The Mansi reindeer herding as a strategy of sustenance: factors of origin and decline

Abramov I.V. (Ekaterinburg, Russian Federation)


                  page 104–113


This article examines the phenomenon of nomadic reindeer herding in the Severnaia Sosva river basin. This kind of reindeer herding was borrowed from the tundra nomadic Nenets and widely spread in the taiga zone due to its potential as a new strategy of sustenance. The rapid economic development of the region in the XVIII–XIX centuries intensified the fur industry, which also stimulated the introduction of reindeer sledge as the optimum system of movement in the snow period. Thus, due to reindeer herding the Mansi of the Severnaia Sosva basin received a means of transport. There was a specialization of some households: «mobilization» that has led to some reconfiguration of settlement network and economic migrations. The reindeer mobility contributed to the establishment of close cooperation between the traditional types of land usage and contributed to the cultural and ethnic integration in the Severnaia Sosva basin. The reindeer mobility fully provided social communication in winter, ubiquity and increasing speed of communications facilitated extensive cultural contacts with the neighboring territories. The communication network based on reindeer mobility could act as a safety contour at crisis, which preserved variability of adaptation strategies. The system of reindeer mobility after several stages of reforms in the Soviet period lost its transport function. Skin and meat production of reindeer herding (Komi type) was a major and technically developed area, while social and cultural functions of the reindeer herding for indigenous peoples were ignored. The planned economy demanded only large reindeer herd economy of the Komi and small and disperse reindeer husbandry of the Mansi declined. The last private Mansi reindeer herding farms curtailed nomad practices in 1990-s due to the collapse of the socio-economic system of the district, part of which they were. The way of life of a reindeer herder was non-prestigious and difficult for the youth who grew up in Soviet villages. Social and economic network, based on reindeer mobility, did not receive an adequate replacement in the Soviet period, mechanized personal transport is still not affordable to everybody. It turned out that even a snowmobile can provide previous coverage of the space. Vehicles generally involve completely different ways of interaction between people and space. Paradoxically, the cultural isolation of the indigenous peoples of the Severnaia Sosva (Mansi, Komi, Nenets) to the end of the twentieth century increased, although they began to live in large multiethnic villages provided with telecommunications.


Key words: reindeer herding, mobility, Mansi, Severnaia Sosva, social network, sustenance.


DOI: 10.20874/2071-0437-2017-39-4-104-113




I.V. Abramov

Institute of History and Archaeology of Ural Branch RAS, S. Kovalevskoy st., Ekaterinburg, 620990, Russian Federation