Family, taiga and reindeer

"Family, Taiga and Reindeer" is part of our new article series titled "Cultures of the World".  Do you want to contribute? Contact us at

Catherine K. Kazamkina (Pokacheva), Khanty, born in 1955, from the "Elk clan".

Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District Yugra has existed since 1931. The Soviet Union began developing the North in a rapid pace - which had both a positive and negative influence on the lives of indigenous people living there.

On the one hand - it brought literacy and education - which led to the appearance of a local intelligentsia.

On the other hand, collective farming and industrial growth pushed indigenous people from their lands. In addition - the oil and gas extraction undermined the environmental situation - and today, the Taiga, which is the biggest biome in the world, has fewer game animals, and the number of river fish have been in a state of gradual decline.

The majority of the indigenous people now live in settlements built by the authorities, in exchange for state control over their once populated nomad camps. Young people are now trying to gain a foothold in the modern world, without relying on the native culture. This new way of living has led to many indigenous people not knowing their national language. Some, unable to find the meaning in a modern "new way of life", have faced problems adapting to the lifestyle.

Today, there is little that remains of the Khanty's Ob-Ugric culture, and it seems as if the documentation and in-depth study of its people is behind the cultures rate of decline.

Recently, however, there have been some signs of a recovery taking place - as some representatives of the Northern people are beginning to return to their roots - transforming their life into a new form by engaging in ethno-tourism, or becoming ascetics.

Nonetheless, despite the occasional tourist distraction, the Khanty families living here stay true to their native beliefs - and obey the old traditions of their people.

Every Khanty family that lives in the taiga has three camps specified for the different seasons: winter, spring and summer. Each camp provides the family with everything they need: a cottage for sleep, a deer enclosure, a utility room for keeping tools and so on.

Maxim V. Kazamkin, Khanty, born in 1996, from the "Bear clan". 

Most Khanty living the traditional lifestyle have to take on the role of ecologists and rangers. They clean up the forest after careless travelers, workers and hunters - and preserve the nature from outside violations.

Each family member has their own reindeer herd in the "main" family herd.

Khanty have also kept true to the religious beliefs of their ancestors, which they are reluctant to talk about - as it is seen as a deeply personal space. It’s reasonable to suppose that the fear stems from the Soviet-era - when many shamans were punished for "heresy".

Due to the special structure of the hooves, reindeers are able to easily run through the deep snow at high speeds.

Khanty hunting is not done for recreational purpose. For the Khanty - hunting means getting food on the table.

When headed somewhere, they always bring a gun. The illegal and often barbaric hunts, organized by non locals - has a detrimental effect on the lives of the indigenous people of the North.

Despite the constant hunt - the Khanty care about maintaining a sustainable population of wild animals. This is a crucial part of surviving in the wilds.

Fish is the Khantys main food supply. Like with other animals, it's quantity in the reservoirs is vital for the survival of life at the camp.

Anton V. Kazamkin, Khanty, born in 2009, from the "Bear clan".

The winter clothing is made of reindeer skin - and can withstand the most severe frosts.

The discovery of new oil deposits have narrowed the territory of bear migration, and it so happens that the bear trail from north to south runs directly through the the Kazamkinyh family’s camp.

"The owners of the forest" - which is how the Khanty refer to the Bears in the Taiga - often go searching for easy prey at their camp. This forces the Khanty to defend their reindeer herds.

Bears are considered sacred animals. If the hunters kill a bear, they honour it by throwing a bear festival. This is seen as a way to reconcile the soul of a bear with the hunter, in the hopes of that the bear wouldn’t bear a nag on his killer. The bones of bears are kept in a specific place (which the locals call a “bear lodge”). This small lodge is also considered to be sacred.

For the Khanty, the Taiga is like a “book” for survival. By “reading” and understanding "it", they receive all the necessary information needed to survive in these wild parts of  the North.

Raisa Arhipovna Pakacheva (Aipina), Khanty, born in 1969, from the "Beaver clan".

Taiga is a difficult place to live: In the winter the temperature drops to - 60 degrees, and the short and usually cool summer is plagued by insects.

A typical Khanty hut: log cabin, low doorways, a common room with a small storage area in front of it, two windows and a wooden floor, a ‘’podium’’ - also called “nara”.

Traditionally - the roof huts would be covered in deer skins for the winter, and birch bark for the summer - but today this practice has become too expensive.

This area used to be an oil field - which this bulldozed road used to lead to. In addition to thousands of fallen trees, the oil industry has inflicted extensive damage to the local ecosystem.

Rivers preventing vehicles to access the lucrative oil fields were filled with clay - similarly, populated native camps were removed without hesitation.

Vitaly Egorovich Kazamkin, Khanty, born in 1974, from the "Bear clan".

In the not so distant past - the Khanty used wooden arrows when hunting small game to prevent damage to the animal's skin.

In the Khanty - it’s often seen as impolite to speak of how many reindeer one owns.

In the summer, reindeer require special care in order to protect them from various blood-sucking insects, which leads to the Khanty setting up special "dens".

Anton V. Kazamkin, Khanty, born in 2009, from the Bear Clan.

Khanty know the in and outs of the Taiga to perfection. This is the place they have lived their whole lives, and the place their ancestors amassed centuries of experience “communicating” with nature. They can easily predict the weather by studying the stars, they are experts in animal behaviour, and much, much more.

There is a direct relationship between the Khanty settlements and the production of oil. Khant Vitaly explained the situation like this: Khanty always settled near rivers where there were fish in the winter. Fish, in turn, is found where there are deposits of oil. This makes sense because the oil has a higher temperature than water - and releases oxygen, which is essential for fish when living under the ice.

This means that oil is produced in the Khanty places of residence, from which, of course, they are then evicted.

Labaz - is a small hut on high stilts (which keeps wild animals from reaching the inside). These huts are used to store hunting gear, clothing, utensils, and meat.

Labaz and the area around it is considered sacred, and there is a firm belief that it’s bad luck to remove anything from it after dusk. This hut on stilts has become the prototype for many Russian fairy tales: “The Hut on chicken legs” and “Baba Yaga” (Labaz is also used to store religious idols).

Life in the forest makes these people have to solve a wide variety of problems. Which have adapted the Khanty to easily cope with any household task.

Khanty often drink tea - or “chaga” (birch fungus). This helps them get warm and keep on to warmth. It is also a quick way to have a snack.

A Khanty saying goes: "If you happen to cross a bears track - you have to drink some tea". This, they believe, shows the bear that the hunter does not hunt the bear in the means of satisfying his hunger.

Nelya V. Pyak, Nenets, born in 1974

In the family - Khanty children enjoy special respect and love, as there is a belief of transmigration of the souls of dead relatives into young infants.

Fyodor Telkov is a critically acclaimed photojournalist from Nizhny Tagil, Russia. Member of the Union of Photo Artists of Russia since 2008. He currently lives and works in Ekaterinburg, Russia.

- Winner of competition Fotocanal Photography BOOK 2016 (Spain, Madrid, 2016)
- Finalist of Photomuseum 2016 grant (Great Britain, London, 2016)
- Laureate of Andrei Stenin international press photo contest (Russia, Moscow, 2016)

You can see more of his work on lensculture and instagram. is looking for contributors!

Fremmed is an organization founded in February of 2016, with the purpose of spreading cultural awareness about immigration, as well as the exchange of ideas between Norwegians and immigrants in Norway.

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