BULLETIN # 26 - 27 

XII group of interns
Fall - Winter 1999


Does Future Belongs to Oil or to Reindeer?
House for Everybody
That Is Our Life
Teleut Ethnic Company "Baiat" Dreams Of Its Horses
"Belo Anuy"
The Chukchi Myths and the Nature
A POINT OF VIEW: Our Desires, Our Needs, Our Responsibilities
Ene-Baiat (Organization of Teleut Indigenous People)
Wedding Ceremony of Kumandin Indigenous People

Does Future Belongs to Oil or to Reindeer?

Reindeer herding is the key element of culture and the very life itself for the Nenetz indigenous people. But Nenetz are not the only people in the tundra anymore. For the last 30-40 years more and more oil and gas reconnaissance parties are there. Compare with the reindeer herders the gas and oil people are definitely the “new kids on the block”. The really intensive work the oil and gas people started to do here only in the yearly 90th.

In our Nenetz Autonomous Region we have not had any real and serious conflicts between the industry and the reindeer herders so far. Simply because up to this point the most of the work was exploratory. While looking for oil, the geologists are using small mobile oilrigs. Helicopters move those oilrigs around. But rapidly increasing number of the rigs and appearance of the stationary equipment beginning to be a problem. Since reindeer herders are forced to avoid the areas of oil and gas drilling, the pastures available are shrinking.

Another problem is environmental. More often than not the geologists leave behind the rigs and piles of other industrial discard. That causes a lot of injuries to reindeers. They suffer from “kopytka” a sort of severe hoof-infection. But to treat “kopytka” we need medication that has to be brought from the Russia proper. The administration fails to do that on the regular bases.

But on the other hand the oil and gas people are viewed by many as a very positive factor. Since the collapse of the government support system the oilmen are the only source of tea, bread and many other products. They also are always ready to offer a helicopter in case of medical emergency, something that the regional administration claims to be incapable to do due to the constant dearth of funds.

When the reindeer herders ask for a compensation for the ruined grazing grounds and loses to “kopytka” the oil companies decide what kind of compensation is due. For instance, reindeer herders of “Druzhba Narodov” collective from Karataika village were awarded as the compensation for the last two years the following: women about 1000 Rubles (about $30 US) per month and men – 300 Rubles (about $12 US) per month. But even that money went to the collective as a lump sum and was used to pay the collective’s debt. And once again the herders are left with nothing.

Very soon the oil will go to the Western Europe. The pipeline will go through Karataika territory. We can safely guess that reindeer herder loses will be enormous. May be the reindeer itself will be lost forever.

We believe that it is the direct responsibility of the Administration of the Nenetz Autonomous Region and the oil companies to do everything possible NOW to prevent the disaster in the close future. In order to do that a direct and honest dialogue with the reindeer herders must be established.

Valentina Taleeva, Nenetz,
Nenetz Autonomous Region

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House For Everybody


Lovozero is the biggest Sami community in the Murmansk region and, consequently, in the entire Russia. For many years people of Lovozero went to various authorities, from the district to the regional, asking for a place they can use as a community house. Finally in 1994 the Ethnic Culture Center (ECC) opened its doors to Sami, Komi, Nenetz people and everybody else who wants to come.

People of all ages and interests find something to do in the house. For the last 6 years Ms. Larisa Avdeeva, the Director of ECC and her small but enthusiastic staff, virtually with no money, managed to provide a place where the traditional art forms and rituals are being promoted and protected. They have been organizing festivals and concerts in Russia and abroad where the viewers enjoy the Sami and Komi songs and dances.

Now the popularity of ECC became so big that the small place can not accommodate all. Larisa Avdeeva once again is looking for a bigger space. She is very optimistic. As for now the little community house has enough warmth for everyone during the Arctic winter.

Lidia Rakhmanina, 

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That Is Our Life


My home community is called Karataika. It is in the tundra, 450 km from Narian Mar (capital of Nenetz Autonomous Region). To get to Narian Mar is possible only by a small plane or a helicopter. One way ticket is 650 Rubles. During Summer there are two flights a month. In the winter there are only rare emergency flights. Practically no telephone links Karataika and the outside world.

