Why do reindeer nomads migrate at night in spring?

Anybody who has moved on a sledge, or even snowmobile, in spring in the Arctic, knows the answer to that question.

Perfect migration condition in spring
Perfect migration condition in spring: why burn twice as much fuel or calories moving while the snow is soft?

Continue reading “Why do reindeer nomads migrate at night in spring?”

Arctic ecology, medecine and biology in Siberia

Nadym, Yamal, the site of the Arctic anthropology interdisciplinary conference Nov 2014
Nadym, Yamal, the site of the Arctic anthropology interdisciplinary conference Nov 2014

Our colleagues from the Arctic Centre in Nadym, Yamal, organise from 17-19 November an interdisciplinary conference. These guys belong to a group of Russian researchers that truly believe in interdisciplinarity, and value a lot anthropological input from the West. If somebody is interested in taking part in that conference, you can write me a note in the comment section here. They promise simultaneous translation, and visa support if somebody wants to go personally. Maybe they can even pay somebody’s accmodation and travel costs within Russia if you can get yourself to Moscow. But mostly the idea is that some of us may contribute a presentation via skype. Topics are welcome in any field of Arctic anthropology, but most preferred maybe with an interdisciplinary angle towards biology, psychology, genetics, health research or medicine.

 

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”

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.

‘Thinking by Hands’: Designers’ Field Trip to Yamal

Hello everybody,

In this post I would like to share briefly yet another pile of work in the field of ‘Arctic-based’ design research. My personal fascination with mobility of Arctic nomads, coupled with professional interest in experimentation in the field of design education have recently resulted into the project “Visualizing Arctic Mobility”, funded by Finnish Cultural Foundation and Ella & Georg Erhnrooth Foundation. The central part of this project was a field trip to remote indigenous settlements of Yamal as a form of outdoor artistic practice for art/design students from Finland and Russia. The aim was to deliver new exercises and learning materials as well as new forms of presenting research findings, i.e. in addition to verbal the findings will be further presented through film, drawings and paintings. 

Who

Our team consisted of six people: apart from me as a team leader, there were

–        three BA students from the Department of Industrial Design, Ural State Academy of Architecture and Arts, Ekaterinburg, Russia: Tonya Belyaeva, Ilya Polyanskikh and Radmir Gelmutdinov;

–        A graphic and textile artist/Illustrator and doctoral student from the Department of Design, Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Helsinki, Finland, Marjukka Vuorisalo; and

–        A former trainee of the University of Lapland, currently a videographer in Film Production Company Joulupukki TV Nuno Escudeiro.

Our team:  The top row: Ilya, Svetlana, Tonya and Radmir; The bottom row: Nuno and Marjukka
Our team. The top row: Ilya, Svetlana, Tonya and Radmir; the bottom row: Nuno and Marjukka

Of course, such amount of participants is rather big for an expedition with the ethnographic focus. I must admit we were not mobile and flexible at all: it was pretty difficult to engage with the community and, consequently, to immerse deeply into their daily life. On the other hand, however, it was fruitful in terms of variety of ‘thinking hands’, i.e. drawing skills and techniques as well as artistic visions.

What

All the drawing exercises are divided into three main groups:

–        ‘surface drawings’, i.e. those to present visible reality (an artist/photographer’s observation);

–        ‘analytic/surgery drawings’, i.e. those to reflect upon skills and technologies involved (design/engineering analysis); and

–        ‘unveiling drawings’, i.e. those to reveal the immaterial ‘soul’ of things (artistic imagination)

During the expedition per se, the focus was on making observational drawings: from paintings of surrounding landscapes (though of minor importance), and, of most importance, portraits of people and their belongings. It was critical to draw not ‘an average Nenets sledge’, but the narta of a particular craftsman made at a certain place with certain conditions.

In the women's world: Marjukka and Tonya are making sketches in the chum
In the women’s world: Marjukka and Tonya are making sketches inside the chum
The Narta Day: studying embodied mobility
The Narta Day: studying embodied mobility

Our personal approach (let’s call it ‘the way of visually connecting a product with its maker/owner’) brings the artistic (emotional) vision into the ‘dry’ process of data gathering. In other words, ‘living’ hand drawings will help us further to understand how indigenous craftsmen produce ‘living’ things, in their multiple essences – from physical to spiritual. 

Preliminary results: observational drawings (Photo by L. Kelchina)
Preliminary results: observational drawings (Photo by L. Kelchina)

The work is now moving to the next stage, i.e. to analytical drawings. The first public exhibition is expected to be in December, at Aalto University, Helsinki. I will keep you posted about the progress, and meanwhile, would love to hear any questions, comments and suggestions.

P.S. Many thanks to Lidia Kelchina, the Department of Indigenous Small Peoples of the North, YaNAO, and to Yury Novopoltsev, ‘Yamal Tour’, for the organizational support and invaluable help during our adventurous trip.

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!

Santa anthropology? Santa Claus link collection

Yamal-Iri, the grandfather from the end of the land, with anthropology research team members Anna Stammler-Gossmann and AC staff Markku Heikkila and Ulrike Sippel
Yamal-Iri, the grandfather from the end of the land, with anthropology research team members Anna Stammler-Gossmann and AC staff Markku Heikkila and Ulrike Sippel

Where would be a better place than at the Arctic Circle to establish a research unit on the ethnography and social anthropology of Santa Clauses? When we think about Santa, we mostly get the image of this Coca-Cola dressed red and white person riding on Rudolf the reindeer bringing presents. But in fact there is a rapidly increasing variety of personages and images connected to the idea of Santa Claus.

Continue reading “Santa anthropology? Santa Claus link collection”

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

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 Wikimedia.org

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