Siberian Survival: The Nenets and Their Story

Siberian Survival: The Nenets and Their Story

Siberian Survival: The Nenets and Their Story

Siberian Survival: The Nenets and Their Story

Synopsis

The Yamal Peninsula in northwestern Siberia is one of the few remaining places on earth where a nomadic people retain a traditional culture. Here in the tundra, the Nenets--one of the few indigenous minorities of the Russian North--follow a lifestyle shaped by the seasonal migrations of the reindeer they herd. For decades under Soviet rule, they weathered harsh policies designed to subjugate them. How the Nenets successfully resisted indoctrination from a powerful totalitarian state and how today they face new challenges to the survival of their culture--these are the subjects of this compelling and lavishly illustrated book.The authors--one the head of a team of Russian ethnographers who have spent many seasons on the peninsula, the other an American attorney specializing in issues affecting the Arctic--introduce the rich culture of the Nenets. They recount how Soviet authorities attempted to restructure the native economy, by organizing herders into collectives and redistributing reindeer and pasture lands, as well as to eradicate the native belief system, by killing shamans and destroying sacred sites. Over the past century, the Nenets have also witnessed the piecemeal destruction of their fragile environment and the forced settlement of part of their population. To understand how this society has survived against all odds, the authors consider the unique strengths of the culture and the characteristics of the outside forces confronting it.Today, the Yamal is known for a new reason: it is the site of one of the world's largest natural gas deposits. The authors discuss the dangers Russian and Western developers present to the Nenets people and recommend policies for land use which will help to preserve this remarkable culture.For information on the documentaries about life--both human and animal--above the Arctic Circle that Andrei V. Golovnev and Gail Osherenko have made, visit www.filmsfromthenorth.com.

Excerpt

July 1992—the peak of summer. Clouds of mosquitoes hover around our heads. We take the path to the tent of Ngoet (in Russian, Vladimir) Tadibe on Cape Yaptik-Sale, named for the Yaptik clan who lived here. Nenets and a few Russians live here in the small village of Yaptiksale, in Northwestern Siberia. Nenets villagers are mostly from the clans Niarui, Salinder, Vanuita. Yaptiks listed in the town census books live mostly in the tundra and avoid the village. Walking near the houses we can hear mixed Nenets-Russian chat; in the tundra camps, Nenets is spoken, and Russian sounds occasionally when Russians come to buy fur, reindeer meat, or fish. There, in the tundra, Yaptik kin are masters of the territory that has belonged to their ancestors for many centuries. Several decades ago many Yaptiks were resettled by authorities from this land to the southern tundra or even farther away. That happened after Yaptiks rose up against Soviet power. Old Man Tadibe told us that story yesterday. He himself didn’t participate in that “tundra war” because he was on another battlefield—that of World War II. He showed us his medals and recollected the revolt. He also told about intertribal wars between clans of Samoyeds (the old name of Nenets), even about human sacrifices that took place long ago on the northern cape of the Yamal Peninsula. That was his mood.

We didn’t know what Tadibe would tell us today. From the distance we recognized him talking with his grandson who lives in the regional center Salekhard, far south (three hours by helicopter). Tadibe’s son (the boy’s father) is a surgeon in the Salekhard hospital. Tadibe loves his grandson, who is about four or five, and teaches him Nenets. The old man is troubled that the boy can’t speak Nenets. As we come closer, we overhear the old man tell his grandson, who is struggling with mosquitoes, “Be calm. Don’t kill mosquitoes; otherwise they will eat all your reindeer.” That a boy living most of the year in the city could own tundra reindeer was a surprise. But compassion . . .

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