Greenland Decides to Keep Egede Statue in Place

Egede Statue
Statue of Hans Egede in Nuuk, Greenland [Photo by Mikkel Schøler]
by Mikkel Schøler, CEO of Sikki

Statues are meant to be symbols, but the meaning can change, and in the Greenlandic capital of Nuuk, one statue has become symbolic of the divide within the Greenlandic population.

The Black Lives Matter movement has reverberated around the globe, inspiring other related movements. The same goes for Greenland, where the statue in Nuuk of the founder of the modern day colony of Greenland, Hans Egede, was vandalized last month [in Danish] with the painted word “decolonize”.

The act prompted a fierce public debate in both Greenland and Denmark, along lines well known to observers of Greenlandic politics. This debate, however, was followed by an online referendum called by the mayor of the Sermersooq municipality, Charlotte Ludvigsen, on whether [in Danish] to move the statue or to leave it be.

Hans Egede was a Norwegian-Danish missionary priest that traveled to Greenland in 1721 to convert the Norse settlers in Greenland from Catholicism to Protestantism. Unbeknownst to Egede, the Norse settlers had vanished from Greenland roughly 300 years earlier. Instead, he found that the Greenlandic Inuit held a completely different religion and way of life. Undeterred, Egede proceeded with his missionary work. In 1728, he moved his settlement to the site of the current city of Nuuk, and thus founded the Greenlandic capital.

A controversial figure, Egede is accused by his detractors of being violent and cruel towards Greenlanders, however this has been refuted by historian and colonial era specialist, Peter A. Toft, who explained [in Danish] that Egede’s treatment of Greenlanders were no more or less cruel than how Egede and his contemporaries treated other Danes.

However, the Hans Egede statue – paid for by local citizens and erected in 1922 [in Danish] – has become a symbol of the changing attitude towards Denmark amongst some Greenlanders. This debate has centered particularly on Nuuk, and can be seen as part of the identity question facing many in Greenland in light of the fight for independence.

After centuries of cross-cultural marriages and population diversification, the question for many now is “What makes you Greenlandic?”

After the vote closed, 1,521 voters had cast their ballots, with 60% in favor [in Danish] of keeping the statue in place, it seems Hans Egede will be allowed to remain atop the outcrop, gazing over the settlement he founded, though the final decision will be made on a meeting of the municipal council on 2 September.

Whether the statue remains or not is up to Greenland and the citizens of Nuuk to decide, underlining the fact that decolonization has come a long way already, in a process that does not look to slow down at any time soon.