Nganasan

The Nganasans are one of the indigenous peoples of Siberia. They are the northernmost of the Samoyedic peoples, living on the Taymyr Peninsula by the Arctic Ocean. Their territory is part of Krasnoyarsk Krai. The self-designation is nganasa(n), meaning 'man'. The primal meaning of the root ngana is 'real', 'true', 'genuine' and frequently both are used together in ngano nganasan -- 'genuine (our) man'. Etymologically, the name derives from the same origin as Nenets and Enets. The above self-designation has only been in use since the 1930s and identification with it is not unanimous. The Avam or Western Nganasan call themselves generally nyaa ~ n'aa -- 'brother', The Nganasans are one of the indigenous peoples of Siberia. They are the northernmost of the Samoyedic peoples, living on the Taymyr Peninsula by the Arctic Ocean. Their territory is part of Krasnoyarsk Krai.

The self-designation is nganasa(n), meaning 'man'. The primal meaning of the root ngana is 'real', 'true', 'genuine' and frequently both are used together in ngano nganasan -- 'genuine (our) man'. Etymologically, the name derives from the same origin as Nenets and Enets. The above self-designation has only been in use since the 1930s and identification with it is not unanimous. The Avam or Western Nganasan call themselves generally nyaa ~ n'aa -- 'brother', 'fellow'. This has analogues in the Nenets and Selkup languages. To the east, the Vadeyev dialect uses the name as'a, meaning 'brother' but also 'Evenk' or 'Dolgan'. The prototype for this, osha, is found in the Evenki language.

The Nganasan vocabulary is mainly of Proto-Samoyedic origin. Contacts have occurred with all the neighbours and compared to its cognate languages, Nganasan has been under a strong influence from the Evenki and Dolgan languages.

The Nganasans have never had a written language. While Nenets has performed the functions of a regional second or common language, a lingua franca, Russian alone has served as the literary medium at school and in social life. A 1980 decree by the Central Committee of the CPSU and the Council of Ministers, concerning the promotion of economic and social welfare among the northern peoples yielded in 1988 a Nganasan literary language. N. Tereshchenko compiled the 41-letter alphabet based on Russian characters but unfortunately no data exists of its actual use. The initiative was extrinsic and not guided by practical needs.

The Nganasans are few in number - 834 (2002 Census). The census results, however, should probably be approached with some reserve. It is known that in 1959 a large number of Enets were registered as Nganasans, and erroneous registration in favour of one or another ethnic group may have occurred in instances after that as well. The near 20 percent fluctuation in the figures for native language speakers is quite inexplicable.

Anthropologically, the Nganasans are representatives of the Uralic race in which Mongoloid and Arctic traits dominate European. Due to their relative isolation they have scarcely mixed with other peoples, (this situation has changed in more recent times with incursions by the Dolgans and Russians). Nganasans are a short (men up to 160 cm), stocky people. They have a broad face with high cheekbones, a flat nose and the epicanthic fold. Hair and eyes are dark but the skin is relatively fair.

Their main occupations were fishing and hunting, with reindeer the main game. Frequently the Nganasans cooperated with the Enets in stalking and chasing game. Reindeer meat and fish were the basic food of the Nganasans, providing them with all necessary vitamins and minerals. A few domesticated reindeer were used as beasts of draught, however, the main draught animal was the dog. Conical tents (named chums), made by covering a frame of poles with skins, served for shelter and an open fire provided light and warmth. No European clothing or footwear was yet used.

Turning Points in Their History 17th c – the government agents and merchants of Tsar Mikhail arrive on the Peninsula of Taimyr. To facilitate the easy collection of the tribute, each Nganasan is supplied with 15 pails of liquor a year, the exploitation of their labour and natural resources begins;

1930s – the traditional Nganasan life-style is restructured according to the Russian example;

1960s – the previously nomadic Nganasans have become resident and are living by the common standards of the Soviet Union, their ethnic identity and traditions are disappearing.

Danger Signs The adaptation to their new life-style has brought great problems to the Nganasans. Many of them have been forced to take menial jobs, many others are unemployed. Alcoholism is widespread. Due to their poor heath or lack of education, few Nganasans are enlisted into the army. The Russian language and community are held in high esteem by the Nganasans, yet this is the community that repulses the Nganasans. Even the Russians who associate with the Nganasans are boycotted. The Nganasans have no right to voice their opinion regarding the administration of their economic and cultural affairs. There could be some hope for them to survive as a nation if an autonomous territory would be formed of the Avam and Khatanga regions.

Used materials:

Wikipedia: Nganasans

The Endangered Uralic Peoples

The Red book of the Peoples of the Russian Impire