Yamalo-Nenets People of Siberian Arctic
The Yamal Peninsula is one of the least famous, but most important regions of the Russian Federation. With a territory around 1.5 times the size of France, the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District (YNAO) is located in the West Siberian north, just northeast of the geographic border between Europe and Asia above the Arctic Circle. Today more than 10,000 nomads herd 300,000 domestic reindeer on the pastures of the Arctic tundra. Under those pastures are huge gas deposits holding almost a quarter of the world’s known reserves.
Shamanism is still practised in parts of the tundra but only in very small groups due to the fact that Shamans are often afraid of making themselves known to outsiders. Nenets have an animist belief system centred on the local deities that are represented by dolls that they carry on sacred sledges. Other dolls represent “copies” of ancestors, the most senior of which is the “old woman of the chum” who protects the domestic space. The dolls are kept in their own sleeping place in the chum and are sometimes fed vodka or blood when their help is needed. Several times a season the scared sledge is also anointed with freshly slaughtered reindeer blood, but on the whole the local deities should be left in peace. The Yamal tundra is also covered by a close network of sacred sites (usually to the far north) and the wooden dolls from the sacred sledges are sometimes exchanged in these places. The ancient Nenets ancestral knowledge is kept alive through folklore that is acted out in legends and songs. Such music uses no instruments and it was only the shamans who used drums to help them enter a trance-like state. Today, the whole sphere of folklore and storytelling is decreasing and learning these skills from the elders becomes a lower priority when compared to listening to modern music or reading modern literature.
source: BBC UK