Most ancient northern nation lives in Taimyr

Most ancient northern nation lives in Taimyr

July 06, 2020

The Nganasans are the most ancient northern people of Eurasia, the descendants of neolithic wild reindeer hunters.

Indigenous peoples – who are they? In international law, this concept means peoples who had lived on their lands before the immigrants from other areas arrived, such as american indians or australian aborigines.

In Russia, there are several dozen indigenous peoples. Most of them live in Siberia, the North and the Far East. As a rule, they are small. Long before the appearance of St. Petersburg on the world map, Izhora, Veps, Vod lived on those territories. In the Republic of Khakassia, the indigenous ones are the hakasses, in the Habarovsk and Primorsky regions, in the Sakhalin – they are nanais, in the Altai – shors, in Taimyr – dolgans, nenets, enets, evenks and nganasans.

The Nganasans are the most ancient northern peoples of Eurasia, the descendants of neolithic wild reindeer hunters who lived in Taimyr in the 15th century BC.

1. 747 people remained (according to the latest census of 2010) in the land of nganasans. They live only on the Taimyr territory: in Dudinka, the villages of Volochanka, Ust-Avam and New. The name “nganasans” has various possible translations – “man”, “person”. Formed from the nganasan word “kanasan” – people, “kanasa” – man. Nganasans say about themselves like this: “We are the people of nya”.

2. The Nganasans lingered in the Stone Age until the 19th century: they lived by reindeer hunting and fishing, worshiped pagan gods, having no idea what was going on in the world. The arrival of civilization in Taimyr caused a psychological breakdown of the ethnic group. Now in the Taimyr Dolgan-Nenets district they are trying to preserve the nganasan culture. In particular, employees of the Taimyr House of Folk Art are engaged in this. Nganasans themselves work there, for example, Alexei Chunanchar and Svetlana Kudryakova (pictured). Alexei is a bone cutting master, in addition, he owns the art of throat singing and playing the jaw harp. Svetlana is an employee of the Folklore and Ethnography department, a specialist in nganasan culture. The prince of the Avam people was from the Chunanchar clan, to which Alexey belongs, and Svetlana Kudryakova (Kosterkina) is from the shaman clan Ngamtuso.

3. The nganasans lived on subsistence farming. The men were hunting wild reindeer and fishing, women were making clothes from skins for all family members. The wardrobe was made up of five parkas: everyday, festive, funerary, summer and winter sokuyas – the warmest clothes with a hood.

The woman sewed all day long, starting from the moment when the sun appeared after the polar night. As a result, real works of art were born, decorated with various patterns, ornaments and leather straps, which carried all the information about the owner: how old he was, what family he was from. Nganasans did not have a written language. Clothing was a sort of “passport”.

The parks in which Svetlana and Aleksey are dressed are genuine, they are more than a hundred years old. The red color on them represents the sun, warmth, sacred fire; white is snow, light; black (just a little bit of it) – a disease, polar darkness. The black square – the nganasans invented it long before Malevich – on the back of men’s and of women’s parkas means the infinity of being.

4. Since the 19th century the nganasans traveled solely in Taimyr on foot, their shoes – bokari – had a very unusual appearance. They have a wide sole below. “So you fall into the snow less and it’s easier to get your foot out of there”, explains Alexei Chunanchar. Men’s bokari are high to the hip. To catch a reindeer, it was necessary to run through deep snowdrifts.

5. Nganasans call their clothing the costume of the sacred loon, since according to mythology they descend from this bird.Nganasans lived in the tents called chooms, summer and winter, covered with nukes – old deer skins. “When you heat the stove, warm is spinning below”, says Alexei Chunanchar, “the smoke goes up, and all the good emotions go down from there to the owners”.

6. Domestic reindeer near nganasans appeared in the 19th century, then they began to move along the tundra by small trailers. Two such trailers can be seen in the courtyard of the Taimyr House of Folk Art in Dudinka.

7. Nganasans ate what they hunted or brought from fishing. Different kinds of wild reindeer meat is the main dish of the northern menu. Dried meat – tyrubyo – was considered to be the product of long-term storage. To prepare it, thin long slices of venison were salted and hung out for three days in the sun in a well-blown place. In favorable weather, the tyrubyo reached the condition necessary for storage: it was covered with a sooty crust, but inside it remained soft. For one day, the it was hung in the tent above the fire. They cut the dried deer meat into cubes and got nilime – nganasan “seeds”, which were taken with them on a long journey.

A similar technology was used to prepare huaca – stockfish. An important condition: the fish should be extremely fresh, right from the water.

Another nganasans’ dish is nomsu bye – soup made of partridge with flour looking like semolina. Before cooking, the partridge was seared on a fire, which gave the dish a spicy aroma and to some extent replaced spices that (except salt) were not used by nganasans.

8. “I love you” in nganasan is “mene tene mon yountum”. This language belongs to the samoyed group of the ural-yukagir family of languages. It was unwritten, now a few primers appeared to save it. The author of most of them is Svetlana Zhovnitskaya. Nadezhda Kosterkina compiled the Nganasan-Russian and Russian-Nganasan phrasebook. Similar functions are performed by the publication “The language of the nganasans” with illustrations by the artist Motyumyaku Turdagin.

Looking into these books, you can find out that “Hello, friends!” is Nganasan “Doroba, syarunya!” Learn phrases and come to Taimyr to greet the representatives of the most ancient northern people of Eurasia personally.

Read about other indigenous peoples of Taimyr – the Enets, Dolgans, Evenks – on our site.

Text: Tatyana Rychkova, Photo: Nikolay Schipko, Maxim Shapovalov, Slava Shoot

July 06, 2020

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