The Tundra Nenets ways of spatial orientation with the use of cardinal directions

Adaev V.N. (Tyumen, Russian Federation)


                  page 8998


The article refers to the larger research project on the traditional wayfinding techniques of the Tundra Nenets who are one of the nomad peoples who possess outstanding navigational abilities. The focus of the research project is the description of the Nenets navigational knowledge and experience, an assessment of its practical effectiveness and its correlation with the way of life of the tundra people. This paper presents the traditional Nenets ways of orientation with cardinal directions where the primary interest lies on revealing the characteristic features of this kind of navigational knowledge and techniques, and their dependence on the environmental and traditional worldview factors. When navigating, the Tundra Nenets rely both on cardinal directions and landmarks, and it is specifically the first of the mentioned methods that makes them able to envisage adequately their geographical location on a large scale, creating mental maps that are closely in accordance to real maps. It should also be taken into account that the traditional Nenets way of transmission of geographic information is primarily based on oral descriptions. The results of the research showed that: 1) the north-south axis is of primary importance for the navigation of the Tundra Nenets; 2) they possess detailed information about the annual and daily cycle of motions and relative positions of celestial objects though use only a few of them directly for the determination of the cardinal directions (mainly the Sun, the Moon, Venus and the Ursa Major constellation); 3) they also apply a variety of other methods to adjust their routes and the cardinal directions, based on observations of wind speed and direction, features of the snow cover, shapes of plants, bird activity, etc.; 4) Nenets preferences in the use of navigation devices they have rejected compass but rapidly became accustomed to satellite navigation systems is based on methods of their wayfinding system where determination of cardinal directions is inseparable from references to local landmarks.


Key words: Siberian ethnography, wayfinding, Nenets, anthropology of mobility, indigenous know-ledge, navigation systems.


DOI: 10.20874/2071-0437-2018-40-1-089-098




V.N. Adaev

Tyumen Scientific Centre of Siberian Branch RAS, Malygina st., 86, Tyumen, 625003, Russian Federation