Embark on an unforgettable voyage to the Nenetsia region, one of the least known but most important regions of the Russian Federation, and join Siberia’s nomads on their epic annual reindeer migration within the Arctic Circle.
The Russian Nenets are the arctic guardians of a style of reindeer herding that is the last of its kind and now you get the privilege to accompany them.
Region is Northern Asia
Climate here is Polar
The Nenets live a semi nomadic lifestyle, staying with their reindeer the whole year round. To this day, no-one knows for certain whether it is the reindeer that lead the people or vice versa.
Living in chums—teepee-style tents made of reindeer skins—the Nenets exist in one of the most challenging environments in the world, where temperatures can plummet to -50C. Usually there will be one family per chum. In the space outside the chum, sledges and caravans are arranged in half-circles around the chum, with the sledges for supply and women’s belongings more in front of the chum and male belongings more behind it. The sacred sledge should always be behind the chum and pointing directly at its center.
The Nenets life traditionally revolves around clans, based on paternal descent, that have their own territory, hunting and fishing rights. Under tight rules and customs, about 100 clans survive today.
The religious world of Nenets is governed by idols, spirits and curses of the unseen world. There are many taboos concerning life in the teepee. Breaking these taboos is considered to bring a curse upon the people and their animals.
The Nenets have traditionally relied on their reindeer for almost everything. From their fur for coats, hats and tents; to their meat for sustenance and nutrition. Even their bones are used for buttons and knife handles.
If they get lost in a snowstorm, they rely on the leading reindeer to help them find their way. If the animal hesitates or sneezes when crossing an icy river, the shepherd will look for a different place to cross.
A typical nomad caravan of Nenet consists of about 20 members of the extended family, several hundred reindeer, dozens of dogs and 75 sledges, full of carp poles, fresh meat, frozen foods, iron stoves, reindeer skins and other items that stretch for more than a kilometer when the group is in motion.
The Nenets language is called n'enytsia vada, belonging to the Samoyedic branch of the Uralic language family.
Nenets have a rich tradition in oral literature and music. You’ll find that only fragments of the old poetry are still performed today, but that the shorter, more personal songs are a living and developing genre.
The Reindeer Herder festival: This is the Nenets biggest celebration. It occurs in Salekhard on the frozen river Ob by Salekhard, usually on the last weekend in March. Hundreds of Nenets travel from the surrounding taiga forest and tundra, in order to compete in reindeer sledge races and traditional activities such as reindeer lassoing.
The biggest challenge of visiting Nenets is dealing with the Arctic weather conditions.
Photo credit: closeup portrait of Nenet iStock.com/Evgenii Mitroshin