Qaannat Kattuffiat
Qaannat Kattuffiat logo
Qajaq Nuuk logo Qajaq Sisimiut logo Qajaq Ilulissat logo Qajaq Upernavik logo Qajaq Qaqortoq logo Qajaq USA logo Qajaq Copenhagen Qajaq JPN

Qaannat Kattuffiat (the Greenland Kayaking Association) is a Greenlandic organization that is dedicated to keeping the traditional kayaking skills alive. This includes rolling, paddling techniques, kayak building, tuilik making and other aspects of the Greenland kayaking culture. The Qaannat Kattuffiat holds regular training camps where this knowledge is taught and practiced, and an annual championship. Today there are approximately 25 local Greenland "qajaq" clubs affiliated with Qaannat Kattuffiat (the logos above represent only a small sample of affiliated clubs). There are also officially recognized chapters outside of Greenland in Copenhagen, USA and Japan.

QAANNAT KATTUFFIAT and the Greenland Kayaking Renaissance

"For many centuries, Greenland was essentially a land of kayakers. The seal was the mainstay of the Inuit economy, and the kayak was a silent means of getting a hunter within harpooning range of seals and other marine mammals. A man was judged primarily according to hunting ability and skill as a kayaker.
Qajaq on rack
Then, about 1920, the sea temperature along the coast of Greenland became warmer.  Kayak hunting became less important, and fishing in power boats became more important. A whole generation grew up with almost no knowledge of kayaking.

In 1983, three ancient Greenland kayaks from the Netherlands were loaned to the Museum of Greenland at Nuuk. Some  young Greenlanders saw these on exhibit and were impressed that their ancestors of 1600-1700 had such sleek craft and the skill to use them. These young men then decided to form a club in order to preserve their kayaking heritage. They called it the QAJAQ Club and soon tee shirts began to appear with the slogan "QAJAQ-ATOQQILERPARPUT" (Kayak-we are starting to use it again). From the beginning in 1984, the club had reached a membership of 1,000 by late 1985.

The club enlisted the aid of veteran kayakers to teach them how to build and use kayaks". 

-John Heath (late kayak historian who helped with the creation of Qajaq USA).

A Qajaq is Not a Boat?

To a Greenlander a qajaq is a sacred object. If it wasn't for the qajaq, the Greenlanders would not have been able to survive. As such a qajaq holds a special place in the spirit, heart and mind of Greenlanders and this relationship is often not understood by those outside of Greenland. Because of this special relationship it is considered demeaning to the qajaq by calling it a "boat". John Petersen explains:

"Qajaq is qajaq, or kayak in your language, it is definitely not a boat in our terminology. For us boat is a vessel propelled by oars and has no cockpit, that is as simple as that. On land, when you are hunting, you use your legs to move around. You can not do that on water. To be able to walk on the water, hunters had to invent a new kind of an extension to their limbs, that made you amphibious. This device was called qajaq, you could now move around on the water, without using too much energy, just propelled by your arms.
Calling a qajaq a boat is offensive in Greenland, because we are trying to preserve a culture almost lost. I know that many members of QajaqUSA call their SOFs boats, even though it is replicas of old hunting qajaq's, you should not do that, or at least when Greenlanders are present.
When QajaqUSA became a member of Qaannat Kattuffiat, it was with preservation in mind. So, QajaqUSA: Please preserve the name also, or in your language kayak. Not boat. Because you are QajaqUSA and not boatUSA".

John Petersen

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