Sunday 16 June 2019

Greenland 1971 - 250th Anniversary of the Arrival of Hans Egede

"Give us this day our daily bread and--"
     "But Minister" - one of the parishioners in the back of the room suddenly stood - "what is this bread you speak of?"
     The minister looked around at the baffled looks of his new flock. His brow creased in thought for a moment. Then his eyes widened as a thought occurred to him. He cleared his throat, silencing the agitated audience. "Give us this day our daily...seal."
     The room erupted in murmurs of sudden understanding.


Hans Egede, born 31 January 1686 in Norway, was groomed from a young age into the life of a missionary. When he was still a kid, Hans was schooled by an uncle, who was a clergyman in the Lutheran church. It wouldn't be much of a leap to assume these teachings were heavily steeped in theology. In 1704, at the age of 18, Egede travelled to Copenhagen to attend the University of Copenhagen, where he earned a Bachelor's degree in Theology. At the completion of his training in 1707, he returned home, where he was promptly assigned a parish of his own on the remote archipelago of Lofoten. It was here that he met and married Gertrud Rasch (or Rask), a woman 13 years his senior. Together they had four children, two boys and two girls.

While living at Lofoten, Egede became enamored by the many stories he heard about the old Norse settlements on Greenland, with which contact had been lost centuries before. Did this colony still exist? Perhaps there was the potential for missionary work in the colony? In 1711 he petitioned Frederick IV of Denmark to search for the colony and establish a mission there.

Fredrick IV consented, so Egede established the Bergen Greenland Company (Det Bergen Grønlandske Compagnie) with $9,000 in capital from Bergen merchants, $200 from the Danish king, and a $300 annual grant from the Royal Mission College. Then on 2 May 1721, ten years after first approaching the king, Egede, his wife, their four children, and forty other colonists set sail for Greenland on the ship, Haabet ("The Hope") and two smaller ships.

After two months at sea the small fleet reached Nuup Kangerlua on 3 July. Wasting no time, they established Hope Colony (Haabets Colonie), symbolised by the erection of a portable house on Kangeq Island, which Egede christened the Island of Hope (Haabet Oe). Now that home base was set up, Egede set about searching for descendants of the old Norse colonists. But after searching for months, he found only the local Inuit people. He began studying their language in order to preach the word of God to them. This brings us to my blog introduction. While primarily fiction, my story is rooted in fact. The Inuit had no bread nor any idea of it, requiring the Lord's Prayer to be translated as "Give us this day our daily seal".

Hans Egede continued to live and preach in Greenland until 1735 when his wife, Gertrud died during a smallpox epidemic. He took his wife's body back to Denmark, leaving his son, Paul, to carry on his work. Eegde died in Denmark on 5 November 1758 at the age of 72.


On 6 May 1971, Greenland issued a lovely stamp commemorating the 250th Anniversary of the arrival of Hans Egede in Greenland. This stamp was designed by J. Rosing and engraved by the master, Czeslaw Slania. It depicts Hans and his wife Gertrud on the deck of Haabet, full of hopes and dreams of their upcoming life adventure.


Then on 3 July 1971, Greenland issued a semi-postal stamp, again featuring Hans Egede and his loyal wife, Gertrud, instructing the Inuit on the ways of the bible. This stamp was again the product of a collaboration between designer J. Rosing and engraver Czeslaw Slania.

Until next time...

Saturday 14 April 2018

Greenland 1970 - Right Whale

The name given to these gentle giants of the ocean has rather shameful origins. The right whale was so named by whalers who considered them the "right" whale to hunt due to their docile nature, their plentiful oil and the amounts of baleen they can provide. 

These majestic creatures are also known as the black whale. There are three species of black whale:: the North Atlantic right whale (E. glacialis), the North Pacific right whale (E. japonica) and the Southern right whale (E. australis). On average, these whales grow up to 18 metres long, making them larger than humpbacks and grays, but smaller than the mighty blue whale. Black whales have a tendency to swim close to coastlines where the water is warmer and food sources more abundant. Indeed, black whales can sometimes be seen from the coast, frolicking in the offshore waters.


