Komi reindeer herding: mobility and land use in a changing natural and social environment

Change log
Dwyer, Mark James 

Nomadic pastoralism is a form of animal husbandry characterised by movement. Herders and their animals move across the tundra and taiga displaying a curious dichotomous relationship of control by and response to each other. This field based research - carried out among Komi nomadic reindeer herders of the Russian far north - examines how Komi pastoral nomads choose a particular time, route and length of migration. This was explored by using anthropological as well as ecological methods to (i) identify how social and political change and environmental variability influence the reindeers’ and herders’ movements alike and (ii) examine how nomadic movements occur in relation to nonecological and ecological factors. It was found that there were essentially two types of human / animal movements; individual movements (made by the duty herder and his herd) and collective movements (made by the brigade). Both types of movement, in time and space, were fundamentally dependent upon herding skill and knowledge, and herd control: (a) the duty herder’s ability to maintain herd cohesion and (b) the general aim of preventing harm befalling the herd (by avoiding dangerous terrain). The duty herder’s selection of pastures was, therefore, made mainly according to where reindeer were the easiest to control. It was also found that individual movements could best be understood as emanating from the interplay between reindeer behaviour and the duty herder’s actions. This interplay is best described as being the duty herder’s skilful perception of and response to ethological changes, as advocated by Tim Ingold. Its main principle is based on the duty herder’s maintenance of herd cohesion, within a restricted territory, which has minimal impact upon reindeer behaviour, and which is achieved through skilful manoeuvring. Collective movements could best be described as a means of providing duty herders with the necessary space in which to manoeuvre their herds with the minimum recourse to herding techniques (such as grouping and re-grouping, stopping and turning the herd), and the avoidance of undesirable pasturing areas. Consequently, it is not by analysing the impact that individual factors have upon the nomadic collective (i.e., nomads and animals) as a whole, that nomadic pastoralist movement will be understood. A new model for analysing nomadic pastoralist movement - focusing on the interrelations between nomads and their animals and the impacts that individual factors have upon it - is proposed.


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Vitebsky, Piers
Rees, Gareth
Reindeer herding, Nomadic pastoralism, Komi
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge