Camp life during transhumance in Siberia

April 2015

After a very hard and long day, started early in the morning by breaking the camp, before gathering the herd of reindeer and traveling some distance to a new location, it's now late evening when tents are pitched up again to spend the night. Life in the tent (chum) is very simple and without most comforts.

Reindeer sledges Reindeer shepherd
In the previous pages of this travelogue, we have illustrated the typical day of Nenets people, talking about the long and tiring tasks carried out since early morning, to break the camp and gather the herd of reindeer, before continuing the seasonal transhumance through the Yamal Peninsula, by traveling for some distance. It's now late evening when Nenets people got to the new location and another strenuous job awaits them: unload all the things from the sledges and pitch up the tents (chum).

 

Reindeer herd
First of all, the reindeer are left free to go.

 

Reindeer eating under the snow After traveling many kilometers for several hours, the reindeer are pretty hungry and thirsty. But how to feed if the vegetation is buried under a thick layer of snow? The answer is simple: they use their powerful legs to dig in the snow, until not gaining access to mosses, lichens and grasses that constitute the tundra ecosystem.

 

In this video we can see a reindeer that feeds on the tundra, first removing the snow.

 

Punished reindeer
Before making the reindeers free to go in the pasture, unruly animals, or those who tend to abandon the herd taking other reindeer with them, are put in punishment through a collar equipped with wooden stakes, preventing the animal to eat and drink easily (as they cannot lower their head anymore).

 

Nenets of Russia Nenets camp
As soon as possible, Nenets start to pitch-up the tents (chum) by first assembling together long (and heavy) wooden poles that form the bearing structure. The poles are about 50 and they must be skillfully positioned and tied, or the tent will not be strong enough.

 

Chum
Once the load-bearing structure is completed, heavy layers of reindeer skins are positioned with the help of poles and ropes.

 

Yamal peninsula
Later, the reindeer skins that make up the covering of the tent, are fixed by spinning ropes around the tent. Finally, the base of the tent is covered by snow that acts as an insulator from cold and wind.

 

It's now past 9pm, and after 14 hours of hard work, the tent is finally ready in the new location, to welcome the Nenets family.

 

Raw reindeer meat Raw fish
Nenets dinner
The dinner is then prepared and served, consisting mainly of raw reindeer meat, raw fish with onions, reindeer meat soup and bread. In very rare occasions, when a Nenets family hosts foreign visitors, as an act of courtesy, some reindeer meat is cooked instead of served raw. Nenets people eat all together, sitting on reindeer skins around a very small table.

 

Stove in the tent
A wood stove provides a little heat, although it is turned off at night.

 

Reindeer skin clothes
Sleeping babies It's almost midnight and finally it's time for a well deserved sleep. Nenets sleep all together on the ground, in very little space (children, parents and grandparents), protected by very warm reindeer skins.

 

Chum Nenets camp
During seasonal transhumance, Nenets doesn't necessarily move strictly every day, but if the reindeer have good grazing options, or if the conditions are not favorable, it is possible that for some days the family remain longer in one place only.

 

Nenets clothes
A day of rest during an expedition, is therefore a good opportunity to learn more about Nenets of Siberia and their life. In these photos, a baby wrapped in warm reindeer skin clothes, walking and playing in the snow around the tent.

 

Cutting wood
A Nenets woman instead splits the wood that will serve as fuel for the stove in the tent.

 

Collecting snow Melting snow
Another woman picks up fresh snow that once melted and boiled in a large pot over the stove, will provide drinking water.





 

Slaughtered reindeer Reindeer skin
Other people are instead engaged in slaughtering a reindeer. An average Nenets family needs approximately two reindeers per month for feeding purposes, however, of the animal nothing is thrown away: the blood is drink, the skin is used to make tents, carpets and clothes, while bones (perhaps after having eat the marrow) become building material.

 

Nenets child
Nenets children Nenets kids playing in the camp outside the tents, being able to transform any object, even a wooden stick in a toy.

 

Samoyed dogs
Samoyed Samoyed dogs roams around the camp, or stop somewhere to have a rest.

 

Nenets family
On a cold and windy day, the reindeer skin tent (chum) becomes a safe place where to spend some time with the family. In the top photos, a child plays with a gun, while a little girl and her mother are watching a DVD (the electricity is supplied by a small generator that works by regular fuel).

 

Expedition with Nenets in Russia
A photo of Nenets family and the tourists hosted.

 

Nenets baby

 

GO GO GO!!! Bum Bum Bum!!!! Has been the catchphrase of the trip, because of two children often playing with a toy gun that emits this sound.

 

Cane Samoyed dog
The Samoyed dogs, precious help for Nenets shepherds, sleeping in the tent along with people, sometimes in close contact (during the night, they provide some very welcome extra heat!)

 

Reindeer skin clothes
Me wrapped in reindeer skin clothes.

 

Nenets girl Nenets child
Nenet

Pictures of Nenets.

On this and previous pages, we learned more about the typical day of Nenets shepherds during the transhumance season. On the next page, there are pictures and information about Yamal peninsula, a place very unknown to the outside world.

 

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