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Heart in the harbour

The harbour in Ilulissat, Greenland.

The harbour in Ilulissat, Greenland.

Small boats come and go all day and night from the harbour in Ilulissat. Fishermen often head out on their own, sometimes to set the lines, sometimes to pull them in. Any given morning there will be a couple of dozen men sitting at the dock and baiting their hooks, 500 at a time. It takes two or three patient hours to lift each section of thin nylon, twist it down into the bucket, and top it off with hook and bait. When the work is done, the spirals of line lay obediently in a careful pile, ready to catch whatever comes their way.


The traffic never stops. Even at night, the bait fishermen head out in search of capelin to sell for the other men’s hooks. Their spotlights lead them out of the harbour and then splash across the icebergs until the wee hours. Their lights at sea level balance the aurora overhead. Some nights, they pull in 100 buckets of flashing silver, each one worth 200 Danish kroner.
Despite the shops that sell everything from broccoli to curry paste and frozen pizza , the harbour – right in the heart of town – is a reminder that we’re in a community of hunters. There’s another line, an invisible one, that hooks the people to the land and sea.


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