Tundra aristocrats
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Tundra aristocrats

August 17, 2020

Dolgans were called aristocrats of the tundra for the beauty of their clothes.

The Dolgans is one of the titular and numerous peoples of Taimyr: about 5000 people live here. And the youngest one – it was formed during the XVIII-XIX centuries.

“The Dolgans descended from three main peoples: tundra Russian peasants, Yakuts and Evenks”, said Vasily Batagay, the chief curator of the Taimyr House of Folk Art. “The original Dolgans have bright eyes. They are very tall like Russians. This is how Nansen described them”.

1. The traditional occupations of the Dolgans are nomadic reindeer herding, hunting, fur trade and fishing. Today there are still Dolgan reindeer herders roaming the Hatanga region, but many representatives of this people have become city dwellers.

“Unfortunately, modern living conditions push us to the sedentary lifestyle”, explains Polina Fedoseyeva, chair of the “Union of Dolgans” public organization.

Both of our heroes are Dolgans living in Dudinka. Vasily Batagay is from the Dolgan reindeer breeders’ family, used to roam the tundra with his parents, even today his sister and niece lead a traditional nomadic lifestyle. Polina Fedoseyeva also has such relatives.

2. On the titular picture Vasily and Polina are dressed in festive Dolgan parkas.

“Our parka is one of the most beautiful in Taimyr. No wonder Vostrotin, the governor of the Krasnoyarsk region in tsarist times, called us the aristocrats of the tundra”, says Polina.

“The oldest Dolgan parka is kept in the Kunstkamera in St. Petersburg. It is made of rovduga – reindeer suede, painted with natural paints in an ocher-reddish color, ornaments are also sewn from natural materials”, says Vasily Batagay. “There is fur and fabric mosaic. The Dolgans have several types of clothing, there are about twenty varieties of festive women’s dresses “.

Polina is wearing a traditional parka of a later period, since beads came to Taimyr in the 19th century. It was very expensive, and only wealthy Dolgans could acquire it. In the Soviet period, Polish and Czech beads appeared, everyone used it, and the beaded parka replaced others.

In the 20th century, women changed their headscarves for bright Pavlovo-Posad shawls. You can immediately distinguish the Dolgan women from other peoples of Taimyr when they wear them on holidays.

Reindeer boots, which the Dolgans and all other inhabitants of the North wear nowadays, are an urbanized version of the traditional shoes of indigenous peoples. The Dolgans call them gurumi. The gurumi were long – almost to the hip. A wide woolen parka lined with the polar fox, a fox or a hare fur was above.

Dolgan traditional jewelry clearly characterizes their ethnic connection with the Yakuts. These two indigenous northern peoples have long maintained cultural ties, and the Dolgan jewelry is mostly Yakut work.

3. Vasily explains the origin of the beaded ornaments. Zigzag patterns are called ardai, coming from the word ardayan meaning open. They symbolize mountains with crevices between them. Beaded waves are called nail, or tumus (cape), because according to the technology a craftswoman circled her nail to make the ornament. Rosette or frog ornament is borrowed from the Ukrainian shirt, uhor is the famous Russian ornament.

4. Dolgans have several types of dwellings. Golomo, or urasa, is a cone-shaped hut covered with turf and birch bark. Stationary log houses were also built. Then appeared houses, reminiscent of trailers, for movement along the tundra in winter. They were sold to the northerners by Russian merchants.

In summer, reindeer herders go to the Arctic following the reindeer who need coolness to keep them from midges. In this case a light raw-hide tent – choom – helps: it is easy to transport from place to place to new pastures.

“Choom is a house common for all northerners”, Vasily Batagay explains. “But the Nenets, for example, have it of a lower type, we have it higher. The Nenets have large nyuks (deer skins that cover the choom), while the Dolgans have short ones. Everyone asks where they got the poles. They were brought by the Evenks or Yakuts, there was trade. In fact, making a light pole is a long process, it takes a whole summer or even a year. They are made from larch, it is more stable, hard and, most importantly, does not rot”.

5. The main dishes of all northerners are similar: frozen fish and meat slices, fresh fish saguday and, of course, boiled, fried, and dried meat and fish. Dolgans also eat soups.

“There are a lot of types of cooking for both summer and winter, the location of settlements is also important”, Vasily Batagay says. “Do not forget that Dolgans still live in very large territories, and not only in Taimyr”.

In culinary publications, you can find exotic recipes for Dolgan dishes. For example, young deer antlers, scorched on fire. Or the amaha dish: sliced and boiled reindeer meat, poured by melted deer fat on top and put in a cool place. It looks like a Russian jellied meat.

Of course, Dolgans stock up berries for the winter, earlier it was customary to eat them with reindeer milk. The aborigines of Taimyr rejected mushrooms for a long time. But the Dolgans started eating them first.

6. Some researchers consider Dolgan to be an independent language, others insist on the Dolgan dialect of Yakut. Initially, it was a non-written language, but by the end of 1978 the poet, writer and journalist Ogdo Aksenova prepared a draft of the Dolgan alphabet, and soon the first Dolgan primer was published. Its seventh version has got official recognition of the authorities.

“Everyone considers us a big nation, but we still haven’t figured it out with the vocabulary”, Vasily Batagay says. “We are losing our so-called tundra language, words disappear, because it is impossible to write them all down. The keeper of the Dolgan culture and language Anna Barbolina and her colleagues are doing such work as compiling the Dolgan dictionary. It hasn’t been fully written yet. It’s a great work, which Ogdo Aksenova started doing”.

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

Text: Tatiana Rychkova, Photo: open sources

August 17, 2020

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