Photo Story | Newfoundland and Labrador

Seeing Ramah: Examining the Visual Archives of a Moravian Mission

© Memorial University Digital Archives Initiative: ID# LIME_P0123

Ramah is a favourite place to visit in Nunatsiavut, home to fascinating archaeological remains of an Inuit community and Moravian missionary site. The Moravians were avid record keepers, and throughout their presence in northern Labrador, created vast archives we can now use to help us understand the region’s human history.
Lithographic print of Ramah uncredited artist Memorial LIME P0766

© Memorial University Digital Archives Initiative: ID# LIME_P0766

An 1880 lithograph view of the settlement and station of Ramah, looking eastwards. Artist uncredited.

Located on the north shore of Nullatartok Bay, Labrador, Ramah (sometimes spelled Rama) was the site of a Moravian Mission Station and Inuit community between 1871 and roughly 1910. Although it was one of the shorter-lived Moravian stations in Labrador, it was richly documented by missionaries.

Ramah Mission house and chapel Adolf Stecker Moravian Archives Bethlehem

© Moravian Archives Bethlehem: ID# PhotLabrador 431a

The Ramah mission house and chapel. Photo by Adolf Stecker.

Three of the five communities that make up present-day Nunatsiavut housed Moravian mission stations—Nain, Hopedale, and Makkovik—but during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, many more stations and settlements existed between Killiniq Island in the north and Cape Harrison in the south, including Ramah.

Historical photograph kayaks on tatigek stand Ramah Moravian Archives Bethlehem photlabrador 436a or 578

© Moravian Archives Bethlehem: ID# PhotLabrador 436a/578

A woman prepares fish beneath Kajait (kayaks) on a tatigek (stand) in the community of Ramah. Photo likely taken by Adolf Stecker.

Opened one hundred years after their first permanent Labrador settlement in Nain, Ramah was described in Moravian publications as a “Jubilee station.” Its goal was to allow missionaries to expand their evangelical work amongst unconverted Inuit who were living beyond the community of Hebron, which was then the most northerly Moravian Station in Labrador. The amount of documentation relative to the length of Moravian settlement suggests how important the station was to the missionaries.

Historical photo sod houses Inuit families mountains of Ramah landscape Adolf Stecker Moravian Archives Bethlehem photlabrador 570b

© Moravian Archives Bethlehem: ID# PhotLabrador 570b

Inuit families and the sod house village at Ramah. Photo likely taken by Adolf Stecker.

However, Ramah fell short of the missionaries’ goal. Part of the problem was location, since there were more Inuit further north in Nachvak Fjord. Writing on the opening of the station in 1871, missionary Samuel Weitz recorded the disappointment of Tuglavinek and Simigak—Inuit from Nachvak—in the choice of Nullatartok Bay as the site for the Station. When Ramah Station opened its doors in July 1871, there were only seventeen Inuit living in Nullatartok Bay: Kaksungaut, his two wives, and five children; Nochasak, his wife, and six children; and a young man named Koversak.

Ramah Inuit and unidentified missionary family Adolf Stecker Moravian Archives Bethlehem photlabrador 574a

© Moravian Archives Bethlehem: ID# PhotLabrador 574a

Inuit families in Ramah, many wearing traditional clothing of amauti and atigi, take a photo with an unidentified missionary family. Photo likely taken by Adolf Stecker.

The station's Inuit population did not increase by much. At the time of the final service in Ramah's chapel in September 1908, missionary Samuel King Hutton recorded forty-five Inuit living in the nearby community. For many of the local population, the departure of the missionaries had no bearing on their decision to stay.

Historical photograph fetching water in Ramah Labrador Adolf Stecker Moravian Archives Bethlehem photlabrador 584b

© Moravian Archives Bethlehem: ID# PhotLabrador 584b

Fetching water in Ramah. Photo by Adolf Stecker.

“I am well off here,” Hutton quotes an unnamed Inuk in the community, one year after the station closed. “I know all the good fishing-places; I am sure of a living here. If I go somewhere else, I must begin again. All the best places will be taken by others.”

Jako Nochasak and child Ramah Moravian Archives Bethlehem labrador088

© Moravian Archives Bethlehem: ID# Labrador088

A cropped image of Jako Nochasak and an unidentified child, perhaps Levy Nochasak.

In the Moravian record, mentions of Ramah trail off after 1910. But even then, fifteen Inuit remained, all “served in the Gospel by the native helper Jako Nochasak.” Jako remained in Ramah with his family until its church was dismantled and brought to Nain in order to replace the one that had burned down there. That church was then razed in 1921; today’s Moravian Church in Nain hails from Zoar.

Remains of Moravian mission Ramah Bay

© Dennis Minty

On a visit to Nullatartok Bay today, you'll have the opportunity to see archaeological artefacts of the Moravian presence for yourself.

Evidence of settlement at Ramah remains. An area referred to as God’s Acre appears almost untouched. Paths around the site, stone foundations from some of the mission buildings, and bits of heating works are clearly visible. Along the shore, the sod houses that were homes for Inuit families have collapsed but the footprints cut deep into the landscape. The remains of the station and community square easily with their surviving imagery.

Ramah Bay tundra autumn colours

© Dennis Minty

Looking west into Nullatartok (Ramah) Bay

Today, Ramah is widely known for its unique geological feature, a distinctive stone called Ramah chert, which was quarried by Maritime Archaic peoples as early as 7,500 years ago. But the deep history of the site should help to give some perspective on Moravian settlement there. Ramah has long been a site of human occupation. Moravian missionaries occupy only a small part of that story.

An earlier version of this article first appeared on the Uncommon Bonds: Labrador Inuit & Moravian Missionaries, a two-year partnership between the Nunatsiavut Government, Moravian Archives, Moravian Church in Newfoundland and Labrador, Memorial University Libraries, and the National Heritage Digitization Strategy, focussing on the digitization and digital return of nearly 60,000 pages of archival resources concerning Labrador Inuit.

About the Author

Mark David Turner

Mark David Turner

Cultural Historian, Musician

Mark David Turner is a cultural historian and facilitator who works at the intersection of media, performing arts, and archival practice in the Northwest Atlantic and Circumpolar North. He is the Manager of Audio-Visual Archives and Media Literacy for the Nunatsiavut Government and OKâlaKatiget Society and an Adjunct Professor of Music at Memorial University’s School of Music.