The Yamal Peninsula in northwestern Siberia is one of the few remaining places on earth where a nomadic people retain a traditional culture. Here in the tundra, the Nenets-one of the few indigenous minorities of the Russian North-follow a lifestyle shaped by the seasonal migrations of the reindeer they herd. For decades under Soviet rule, they weathered harsh policies designed to subjugate them. How the Nenets successfully resisted indoctrination from a powerful totalitarian state and how today they face new challenges to the survival of their culture-these are the subjects of this compelling and lavishly illustrated book.
The authors-one the head of a team of Russian ethnographers who have spent many seasons on the peninsula, the other an American attorney specializing in issues affecting the Arctic-introduce the rich culture of the Nenets. They recount how Soviet authorities attempted to restructure the native economy, by organizing herders into collectives and redistributing reindeer and pasture lands, as well as to eradicate the native belief system, by killing shamans and destroying sacred sites. Over the past century, the Nenets have also witnessed the piecemeal destruction of their fragile environment and the forced settlement of part of their population. To understand how this society has survived against all odds, the authors consider the unique strengths of the culture and the characteristics of the outside forces confronting it.
Today, the Yamal is known for a new reason: it is the site of one of the world's largest natural gas deposits. The authors discuss the dangers Russian and Western developers present to the Nenets people and recommend policies for land use which will help to preserve this remarkable culture.
For information on the documentaries about life-both human and animal-above the Arctic Circle that Andrei V. Golovnev and Gail Osherenko have made, visit www.filmsfromthenorth.com.
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Number of pages: 224
Weight: 28 g
Dimensions: 155 x 235 x 22 mm
"Andrei V. Golovnev and Gail Osherenko... seek to understand the Nenets and 'their phenomenal capacity to keep their... culture, language and lifestyle' after four centuries of Russian Rule. Behind this, generally encouraging, story lurks the problem of local sources of natural gas and oil, the exploration and extraction of which (begun in the 1960's) threatens to destroy the fragile tundra and the Nenets' way of life... The authors' presentation of the options is stark: can the Nenets' way of life survive in competition with the State's thirst for oil extraction under Soviet-mafia management, with its traditional disregard for 'small peoples' and the natural environment?"* Times Literary Supplement *
"Based on extensive fieldwork and hitherto unavailable Russian archival sources, this masterful study is a deep ethnographic and ethnohistorical account that demonstrates how flexibility enabled the Nenets to avoid cultural disintegration despite severe outside pressures. The authors' eloquent and carefully reasoned argument... has far-reaching implications for other arctic peoples and indigenous societies throughout the world... Essential for all circumpolar arctic collections."* Choice *
"Myths that rank in beauty and simplicity with those of Homer and tales of heroism and perserverance that attest to the ongoing resilience of the local population in the face of centuries of attempted colonization.... Golovnev and Osherenko... have given us a valuable and conscientious study, graced by a plethora of color photographs of life on Yamal,... their love for this inhospitable peninsula of sand, clay and mosquitos is sincere and infectious."* The Moscow Times *
"Siberian Survival takes us through an unusually intelligent reading of leadership and gender, ecological development, native epistemologies, and twentieth-century rebellions. The book's innovative organizational centerpiece is the legend of the 'Five Iaptiks,' a mini-thriller in the lore of people becoming gods and gods becoming people... In the best sense, 'Five Iaptiks' and the book's other narrative strategies work as performative gestures to help us imagine how the Nenets navigate the world around them... This slim volume accomplishes a great deal in a short space. Lucid prose and beautiful photographs make its overall argument for understanding recent environmental politics through the lens of an enduring Nenets worldview all the more persuasive. This book should be well appreciated by readers in anthropology, colonial history, ecology, religion, gender politics, and northern studies."* Slavic Review *
"Compelling... A deceptively short, well-illustrated, and suberbly edited book."* Alternatives Journal *
"This volume's strengths mirror the specializations of its authors, namely, very strong ethnohistorical scholarship and astute appraisal of various political policy scenarios... It is well illustrated with color photographs and would serve as a nice textbook for any course in these subjects."* Slavic and East European Journal *