Mobility is a critical part of a foraging lifestyle where resources are seasonally and geographically disparate. Mobility has been investigated from the perspectives of patch choice theory (Begossi 1992; Smith 1991; Sosis 2002; Winterhalder 1977; Winterhalder and Smith 1981), Levy flight movement (Brown et al. 2006; Raichlen et al. 2014), ethnoarchaeology (Binford 1980; Kelly et al. 2005; Kharinskii and Ziker 2013; Sellet et al. 2006), critical theory (Anderson 2006; Brandisauskas 2009; Davydov 2012; Oetelaar and Meyer 2006; Politis 1996), demography (Anderson et al. 2011), and economics (Pelto 1987; Sahlins 1972). This article incorporates empirical data on mobility and subsistence activities with an analysis of the costs, benefits, constraints, and opportunities of different patterns and means of mobility.
The peoples of the Eastern Siberia forage and migrate in semi-mountainous region of forest, rivers, lakes, bogs, and tundra. The terrain and low density of resources make efficient mobility strategies of critical importance. Residents of this zone have developed a myriad of mobility patterns and technologies to enable more efficient foraging and logistical movement than is possible with pedestrian travel, the lowest common denominator of human mobility. Among these developments the domestication of reindeer and their use as mounts and pack animals has allowed the use of a larger territory than is possible on foot (Turov 2010: 67–72, 85). The Evenki ethnic group has a widespread population throughout Eastern Siberia and a well-developed system of reindeer husbandry (Vasilevich 1969: 3–6, 72–80). The spread of motorized transport in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has further augmented the range of transport options available to the Evenkis. However, reindeer and other types of transport continue to exist alongside motorized transport. During the 2011 and 2012 field season, I studied with indigenous hunters and reindeer herders of the Katanga region of Irkutskaia Oblast’ to learn how and why they move around the landscape.
Mobility is a process involving human goals, means of transportation, natural and man-made transportation routes, and daily and seasonal environmental conditions. In this article I use empirical data to describe and analyze the purposes and conditions of mobility. People move as a part of accomplishing goals, such as transporting resources from the point of origin to the point of use, visiting friends or family who live at a distance, or gathering resources from the environment. The framework I used to analyze mobility has two categories: economic (costs vs. benefits) and conditions (opportunities vs. constraints). This framework focuses on economic and conditional factors applicable cross-culturally.
These categories are oriented toward a pragmatic discussion of the many factors that affect mobility. Costs and benefits concern time, energy, money, or other measurable currencies involved with mobility-related activity. In most cases, they will not be noted precisely, but compared to alternatives. For example, the costs of keeping a snowmobile vs. reindeer as a means of transport differ considerably. Snowmobiles require fuel and spare parts, whereas reindeer require pasture, training, and care. The costs of reindeer and snowmobiles are quantifiable, but not simply and directly comparable.
Conditions consist of constraints and opportunities that affect decisions, behaviors, and the known or expected costs and benefits of an activity. For instance, a fish run is a reoccurring biological cycle that presents an opportunity for food production. The conditions of fish biology and water body configuration may incentivize the development of forager behavior to take advantage of this food resource at particular times and places. The costs and benefits of fishing are only incurred as a result of activity, but the fish run is a food production opportunity independent of forager activity or perception. Similarly, there are conditions that constrain behavior, such as deep snow that makes pedestrian movement more energetically costly as compared to periods with no snow. The condition of the snow only becomes relevant in relation to a specific activity, such as mobility. Constraints and opportunities also result from anthropogenic factors, such as a pattern of residence or a means of transportation. For example, snowmobiles are noisy and frighten animals, a trait that is important to foraging success but difficult quantify as a cost. Constraints and opportunities are a result of characteristics or circumstances and are distinguished from costs and benefits in that they have important observable effects but may not have direct economic costs and benefits or comparable alternatives. In most cases, there are significant barriers to manipulating constraints and opportunities; they are essentially structural factors. Using skis for travel during periods of deep snow does not change the condition but does affect marginal costs (consumes less energy than walking) and benefits (increase in speed). In viewing these factors I emphasize that some of these circumstances are negative and limiting, while others are positive and advantageous. Smith and Winterhalder (1992: 57) define constraints as intrinsic or extrinsic to the organism, whereas I add opportunities as the positive conditions or traits of technology, environment, and organisms that merit attention.
My goal here is to explain how the Evenkis move and discuss the factors that shape their mobility. Since mobility is a widespread activity, connected with many types of goals, it may be beneficial to study it across contexts. There are a number of factors that prompt and structure mobility. Figure 1 illustrates how I view the purpose and results of mobility in the foraging process and gives examples of some of the variables and results.
A similar diagram could be generated for mobility related to other purposes, such as sociality or logistics. The factors and relationships shown in Figure 1 summarize the variables discussed in the text, but do not account for the complex causal links between these processes. Foraging is a good example for showing how I view the relationships between process, variables, and goals because the dynamics are concreteand easily identifiable, in contrast to sociality where expending material resources to foster relationships can provide delayed or ambiguous results. The foraging process itself involves mobility to search for, harvest, and transport resources from the environment. On the left side of Figure 1 are some examples for economic factors and on the right for conditional factors that affect the process of mobility. Patterns of behavior (e.g., a hunting technique, migration cycle) and physical resources (e.g., equipment, supplies, buildings) have economic and conditional aspects.
The basic economic factors that govern mobility are costs and benefits. Generally, mobility itself is a cost of striving for a goal: the time and energy spent searching the woods for grouse is a cost to the energy budget that will hopefully be recouped through grouse harvested. Additionally, opportunity costs concern alternative uses of time and alternate means of mobility. A reindeer sled does not require gasoline but is slower than a snowmobile and requires first locating and harnessing a team. In this case, the costs are in non-equivalent currencies of time, energy, and money.
The structural factors that shape mobility include weather, environmental dynamics, animal behavior, seasonality, characteristics of a means of mobility, and residential patterns. These factors provide particular constraints and opportunities related to mobility. Continuing with the foraging example, the presence of snow makes it easy to track animal movements. In one sense, snow reduces search costs because it provides specific clues about where to search for game. However, it may be more appropriately viewed as a structural factor since it is outside human manipulation and is a condition that exposes specific constraints and opportunities.
The results of foraging mobility illustrated in Figure 1 are the net material benefit (resources acquired minus cost of mobility) and new information obtained during the process of foraging. The forager’s cognitive processes noted in the rectangular boxes on the top left and right in Figure 1 are included to suggest that decision making and skill/perception affect the foraging process and to suggest that information gathered is a resource that can affect future foraging decisions (Gurven et al. 2006; Mithen 1989; Smith and Winterhalder 1992: 57–59; see also Collings 2009). Discussions with research participants highlighted the value of information gathered about the environment as a resource and the value of observation and analysis of environmental conditions and animal signs. In short, foraging is both a productive and a learning process.
