Traditional Polar Transportation Seen from Within the Culture

Evald Geust during seal hunt

A new science paper captures two very significant regional cultural practices from Snowchange collaborations. Unassisted seal hunts from the Kvarken area and extended reindeer nomadism from Lower Kolyma, Siberia are captured in the inquiry. The words and knowledge of the people who took part in these significant journey convey messages of the polar regions under change. Included are also reflections on the Maori trips to the Antarctic regions.

This paper explores cultural narratives and oral histories related to two examples of traditional northern transport – long seal hunting journeys in the Baltic region, and nomadic reindeer travel in northeastern Siberia. Ample material has been collected and reviewed regarding means of non-motorised transport in the polar regions. However, scientific literature concerning the experiences and perspectives of the Indigenous and traditional community members who took part in these journeys remains scarce.

This article explores the recorded narratives of two people involved in the journeys described. It assesses how these long distance travels form significance, meaning, observations and belonging to landscapes for these people. This analysis reveals that, rather than inhabiting northern ice and tundra scapes that are often described as barren and devoid of life, seal hunters and reindeer herders live in story-scapes rich in meaning. The sacred places, surrender to ice flow dynamics and ways of living ‘inside’ northern habitats that emerge from these testimonies offer a skeleton key for re-reading the misunderstood homelands of arctic and tundra communities.

The paper is available here.

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