Nenets autonomous okrug and the town of Naryan-Mar. Life and traditions of Nenets people - Arctic reindeer herders.

Nenets autonomous okrug

Nenets autonomous okrug (region) with a capital in Naryan-Mar is located in the north of Russia between the Kanin Peninsula and the Yamal Peninsula, by the coasts of the Pechora Sea and the Kara Sea. Most of the territory of the region, including the Islands of Kolguev and Vaygach lies above the Polar Circle. Administratively Nenets Okrug is a part of Arkhangelsk Region.

Nenets autonomous okrug and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region are different places. The latter occupies the Yamal Peninsula to the east and has a capital in the city of Salekhard.

Most of the area of Nenets autonomous okrug is covered with arctic tundra, with many marshes, small lakes and rivers. The main river is the Pechora River. The significant part of the area is occupied by permafrost.

The wildlife of the region is represented by 31 species of mammals including arctic hare, polar fox, wolf, wolverine, marten, otter, common weasel, wild reindeer, elk etc. Bird list has 160 species including different kinds of geese and ducks migrating in hundreds of thousands in May and September. The sea is inhabited with sea mammals such as beluga white whale, walrus, gray seal, bearded seal and narwhal (very rare).

Nenets autonomous okrug is very rich in mineral resources such as oil, natural gas and gold.

Nenets people

The name of the region is originated with the local population - Nenets people. Nenets are nomad people travelling with their reindeer herds in search for the better pastures in tundra. Nomadic way of life causes the lifestyle of Nenets. They do not build regular houses but live in Chums - tents made of reindeer skin (authentic type) or thick fabric (modern type). When the supply of grass, reindeer moss and lichens around the camp runs low Nenets people assemble chums, put all their belongings on reindeer sledges and set off on a migration to another place. In the winter time they change the location once in about 7 days. Though there is much more food in summer they change location even more often to find a place with fewer mosquitoes.
Nenets people live in clans which unite several families. Men who are the heads of the families are usually relatives while their wives are from other clans. Families usually have 3-5 children. In the past Nenets society had elements of polygamy when rich men with many reindeers could have several wives.

Nowadays Nenets children live with their parents until it is time to go to school and then they live at schools and are taken by parents only for holidays.

In spite of some civilization achievements such as snowmobiles, satellite TV's and electric generators nowadays the lifestyle of Nenets people is in many ways the same as it was centuries ago. They still travel with their reindeers, live in chums, wear a lot of fur clothes and eat traditional food including raw reindeer meat and blood. Although they were baptized by the Russians in the 18-19th Centuries traditional beliefs as animalism and shamanism are still widely spread. While travelling in the area one can meet a real shaman and observe shamanistic rituals.

The number of Nenets people in Nenets autonomous okrug is about 6400 people while the total population is about 42700 people (Census 2010). About 21000 inhabitants live in the capital of region, the town of Naryan-Mar.


The town of Naryan-Mar was established in 1935 by the shore of the Pechora River in 110 km from the Barents Sea and 660 km from Arkhangelsk. The airport of Naryan-Mar (NNM) is an important gate to the Region as it has no regular road connection with the other areas of Russia. In the summer time the port of Naryan-Mar serve boats arriving via the Northern Sea Route. Naryan-Mar is a relatively modern and rich city as it hosts offices of several oil and geological companies which have big business in the Region. The town has several hotels and restaurants.

Several interesting holidays and events take place in Naryan-Mar.
  • "Syamanhat Mereta" reindeer race and Nenets sport competitions in late March or early April.
  • "Buran Day" snowmobile race in the same time.
  • "Reindeer Day" holiday in August.

Travel to Naryan-Mar & Nenets people

Naryan-Mar is easily accessible by plane and there are helicopter flights to the village of Anderma on the coast of the Kara Sea.

Nenets autonomous okrug is an interesting destination for ethnography tours to Nenets people. They still herd their reindeers in tunrda and in a certain season it is possible to visit them for a day or two. However, many local Nenets nowadays wear camouflage and it makes the experience a bit less authentic than in Yamal Peninsula where most Nenets still wear of traditional fur clothes.

In winter, Northern Lights are common in the area.

The coast of the Arctic Ocean is inhabited by polar bears and Anderma may become a good destination to see them, though at the moment getting to Anderma requires a special permission and accommodation in the village is pretty basic.

Getting here

Getting to the capital of Nenets people region, town of Naryan-Mar is possible by plane. There are flights from Arkhangelsk, St. Petersburg and Moscow.

In winter, a temporary winter road (zimnik) is established between the towns of Usinsk and Naryan-Mar for cargo transportation.