Report from Sidse Torstholm Larsen, Master in Visual Cultural Studies, University of Tromsø
Financial support for the project: Making Sense of Local Knowledge – An ethnographic study of the production and utilization of local knowledge in a fishing community in Ilulissat, Greenland
In 2006 I received 10.000 NOK from the Sami Studies’ Strategy Fond that helped me carry out a fieldwork of 5 months duration where I collected material for my master thesis and an ethnographic film – both part of the final exam requirements at the Visual Cultural Studies at UiT. I am currently in the process of writing the thesis and will begin editing of the film in a few months. I plan to submit both film and text by June 2007.
My fieldwork took place from April to August 2006 in a fishing community in Ilulissat, Northwestern part of Greenland.
Ilulissat is situated in the northwestern part of Greenland and is the third largest town in the country. The population which is spread across an area of c. 47,000 km2 numbers 4.800 inhabitants.
The name ‘Ilulissat’, meaning icebergs in Greenlandic, is related to the large number of icebergs that characterize ‘Ilulissat Ice Fiord’ and the surrounding waters. Various sizes of icebergs, ranging from smaller blocks to 1.5 km3 are continuously produced at the calving front of one of the most active ice streams in the world: Sermeq Kujalleq, located at the bottom of a large fiord.
The Greenlandic halibut is the predominant species among the marine flora within the fiord and when considering the size of the area that the Ilulissat ice fiord constitutes, the halibut stock is one of the most concentrated fisheries in the world.
The ice fiord and its ecosystem has at all times been an acknowledged source and a prerequisite for human life in the area. Today approximately 60-100 professional fishermen in Ilulissat earn their living by catching Greenlandic halibut on long lines in the coastal deep water. The fishing activities take place throughout the year, in the summer time from small, motorized boats outside town and in the winter months from a great ice-covered fiord approximately 50 km from town. To reach the areas apt for halibut fishing in the winter months, the fishermen must travel by dog sledge through the mountains crossing peaks and steep slopes. Having spent 2 days or more on the ice, the fishermen return to town with a catch of approximately 200-300 kg. The halibut is disposed to the fish factory or sold at the local market. During winter, the fishermen spend a lot of time away from town while fishing. On the ice they group together and form small compounds where they fish, eat and sleep together.
Throughout my fieldwork I stayed with a small group of local fishermen and followed them through the seasonal fishing and hunting activities taking place in the surrounding areas.
From the perspective of the individual fishermen, the project tends to explore the relationship between the men and the ecological landscape that constitutes a major part of their everyday life. I am particularly interested in processes whereby ‘places’ and collective memory become important elements in establishing rules of interaction and negotiating social identities.
I have been using both strategies of actively participating in daily activities and events as well as more passive observation. In addition to note taking, interviews and gathering additional information the camera has a key position in this project in various points in the process. The camera (still photography and film) has been a tool for gathering data, but also proved helpful in establishing relationship and creating room for co-operation with my informants. From the time I returned from the field and began processing the data, I have made much use of the film material in my writings and in the end I expect and hope that film will be an important and far ranging medium for conveying knowledge and findings.
The funding I received from the Center for Sami Studies helped me cover traveling expanses, food and lodging, insurance and DV- tapes for the camera. I am very grateful for the interest and the economic support I have received, it made me able do a project that I have been dreaming about for a long time and feel a great passion for.