Muskoxen and Men – The Inuit Hunting Tradition

By Verified Expert

Stunning and rare animals are a part of the Greenlandic nature, the culture and the religious myths; whales, walrus, polar bear, muskoxen, seals etc.
However, the arctic animals are not just a long lost past of Greenland – they still play a huge role in the arctic, and as a guest in the country, you will notice right away.

Two musk ox in Greenland
Photo by Lasse Inuk Kyed

One of the things that keeps inspiring me is the holistic approach to hunting in Greenland. Don’t get me wrong, although I grew up in a family of hunters and anglers I don’t think that killing animals is beautiful in itself… I do however think, that when you kill an animal you owe it to the creature not to waste the life you have just taken.

…And this is pretty much the core of Inuit hunting tradition; NO WASTE! 
One of the finest examples of this tradition has been brought to life here in Sisimiut.

Let me tell you a story about the muskoxen of Greenland.

A lonely musk ox in the wild
Photo by Lasse Inuk Kyed

This mighty animal lives in the north-northeastern parts of Greenland as well as in the areas around Kangerlussuaq.
2 times a year the hunters are allowed to hunt muskoxen. The hunters get specific quotas each year, letting them know how many muskoxen they are allowed to shoot. This is of course to make sure the number of animals stays healthy and the population is preserved. The hunters shoot and sell the meat, the horn as well as some of the best hide.

However, the area around Kangerlussuaq is not the original territory for muskoxen. They were relocated from the northern parts of Greenland back in the 1960’s and the population has grown quite big in these areas. 

Since this animal was a completely new specie to the hunters on the west coast, they had no experience or tradition for hunting muskox. So besides from using the meat, all the hides that the hunters couldn’t sell were burned and considered to be pretty much useless. 
Big mistake and very unlike this indigenous people’s way of life… 

Three musk ox running
Photo by Lasse Inuk Kyed

Luckily traditions don’t always just disappear by the years. Because you see, the inner-layer of the musk oxen wool is a gift from nature, that the muskox has been carrying around since the day he was born. This insanely soft wool is called Qiviut and touching it makes me think my hands are inside what I imagine a warm cloud would feel like. (I actually have similar thoughts every time I’m in an airplane…I mean, how can clouds look so fluffy and touchable when they’re not?).

Oh well… In Sisimiut (and Nuuk) I found the store Qiviut some years ago. They buy muskoxen hides from the local hunters and produce the most amazing products out of the fluffy wool. The wool has been measured to be around 8 times warmer than sheepswool, good for arthritis-pain, super lightweight, non-scratchy and fast-drying. And if you have read any of my prior blogs, you will know that I love to knit and hate to be cold. A skein of muskox wool seemed like a proper souvenir (and still is)…

Now, three years later most of my family have been given hats, neck-warmers, scarfs and gloves in this material for Christmas. Apparently this is exactly the kind of soft package that you CAN get away with.  

Musk ox looking into the camera

Fun facts about muskoxen:

  • It is the biggest land-living mammal in Greenland
  • The muskoxen are genetically more goat than oxen.
  • Their hides has 2 layers; the garnet hair, a 60 cm long, stiff outer layer of hair and the qiviut, a soft, close inner layer of wool.
  • An old and famous muskox has his own tomb stone in the village of Kangerlussuaq
  • Before the airport-runway in Kangerlussuaq were fenced, the planes could risk being delayed or completely cancelled because a muskox had entered the runway.

So if you come to Greenland, I hope you will discover the muskox, the hunting tradition and the qiviut for yourself, it is truly amazing.


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