An African in Greenland.


p. 272, on staying in the earthen hut of Robert Mattaaz in Upernavik in the 1950s: Generally, the interiors of turf dwellings were covered with rough wooden paneling to strengthen the earth walls and ceilings…. But old Mattaaq had had an original idea: the four wooden walls of his house were lined all over with pages cut out from picture magazines—so many that you couldn’t see a scrap of wood behind them! A careless observer might have thought that these pages had been stuck on just anyhow, but far from it. In his own way, old Robert was a ‘bookworm’ whose favorite reading matter was restricted entirely to periodicals. Every week for many years now he had been getting hold of magazines dealing with ‘world affairs.’ And even now when he avoided going out as much as possible because of the curiosity his appearance aroused in the village—his wife, his daughter, his youngest son Niels, aged fifteen, and his two other married sons who also lived in Upernavik, continued to buy them for him. But therein lay the rub: these magazines, reviews and newspapers began to make such a clutter on the floor that one day old Rebekka suggested throwing them out the window. Alarmed, the old man began by sorting out this junkheap and pinning on the wall the articles he wanted to reread. And so—casually, almost unintentionally—a first layer of printed pages spread over the four walls, followed in time by a second layer, a third, and even a fourth layer. The ceiling, too high for Robert Mattaaq to reach—and where two sagging planks threatened to collapse at any time—was the only area unpapered. The first pages dated from five years back and, as new pages had kept being added to the old ones, my host had great difficulty locating old articles or documents he needed [Pictures of Maataaq and his room, which he calls his ‘library’ are on the penultimate plate in the center of the book.]