Even worse is the situation with food supplies. We have only one state store and several private (commercial) stores. The food products are brought from Vorkuta to the commercial stores. The prices are so high that we go there only as into a museum. But there is “a way”. Those stores are ready to take “omul” (white fish that is only in Barentz sea and lake Baikal) and reindeer meet in exchange for food products. Very often people take alcohol and then sell it for three four times the price to their neighbors who have money. They do it during the night, when the stores are closed and people get desperate.

But those who have money are few and far between. The unemployment is ominously high. Many qualified people lost their jobs. Many young people do not have a chance of getting a job since they have no chance of getting an adequate education. Especially desperate is the situation of single mothers, because the state constantly fails to pay the child support. Even the local administration workers get paid very seldom (in November of 1999 they received their wages for December of 1988).

That is our life.

Valentina Taleeva,
Nenetz Autonomous Region

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Teleut Ethnic Company "Baiat" Dreams Of Its Horses


In 1993 many of collectives in Kemerovo oblast, as all over Russia, broke up with their former members getting small pieces of land into private ownership. Most of the Teleut indigenous people put their shares together and created Teleut Ethnic company “Baiat”. The founder and the head of “Baiat” was Mikhail F. Todyshev. The well-known in Russia and abroad and highly respected leader of Teleut people, he died tragically in 1995. His brother Vasily F. Todyshev succeeded him. “Baiat” is doing O’K to keep its head above the water and sustain its members. But the dream is to revive an ancient traditional Teleut activity – horse breeding. Breed the once famous Teleut horses and commercially produce “kumys” (an alcoholic drink from fermented horse milk). “Baiat” is looking for any kind of help, advice and investment.

Valentin Todyshev,
Kemerovo Oblast

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"Belo Anuy"


In Ust-Kansky district of Altai republic is indigenous village of Belo Anuy. The only school is a small one-story building that was built in 1938 and is in desperate need of repair. There is also a small medical facility that takes only cash for its services. Before the “democratic reforms” the state had subsidized agricultural communities and Belo Anuy lived well. But with arrival of “market economy” the community found itself in heavy debts to the energy suppliers and to the state tax agency. To pay off just a part of it Belo Anuy had to slaughter the entire cattle.

The unemployment is about 70%. People barely survive thanks to the yard and the garden. The young people are at the dead end. Families have no money to give their children an education. Many teenagers out of despair start abusing drugs and alcohol commit crimes.

The only source of money is the pension for the old. And as the entire country, Belo Anuy lives off the old.

Natalia Surkasheva,
Altai Republic

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The Chukchi Myths and the Nature


My people is very old. Archeologists say we exist for many many centuries. Our history is fascinating and our mythology tells about our beginning. Myths, legends and fairy-tales of the times long gone are told to us by the wind and by the sea waves. The lichen and the tundra flowers whisper of those who went to the Upper World, whisper of the great deeds done on Earth.

My body hears the ancient song that my mother sang while sewing a new “kukhlianka” (fur robe). Outside wind is knocking on the outer layer of “yarangen” (Chukchi teepee. Kind of a big two-room chum or tent made out of several layers of fur and skin). The wind wants to come inside, where it is warm. The wind is eager to partake in a story-telling competition that is about to begin and drums its beat: ”yy’ym, yy’ym, yy’ym”. Mama is rocking slowly with her song and I see the characters from her story – the wise Raven, sneaky wolverine, frolicsome little seal… Which one will be the hero tonight?

And suddenly from the darkest corner appears terrifying “Etcharopary” (“the snow man”). Etcharopary legend had been passed from generation to generation in village of Akkani (the cold place) where my mother was born. There were three clans in Akkani. They were reindeer herders and sea hunters. Now the village is no more. In the late 1950th the village was destroyed by a decision of the regional authorities and all people were forcefully moved to Lorino (“nice place I found”).

My mother begins the legend: “Once upon a time, long, long time ago, in the rocks near village of Akkani lived Etcharopary. He would appear only at night and take a newborn baby from the village. The community suffered immensely from such neighbor. But one day a raven came to the village. He sat on the top of the highest rock and watched the voracious creeper. When the monster was leaving the rock he lived in he’d say “Etcharopary!” and the rock would close behind him. And when the fiend came back home with yet another baby, he’d say again “Etcharopary!”, the rock opened and the snow man disappears inside. The following night, after Etcharopary left, the Raven got into his home and locked the door from the inside. Etcharopary came back, could not open the door and in fear left the area for good…”

An amazing thing – near Akkani, imbedded in the rocks were found human-like footsteps, ancient and several times bigger even than a bear’s.

