This week’s readings on Vitbsky’s The Reindeer People had some very interesting things to say. The book as a whole was much unlike what we’ve been reading, as this was more of a story than a non-fiction, yet it was both, and made for an interesting read. The story is along the lines of this: A scholar is interested in the domesticated reindeer, and the people that came about it. He then visits, and ends up staying in a remote village, where literally the entire economy is centered around reindeer. Everyone who’s anyone works with the reindeer, or indirectly with the people that do.
The book starts off with some touching, essential details giving background information on the Eveny people, or these people that live in Siberia. He tells about the stories of the first following herds of wild reindeer, as well as domesticating them. The reindeer were so important to the Eveny people, as they had many stories on them, tattooed images of powerful reindeer on their bodies, and even dressed up horses as reindeer for sacrificial events. This comes to my first question I’ll be asking, as a co-leader of this week’s discussion: 1)What do you think made the reindeer so… immediate in the Eveny lifestyles?
As thousands of years and life progressed onward, we come to a time (in the book, that is) of communism in these lands. The Eveny ways are being “liberated” from Russian lifestyle, as they deemed these people as “backward” citizens. The even went as far as arrest Vitebsky for reading a book on Shamanism! They literally took over the herding of the reindeer, and conformed it to meet the needs of the controlling government, leaving very little to the inhabitants of the land (except for the able-bodied who worked on hearding these reindeer, they were offered decent pay, vacations, etc). It almost seemed, no, it DID seem that the government was almost forcing the entire labor force of that area to partake in herding the reindeer, strictly for the benefits.
Reading this striked up a few questions, which I would encourage anyone to comment on now, but we will be going over in class as well (since I am a discussion leader):
- Already said, but here I will expand: 1)What do you think made the reindeer so… immediate in the Eveny lifestyles? Could it have been another animal, should reindeer have never existed? Do you think the sacredness came before or after the domestication of the reindeer?
- What were some of the reasons the communist party wanted to rid the nomad way of life? Did classifying reindeer herding as strictly an “economic activity” have anything to do with this?
- What is the difference between the Eveny and the Sakha? (I honestly don’t know, so that’s why I’m asking, not as much as a discussion question, more for my benefit)
- Why do you think the Soviets were investing so much into reindeer herding in these areas? Why would they give benefits to these workers they deemed backwards, and gave prizes, cash, vacations, etc. to them?
- Could anyone explain the reasoning behind why the Eveny believe the animals were spiritually and psychologically more complex? What changes their views on reindeer to bears, birds, or other animals, including…
- Wolves!?! The Eveny own dogs, love and cherish them, as they do most animals, but when it comes to wolves, they have little to no sympathy. Why? Is it because of their ancestors who literally made it seem that wolves were competing with humans for meat?
- More about wolves: Many wolf metaphors came about this previously stated topic. One being the wolf who profits on you drinking their vodka, fighting, and doing dumb things. Who are the “wolves” of today’s world, more importantly, of our culture?
- Give me insights on the Bayanay, and how the Eveny people viewed him. Everything from accidental kill, to hunting, to killing for protection, what do you think the Eveny believe about his presence in all these situations?
- Dreams and animals seem to go hand in hand with this culture. What kind of ties with a person’s subconscious dream world about animals and their outside lives can you think of? I guess it’s all about how sacred the animals are in their culture, but would you go far enough to say that animals have domesticated these people as well, by basing their religion and culture around them?
There are plenty of things to talk about here, and I’m sure my co-leader will have many other points to bring up as well in class.