Never cold in any frost. Outfit and footwear no store has to offer
MOSCOW, November 17. /TASS/. Certain time ago, people living in Khatanga, Russia’s one of northernmost villages on the Taimyr Peninsula, were known for making boots, which kept feet warm in any frosts or storms. The traditions are not lost: the locals are reviving the national arts of making the Dolgan footwear. Skilled women have been invited to share experience. We talk to Maria Bolshakova to learn what the profession is like, how to tan deer hides and in what frosts the bokari (fur boots) can keep feet warm.
In the middle of nowhere
“I have learned the skills from women in a deer breeding team, which I joined when I was a young girl. For one mobile home (a house for deer herders) we Yeezy Shoes had to tan many hides,” Maria said. “Anyway, I’ve learned to do with hides anything our predecessors did. Take, for example, the bokari – they are frost resistant, no other footwear can compare with them. They are not available at stores. In snowstorms, in minus 50 or in minus 60 (degrees) you’ll be always warm. Mostly men need them.”
In the middle of nowhere in a production small shop, named Bykhyi (Aspiration), works a center for reviving traditions. In that shop the locals make the Dolgans’ national footwear. This work has been organized by the Yudyn (Moonlight) community. They have received a grant from Nornickel (the Norilsk Nickel Company) under the World of New Opportunities program.
The locals say that formerly the skills of making the frost-resistant boots were known to every woman – the so-called ‘chum’ (tent) workers, that is the women, who cared for the nomads’ everyday life, families and children.
Maria is 65 now. For almost 40 years she was a ‘chum’ worker, and now she is the key person at the Bykhyi shop. She is the source of ancient-old traditional skills of making the footwear.
Maria comes from the Kresty village, which is about an hour of sailing a motor boat from Khatanga. She graduated from a veterinary college and was sent to work at deer breeders’ team in the Popigai village, located on the edge of a huge meteorite crater.
“There, I married a tundra herder, remained there, and have been traveling the tundra for decades,” she said. “At first, everything was very complicated – I knew Hey Dude Women’s Shoes nothing but maut (lariat) and khorea (a long pole to manage deer in a team). It was time I learned from the old masters.”
The life of a ‘chum’ worker is not at all like the life of a housewife in a city. No vacuum cleaners, washing or dishwashing machines. Even pressing a button to boil water is out of question – no electricity, and diesel generators are far from being affordable. At the same time, their work around the ‘chum’ is endless – both in summer, amid the clouds of midges, or in winter, when it’s almost impossible to see anything through the thick frost-rimmed white lashes.
“To feed the big family (I have five girls), to do the ‘chum’, to tan hides, to sew clothes and boots, to collect berries. All this is in permanent movement – the deer do not stand in one place, they wander and the people wander with them. It’s became easier, when instead of the ‘chum’s, which women had to put up or put down whenever the herders changed locations, we now have the trailers on sleds,” Bolshakova said.
Chairman of Taimyr’s Association of Low-Numbered Indigenous Peoples Grigory Dukarev compared the work of deer herders and ‘chum’ workers with the work of metallurgists and miners.
“This term – a ‘chum’ worker – is quite old. It does not refer to a profession. We believe, a better wording would be a nomadic home worker. Since the Northern people have many types of home. On Chukotka those are yarangas, we say ‘chums’, some say baloks. <…> Work to make occupations’ standards is underway, and we have asked the Ministry of Labor to make this professional standard,” he said.
Deer hides and hock skins (off the lower leg of the deer) are tanned not only for use inside houses, but also for making clothes and boots. Hock skins have been used as ski skins to provide traction. One balok is made of six deer skins, one pair of bokari takes at least 16 hock skins, and one pair of untaika (or unty) – 10.
“Worked used to continue year-round, without any holidays, and nobody was ever idle. The working day from eight in the morning to eight at night. Within a year, about 15 skins were tanned – for parkas, hats, winter galoshes and chuni. Another 70-80 hock skins for bokari, unty, chizhi and mittens,” Maria said.
Almost everything is done by hand – the years of work have left clear ruining evidences on her hands. Now that she may take a rest, Maria is not planning to retire.
Tanning hock skins
“Unty, or untaika, are boots made of hock skins – skins off legs. Bokari are high, like swamp boots, they are also made of hock skins, and with upper ropes they are attached to the belt, and the lower ropes go around the ankle,” she told us.
Her daughter, the founder of the Yidyna family community Ecco Shoes Polina Shirokikh, the project’s author, says some women have resumed making unty and bokari after breaks of 30-40 years long.
“They are happy to remember the process and train the youth. Honestly speaking, I hadn’t expected great interest from young girls, but I was completely wrong. The youth continues our traditions, they enjoy the training, and learn quickly,” Polina said.
Practically all the traditions of the people living in the North are related to deer breeding, to reindeer. For many centuries life and traditions have been growing around that animal. Deer is food, clothes, houses, and people use it to travel across the endless Arctic.
Maria now is cooking deer liver. When it is boiled enough, she will blend it to apply the stuff onto the product. No, this is not a gastronomy recipe. It is a part of the ancient, like the tundra, skin-tanning technology – one of the technologies, which the Dolgans are using.
“In case of a chemical treatment, the skin feels absolutely different – rough, as if it does not keep the warmth. Thus, we use liver,” Polina said. “We spread liver over the skin and leave it for a few days. Oh, we are running too fast. At first, we need a deer.”
“We need a wild deer – domestic deer is too valuable, and the wild deer hock skins are much warmer and softer. So, we take off the skin, dry it, then scrape it, remove the fat layer, then apply oil to make it soft. And here comes the time to use liver – when we remove it off the skin, the skin is soft and ready for cutting and sewing,” Maria said.
The main instruments come from the old times. Here is a scraper with a long, about 40cm, wooden handle. It is used to remove remaining meat and fat. It is also used to stretch hock skins for further cutting by razor-sharp knives.
The process has many details. For example, summer hock skins are no good – they drop out. The skins with longer hair – winter skins – are used for male footwear.
The secret of the Northern boots’ frost-resistance is in the unique feature of deer hair. It is a tiny porous tube filled with air – a natural thermal mug. The Northern people say the footwear could be of demand beyond the Far North and outside this country. For example, as souvenirs. Thus, the Dolgans’ footwear has a certain export potential.
In November, the Moonlight family community launched another project – KHATproduction, which had received support from Nornickel’s World of Taimyr charity program. The task is to attract the young Dolgans to national culture and traditions.
The project’s idea is similar: the elder generation will teach the youth the skills of traditional winter fishing (October-November), hunting Arctic fox (December-January), partridge hunting (February-March), and ice fishing with a fishing rod (April-May).
This way, the local community in Khatanga will develop the union of producers, who care about keeping alive and teaching their traditions.