culture. Photo: Glaciem House

Respects Greenlanders on their own terms

In addition to this, Ujammiugaq Engell from Nuuk Art Museum, mentions another reason that the royals have remained loved: their unique understanding of the Greenlandic people and its differences from Danes.

“When the royal family travels around Greenland, a special dynamic arises. People can feel that they have a real interest and appreciation of Greenlandic culture, something that is missing when they encounter all the rest of the Danish system,” Ujammiugaq Engell said.

“When the prime minister of Denmark or any other officials travel around Greenland there is always a distancing or a criticism of how things are done. The same goes for people’s personal encounters with Danes; no one is clapping their hands when they hear you are from Greenland.”

So, when Margrethe is leaving her throne for Frederik on Sunday, and the Facebook feeds of Greenland will be flooded with words of appreciation, Danes could follow along and learn a thing or two. Because, according Ujammiugaq Engell, the royal family knows better than most, how to approach the people of Greenland.

“I believe this goes to the heart of the problem between Denmark and Greenland; there is a lack of appreciation of our differences that goes in both directions. People expect that we should be the same.”

“But with the royal family, we as Greenlanders feel an acceptance and an appreciation of us. They see that we are different, and they think that this is a good thing,” Ujammiugaq Engell said.

Ole Ellekrog, PolarJournal

More on the subject

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
error: Content is protected !!
Share This