Taissumani: Jan. 21, 1926 - The Passing of Lars Møller, Greenland’s Printer
Greenland has the longest history of printing and publication in an Eskimo language, of any of the four countries in which Inuit live. After the colonization of Greenland by missionaries began in 1721, hymn books, prayer books, and eventually translations of the Bible were published in Europe.
But in 1793 the long tradition of publishing in Greenland itself began. A missionary, Jesper Brodersen, brought a primitive printing press to Nuuk (then called Godthaab) from Germany, and on it he printed a psalm book, “Tuksiautit akioreeksautikset,” usually translated as “Choral Songs.” This oldest example of Greenlandic printing is also the rarest - only one copy is known to exist, in the Royal Library in Copenhagen, and it is incomplete.
Printing in Greenland then took a holiday for a half century before Hinrich Rink, the Danish inspector for South Greenland, reintroduced it in 1855. Rink apparently found Brodersen’s press and began to print some small informational items on it. The first was a handbill dated Oct. 21, 1855. It was, in fact, a mini-newspaper. The text was in Greenlandic and read:
“Exciting news! The ship, which will make two voyages this year, has arrived. England and Russia are waging mighty war against each other, but there is no fighting in the North (i.e. in Denmark). When the King was out riding recently he fell off his horse and injured himself, but is now recovering. Reindeer hunting has been bad in this district, but there are many seals. God be praised, there is almost no sickness. The Danes in Godthaab wish you all well!”
In 1857, Rink brought back from Denmark a small printing press and a lithographic press, and printing in Greenland entered a new era. Five men were largely responsible for the cultural renaissance that followed. One was Rink himself, the enlightened inspector who encouraged Greenlanders to use the new medium of print to educate and inform. Another was Carl Emil Janssen, the Danish priest and principal of the seminary in Nuuk. Samuel Kleinschmidt, a Moravian missionary, became well-known for his writings in Greenlandic and for his standardization of the Greenlandic orthography. But it is unlikely that their efforts would have had the success that they did without the collaboration of two Greenlanders, Rasmus Berthelsen and Lars Møller.
Berthelsen had worked with Rink on his earlier publications using Brodersen’s press. The son of a hunter in Holsteinsborg (now Sisimiut), he was educated in Godthaab and Denmark. This multi-talented man was a poet and composer, as well as being a self-taught wood engraver and printer. Lars Møller, known affectionately to everyone in Nuuk as Arqaluk, had been a hunter and fisherman, but trained as a printer and lithographer for a short period in Denmark, before returning to Nuuk and apprenticing under Berthelsen.
Perhaps the scarcest of the books that these two men produced under Rink’s watchful guidance was what is known as the Pok book. The full title (in translation) almost tells the whole story; it was: “Pok, a Greenlander who has traveled abroad and on his return tells of his adventures to his fellow country men, and meets the priest and enters into discussions with him. From ancient manuscripts found among the Greenlanders at Godthaab.” Printed in 1857, it told about a Greenlander’s experiences in Denmark over a century earlier. These books, immediately popular up and down the coast, were not distributed free of charge but rather were sold in community stores. A notation in the book informed the readers that the proceeds of the sale would be distributed to support widows whose husbands had drowned in kayak accidents.
The crowning achievement of these men was the publication of a national newspaper, Atuagagdliutit. It had long been Rink’s dream. It commenced publication in January of 1861, and is still published under the same name today, although now it is a bilingual paper. Rasmus Berthelsen was the paper’s editor from its inception, and Lars Møller his secretary and assistant. In 1874 Berthelsen stepped down and Møller became editor. He held the position until his retirement in 1922.
Atuagagliutit appeared to be a monthly paper, but in fact the monthly issues were bound annually as a book and distributed to the local councils, which lent them out to heads of families. They were read and passed back, to be relent to other families. As a result, sets of this periodical are extremely rare today, and prized among collectors. The contents were eclectic - they included memoirs of native Greenlanders, hunting stories, reports of wars and battles, and a Greenlandic translation of Robinson Crusoe.
Holding the position of editor for almost half a century put Møller in a position of tremendous influence in Greenland. A modest man, he used his position fairly and for the betterment of his countrymen.
It was not until he reached the age of eighty that he retired. Four years later he died. A commemorative issue of Atuagagliutit marked his passing. It was entitled simply: “Lars Møller, the Greenlander.”