Nenets family in their tent.
|Regions with significant populations|
|Predominantly † Orthodox Christianity
(Russian Orthodox Church)
|Related ethnic groups|
|other Samoyedic peoples|
The Nenets (Nenets: ненэцяˮ, Russian: ненцы), also known as Samoyeds, are an indigenous people in northern arctic Russia. According to the latest census in 2002, there are 41,302 Nenets in the Russian Federation, most of them living in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug and Nenets Autonomous Okrug. They speak either the Tundra or Forest varieties of Nenets.
Due to a false etymology,1 the name Samoyed entered the Russian language as a corruption of the self-reference Saamod, Saamid (the Samoyedic suffix "-d" denotes plurality). It is the same as Saami (formerly Lapps or Lapons) in Finland, and Suomi, the Finnish name of Finland. In Russian ethnographic literature of the 19th century, they were also called "Самоядь", "Самодь", (samoyad', samod', samodijtsy, samodijskie narody) which was often transliterated into English as Samodi.
The literal morphs samo and yed in Russian convey the meaning "self-eater", which appears as derogatory. Therefore the name Samoyed quickly went out of usage in the 20th century, and the people bear the name of Nenets, which means "man".
When reading old Russian documents, it is necessary to keep in mind that the term Samoyed' was often applied indiscriminately to different peoples of Northern Siberia who speak related Uralic languages: Nenets, Nganasans, Enets, Selkups (speakers of Samoyedic languages). Currently, the term "Samoyedic peoples" applies to the whole group of different peoples. It is the general term which includes the Nenets, Enets, Selkup, and Nganasan peoples.
Nenets are just a part of the Samoyedic peoples. Sometimes their name is spelled as Nenet because of the erroneous assumption that the terminal 's' is for the plural number.
Some 27,000 people speak the language.2
There are two distinct groups based on their economy: the Tundra Nenets (living far to the north) and the Khandeyar or Forest Nenets. The third group Kominized Nenets (Yaran people) has emerged as a result of intermarriages between Nenets and the Izhma tribe of the Komi peoples.
They ended up between the Kanin and Taymyr peninsulas, around the Ob and Yenisey rivers, with only a few of them settling into small communities like Kolva. Their main subsistence comes from hunting and reindeer herding. Using reindeer as a draft animal throughout the year enables them to cover great distances. Large-scale reindeer herding emerged in the 18th century. They bred the Samoyed dog to help herd their reindeer and pull their sleds, and European explorers later used those dogs for polar expeditions, because they have adapted so well to the arctic conditions. Tundra wolves can be a source of considerable economic loss, as they prey on the reindeer herds which are the livelihood of some Nenets families.3 Alongside with reindeer meat, fish is a major component in the Nenets' diet.
After the Russian Revolution, their culture suffered due to Soviet collectivisation policy. The government of the Soviet Union tried to force the nomadic Samoyeds to become sedentary. They were forced to settle in villages and their children were educated in state boarding schools, which resulted in erosion of their cultural identity. Many, especially in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug lost their mother tongue and became assimilated. Since the 1930s, a few Nenets have come to express themselves through professionalized cultural media. For instance, Tyko Vylka and Konstantin Pankov became well-known painters. Anna Nerkagi is one of the most celebrated Nenets writers. Yuri Vella, though living as a reindeer herder, has become the first writer in the Forest Nenets language.
Environmental damage is significant due to the industrialisation of their land. Because of the expansive gas and oil industry, the reindeer pastures are shrinking and overgrazing of certain areas in some regions (Yamal Peninsula) have further endangered the Nenets way of life. It has also been documented that climate change is causing problems for nomadic Nenets reindeer herders, as certain parts of the land they need to cross is only accessible in winter - which now comes later and leaves earlier. The Arkhangelsk-based medical doctor Leonid Zubov has documented that this sometimes causes Nenets people to lose access to medical facilities, as they are "stuck" in the wilderness for longer periods of time (waiting for the snow) and have to leave the villages earlier (before the snow melts).4
- Games, Alex (2007), Balderdash & piffle : one sandwich short of a dog's dinner, London: BBC, ISBN 978-1-84607-235-2
- Heptner, V. G. & Naumov, N., P. (editors) Mammals of the Soviet Union Vol.II Part 1a, SIRENIA AND CARNIVORA (Sea cows; Wolves and Bears), Science Publishers, Inc. USA. 1998. ISBN 1-886106-81-9
- Berg-Nordlie, Mikkel: Upcoming Deluge or False Prophecy? Climate Change Debates in the Russian North The NIBR International Blog, 16.06.2011
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press
- UNESCO Red Book on endangered languages
- Endangered Uralic Peoples
- Jarkko Niemi: The types of the Nenets songs. 1997
- Minority languages of Russia on the Net
- The Red Book of the peoples of the Russian Empire
- Historic-demographic note on the Nenets of the Komi Republic
- BBC: Nenets Tribe
- Photos of Nenets reindeer herders