Is Greenland Really Green?

The name “Greenland” itself may be a bit misleading. It sounds rather enticing, doesn’t it? We think of a land that is filled with thick, lush forests and evergreen trees. It is funny that we cannot help but take this name so literally. We don’t think of Swaziland as filled with swazi, or England filled with eng, do we? But I digress.

In reality, Greenland is mostly covered with ice. Why isn’t it called Iceland, then? That is a question that many people have asked. It seems that if the countries were actually appropriately named after their attributes, Iceland would be called Greenland, and Greenland would be called Iceland.

As it turns out, Greenland received its name because its inhabitants possessed blue-green skin from living close to the sea. This is according to records that were kept by Adam of Bremen kept in the 11th century. I suppose this goes to show that just because something is in writing, doesn’t make it true. If a person’s skin turned blue-green from living close to the sea, well, we’d probably have a lot more blue-green people in this world! Adam of Bremen was probably either greatly mistaken, or was a bit of a prankster.

The general consensus today is that the name Greenland actually came from Erik the Red’s Saga, which was based on centuries worth of oral tales and tradition, all of which were written down in the early thirteenth century in Iceland. During his lifetime, Erik the Red was a resident of Norway, then Iceland. However, he was banished from Iceland for three years after he participated in what is somewhat ambiguously recorded as “a number of killings.”

Erik used this three years’ time to explore the rumored lands of the west. When he returned to Iceland, he told people of the new land he had discovered, and invited them to come settle there with him. He chose a pleasant name, Grænland, or “Green Land” in order to attract people. Ironically, Greenland is about 85% ice, whereas his home country of Iceland is (at certain times of the year) filled with brilliant green foliage.

In all fairness, not all of Greenland is ice. There are parts of Greenland, particularly in Kangerlussuaq, that really are green. Much as Iceland had been just one century earlier, Greenland had no human footprint. The only people living there at the time of Erik’s journey were the Inuit in the north. Most of Southern Greeland, the actual green part, was uninhabited. This was attractive to some of the Icelanders, who saw the land as pretty much free for the taking. The Norse farmers from Iceland who moved to Greenland were able to find enough green land for pasturage, in order to support their sheep, goats, horses, swine and cattle.

So as you can see, the question of whether Greenland is really green is somewhat arguable. By visiting Greenland with the DKT tour this summer, you have a chance to see many different amazing things, such as glaciers, polar bears… and yes, since we’re visiting in July, even some green!

Recent Posts

go back to top button