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Published: 28 August 2021

By Andy Ross

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Discovering Textiles - Greenland and its beading heritage

A few years ao, I was lucky enough to go to Greenland as part of an arts project. It was a life-changing experience.

Greenland has always been a fascination. Tales of derring-do and exploration had fed my imagination since I was young, and the romance of a land covered with ice and snow was not lost on a young boy growing up in Africa. So, when the chance came to go to the island it was with a sense of adventure and in a spirit of exploration that I set off. 

Landing on Greenland is an adventure in itself. Our stay in the settlement of Tasiilaq (photo left, with the ice and snow-covered harbour in the background) began with a helicopter ride from the outer island where the airstrip is located, and flying over the snow and icebergs in the inlet, and huge glaciers and mountains was, to put it simply, stupendous. No, Greenland certainly didn't disappoint.

During our stay we visited the Museum, housed in a century-old church of the settlement. There we were treated to a performance by a poet and musician who took us on an imagination-filled journey into the mountains as he sang of wind-whipped snowstorms and the visions that come from dog-sledding through a vast white landscape. And it was in the small museum that I saw, first-hand, the traditional costumes worn by the people of the area. 

For centuries, Greenlanders have been using beads in their costume. Originally small beads were carved out of stone, bone or ivory, but, apparently, these were sparsely used. By all accounts, it was the introduction in the 1700s of a national dress by missionaries, and the introduction of glass beads by European explorers and traders, that drove the demand for richly-decorated apparel, especially yokes and collars worn by women. Over time these yokes have become larger and more complex, and today the fashion industry references the tradition in knitwear and with beads. If you would like to see some examples head over to Google search and use the search terms "Greenland fashion". 

During our tour of the settlement of Tasiilaq we were hosted by a local organisation where we talked about the ways in which people live in the area. At the end of the visit I was given a small piece of beading, coffeetable-coaster sized, and in the bright colours of the traditional yokes. It is in the collection at the studio; a reminder of a life-changing visit to an amazing part of the world. 

Photo courtsey of Good Free Photos