On 5 March 1970 Greenland issued a stamp featuring the great tail of a black whale off the coast of the island of Disko Island. This stamp was designed by J. Rosing and engraved by Czeslaw Slania. Again this designer engraver combo has created a fantastic stamp, crammed with visual appeal.

In the foreground we see the glorious tail of a black whale diving, perhaps for another feed. In the background to the middle left we can see a second black whale coming up for air, shooting a geyser of water from its distinct V-shaped blowhole. And dominating the horizon in the background is Disko Island. Perhaps there are some spectators on those cliffs watching the spectacle with fascinated wonder.

Until next time...

Saturday 7 April 2018

Greenland 1970 - Liberation

A small group of high ranking German officers stood in the well-lit war room, all focused intently on the map laid out before them. One of the officers leaned forward and placed a marker over the country of Denmark. There was a murmur of assent among the officers. The decision to invade Denmark had been made. The date was 17 December 1939.

The above is, of course, pure fiction. But a similar scenario may have taken place in Berlin on 17 December 1939 when the Germans decided to invade and occupy Denmark. Then on 9 April 1940 Operation Weserübung was launched, and Denmark became a de facto protectorate of Germany. But it wasn't until 29 August 1943 - some three and a half years later - that Germany placed Denmark under direct military occupation. Aside from being under the thumb of an invading force, most Danish institutions continued to function in a similar manner as before - for a while, at least. The Danish government and the king remained in the country in an uneasy co-existence with the Germans. But when the Germans demanded a sentence of the death penalty for those found guilty of sabotage, the Danish government stepped down in protest. Despite the fact that the German occupation of Denmark was relatively civil in comparison to other areas of occupation, over 3,000 Danes died during this time. Denmark remained under German control until the Allied victory om 5 May 1945. Celebrations on the streets of Denmark and Greenland ensued. 


On 4 May 1970 Greenland issued a lovely stamp to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the liberation of Denmark from German occupation. To create this stamp, master engraver Czeslaw Slania again teamed up with designer J. Rosing. This stamp depicts a moment of celebration on the streets of the Greenlandic town of Ilulissat (Danish: Jakobshavn). You will note that yet again, the artwork n this design is playful with a hint of childish cartoon-like simplicity. 

Until next time...

Sunday 18 March 2018

Greenland 1969 - Greenlandic Muskox

They roam across the rolling plains of Greenland and the arctic regions of Canada, often in herds of eight to twenty. They have long, thick coats and short, but vicious horns. In the mating season, males emit a strong, musky odour to attract females. They are the Greenlandic muskoxen, known to Canadian natives as the "bearded ones". 

During the Pleistocene period 2,588,000-11,700 years ago, muskoxen were much more widespread. Fossil evidence reveals that they inhabited much of the Siberian and North American Arctic, from the Urals to Greenland. However the Quaternary extinction event during the transition from the Pleistocene to the Holocene (13,000 BCE to 8,000 BCE) saw the populations of muskoxen in the Americas wiped out. Over time, hunting has also further reduced the number of these majestic creatures. Indeed, today populations of muskoxen mostly live in areas where they are, thankfully, protected from hunting.


On 27 November 1969 Greenland issued the first stamps in a series of five depicting various native fauna. Issued on this day was the 25kr value, depicting a muskox grazing in the fields. The stamp was engraved by Czeslaw Slania and it was designed by J. Rosing, an artist with whom Slania had previously collaborated for the Greenland postal services on many occasions. Indeed, together they had already created some of Greenland's most iconic stamps. This design, almost cartoon-like in style, manages to capture the wild, yet calm, nature of this amazing arctic creature. Simple. Elegant. A Slania classic!


Until next time...