From spirits to conspiracy? Nomadic perceptions of climate change, pandemics and disease

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This article illustrates how the Yamal‐Nenets, a group of reindeer pastoralists in West Siberia, perceive a series of recent natural disasters to be connected to one another through a conspiracy – i.e. caused by the agency of malevolent human forces which are beyond the pastoralists’ control. Recent fieldwork during the peak of the global Covid‐19 epidemic served as a trigger for this observation. Their self‐confidence in the robustness of their lifestyle and their embeddedness within their natural environment is so strong that Yamal‐Nenets nomads believe only evil forces – not nature – can stop them from being mobile. Alongside Covid‐19, they interpret the severe consequences of natural disasters, such as iced pastures, related reindeer starvation and the outbreak of anthrax as man‐made attempts to reduce the number of people and animals in the tundra. The blame they place on humans for these disasters takes place in the context of hitherto unseen gas industry developments in the area. Such interpretations may become a general pattern for changing perceptions of the world by remote indigenous populations when deprived of their once customary shamanic dialogue with the spirits.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8-12
JournalAnthropology Today
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2020
MoEC publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Field of science

  • Social anthropology


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