Reindeer People

When I think of reindeers prance, dancer, and Rudolf are the first things to come to mind. The only “contact” I have had with the animals was in Norway this past semester. I went to a Christmas market and reindeer burgers were being sold along with moose and fish burgers. The thought of domesticating these animals seems strange and it was interesting how the novel couldn’t really determine how the process occurred either. I also thought it was interesting how the wild reindeer found today were thought to be impossible to domesticate, even when bred with a domesticated female. Have we changed the genes so much that the division between wild and domesticated is irreversible? This novel reminded me of goat song when it talked about the nomad lifestyle and how reindeer became commodity like animals within this time period. Is this just a natural part of the domestication process? The change from animal to commodity? The story told an interesting perspective of a domesticated species in a Communist political structure as opposed to the goats in a capitalist one. “This was my first inkling of the self-reliant and anarchic spirit that coexisted with the delicate discretion of traditional Eveny culture as well as with the nervous fear under Communism of doing anything that was not officially authorized.”

The relationship in the native cultures and the animals is far different than that of our domesticated species today. The hunters would say, “I obtained” some animal instead of glorifying the kill. Additionally, each part of the animal was used and distributed based on the family relationship. “If I deny a guest a share, that is the worst offense of all” The community aspect and the respect they had for the animals differs greatly from how we treat domesticated food animals.

3 thoughts on “Reindeer People”

  1. From what we’ve discussed in class, it does seem that turning an animal into a commodity is an essential part of the domestication of food animals. However in the case of the reindeer, I’m not sure that the impossibility of domesticating wild reindeer is because of change in their genes. I haven’t seen genotype profile comparisons, so I could be completely wrong on this, but I don’t think wild and domesticated reindeer are really that different genetically, just like feral cats aren’t really different from housecats, but it’s next to impossible to take a feral cat and try to domesticate it enough to live with humans. I think that the impossibility of domesticating wild reindeer really just means the enormity of work that would be involved, when compared to relative ease of breeding already domesticated reindeer.

  2. I think Corinne is right about domestic and tame reindeer populations being very similar in terms of their genetic make up, and the comparison with feral / “domestic” cats is a good one. I think it also works to take that a step further. The Eveni don’t even try to domesticate wild reindeer, but domestic reindeer can become wild pretty quickly.

  3. First, I’m very interested that you experienced real reindeer burgers. That’s so strange to me! I think it strikes me as odd because I picture reindeer as horses in our culture, and it would be very weird for us to eat horse burgers. Also, I’m really glad that you brought up the commodification of the reindeer. I was interested in this topic from Goat Song, and it was definitely on my mind all throughout this week’s reading. I like the comparison you made between communism and capitalism. In my opinion, Soviet communism doesn’t look at all like the communism laid out by Marx and Engels that was brought up in Goat Song. Based on this, I think the commodification of domesticated animals has been very similar in Soviet communism, American capitalism, and many other political structures in the world. I think Reindeer People does a good job of explaining the way our relationship with animals has shifted as humans have entered the modern era. I’m probably biased along with you on my desire to dive much further into the topic of political structures and their influence on domestication!

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