Photo: Visit Greenland.

Uaajeerneq – An ancient Inuit form of entertainment

By greenland today, Karina Møller
05 AUG 2013
Uaajeerneq, pronounced »ooaaah-yernerk« is perhaps the oldest dramatical expression among the Inuit People of Greenland.
It was an important part of the old Aasivik, the summer gatherings where serious questions in the community was solved, but also songs and dances were shared.
Vivi-Nielsen-164-1 Vivi-Nielsen-292 Vivi-Nielsen-164-2
Mask dancer Vivi Nielsen.
Still practiced
Mask dancing is still practiced on the East Coast of Greenland, and was further developed by the Tuukkaq Theater in the ’70’s into what is perhaps the most known form of Greenlandic Mask Dancing today.
The dance was, and is done primarily for entertainment, but it also have an educational factor to it. The dancer plays around with three elements: fear, humor and sexuality. All used to teach, especially the young ones, how to deal with the above, when faced with them in real life.
Mask dance teacher Varste M. Berndtsson. Photo: Maliina Abelsen.
The mask
In the traditional form the dancer could either wear a carved wood mask, or paint his face with soot and wear a wooden stick in the mouth and often bind up the nose with a string to deform the face.
The dancer, if it was a male dancer, would often dress up as a woman, sing, drum and dance by himself.
Modern version
The modern form of Uaajeerneq is slightly different as the dancer uses black red and draw lines so the »mask« gets a more dramatic look. They use a wooden stick in the mouth to deform the face, sometimes they bind up the nose and usually makes the hair big and wild.
The dance is a free form of dance, using the body as extension of the mask. The dancer will usually not be singing or drumming, as it is a very physical form of dancing.
The colors of the mask and the custom have symbolic content. The black stands for the unknown, magic and what you face when living in the harsh arctic..
The red: life, love and temperament. The white: Clearness, the bones, ancestors and purity.
It is important that the contemporary mask dancers knows the old symbolism and the roots of the ancient use of the Uaajeerneq.
Pitsi Karolussen makeup for mask dance.
Personal expression
That way the Uaajeerneq becomes a part of the dancer himself, but of cause it is also important that the dancer makes it a personal expression. Not two mask dancers are alike!
It is a very dramatic experience being in the audience when the mask dancing is performed. Provoking and very entertaining.