The last section of An African in Greenland is titled “A True Greenlander,” but what a Greenlander is, well, that’s not easy to say.

 

In this final chapter, Robert Mattaaq — a native Greenlander and village elder at 63 —  tells author Tété-Michel Kpomassie the story of the souls of names. They sit inside Robert’s turf and stone hut, a rarity in Greenland by the time Kpomassie gets there, as all similar huts have long been razed and replaced with flimsy Scandinavian-style wooden houses built by the colonizing Danish. When a man dies, Robert explains, all his different souls leave the body through his mouth — all except for one troublemaking soul, the ateqata, the soul of the dead man’s name. This soul of the name clings desperately to the corpse wanting only one thing: to live again in… More…

 

Three summers ago, looking for adventure, I left New York City and drove to California for a newspaper job. One evening while jogging, I noticed a glowing rock high on a hill. A few weeks later, I pitched my tent beside it. After work, I’d trudge up my hill in the moonlight and sit for hours under the rock. On some nights, strange howls kept me awake. I wondered if there was a land where people still lived in skins, gathered around fire, and believed in magic and not God. Looking for that land, I quit the paper and traveled to Nunavik, an Inuit territory in Arctic Quebec.

On Canada Day, I landed in Kuujjuaq, a community of 2,000 on the tree line. An icy wind spat cold rain. On the shores of the Koksoak River, families picnicked… More…