Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

The Social Movement of Meat in Taimyr, Northern Russia

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

The Social Movement of Meat in Taimyr, Northern Russia

Article excerpt


Continuities in social, economic, and religious organisation of the formerly nomadic Dolgan and Nganasan in northern Russia are described, along with the process by which key values and norms are perpetuated. Kinship, communal property concepts, and delayed reciprocity are integral to local resource allocation and resource management. Benefits of sales to outsiders are funnelled into local networks, a practice that should continue if traditional strategies are to thrive. Keywords: exchange, food sharing, kinship, reciprocity, property, Dolgan, Nganasan, Siberia


This paper describes the modes by which meat and other bush products are transferred and exchanged in an indigenous community in the Taimyr Autonomous Region, northern Russia. In the 1990s, social connections and non-market exchanges became increasingly important within the remote community described here. The processes favouring institutions for the social movement of meat are discussed in light of the peoples' nomadic history and anthropological and economic theories of exchange. The data were collected on eight research trips to the region from 1992 to 2003.

Across northern Eurasia, reindeer are incorporated into local and non-local systems of exchange, making them important materially, symbolically and emotionally for indigenous people, and economically for localities and regions. The social movement of domestic reindeer occurs in Siberia prominently while the deer are alive, for example, as part of a 1920s Dolgan marriage exchange I documented in 1996 (Ziker 2002: 54). At that time, a matchmaker was involved in negotiations, and the groom's father presented reindeer to the bride's family on a series of visits. After the ceremony the bride's family gave their daughter their most docile reindeer wearing decorated harnesses and pulling new sleighs loaded with smoked meat and other supplies. Gifts of cooked meat, as well as other bush products such as furs, were also involved in this ceremonial exchange. In the community discussed here, Ust'-Avam, domestic reindeer have been lost since 1978, but the social movement of meat was observed during the last decade with the products of hunting and fishing. These exchanges represent the long-standing importance of this multifaceted social institution. The social movement of meat provided support during the economic destitution of the 1990s and put limits on individual accumulation in the community as well. With the abatement of planned-production norms following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the social movement of meat obtains a practical significance by contributing to community well-being in a rapidly changing context.

Political changes occurred at regular intervals over several centuries, although the last 85 years were the most invasive in the Siberian North (Slezkine 1994, Ssorin-Chaikov 2004). In the 1930s, semi-nomadic indigenous groups living at the tundra-taiga transition zone in the Piasina and Dudypta river drainages came under control of the Communist Party. Private reindeer herds numbering from the hundreds into the thousands were turned over to collective ownership. Throughout the period to the late 1960s, smaller collective enterprises (kolkhozy) were periodically combined. Representing diverse languages and social networks, the people began to live together and work for a vertically integrated hunting enterprise established in a 1971 order of the Soviet of Ministries in Moscow, the gospromkhoz (GPKh) Taimyrskii. Construction of a permanent village at Ust'-Avam brought in collectives from both Dolgan and Nganasan ethnic groups (Gracheva 1980). By 1978, the few remaining domestic reindeer, those that were especially tame and personally owned, were slaughtered and processed in the traditional way. From 1971 until the collapse of the Soviet Union. in 1991, the GPKh Taimyrskii employed the majority of the adults in this community of 700 as hunters and fishermen, seamstresses and service workers. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.