The seasonal transhumance in Siberia with Nenets people

April 2015

The alarm clock has ringed many hours ago and, after having broken the camp, loaded all the materials on the sledges and gathered the herd of reindeer, it's finally time to leave for a new place. The transhumance is a seasonal migration of people and their livestock, looking every day for best pastures ensuring sufficient food to the animals. This requires a very hard work done routinely almost every day by Nenets people, true nomads of the arctic, basing their life and their simple economy on the reindeers.

Reindeer Reindeer herd
In the previous pages of this travelogue, we talked about the operations carried out almost daily to break camp, load the sleds and gather the herd of reindeer, an hard work that usually begins early in the morning and finishes mid-afternoon. Now, with everything ready for traveling to the new pastures, the Nenets people continue their seasonal transhumance in the Yamal peninsula, a remote region of Siberia in northern Russia, moving the entire livestock as well. The distance run daily is around 10-15 kilometers, making Nenets people true nomads of the Arctic, with reindeers representing the fulcrum of their life.

 

Transhumance in Siberia
Departing for the today destination. The herd of reindeer follows the "boss" sled at the beginning of the line : the scene is absolutely magnificent, with hundreds of reindeer moving in groups together with Nenets people, a fantastic experience for travelers that only very few places of the world can still offer.

 

Transhumance
Nenets shepherds are positioned with their sleds at various points of the reindeer herd: some are at the beginning of the line, others in the middle, while others follow from behind.

 

Reindeer transhumance Reindeer pulled sledge
During the transhumance, the line of reindeer, when the animals are arranged in a single row, can be literally hundreds of meters (if not kilometers) long. In the middle of the line, Nenets shepherds and their Samoyed dogs, make sure that no reindeer will even just try to leave the herd. It seems incredible that a land so cold and arid, dominated by snow and ice, has to offer so much life that visitors may only see during a safari in Africa.

 

This video lasting about four minutes, shows the long line of reindeer that is formed during the seasonal transhumance (migration), under the guidance of nomadic Nenets people, along Yamal peninsula in northern Russia, one of the most isolated and inhospitable areas of the planet.

 

Nenets shepherd Reindeer pulling a sledge
On the left picture, a Nenets woman drives the reindeer-pulled sledge during seasonal transhumance, with the invaluable help of dogs. On the left picture, although the Yamal peninsula is one of the most isolated region of Russia and Siberia, where ancient traditions are still passed down intact from generation to generation, modern technology is arriving also here and it is not uncommon to see satellite dishes or power generators loaded on some sledge.

 

Nenets
During the transhumance, along the way, it's quite frequent to meet other Nenets families who travel the same route, and stop for a chat is always very welcome.

 

Transhumance in Russia Reindeer migration
Reindeer transhumance photos from Siberia, with Nenets people moving their entire livestock towards better pastures.

 

Reindeers
Herd of reindeers
Photos of reindeer herds during the migration season.

 

Reindeer skin clothes
A Nenets child taking some pictures of the distant reindeer herd, using a smart-phone. Although all nomadic families have now at least one smart-phone, communications in this corner of the world remain very critical and there are large areas not covered by any service, except by satellite phone.

 

Snowmobile Snowmobile pulling a sledge
While most of the shepherds direct the herd from aboard their reindeer-pulled sleds, others control the situation from a distance by faster and more versatile snowmobiles. The large wooden boxes attached to the snowmobile are used to transport goods, additional people, or those rare tourists that comes up here.

 

Nenets child
A Nenets child runs on deep snow, not far from the reindeer herd.

 

Transhumance in Yamal Transhumance of Nenets
Reindeer transhumance
More photos of transhumance in Siberia.

 

Sometimes, shepherds who follow the herd by snowmobile, go further away to have a better view from a greater distance. From far away, the reindeer herd become just line that move along the horizon.

 

 

Nenets Nenet people
The fierce face of tireless Nenets people, during seasonal transhumance in Russia.





 

It's now late evening and after 3-4 hours of travel, for a distance that can vary from 10 to 30 kilometers, Nenets shepherds and their livestock have reached the place designed to spend the night. In April the days are still relatively short and there isn't any midnight sun yet, since the area is located just a little north of the Arctic Circle. In late spring, however, with bright and sunny nights, the distance traveled every day can be much longer.

It's now the time to set up the camp, unloading all the goods and pitching up the tents, as we will see on the next page of this travelogue.

 

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