Nelmin Nos

The common transport to the Nenets village of Nelmin-Nos is a tank-like vehicle that goes north on the frozen Pechora river. Now it takes a little bit more than an hour to reach the village.

The village has more than a thousand inhabitants and looks like most of the villages that where established for the indigenous people in the north during the Soviet Union.

Once they had over 15000 reindeer in the tundra surrounding the village. The Kolkhoz that was established here was the first Nenets soviet enterprise in the whole region. The founder Aleksandr Pavlovich Vyucheiskii was killed at the sacred island Vaygach 1936. The Kolkhoz got his name afterwards.

Less than a third of the reindeer survived the economic troubles of the 1990s and all the over 200 cows and the herd of horses disappeared. Work in the village is only available in the state financed sector like the school, hospital or the kindergarden and some shops now.

I stayed in the newly built sports facility. It’s the only place for the local youth to spend free time. The floor of the old house of culture is almost collapsing, that’s why it is no longer a discotheque on Saturday nights. People shared their impression, that heavy drinking slightly declined in the last years and the sports-hall has some positive effect, too.

Like a symbol of past heroic times the centre of the village is marked by a war memorial designed by local residents. Unfortunately I could not meet any of the survivors of the second world war anymore. A lot of them fought in the so called reindeer army that was formed in 1941 and took part in the battles of the Murmansk front on the Kola peninsula. They went to the war with their reindeer sledges.

My Sámi reindeer shoes helped a lot to establish contact in the village. It was a very relaxing experience to feel the frozen ground through the fur and they proved perfectly warm when walking at -30°C through the village. They provoked a lot of laughter, but many of my interlocutors had already met Sámi people on trips to Scandinavia and recognised them immediately.

Tamara, a Russian colleague who visited the village at the same time introduced me to a Russian family of Baptists living in Nelmin Nos. Dima is working as a heater for the kindergarden and his wife is famous in the village for making beautiful cakes. The Baptist community tries to convert the Nenets, but so far they were not very successful in the village.

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About Stephan Dudeck

Anthropologist at the Arctic Centre of the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi, Finland, the Centre for Arctic Social Studies at the European University at Saint Petersburg and the Centre of Arctic and Siberian Exploration at the Sociological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Russia
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One Response to Nelmin Nos

  1. fstammle says:

    These are great impressions and a very nice first round of oral history work. Congratulations! Just quickly two things: I remember that I met the baptist guy on the boat from Nel’min Nos to Naryan Mar, and he was showing me photographs of the Yamb-to Nenets reindeer nomads burning sacred sledges. I’ll never forget the feeling of shock that I had when I saw that, and an almost paralysed mental condition when I heard his answer on my question if they the baptists told them to burn their own religious heritage. His answer was “no, we don’t force them to do that, they come themselves and ask us ‘what should we do with our idols and sledges now that we have your new religion?’ and we said if they want to be safe and not fall victim to the old devils then they should get rid of them, but it’s their choice”. Can you imagine? As an anthropologist interested in studying and experiencing religious diversity on our planet, I only thought how on earth could that be stopped. Even more happy I am to hear from you Stephan that the baptists are not very successful in the malozemel’skaya tundra. When I was there around 2005 there weren’t either.
    The other thing about oral history, and old women in Naryan-Mar and Nel’min Nos. You were saying you were going to find out ‘how much truth’ is in the nostalgia that they have for the bygone days in the malozmel’skaya tundra. I was wondering where do we as anthropologists take the justification to determine what the truth is? Isn’t it particularly important for us in life history fieldwork to take what people say at face-value and honour their perception of their lifeline? Of course I agree that it is important to cross check events and find out how they were perceived by others, and how did official history present them. It is particularly interesting to find out how knowledge possibly ‘nostalgifies’ as it is passed down the generations, for example when these babushki tell their stories to their grandchildren. But can we say that one perception is more true than the other?
    I’m also going to put this discussion with a link to your blog to arcticanthropology.org. Maybe somebody comments there too.

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