From generation to generation myths play a key role in forming the character of a human being. Through myths the ethnic self-identity of a people is expressed, the pride in one’s past and believe in one’s future are developed. For myths talk about the beginning of all of us.

I teach small children. I teach many things. One of them is ethnography. To me the core, the base is not a scientific theory but our myths. Because the theories, as a rule, have very short lives and have a tendency to change a lot. Our legends, on the other hand, are eternal for they are an integral part of Nature. Only it hurts a lot to see what we are doing to the Mother Earth. Our beautiful tundra is covered with sores of garbage dumps, cancers of rusting metal barrels and deep scars from metal caterpillars .At night I hear as my land is weeping. (Why the present regional administration does not collect the used barrels and does not sell it for the scrap-metal?).

A Russian writer Daniil Granin wrote in his novel “The Picture”: The Nature was around way before us, so it proved it can do perfectly well without us… We humans are trying to learn everything around us, so we can find the ways to use it for our benefit. Why don’t we study ourselves instead, so we can find the ways to be useful to Nature…” I agree with him.

Alyona Aliapaak,
Lorino, Chukchi Autonomous Region

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Our Desires, Our Needs, Our Responsi-


Not such a long time ago all indigenous peoples of the Russian North had their Elders to keep the customs, rituals and traditions, as well as the peoples themselves, alive. Before every hunt the spirits were pleased and their permission to hunt was asked for. Only as much animals as needed for food and clothes were taken and their forgiveness was secured through a proper ritual. The young respected the Elders and followed their advice unconditionally, for they understood that wisdom and experience worth much more than physical strength and agility. Thus, people lived in harmony with Nature and at peace with themselves.

But that how it used to be. Now there is only greed, fear, mistrust and refusal of any responsibility for anything. The young are without guide, do not plan for the future and think of how to take without giving anything in return. The sad thing is that those few who still know yet the languages and the cultures are part of that destructive process. Knowledge of language and culture is nothing without knowledge of responsibilities and respect for the elders.

When I think about all that I see very clearly that we, the young, must learn again to listen to our elders, to hear them, to respect them. Only then the wisdom of our peoples, now asleep, will be awaken. And only then we can learn it and use it.

Konstantin Khristoforov,
Evenk Autonomous Region

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Ene-Baiat (Organization of Teleut Indigenous People)


June 16, 1990 in Shanda community of Kemerovo Oblast, 35 Teleut delegates participated in the First Congress of Teleut People. They created “Ene Baiat” – organization of Teleut people. The goal of the organization is to unite and represent the Teleut indigenous people, to promote and protect rights of Teleut as of an indigenous people of the Kemerovo Oblast.

February 22, 1992, in village of Bekovo the II Teleut Congress took place. The Congress adapted Declaration of the Right to Self-Determination of Teleut People. For the first time was formulated the idea of creation of Teleut Administrative Territory.

Since then Ene-Baiat have been representing Teleut indigenous people in many regional, national and international forums. It lobbied successfully to have stated officially the belonging to the Teleut people in the internal passports; to have quotas allocated to Teleut at the higher education institutions of the Kemerovo Oblast and even got compensation from coal-mining company “Batchatsky” for the use of the traditional Teleut lands.

And yet we still have many problems to deal with. But we have Ene-Baiat.

Valery Todyshev,
Kemerovo Oblast

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Wedding Ceremony of Kumandin Indigenous People


In the old days Kumandin men were strictly prohibited to marry or even to have any kind of physical relationship with a woman from the same “seok” (clan) or the “seoks” which where kin to his own. That “law” was called “alyshpas”. The clans of kinship were “Ore kumandy”, “Tastar” and “Tchoty”; “Altyna kumandy” and “Torn”. The usual marrying age for men was 14-16 and for women 13-15 years old.