The dynamics of mobility patterns and technologies within foraging and pastoral economies of high latitude populations, specifically those with domestic reindeer, have received some attention by scholars. Two studies are particularly relevant to my research. During late 1980s, Mikhail Turov studied the Katanga Evenkis’ with a particular focus on the use of domestic reindeer in their subsistence economy (Turov 2010). He found that the Evenkis’ use of reindeer for mounts and hauling cargo allowed the use of larger territories than possible on foot due to the ability to transport game, shelter, equipment, and people between campsites (Turov 2010: 67–72, 85). In the absence of reindeer, some Evenkis were more sedentary and used hand drawn sleds and backpacks for transporting game (Turov 2010: 63, 85–87). His investigation into the use of reindeer in the Evenkis’ economy contributed to the questions addressed here regarding their mobility.
Extreme environments, such as the arctic, have been some of the last places to experience technological change and the resulting social, economic, and environmental impacts. In the late 1960s, Pertti Pelto studied these processes in the context of snowmobile adoption among Saami1 reindeer herders in Scandinavia. The almost complete shift from using draft reindeer to snowmobiles as a means of transport occurred from 1962 to 1967 (see Pelto 1987: 70–75). Some of the effects related to the adoption of the snowmobile were: “de-domestication” of reindeer, a decrease in the spatial extent of pasturage, and reindeer population stress related to more frequent round ups (Pelto 1987: 112–119). The adoption of the snowmobile has had different consequences for reindeer husbandry among the Saami than the Katanga Evenkis. At the time of fieldwork in 2011-12 snowmobiles have been in wide use for several decades in the Katanga region.
The two groups of Evenkis I worked with in the Katanga region have similar land-use patterns within their territories. The land tenure system is based on individual and family rights to a parcel of land registered with the government. One group lives in the village of Khamakar located on the Nizhnaia Tunguska River shown in Figure 2. The local environment supplies the population of approximately 100 people with the bulk of their diet, the rest being supplied by store-bought foods and vegetables from backyard gardens. The Tunguska river system and the
|Group||Number of research participants||Activities||Field season|
|Kochema Evenkis||2 households, 6 individuals||Reindeer herding, hunting moose, trapping sable, logistical mobility||February–March 2012|
|Khamakar Evenkis||4 households, 8 individuals||Cabin construction, sable hunting and trapping preparation, fishing, hunting moose||August–September 2011 January 2012–very brief|
|Group||Name||Territory (km2)||Observations||Hours||Distance (km)|
The Kochema Evenkis live on the headwaters of the Verkhnaia Kochema River and migrate with their reindeer. They also fish, but the rivers in their region are smaller and fish are only an occasionally targeted resource. Both groups focus on moose, and to a lesser extentwild reindeer for meat and harvest sables for fur as a cash income. Both groups are located about 100 km from Erbogachen, the regional center.
Descriptive statistics regarding research partners and the data collected with them are shown in Table 2. All personal names in the text are pseudonyms. The variance in territorial size between the two groups is not statistically significant. However, since the data series is incomplete, I should note that research partners said that territorial sizes in the Kochema region are generally larger than in the Khamakar region.
The number of observations, hours, and distance figures concern mobility activity defined in the methods section. The distance figures are sums of all trips inside and outside an individual’s territory.
The methods I used for gathering data on the Evenkis’ mobility were adapted from time allocation research (Hames 1992; Paolisso and Hames 2010) and particularly the concepts of coding time use from Johnson and Behrens (1989).
The basic rule I used in distinguishing mobility events from simple movement was whether the individual(s) involved left the vicinity of the residence for a significant time, distance, or productive task. For example, fetching a wrench from the garage by the cabin was not considered a mobility event, but cutting and hauling wood from the nearby forest was. Also, time spent preparing and loading vehicles for trips was recorded as a zero distance activity separate from travel time, but include in the time allocated to the activity. The records are from focal follows of individuals engaged in mobility and related activities. These data consist of one hundred thirty-one records of trip preparation, repair/maintenance, and travel over fifty-four unique days, a nearly complete record of mobility activity.
Primary codes describe the most prominent purposes for mobility. Transport (T) includes all activities of a logistical nature: moving things and people to places. Searching for reindeer (SR) on open pasturage was a frequent reason for mobility among the Kochema Evenkis. Foraging (F) includes food production in all phases of the trip including search, pursuit, and retrieval of fish or game. Mobility to a foraging area was included in this code if there was specific expectation of finding prey on the trip, such as checking or setting fishnets, but not if the trip was a residential move (T), that is migrating to a new area with the hope
|Primary/Secondary||SR||Searching for Reindeer|
|Primary/Secondary||R||Repair or maintenance of a means of transportation|
|Secondary (T)||W||Wood cutting, hauling and stacking|
|Secondary (T)||S||Social activities/visiting|
|Secondary (T)||C||Commercial – only used for sable trapping|
The means code matches the type of transportation used for the trip. Generally, only one means of mobility was used during a trip. However, some walking is implicit for certain kinds of trips, such as checking sable traps by snowmobile when it is parked nearby and the person walks a few meters away to tend the trap. In cases of very brief changes in the means of mobility I did not make separate records of time or distance.
Maps and geographic information were derived from data gathered using a Garmin Etrex Vista HCx handheld GPS device and hand drawings on printed topographic maps. The Garmin was used to record most mobility events, unless they were to places we had been previously (usually regular travel routes), I was not present during the trip, or the batteries were spent. I used the ArcMap 10 program to process and define information such as travel paths, territorial boundaries, and cabin sites.
I present the quantitative data first, which show patterns of use during the field seasons for early fall and mid-winter in Khamakar and mid-winter in Kochema. Then I describe the vehicles, their capabilities, and conditions of use based on my observations and discussions with Evenkis regarding their choices and patterns of use for other tasks and otherseasons that I did not observe. Some of this information regards mobility that is not a part of this study, such as using reindeer under pack saddles in the warm season, but is important to include for considering how mobility technologies are used throughout the year. Interview data also underlie many of the points summarized in the comparison tables in the next section.
The field research was conducted before and after the primary hunting season (October–January), however, both groups of Evenkis were quite mobile during the study periods. The data below address individual mobility, the purposes of mobility, types of mobility used for particular purposes, operation versus repair time, and vehicle use by purpose and use.
Figure 4 depicts the average percentage of time spent on each category of mobility. There are a number of factors that explain the individual variances in mobility. For both groups, there are low levels of foraging mobility because the periods of observation were before or after the most active hunting period. Only the Kochema Evenkis possess reindeer. The reindeer category in Figures 4 and 5 refers to reindeer-related mobility, such as locating and/or bringing them back to the corral at the living site, rather than using reindeer as a means of mobility.
