Some thoughts about Nenets Syadeis from the Scott Polar Research Institute Museum

Last week on the Internet was published a short video about two very old Nenets Syadei with the following text:

  • Cambridge University Museums have been running a project called ‘Museum Remix – Unheard’ during lockdown. It’s an invitation to re-interpret the stories museums tell. Each month they have released a challenge – this month’s is ‘Video’. Curators present a selection of objects from Cambridge collections using short videos; viewers are invited to respond by making a 3-minute video in any format by September 30. The information is here: https://www.museums.cam.ac.uk/museumremix Absolutely anyone over the age of 16 is very welcome to participate.The selection of objects includes two Syadei (sacred wooden figures) made by members of the Siberian Nenets community, held at the Scott Polar Research Institute Museum. Here’s the video about them, which I made over the summer: https://www.museums.cam.ac.uk/magic/syadei-sacred-objects You’ll find a Russian version there too.The SPRI museum team would love to get some feedback from Russia, and especially from the Nenets community; this feedback doesn’t necessarily have to fall within the Museum Remix project. We are also hoping simply to let members of the Nenets community know that we hold these objects. I would be very grateful if you could circulate these links to people who might be interested – and/or let me know if there’s anyone in particular I should contact. Thanks!
Syadei from the collection of the Scott Polar Research Institute Museum

After this publication, I asked my daughter´s opinion about these Nenets Syadeis and their story which is now published on the Internet. It was interesting to know this young Nenets opinion about using Nenets religious items for the public performance. What surprised me was that my daughter reacted quite emotionally to this video and said that she does not agree that this Syadei on the video is undressed. She said that according to Nenets customs and ethics it is not allowed to show a naked body to anybody, therefore even Nenets wooden idols, like Syadei and other domestic family religious items, should have own clothes. Also, the Nenets researcher Galina Kharuchi said, that it is quite common to give to Nenets idols sometimes presents. It can be new clothes or coins from white metal, even if they are in a museum. So, maybe it is a good advice for museum curators how they can thank these idols for their work. However, I do not think that these Syadeis are an example of the exploitation of the indigenous religious heritage since they are now museum objects.

Louis Apol, the painter of Novaya Zemlya

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”

A new book about Yukaghir people

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”

Турбулентные периоды истории ямальского оленеводства в рассказах тундровиков /Turbulent periods in the history of Yamal reindeer husbandry in stories of tundra dwellers

This speech was given in November, 10, 2016 in Salekhard (Yamal, Western Siberia) during International Symposium “Preventing the dissemination of infectious animal diseases on climate change”. Among all presentations in this presentation discusses different aspects of work with reindeer, it gives opinion  of reindeer herders about the future of the reindeer husbandry in Yamal, which were recommended to Yamal government to take into account. Continue reading “Турбулентные периоды истории ямальского оленеводства в рассказах тундровиков /Turbulent periods in the history of Yamal reindeer husbandry in stories of tundra dwellers”

Pert Yaptik’s speech in the 54th reindeer herders’ day in Yar-Sale.The Yamal peninsula

Dear people, my Yamal Nenets people! Dear reindeer herders!

Listen, what I am going to say. Mostly I am speaking to you, young people who are living now on the tundra. As for me I am living on the tundra 70 years, and by myself I am 70 years old.

Yaptik

Now officials say that we will have less reindeer. Of course the number of reindeer is going down. In old times, one hundred years ago we did not have so much reindeer as we have now. At the same time we have on the neighborhood Russian culture and people and we cannot live without them. Continue reading “Pert Yaptik’s speech in the 54th reindeer herders’ day in Yar-Sale.The Yamal peninsula”

Solitude in the wake of Willem Barentsz

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

R.L.:Jeroen, how did you get this idea to write a book about Willem Barentsz? Continue reading “Solitude in the wake of Willem Barentsz”

Willem Barentsz and cranberries on the island of Terschelling

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.

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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.

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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.

Photo from the museum room. On the wall there is a picture of W. Barentsz. It is written there that he died in 20 June 1597 in his way back from the Nova Zembla.

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.

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Computer reconstruction of het Behouden Huys based on written information and field study (drawing by H.J. Waterbolk). Photo O. Falkena.

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.

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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.

And cranberries

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.

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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…..

For more information: http://pubs.aina.ucalgary.ca/arctic/arctic48-3-248.pdf

http://behouden-huys.nl/pages/sub/40366/Willem_Barentsz_Lesbrief_overwintering_.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terschelling

70 years after Mandalada – the Nenets movement against collectivization in the tundra

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, Yamal,  Western Siberia.

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. His father was among this Mandalada people.

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.

A longer Russian version of this article is available at http://priuralye.ucoz.ru/news/mandalada_70_let_spustja/2013-09-06-1680 and http://www.yasavey.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=678:-70-&catid=67:2013-09-16-09-03-55

More information in English  http://www.academia.edu/479640/Two_Wars_in_Conflict_Resistance_among_Nenets_Reindeer_Herders_in_the_1940s_2005_

Singing the Nganasan bear dance song in Hamburg.

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.

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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).