Vebæk, Mâliâraq

Author, translator, ethnologist and journalist born on April 20th, 1917 in Frederiksdal (now Narsarmijit) (Greenland) - died in Søborg (Denmark) in 2012.

Mâliâraq Vebæk, also known as Mâliarâq Vabæk, Maaliaaraq Vebæk and Malârâq Vebæk, was born in 1917 in the village of Frederiksdal (now Narsarmijit). This village is located in the southern part of West Greenland and consisted, at the time, of 23 houses with a hundred inhabitants. During the year of Mâliâraq Vebæk’s birth, many pastors and catechists, including her father, Hans Hoseas Josva Kleist who established the Church of Greenland, inhabited the village, formerly occupied by German missionaries. Mâliâraq Vebæk was born into a literate family. Her maternal grandfather, Jens Chemnitz, was educated in Denmark and was one of the first Greenlandic pastors. Her father was an active member of the Nanortalik Municipal Council and the Greenland Provincial Parliament (Grønlands Landsråd). A commemorative plaque in his honor and that of his wife, Bolette Marie Ingeborg Chemnitz, was inaugurated in 1979 in Narsarmijit. Education was very important for Mâliâraq Vebæk's family, who taught her reading and writing. At the same time, she received Inuit traditional knowledge such as leather tanning from her mother.

As a teenager, Mâliâraq Vebæk was admitted to an efterskole (secondary school for students aged 14 to 18) in Egedesminde (now Aasiaat) in northern Greenland. This is a prestigious school with an entrance examination. Before the founding of this school in 1932, Greenlandic girls were not permitted to continue their studies after primary education. Mâliâraq Vebæk became the best student in her class and with her graduation in 1934; she became one of the first women in Greenland to obtain secondary education. Her academic excellence earned her a scholarship to enter the Theodora Langs Seminarium in Silkeborg, Denmark. Mâliâraq Vebæk obtained a teaching diploma in 1939, despite difficulties with the Danish language, becoming the first Greenlandic woman to achieve a university education. She then returned to Greenland after 5 years of absence.

In Greenland, she worked as a teacher in Jakobshavn (now Ilulissat), Egedesminde (now Aasiaat) and Frederikshaab (now Paamiut). In 1939, she met Christen Leif Vebæk, an archaeologist and curator at the National Museum of Denmark. They were married on August 4, 1945, after having been separated for the duration of the war: she living in Greenland, he in Denmark. Together, they had two daughters, Bolette was born in 1946 and Astrid in 1947. After the Second World War ended, the family moved to Denmark. They regularly returned to Greenland, in particular to carry out archaeological excavations. Mâliâraq Vebæk served as an interpreter for her husband in addition to raising their children. Over the years, she also compiled ethnological surveys in Kalaalissut (the Greenlandic language), which she translated into Danish for researchers, as well as collecting traditional Greenlandic stories, songs and legends. This first contact with ethnology and translation inspired Mâliâraq Vebæk, who became increasingly interested in these founding elements of Greenlandic culture.

At the end of the 1950s, Mâliâraq Vebæk deplored the loss of Greenlandic culture among young people. To compensate for this, she published a series of six Greenlandic stories and legends in 1957, including "Aqigsiaq" and "Narrâjît", which were published in the newspaper Grønland. Beginning in 1958 and continuing for the next 20 years, she worked as a performer for the Copenhagen (Denmark) branch of Kalaallit Nunaata Radioa (KNR), the Greenlandic national radio. She read her own texts as well as Scandinavian novels on the air. At the same time, she wrote radio plays involving other Greenlanders who live in Denmark to lend their voices to the different characters in the stories in her recordings. In addition, she also translated from Danish into Greenlandic the novels of Henrik Pontoppidan (Denmark), Halldór Laxness (Iceland), William Heinesen (Faroe Islands) and Per Lagerkvist (Sweden).

