A typical day of a Nenets family, nomads of the tundra

April 2015 

Nenets people are an ethnic group of northern Siberia, true nomads of the tundra, migrating seasonally together with reindeers, in search of new pastures. During the migration, the camp is moved almost every day to a new location, an hard work that requires to put the tent down in the morning, pack everything, gather the reindeers all together, move to the new place and build the camp again. In this first part of this expedition log, we will follow the morning operations.

Reindeer skin tents Tent of reindeer skin
Bed of reindeer skin

A typical April day for a Nenet family begins with the alarm clock ringing around 7am, when it is always a bit hard to leave the warmth of the reindeer skins, and head out in the cold (average temperatures in April in Yamal peninsula may be between -30 and +5 degrees centigrades, but strong wind is common).
Snowmachine Snowmobile track
Before breakfast, a couple of people leave by snowmobile to check the weather situation and to make a quick inspection, trying to figure out which direction is best to direct the herd of reindeer today.
Vegetation below the snow
In order to check the deepness of the snow and determine whether a reindeer can eat the vegetation below, samples in the snow are made in various points, then, once the right place is identified, it is marked by leaving there some item. This will be the destination of the day.
Nenets typical food
Once back at the camp, it's breakfast time. The meal includes raw fish and raw reindeer meat, but also bread, jam and condensed milk whose stocks are made before leaving the town of Yar Sale at the beginning of migration season.
Nenets chum
Shortly after breakfast, the tents are emptied, piling luggage, clothes and anything else outside on the snow.
Nenet child

Everyone in the family give a hand, so the children are busy carrying their belongings, including toys, loading them on the sledges.
Meanwhile, some reindeer comes to have a look around the tent.
Yamal peninsula
Once the chum (tent) is empty, it is dismantled by first removing the outer reindeer skins
Reindeer skin
Nenets typical tent

Before removing the reindeer skins that serve as a warm and waterproof covering of the tent, any snow present at the base of the structure is removed first (picture on the left), then the fastening ropes are untied (picture on the top).
Reindeer skins

Once removed, the reindeer skins are stretched first and then carefully folded, in order to load them more easily on the sledges.
Nenets tent
Then, the second layer of reindeer skins is removed, always taking care to bend them carefully.
Structure of a chum

At this point, all that remains of the tent is a kind of giant Mikado game, which consists essentially in the load-bearing structure formed by a series of about 50 poles 4 meters long, which must be removed one by one and loaded on the sledges.
Nenets woman
Nenet woman

A Nenet woman loading the tent poles on the sledge.

In this video we can see the frantic morning activities of Nenets to break the camp and load everything on the sledges.

Generally, the children participate in various activities, including the most strenuous, although sometimes they get a pause playing by lasso.
Nenet baby
Nenets babies
Younger children are instead left somewhere near the sledges, while parents, brothers and sisters, continue to dismantle the camp.
Samoyed dog
The dogs observe the scene from a distance. The Samoyed dogs are very valuable for Nenets people and each family owns many of them.
Nenets typical clothes
Nenets people in their traditional clothes made primarily of reindeer skin.
Traditional clothes of Nenets
Reindeer skin clothes
Jamalo-Nenec Reindeer in Siberia
Nenets woman in traditional clothes
It's already late morning when the camp has been completely dismantled and the materials loaded on the sleds. In the next page of this travelogue we will have a look at the upcoming hard work in the Nenets everyday life: gathering the reindeers together, catching those will have to pull sleds.

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Nenets of Siberia: info and expedition log

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