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29May/180

Life in Tundra. Numto Nature Park. Part II

In the first post I wrote about Lake Numto, Numto Nature Park and how to get there on zimnik – winter road. This is a story about living with the native Uralic people.

My hostess Lyudmila, Khnty woman

My hostess Lyudmila, Khnty woman

I stayed with the family of Grigoriy, a Nenets reindeer herder and a worker at the Numto Nature Park. His wife Lyudmila is a Khanty woman. The languages of Khanty and Nents people are different though they are distantly related. So at home Grigoriy and his wife speak mostly Russian but with the time Lyudmila learned the Nenets language to be able to speak to her huband’s relatives. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the natives managed to preserve their culture and traditions there despite speaking Russian, using mobile phones and driving snowmobiles instead of riding reindeer.

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The women make a lot of clothes themselves in a traditional way. They decorate everything with traditional ornaments. Men wear belts with plates made of reindeer bones with carvings of sacred northern animals: elk, bear, rein deer, duck etc.

Lyudmila posing in her hand made dresses

Lyudmila posing in her hand made dresses

Lyudmila posing in her hand made dresses and kisy (deer skin boots)

Lyudmila posing in her hand made dresses and kisy (deer skin boots)

The indigenous people are very hospitable. They don’t ask many questions - who you are or why you are here. If you are here they will share their food, will boil tea quickly and offer you a place to sleep with many warm blankets for as long as you need. When I arrived Lyudmila offered me hot tea with lots of sweets and grouse meat that Grigoriy had brought from a hunt. Two things the natives got used to and now can’t live without are wheat bread and sweets, so it’s always a good idea to bring something with. Later we ate reindeer meat in various dishes. Every time it was so delicious.

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reindeer meat

reindeer meat

Eating reindeer tendons

Eating reindeer tendons

A day of a Khanty or Nenets woman begins at 6 in the morning. She gets up, goes to the water well to fill in heavy buckets. To get water she has to break the ice first. Then she hacks wood outside to heat the oven, boils tea and cooks breakfast. At 8am her husband gets up. They have breakfast and he leaves for hunting or checking reindeer or fixing something in the yard. Lyudmila stays at home alone for a whole day now with her companion – Kisa, the cat. She cooks, knits, hacks wood again and brings more water. In the evening as her husband comes home he switches on the generator. Then the family can have electric light in house, charge their mobiles and watch TV.

Lyudmila and her cat are going to bring water from the well

Lyudmila and her cat are going to bring water from the well

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She has to break a layer of ice first

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On the second day Grigoriy took me to the pasture. In winter time reindeer graze far from home because they can’t walk in the deep snow in the forest. Again I sat on narty (sledge) holding them tight with both hands. This time I wasn’t as stressed as on my first day travelling in narty. I was getting used to this way of transportation

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 Meeting reindeer was one of the greatest moments of my journey. The animals were solemnly walking in the sunlit white tundra. Some of them were grazing, digging out yagel (moss) from snow. Others were lying, resting in peace. Tundra was completely silent. Grigoriy brought a sack of frozen fish – a special treat for the reindeer. Obviously, the animals knew that trick and came closer. No matter how hard I tried to lure them with a frozen fish, they wouldn’t come to close to me. Reindeer are wild animals, to use them for riding a man has to catch them first with a lasso. Then it takes time and special knowledge how to tame them.

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In winter (which in Tundra is a season from October till early May) reindeer are quite self-sufficient. May is a difficult month for a reindeer herder – this is when bears wake up. Still hungry a bear can kill all the calves in one day. A rein herder should watch his animals for 24 hours. By the way, bears are still sacred for the native Uralic people. They kill bears only as a big necessity, never for fun. After killing a bear there were long rituals of asking for mercy from a bear because the brown bear is a fore-father of humans according to Khanty’s and Mansi’s beliefs. As Grigoriy said – it’s useless to search and hunt for bears. If a bear is ready to leave this world he will come to you himself. Besides, you have to be a very skillful shooter to shoot a bear.

Grigoriy, Nenets, a reindeer hereder and a worker of the Numto Nature Park

Grigoriy, Nenets, a reindeer herder and a worker of the Numto Nature Park

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Having spent two days in the forest with the reindeer herders I was taken to the village of Numto on the shore of the sacred sky-lake. To be continued…

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