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The Eveny of Siberia

Franco Zecchin

The situation of nomadic people of Siberia had changed very quickly during this last years. After the Sovietisation, the native people of the Russian far north are facing today the new challenge of modernization: the opening to the market economy. The little plane took more than tree hours from Yakutsk, the capital of the Sakha Republic; tree hours of flight over the iced white tundra to land here, in Sakkyryr, a village of 1700 inhabitants at 150 km north of the Polar Circle. Here, between wooden houses and barracks under the snow, is possible to find the local administration, the primary and secondary schools, the little hospital, the police station, the emporium, a theatre, the electric and heating plants. It is the beginning of spring; the temperature (-36° C) is slowly growing. The sun is shining over desert and silent roads; the smoke coming out from the house chimneys shows that someone is living there. The economy of the region is based on reindeer herding, the only possible activity in this climate. The herders are Eveny, one of 26 "little peoples of the north", as the paternalistic Soviet terminology named the Northern Autochtonal Minorities. They are about 17.000 scattered in small communities across thousands of square kilometres, interspersed and mixed with settlement of other ethnic groups, almost Yakuts. Their region contain large resources of oil and gas, gold, diamonds and coal. This potential huge wealth attracted the interest of the industrial Soviet holding. Russian and other settlers poured into the region, in state farms and in labour camps. The Northern Minorities became a powerless minority in their own land. The fragile ecological system of the North could not withstand this environmental aggression. Parallel to industrialization was a process of Russification. The Soviet State promoted Russian language and culture above all the others. Native peoples were pressured to became as Russian as possible. Nomadic people were forced to settle. The small settlements of the Northern Minorities were declared "unprofitable" and amalgamated and relocated into larger villages. Traditional subsistence systems were destroyed in the lifetime of one generation. Vassili Gorohov is the chief of the local Administration and he is proud to be Even. He is optimist about the future. He said that after the privatisation of the herds, people found a lot of difficulties carrying on their activities without the State assistance; but they have to rely on themselves. - The reindeer herding is a healthy economy. Come back in five years and you will see ours progress.- Around the village, in a range of hundred kilometres, are sprinkled six reindeer-herders' camps where lives only men. Children and women are settled in the village, the children are going to school and the women are working as schoolteachers, storekeepers and accountants, jobs which allow them to look after the house. But at such low temperatures, the vegetation on which the reindeer graze grows back very slowly. In order to avoid overgrazing, the reindeer and their herders must move constantly over an annual circle of several hundred kilometres. As a result, the old form of nomadism as a way of life, in which the whole family migrated together, is condemned and eliminated. The social life is only in the village and herding become a worker's job like any other. To joint the encampment number six there isn't a easy road; Volodia drives for five hours mostly on the iced surface of a snaked river. Transportation in summer become more complicate and expensive: there are not road and often it is necessary to use the helicopter. There are a lot of men in the camp n° 6; Leonid (21) is one of the young that arrived with his narta, the woodmade sledge dragged by reindeer. He came from the camp n°1 and he is happy to joint his friends after long time of isolation. They are here for the spring round-up. Every year, in April, herders build a big corral where they keep more than a thousand of reindeer. Inside the corral Alexei count and mark the deer, he also check the animals health, weight and conditions Today will be a hard day of work for all the herder "brigade". Around twenty deer has been slaughtered. They have to be quartered and cleaned before the meat freeze. At night the wooden hut is full of hungry and tired men; Vera and Siura, two young women from the village, prepare hot tea and reindeer soup for them. Konstantin (64), as others old herders, prefer the ancient system, -With the Communism there were more State assistance. Today we are poorer. -But the young are looking at the night television serial. They had switch on the generator to provide the electricity to the TV set and the satellite antenna. -The people of the North, doomed to assimilation, still did not become hostile to bearers of the "highly developed" civilization. They preferred to accept this aggression inside and not to oppose evil with violence. A a result, the number of suicide and those killed in accidents in Yakutia is many times higher than the average figures on Russia.- said Uliana Vinokurova, an ethnopsycologist member of the Sakha Parliament. She is worried about the future. - The Eveny are losing their language and their traditions without which their very survival is doubtful. - She add. -Social values were regulated by common law based on public influence through such levers as honesty and shame. The concept of advantage does not exist in the northern moral standards. Therefore imposition of market-oriented capitalist relations on them is tantamount to uprooting the notions of honesty and shame from their moral code.- Encampment n° 5. Working the wood with an axe, Viktor (53) is making a new "narta ". His son Alioscia (20) will use it to run the sledge race during the spring festival. The festival is a way the Eveny use to clear a sense of their own identity through a return to their cultural roots. During the night the reindeer are constantly on the move in search of food. The snow protects the fragile moss from destruction by hooves and feet, but leave it accessible to a deer's foraging snout. To be near the herds, Viktor spent the night sleeping in the tent, alone in the freeze taiga. Viktor is a proud and cleaver man, but when he came to the village he drink too much vodka and his life became an nightmare. Alcohol is not the only problem of this sub-arctic region; oil, gas and mineral extraction provoke the environmental degradation of lakes, rivers and pastures; the contamination caused by the testing of nuclear weapons have caused a spectacular rise in cancer among the younger generations. The devastating activities of industries in the North is caused neither by any special intention to harm the native people, nor by their ecological ignorance, but by the way the economic system itself works. - The herders economy is too weak to face the industrial giants - said Raissa Dimitrivna(27), a young Even public officer -The local administration is very interested in what is built on its land but has no rights. The result is that the only way to affect the final decision in these cases is through publicity.- Her father, Egor (62), don't like the village life; he prefer to live in the taiga, following his deer.
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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0029904