The differences in mobility within the Khamakar group were circumstantial and organizational. Roma and Boris set out from Erbogachen by river together, accounting for a large amount of their transport time, somewhat less than 19 percent. At Khamakar, they picked up Vadim and continued on to the hunting territory. Boris and Vadim spent little time in transport after the initial trip to the hunting territory. Roma spent minutes to hours at a time on the four-day journey from Erbogachen tinkering with the boat motor, so his repair time is higher, 4 percent versus less than 2 percent for the others. He also walked his trap line over three days, while Boris and Vadim stayed at the main cabin, which is why Roma’s transport percentage is much higher at 35 percent. While at the hunting territory, Vadim and Boris took primary responsibility for foraging (checking fishnets), amounting to 2–3 percent versus Roma at less than 1 percent. The hunting territories where these activities took place over about one month are located about 10 kilometers apart.
The Kochema group similarly shows differences in mobility due to circumstantial and organizational factors. Kolia spent more time searching for and checking on his reindeer herd, 12 percent versus Dima’s 6 percent. Wolves had attacked both herds in recent weeks. Themost recent attack was on Kolia’s herd and they killed a few of his reindeer. He went to check on them frequently after this and in particular search for a group that had split off a few days after the attack but later returned. Dima spent less time with his reindeer because they were fairly close by and staying in one herd. In terms of transport, Dima made a trip to Erbogachen by snowmobile and a trip lasting several days to his outlying cabins to close sable traps and tidy up, amounting to 24 percent. Kolia made a few short trips totaling 12 percent. Dima also went hunting a few times (2%) and repaired snowmobiles (3%).
For both groups, transport of a logistical nature accounts for a large portion daily mobility, with foraging and repair having smaller shares. The Khamakar Evenkis engaged in more transport mobility (23%). However, the Kochema Evenkis engaged in an equal amount of mobility when transport and reindeer-related mobility are summed (14% transport + 9% reindeer = 23%).
Figure 6 illustrates several factors. First, the repair time for motorized vehicles is much higher than human or reindeer powered means of transportation. For boats, repair time was 9.5 hours compared to 36.5 hours of usage time. This proportion of use to repair time may not be typical. At the outset of the Khamakar Evenkis’ trip from Erbogachen, both of the Soviet era outboard motors had problems. One would not run and the other had a malfunctioning ignition coil and had to be frequently adjusted to function at all.2 After it was replaced and adjustedby someone more skilled toward the end of the field season, there were no more problems during the remaining trips of approximately 10–60 kilometers. For snowmobiles, repair time was 13 hours compared to 96 hours of usage time. This is probably a more typical amount of repair to usage time, as snowmobiles require more daily maintenance than boat motors, which only need gasoline and oil if everything else is functioning fine. Snowmobiles must have the clutch removed and lubricated every 100 kilometers, the drive belt removed when the snowmobile will be parked overnight in cold temperatures, and be preheated with a torch when temperatures are ≤ -30˚C. Additionally, it is common to do a complete teardown and rebuild of Russian boat and snowmobile motors between seasons to check and replace rings, pistons, bearings, and crankshafts. Counterfeit, low quality and improperly adjusted parts are common even on newly manufactured machines.
There are two complicating factors regarding snowmobiles. First, Roma’s snowmobile threw a fan belt, overheated, and partially burned the piston rings. It functioned, but sub-optimally and frequent temperature checks and waiting for it to cool contributed to repair time. Second, Dima spent time fixing a snowmobile belonging to another man because it broke down while in the area and Dima lent him an old spare snowmobile to use. This snowmobile of Dima’s became impounded in Erbogachen and Dima was fixing this other man’s snowmobile so that he could drive it Erbogachen to recover his own machine. Although a complicated situation, since the goal was the return of property this time was included.
|Boat – Khamakar||78%||–||1%||21%|
|Canoe – Khamakar||–||–||100%||–|
|On foot – Khamakar||92.70%||–||7.3||–|
|On foot/ski – Kochema||17.40%||70.60%||11.30%||0.70%|
|Reindeer – Kochema||100%||–||–||–|
|Snowmobile – Khamakar||93.10%||–||–||6.90%|
|Snowmobile – Kochema||81.10%||4.90%||–||13.90%|
Reindeer and canoe usage incurred no repair during the field seasons and on foot/ski travel incurred a very low 0.4 hours of repair. The Kochema Evenkis did repair winter boots, but I was not present to make a note of the time. This consisted of re-sewing a few centimeters of torn stitches. The percentage of repair for footwear that I did note consisted only of repairing ski bindings.
Table 4 addresses how members of each Evenki community used different means of mobility. The “Reindeer” column refers to reindeer related mobility and the row to reindeer as a means of transport. For modes of mobility common to both groups, snowmobile and foot travel, there are similar patterns of usage. The Kochema are of course unique in that they use foot and snowmobile travel to search for their reindeer. This difference aside, both use foot travel for transport and foraging. There were no hunts completed using motor vehicles other than incidental bird hunting, however it is common to use boats and snowmobiles to hunt moose. As Table 4 shows, there are unequal distributions of logistical, reindeer related, and foraging mobility among vehicles. The pattern of use that is most similar for both groups is shown by snowmobiles, exhibiting high proportions of logistical transport.
The Kochema Evenkis did use the snowmobile to search for their reindeer. After finding them, they followed the hardened snowmobile track on foot, harnessed the reindeer, and led them home. The Kochema Evenkis only used their reindeer for transport purposes: hauling firewood or household items during a migration. There was one instance of when reindeer were used in the process of a hunt, but this was only to search for tracks, rather than in the actual pursuit, which was on foot. The Khamakar Evenkis used boats almost exclusively in a transport capacity; there were a few instances of hunting birds but this was incidental to other trips, when ducks on the water or on the shore were shot at from the boat. For all kinds of foraging activity, human powered means of transportation dominate. During the fall field season with the Khamakar Evenkis, the canoe was used for checking fishnets and carried over land to set nets or hunt waterfowl on lakes at short distances (~1 km) from the Tunguska River. On foot and ski mobility show very different distributions by purpose for each group, trapping season preparations (Khamakar) or monitoring reindeer (Kochema). On foot foraging mobility made up a smaller proportion for both groups during the periods of observation.
|Snowmobile – Buran (28-32 hp)||Two tracks, one ski||100-600 kg||1.4 km per liter (~500 kg load)||1–50 km/h, 8–15 km/h Under load|
|Boat Motor (Soviet 20-25 hp)||1–3 aluminum boats, lashed side by side||200-1600 kg||1.8 km per liter (~1600 kg load)||1–20 km/h, 8–12 km/h under load|
|Reindeer – Sled||2 reindeer hitched to 1 sled||110 kg||N/A||1–8 km/h|
|Reindeer – Saddle||Pack saddle, riding saddle||40 kg pack, 50-70 kg rider||N/A||2–6 km/h|
|Pogonka||Small canoe made of planks||<90 kg||N/A||1–4 km/h|
|On foot||N/A||<40 kg pack||N/A||1–5 km/h|
|Skis||Short, wide||<30 kg, skier plus light pack||N/A||1–5 km/h|
For transport, motor vehicles and reindeer were most often used. The one exception, by the Khamakar Evenkis, was to travel the trap line by foot (30 hours), which accounts for a significant amount of time in the foot transport category (11 hours, 20 minutes for all other activities combined).
