Nganasan - Orientation



Identification. The Nganasan are settled on the Taimyr Peninsula, which is part of the Taimyr (Dolgan-Nenets) Autonomous District ( okrug ), which, in turn, is part of the Krasnoyarsk Krai of the Russian Federation. The Nganasan thus lack national autonomy, living as migrants with the Dolgans and other distinct ethnic groups. Several isolated families live in the district capital of Dudinka, others in other regions of the Russian Federation.

Location. The Taimyr Peninsula is entirely above the Artic Circle, in the permafrost zone. The Nganasan, as pastoralists, hunters of wild reindeer, and reindeer herders, mastered the territory in the center of the peninsula between 69° and 76° latitude and today move north in the spring and south in the fall, following the reindeer migration. The basic routes run along the North Siberian plain, which is enclosed between the Byrranga Plateau in the north and the Putorana Mountain in the south. The northern limits of the migration east of Taimyr reached 77° N, skirting Lake Taimyr. Practically all of this nomadic territory was in the tundra, covered with many small lakes and the sinuous channels of rivers bordered by clumps of low-growing willows, alders, and dwarf birches. In winter the Nganasan drew near to the forested tundra, situated along the divide between the basin of the Piasin River and the small northern tributaries of the Kheta and Khatanga rivers.

The climate is very severe. In the "spring" (i.e., the beginning of July) the rivers open up; icing over in the autumn takes place about the middle of September in the southern part of this land. On the northern lakes the ice usually melts toward the end of August, but sometimes endures throughout the entire short summer. The average mid-January temperature in Dudinka is —28° C; in July it is 12.9° C. Strong winds are frequent. Polar night lasts 65 days; polar day, 83 days.

Today the Nganasan are almost entirely concentrated in three small villages. The Western group of the Nganasan live in Ust'-Avam and Volochanka. The Eastern group (Vad) live in the village of Novaia Demografiia.

Demography. According to the 1989 census, the population of the Taimyr Autonomous District (TAD) was 55,000, of whom about 16 percent were peoples of the North. The number of Nganasan in the Russian Federation is 1,262. In the TAD they constitute only 1.7 percent of the inhabitants. Since 1979 their number in the Russian Federation has increased by 420; 347 now live in cities, as against 83 in 1979. About 31.6 percent live beyond the boundaries of the TAD.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Nganasan language belongs to the Northern Samoyed Linguistic Group, together with Nenets and Enets. The Western Nganasan speak the Avam dialect and the Eastern, the Vad dialect. They are mutually intelligible. Samoyed, along with Finno-Ugric, is part of the Uralic Language Family. Nganasan lacked writing until recently. In villages the native language is still used among Nganasan in all spheres of life, and it is the language in which radio broadcasts are made. Today Nganasan is taught in school and an ABC book is being created. All Nganasan except the very old have a good command of Russian, and speakers of the Vad dialect also speak Dolgan.

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