Arctic Women Ruled by Taboos
The Nenets, a Siberian Reindeer herding people, have a complex system of taboos that affect their everyday life. Some relate to men but far more to women. Once a girl reaches puberty she has to observe all the women’s taboos and they can take a while to get used to. Irina Kheno a Nenets woman from the Purovsky region recalls that after she reached puberty her mother would tie her feet to a post at the bottom of her bed at night so she didn’t accidentally break the taboo of letting her feet touch the reindeer skin she slept on. She remembers it being very uncomfortable but once she got used to keeping her feet off the reindeer skin she no longer had to have her feet tied.
Remembering them all can be challenging, a woman is not allowed to step over a lasso lying on the ground or a Khorei , which is a pole used for driving reindeer. She mustn’t stand on a man’s sled or step over any of his tools or hunting equipment. She is not allowed to cross an invisible line that extends from the centre of a tent to the back and on to infinity. She must not go close to a sacred site or to the sacred sled that carries the family’s idols. She is not permitted to step over a reindeer harness or cross the path of a moving reindeer caravan on a migration.
If a woman breaks a taboo the Nenets believe that something bad will happen, not directly to her, but to other members of her family or their reindeer and this makes a Nenets woman feel more responsible for her family’s welfare. Yevdekia, a reindeer herder’s wife told me, “I keep our traditions because otherwise something bad could happen to my husband or his reindeer.”