The Evenkis use a variety of vehicles to move throughout their environment in summer and winter. Below are brief descriptions of their means of transport with an emphasis on characteristics and applications discussed or observed during fieldwork.
Vehicle characteristics are shown in Table 5 with nominal figures for payload, fuel consumption, and speed. The low end of the payload figures for vehicles is intended to indicate an operator with minimum cargo. The fuel consumption figures are rough calculations from particular trips.
There are several factors that affect vehicle choice and conditions of use, including winter conditions, daylight, temperature, and animal behavior. Winter traveling conditions vary greatly due to the complicated properties of snow at different temperatures. These conditions can be observed, investigated, and partially predicted. There are three basic factors that affect the quality and safety of winter travel: temperature, snow compaction, and overflow.
Temperature primarily affects the comfort and safety of travel for humans. For snow vehicles, travel is common at temperatures down to -30˚C. In conditions when the temperature fluctuates below and above freezing, snow behaves very differently than when temperature is consistently below freezing. Snow exhibits very complex properties under different conditions of temperature during formation and after ground accumulation. What follows is a description of some of the properties that have practical consequences for travel.
There are three basic states where the properties of snow are strongly contrasting: around freezing, well below freezing (Mellor 1974: 251), and when packed. At warmer than 0˚C temperatures, the surface of accumulated snow crystals is saturated with water and dense. This is typically in the spring and fall, when daytime temperatures are above freezing and nighttime temperatures are below freezing. The most pronounced conditions tend to occur in the spring as the accumulated snow melts. After waterlogged snow freezes, it becomes hard and slippery. When snow is formed and accumulates below freezing (at -5˚C), it has low density and high volume. However, when it is disturbed by wind or compressed by a vehicle or foot, it hardens depending on the area and force (Mellor 1974: 253ff.). In areas where people or reindeer pass frequently or in large numbers snow becomes packed into a hard surface, while undisturbed surfaces remain powdery. This hardening process is called scintering and begins from the moment of disturbance, progresses for up to several days, while low temperature increases the speed of hardening and the bond strength between snow grains (Colbeck 1997: 1). For vehicle travel, this means that in powdery conditions the snow must be displaced and compressed. Since the density of powdery snow is low, it is easy to move, but it is 30 to 60 centimeters deep from December to April (Gavrishev 2016) and the cumulative loading of displacing it consumes a lot of energy. When snow has been disturbed, compacted, and hardened, travel becomes less taxing on vehicles with sufficient flotation. Generally, snow has low friction against vehicles that rely on sliding across the surface (Mellor 1974: 287).
Frozen waterways covered with snow can be problematic to travel on even in the coldest months of winter. When the surface of a water body ices over, it essentially becomes sealed. Factors such as flow, ice thickness, snow weight, and temperature fluctuations can cause the water to build pressure, causing the ice to fracture and water to flow on top of the ice (Conover and Conover 2006: 150–157). This results in a condition known as overflow.3 If snow cover is present, this forms a slushy layer on top of the ice that is not visible from the surface of the snow. Under the snow, the temperature is near freezing, but once the slush is uncovered or compressed, it is exposed to air temperature, rather than insulated by the snow. When a snowmobile or other vehicle enters the overflow area, water and slush stick to the underside and freeze. While traveling with the Evenkis in the winter, we encountered overflow on a river a few times, sometimes as shallow slush, other times already frozen over. Although it did not give us any trouble, when meeting other travelers they frequently asked if we had encountered overflow.
Overflow is a problem whether encountered on reindeer, skis, or snowmobile. With snowmobiles it can be particularly difficult because their weight causes them to sink in the slush and water, providing little friction for the vehicle to gain traction. If the snowmobile track is in motion the ice tends to fracture as it forms, however if the snowmobile is not kept moving ice formation can adhere the track to the undercarriage and increase the likelihood of drive and suspension components breaking under load.
From my observations, the Evenkis travel almost exclusively in the daylight. The one exception is by snowmobile. While snowmobile travel is usually done during the day, my impression is that night travel is not uncommon. A man who has vision problems said that he very much prefers night travel. The reasons why have to do with the direction and properties of light. Unlike other forms of transportation, snowmobiles have headlights and often travel on established trails. In the wintertime, sunlight is reflected off the snow. When it is overcast, but with thin cloud cover, the light is diffuse and gives very little definition to the snow, making it hard to perceive shapes, shadows, and distance. In bright conditions when the sky is clear, the snow reflects light into the eyes; while definition is high, the sheer volume of light can be blinding.4 When traveling at night, the shapes of the snow and trail are defined by light or shadow, rather than diffuse, uniform white or overwhelmingly intense light conditions that often occur during the day. Visibility is one potential advantage of night travel by snowmobile. Some of its disadvantages are lower temperatures than daytime, slightly greater potential for navigational errors, and greater difficulties if forced to stop. Temperature differences are variable, potentially negligible, and not specific to night travel. Regardless of the time of day, you simply dress to temperature conditions and activity level. The potential for nighttime navigational errors is largely hypothetical. All the travel I did with Evenkis was on their own territories or on routes they regularly travel. In all the travel Evenkis did or that I heard discussed, night travel was regarded as normal.
The influence of daylight and temperature on travel conditions change during the snow season. In midwinter, there are fewer daylight hours and temperatures are generally low. Travel is preferentially, although not exclusively, done during the day to take advantage of light and slightly higher daytime temperatures. In the late winter and early spring, above daytime freezing temperatures and intense sunlight conditions can make nighttime travel preferable, when temperatures are below freezing and so that trails are firm rather than slushy and navigation is done by headlight. These comments apply mainly to logistical travel and are not in any way categorical. For other kinds of mobility, such as hunting or searching for reindeer, it is necessary to travel during the day. For these kinds of mobility, close observation of the environment and seeing long distances are critical, whereas for logistical travel—movement from one point to another—daylight and wide field of view are less important.
During the winter, low temperatures did have an effect on travel. Roma, from Khamakar, said that he prefers not to travel when it is below -30˚C if it can be avoided and that certainly at -50˚C people generally do not travel. Not only can it be difficult to keep warm at these temperatures, but should anything go wrong one quickly loses the ability to perform tasks requiring dexterity, such as building a fire or fixing an engine, when the hands are exposed to the cold.
