My first interview partner in Naryan Mar was Fedosia Semenovna Kauts. She quickly became a good friend and important informant with a rich memory. I met her by chance in the local library, and the librarian introduced me to her as one of the members of the Nenets theatre „Ilebts“ here in town. She told me later that I reminded her of her German husband that died years ago.
Fedosia Semenovna belongs to the generation that was rooted deep in the Nenets society, she is fluent in Nenets and knows a lot about the life in the tundra, but grew up during soviet times. She acquired soviet values and the lifestyle that was propagated by soviet authorities.
As many of my interlocutors here in Naryan Mar belonging to the Nenets intelligentsia she had an atypical life history and family background. Her grandfather was a Russian who was adopted and brought up by a Nenets family. Her grandmother tried to keep that fact secret because she disliked Russians and did not even allow Russian guests to enter her chum (nomad tent). She called them children of the girlfriend of Nga (Nenets name for the death god or god of the underworld).
She was educated as a zoo technician and married a German from a family that was deported to the North in the Stalin era. Her family was not happy about it, but Germans had a good reputation of moral integrity and being hard workers, and it proved true in the case of her husband, Fedosia told me.
She had to look for alternative ways of gaining prestige in the village community. Soviet society provided new social positions available through education and work in official institutions in the settlements and the kolkhoz. This new social value system was sometimes in contradiction to the old system of values. That’s why villagers sometimes called her the pejorative Nenets term for Russians.
She worked as the head of the village administration of Nelmin Nos and the small villages around it in the 1970ies and 1980ies. They were only three women at that time. Today the administration is run by 15 employees. One of her tasks was to transfer the reindeer herders to the shift work method of reindeer herding and to settle their families in the village. She told me that she understood already at that time that it was harmful for the transmission of knowledge and the family life of the reindeer herders, but she had to follow the orders of the party and the state.
After retirement she founded the village museum in Nelmin Nos but moved to the regions capital Naryan Mar after some years, where her husband got a flat as compensation for the repression and deportation of his family. She is now active in the Nenets folklore theatre „Ilebts“ in the ethno-cultural centre I previously mentioned.