Since my very first visit to the Netherlands, I have been surprised at the interest of Dutch people in one of the islands in the North of Russia, which they call Nova Zembla, from the Russian name Novaya Zemlya (“New Land”).
This topic of Novaya Zemlya drew attention since the time of the first Dutch explorer of the Arctic – Willem Barentsz, who died there in 1597. After him, this route was never followed by any of his countrymen. However, at the end of the XIX century, there was an expedition on the Dutch schooner Willem Barentsz to Spitsbergen and Novaya Zemlya in the Arctic Ocean. This trip was well organized and well equipped. For better documenting the polar landscape, it was accompanied by a Dutch artist Louis Apol (1850-1936). Continue reading “Louis Apol, the painter of Novaya Zemlya”→
Our anthropological team would like to congratulate Dr Cecilia Odé on her new book Life with the Yukaghir: North-East Siberia’s oldest tundra people. The book was published this summer in the Netherlands. Cecilia wrote it as a diary about her linguistic fieldwork trips to the far Northeast of Siberia. Continue reading “A new book about Yukaghir people”→
A very new book with many beautiful pictures and a colourful text made by photographer Jeroen Toirkens and writer Petra Sjouwerman, with a historical epilogue by Diederik Veerman, was recently published in the Netherlands. It tells about a trip made following the so-called ‘Barents Road’ on the Barents Region, to the area that has been described as Europe’s last wilderness. It is in the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Just like the Barents Sea the Barents region was named in 1993 after the sixteenth century Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz. It was done at the initiative of the Norwegian minister for foreign affairs Thorvald Stoltenberg, who wanted by this way to improve collaboration between these four northern countries in the fields of culture, education, environment and indigenous peoples.
Here is an interview made with one of the authors – Jeroen Toirkens
Terschelling is a municipality and an island in the northern Netherlands. It is one of the four West Frisian Islands with population 4,830 people. Before my trip to Terschelling I had never heard about this island and I had no idea where it is. So, during this rainy autumn weekend I went there with my family. This island is famous because of two reasons: the Dutch navigator Willem Barentsz was born on Terschelling around 1555 and it is one of only two Dutch islands where cranberries grow.
It took two long hours by boat before I eventually saw the long coastal line on the horizon. I felt something what sailors may feel after a long trip on the sea when they see for the first time land on the endless water around them. Of course my trip was much shorter.
Terschelling met us very warm and welcoming with a short sun which disappeared later behind the grey heavy rain clouds. In reality there are not so many places to see in Terschelling, we also came here at the end of the tourist season when there are not so many activities on the island.
One of this places which was important to see was the island museum ‘t Behouden Huys. It has a small but very informative exhibition about Willem Barentsz trips to the Arctic.
Willem Barentsz is a famous Dutch navigator, cartographer, explorer, and a leader of early expeditions to the far north. He made three voyages to the Arctic looking for the Northeast passage in the north of Siberia, where he believes there is sun shining all day round which melts any potential ice on the Arctic ocean.
This exhibition tells about his last trip to the Arctic. One of the most amazing parts of it is the reproduction of the wooden house Barentsz and his team built when they had to survive the long polar winter on the Novaya Zemlya island. Captain Barentsz died there because of the (sea) scurvy. Remains of Het Behouden Huys were found in 1871 by the Norwegian whaler Elling Carlsen. He brought with him a large amount of treasures and sold them. In 1993-1995 the site was searched through in great detail by Dutch and Russian archaeologists. Later the Remains of the House of Willem Barentsz on Novaya Zemlya were reconstructed by an archaeological team of the Willem Barentsz Polar Institute in Groningen, Netherlands.
What we know about the Terra incognita of the Arctic
Novaya Zemlya is an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean in the North of Russia and the extreme Northeast of Europe.
What Barentsz trip gave us is the knowledge about the Novaya Zemlya effect. The first person to record the phenomenon was Gerrit de Veer, a member of Willem Barentsz’ expedition, who saw it on the Novaya Zemlya. It is a polar mirage caused by high refraction of sunlight between atmospheric thermoclines. The Novaya Zemlya effect will give the impression that the sun is rising earlier than it actually should (astronomically speaking), and depending on the meteorological situation, the effect will present the sun as a line or a square (which is sometimes referred to as the “rectangular sun”), made up of flattened hourglass shapes.
The indigenous population of the island (from 1872 to the 1950s when it was resettled to the mainland) consisted of about 50–300 Nenets people.
From the 1954 Novaya Zemlya became the Soviet Union nuclear testing place.