Animal behavior affects the choice of vehicles and how they are used in several ways. When searching for domestic reindeer, the Kochema Evenkis almost always used on foot travel, sometimes skis and rarely snowmobile. Domestic reindeer did not seem to be frightened of the snowmobile, but finding the herd involves distinguishing new tracks from old and sometimes necessitates moving through heavy cover. Similarly, when hunting with dogs (moose, sable) or stalking (moose, reindeer), Evenkis generally use pedestrian travel on foot orskis. Just as with searching for reindeer, these tasks involve moving through cover, reading sign, but also controlling dogs and minimizing the sound of movement.
Foot travel is common over short distances, where other vehicles are unsuitable, or when low noise and observation of the environment are needed, such as when hunting, trapping, and searching for reindeer. During the summer, walking is often the only way to access areas of the taiga away from maintained roads and waterways. The footwear of choice when walking in the warm season is rubber boots or thigh waders.
In the winter, cold temperatures necessitate footwear with heavy insulation. During periods of dry cold, outside the freeze/thaw cycles at the beginning and end of winter, the Kochema Evenkis wear traditional reindeer skin boots. During freeze/thaw periods in the spring and fall, they wear insulated rubber boots. The Khamakar Evenkis wear a variety of manufactured boots made from wool felt or synthetic materials. Some wore Russian felt boots, valenki, during the dry cold and insulated rubber boots during fall and spring. Some wear insulated rubber boots during both periods.
Obviously, weight and speed have a considerable influence on fuel consumption, but the condition of the route is also significant. The two most basic elements of water travel are depth and direction of current. Water depth was an important factor during the fall when the Tunguska River was at its lowest levels, exposing sandbars and increasing the risk of damage to the propeller and hull. Tributaries of the Tunguska, such as the Kochema, are difficult to dangerous for navigation outside of high water periods in the spring and summer, due to rockier bottoms. For boats, the speed and direction of travel relative to the current have a strong influence on how hard the motor must work to achieve a particular speed. If the boat is going upstream, the motor has to overcome the speed of the current plus displacement of the hull under the cargo weight. If downstream, the motor needs only move the boat slightly faster than the current for maneuverability and counteract the water resistance on the hull.
Vehicles designed for traveling over snow distribute their weight over a large area to allow efficient travel. The surface area to weight ratios of Evenki skis, a reindeer sled, one example of modern cross-country skis (Formenti et al. 2005: 1562, Ski DS), snowmobiles (Russkaia mekhanika 2014,Buran A and AD), female reindeer (Nieminen and Helle 1980: 251, 253), and boots are shown in Figure 9. The vehicle calculations are based on surface area of the vehicle divided by the sum of vehicle weight and 70-kilogram human weight. For reindeer, body weight is divided by the number of feet (2–3) in contact with the ground while walking.
While the surface to weight ratio is not the sole determinant of flotation performance on snow, it is probably a close corollary in most respects. Comparing the most extreme examples, hunting skis have approximately 10 times, and plain skis have approximately 7 times, less surface pressure than boots. The energetic cost of wearing skis is moving their mass with each stride, with the benefits of a reduced volume of snow displaced compared to walking in deep snow and allowing a stride that is closer to a normal walking gait. The snowmobiles commonly used by the Evenkis are the mono ski, twin-tracked Buran A (short tracks) and Buran AD (long tracks). The Buran A is the most common variant, the AD being longer provides more flotation and traction for hauling heavy loads but has a larger turning radius than the A. The AD is a more specialized machine, well suited to hauling freight, rather than general-purpose use, for which the A is satisfactory. Except for a slight weight increase due to the longer frame and track, both models of Buran are identical and have similar displacement engines.
The three snow vehicles the Evenkis commonly use: skis, snowmobiles, and reindeer sleds have values of 21–33 grams/cm2. The usage of each vehicle differs somewhat and in the case of vehicles manufactured by the Evenkis themselves, skis and reindeer sleds, the dimensions can be tailored to conditions and preferences.
Notably, the two types of skis and the two track lengths of the Buran are within 4-8 grams/cm2 of each other. For skis, the difference of 8 grams/cm2 means hunting skis have 34% less ground pressure than plain skis. For snowmobiles, the difference of 4 grams/cm2 means the Buran AD (long tracks) has 14% less ground pressure than the Buran A (short tracks). Presumably, there is a sufficient performance difference to justify making two different vehicles of the same type. Other than my observation and the Evenkis’ comments that the Buran AD has greater hauling capacity than the Buran A and that they make hunting skis larger to provide more surface area for travel over powder snow, I have no data to substantiate performance differences between ski and snowmobile variants.
Reindeer sleds are commonly used for travel on established trails where the snow has been previously packed. The snowmobile is usually the first vehicle in line during the Kochema Evenkis’ migrations. The tracks compact even loose powdery snow and provide an even, wide path of travel once the snow hardens. Given that sleds have similar ground pressure to skis, travel over unbroken snow would seem to be quite easy. However, the sled is usually pulled by two reindeer, which have much higher ground pressure than the sled and work against the resistance of the snow acting on their own bodies as well as the sled.
The skis the Evenkis use are designed for flotation and maneuverability during the period of deep powder from December through April. See Dresbeck (1967) for an overview and history of ski types worldwide and Antropova (n.d.) for types of Siberian skis. Skis are used with a shuffling gait rather than a kick and glide. Evenki skis are shorter and wider (~135 x 25 cm) than typical cross-country skis (210 x 4.6 cm; Formenti et al. 2005: 1562). These short, wide skis can be easily maneuvered through brush and stowed on a snowmobile or reindeer sled. Both groups of Evenkis use plain skis. Hunting skis soled with moose or reindeer leg skins muffle the sound of snow and brush and the stiff hairs are oriented toward the rear to grip the snow, preventing back sliding in deep snow or when going up inclines. The primary purpose of these skis is for stalking, where noise control is very important. Men of both Kochema households stalk, but only one of the Khamakar Evenki households had hunting skis visible, others may have them in storage. Only some Evenkis make hunting skis because stalking is a difficult method of hunting.
For snowmobiles, condition of the trail has a strong influence. Traveling over undisturbed, powdery snow takes more power than over an established, hardened trail. Powdery snow behaves similarly to water (Mellor 1974: 253, 286–287). The snowmobile makes forward progress by displacing snow under the tracks faster than it can flow out of the way. When speed decreases, this relationship reverses and the snowmobile displaces snow more slowly than it flows. This leads to the snowmobile sinking until the whole undercarriage is buried. Getting un-stuck involves clearing snow from around and in front so that only the ski and tracks are touching the surface and then carefully engaging the throttle to avoid spinning the track. Powdery snow is a significant problem when going up a hill, especially with a loaded sled. After packing the snow with just the snowmobile, the trail is usually sufficiently firm to allow pulling the sled up most grades.
