The nomads’ white gold
After the long Arctic night, the return of the sun is heralded in Taimyr with a great festival. The Dolgans, one of many ethnic nomadic groups that consider the tundra their home, gather in large numbers for this celebration every year. It was at this festival roughly fifteen years ago that Bernard Buigues first became familiar with a people whose hospitality and culture would become intimately familiar to him during subsequent returns to Taimyr. Their familiarity with the tundra makes them superior navigators and guides through an otherwise hostile environment.
Among 6,000 Dolgans, only a handful of families are still leading nomadic lives. Their livelihood is derived from hunting and fishing, as well as raising and herding reindeer. In search of grazing grounds for their herd, they traverse the tundra. This constant movement has taught them to read the tundra like a book. What may seem like a vast expanse of white monotony to the uninitiated visitor is an ancestral path to these nomads.
An ill omen
During the course of their seasonal migrations, they sometimes happen upon a mammoth having emerged from the ground. For the Dolgans, such an encounter has long been an unwelcome ill omen. Still, they make use of what is provided and in a landscape where wood and métal are hard to come by, ivory is an ideal material to craft into durable tools: harnesses, buttons and spoons.
Today more and more foreign, often manufactured materials have been introduced to this remote region. But the mammoth has not lost its value. International trade in mammoth ivory has largely replaced traditional uses and offers a small fortune to those who seek out the material. This trade allows the economically disadvantaged Dolgans to trade for modern goods that have become part of their lifestyles: ammunition for hunting, snowmobiles, fossil fuel, sugar. The older generation is wary of the ivory trade. Some who strive to protect their culture are opposed to this new influence.
Science and tradition
The Jarkov family explained all of this to Bernard Buigues before they led him to the spot where they had found two tusks emerging from the permafrost. The first major success of Mammuthus owes much to this family and thus bears their name: the Jarkov Mammoth. Sensible to the traditions of the people in the tundra, Bernard Buigues learned how to respect their ways and in time he learned how to share his passion for the cultural and scientific heritage of their ancestral home. He ensures that his expeditions reflect a balance of research-driven inquiry and deference to the cultures and people who make it possible.
Today the nomadic peoples of the tundra are among the most enthusiastic supporters of Mammuthus. Not only the Dolgans but also the Yukagirs, the Yakuts and the Nenets play an essential and contributing role to the program’s mission of protecting and preserving the region’s unique heritage. This partnership formed across all boundaries and united by a shared vision is a key asset of Mammuthus and a source of strength.