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Until 1992, the town of Tasiilaq was called Ammassalik, a name that still applies to the area around Tasiilaq. Tasiilaq is one of only two towns on the entire East Greenlandic coast. Its closest neighbor is Ittoqqortoormiit, situated more than 800 km north of Tasiilaq. The Ammassalik area with Tasiilaq and the surrounding settlements is rather isolated, and contact with the outside world is of relatively recent date. The East Coast has always been less densely populated than the West Coast. However, until the nineteenth century, there were more settlements on the East Coast between Ammassalik and Cap Farewell in the south, but during the nineteenth century, most people from the southeastern part of Greenland emigrated to the south and the west. Different factors may have triggered this emigration, e.g. straitened circumstances and scanty resources on the East Coast and the prospect of better social security in the larger settlements in South and West Greenland, where the newcomers were Christianized and then integrated into the new societies.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, East Greenland was literally depopulated south of Ammassalik. The outside world had poor knowledge about Ammassalik, apart from the fact that a people called the Ammassaliks existed somewhere on the East Coast. The Ammassaliks had on several occasions journeyed to Cap Farewell to trade and thereby interact with the people of South and West Greenland, but little was known about their culture and habits. In order to find out more about the population of East Greenland, in 1884 the Danish naval officer Gustav Holm (1849-1940) and his expedition began their journey from Nanortalik to Ammassalik along the East Coast. They reached Ammassalik in the late summer of 1884 and counted 413 individuals. The expedition overwintered in Ammassalik, giving them plenty of time to get to know the Ammassaliks, collect objects, and make anthropological observations.
After meeting Gustav Holm and his expedition, the Ammassaliks wished to get easier access to modern commodities like Western clothing and firearms. Ten years later, in 1894, a trade station and a colony was then established in the area, when the big ship – "Hvidbjørnen" – arrived with the timber and tools needed to establish the colony. In addition, the ship brought a missionary, a colony manager, a carpenter, and a sailor. The year of 1894 is considered the founding year of Ammassalik. The town – since 1992 known as Tasiilaq – celebrated its 100 years anniversary in 1994.
The main building of the museum is the beautiful old wooden church. The church was the first Christian church in town. It was opened in 1908 and was in use as church until 1986 when the population had grown too big for the little church and the new and bigger church opened. In the following years, the old church was used for storage. Then, in 1990, the new Ammassalik Museum opened in the old church.
Gustav Holm’s expedition brought with them a number of objects from the Ammassalik area. Some of these objects are exhibited in Greenland’s National Museum in Nuuk.