Autumn 2023 / Portrait

Gallery: Character Encounters

by Lola Akinmade Åkerström

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This story has been published in the 2023 Pathfinder Issue of Hidden Compass. While every story has a single byline, the issue is a collaborative effort. Storyteller proceeds from all patronage campaigns in this issue will go collectively to Team Tété on top of their article pay.


The 2023 Pathfinder Prize expedition team came back from Greenland with an abundance of striking images — more than we could include in the photo-rich stories of this issue. So, we present “Character Encounters,” a gallery of 20 captivating photos from expedition leader Lola Akinmade Åkerström that continue to bring the expedition to life.

View a snapshot of the gallery below and keep scrolling to see the individual images with their captions.

Amber mountains rise from the blue waters of a fjord. Patches of snow dot the land.

A view of the wild Greenlandic landscape on the helicopter ride from Qaqortoq to Narsarsuaq. Due to crosswinds and other landing conditions, flying into Narsarsuaq can be a harrowing adventure. Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström.

a town of colorful homes sits against the icy waters of its bay.

Colorful buildings line the hillside all around Qaqortoq’s bay. Qaqortoq was where Tété-Michel Kpomassie first set foot in Greenland in the sixties. Today, it is Southern Greenland’s largest town. Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström.

A large Greenlandic dog paws the lap of a smiling woman.

The Pathfinders went dog sledding with Malene, who has been mushing for 20 years. She runs her own kennels and dog sledding company in Sisimiut. The team rode across frozen lakes and past snow coated mountains. As they coasted through the ethereal landscape, Lola chatted with Malene about the qivittoq — the mythological wandering wilderness spirit. She said she doesn’t believe they have magical powers. She simply believes they are people who went mad and now live out in the wilderness because they don’t like to be around other humans. Sometimes they sneak back into town in disguise to steal and get food. Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström.

A white and black dog with a thick coat sands on snow-covered rocks and howls.

Greenlandic dogs — larger and stronger than their Siberian husky cousins — are integral to daily life, primarily as a mode of transport for the Indigenous Greenlandic Inuit community. Traversing large expanses of frozen tundra and Arctic wilderness requires the strength and agility Greenlandic sled dogs provide. Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström.

Simple white crosses mark graves in a snow covered cemetery with colorful buildings in the background.

A local cemetery in Sisimiut. Plain white wooden crosses are very common throughout cemeteries in Greenland. Crosses are planted facing in the direction of the sea. Many remain unmarked which follows the Inuit tradition that says the names of the dead never die but are passed on. Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström.

A woman in a green shirt strings colorfull beads.

Augusta Blytmann Berthelsen, a primary school teacher, strings colorful beads together to make part of a traditional Greenlandic costume for her new granddaughter. Augusta’s home has exquisite views over Sisimiut Bay. Dried antlers and reindeer feet are on her generous balcony. Her house teems with culturally-significant items including Tupilaks carved from bone to protect her family from evil spirits and Ulu knives for cutting blubber. Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström.

A woman in a black jacket and a man in a red jacket sit at a bus stop.

Pathfinders Noo Saro-Wiwa and Erik Jaråker at a bus stop in Qaqortoq. Traveling all around Greenland in the footsteps of a maverick was nothing short of inspiring and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström.

A dark-skinned woman in maroon overalls and a mustard-colored shirt sits on a chair and knits.

Marit Woods is a 35-year-old Liberian American. Marit partially grew up in Minnesota, so the Greenlandic weather doesn’t faze her. Prior to moving to Sisimiut, she and her husband Anders Frank lived in Florida. When he got work in Greenland, they moved. She plans to start a blog about her life in Greenland. She is also the founder of ARWAY, a fashion brand through which she collaborates with Liberian artists to make bags and purses. Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström.

A young boy stands facing away from the camera and gazes over his shoulder. He has dark skin and wears a blue hoodie and jeans.

While shopping for chocolate in a grocery store in Sisimiut, Pathfinder Noo felt a tap on her shoulder. It was Malik, an eight-year-old old African American boy, who walked up to her to introduce himself. Two days later, the Pathfinders enjoyed one of their most memorable dinners with Malik, his Liberian-American mom Marit Woods, and Danish father Anders Frank. Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström.

A woman in a green shirt and black jacket, looks and smiles at a man in black sweater and grey pants. They are standing on the balcony of a purple home.

Augusta Blytmann Berthelsen and her husband, Karl Berthelsen, share a moment against a panoramic backdrop over Sisimiut Bay. Augusta was a kindergartner in Upernavik when Tété lived there and she remembers watching him alongside her friends whenever he walked by. Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström.

A woman's hand holds open the pages of a photo album.

