In the Mesolithic period, and according to some data even earlier, man came to the Arctic following herds of wild reindeer. When domesticated, the deer became a means of transport, exchange, accumulation, and a measure of social status and life values. Deer farming became the mode of existence for many Arctic peoples (Saami, Nenets, Dolgans, Evens, Chukchi), the basis of their life philosophy.
The nomadic rhythm in the tundra is set by deer followed by people. Migrating is a life activity implying not only readiness but also disposition toward continuous changes of surroundings and a minimalist lifestyle. Productive large-herd deer farming provided everything necessary for life in the tundra: meat as the base of the diet, hides as material for making clothes, utensils, and tent covers, and horns and bones for handicrafts.
The tundra deer farmers pastured grazing herds all year round. In winter, the deer fed on reindeer lichen (a species of lichen), with bush greens and tundra grass added in summer. In search of forage for deer and to change seasonal pastures, herdsmen with their families made annual migrations within their activity areas. The route length was determined by the distance between the sea shoreline and the forest border. It was 150 to 1000 km with the Nenets, and 50 to 400 km with the Chukchi.
Deer grazing in the tundra consisted in round-the-clock guarding of herds by the herdsman who perfectly knew deer’s behavior ecology, for keeping the herd close together, returning stray groups, and protection against wolves. On the average, each Nenets or Chukchi household had 180-300 deer; it was a minimum necessary for independent livelihood of a household.
The mobile lifestyle of tundra deer farmers left an imprint on their whole culture, greatly simplifying their everyday life. The dwelling place of the Nenets, Saami, and Komi was the chum, a conical frame portable house. The Chukchi had their yaranga (teepee) of another, and more complex, structure shaped as a semi-sphere. Both chum and yaranga were ideally adapted to the tundra’s open spaces. Their streamlined shape made the house stable.
The Nenets, Chukchi, and Saami living at great distances from each other, but in similar natural conditions of the tundra had, along with evident distinctions, much in common in the life support system. Currently, due to the preservation of traditional deer farming, the culture of these peoples retains its distinctive ethnic color to a large extent.
I.A. KarapetovaRead more