Campement N° 5, Sakkyryr, Yakutia, 1996. Un animal vient d'être tué. Les rennes sont la raison d'être des Èvènes. Leur viande et leur lait les nourrissent, leur peau les réchauffe, leurs épaules les transportent.

Sakkyryr, Yakutia, Russie, fédération de - 03/03/1996


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0029905

Sakkyryr, Yakutia, 1996. Jeu de lasso durant la fête du printemps. Ce festival traditionnel, où les communautés se ressourçaient après la longue séparation de l'hivernage, revit aujourd'hui, après la perestroïka, pour affirmer l'identité évène.

Sakkyryr, Yakutia, Russie, fédération de - 03/03/1996


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0252176

Sakkyryr, Yakutia, 1996. Chasseurs, pêcheurs mais, avant tout, éleveurs de rennes, les Èvènes vivent dans les immenses et rudes solitudes boréales où ils affrontent des températures de -50°C.

Sakkyryr, Yakutia, Russie, fédération de - 00/00/1996


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0252088

Campement n° 6, Sakkyryr. Durant les longs hivers, les éleveurs alors dispersés suivent en traîneaux, les narta, les migrations des rennes. Soudainement, pour le plaisir, des courses s'engagent, où chacun teste son attelage en vue du festival du printemps.

Sakkyryr, Yakutia, Russie, fédération de - 00/00/0000


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0252110

Campement n° 5, Sakkyryr, Yakutia, 1996. Un enfant confectionne des petites poupées représentant des éleveurs et des rennes. Attachement à la vie rude mais harmonieuse dans la taïga.

Sakkyryr, Yakutia, Russie, fédération de - 00/00/1996


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0252118

Campement n° 5, Sakkyryr. Deux jeunes bergers ont délaissé pour quelques jours leur tente pour une hutte en rondins construite sur le parcours des rennes. Ils se réveillent pour une dure journée, passée à surveiller le troupeau.

Russie, fédération de - 03/03/1996


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0252106

Sakkyryr. Fillettes évènes et poupées russes. Une rencontre symbolique de l’histoire de ce peuple sibérien, profondément bouleversée par la conquête et la domination du régime soviétique.

Russie, fédération de - 03/03/1996


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0252168

Sakkyryr. La scolarisation des enfants, disloquant les familles, a été un élément redoutable contribuant à briser la vie nomade. Les mères les ont suivis dans les villages, séparées pour de longues périodes de ceux des hommes restés éleveurs.

Russie, fédération de - 03/03/1996


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0252094

Sakkyryr. Dans le jardin d’enfants. Pour beaucoup de familles, les vacances d’été sont le seul moment pour se réunir dans la taïga, près de rivières où l’on aime piéger les saumons et cueillir les baies sauvages.

Russie, fédération de - 03/03/1996


Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0029903

Sakkyryr, Yakutia, 1996. Raissa Dimitrivna au travail dans le bureau local d'administration. Le rassemblement des rennes était une activité familiale, mais aujourd'hui les femmes et les enfants sont presque entièrement absents. La plupart des femmes travaillent au village dans des secteurs de service grandissants.

Sakkyryr, Yakutia, Russie, fédération de - 03/03/1996