Heart of a Seal

Lukas Kreibig

2017 - Ongoing

Uummannaq, Qaasuitsup, Greenland

Nature dictates the rhythm of life in the mountain village of Uummannaq, an island off the coast of Greenland. Living off the grid, the Inuit inhabitants have always relied on fishing and hunting. But now that the climate is changing, their traditional lifestyle is under threat.

Photographer Lukas Kreibig was born in Southern Germany, close to the Swiss mountains. He was struck by the beauty of Uummannaq’s nature and by the way the people live in harmony with their surroundings. It’s a life unhampered and free, but at the same time, totally isolated and extremely restricted. He went there to photograph the children in the world’s northernmost children’s home that is based in Uummannaq, but found that the well-maintained facility and international people could not explain why the children had been sent to the home in the first place—for example, because of the alcoholism and high suicide rates within the community. Kreibig decided to leave the home and put his inner voice and feelings about the place in his photographs. For countless generations, the Inuit who reside here have relied on their natural surroundings to survive. The effects from global warming on this coastal town were apparent, with instances like the sea ice melting too early, threatening the culture of the Inuit. What have the children left behind? And will they ever be able to reconnect to their melting traditions and roots?

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  • A boy walks over the sea ice close to Uummannaq, Greenland. The fragile eco-system of the sea ice is endangered through global warming. The arctic continuous to melt with each passing minute. The average temperature in the arctic has increased about almost 4 degrees since the beginning of the 20th century and forecasts are grim. Nobody knows how long it's still possible to walk over the sea ice in Uummannaq in winter.

  • After a local hunter shoots a seal, he fixates it with a hook and allows it to bleed out into the ocean. Seal hunting is an endangered tradition because seal fur is no longer as popular since globalization reached Greenland and global trends took over. Its international demand, which guaranteed its exportation to the rest of the world for a long time, seems to be gone too.

  • Children from all over Greenland come to the northernmost children’s home in the world in Uummannaq. Nearly half of the Greenlandic population has been exposed to violence, the highest amount against children and teens. Individuals from the children’s home in a more modern version of traditional clothing sit in front of a portrait of Knud Rasmussen (painting left) and his travel companions (painting mid and right). Knud Rasmussen was a famous adventurer and is a national hero of Greenland.

  • Heavy snowstorms are common in Uummannaq, sometimes lasting for days. The weather here changes very quickly, making it hard to predict. Fishermen say in the last years it has become even more difficult. These cold winds can become dangerous in some situations, especially when the human body is not able to produce heat as fast as the cold wind chills.

  • The Greenlandic priest of the Lutheran Church of Greenland in Uummannaq walks toward his chapel on the First Advent. He is one of the only confidants who the town’s population can rely on. Greenland now has one of the highest rates of suicide in the world while witnessing a lot of problems due to excessive alcohol abuse.

  • Martin plays on his phone. He is one of the young individuals of the children’s home in Uummannaq. Children from all over Greenland come to the northernmost children’s home in the world. Many of those who live in the facility come as a direct result of alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and the country having the highest rate of suicide in the world.

  • In 2018, the sea ice became unstable for a while because of record temperatures in the arctic, making it hard for the fisherman to do their job. A fisherman catches halibut on the sea ice in temperatures as low as -30 degrees Celsius in February, as seagulls await the fish leftovers. Warmer currents and sea temperature brought more fish to this region, but bigger boats which are used in summer, brought fishing quotas to the town because of overfishing. Long fishing lines with 200 baited hooks attached at the end, are used by the professional fishermen. These lines reach 500 meters to touch the ocean ground, where the halibut reside.

  • Dogs can be seen in almost every corner of Uummannaq but the amount of dogs lessens fast. After they reach six months old, these dogs need to be chained. Before this age, they wander around the town, exploring and fighting with each other. Scenes like this are rare, as most of the people treat and see their dogs as a working animal.

  • The population of Greenland Dogs is decreasing drastically over the last years because the sea freezes for shorter periods each year due to climate change. Chained to the ground, two Greenland Dogs live outside through the harshest conditions, waiting all year for the sledding season. With modern conveniences in hunting and transportation, like snowmobiles and the effects of climate change, many people have decided to use the dogs less and less, diminishing their purpose in life.

  • A young boy is walking through a winter landscape in one of the abandoned settlements around Uummannaq which is now used by the Uummannaq children's home to get kids away from daily routines or bad habits like smoking for some weeks.

  • The extreme weather is hard on everything that grows - plants can't survive this climate. The sea is Greenland's garden but the eco system is changing fast.

  • This mountain and town is called Uummannaq. Uummannaq means a heart-shaped mountain. In this case, it‘s not a human heart the Inuit talk about—it‘s the heart of a seal. At the foot of this mountain, 590 km² north of the Polar Circle in western Greenland, lies a town with the same name: Uummannaq. A remote island inhabited by 1325 individuals, the village is connected only by ships and a helicopter to the outside world.

  • A man drinks during a kaffemik in a house after a baptism of a child. All kinds of seafood, cakes and coffee are served during a kaffemik in a house in Uummannaq after a baptism. This tradition helps to strengthen the community spirit of the town. There is almost every day an opportunity for a kaffemik.

  • The head of a narwhal served in a bucket after a baptism in a home Uummannaq. The skin of the head and the tail of the narwhal are a delicacy in Greenland and people buy them directly from the fisherman who turn for a short period of time into narwhale hunters during narwhal season in late autumn.

  • Red light shines through a window of one of the houses in Uummannaq on a cold winter night.

  • Children from the northernmost children's home run towards the children's home in a snowstorm in Uummannaq.

  • Children from the Uummannaq Children‘s Home, the northernmost children‘s home in the world, are traveling from Uummannaq to a settlement on the frozen sea ice in February, the coldest month in this region, with temperatures reaching -30°C.

  • Qisunnguaq, one of the young individuals of the children's home, is wearing a seal skin Anorak. The Greenlandic People rarely dress in the traditional clothing nowadays. It is difficult to predict wether how long those traditions will survive in the modern world.

  • In March 2018, the arctic was hit by the warmest temperatures ever recorded during that time of the year. Normally in late spring or early winter, the temperature of the sea ice drops below zero and the sea slowly starts to freeze. This connects Uummannaq to the surrounding settlements and the mainland, which is reachable by snow scooter or dog sled. In 2018, the sea ice was frozen only in mid-February, alarmingly late compared to the years.