Berthelsen pulls out a family album and a few loose sepia photographs from her childhood in Upernavik, pointing out family members. As a child, she remembers running to the school fence alongside her classmates whenever Tété walked by. “Mikkilersuaq” – Michel the Giant. It was written as Míkilersuak in old script. This was the nickname they gave Tété. We assumed it was because he towered over everyone at 5 feet 11 inches tall. “-ersuaq” is given to signify that someone was great, Augusta clarifies for us. Not necessarily because Tété was tall, but because he was seen as special. Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström.

A man in a black cap and blue and orange plaid jacket looks to the right of the frame. Behind him. a snow covered town of colorful buildings is visible.

Expedition leader Lola met Lars Sofus Enoksen at a hotel canteen where he served the Pathfinders breakfast. He’d moved back home to Greenland after years in Denmark and told Lola he appreciates the pristine condition of his hometown of Sisimiut. Because of its precarious location by the bay, he believes mass tourism won’t reach his town because there’s no way to accommodate larger planes, and ferries run weekly. Later that evening, the Pathfinders found Lars rubbing shoulders with Greenlandic actress Nuka Walder-Costau and her Danish actor husband Nikolai – “Jaime Lannister,” from Game of Thrones. Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström.

A man with black hair and a gray goatee wears a red plaid shirt and blue jeans. He has his arm around a woman who is wearing a blue dress. They are looking at each other and smiling.

Alfred Rasmussen shares a moment with his wife Emma in Qaqortoq. Alfred was the five-year-old boy sitting on Tété’s knee in an iconic black-and-white photo from Tété’s book, An African in Greenland. Tété lived with Alfred’s family in Maniitsoq, formerly Sukkertoppen, because his late father Erik was the only person who spoke and understood English. Alfred and Tété remain friends to this day. Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström.

A woman wearing yellow ear protection and a black jacket looks out an aircraft window at a snowy and rugged landscape.

After a wind delay, the Pathfinders’ flight to Narsarsuaq finally took off. The pilot informed them he would be taking “the scenic route” to avoid turbulence — flying close to the mountain face. Once airborne, the craft mimicked the gentle gliding of a hot air balloon with nary a bump. Narsarsuaq is home to one of the most dangerous approaches in the world due to strong crosswinds in the fjord, a short runway, and little space for pilots to maneuver. When the team landed and Lola stepped onto solid ground, the gusting winds whipping her hair, she fully realized and truly appreciated the expertise of pilots who navigate the country’s turbulent and often violent weather, which can strand travelers for weeks. Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström.

A person wearing a red coat walks along a snowy path in front of several apartment-style buildings. The closest building has a mural of two ducks on it.

Low income government-built housing in Sisimiut. Because Greenland is logistically challenging to navigate and there are no roads connecting towns, fisherman, and others living in remote places have been relocated into apartment communities like these in various towns. Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström.

A woman stands against a blue-painted wooden backdrop. Her face is painted in black and red and her cheeks puff out.

Born and raised in Qasigiannguit, 32-year old Arnaq Petersen’s interest for mask dancing — uaajeerneq — was piqued in 2016, prompting her to study the artform. She was trained as an actress and dancer by the National Theatre of Greenland in the capital city of Nuuk, and now travels throughout the country performing and teaching workshops. Today, uaajeerneq is often performed during solstice celebrations and for entertainment. Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström.

A balding man with a salt and pepper goatee stands with his arm around a slighter man with a salt and pepper mustache. Both men wear glasses and black jackets.

Gert Otto Hansen (left) remembers meeting Tété as a kid but didn’t really know him well. Hansen was about 10 years old. He simply remembers all the kids following Tété around town like he was the Pied Piper. Pathfinders Noo and Lola could imagine that feeling. When they landed in Qaqortoq, kids similarly flocked to and followed them. Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström.

An older man man with a white goatee and dark eyebrows smiles at the camera while wearing a baseball cap with the word Homesick on it, and a dark blue-green t-shirt that reads Kikkukia. His hands are on his hips.

James Ungalaq, the Canadian Inuit guitarist from the legendary First Nations band Northern Haze, poses for a portrait at the Arctic Sounds music festival in Sisimiut, Greenland. In the 1980s, James and his bandmates made history when they released what is widely believed to be the first Indigenous-language rock album in history. Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström.

Above a green and yellow building and a snow covered street. A green band of aurora arcs across a blue night sky.

While in Sisimiut, the Pathfinders were lucky enough to catch the elusive northern lights dancing across the skies. Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström.

A Black woman in a black jacket and winter hat stands against the side of a building, which is painted in bright turquoise.

Pathfinder and expedition leader Lola Akinmade Åkerström, a storyteller based in the Nordics for close to 15 years, was inspired to bring a team to Greenland after she encountered Tété’s story on a previous trip to the country. The expedition was a personal exploration for Lola, for it delved into the question of who gets to tell the story of a place. Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström.

Lola Akinmade Åkerström

Lola Akinmade Åkerström is the 2023 Pathfinder Prize-winning expedition leader and cinematic art director for “In Tété’s Footsteps: A Cultural Expedition in Greenland.”

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