To keep up with their herds of migrating reindeer, the Nenet people of northern arctic Russia move their camps every few days. This arduous process, including packing, travel, and rebuilding shelter in the cold, requires teamwork and coordination. The Nenet chum (pronounced choom), a large tent or yurt built with wood poles and reindeer hides, keeps the nomads warm in temperatures as low as -50°C (-58°F).
This 32-minute long Institute of Nomadic Architecture video documents the 40 to 45 minute process it takes “to get from the open snows to a warm cosy home.” It is built for two families, one on each side of the chum, with a stove in the middle and inner tents that create warmth for sleeping.
“Tell me what you think,” poses IoNA’s Gordon Clarke in the captions. “Could you live as two families in one tent? Could you move every four days?” From the video notes:
After staying in the wooded taiga for two months they start to migrate north following the ancient paths of migrating reindeer (caribou). In four months they will travel up to 1200km and must pack and move every three to five days to keep up with their herd. They must reach their summer quarters before the snows melt and flood great rivers with icy waters too cold and deep for the calves, born along the way, to cross.
Though interspersed with ads that support the channel, the video is akin to slow television. Captioning describes the tent structures, as well as the gender roles of the Nenet people and cultural significance that parts of the tent carry. Sounds from the tundra build are accompanied by quiet music. From Clarke:
In answer to the many questions – on personal hygiene, everyone washes using a bowl of soap and hot water, just like most of our grandparents did before everyone had pipes and taps. There is no toilet in the tent as some have suggested, they find a spot a few hundred metres away. They are not pitching on a lake but a small mound where the snow blows a little thinner, Gas companies have been in the area and gave away snowmobiles as part of land access negotiations. Also sometimes there are competitions with them as prizes, sometimes they sell a load of reindeer and buy one. Most families now have at least one but the reindeer are still used a lot. Yes, they use a sled to go to town, or trading posts to buy groceries.
The UK-based YouTube channel appears to be a treasure trove of videos documenting the “sustainable houses built out of ancient traditions which fit perfectly to the ecologies and cultures of their occupants.” Learn more at Nomads.org.
Then watch these related videos, including videos about shelter, nomads, families, the arctic, and reindeer:
• How nomads put together a ger (or yurt)
• What Are Tundras?
• Thousands of reindeer take an epic journey across Lapland
• How to Build an Igloo (1949) – National Film Board of Canada
• Amish Barn Raising: Building a barn in one day
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