Living in the Taiga: moving in the field

I just had an inspiring phone talk with PhD student Evelyn Landerer, who returned from a year of fieldwork in some of the Russian North’s remotest places, in the North of Irkutskaya Oblast and Krasnoyarski Krai. You need a month to even get there, if you get there, e.g. to the small village of Teteya half way between the big river systems of the Lena and the Yenisey.

Evelyn’s phD project at Cambridge is about people’s relations to the forest, their way of moving, and the fluidity of life, the environment and cosmology among her Taiga hunting colleagues. She has an amazing fieldwork picture gallery here, which you are welcome to look at. We hope to get her at some point for a talk or more in Finland, where she has lived before as an Arctic Studies programme student, and working on a Huskey farm.

Something we talked about relating to her field material is the possible connection between the fluidity of movement and of life among forest dwellers, and the fluidity of value-judgements among many. Has anybody hints and tips on anthropological writing about this?

In general, Tim Ingold’s recent books are relevant in this field, and one of his articles in 2008 (Bindings against boundaries, Environment and Planning A 2008, volume 40, pages 1796-1810), and Nuccio Mazzullo’s work (with Tim Ingold) on ‘Being Along’. Ingold argues that “To inhabit the open is to be immersed in [] fluxes” (2008:179). But how prominent is there the idea that when your whole existence is a process, there is no clear distinction between good and bad any more? In other words, the hard snow on which you migrate with reindeer tonight is good because it lets you travel, and in a moment the same snow is  a disaster as it is too hard for reindeer to access the pasture under it. This is ‘Being Alive’ and ‘Being Along’ quite fundamentally. I think the point here is the practice-embedded relativity of being, knowing, happening, occuring, evolving and events, which is probably universal. It just happens that we sitting in permanent houses and doing a lot of routine detached from a tundra environment perceive things as if they were constant although in principle they are processes (or fluxes) too.

Any ideas on this line of thinking are welcome!

Circumpolar Book publication

Ziker, John & Florian Stammler (eds) 2011. Histories from the North. Environments, Movements and Narratives. Proceedings of the Final BOREAS Conference Rovaniemi, Finland, October 29-31, 2009. Boise (ID): Department of Anthropology, Boise State University in conjunction with Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, Finland

for copies please contact one of the editors, Stammler for Europe and Russia, Ziker for the rest of the world

Continue reading “Circumpolar Book publication”

Innovations and Traditions of Arctic Reindeer Herding

Members of the ORHELIA Team Nuccio Mazzullo and Stephan Dudeck took part in the seminar ”Innovations and Traditions of Arctic Reindeer Herding” in the Sámi Education Institute on 20.1.2012 in Inari.

It was a great opportunity for us to meet people involved in reindeer husbandry from Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Komi Republic, Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Taimyr area and Sakha Republic in Russia and from Finnish Lapland.

The participants of the seminar discussed the state of reindeer herding in general throughout the herding areas, reindeer pastures, reindeer meat and leather production and their marketing. Overarching topics were the management of the natural enemies of domesticated reindeer, the predators, and the influence of factors like traffic or the mining industry on reindeer herding.

Growing touristic interest in reindeer husbandry and the connected cultures develops albeit in different ways in almost all reindeer herding regions in the North and causes new possibilities for local economies.

Europe and especially Scandinavia is more and more involved in the reindeer herding business in Russia. Russian reindeer meat is reaching the European market and European investment is engaged in meat processing. Well organized slaughtering and meat processing is a crucial point for the development of reindeer meat production. But reindeer husbandry is more than a business; it is an inextricable part of indigenous lifestyles that developed over centuries.

It is not jet decided if reindeer herder profit or get more and more dependent by developments in technology, international economy and bureaucracy. A recent technological innovation are for instance reindeer tracking methods using new radio technologies like GPS or mobile phone networks (ultracom.fi; tracker.fi)

But the question remains how self-management and autonomy of reindeer husbandry as one of the main motivations of reindeer herding can be secured.

Stephan Dudeck gave a short paper about private reindeer herding among the Khanty people in Western Siberia at the seminar.

Khanty reindeer herder
Khanty reindeer herder

Nuccio Mazzullo was visiting after the Seminar the course “Skolt Sámi culture across borders” in Svanvik (Norwegia)

The course there is part of a cooperation project between three countries: Finland, Norway and Russia. The overall aim is to contribute to a strengthening and revitalization of Skolt Sámi culture, language and identity.

Stephan visited a colleague from the Arctic Centre in the small Sámi village of Kuttura. Terhi Vuojala-Magga is doing fieldwork with reindeer herders being herself part of a reindeer herding family. Stephan got his first real life experiences from the life in Sápmi and discovered even common Siberian friends with Terhi.

SEC Seminar – Preserving Endangered Languages and Local Knowledge: Learning tools and community initiatives in cross-cultural discussion

Unfortunately interdisciplinary approaches are often declared but rarely put into practice. That’s why I was especially happy to take part in a joint endeavour of linguists and anthropologists at the Foundation of Siberian Cultures in Germany to organize a seminar and a joint publication project on language preservation and education activities in indigenous communities in the North and in the South.

Next to a beautiful lake in the small town of Fürstenberg, ninety kilometres north of Berlin Erich Kasten and Tjeerd de Graaf organized at the beginning of January 2012 already the second meeting to discuss papers dealing with alternative school models for reindeer herders in Siberia and with the situation of language minorities in the Netherlands, Russia and China. The presented papers facilitated a deeper understanding of processes of language change and of the preconditions for the preservation of linguistic diversity.

Erich Kasten, Olivia Kraef, Stephan Dudeck, Tjeerd de Graaf, Victor Denisov and Michael Duerr

A lot of languages are in danger of extinction and minority languages experiencing a loss of language prestige and interest in intergenerational transmission. Scientific research deals with endangered languages often like biologists with rare plant or animal species that are only worth of scientific analysis before they will inevitably die out.

The top-down approach for the development and implementation of educational materials and language preservation programs usually suffers from a lack of response from local communities. State policies claim the safeguarding of languages, but they regularly promote artificial standards and folklorized and commodified versions of indigenous cultures and often provide the colourful façade for the attempts to erase any difference in lifestyle and values for the purpose of integration and bureaucratic control of the minority population. But in some cases the local population reacts with resistance to colonizing policies and use sometimes colourful façades to hide their internal cultural practices from the interference of outsiders.

"Lenin lives, lived and will live"  a rare preserved Lenin in Eastern Germany
"Lenin lived, lives and will live" or "Everything was forever until it was no more"

First responses of the participants of the seminar indicate that particular attention should be paid to the discussion of adequate modern learning tools and culturally-related teaching methods. In addition, we should consider the particular social and political environments and – as far as possible – find out how to influence these in favourable ways. Without careful ethnographic work and sociolinguistic analysis projects aiming at the preservation of languages and local knowledge can have the opposite effect.

Two of the researchers involved in the Orhelia project will contribute to the planned volume with papers about alternative educational projects in Western Siberia. Roza Laptander writes about the development of a model for a tundra school in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Region as a new form of education for children from nomadic and semi-nomadic Nenets families. The title of Stephan Dudeck’s paper is: “Challenging the state educational system in Western Siberia: taiga-school and multimedia centre on the Tiuityakha river.”

Additionally, a DVD with booklets in various languages will summarize the outcomes of this seminar for local communities. Annotated video clips will give examples of similar initiatives from the various cultural contexts around the world. The aim is to enhance cross-cultural awareness within the communities that should encourage them to develop community-driven initiatives for the preservation of their cultural heritage.