Anastasia Lapsui and Markku Lehmusskallio – guests of the team in Rovaniemi

We all know and admire the films by Markku Lehmuskallio and Anastasia Lapsui about the life and history of the Nenets people. On the 30th August 2012 they came to the Arcrtic Centre in Rovaniemi for a preview of their latest film “Eleven human images” (Yksitoista ihmisen kuvaa). This film reflects the worldview of Markku and Anastasia and mix their philosophical ideas, ancient rock art and indigenous culture with avant-garde art and music.

Anastasia Lapsui and Markku Lehmuskallio discuss their new film “Eleven human images” with the public at the Arktikum. Floran Stammler is translating.

It’s a major oevre on the history of humankind using rock drawings and carvings from a time range of 50 000 years ago up to 1964. The film was shot in locations all over the world. The authors say that it’s a very personal interpretation of those paintings and how they connect to our present understanding of who we are. It was striking that all of the drawings depicted human-animal relations. The fact that this theme is so overarching tells us a lot how paramount these relations have been for our existence as species on this planet both in pragmatic and spiritual terms. We were left like pondering about these deeply philosophical issues of how much has changed in our relationship with the animals. That’s something that we have been thinking about for a long time when several of us were working on a volume that focused precisely on this theme. Until recently, these relations have continued to be crucial and in their position for us relatively unchanged, but then neoliberalism alienated us more and more from this relation, an aspect that is at the heart of Hugo Reinert’s work. Anastasia Lapsui emphasized in the discussion how she has been pondering about her own origin and the origin of her people, the Nenets as part of universal humankind since early childhood; so this film is also a powerful statement on her search for her own roots.

Roza Laptnader and Anastasia Lapsui

For the anthropological research team of the Arctic Centre it was a unique possibility to discuss with Anastasia and Markku the collaboration with Nenets reindeer herders and our project of collecting oral history in the North (ORHELIA).We had a lively discussion on how to transport anthropological messages to a visual audience. We were not surprised, that Anastasia’s main interest in our work considered the practical application of scientific research and how the outcome of our project could be useful for the reindeer herders themselves.

During our discussion we had a very tasty degustation of raw reindeer liver (in the Nenets way), which Florian Stammler bought from a Sámi reindeer herder from Enontekiö here in Northern Finland – so thanks to him also!

Anna Stammler-Gossmann Anastasia Lapsui and Markku Lehmuskallio tasting some reindeer liver
Stephan Dudeck, Florian Stammler & Nuccio Mazzullo

Meeting old and new friends in Inari

For us from the Anthropology Research Team here in Rovaniemi the Sámi Cultural Centre SAJOS in Inari became a place where we regularly meet friends from the indigenous movement in Russia. Galina Platova from the Association of Nenets people “Yasavey” told me already in Naryan-Mar, that she will come soon to Inari for a conference. The ORHELIA team used the opportunity to meet up with our research partners on occasion of the conference organized by the Sámi Educational Institute “Traditional Knowledge of Reindeer Herding Peoples as Basis for Education and Research” in Inari.

Vlad Peskov gives a speech and shows the documentation of reindeer nomadism in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug

On the 17th of August Roza Laptander and Stephan Dudeck drove the 330km to Inari and where surprised how many familiar faces they recognized in the audience and among the speakers. Stephan ran into Dina Vasilievna Gerasimova, who appeared to celebrate her 70th birthday that very day. And we met Dmitry Ottovich Khorolya and delivered Florian’s greetings.

It would be tiresome to name here all the VIPs from Russian and Fennoscandian institutions dealing with traditional knowledge and reindeer herding and most of the papers contained well-known statements about the importance of safeguarding traditional knowledge for the future of reindeer husbandry. Of course we were proud that the director of the Arctic Centre Paula Kankaanpää mentioned prominently the work of the ORHELIA project as one of the activities of our institute to research and maintain indigenous knowledge in the Arctic.

It is of course a riddle how all these non-traditional institutions, bureaucrats, and highly educated people could contribute to the transmission of knowledge that is so highly rooted in everyday practices, nonverbal communication and rural livelihoods. But there were some examples that could give an idea that it’s possible that scientific knowledge and traditional knowledge can be mutual supportive. One example was the educational initiative of language nests, where preschool children learned again the almost abandoned Inari-Sámi language, which led to a real language revival. Vladislav Peskov from the Association of Nenets People , mentioned that it became nowadays a must that scientific research on traditional knowledge returns the collected materials and the results to the communities where it stems from. This should happen in a form that people could understand and use the materials provided by scientist for their community purposes.

But one unusual story stacked in our minds and we were discussing it on the way back. It was a fable told by Rodion Sulyanziga from the Association of Indigenous people RAIPON. When he once asked an old man about the past and the knowledge of the ancestors, he got the answer that he can tell him only one story about a cat that took a little tiger to nurture. One day when the tiger was full-grown he just wanted to strike away the small cat with his paw. But the cat jumped on a tree and told him: “You know, I taught you everything except for one thing: how to climb on a tree!”

After the conference we “kidnapped” Galina Platova from Yasavey and Galina Nazarova, the director of the Naryan Mar college for humanities, to Rovaniemi to discuss in detail a project to publish oral history materials and make them available for the people in the regions we are working in. Our dream is to have once a website where people can listen to the stories of the elders and learn something about the history of different places and indigenous communities from Finnish Lapland to the Yamal peninsula. Of course we will let you know more about it as soon as we decided how to finance and organize the work.

Reindeer herder without legs continues to migrate on the tundra.

