Jean Malaurie, explorer of the Far North, died at the age of 101

Jean Malaurie, the famous French geographer-physicist, also writer, editor, polar explorer, has died. He had devoted his life and a large part of his research to indigenous peoples, and more particularly to the Inuit, whom he continued to defend.

Jean Malaurie, in 1975, in Paris. AFP - STF

By: Nicolas Sanders Follow


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His name should forever be associated with the great white desert of the Arctic, Thule and the Inuit. On May 29, 1951, Jean Malaurie and the Inuit Kutsikitsoq were the first two men in the world to reach the North geomagnetic pole. An adventure undertaken with just two dog sleds. Companion of Paul-Émile Victor, defender of the Inuit, founder of the “Terre humaine” collection, creator of the State Polar Academy of Saint Petersburg, Unesco ambassador for the Arctic polar regions… The journey of this man with 31 expeditions polar makes you dizzy.

Born on December 22, 1922 in Mainz, Germany, into a French Catholic family, resistant to the Compulsory Labor Service in 1943, he then went underground. Fresh from the Institute of Geography at the University of Paris, he was appointed in 1948 by his master Emmanuel de Martonne as geographer/physicist to the French Polar Expeditions led by Paul-Émile Victor in Greenland.  

Jean Malaurie continued his polar expeditions at the very beginning of the 1950s with a detour into the Hoggar desert. His first mission to Greenland, to Thule, took place during the summer of 1950 and will serve as the subject of his thesis devoted to the geomorphology in north-west Greenland. He leads alone, for the CNRS (with very limited resources and minimal support), the “

first French geographical and ethnographic mission in northern Greenland


Ingelfield Land, April 1951 Jean Malaurie

Total immersion among the Inuit 

I found myself with the Inuit, whom I very quickly felt should be my masters

,” confided Jean Malaurie in 2010 on RFI in

Caroline Lachowsky’s show Microméga

. A colossus with a strong head and tall words, bushy eyebrows and messy hair, he never ceased to be the valiant defender of the boreal minorities. “ 

The explorer allows himself to be explored, and little by little establishes the desired links with these men on a level of brotherhood

 ,” he admitted in the same program.  

His immersion among the Inuit is total and leads him to become one of them. “I was the little white guy who ate like them, with them, I became family, forgotten, I hear them talking while forgetting the white guy that I am, and at that moment they are in the truth about themselves themselves” also told Jean Malaurie that day in an RFI studio at the Maison de la Radio. 

In June 1951, in Thule, the explorer discovered by chance an American air base, in the company of Kutsikitsoq with whom he reached the north geomagnetic pole. Delegated by the Inuit, the young CNRS missionary at the age of 28 goes to meet a high-ranking US officer to whom he declares “

Go home, general. You are not welcome.

» Words which were not enough to make the American army decamp, but which definitively linked the destiny of Jean Malaurie to the Inuit people. 

Also listen: Jean Malaurie, a life among the Inuit


I wanted to break the barrier between those who know and the others 


A founding anecdote that Malaurie told in 1955 in

The Last Kings of Thule

, which describes the life of the Inuit. A founding work of the Terre Humaine collection published by Plon, which he created. The collection of which he remained the director for a long time then welcomed other great classics such as

Tristes tropiques

, by Claude Lévi-Strauss (1955),

Terres vivants

, by René Dumont (1961), and

The horse of pride

by Pierre Jakez Hélias (1975). For more than 65 years until today, Terre Humaine has published works dedicated to testimony in favor of peoples and societies in danger of disappearing. “

I wanted to break down the barrier between those who know and others, to make the joy of understanding accessible to everyone. And restore this part of primary sensitivity, this truth of the “I” and the intimate so despised by our scientists in the name of scientific objectivity

” explained Malaurie. The works published in the Terre humaine collection have in common that they raise the fundamental questions of man in his relationship to his fellow human beings and his environment. 

At the age of 68, and at the request of a scientific advisor to Mikhail Gorbachev, in 1990 he led the first Soviet-French expedition to Siberian Thukotka. “

I am not a communist, but I hate capitalism and I love the Russians

,” he declared in an interview with

La Croix

in 2019. It was therefore very precisely in Saint Petersburg that he founded an Academy in 1994 polar state where the elite of the Trans-Siberian peoples have since been formed. A school where French is the first foreign language and of which Jean Malaurie remained honorary president for life. 

Having become a world reference in the field of the Arctic world, professor at the School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences (EHESS), Jean Malaurie has published around thirty works during his life. A life dedicated to teaching the anthropogeography of stone to man, or how we cannot understand Arctic peoples without reflecting on their physical environment. “

The stone speaks, it is a memory of energy

,” he liked to say. 

Defender of the rights of Arctic minorities, particularly in the face of oil exploitation in the Far North, a fine connoisseur of the animist genius of the Inuit and their shamans, it was in France, in Dieppe (Seine-Maritime) that Jean Malaurie died , far from the “white sunset” evoked by Rimbaud in his


and to which he referred in “The Last Kings of Thule”. 

Also listen to Terre Humaine, a very special collection

►To read: 


Dare, resist

. CNRS Editions. 2018


Ultima Thule. From the discovery to the invasion of a mythical place

, Éditions Chêne, 2016


The last Kings of Thule. With the polar eskimos, facing their destiny

, Pocket. Human Earth Pocket.  

►To see: 


The saga of the Inuit

, a documentary series by Jean Malaurie (INA productions). 


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