Nenets people

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Ненэй ненэче
Nenets Child.jpg
Nenets child
Total population
(44,857 (2010 Census))
Regions with significant populations
 Russia 44,640[1]
 Ukraine 217[2]
Nenets, Russian, Komi
Shamanism, Orthodox Christianity
(Russian Orthodox Church)
Related ethnic groups
other Samoyedic peoples



The Nenets (Nenets: ненэй ненэче, Russian: ненцы), also known as Samoyeds, are an indigenous people in northern arctic Russia. According to the latest census in 2010, there are 44,857 Nenets in the Russian Federation, most of them living in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug and Nenets Autonomous Okrug. They speak either the Tundra or Forest varieties of Nenets.


In Russian ethnographic literature of the 19th century, they were called "Самоядь", "Самодь", (samoyad', samod', samodijtsy, samodijskie narody) which was often transliterated into English as Samodi.

The literal morphs samo and yed in Russian convey the meaning "self-eater", which appears as derogatory. Therefore, the name Samoyed quickly went out of usage in the 20th century, and the people bear the name of Nenets, which means "man".

When reading old Russian documents, it is necessary to keep in mind that the term Samoyed was often applied indiscriminately to different peoples of Northern Russia who speak related Uralic languages: Nenets, Nganasans, Enets, Selkups (speakers of Samoyedic languages). Currently, the term "Samoyedic peoples" applies to the whole group of different peoples. It is the general term which includes the Nenets, Enets, Selkup, and Nganasan peoples.


The Nenets language is on the Samoyedic branch of the Uralic language family, with two major dialects, Forest Nenets and Tundra Nenets.[3] Between 26,500 and 27,000 people in Siberia speak the language.[4] Ethnalogue cites that in Siberia, Russian Federation, most young people are still fluent in Nenets, whereas in the European areas they tend to speak Russian. Overall, the majority of speakers are from older generations. UNESCO classifies it as an endangered language.[5] Some believe that the use of Russian and Komi is due to inter ethnic marriages.[6]

History and way of life

A group of Nenets in Dudinka
Nenets family

There are two distinct groups of Nenets stricto sensu based on their economy: the Tundra Nenets (living far to the north) and the Khandeyar or Forest Nenets. A distinct group of Nenets who are of Caucasian appearance (Yaran people) has emerged as a result of intermarriages between Nenets and the Izhma tribe of the Komi peoples.

The Samoyedic languages form a branch of the Uralic language family. They moved (from farther south in Siberia) to the northernmost part of what later became Russia before the 12th century.

They ended up between the Kanin and Taymyr peninsulas, around the Ob and Yenisey rivers, with only a few of them settling into small communities like Kolva. Their main subsistence comes from hunting and reindeer herding. Using reindeer as a draft animal throughout the year enables them to cover great distances. Large-scale reindeer herding emerged in the 18th century. They bred the Samoyed dog to help herd their reindeer and pull their sleds, and European explorers later used those dogs for polar expeditions, because they have adapted so well to the arctic conditions. Tundra wolves can be a source of considerable economic loss, as they prey on the reindeer herds which are the livelihood of some Nenets families.[7] Along with reindeer meat, fish is a major component in the Nenets' diet. Nenets housing is conical yurt(mya).

They have a shamanistic and animistic belief system which stresses respect for the land and its resources. They had a clan-based social structure. The Nenets shaman is called a Tadibya.

After the Russian Revolution, their culture suffered due to Soviet collectivisation policy. The government of the Soviet Union tried to force the nomadic Samoyeds to become sedentary. They were forced to settle in villages and their children were educated in state boarding schools, which resulted in erosion of their cultural identity. Many, especially in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug lost their mother tongue and became assimilated. Since the 1930s, a few Nenets have come to express themselves through professionalized cultural media. For instance, Tyko Vylka and Konstantin Pankov became well-known painters. Anna Nerkagi is one of the most celebrated Nenets writers. Yuri Vella, though living as a reindeer herder, has become the first writer in the Forest Nenets language.


Environmental damage to the Nenets' ancestral land is significant due to industrialisation of their land, colonization and climate change.[8] Because of the expansive gas and oil industry, reindeer pastures are shrinking, and some regions, such as the Yamal Peninsula are overgrazed, further endangering the Nenets way of life. It is documented that global warming and climate change affect nomadic Nenets reindeer herders, as certain lands they need to cross to follow migration patterns are only accessible during winter.[9] Earlier spring melts compounded by delayed autumn freeze, affect the reindeer and herders ability to traverse the frozen tundra.[10] The Arkhangelsk-based medical doctor, Leonid Zubov, has documented how this disables Nenets peoples access to medical facilities, causing them to wait until the next snow season for medical attention.[11]

See also


  1. "Информационные материалы об окончательных итогах Всероссийской переписи населения 2010 года". Retrieved 18 May 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. [1] (Ukrainian)
  3. "Nenets: A language of Russian Federation". Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Ethnologue. Retrieved 23 November 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Omniglot: the online encyclopedia of writing systems and languages. "Nenets (Ненэця' вада / Nenėcjaˀ vada)". Retrieved 23 November 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Janhunen, Juha; Salminen, Tapani. "UNESCO Red Book on Endangered Languages: Northeast Asia". Retrieved 23 November 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Games, Alex (2007), Balderdash & piffle : one sandwich short of a dog's dinner, London: BBC, ISBN 978-1-84607-235-2<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Heptner, V. G. & Naumov, N., P. (editors) Mammals of the Soviet Union Vol.II Part 1a, SIRENIA AND CARNIVORA (Sea cows; Wolves and Bears), Science Publishers, Inc. USA. 1998. ISBN 1-886106-81-9
  8. Forbes, Bruce C. (1999). "Land use and climate change on the Yamal Peninsula of north-west Siberia: some ecological and socio-economic implications". Polar Research. 18 (2): 367–373. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Davydov, Alexander N.; Mikhailova, Galina V. (2011). "Climate change and consequences in the Arctic: perception of climate change by the Nenets people of Vaigach Island". Global Health Action. 4. doi:10.3402/gha.v4i0.8436. PMID 3217310. Retrieved 23 November 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "The Nenets of Siberia". Survival International. Survival International. Retrieved 23 November 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Berg-Nordlie, Mikkel: Upcoming Deluge or False Prophecy? Climate Change Debates in the Russian North The NIBR International Blog, 16.06.2011
  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. Missing or empty |title= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links