In Copenhagen, Mâliâraq Vebæk was also involved in several Greenlandic associations, including “Det Grønlandske Hus” (meaning: “The Greenlandic House”). This way, she encountered disadvantaged Greenlanders, especially women. She participated in the preparation of the Grønlændere i Danmark report in 1971, under the direction of Pie Barfod, which analyzed the living conditions of Greenlanders in Denmark. The following year, she translated this report into Greenlandic as Kalâtdlit Danmarkime. Mâliâraq Vebæk was particularly interested in the conditions of Greenlandic women married to Danish men, which was a source of inspiration for her writings. She also devoted herself to journalism as well as to artistic and literary criticism.

In 1981, Mâliâraq Vebæk published her first novel, Bussimi naapinneq (meaning: “Meeting on the Bus”). This novel recounts the destinies of two Greenlandic women living in Denmark, one of them, Katrine, ending tragically. Búsime nâpinek has had an important resonance in the Scandinavian literary scene: Mâliâraq Vebæk was awarded the Greenland Forfatterforenings Pris (Prize of the Greenland Writers' Union) in 1982 for this novel, among other prizes. She then translated the novel into Danish as Historien om Katrine (meaning: “The Story of Katrine”). The novel was also translated into Russian and Sami in 1988. This story gained a wide audience, especially through its episodic publication in the newspaper Atuagagdliutit.Grønlandsposten in 1993 and 1994. The novel has as an important feminist significance: the main characters are women with active and complex roles. As well, both Greenlandic women followed their Danish husbands to Denmark, just like the author. Unlike the author, the characters in this story move from disillusionment to disillusionment. Mâliâraq Vebæk's novel includes reflections on the meeting of gender and racial inequalities. In 1992, Mâliâraq Vebæk published the sequel to this novel Ukiut trettenit qaangiummata (meaning: "Thirteen years later"). In this sequel, the main protagonist happens to be Emilie, Katrine's daughter, who has to deal with Danish racism towards her origins and to set off in search of her Greenlandic roots. The book was translated into Danish as Tretten år efter (meaning: "Thirteen years later") in 1997.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Vebæk published several short stories and poems in Danish as well as in Greenlandic. In 1990, Mâliâraq Vebæk published an important anthology in Danish: Navaranaaq og andre: de grønlandske kvinders historie (meaning : “Navaranaaq and others: History of the Greenlandic women since earlier times to the present”). This collection is based upon her collected ethnographic material, telling the lives of prominent Greenlandic women, starting with the legend of Sedna, the sea goddess, and ending with portraits of contemporary political women. This book was translated into Greenlandic, as Navaranaaq allallu: Kalaallit arnat oqaluttuassartaat in 1996. In 1995, Mâliâraq Vebæk collaborated with the Greenlandic artist Aka Høegh to create a children's book depicting a variant of the legend of Sedna. Sassuma Arnaanut pulaarneq was published in 1995, and subsequent editions were published in 1999, 2015 and 2018. The book was translated into Danish as Besøg hos havets moder in 1995 and into English as A Journey to the Mother of the Sea in 1999.

Throughout her literary career, Mâliâraq Vebæk has performed at various conferences in Denmark, Greenland and abroad, where she read from her works and gave lectures on various topics related to Greenlandic culture and traditions. The last years of Mâliâraq Vebæk's life were devoted to the transcription and editing of her voluminous collection of tape recordings of the folk tales of Southern Greenland. These transcriptions were published in various anthologies such as The Southernmost People of Greenland (2006), written in the South Greenland dialect and in English.

In 2001, Mâliâraq Vebæk was awarded the Grønlandske Kulturpris (“Greenlandic Culture Prize”) for her life’s work.

Mâliâraq Vebæk died in Søborg (Denmark) on February 25th, 2012.

This biography is based on the available written material during a collective research carried out during 2018-2021. It is possible that mistakes and facts need to be corrected. If you notice an error, or if you wish to correct something in an author's biography, please write to us at and we will be happy to do so. This is how we will be able to have more precise presentations, and to better promote Inuit culture.


(c) International Laboratory for Research on Images of the North, Winter and the Arctic, Université du Québec à Montréal, 2018-2021, Daniel Chartier and al.