Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia

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9780007133635: Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia

A voyage of discovery into the life of a remote aboriginal community in the Siberian Arctic, where the reindeer has been a part of daily life since Palaeolithic times.

The reindeer, along with the dog, was probably the first species to be drawn into a close relationship with man. This book, by an eminent British anthropologist, is the beautifully written story of how that relationship works and of the intimacy between the nomadic reindeer people and the landscape they inhabit. What to the Western eye looks like a vast, uninhabited Arctic wilderness is in fact filled with animals, humans and spirits – and the memory-traces of their interactions down the ages.

No other Western author has had such access (since before the Cold War ended) to these distant regions of the Siberian taiga. Living and travelling with the reindeer people over a period of a dozen years, Piers Vitebsky has seen how, first, Communism and collectivisation threatened the way of life of the nomadic tribesmen, and then the marketplace continued to transform their existence. Through all the changes of the late 20th-century the reindeer has retained its central place in the physical and spiritual life of the people. The book is also a celebration of human love at an elemental level.

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Review:

‘Remarkable.’ Financial Times

‘Like all the finest anthropology, this book entertains readers with descriptions of an alien culture, only to imbue them with a deeper sense of common humanity.’ The Times

‘If you read one book this year on a subject you never suspected would grab your attention and hold it through 400 deeply researched and elegantly written pages, read “Reindeer People”. It will grip and enlighten anyone…Like the reindeer themselves, this book take wing.’ Daily Telegraph

‘A tender and highly personal piece of anthropology.’ Daily Mail

‘So intimate, so revealing and so moving…This book is required reading.’ The Moscow Times

From the Back Cover:

For thousands of years, the reindeer's extraordinary adaptation to cold has sustained human life over vast tracts of the earth's surface. Images of flying reindeer carved into rocks and tattooed on the skin of ancient mummies illustrate one of the great mysteries of prehistory - the 'reindeer revolution', in which Siberian native peoples tamed and saddled the reindeer they had previously hunted.

Piers Vitebsky, the first westerner to live with Siberian reindeer people since the Russian revolution, enters the inner world of Eveny nomads and follows their migrations over the swamps, ice-sheets and mountain peaks of the coldest inhabited region of the world. Against a backdrop of political meetings, sledge races, helicopter mercy flights, Gulag prison survivors and reindeer sacrifices, the reader experiences the humour, wisdom and passion of a gallery of unforgettable personalities.

Soviet rule aimed to 'civilise' the reindeer people by subjecting them to productivity plans, killing their shamans and replacing their values of self-reliance and mutual help with the formalised ethics of communism. As the Eveny adapt to a new social order today, they still turn to the animal which moulds every aspect of their lives, from their economy to the intimate world of their dreams.

Reindeer People is a vivid and moving testimony to a Siberian native people's astonishing endurance at the ecological limits of human existence, as well as a frank account of how the author's own encounters with humans, animals and spirits over nearly two decades have changed his own life and the life of his family.

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