Inuit Burial Traditions by the Travelling Funeral Professionals

Jeff Spear - Inuit Burial Blog


Theresa and I recently had the unbelievable experience to do some Eco travel in Iceland, Greenland and the northern Canadian provinces of Nunavut, Labrador, Newfoundland and Quebec.

Greenland Burial - Hansen-Spear Funeral Home - Quincy, Illinois

What is Eco travel? According to Wikipedia, ‘Ecotourism’ is a form of tourism involving visiting fragile, pristine, and relatively undisturbed natural areas, intended as a low-impact and often small scale alternative to standard commercial mass tourism. Ecotourism focuses on socially responsible travel, personal growth, and environmental sustainability.

Beyond seeing such animals as polar bears, seals, walrus and whales in their natural environment, we also got to experience the culture of the Inuit people, the ethnic group related to what we used to call Eskimos, which came from Siberia to populate Alaska, Northern Canada and Greenland. Being a funeral directors, we are always interested in burial customs.

Nuuk Cemetery - Hansen-Spear Funeral Home - Quincy, Illinois

While visiting the small fishing village of Kangaamiut, Greenland, we noticed several graves in the backyard of a quaintly painted house. The ground was almost all tundra and rock with a sparsity of vegetation. Being near the Arctic Circle, the climate and terrain is such that no trees can grow, and even shrubs are stunted at under two feet tall unless very well protected from the weather. We inquired about the burials and were told that in many places graves were impossible to dig, but bodies could be completely covered with rocks. This is what we observed. The larger cemetery was in a small valley where some soil had accumulated.

The following day we visited a museum in Nuut, Greenland which had a set of Inuit mummies with explanations of their burial customs. When Inuit arrived in Greenland they buried their dead at sea. Beginning around 1400 AD they began ground or cavern burials as we saw in Kangaamiut. The mummies were completely dressed, and items for their travel were included in the grave or cavern. The Inuit were mostly converted to Christianity which explains the change.

We also saw a more traditional cemetery behind the Church of Our Savior in Nuuk. Once again it appeared that some amount of ground digging was possible, but not much.

A final observation in both communities was a monument to sailors and fishermen lost at sea. Agriculture is non-existent in the tundra. The Inuit are primarily fishermen and hunters.  The weather and the conditions of the North Atlantic can be quite severe, and the kayaks and small boats used for fishing and seal hunting were not entirely safe.  I can only guess of the countless times a husband, son or father did not return safely.

We certainly enjoy traveling to large cities for the sights and the food, but we can tell you that the sights ‘off the beaten track’ and the local fare, especially FRESH seafood is pretty incredible. We had the opportunity to sample musk ox, whale and sea urchin at various locations, so we can now take them off our list of foods to experience.

4 Responses to Inuit Burial Traditions by the Travelling Funeral Professionals

  1. Richard & Fern Heitholt says:

    Very interesting account of your unique journey..Thanks for sharing.
    Amazing that Christianity found its way to this hinterland. It is also amazing that people have survived in the harshest conditions.
    Thanks for sharing .

    • William Spear says:

      We visited several cemeteries at various locations…they did bury their dead on land the best that they could rather than burial at sea.

  2. Trish Lodor says:

    This was a very interesting article and how lucky you are to travel to these amazing places! Thanks for sharing!

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