For her series, New Path, documentary photographer and anthropologist Alegra Ally travelled to the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia to study and document the Nenets way of life.
For thousands of years, indigenous Nenets have lived nomadic lifestyles herding reindeer across the Yamal Peninsula in the Russian Arctic. The Khudi family is one of 12,000 Nenets still migrating the same routes as their ancestors have done for centuries.
By following the Khudi family, Ally opens a window on Nenets life today, highlighting how they have adjusted to modern life, how their culture evolved in light of recent resource extraction developments, globalisation, climate change – factors which both enrich and threaten their collective identity.
The journey takes another dramatic turn as Lena – nine months pregnant – prepares for giving birth while the family needs to continue their annual winter migration in order to ensure the future of their herd of 800 reindeer. The birth saga thus becomes emblematic of the struggle for survival of the culture.
Currently living in Sydney, Australia, Ally has spent the last eight years dedicating her work to project Wild Born, to document and revitalise through ethical photography the traditional practices and beliefs of major life events of indigenous women such as rite of passage initiations, pregnancy, birth and postpartum rituals.
You can now support her cause by purchasing a copy of her latest book, New Path by Alegra Ally, available from July and published by Schilt Publishing.
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. Image credit: Alegra Ally/Schilt Publishing
During the change of season from autumn to winter, the vast tundra of the Yamal Peninsula is transformed into an icy landscape covered in snow and interlaced with frozen rivers and lakes. This transformation allows the Nentsy to migrate with their sledges and reindeer herds across the tundra for thousands of kilometres, following their ancient migration route to their winter camps. Image credit: Alegra Ally/Schilt Publishing
For the four-year-old Christina the vast open landscape of the tundra in autumn is her playground, and she makes a game of breaking the thin ice that forms over the pools of water. Gradually as the winter comes, the air becomes crisper and temperatures begin to drop consistently. The layers of ice begin to thicken and Christina finds great joy in rolling on the thick frozen ice. Image credit: Alegra Ally/Schilt Publishing
For thousands of years indigenous Nenets have led nomadic lifestyles, migrating with their reindeer herds across the Yamal Peninsula in the Russian Arctic. The Khudi family is one of 12,000 Nenets still migrating along the same routes as their ancestors did for centuries. Image credit: Alegra Ally/Schilt Publishing
Praskovya is 96 years old, and the oldest Nenets grandmother living on the tundra. Even at 96, her age does not stop her from spending many hours outside, helping with the herd, and cutting firewood. Image credit: Alegra Ally/Schilt Publishing
The dogs are treated like family in the Nentsy culture. Lena and her husband Lyonya have a herd of 800 reindeers and three, who are an essential part of herding reindeer. Image credit: Alegra Ally/Schilt Publishing
A huge part of the Nentsy’s adaptation to life on the tundra lies in the ingenious design of the chum, the traditional tepee structure that they live in. Image credit: Alegra Ally/Schilt Publishing
The Nentsy have specific adaptations for migrating safely with newborns across one of the harshest climates on earth. Ne Khan (women’s sledges) are designed to accommodate infants in cradles. A cradle, called khoba in the Nenets language, is passed down from generation to generation, or alternatively the soon-to-be father will build a new one. However, it is considered taboo to build or repair cradles before the baby is born. Image credit: Alegra Ally/Schilt Publishing
In the Nenets culture, all jobs inside the chum, including all of the house-keeping, cooking and taking care of the children and the dogs, are done by women, while men’s responsibilities are with the herd. Men are prohibited from doing any of the women’s work. Image credit: Alegra Ally/Schilt Publishing
The sledges are an important aspect of the Nenets way of life. They are used for all aspects of their travel and migration, as well as for storage. There are at least two sledges designated for food storage. Like portable refrigerators, these sledges are used to store frozen meat, bread, butter and other staples. Image credit: Alegra Ally/Schilt Publishing
The most basic aspects of survival, such as keeping warm, requires constant tending to on the tundra. Cutting firewood to keep the fire burning, or using an axe to break the ice to fetch water for cooking and drinking, are daily tasks that must be done in all kinds of weather, including snow storms and temperatures of -40 to -50°C. Image credit: Alegra Ally/Schilt Publishing