The most popular was the ritual of “Kidnapping the Bride”. First the groom and the bride had to agree upon the marriage and the date of the wedding. To avoid possible misunderstanding and as the proof of the girl’s agreement, the groom would receive from the bride a “kulantchi” (usually a kerchief or a towel). All that was kept in absolute secrecy from the girl’s parents. Then he would inform his own parents of his wedding plans. As a rule the parents approved the son’s choice.

When the day comes, the groom would hide with two horses at the agreed place. The brides best girlfriend acted as “kuuptchun keezhee” (she would bring the girl to the waiting groom. The two would hurry to the boy’s village. It was important that the groom would hold the bridle of the girl’s horse throughout the entire ride.

It was common that the bride’s relatives, after discovering the “kidnapping”, would chase the two. And if they succeeded in catching the pair they would take the girl back and quite severely beat the boy.

In the groom’s village the girl was kept in hiding for two days. After that the entire family and relatives of the boy began preparing the wedding feast “toy”. It also called “tutpatch” from the name of the main dish. Groom’s father or the oldest brother supervised the preparations. To make “tutpatch” they would slaughter a ram or a horse. While the feast was being prepared the bride was taken to “shalyg-odog” (a small tent made out of 7-9 long thin perfectly white birches with their tops tied together to a cone). There the girls from the groom’s family would change her many (usually 9) thin braids into “tulun” (the two thick braids of a married woman).

When the “tutpatch” was ready, the groom was given the first plate (“tepshi”) of the “tutpatch” and an ornate towel. He would take it into his father’s house. The bride, carrying the wine was taken also to the house. Shaman would start the “algysh sos” (the traditional words of blessing). Shaman first treated the “house master” ( a spirit called “shalyga” or “urgen ezi”) by taking “tutpatch” from “tepshi” and “feeding” it to all corners of the room. The blessing went like this:

Eat, you, the strong men of the Four Corners,
You who carry the yellow birch shaft!
Eat, you, the strong men of the narrow door!
A fire has started by the young twig.
Let the fur coat never leaves his shoulders,
Let his horse never stumbles,
Let him be as a white rabbit,
Let them live as long as their teeth are all,
Let them live as long as their lower jaws are not tied up,
Let them hear the cuckoo song,
Let them see the blooming trees,
Let them walk over green grass,
Let them have their own share in the community,
When he goes to the river, let him be lucky!
When he goes to the Taiga, let him be triumphant!
Let these two live long
And never die.

With the last words the newlyweds took “koot” (the child’s soul) - the very first spoonfuls of “tutpatch”. The ancient Kumandin believed that thus the soul of their child comes to the future parents. Then the shaman tasted “tutpatch” and after him/her the rest of the guests. Since the bride’s relatives were absent, the best parts of the meat were offered to the groom’s uncle on his mother’s side.

After everybody had finished with the “tutpatch” the wine (“araa”) was offered. During the “araa” drinking the money was collected as a gift for the newlyweds. Also representatives were dispatched to the bride’s parents. They had with them a lot of “kudug” (sort of vodka) and their task was to agree on “tcharash” (a peace agreement between the two families) and on “kalym” (the compensation to the girl’s family).

Usually the “toy” lasted about two-three days. If the groom’s family was rich enough various competitions with prizes were common – “saktyt shabchalar” (horse riding), “tcharysh” (running) and “kuresh” (wrestling).

At the agreed date, the groom’s family traveled to the bride’s family. They had with them as much wine as they could manage. As they move through the girl’s village to her house they were met by small groups of her relatives waiting in different places and demanding a pay for a tree, or a ditch, or for an old shack - whatever was on the way. The pay was the wine.

At the girl’s house the groom’s family had to stand while the girl’s family sat. The groom’s father would place before the hosts a full barrel of wine on top of which he placed the “kalym”. The sum was agreed upon at the first meeting. But the dowry was never discussed and was entirely up to the girl’s family. After “kalym” was paid the common celebration started after which the groom’s parents return to their village.

After one week they would return together with the newlyweds. The hosts would make “sugum” (slaughter of a ram or a horse). In return the son in law would give wine to his wife’s parents. It called “kazan azhynyn utchun” (“in exchange for the food in the pot”).

In now days the weddings like that are no more. Either because of the overwhelming poverty, or because of the rapid loss of traditions and the traditional way of life.

Vladimir Kirkin,
Altai region

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