Rain on snow – how do people and reindeer learn to survive?

This winter and spring we hear again disastrous news from sudden temperature rises and falls, leading to thick ice-crusts on reindeer pastures that block reindeer’s access to their pastures. While the most famous of these events happened in 2014 in the Centre of the Yamal Peninsula, West Siberia, the phenomenon is known probably to reindeer herders all over the Arctic, and several of our colleagues have extensively published on this. In Yamal, however, this does not endanger reindeer herding as a livelihood altogether. The scale in the world’s number one reindeer herding region is different from more marginal regions, which also have less possibilities to help with emergency measures in comparison to the Yamal government that is one of Russia’s richest financially. The winter/spring 2021 icing event in northernmost Yamal raises to me a new question on how we study the movement of adaptation-knowledge between wild animals, domestic animals and humans. Read below how.

Continue reading “Rain on snow – how do people and reindeer learn to survive?”

Trust Versus Paranoia: Can the Siberian fire spirit explain the spectacular failure of the UK Covid track and trace app?

Piers Vitebsky and Roza Laptander are going to give an interesting example on how to de-provincialise Arctic social sciences. This time on a topic that could hardly be more timely: they refer to their elaborate ethnographies of indigenous Siberians’ communications with the fire spirit to explain why apps to track the corona virus may fail.

They hold their talk virtually on May 4, 2021, 4.30-6.00 PM (London time) in the University of Cambridge MIASU seminar series. The link was sent to the email list of MIASU only. If you want to listen to their talk, please contact one of the authors ask them if they can share the link with you directly. The event is announced at the MIASU website here

Below is their abstract. I have read a draft paper and can only recommend it. It’s thought provoking for its link of two so contrasting settings, and for its reflections on theories of subjectivity, privacy, anonymity and – of course – spiritual encounters.

Abstract: “We contrast how the UK’s Covid-19 track and trace system gives warnings about exposure to infection, with how the domestic fire in a nomadic reindeer herder’s tent crackles warning about dangers of the Siberian landscape.  This is an issue less of epistemology than of signalling, trust and coherence.  We locate differing configurations of trust and suspicion in social and political context.  The technocratic Covid app de-personalizes tracing, as individualism and concerns about privacy block channels of knowing and narrativity, and encourage non-compliance and conspiracy theories.  In its sociality and acute attention to the environment, the nomad’s fire evokes not the epidemiological model of the besieged bounded body but a divinatory openness to space, time and event which ironically resembles an alternative model of the viral encounter.”

Interview during pandemic: Anna Nerkagi

It has been one year since the coronavirus pandemic became a part of our life and changed it in a very radical way. We follow the rules of the government, we developed some rules for ourselves – and every one of these is made to stay safe and alive. From the beginning of the pandemic until today, people all around the world are shocked by the high number of deaths. 

Here is an interview with the Nenets writer Anna Nerkagi. She has contracted covid and has since recovered. Anna lives in the little village of Laborovaya near the Polar Ural Mountains. She was the only person there who got the virus, and was taken to the regional hospital. But Anna does not remember how she was taken there. For her this was equal to “a little death”, as if she was symbolically killed. Even when she was unconscious, she had heard a voice. She understood perfectly what it was telling her, without any words. This voice told her that Life and Death are two brothers. They have one mother, they have the same blood. They live in the same chum [tent]. Anna is familiar what a chum is, since she has lived in the chum for many years. 

Anna Nerkagi http://arctictime.ru/en/news/nenetskaya-pisatelnitsa-anna-nerkagi-vydvinuta-na-nobelevskuyu-premiyu/

“Life and Death live in the same chum. They have one fire. They love each other. But most of all they love people and they work to serve them. Life and Death – they are like two banks of the same river. That is why they are concerned that people die when it is their time. People must remember this while they are still in their bodies. People should remember this… I can’t say that I love death. Because this is the highest state of a saintly person, to love death and to be ready for that death. Although our ancestors, our fathers, were taught how to be prepared for their death. For example, I remember my grandmother, she died quite calmly, without any panic. That was the first time I realized that death can be quiet and calm. This voice told me that Life and Death are brothers. They have one mother. They have one fire. They have the same blood. And they do one job. They prepare people for death. Because after our human lives we will die. What awaits us is Death. And this death we must later learn to love, understand and accept. And besides knowledge that you must die one day, you should think how you should appear in front of the angel of death. There is a belief that the angel of death is an old ugly woman with a scythe. On the contrary, it is a beautiful angel. But the people to whom it comes, should not be ugly: they should not be drunk, should not be killed, should not use drugs, but should die their own natural death. I must have been given this knowledge to tell people that Life and Death are brothers. They love humans. They want people to live beautifully and die when they are too old to live any more. In the world of the dead people, this person is loved. All their ancestors are waiting for them there. And God awaits them, too.”

This was told to Anna, in order to pass this knowledge to you. Because everyone is going to die, but when it is their own time. People should die but not because of covid, or any other diseases. And not at a young age, because of drugs and alcohol. They should not be killed. Children should also live their lives long and beautifully. Well, the Angel of Death and the Angel of Life, I think, have a lot of work to do right now. And this work is not always joyful. 

Read and watch more here: Анна Неркаги-о воспоминаниях детства, востребованности творчества, о том, чему её учат приёмные дети https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPiUlDZgApc