New publication: Nomadic and Indigenous Spaces. Productions and Cognitions

Nomadic and Indigenous Spaces. Productions and Cognitions. Edited by Judith Miggelbrink, Joachim Otto Habeck, Nuccio Mazzullo and Peter Koch (2013). Surrey: Ashgate.

With contributions from the editors, Denis Wood, Denis Retaillé, Gail Fondahl, Brian Donahoe, Joseph J Long, Kirill V Istomin, Florian Stammler, Claudio Aporta, and Tim Ingold (epilogue)

Nomadic-&-Indigenous-Spaces

How is space produced and how is it perceived? Looking at nomadic and indigenous peoples, we investigated this question between 2008 and 2012 in a collaborative research project between the Arctic Centre, University of Lapland and the Leibniz-Institute in Leipzig, Germany. A conference we organised in 2010 brought together international scholars to discuss experiences from different fields.  During the conference, it quickly became clear that cognitivist and phenomenologist paradigms come to very different interpretations of nomadic and indigenous spaces. This book continues that debate and invites readers to further engage with the topic, since the main contestations have not been resolved, as Tim Ingold notes in his epilogue. Continue reading “New publication: Nomadic and Indigenous Spaces. Productions and Cognitions”

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

In Memory of a Great Teacher

Yuri Vella left this world on the 12th of September 2013

Yuri Vella
Yuri Vella

Almost exactly 20 years ago three German students of anthropology get off a helicopter in the middle of the Western Siberian forest tundra, over 100 km from the next settlement. They see a little wooden hut and a couple with two small kids is approaching them. Nobody told this people that they will have guests and the guests did not met the hosts before.  In the village the students were told the day before that the poet and reindeer herder Yuri Vella lives far away and there is neither road nor transport to his campsite. They decided already to give up their plan to visit Yuri Vella when out of a sudden a helicopter appeared.

I was one of these students. This was the moment when I met for the first time the men who should become my most influential teacher of anthropology and whose forest camp became for me a second home.

Reflections of Yuri and me in his well
Reflections of Yuri and me in his well.

Recently a friend asked me what I learned from him in the first place and while thinking about an answer I discovered that it is really hard to say. The reason is that it reached from the most practical things like how to light a fire in the in the forest to the most theoretical ones like how to understand human-animal relationships.

Yuri Vella was born at the 12th of March 1948 in the nomad camp of Kyli Aivaseda not far from the village of Varyogan. The village was the place the nomadic reindeer herders from the Agan river basin were supposed to settle down. Here he went to school, here he was appointed as the head of the village administration for a short period, and here he established the open air museum, where he saved traditional buildings and objects from the forest settlements destroyed by the oil industry.

At his 60
At his 60th Birthday

The forest lifestyle of the Nenets and Khanty fishermen, hunters and reindeer herders, which was under thread by the ruthless oil-development became his most important issue from the perestroika times on. He worked himself as a hunter in the area his grandfather used to hunt on and later he decided to establish a reindeer herd and to live permanently on the territory where I met him in 1993.

At the beginning of the 90ies he organised demonstrations of the local people against the ruthless actions of the oil companies that destroyed not only the settlements, the sacred places and cemeteries of the Khanty and Forest Nenets but poisoned the river and swamps with oil and contaminated the air with the gas they burned. At this time he also understood that there is more that get lost than just the environment. The language, the knowledge, the values of a lifestyle that is based on a respectful relationship between animals, people, and forces that are more powerful than humans started to disappear. He decided to make his own live and his own settlement in the forest a place where people could learn about these things. He made himself a living example, which could teach not only his family members and relatives but also all people interested, be it school children from the oil-town or foreign anthropologists.

Yuri Vella
Yuri Vella

I think this congruence of words and deeds was the most impressive feature of Yuri Vella. False politeness and strategic submissiveness were completely foreign to him. I was impressed by the degree of autonomy he claimed not only in his thinking but also for his lifestyle. He seemed to be free from all the conventions of modern live and social prestige and decided himself about the values he accepted from the traditions of his Nenets ancestors and of European cultural heritage.

