Queen of tundra
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Queen of tundra

October 11, 2021

Our project, The Territory Genius, is about those who are rooted in the Taimyr land. One of such people is Valeria Bolgova. She is called the queen of the tundra.

#ARCTIC. #SIBERIA. THIS IS TAIMYR. She appears at all city, regional or federal events in the national dress of the ancient people of Taimyr – the Nganasans. And this is not a stylization. Lera is a true custodian of the traditions and culture of her ancestors who have lived on the peninsula for more than ten centuries.

The local craftswomen examine her unique outfits embroidered with beads and fur, Nganasans look for the generic characters on them. Tourists take pictures of Lera walking her reindeer pet Ayakli along the main streets of Norilsk. She raised the deer on the bank of the river Norilka where the nganasan woman lives with her russian tundra loving husband. The elders nod approvingly when they see Valeria: “She is one of us”. Because she will not lose the face of the people which she represents. And she has enough energy and creativity to “promote” the ethnic group, the territory, its culture and philosophy, serious ideas and tasks in reviving Taimyr values.

The woman was nourished not by wolves, of course, but definitely by nature. She can make a fire, design a tent – home of indigenous people, shoot, harvest incredible berries, mushrooms and herbs, put nets, make clothes of the reindeer skin, remove the skin from frozen fish in ten seconds, setting it head down like a log. She cooks excellent sagudai (slightly salted raw fish) and makes incredible deer antlers drink which is really mind-blowing: there are no other epithets for this.

Representatives of the Nganasans at a city holiday in Dudinka
The nganasans getting their nets ready for fishing
Stroganina and sagudai – ethnic Taimyr dishes cooked in all Norilsk cafes and restaurants
Valeria with her reindeer pet Ayakli at the local Northern Berry Festival. 2019

Lera learned all of this in the tundra, where she mastered all types of fishing in her childhood. The beauty was born in Ust-Avam, belongs to the ancient nganasan family of the Linanchar-Turdagins and the Enets family of the Sovalovs. For more than ten years he has been managing the Nya Tansa family-tribal community (translated as “Nganasan family”), which unites nganasans of all ages from Dudinka and Norilsk, and the villages of Volochanka and Ust-Avam. Valeria sacredly honors the memory of Nganasan ancestors, tries to help the elderly, deals with youth and children.

“Our activists are in touch with their fellow countrymen throughout Taimyr. Not to lose their common roots we held holidays for the indigenous people. Nya Tansa participates in celebrations in Dudinka and Norilsk, where it puts its hospitable ethnic tents”, she says. “You know what the problem is with the indigenous people: the elders, the keepers of the ethnic culture, leave and the children do not know their ancestors’ language. Only meetings help to connect them to their roots. Hope it has sense. But we need this special environment. The world is changing. And in the nganasan language there are no modern words like “Internet” or “mobile platform”. It is impossible to create them. All the words came to us from the tundra, everything is connected with reindeer, sledges, river”…

Valeria Bolgova launched her own national shop Nya Tansa in Norilsk. She formed a mini-museum there: books, skins, stuffed animals, souvenirs and even a small workshop. She asked the famous nganasan artist Motyumyaku Turdagin’s son, Andrei, to paint the walls of the store with deer, birds, and species of tundra. “I also ask him to give master classes for children on the City Day once a year. He does not refuse, thank him very much”.

Valeria is dreaming of creating a cozy center for communication between indigenous peoples, with master classes, creative meetings, exhibitions of talented craftsmen from the villages. For many years – no matter what it costs her – she has been putting her community’s tent in the center of Norilsk on the City Day, demonstrating the attributes of northern life, preparing delicious food, treating passers-by and onlookers. Without any pathos, her goal is to revive the traditions of the small northern nations.

Like all nganasans, our heroine is wise and childishly naive. Such people have an aggravated connection with the land where they live. She always knows the place where it is good. So she unmistakably chooses a place for the nomad camp, always surely knowing where the nets have been set for centuries, a good fish has been caught: “the ancestors whispered”.

A couple of years ago, Lera visited the Interregional Review of Ethno-Cultural Centers of Indigenous Minorities of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation in Krasnoyarsk, she went there as a member of her community delegation. Afterwards she was invited to the Finno-Ugric writers (the Nganasans is part of this group) congress, it was held in the ancient estonian city of Tartu. Nina Chunanchar, the last female tales teller of the Linanchar-Turdagin family, went to Estonia together with Valeria and performed allegory songs and tales that she had heard from her mother.

At the congress, Valeria Bolgova made a presentation on how the Nganasans live in Taimyr. She also talked about what kind of literature they need to preserve their language. Her idea of ​​creating a nganasan phrasebook (a book with a disk capturing her native language) was supported by representatives of the Finno-Ugric community in Estonia, who help with financing the publication. “Soon the book will appear. Our elders are already translating it”, Lera assures us. But we do not even doubt it.

Lera’s daughter Elena (in the center) at the Miss Russian San Francisco competition, November 2019

Lera’s daughter lives in America. Last year, she won the Miss Russia title at a beauty pageant in California. Guess in which dress she went to the catwalk, besides an evening dress? Right, in the nganasan one, sewn by her amazing mother’s hands.

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Text: Marina Horoshevskaya, Photo: Taimyr families’ archives, Valeria Bolgova's archive, open sources

October 11, 2021

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