Introduction / History The Yurak Samoyed are better known as the Nenets, which means "real people" in their language. They are the largest of several people groups living in Siberia. Traditionally, they were nomadic reindeer breeders.
The Nenets inhabit the Tundra region, which is located along the Siberian coast of the Arctic Ocean. This is where Russia's richest gas and oil fields lie. Some of the Nenets live farther south in the Arctic forest zone. Snow covers the land for up to 260 days a year, and wintertime temperatures range from -30C to -51C (-21F to -58F).
The Nenets are a strong and enduring group. They have resisted the Russian government during times of dictatorship and communist rule. Unfortunately, however, their resistance has cost many of them their lives. Over time they have been forced to change their way of life. They are no longer nomads, and their language was rejected long ago.
What are their lives like? The Nenets are no longer independent reindeer breeders roaming the countryside. Instead, they work as hired hands on government-owned collective farms. They live in scattered villages along the open Siberian plains. These communities were established by Soviet rulers in the early 1930s when the government took over reindeer breeding.
While their families stay in the villages, the men take turns tending to the large herds of 1500 to 2000 reindeer. Only a few take their wives and children with them to the farms. Modern Nenet reindeer herding is well known for its efficiency, and shepherds from other areas have learned much from the Nenets.
Not all Nenets are reindeer breeders. Some work as fishermen and hunters, while others work in industries, particularly local meat processing plants.
Although the Soviet system has almost eliminated illiteracy, very few Nenets receive an adequate formal education. Sadly, their children are forced to attend large boarding schools in towns far away from their families. After ten years of Russian education, the children become alienated from their traditional way of life and language. Unfortunately, they are never fully accepted into the Russian community either.
What are their beliefs? Traditionally, the Nenets were shamanists (believe in an unseen world of gods, demons, and ancestral spirits). They believed that a shaman (animist priest or witchdoctor) was the only mediator between humans and the spirit world. Witchdoctors were sought after to cast magic spells, heal the sick, predict the future, and contact the dead.
Since shamanistic traditions were suppressed during communism, there are very few practicing shamans today. In fact, many Nenets do not practice any form of religion. However, they still have strong ties to their religious past. For example, they acknowledge the existence of a good creator called Num. Ngha, the creator's son, is considered to be the evil god of illness and death. They also still hold beliefs in the power of charms, curses, demons, and other spirits.
For the last 400 years, the Nenets have had some contact with the Russian Orthodox Church. Unfortunately, their shamanistic practices have remained strong; and today there are very few Nenet Christians.
What are their needs? Like most other peoples living in the harsh Arctic region, many Nenets suffer from alcoholism. The life expectancy is as low as 45 years for Arctic men. The Nenets live in an environment of isolation and hopelessness; and while they now have the political freedom to return to their traditional way of life, they have very little initiative to do so.
The Nenets are very open to the Gospel, and political barriers no longer restrict evangelization. Unfortunately, very little has been done to reach them with the Gospel.
Prayer Points * Pray that the bondages of isolation, poverty, and alcoholism over the people will be broken.
* Ask God to raise up loving Russian Christians who will take the Gospel to the Nenets.
* Pray that a new system of education will be implemented for the Nenets so that the children can stay with their families.
* Pray that God will bless the efforts of the missionaries who are focusing on the Nenets.
* Ask the Lord to send Christian teachers to Siberia.
* Pray for the small number of Nenet believers.
* Ask God to raise up a strong local church among the Nenets. * Pray for completion of Bible translation in this people group's primary language. * Pray for the availability of the Jesus Film in the primary language of this people. * Pray for Gospel messages to become available in audio format for this people group.
Nenets Autonomous County of Archangelsk Region, Yamalo-Nenets and Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Districts, Taimyr (Dolgano-Nenets) Autonomous District of Krasnoyarsky Krai. (Source: Red Book Russian People Profiles)