I had the luck to be introduced by him to some of the elders that where still deeply rooted in the values and traditions of the forest life – Oleg Aivaseda, Valjoma Aivaseda, Oisia Iusi and Egor Kazamkin. Nowadays, when I work with Nenets elders I often feel that it is due to Yuri Vella that I learned to listen, to be patient, to provide the feeling that their knowledge will be in competent and respectful hands.

1993
1993

Here I think I learned as well the most important theoretical lesson in a very practical way. While building the winter hut or the reindeer fence he would mix very practical teaching with reflections about spiritual forces and political circumstances. He told about the threat of the oil industry for the reindeer, about the spiritual landscape of ancestral tradition and about the ways how to orientate oneself without compass and map in the landscape in almost one sentence. My well build hierarchies of knowledge were tumbling down. I understood that there are no authorities the legitimacy of knowledge is based on. His mixture of pragmatism, firmness in principles, and personal experience skipped all hierarchies of scientific, empirical, indigenous, and spiritual knowledge. His writings and his poetry are a proof of his disregard towards established knowledge forms. They mix poetry and prose, science and the traditional spirituality with always a social and political agenda and are not afraid of very personal statements about love and human relationships. To write a poem, to build a wooden sledge or a block house, to organise a protest against an oil-company or to establish a forest school for reindeer herders children this were all not separated projects but rooted in one live that centred around the coexistence of men, forest and reindeer.

I could tell what I learned about indigenous storytelling, about the role of reindeer in Nenets and Khanty culture, about indigenous spirituality, about gender relations and the differences between Nenets and Khanty people. To elaborate on it would go far beyond the frame of an internet blog and some of it, like the ways to deal with forces more powerful than men, I cannot share with an anonymous public.

I will just tell a little bit what I learned about politics, about the possibility to influence the actions of much more powerful institutions and discourses that influence ones live. His political thinking developed in the conflict between indigenous people and oil companies. He saw its deeper historical roots in different relationships to the land and its resources between state bureaucrats, oil-workers and reindeer herders. His way of political engagement was again a very personal one. Instead of searching for a place in established political institutions he chooses to defend his own small ancestral territory from the destructive development by the oil company LUKOIL. He tried to be the David against Goliath and to use the weapons of the weak. He was very much aware of his lack of power in terms of economic weight. Oil companies were able within a growing nationalistic discourse to present their interest in profit at any cost as a national interest of Russia. The only chance in this situation was to use all means of symbolic politics, to make politics not with money and influence but with words, pictures, and art. Without building up broad alliances with media, scientists, social and ecological organisations even over cultural and political differences he would have not been able to fight this uneven struggle. It required certain skills to navigate between principles and compromises and often he was calling himself the “clever Nenets” if he again found a way out of what seemed to be a dead end. He refused to give up his reindeer pastures for payments by the oil companies and managed to stay uncorrupted in contrast to a lot of other indigenous politicians which could not stand the pressure of the oil-lobby or powerful political parties. He was able to keep his own sovereignty, the inner freedom. He gave me the certainty that if one builds up a respectful relationship with nature and other humans one can skip all social conventions and should be not afraid of power, politicians, oil companies or other somehow influential people. I learned from him the meaning of respect, the meaning of silence, what it means to see.

Oral History workshop, 23-24 September 2013, Rovaniemi

Everybody with a serious interest is invited to the following event:

Workshop “Intangible oral culturalheritage: documentation, archiving and preservation techniques” Organised by the ORHELIA project team & anthropology research team Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, Rovaniemi, Finland

Venue: Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, Arktikum Building, Pohjoisranta 4, Thule meeting room, 1st floor, take the door up the stairs right after the main entrance into the building.

