- Apr 2017
The lure of a reindeer herding community was simple: the economic independence of herding, which was inherent in the Nenet community’s cultural practices, would serve as a fascinating study on the interplay between the lifestyle of an indigenous community and the ability for external forces to disrupt that lifestyle.
The genesis of reindeer herding carries intimate ties to the development and cultural realization of reindeer herding, as well as provide context for its eventual economic utility. The extensive presence of reindeer in Arctic regions serves as an initial observation towards their significance: today, approximately 3 million wild reindeer and 2 million domesticated reindeer exist, many of whom serve as the foundation of various indigenous communities. Over time, the relationship between reindeer and people has resulted in a “social contract” (Vitebsky, 27). The process of a mutually beneficial relationship, where materials are provided to the human and a subsequent dependency on domestication by the reindeer arises, the reindeer-human bond is formed and culturally embraced. This resulted in the emergence of the centrality of practices by herding community around the reindeer, including the ability to ride reindeer for transportation and the utilization of furs and antlers for communal clothing and materials. In today’s environment, these practices serve as the backbone for economic trade and commercialization of reindeer products and delicacies.
For more information on the history of reindeer herding as a central economic practice, refer to chapter 1 of Reindeer People. For more information on economic development, read
Piers Vitebsky, Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia (London: Harper Collins Publishers, 2005).