In 1840, a barrel of cranberries, apparently packed by sailors as an antiscorbutic, washed ashore on the island’s coast, and the islanders cultivated them for their own sailors .The cranberries, finding the environment favourable, established themselves on the island. Nowadays, the cranberry fields cover 0.48 km2 (0.185 sq mi) or 48 ha (119 acres). The cranberries are mainly sold to tourists and used by the island’s restaurants and bakeries, who compete continually with each other to make the tastiest cranberry delicacies, such as cranberry jam, cranberry beer, cranberry wine and cranberry cookies.
We enjoyed very much our visit to Terschelling. Unfortunately we missed out on the first public cranberry picking at the end of the season, due to a heavy autumn storm…..
One of the biggest tragedies for the Nenets nation happened on 21th June 1943 in the Polar Ural Mountains. Officially Mandalada is known as the struggle of this little tundra nation against new Soviet empire rules. It was heavily suppressed by soviet authorities. It is often referred to as a Nenets uprising. Unofficially – people just tried to survive during that time. It was their reaction against authorities who started to confiscate their last belongings during World War II. How would they survive the winter in the arctic tundra without clothes, food and reindeer?
Near Polar Ural. Photo R. Laptander
Therefore people tried to hide with their families in the open tundra and survive this way the pressure of the communist regime. There was a small group of people who were prepared to resist local authorities in case they would take rigorous measures against their families. Soldiers where sent against this people and tried to arrest the men. The Nenets had no means to resist and had to give up after a short skirmish. 36 men were arrested and their belongings confiscated forcing their families to starve and to search for help near the settlements. Most of the arrested men died in prison or on the way to the prison camps.
N. Khudi’s father was among the Mandalada people in the Polar Ural Mountains. He tried to hide this fact during all his life. Photo. R. Laptander
It is a pity that there are not so many people left who could tell us about this part of Nenets history. For a long time it was almost a taboo among the Nenets to talk about the time of collectivization. The Mandalada was really a turning point in Nenets history which changed cardinally their relationship to the state authorities.
While doing oral history interviews I was very much surprised that the memories about this movement are still alive among the elder generation of Nenets. Once an old man told me he read in one Russian journal that nobody could tell anymore about what really had happened because all eyewitnesses of the events are dead already. This old Nenets wanted to correct that statement and prove that there are still memories about the Mandalada. People keep them in their collective historical memory. I could tell a lot about the superficial adaptation of Nenets to the Soviet regime, but in reality it has a tragic background. Of course it helped people to integrate into the Soviet regime and society.
Slowly life in the tundra became more or less stable and prosperous again. People tried to forget the Mandalada tragedy and the people who suffered. They even stopped to talk about them. By this way Nenets probably tried to hide their pain. Maybe it was an act of self-defense from the shock, bewilderment, confusion, and fear that this could happen, and that no one is ever protected from the harsh and cruel wheel of the state policy. During my oral history work on the Yamal tundra I managed to collect these stories. It was an acknowledgement of the fact that even if people try to forget their trauma, they have to live with it for a long time and this historical trauma can cause social problems in their communities.
On the first week of October the Institut für Finnougristik/Uralistik of HamburgUniversity (Germany) held the 4th International Conference on Samoyedology.
It was nice to see many familiar and well known Russian, Hungarian and German linguists who do their research on Siberian languages documentation, describing and linguistic analyzing, also on multilingualism and language policy regarding the Samoyedic languages; researches on contact linguistics, areality, typology and the Samoyedic music and culture. There were also so many young scientists, who gave a very positive impression about their research.
On the conference people mostly talked about the Samoyedic languages which are spoken on both sides of the Ural mountains, in northernmost Eurasia. I made a presentation about Oral history of Nenets, as one of the Uralic languages’ minority of Siberia, told by their life stories.
The term Samoyedic is used for Nenets, Nganasan, Enets and Selkups. These languages form the right branch of the Uralic languages family tree. The Samoyed territory extends from the White Sea to the Laptev Sea, along the Arctic shores of European Russia, including southern Novaya Zemlya, the Yamal peninsula, the mouths of the Ob River and the Yenisei and into the Taymyr peninsula in northernmost Siberia. Their economy is based mostly on reindeer herding.
Dancing and singing Nganasan bear song during the workshop. Photo Andrey Filchenko.
After a long day of the conference, Oksana Dobzhanskaya from Dudinka made a unique Nganasan bear dance workshop. She also asked people to make their personal songs in the language they study. In this warm and nice atmosphere, the conference was finished the next day, with further planning for the next one in two years time in Helsinki (Finland).
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.
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.
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.