The blind elder Piotr Khudi with his family just before crossing Bovanenkovo gas deposit, Yamal Peninsula
The blind elder Piotr Khudi with his family just before crossing Bovanenkovo gas deposit, Yamal Peninsula

The anthropology team members interested in oral history are thrilled to get a visit by linguist Michael Riessler from Freiburg, Germany, and Anna Afanasieva from the Barents Institute in Kirkenes, Norway, to join us for a 1.5 day workshop where we explore different ways and best practices of data management, preservation and processing in oral history and sociolinguistics. We will also use this opportunity to think about ways of cooperating with Riessler’s documentation project initatives, as well as for updating each other and anybody who is interested about our recent fieldwork  all over the European and Russian Arctic. That fieldwork report session will be on Tuesday before lunch, 24 September. A detailed programme of the workshop can be found HERE.

RAIPON indigenous peoples association new president

For those interested, the Russian Indigenous Peoples Association (RAIPON) got a new president a week ago, at a very important time in the organisation’s biography, because it had been closed down for formal reasons by Russian authorities late last year.

Now elections for the presidency had been held in Salekhard, the capital of my prime fieldsite Yamal-Nenets Okrug, which always has been very loyal to the Russian government. It is remarkable that almost all the RAIPON presidents so far, since Perestroika, came from West Siberia’s oil and gas extracting provinces: Eremei Aipin (Khanty writer), Sergei Khariutschi (Nenets Politician), and now Grigori Ledkov (Nenets born in Europe but politically acting on behalf of Yamal). I think this shows how much indigenous empowerment in general is connected to extractive industries and development on indigenous lands.

Grigori Ledkov critically thinking about Arctic Gas Drilling (Tazovskii, YNAO, March 2012)
Grigori Ledkov, critically thinking about Arctic Gas Drilling (Tazovskii, YNAO, March 2012)

I have known the new president, Grigori Ledkov, since 1999, and found that he can also wear a quite critical hat (well, Khariutschi, the former RAIPON president, did that too sometimes). Last time I experienced that when Ledkov openly argued against oil and gas drilling in the Ob-Taz Bay offshore, in a programme that I organized for BBC World news and Radio 4 and that got apparently many many million viewers. Maybe after all it just wasn’t realistic that at this precarious moment in RAIPON’s biography there would be a leader that is too outspokenly critical of the government…

Ledkov so far was always very supportive of Arctic anthropology and our efforts to  link insights from the Russian North with those from the rest of the world, and last December he promised to come to Rovaniemi for a visit. Let’s see if his new position allows for that.

After the RAIPON elections there was ONE newspaper in Russia that covered the topic with a critical story. For those less fluent in Russian, there is a summary here.  http://barentsobserver.com/en/politics/2013/04/moscow-staged-raipon-election-thriller-03-04

Very interesting to see how this develops.

Siberia films online Finnish TV

Finnish State TV Yle has been sending a number of excellent documentaries on and / or by northern indigenous people recently. You can watch them usually for three weeks longer online.

Today there will be the screening on YLE TEEMA TV of Lapsui/Lehmuskallio’s famous “Seven Songs from the Tundra”, the world’s first fiction film in Nenets language. It will also be online here.

The film Poron hahmossa pitkin taivaankaarta (In the Shape of a Reindeer Across the Canopy of Heaven, 1993), watchable online here,

Lapsui/Lehmuskallio, Seven Songs, watchable until mid February
Lapsui/Lehmuskallio, Seven Songs, watchable until mid February

is also by the famous couple Anastasia Lapsui and Markku Lehmuskallio (see our blog entry on their visit to our team in Rovaniemi in 2012). The film tells a lot about the close relationship that people, animals, spirits and other beings in the environment of West Siberia have amongst each other.

I found especially interesting in the end how a young reindeer herder tells about the spirit-statues that travel with the nomads across the tundra and help them in various difficult situation, for example giving birth, or reindeer herd health, or predator attacks. But this is by far not the only sequence that is really worth looking.

Happy watching!

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).

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.