Before They - Photography Project by Jimmy Nelson

Nenets

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Nenets
The Nenets are reindeer herders, migrating across the Yamal peninsula, thriving for more then a millennium with temperatures from minus 50°C in winter to 35°C in summer. Their annual migration of over a 1000 km includes a 48 km crossing of the frozen waters of the Ob River. 
“If you don’t drink warm blood and eat fresh meat, you are doomed to die on the tundra”
The discovery of oil and gas reserves in the 1970s and the expanding infrastructure on the peninsula, has challenged their indigenous lifestyle. From the late Stalin period, all children have been enrolled in Soviet boarding schools, this has become a part of the typical Nenets life cycle.
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Yamal Peninsula, Ural Mountains

March 2011

The Nenets live in one-family chums, made of reindeer skins laid over a skeleton of long wooden poles. During migrations, chums are moved every other day. A carefully chosen chum site should provide pasture and good quality ground, as well as a nearby source of water from which they can brew their favourite beverage, Sri Lankan black tea. After checking the vegetation at a chum site, the headman plants his reindeer-driving
stick (Khorei) in the ground in the exact spot where he wants the centre of the chum to be.
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Finno-Ugric language

March 2011

When talking amongst themselves, Nenets speak a Finno-Ugric language. However, every Nenet under 50 speaks fluent Russian, as from the late Stalin period onwards, all children have been enrolled in Soviet boarding schools. At first, families resisted this policy, but today, boarding schools have become part of the typical Nenets life cycle and parents are supportive of the opportunities that this education provides.

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Yamal Peninsula

March 2011

The reindeer is also revered as a symbol. The Nenets believe that people and deer entered a kind of social contract, where reindeer offered
themselves to humans for their subsistence and transport, and humans agreed to accompany them on their seasonal migrations and protect them from predators.
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Artprint available

- Jimmy Nelson

Yamal Peninsula

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Yar-Sale Village, Yamal Peninsula, Ural Mountains

March 2011

Reindeer play a vital role in the lives and traditions of the Nenets. Aside from their market value, reindeer provide a source of food, shelter, clothing, transport, spiritual fulfilment and means of socialising. A bride price or dowry in the form of reindeer is therefore still common.


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Brigade 2

March 2011

On their annual migration of over a thousand kilometres, these people move huge herds of reindeer from summer pastures in the north to winter pastures just south of the Arctic Circle. The migration includes a 48km crossing of the frozen waters of the Ob River.

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Ural Mountains

March 2011

No Arctic people that we know of have persisted for so long and so defiantly. Today, more than 10,000 nomads herd 300,000 domestic reindeer on the pastures of the Arctic tundra. After possibly thousands of years of existence, the Nenets now face perhaps their greatest challenge. Since the discovery of oil and gas reserves in the 1970s, the Nenets have had increasing contact with the outside world and the infrastructure on the Yamal Peninsula has been rapidly expanding. The tundra is now home to several gas-worker villages, is covered by thousands of exploration drill sites, and is home to a new railway connecting Russia to the West. Building infrastructure on a peninsula of permafrost, bogs and lakes has significant consequences for the Nenets’ indigenous lifestyle, which is intrinsically linked to this environment.

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Northern Light at Ural Mountains

March 2011

Migrating across the Yamal peninsula, where the Ob River and Ural Mountains meet the Arctic coast, the Nenets have thrived for more than a millennium in one of the most inhospitable places on earth, with temperatures that dip to minus 50°C in winter and soar to 35°C in summer.
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Women wear a Yagushka

March 2011

The Nenets still rely on traditional clothing sewn by the women. The women wear a Yagushka which has a double layer of around 8 reindeer skins.
Both men and women wear hip-high reindeer skin boots consisting of an inner (Tobaki) and outer boot (Kisy). 

The men take care of grazing the reindeer, slaughter, choosing pastures etc. The women’s role is primarily to prepare and cook the staples of meat and fish, to repair clothing, to pack and unpack the households during periods of migration and to look after children. Hunting and fishing supplement the Nenets’ way of life.
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Artprint available

- Jimmy Nelson

Yakim, Brigade 2

March 2011

The Nenets still rely on traditional clothing sewn by the women. Nenets men wear a Malitsa, which is a coat with hood made of around 4 reindeer skins, fur on the inside and leather on the outside. In extremely cold conditions, men wear yet another layer of reindeer fur, known as a Gus.
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Artprint available

- Jimmy Nelson

Sacred sledges

March 2011

Shamanism is still practised in parts of the tundra. Nenets have an animist belief system centred on local deities. These are represented by wooden idols that they carry on sacred sledges. Figurines representing ancestors also play an important role. Several times a season, the sacred sledge is anointed with freshly slaughtered reindeer blood. When they sacrifice a reindeer, they split the animal in half, starting at the skull. They eat half and leave the rest as an offering to the gods. The Nenet people believe that certain stones with unusual shapes are remnants of the gods who have guarded them for millennia. Sacred sites are scattered throughout the Yamal peninsula.
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Andrei, Brigade 4, Nenet

March 2011

For these journeys, the reindeer are used to pull sledges that carry the people and their camp. The giant single-file reindeer trains can stretch
out to 8km in length. No Arctic people that we know of have persisted for so long and so defiantly. Today, more than 10,000 nomads herd 300,000 domestic reindeer on the pastures of the Arctic tundra.
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Nenets in Ural Mountains

March 2011

The Nenets people of the Siberian arctic are a nomadic tribe of reindeer herders. Migrating across the Yamal peninsula, where the Ob River and Ural Mountains meet the Arctic coast, the Nenets have thrived for more than a millennium in one of the most inhospitable places on earth, with temperatures that dip to minus 50°C in winter and soar to 35°C in summer.


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Brigade 2, Nenets

March 2011

Except for their favourite brew, Sri Lankan tea, The Nenet nomads rarely depend upon outside sources for their food, living on reindeer, fish and
whatever else they can forage from the forbidding Arctic soil.

In summer, when meat can’t be stored, fish becomes the main diet.