Karina Suominen in Nenetsia
Karina Suominen, a student of the study of religions from Helsinki, prepared her Master’s thesis in a Nenets village in autumn 2000.
“Weeks and months pass. They also pass here in the village of Bugrino, even though to most people the place is totally unknown. I have been sent letters here also for the reason that people want to prove that the place actually exists. At times Bugrino really is like something from a storybook: Temperature eight degrees below zero, the sun setting and the sky pink; light smoke and the smell of reindeer soup wafting above the tree rows of houses in the village. The snow squeaking on the wooden walkways when people walk along and smile with slight bafflement at my unfamiliar face. But they do reply 'An dorova’ when I dare to greet them first.
Life is not from a storybook and there is not always pink smoke wafting in the Bugrino sky. ‘Our life is no poetry,’ said Martta the librarian when we had been dragging coal from half a kilometre away along slippery walkways. People work hard for heating and water, but the subzero temperatures still freeze the windows so that you cannot see in or out through them. Eventually, winter proper arrives and the windows are covered fully in snow.
Winter is late this year. People are looking forward to snow and frost to arrive and cover the mire, so that it will be easier to move around and that they will be able to source food. Reindeer herders are waiting for snow on the tundra so that it will be easier for reindeer to come to the slaughtering site in the village. The villagers are keen for the slaughtering to commence, as they are running out of meat. They are eating preserved fish. The slaughtering takes a month: it provides enough meat for the entire winter, all the way until May–June.
The language situation is difficult. You can see here how quickly a language can die and how hard it is to revitalise. The youngest speakers of Nenets are 30-year-olds. Their children will not, however, know their parents’ language: ‘What do we need it for? We live in Russia!’ Remote online teaching has started in the Naryan-Mar boarding school. Time will tell whether it helps. At least it is something more than just a shrug of the shoulders.”