From the Reindeer Path to the Highway and Back – Understanding the Movements of Khanty Reindeer Herders in Western Siberia

Stephan Dudeck

Abstract


The following article explores the meaning of roads and the practices of movement for a small group of forest inhabitants in the Western Siberian lowlands on the middle Ob. The indigenous people known as the Khanty live as reindeer herders, fishermen and hunters in the midst of oil fields in the Surgut Rayon. The article examines their emic point of view opposed to the evaluation of the state administration.

Anthropological research can access the mobility of people in two ways. At first researchers map movement in physical and metaphysical time and space, they observe and record the practice of movement. The second important source for anthropological insight is what people say about their practices of movement and how they evaluate them and the spaces in which they move. The following article tries to show that these perspectives remain incomplete without a synthesis of both. The first perspective allows only for a functionalist classification and the second allows the researcher to be taken in by the black and white pictures of moral evaluations that render the complexity of everyday life invisible. Only a synthesis of both, a careful interpretation of indigenous narratives before the background of social and political circumstances let us understand the practices of movement we can observe in the everyday life of people.

Khanty reindeer herders try to build up a distance from the world of intruders and try to defend their autonomy in the forest. By accessing everyday practices and motivations instead of ready-made explanations it is revealed that the Khanty are not doomed to adapt to new situations, but they try to negotiate and manipulate them in their favour. The article tries to prove that one has to skip the objectifying approach to a hermeneutic one to grasp their abilities to do so.

Keywords


mobility; modernisation; indigenous resistance; narratives; Khanty

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ISSN (print) 1736-6518. ISSN (online) 2228-0987. JEF is a joint publication of the University of Tartu, the Estonian National Museum and the Estonian Literary Museum.