The primary goal of this research is to explain the processes and purposes of mobility in the Evenkis’ economy, which I have variously called transport, travel, movement, and other terms throughout the text. Mobility is a time and energy cost of achieving goals, but is also subject to structural factors. In this section I analyze the Evenkis’ means of transportation using the economic variables of costs and benefits and the qualitative variables of constraints and opportunities.
In examining the economic and characteristic domains of vehicles, I found the greatest areas of difference to be between motorized and non-motorized forms of transportation. The five domains I examine are energy source, repair, payload, speed, and sound according to economic and characteristic properties. These variables fall into several categories: inherent to the vehicle itself, significant in comparison to a near substitute, or important because of environmental factors. In analyzing these variables, I have taken a pragmatic view in choosing the domains and which aspects are important. The domains are both categorical and continual, but in many cases I have chosen to focus only on one aspect. For instance, I have chosen to emphasize the type of energy source (biophysical and gasoline) and the dynamics of use, and have left a quantitative comparison to further exploration.
The cognitive and skill aspects of foraging and other activities form the basis of some of the findings in Tables 6 and 7. These factors were often brought up by Evenkis during interviews and were indicated in Figure 1, but this information was largely qualitative and is more thoroughly explored elsewhere.
Motorized transport includes boats and snowmobiles. Most individuals from both Evenki groups have access to one or more snowmobiles, although they were not always available due to breakdowns and being out on loan. Each of the Kochema households own one or more snowmobiles and the Khamakar Evenki males either own snowmobiles or have close associates willing to share. Boats ownership follows a similar pattern.
The Khamakar Evenkis were the only group observed using motorboats. The Kochema Evenkis do have a boat and access to a seasonally navigable river but use it only infrequently. Khamakar Evenkis use motorboats to travel between the villages along the Tunguska River and their hunting territories. The village of Khamakar receives some supply shipments, but fuel and supplies are often transported on private boats. Products in the local store are often poor quality and over-priced, so supplies are privately purchased and transported from Erbogachen.
The monetary costs of motorized vehicles are repair parts and gasoline, both of which require participation in the cash economy. The Evenkis acquire cash through selling sable skins, wage work, or through relatives. Aside from monetary barriers, there are time and availability problems with seasonal gasoline shortages in Erbogachen, which may not align with the Evenkis’ season of need, and the ordering and shipment of spare parts into the region, which may take weeks for delivery. Acquiring repair parts and gasoline can involve borrowing money, calling in favors for delivery, and other complications. The proportion of time spent in repair vs. use was much higher for motorized vehicles than for non-motorized vehicles (Figure 6).
There were breakdowns of boat and snowmobile motors, leading to an increase in the time it took to move from one place to another and a greater amount of time spent in repair relative to travel in comparison to non-motorized transport. The snowmobile has a high payload, speed, and convenience factor, but it can be difficult to repair and source fuel. Domestic reindeer source energy from the environment and have modest payloads, but they are reliable, if time consuming. Given the size and relative remoteness of the Kochema Evenkis’ territories from large rivers, using a mix of motorized and non-motorized vehicles maybe a strategy to mitigate the downsides of maintaining only one type of vehicle. For similar observations on motorized and non-motorized means of transport and how they are used by foragers/pastoralists, see Binford (1977: 24) and Pelto (1987: 67–69, 77–94).
The most beneficial aspects of motorized transportation are high payload and high speed. Some of the things a snowmobile sled can haul are a moose carcass, fuel and cargo for a journey of several hundred kilometers, firewood or passenger(s), and cargo for a job or trip. Snowmobile use for both Evenki groups emphasized two factors: long-distance travel and cargo hauling. The two groups differ somewhat in how they use snowmobiles. Khamakar Evenkis seem to park the snowmobile at the main cabin on the territory, using it only for trips and errands, and use skis to check traps. The Kochema Evenkis are nomadic during the winter, so they move the snowmobile along with migrations and while they may use it incidentally to check sable traps while on logistical trips they stated a preference to use reindeer for many tasks.
Motorboats can also be used for hunting. During the fall of 2011 field season, Khamakar Evenkis from a neighboring hunting territory
|Energy Source||Gasoline, monetary||Storable, very powerful||Tethered to gasoline sources||No rest needed|
|Repair (mechanical)||Monetary||N/A||Cause of problems difficult to observe/infer, some parts fragile, parts difficult to improvise||Quick return of performance|
|Payload||Fuel must be part of cargo||High payload||Vehicle power, trail conditions||Movement of large quantities of cargo|
|Speed||Power vs. fuel economy, dictated by conditions/load||1–4 times greater than walking||Less opportunity for observation of the environment||Long distance travel, pursuit hunting wolves, reindeer, and moose|
|Sound||Loud Noise (hearing damage)||N/A||Less likely to encounter game||People can hear traveler at distance|
The snowmobile has some serious disadvantages for use in hunting. First, motor sounds carry a long way and disturb animals. The Kochema Evenkis stated a preference for travel by reindeer while foraging. Sound from reindeer and sleds moving through the snow is much quieter and so they are more likely to encounter game. The sounds domestic reindeer make are familiar and non-threatening to moose and wild reindeer. Second, snowmobiles are difficult to maneuver while using a firearm, since each task usually demands the use of both hands for best results. The Khamakar Evenkis mentioned that moose and wolves could be hunted by snowmobile. The technique depends on catching the animal in an open area and having enough speed and distance to overtake the animal and shoot it before it reaches cover. However, this depends on the landscape and luck in happening upon the animal at these places, quickly un-hitching the sled and hitting a moving target while maneuvering the snowmobile at high speed. It may be possible to refine this technique but two factors would make this difficult: operating the snowmobile in conjunction with aiming and predicting when and where game would enter the open area. Notably, some hunters, Evenki and Russian, habitually travel with a firearm slung around the handlebars of the snowmobile or easily accessible in some other fashion. This is because game animals are sometimes encountered near trails and having a firearm ready to hand increases the speed of getting a shot off before game is too far away or enters cover, rather engaging in snowmobile pursuit hunting.
A significant constraint for motor vehicles is that gasoline is available only from one source in Erbogachen. Typically, Evenkis and others going out onto the land purchase gasoline in advance and store it in 30–200-liter drums. While motorized vehicles have the payload to carry enough fuel for some period of use, the limited supply points, storage, and transportation requirements are significant constraints.
An ancillary benefit of snowmobiles is that they are used to pack the snow on winter trails for repeated use but also travel by reindeer sleds and foot travel. Packed snow increases the speed and fuel economy and reduces the difficulty of travel, compared to unpacked snow.
