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Transformative Travel: Greenland

For us today, as for ancient man, the four classic elements ― earth, wind, water, and fire ― are at the root of many religious beliefs and ways of life. For the Thule Inuit people of Greenland, however, there is a more powerful and important fifth element: ice. For the past several thousand years, Inuit people in northwest Greenland have carved an existence out of ice, surviving some of the harshest conditions on earth by developing a rich culture with a vocabulary that boasts over 49 different words just for ice and snow. Ironically, though, no words exist in their language as a general description for either. For instance, you could say sea ice, or siku in their native tongue, or pack ice (sikursuit), or new ice (sikuliaq), or even thin ice (sikuaq), but there is no word for just “ice.”Ice. This seemingly simple phase of water has defined Inuit ways of life from hunting to housing to a social structure based on sharing and cooperation. Unfortunately, over the last 100 years, the forced acceptance of organized religion, influence of Western cultures, well-intentioned government subsidies, and now the m …

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