Nganasan - History and Cultural Relations

Among the ancestors of the Nganasan there are descendants of the oldest of the northernmost populations of Eurasia—Neolithic hunters of wild reindeer whose presence on the peninsula has been established through archaeological finds dating from the fifth millenium B.C. The subsequent migrations and cultural innovations—related particularly to the domestication and herding of reindeer and the emergence of bronze casting—did not affect a basic economic tradition that was mainly oriented to the reindeer hunt until the eleventh century A.D. After that there follows a lacuna in sources up to the seventeenth century, when written documents related to the Russian conquest of Siberia and the imposition of a tax (Russian: iasak ) on the population of the peninsula begin to appear. In the eighteenth century, the Nganasan consolidated as a distinct ethnie group comprised of at least five different tribal groupings, including some Tungus speakers. The Nganasan pastoral areas to the south and east were adjacent to those of the Evenk and, to the west, of the Enets and Nenets. The Nganasan are culturally closer to the Enets. In subsequent centuries the Yakut penetrated the Taimyr Peninsula from the southeast, gradually assimilating the local Evenk. This gave rise to a new ethnic group, the Dolgan, which also included Russians. The Dolgan pushed the Nganasan yet further to the north. The southern areas remained unaffected and were controlled jointly by all inhabitants. From the seventeenth century on, the Nganasan gradually shifted to domestic reindeer herding, and by the beginning of the twentieth century they had become the wealthiest reindeer herders in the Taimyr area, preserving the traditions of hunters of the wild reindeer, particularly hunts by battue and hunts at river fords. After the establishment of Soviet power, kinship-based soviets were first established among the Nganasan, followed by nomadic and communal soviets as organs of self-government. The first state-controlled collective economic units were created in 1930. Between 1970 and 1983, in response to the rapid growth of wild reindeer herds, the Eastern Nganasan kept only one herd and the Western Nganasan lost all their domestic reindeer.

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