A Hungarian in Etah


»This picture is when the hunters went hunting for walrus and bearded seal. There is a young boy with his father and it was really nice to see how he learned from his father. How to use the whip, how to pack the sled, what to do with the seals after they were caught.«


Tamás Farkas from Hungary prefers traveling in Arctic and Antarctic regions. On one of his five trips to Greenland, he went where most foreigners don’t get to go: the mythical, abandoned settlement of Etah.

Text: Jesper Kunuk Egede, Photo: Tamás Farkas, greenland today March 2017

It had taken a lot of planning, a lot of money and a lot of courage, even. And then, finally, he stood there, overlooking the destination of his dreams. Ever since childhood, Tamás Farkas from Hungary had wanted to visit Etah but the dream had seemed almost unattainable. Now, after several planning trips, he had made it there together with the local hunter Otto Simigaq.


The Story of Etah
Etah is a former settlement in the very northern parts of Greenland. Etah used to be the northernmost populated place in the world. People had lived here since the first immigration to Greenland as the location was right on the migration route from Canada. What few people realize is that Canada is only 26 kilometers away from Greenland at the narrowest point between the two countries. From the Inuit of the first immigration wave 4,400 years ago to the last permanent immigration on this route in 1865, Etah had been centerstage.

Later, Etah also became famous in the annals of Polar explorers as it was the starting point for several world-famous expeditions. These include Knud Rasmussen’s successful expedition to the northern coast of Greenland and the rather less successful North Pole expedition by Robert Peary.

Today, there are still old houses standing at Etah which are used by the hunters who go here for the walrus and polar bear populations. Tamás joined Otto Simigaq on one such hunting trip. Otto is a seal hunter from Siorapaluk. Tamás and Otto had met through Hans Jensen who operates Hotel Qaanaaq. Tamás first trip to Greenland had been in the summer of 2005 where he went to Qaanaaq to photograph and make contacts for a later winter trip.


Preparation for the sled trips
His next two trips were photography winter trips to Kangerlussuaq where he went alone into the tundra to photograph musk oxen.

»It’s a challenge to take pictures in the cold weather,« says Tamás. »I brought lots of batteries and I also had this device that heated up my photo bag. That way, it was not -35 degrees Celcius in the bag but only -15. This actually ensured that the lifetime of the batteries was much longer. I would also put things in my sleeping bag. Not only batteries and equipment but also my toothpaste and water. You always had to think forward. And It was actually more difficult to do the photography in Kangerlussuaq than in the north with the hunters«, Tamás explains.

In Kangerlussuaq, Tamás had to carry everything himself, including all the photo equipment, GPS, food, etc. In the northern parts of Greenland, it was simpler as he was basically following the hunters around and the equipment was placed on the sled.


Back to Qaanaaq
Tamás preparations bore fruit and he was ready to go back to North Greenland. He went on two trips to Qaanaaq and Siorapaluk in April of 2008 and May of 2010.

»Both winter trips to Qaanaaq lasted three weeks; two weeks on the sled and one week in Siorapaluk. When leaving Siorapaluk, we went out on the Inglefield Fjord. First time we went to Etah, the second time we went around the fjord, sometimes joining two other hunters,« Tamás explains.

»Because of the climate change, there is no way of going to Etah via the sea ice anymore so we went up on the inland ice and drove there. From up there, we could then descend on Etah It was a really extraordinary feeling. I have not felt that too many times. I was just savoring the words, I was in ETAH! It was really a strange feeling. And, of course, Etah itself was as wonderful as I hoped,« Tamás enthuses.

etah-05»Foodwise, my favorite is mattak, of course. The other thing I love is dried halibut – the way they dry it in the north. It’s very different from the dried cod of the south. Also, when you cook food in the north, you can taste the difference of the water – even compared to cooking Greenlandic food in, say, Kangerlussuaq,« says Tamás.

Following A Hunter’s Life
They spent some days in Etah, Otto as a hunter and Tamás as the chronicler. »Etah itself was not more than a few turf-insulated, ruined, wooden shanties. There was also a small recent wooden cabin that was used by local hunters occasionally. This is where we stayed. Otto hunted in the fjord and, usually, I would follow him or I would just walk around the fjords and take photos. There were quite a lot of reindeer, musk oxen, Arctic hares and Arctic foxes in the area. It was really interesting for me to see how the game was slaughtered because I had never been hunting in Hungary. Because of the severe cold, the game was instantly wrapped separately for human consumption (and also wrapped separately for own use and for sale) or for the dogs.«

etah-06»It’s funny, one day I went up to the cliffs, shooting for birds, I mean to take pictures, and I approached very slowly and I could almost touch the birds. The next day, (he points at the pictures, laughing), Otto was coming also. He caught, I don’t know, hundreds of birds, dik, dik, dik, dik and they were in the net…«

Fear for the Future
Tamás has an incredible respect for the Greenland hunters and their way of life.

»What I really would like to do is spent a year with my family in Siorapaluk. I know it’s not feasible but it’s really interesting to see how the people live there. I’m afraid this is the end of the story of the Inuit hunters. This is the reason why I went to Siorapaluk in the first place. Most of Greenland has finished living this way of life. There is less sea ice and less chances to hunt. Also in Qaanaaq, the main income is no longer from what you hunt, but from hunting together with tourists. I hope that tourism will help these traditions to survive because it’s very difficult to live from hunting alone. In Qaanaaq, if you could hunt from the ice for nine months it would be good. However, they can only hunt from the ice for five months, and that is not enough to sustain a living,« Tamás laments.


  • Tamás Farkas studied math, physics and logics in Budapest and logics in Amsterdam. He later taught logics at a university in Budapest before venturing into business. His photography is a hobby, not a trade. Fourwhales.com is a family business and it is a full-time job to Tamás and his wife Zsófi. Along with their two children, they live in the woods of Hárshegy in the second district of Budapest. »Considering that we are in the middle of a city with a couple of million people, it’s fascinating that you can actually live in a forest,« Tamás says.
    Currently, the Svalbard collection is the most prominent on the website that is aimed at retailers. Tamás went to Svalbard twice and his next plan is to kayak the 1,000 kilometers around Svalbard. Tamás and Zsófi are work-ing on their Greenland collection and are looking forward to present it on fourwhales.com




etah-09»On the first trip, there were just the two of us. We had a routine, we woke up in the morning, traveled during the day and slept in the evening. On the second trip, we would sometimes join two other hunters and we would sleep from 10 pm to 2 am and then we had to move because the low tide was coming, etc. It was a lot more abrupt and that was difficult for me. I had a clock but the sun was always up so I had no idea whether it was 7 in the morning or 7 at night. The disruption of the rhythm can be difficult. Also, the air is different in the high Arctic,« Tamás explains matter-of-factly and not as a complaint.