The Nenets navigation techniques: using the help of reindeer and dogs 

Adaev V.N. (Tyumen, Russian Federation)


                      page 133–141


This paper is a continuation of the planned study of the spatial orientation of the Nenets, initiated by emp-loyees of the Institute for the Development of the North Russian SB RAS (Tyumen) in 2014. Aspects of using animals for orientation and navigation have been undeservedly neglected by ethnographers, and this applies not only to the ethnography of the Nenets, but of northern peoples in general. The system approach used in this study involves consideration of the object of the research (system of orientation) in a broader context: in addition to the skills and techniques of reconnaissance, there has also been analyzed, inseparable from them, travel ’survival techniques’ — experience of settlement in difficult conditions, proven algorithm of actions which eventually allows a person to be on the right side of a problem. The objectives of the article are: 1) to prove that turning to the help of animals is indeed one of the most important components of the spatial orientation system of the Nenets; 2) to present the particular facts that the methods and techniques of the use of this aid is not so obvious and simple as it initially may seem. The materials presented in the paper show the widespread use of domestic animals for orientation and navigation by the Nenets. In case of need to find the way, they skillfully use the immediate assistance of animals as well as their deep knowledge of the biology of reindeer and dogs, that allows them to draw important conclusions about the location of various objects in an area. Herewith the Nenets not only carefully observe the behaviour of their animals, but also use special techniques, activating useful behaviour of reindeer and dogs for finding the way. Among the specific features of the Tundra Nenets (in comparison with the Forest Nenets) we can mention: a) more frequent resort to the abilities of reindeer than of dogs in the orientation; b) the practical difficulties with simultaneous use of both animals during a trip. In summary, it can be argued that the scope of traditional knowledge and traditions certainly deserves special attention in advanced studies of other ethnic groups, especially those who are hunter-gatherers and pastoralists.


Key words: wayfinding, Nenets, reindeer husbandry, dog breeding, Sibirian ethnography.


DOI: 10.20874/2071-0437-2016-32-1-133-141




V.N. Adaev

Institute of problems of development of the North Siberian Branch RAS, Malygina st., 86, Tyumen, 625003, Russian Federation