Smoke over taiga and tundra: fire in the culture of Northern peoples of Western Siberia as a means of environmental management

Adaev V.N. (Tyumen, Russian Federation)


                  page 138147


The article describes burning practices used by native northern hunters-gatherers and reindeer herders of Western Siberia as a potential factor of impact on surrounding landscapes. In this sense, the research focuses primarily on aspects of practical importance in the fields of cultural ecology and ethnoarchaeology. Controlled burning of grass, shrubs, and deadwood has been a very effective landscape management tool, though not a common practice among northern natives of Western Siberia. It helped certain groups restore the productivity of berry bushes, attract wild ungulates and create better conditions for reindeer herding and travelling, as well as protect the territory from devastating forest fires. There are some Western Siberian ethnic groups which traditionally have had more freedom in the use of fire (Evenks) and others whose actions in this field have been rather rigidly regulated by traditional rules and beliefs (Ob Ugrians and Selkups). The Tundra and Forest Nenets probably combined their culture features with both of the mentioned groups. This allows us to suggest a version that a relatively freer use of fire is generally a typical feature of the nomadic population. Several areas were discovered in Western Siberia, where the peoples of the North had practiced intentional burning (or supposedly could do it) in order to obtain additional economic benefit from their lands the Konda river valley, the Upper Taz river area and the interfluve of the Demyanka and the Turtas. The local Khanty and Mansi groups of the Konda river valley adopted this use of fire from the neighbouring Siberian Tatars or Russians in 186070s. Simultaneously, it was also a real paradigm shift in the spheres of traditional beliefs and land use practices of the Ob-Ugrian communities. The last two areas mentioned were associated with local groups of Evenks, the people who were brought into disrepute in Siberia and the Far East as arsonists of the taiga. As ethnographic data shows, on the one hand, that was a prejudiced opinion, on the other hand, there were factors that contributed to its formation.


Key words: Siberian ethnography, human-modified landscapes, ethnic land-use practice, cultural ecology, ethnoarchaeology, indigenous knowledge.


DOI: 10.20874/2071-0437-2018-41-2-138-147




V.N. Adaev

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