Israeli documentary focuses on remote Siberian nomadic tribe

An Israeli team, using its unique technology, returned from a trip to Siberia where it documented the unique way of life and heritage of the Yamal-Nenets.

A team of Israeli researchers with the MyHeritage organization recently returned from Siberia as part of a mission to preserve the family histories of remote tribes.

Throughout the month-long journey, the team documented the stories of the Nenets people living in the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia, a unique nomadic herder tribe.

The trip to Siberia faced many challenges along the way, including extreme weather conditions and transportation issues, which made traveling to remote families very difficult. At the same time, the far reaches of Siberia provided a rare opportunity to document the exceptional family life and tradition of a tribe in a spectacular area, with the glow of the northern sky at night and a brilliant white glare as far as the horizon during the day.

The Israeli MyHeritage is the leading global destination for discovering, preserving and sharing family history. Its platform and DNA kits make it easy for anyone, anywhere to embark on a meaningful journey into their past and treasure their family stories for generations to come.

This was the third segment of MyHeritage’s Tribal Quest expedition, a unique mission launched by MyHeritage in early 2016 to document the family histories of tribal people around the world.

“Across a diverse range of cultures and backgrounds, our lives and family traditions are shaped by the generations that came before us, and we all have much to learn from our ancestors,” MyHeritage explains.

People living in remote locations with limited access to modern technology do not have the tools to digitize their rich family histories, which are often left unrecorded. MyHeritage’s goal is to help create a database of these invaluable stories before they disappear forever. By sending its teams to visit tribal communities around the world, MyHeritage is able to use tools it has developed to help preserve their family histories for future generations.

Previously, the MyHeritage team had visited tribal communities in Namibia and Papua New Guinea.

The Nenets

Deep in the Siberian wilderness, in the Yamal-Nenets region in the outskirts of Russia, a tight-knit nomadic people can be found. The Nenets are nomadic reindeer herders who have managed to keep alive for generations the most traditional and colorful culture of any nomadic group on the planet.

Yamal means “Edge of the World” in the language of the Nenets, and the Yamal Peninsula really does feel like it is on the outskirts of civilization.

One of the least famous, yet most important regions of the Russian Federation, with a territory around 1.5 times the size of France, the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District (YNAO) is located in the West Siberian North, just northeast of the geographic border between Europe and Asia. Today, there are more than 10,000 nomads who herd 300,000 domestic reindeer on the pastures of the Arctic tundra.

There are no trees in sight, and the reflection of the sun on the pristine white snow can be blinding. Herds of reindeer and sled are scattered all around.

The Nenets’ “chums” (nomadic tents) are covered with reindeer skin to act as shelter from the bitter cold. They dress in reindeer fur clothes and eat a diet high in protein of raw reindeer meat and fish.

During the trip, the Israeli researchers were able to witness the special relationship between the tribe and the reindeer they herd. Reindeer are the single most important animal in the region and are an integral part of this tribe’s lifestyle. Every aspect of Nenets life is dependent on reindeer, from food, transportation, clothing, religion, and trade. The reindeer migration patterns even dictate the movement of the communities. The Nenets migrate thousands of kilometers each year on hand-made, wooden, reindeer-drawn sledges in search of grazing.

Family Comes First

Inside the dimly lit and crowded chums, members of the tribe warmly welcomed the MyHeritage team into their families. For several weeks, the MyHeritage team lived with members of the Nenets tribe.

Golan Levi, MyHeritage UX Expert and founder of MyHeritage’s Tribal Quest initiative was amazed at how hospitable the Nenets were.

“The people we met were incredible. It was fascinating to see how important family is to them, how much they try to protect it. We lived in their midst, sat around the table together with them, and asked them to tell us what they knew about their family history and their traditions. They told us all about their ways of life and what they want to pass on to their children,” Levy shared. “The families we met understood the great importance of safeguarding their ancient and unique culture for future generations.”

Every meeting that delved into family history was documented and photographed. Collecting names and dates, along with the testimonies, was a complicated task. The team connected all of the pieces of individual testimonies, to build complete family stories.

MyHeritage was able build 13 family trees in Siberia with over 3,000 people in them, taking thousands of photographs and hundreds of hours of video footage, documenting the people, their daily life, their environment and the family unit.

“We are privileged to be able to use our innovative technologies to bring the benefits of genealogy to remote tribes who would otherwise have no access to such tools. We believe in the importance of recording diverse cultural heritage at risk of being lost and preserving it for future generations,” MyHeritage stated.

By: World Israel News Staff
(With files from MyHeritage blog and The Jerusalem Post)