Does every person who grew up in a curtain place have roots like a tree? Well, trees have roots, which go very deeply to the ground to get nutrition. A human being been has other roots which connect him or her with a curtain place or territory. People have different nature, but this affection to the place where a person grows up is like putting roots.

We all know how difficult and sometimes even painful it is to leave to another place after living there for a long time. It is like cutting roots, and it gives feeling of instability and vulnerability. When people start to move to a new place it is like putting new roots again, but these roots could be not so deep, like the main stem stayed in the place where a man was born.

Well, how does this work with nomads? They migrate all year round. It seems that they have roots on the whole territory of their migration or even on the whole tundra. Migrating from one place to another they still are connected to their roots of migration and they feel at home and protected there.

Prokopij Vylka from Priuralskaja tundra, Yamal, Western Siberia. Photo Roza Laptander.

Here is a picture of a Nenets man from the Yamal peninsula.  Prokopij Vylka (1967) is a handicapped person. He looks very much like the American actor Richard Gere.

This famous American actor Richard Gere has never met his Nenets look-alike. Photo

Unfortunately, he is not as lucky as his look-alike.  Once he lost his way in the winter tundra. His legs were frozen and in the Yamalo-Nenetskij regional hospital doctors amputated them till his knees. Prokopij returned to the tundra. He lives in a tent with his parents, wife and two sons. He feels himself more comfortable here than in a warm and comfortable apartment in a settlement, even as an invalid person.Here in the tundra he feels like even his homeland gives him the power to follow the normal rhythm of nomads in the tundra and to be strong in his mind.

Prokopij migrates on a reindeer sledge. He even helps to collect wood and water and he is making sledges by himself for other people. He cannot throw the lasso or catch reindeer anymore. His sons do this now. It is very seldom that handicapped people continue to migrate in the harsh arctic climate, although some Nenets continue to live this way at a very advanced age.

by Roza Laptander

Wondering about landscape appreciation

Hi everyone, I am a first time blogger here. Am based in Cambridge, UK, and doing a PhD there at the moment. I have come back from fieldwork some 6months ago.

Before I went off to fieldwork in the northern Taiga of Siberia I made a little booklet with pictures of my home country to show around at my fieldsite. I had compiled – in my opinion – the most beautiful photographs of 10 years of hiking and skiing in the mountains together with pictures of medieval towns. This, I felt, summed up well the beauty of my home country, the Tyrol.

Fast forward to a camp in the forest:

Surprised noises from the first person to look at it summoned more people to crowd around the booklet. I took the oohs and aahs at first as a sign of appreciation, until I was told otherwise.

‘My, how hard it must be to live there.’

‘Just rocks everywhere, how do people manage there?’

And finally, ‘Now I see why you like to come here to the forest so much. I can understand you.’

I was more than surprised. All the landscapes, views and vistas that I treasured were a reason for people to pity me. The locals especially commented on a series of pictures, taken from a mountain top of a little over 3000m where I spent the night tied with a rope to the top in order to not accidentally fall off in my sleep and capture the sunrise. The whole of the Alpine range from Austria to France could be seen.

The only two things they could relate to as something nice in the booklet where pictures of the monument of a hunter in bronze and the flower pots lining all the windows of the houses.

This got me thinking about my first reactions to the landscape that the locals of my fieldsite lived in. I did not find it beautiful but rather worrisome to navigate in. It was not only flat, but seemed to me to consist of swamps only, different types, but nevertheless. The lack of clear views and vistas among the trees and bushes posed to me a tremendous challenge of not getting lost and the swamps one of not getting stuck. But the more I walked in it, the more I learned to appreciate it. Not the clear views seen from a stationary point but the myriads of ever-changing tiny vistas created by my movement through the forest made the charm and beauty of the place. Beauty through movement?

So maybe the locals’ reaction to the pictures of the rocky alps was not only based on their preferring forest to rocks as a place of living, but also on their type of landscape experience and appreciation. Especially the pictures taken from mountain tops (as opposed to those taken on the way up or down) offer a tremendous view of very large distances without having to change place or move about. For me this is one of the reasons I love going up mountains and then sit for hours on the top enjoying the view without moving. But it also constitutes a very static landscape view, to a large point independent of movement.

What are the locals’ opinion and experience of vistas and, what’s more, what kind of vistas? When walking long distances with them I observed how much they appreciated changing surroundings to keep them interested and vigil. They told me how a walk seemed shorter to them that way, how different types of forest offer different grounds to walk on and demand different ways of looking (looking through the trees, towards the top of trees, on the ground, expecting different animals, different signs, and different resources). All these mini-vistas could change within minutes and form a dynamic mosaique.

Except for a newly introduced type of landscape that offers long, far distance vistas that do not change for hours even when one is in movement: clear cut tracts made by oil-explorers. These tracts allow the locals to look far ahead, to see a far away point that they have to reach. A different landscape experience: valued by some because it enables more direct movement, devalued by some because walking on them is so disheartening with the vista never changing.

To my surprise, after I have finished the fieldwork, my landscape appreciation seems to have changed for good. Where I loved open places with a good view before, I feel more intimidated now and tend to look for a dense forest to find good shelter. Where before I enjoyed a large pine forest, I now feel bored after a while, because it is only a pine forest and not a patchwork of different types of forest and swamps that makes reaching a patch of pine forest all the more wonderful. When I look at my booklet now, I see the rocks and barren places before I see the vista. I notice now that I tend to photograph mountain tops without showing the valley or the mountain forest below, which comes from taking pictures when standing on a high mountain top where valleys cannot be seen.

I am curious about your experiences of and ideas about landscape appreciation when it comes to your fieldsite and home country.

Ewe Landerer