Academic journal article Journal of Ecological Anthropology

Pinngortitaq – A Place of Becoming

Academic journal article Journal of Ecological Anthropology

Pinngortitaq – A Place of Becoming

Article excerpt


The world's attention today is aimed toward the Arctic and global warming. The polar bear (Ursus maritimus) floating on a small remain of an iceberg and the Inuit struggling across the Arctic to preserve important aspects of their traditional life have become iconic images of the ongoing changes (Figure 1). It is no secret that the climate for many places is changing at a pace not previously experienced in modern times (Duarte et al. 2012; Ruddiman 2013). At the same time, the Earth's history tells numerous examples of past changes and variations with dramatic results. Some prime examples are the mass extinction of dinosaurs, the post-glacial mammalian mega-fauna, the Norse decolonizing Arctic Greenland (Devine et al. 2011; Koch Madsen 2014; Xoplaki 2011), and the recent 1930 warming event causing large changes within trophic levels and species composition across the Arctic (Drinkwater 2006; Jensen 1939; Lennert and Bjørk 2017; Wisz et al. 2015).

We claim that, despite the general conception of a changing planet, the contemporary and local environment and biota too often is regarded as stable or as having a natural baseline. The world's bestselling single of all time, Crosby's "White Christmas", is a good and visual example: "I'm dreaming of a White Christmas. Just like the ones I used to know." In other words, it refers to an assumed stable state of winters and how they really should be, irrespectively of the fact that it stems from a period in time during which global temperatures were low, compared to most other post-glacial periods (Lejenäs et al. 1989). So, in the light of these accounts of climate abnormalities, how can we use them to strengthen managements of Arctic environments in the future?

Our planet has been in a constant state of change, but how do we conceive and act upon both natural and human impacts on the world's biota and environments in our time? If Arctic animals have always fluctuated in abundance and in regions inhabited (Fauchald et al. 2017, Aporta 2010), how can management, on small regional scales, measure up against these environments where the fish and wildlife resources typically are large, fluctuating, and migrating? Are conservation and environmental management designed to conserve anachronisms rather than a natural dynamic environment and biota? Can we learn from the Inuit that have been able to live sustainably due to their adaptation to large, unpredictable, seasonal, fluctuating resources?


The knowledge held by people who have been closely and directly involved with their surrounding environments is a valuable tool to understand environmental variations (Barlindhaug & Corbett 2014; Collignon 2006; Cruikshank 1990; Gunn 1994; Ingold 2007; Lennert 2017; Lennert and Mikkelsen 2015). We hereby present knowledge gathered from the project "A Millennium of Changing Environments - Bridging Cultures of Knowledge" (Lennert 2017), together with travels and conversations with locals and hunters, using participant observations and informal interviews, revealing their lived experiences. It was these lived experiences that introduced us to the notion of pinngortitaq.


Statements of changing weather and environment can have multiple definitions in terms of their theoretical and metaphorical sense. Cultural frames influence the way people perceive, understand, experience, relate to and respond to not only the social world but also the physical world around them: the environment. This has also been the characteristic of the Inuit in Greenland, both in the past and today, where many people consider the environment as being in a process of Pinngortitaq - a place of becoming rather than changing (Nuttall 2009); a world of memory, anticipation and action (Nuttall 2012); a world of ever-evolving environment.

"When the beluga whales disappeared from Kangeq, we just caught seals instead, " Marius, old hunter from Kangeq. …

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