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Oh, the cold coast of Greenland is barren and bare,
No seedtime nor harvest is ever known there.
And the birds here sing sweetly on mountains and dale,
But there isn't a birdie to sing to the whale.

There is no habitation for a man to live there
And the king of that country is the fierce Greenland bear,
And there'll be no temptation to tarry long there.
With our ship bumper full we will homeward repair.

(from) Farewell to Tarwathie George Scroggie

Basic Information

Normally when a Glaswegian describes a place as unfit for habitation (as per the flavour text), it's unlikely that anyone else will disagree, but in the case of Greenland the old whaler may have done the place a disservice. Despite being deeply buried in the Artic circle and having large parts of its surface area covered by the only permanent land ice sheet outside Antarctica, the world's largest island1 does have a (small) permanent population and significant biodiversity.

Of about fifty six thousand people (per 2018 estimate), the majority are Amerindian Inuits with most of the rest being of Nordic European origin. Besides the indigenous population - who, being hunter gatherers like most historical Inuit, left little written record of their history, we know that the Southern coast of the island was settled by Norse colonists from around AD980 as part of the wave of settlements that extended to the Americas. These settlements seem to have been abandoned during the C14 for reasons which remain unclear - some suggestions are economic, some based around the loss of support from the mainland following the ravages of the Black Death and some pointing to conflict, either with the Inuit or with European pirates. The Inuit, meanwhile, carried on as they always had.

In 1721, the place was re-colonised by the (then unified) nations of Norway and Denmark and run by them in a small way until they split up in 1814. Custody of the colonies went to Denmark, after which Norway then re-colonised the East coast as well. The two nations then argued about this until 1933 when arbitration found in favour of Denmark having control of the whole Island. Next to dispute sovereignty of Greenland was Germany, having conquered Denmark early in 1940 at the start of Fall Weserbrung - in practice, nothing came of this until 1941 when the US placed a garrison there to deny the Germans access, but it did mean that what had been a fairly isolated society that dealt only with Denmark was opened up to the rest of the world. Up to and including attempts by the US to buy the place which continue to the present day. The monopoly of trade exercised by Denmark - allowing very little organised contact with other nations - may have something to do with the perception of Greenland as an inhospitable wilderness (as per the flavour text) … there was habitation, but no reason for a whaler to ever see it as their ship would not be permitted to trade there.

After the war, the US garrison was maintained and, in the spirit of decolonisation, Greenland was made a self-governing dominion of the Danish crown.

Economically Greenland is highly dependent on fishing - and historically whaling was a significant industry until preference shifted from the Northern Right Whale to larger beasts such as the Sperm and Humpback. The trade in walrus ivory was significant for the early colonies, along with some fur trading, but today mining is also significant - especially aluminium but including copper, platinum and uranium amongst other resources. There are also deposits of ruby to be found on the island and most of the planet's few deposits of telluric iron. Greenland's long northern coast also provides territorial claims to significant parts of the Artic ocean and any resources that may be found there.

There are, incidentally, plenty of birds in Greenland, but Mr Scroggie was right about the bears - there are plenty of them and they are fairly convinced that they own the place.

See Also


1. Wikipedia entry - most of the text above is rehashed from this entry.

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