Egede Hans

Hans Egede (1686—1758), born in Harrestad, Norway, then under Danish sovereignty, has been universally acclaimed as the Apostle of Greenland because he reintroduced Christianity to Greenland after the early Norse settlers and their descendants had disappeared. Deeply influenced by Pietism and Moravian theology, Egede had taken Holy Orders and received his degree in Theology from the University of Copenhagen in 1705. Two years later, in 1707, he became a priest at Vagan on the Lofoten Islands in the north of Norway, a period of great spiritual and emotional turbulence for him, as well as of considerable dissatisfaction. However, his life was soon to change dramatically since King Frederik IV of Denmark, who reigned over Norway as well as Denmark, was keen to initiate missionary activities in his isolated overseas colony of Greenland. Having had an audience with the king to this end in 1718, Egede was appointed "royal missionary," employed in the first instance to spread the Protestant Lutheran confession, although the king was also keen to reestablish commercial links with Greenland. In fact, at this time Frederik IV established a Greenlandic commercial company, the so-called Bergen Company, which exerted considerable financial control on European enterprises there.

Egede's missionary activities began in 1721 when he traveled out to Greenland, in the company of his family, on a ship aptly named The Hope. They continued until the mid-1730s, when he returned to Denmark, and focused predominantly upon the native Inuit population. Egede's initial fears were more that the native population would be languishing "in the darkness of Catholicism" rather than that they would be pagans, since he had held the opinion before his arrival that any people he would encounter in Greenland would be descendants of the Norse settlers of more than 700 years before. These anxieties proved groundless, however, for no Norse peoples were to be found, just the native Greenlanders of Inuit background, unsullied by any non-Lutheran confession. In this missionary activity, Egede was assisted by his wife Gertrud Rask (1673—1735), a loyal and single-minded helper, and their sons Poul (1709—1789) (see Egede, Poul) and Niels (1710—1782), both of whom remained in Greenland for various periods after their father's departure.

Apart from the spiritual dimensions of Egede's ministry to Greenland, there was also an extremely important economic side as well, for mercantile relations were now reestablished with Denmark and the wider world, after a hiatus of several hundred years. With the financial aid of the Bergen Company, in 1728, Egede founded the city of Gothab (in Greenlandic, Nuuk), by the mouth of the Godthab Fjord, an inlet of the Davis Strait, in the southwest of

Greenland, today its capital and major port. Soldiers were brought in to help colonize the new settlements, as well as some convicts, although neither group proved to be very keen on colonization. Such attempts were ultimately abandoned in 1731, when Christian VI, who had ascended the throne of Denmark in 1730, rejected any further colonization and brought those few who had remained in Greenland home. Nonetheless, Egede persisted with his own private, if somewhat futile, attempts to continue the colonization.

Egede also encouraged a migration of sorts in the other direction. Indeed, it was during the missionary's period of sojourn on Greenland in 1724, that two Greenlandic hunters, Qiperoq and Poq, were sent back to Greenland for the king's inspection. This resulted in a grand "Greenlandic calvacade," which was provided with much pageantry on the waterways of Copenhagen so that a wider slice of the city's population could marvel and enjoy the exotic sight of the Inuit shooting darts at ducks from their kayaks. Then, in 1729, in order to spread knowledge and thereby possibly augment mercantile interest in the long neglected colony, the company published Egede's tract, The Old Greenland's New Perlustration, which brought information on Greenland first to a Danish and later to a German public. In the work, numerous aspects of the social life and beliefs of the natives, as well as descriptions of the flora and fauna were included. Nonetheless, financial rewards were not immediately forthcoming and the colony was soon becoming in danger of foundering. As a result, in 1733, the Danish government involved itself and took over its administration. Three years later, in the wake of the death of his wife, Egede returned to Denmark in the company of his son Niels. However, he remained active with respect to Greenlandic interest in an administrative position. He also took a widow Mettea Trane (1691-1761) as his second wife. He expanded his work The Old Greenland's New Perlustration (Det gamle Gr0nlands nye perlustration) (1741) to include 11 woodcut illustrations and a map, as well as covering a large range of topics from the Inuit language and history to Greenlandic astrology and shamanistic beliefs.

Egede himself was a talented mapmaker and illustrator. Many of the scenes he made were based upon Inuit life, and he was especially gifted at depicting such aspects of local life as whaling from an umiak, as well as seal hunting from kayaks. Unfortunately, the arrival of other missionaries and seamen after Egede also inadvertently brought much misery to the long isolated island. Susceptible to the arrival of diseases previously unknown there, hundreds of Greenlanders succumbed to an epidemic of smallpox that decimated the Gothab colony in 1733 and 1734. However, Christianity was taking root and Egede had published, after his return to Denmark, a history of Greenland's recent Christianization, The Circumstances and Conduct of the Greenlandic Missions, Including their Beginnings and Continuation (1738). He also went on to establish the Greenlandic Seminary to train missionaries for his beloved colony, and in 1740 was invested as bishop for Greenland, a position he held until 1747. His missionary days in Greenland, however, were over, and from 1751 until his death, he resided at Stubbek0bing, in Falster, on Denmark's Baltic coast. Nonetheless, Christianity had become permanently established and Danish trading posts and missionary centers soon fanned out elsewhere in Greenland. All of these soon came under the aegis of the Royal Greenland Trading Company, in whose administration it remained until the 20th century.

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