Non-motorized vehicles include reindeer, pedestrian, and canoe. The energy source for these vehicles is locally renewable (pasture, fish, and game). Reindeer are adapted to the same environments in which the Evenkis’ use them. Unlike other draft animals, such as horses, which require stored forage and shelter, reindeer essentially care for themselves in this regard. There are many ways that the reindeer’s adaptation to the boreal forest environment is advantageous in economic terms. That reindeer forage for themselves and need very little if any human intervention in providing for their physical needs is a significant economic advantage as well over motorized vehicles and their energy source, which must be purchased and transported. The energy source for humans consists in large part of meat, fish, and wild edibles, which can be acquired from the environment.
Repair concerns equipment for reindeer (saddles, sleds harnesses), the canoe itself and pedestrian equipment (skis, boots). The repair and manufacture of this equipment can be accomplished using locally available materials. The failure rate of this type of equipment in comparison to motorized equipment is low based on data gathered, but this is a very limited sample. The research period was late in the year, whereas woodworking is primarily done in the spring and summer with green wood, thus any repairs were likely completed before the field season. Based on interviews and observation, the Evenkis minimize opportunity costs of engaging in a particular activity through timing and intensity. In the case of construction and maintenance of this equipment, in the pre-hunting season period there may be fewer and less valuable activities to which time can be allocated. Certainly during the fall and winter harvest periods concentrating on productive activity (hunting, trapping, fishing) can lead to greater returns than mixing productive activity with curation tasks in the same time period. The means of optimizing efficiency is by focusing on tasks during particular times of the year, based on natural cycles, availability of labor, materials, or other factors.
In broad terms, sickness could be considered a kind of repair process. This is a more complicated topic, exposing the fundamental differences between living creatures and mechanical devices. The little information I have indicates that in some cases sick or injured reindeer are culled, in others Evenkis may take special care of sick individuals or they are allowed to heal on their own. More data on this topic would be helpful for making a comparison to other types of transportation.
The payload of non-motorized transport varies. The payload of reindeer and humans as a type of transportation is comparable on an individual basis. The estimates in Table 5 are approximate. A reindeer may be able to haul a 40-kilogram load on a packsaddle longer and faster than a human can on a backpack or other device. The Evenkis told me anecdotes about the men of older generations carrying loads well in excess of 40 kilograms over distance. The difference is that with reindeer the number of trained animals available limits the total payload, whereas with humans the limitation is the number and strength of people in the household. The payload of canoes is comparable to backpacks or packsaddles, with the difference that the operator is part of the hauling capacity and that payload is limited by the size and flotation of the canoe.
|Energy Source||Calories – Pasture, foraged or store-bought foods||Locally replenishing||Rest required||Available throughout the environment and seasons|
|Repair (sleds, skis, boots)||Manufacture time||Materials locally available||Seasonally variable materials||Infrequently required|
|Payload||N/A||High: reindeer Low: canoe, pedestrian||Strength vs. weight, trail conditions||Versatile|
|Speed||N/A||High: reindeer (must locate, harness) Low: pedestrian, canoe||0–3 times greater than walking||Observation of environment|
|Sound||N/A||Harvesting game more likely||Skill and control||More likely to approach game|
The economic tradeoffs of these different options vary considerably. The advantages of reindeer are that in most respects they take care of themselves, provide the ability to haul loads long distances, and can be used in all seasons, but not all conditions.
The speed of reindeer transport is comparable to that of snowmobiles (Table 5). Under load, snowmobiles are only a few kilometers per hour faster than reindeer. However, speed as a criterion does not account for how reindeer and snowmobiles are controlled. The difference is that reindeer carry a load in a group of roughly 1–14 individuals, each of which must be harnessed individually and managed in multiple pack strings or teams. While trained, reindeer are temperamental and can frustrate steady progress. The speed of reindeer transport must also include preparation for a trip. A snowmobile sits wherever it was parked, but reindeer roam around the landscape and must be gathered, harnessed, and loaded before the trip can begin. The speed of human mobility is slower but this is often because of activities done during travel (removing fish from nets, setting traps, stalking, etc.). In practical terms, speed of non-motorized travel is limited by strength and the condition of the route.
The level and kind of sound associated with non-motorized transport has particular advantages for foraging in comparison to motorized transportation. The sound of reindeer movement is quiet, if prey animals do hear it there is lower probability that they would associate it with a threat. The Kochema Evenkis noted this as a significant advantage of traveling by reindeer in contrast to snowmobiles. When moving in a particular gait, the tendon and bone of a reindeer’s leg make a distinctive, audible clicking sound. More subtly, the pattern of sounds reindeer make as they move through packed or unpacked snow is probably distinct from wolves. The Evenkis said that they are more likely to encounter game when traveling by reindeer than by snowmobile, but that sometimes sled runners scrape the snow and this sound is out of place compared to non-anthropogenic environmental sounds. This sound is much quieter than a snowmobile though, making approaching game to a closer range more likely. In the case of foot travel, stalking relies heavily on low levels of sound for success. The canoe also has low levels of sound, which is useful for hunting. The importance of sound type or level is particular to hunting.
The energy source of motor and human powered vehicles is a direct cost to the Evenkis in time and effort (hunting, fishing) or money (gasoline). The energy source reindeer use (pasture) has no monetary cost to the Evenkis. The cost is rather in the time and effort to care for their reindeer throughout the year. For motor vehicles the cost is monetary, for initial purchase and ongoing fuel and parts, with sable harvesting being a significant source of income.
Other anthropologists have made comparisons between motorized and non-motorized means of transport among foraging-pastoral arctic populations. For the use of dogs and snowmobiles for transport see Nelson (1986: 177–182) and Binford (1977). For horses and reindeer see Brandisauskas (2009: 68). For reindeer and snowmobiles, see Pelto (1987).
Given the many benefits of reindeer and snowmobiles, it is interesting to observe that some usage patterns are skewed in favor of snowmobile usage. In part, I think this has to do with the period of observation and the different barriers to using snowmobiles and reindeer on a population/regional level, not to mention historical and land policy factors (Sirina 2006: 38–46 et passim). The period of observation for the Kochema Evenkis was in the cold season and during that time of year they use reindeer at a much lower frequency than snowmobiles. In the warm season, they use reindeer as a means of transport much more frequently and they have no terrestrial motorized vehicle alternative during this time of year.
