Lena and her daughter Christina are standing at the entrance of their chum. Lena’s large belly is obvious under her dress, and there is no doubt that she is nine months pregnant.
Since the 1960s, Nenets women have been instructed to leave their tundra homes to give birth in a hospital. Lena’s mother was the first in the family to give birth in a hospital. Lena’s grandmother, Praskovya, gave birth to five children in her tundra home, assisted by elderly women from neighboring chums who were experienced with births and served as midwives. It was after this time that air transport for pregnant women to the city hospital was introduced.
“Learning how to survive in the world’s harshest climate and how to use every resource they have for survival while thriving is admirable.”
Documentary photographer Alegra Ally has dedicated her life to telling the stories of indigenous people around the world. Since she was a teenager, she has spent time with remote tribes in Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Namibia, and now Siberia. Thanks to a successful fundraising campaign on Kickstarter, Ally was able to journey to the Yamal Peninsula and join a family of nomadic reindeer herders as they made their annual winter migration.
As a champion of women, Ally was especially eager to tell the story of a Nenets woman on a journey to motherhood. For this visual documentation, her time centered around Lena, who was about to give birth in the midst of a migration that calls for the Nentsy to travel thousands of miles toward the Arctic Circle. Immersed in the harsh conditions of Siberia, Ally joined Lena and her family as they continued to keep their culture’s traditions alive.
The results of Ally’s two-month stay with the Nentsy paints an incredible picture of adaptation and survival. As time moves forward, this group adapts without losing its identity. The Nentsy, like any culture, are constantly changing, though it may not seem immediately apparent. Snowmobiles work in tandem with traditional sleds (helping the group move more easily without compromising their spirit) and women like Lena often give birth at the hospital now rather than relying on the experience of elders acting as midwives. But within these changes, traditions still thrive with family members carrying out the chores and duties that have informed Nenets culture for thousands of years.
For a full look at Ally’s time with the Nentsy, pick up a copy of her book, New Path—A Window on Nenets Life, published by Schilt Publishing. Read on for our exclusive interview with Ally, where she shares insider details about her experience with the Nentsy.[…]