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Accepted Paper:

Pasts flowing into each other. Imperial Nenets in provincial Russia  


Karina Lukin (University of Helsinki)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores ways of reading folklore as a form of narration that relates to imperial histories, but at the same time contests its totalizing voice and stance and mode. It discusses Nenets yarabts and the possibilities they offer to provincialize Russian imperial histories.

Paper long abstract:

Being a powerful instrument of colonial othering, folklore simultaneously silences the subaltern in making them traditional – not modern – and gives them voice in representing vernacular modes and contents of narrating. When touching themes known from the history of the centre, folklore has often been treated as distorted form of historical knowledge. This paper explores folklore as narration that relates to imperial histories, but at the same time contests its totalizing voice, stance and mode. The aim of the paper is not to construct an alternative history, but to discuss the ways in which pasts and their variable narrations differ and come together.

The paper concentrates on Nenets songs that narrate visits in towns and cities and discuss their position in the Nenets poetics of the past. The songs belong to a genre called yarabts that has recently been discussed to be at least partly historical. This argument is based on the indisputable fact that the yarabts often name historically known places and figures, and are thus taken to be less mythic than the events in the other sung epic genre, syudbabts.

I argue that the Nenets strategies of narrating the past stand in a different spectrum of narrative elements and aims than the “Western” notions around history. Nevertheless, in making references to the places and practices known in the history of Russia, the Nenets epic poetry offers a possibility to reassess the meanings related to the past and this to provincialize the Russian imperial narrative.

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