There are different barriers to changes in the frequency of snowmobile and reindeer use. For snowmobiles, this is monetary cost, predicated on a consistent source of income from sable harvesting or elsewhere. In the past, technical skills of repair, maintenance, and operation may also have been barriers, but at the moment they are widespread even among those who do not own snowmobiles. For reindeer the constraints are more varied and less easily addressed. The Evenkis’ system of reindeer herding requires, at minimum, a semi nomadic pattern of residence to shift pastures. Of the six households that currently herd reindeer, the Kochema Evenkis are fully nomadic (2 households part of this study) and the Teteia Evenkis are semi-nomadic (4 households, not a part of this study, migrate only in the warm season) and have much smaller herds. Additional barriers are knowledge of reindeer herding practices and access to land with sufficient winter pastures of lichen. Due to patterns of formal education, there are fewer young people now than in the past who have a practical knowledge of subsistence practices let alone reindeer herding. Some older and middle aged Evenkis have herded reindeer in the past, but have stopped doing so for a variety of complicated factors. Epizootics may be one factor, but forest fires in the mid-1980s on the lower reaches of the Kochema river basin changed the migration areas of the Evenkis in this region to the unburnt headwaters of this river system. Prior to forest fires in 1985–1986 they lived and migrated farther to the south in a different river drainage (Landerer 2009: 12, Landerer 2010: 18; Sirina 2006: 77–78). Similarly, in the Khamakar region there have been extensive forest fires in the recent past. Some Evenkis have speculated that the lichen base may have recovered enough to support reindeer in this region, but at the time of my departure it was unclear if there was interest in reestablishing a domestic reindeer population.
The diversity of motorized, human, and animal powered means of transportation the Evenkis use is one factor that distinguishes many Siberian peoples (see also Brandisauskas 2009) from contemporary foragers in the polar regions of America, who have not commonly used animal powered means of transport in several decades (see, e.g., Smith 1991; Wenzel 1991) and from foragers in warm climates who commonly use watercraft or pedestrian movement (e.g., Begossi 1992; Politis 1996; Raichlen et al. 2014; Sosis 2002). This is related to domestication, technological innovation/adoption, and lack of snow in many regions with extant foragers. The economic dependency of these groups on the local environment is a broad similarity, but the diversity of mobility technologies and how they are applied may differ.
In the introduction, I explained how mobility is a common behavior for achieving many goals. Usually, human behaviors are related to a specific kind of problem relative to reproductive and somatic effort. In some cases, such as foraging, mobility activity closely corresponds to a harvesting technique, targeted resource, and environmental conditions. When examining foraging patterns in the subarctic, Winterhalder (1977: 327–332) found that there was a strong correlation between frequency of trips, success, and specific environmental conditions of temperature and snow quality. In other cases, the correlation between conditions and activity may be weaker, such as winter logistical transport when optimal travel conditions are less specific (snow cover and > -30˚ C) and the benefit of the activity (moving items to a place for future use) is delayed for weeks or months.
The economic/characteristic of vehicles (Tables 6 and 7) and the mobility data (Figures 4 and 5) show for what purposes vehicles are chosen and what properties they possess to fit these applications. Based on this information, I define four general problems the Evenkis face in mobility.
Perhaps the most basic problem is having an effective means of mobility in different terrain, seasons, and conditions. The Evenkis use specific vehicles based on season and terrain: motorboats and canoes (warm season, water travel), reindeer and foot (warms season, land travel), snowmobiles and reindeer (winter, snow/ice cover). Conditions of the trail (hard vs. powder snow, upstream vs. downstream) have an impact on the energy needed to move across the landscape and the design of the vehicle (watercraft—buoyancy, winter vehicles—grams/cm2). The surface area to weight calculations in Figure 9 indicate that there should be differences in the energy required to move across the snow using different vehicles. Formenti et al. (2005) present figures for the energetic costs of using skis with varying weight and surface area ratios, but these do not represent non-laboratory use because they used a prepared, solidified snow surface, thereby measuring only the energy used to move the ski, rather than the skis’ performance in snow of realistic depth and density.
The second problem is having an effective vehicle for particular purposes. The Evenkis’ vehicles fall into two basic categories: high payload and high dexterity. For moving supplies and equipment, they use vehicles with a high payload: reindeer, boats, and snowmobiles. A simple economic model of logistics predicts that resources or the living site will be moved dependent on which is the lower cost option (Binford 1980: 15). The bulk and weight of equipment (seasonal clothing, shelter, household items, tools, stored food) is a significant factor (Binford 1980: 17) in the Evenkis’ means of logistical mobility exhibiting high payload (boats, snowmobiles, reindeer) and their extensive storage capacity (2–7 cabins per territory, plus a similar to higher number of caches for the Kochema Evenkis). Second, high dexterity, high environmental observation means of transport (pedestrian, canoe, reindeer to some extent) allow foraging in environments where it would be difficult otherwise (canoe, netting fish, hunting on inland water bodies), to facilitate foraging techniques, and avoid alarming game, and to search for reindeer.
During the periods of study, foraging was one of the least visible purposes of mobility. However, Evenkis explained many of their foraging techniques and why they chose particular vehicles. I found that there were two qualities important for using vehicles in foraging. First, vehicles used in foraging allow a high degree of dexterity and spatial manipulation. Typically, only human powered vehicles (skis, canoe, boots) allow hands-free operation or a high degree of dexterity to hold, move, carry, touch, and otherwise manipulate objects and space around the body. Second, vehicles used in foraging must have the characteristics necessary to exploit the vulnerability of the game animal. This is essentially the goal of harvesting techniques—to target behavioral, spatial, and perceptive vulnerabilities of prey. These characteristics vary between vehicles; low or non-alarming sound signature is common (hunting skis, reindeer sled, canoe, trolling motorboat), but speed is also a factor (snowmobile pursuit hunting, river hunting).
The third problem is obtaining an energy source and means of repair, an area of fundamental difference between motorized and non-motorized vehicles. Motorized vehicles are dependent on an industrial supply chain and participation in the cash economy (Pelto 1987: 166–168). Non-motorized vehicles use power sources that obtain energy from the environment where the Evenkis live in the form of meat, fish, and pasture. A comparable case of northern foragers’ investment in motorized versus non-motorized transport comes from Smith’s quantification of snowmobile vs. dog team requirements in the Canadian arctic (Smith 1991: 379–384). He found that snowmobiles were higher in monetary cost, but that producing food for dogs was a much higher time and energy investment than earning money to use snowmobiles. Unlike dogs, domestic reindeer feed independently and eat different foods than humans. Reindeer and snowmobiles (through investment in sable harvest) are only in direct competition for the Evenkis’ time, but use different energy sources with different structure and availability.
Motorized and non-motorized vehicles have very different modes of failure and repair. The functionality of motor vehicles is through mechanical processes and the supply of fuel. Non-motorized vehicles’ repair dynamics are distinguished by power source (human, animal) and the vehicle itself (ski, sled, boat). The vehicle is subject to fatigue and damage but once breakages occur, it is usually time to construct a completely new vehicle. The human and animal power sources regain their potential to do work through rest and eating, and repair in the sense of sickness and injury is usually a self-regulating process. During the period of observation, repair was much higher for motor vehicles (Figure 6).
The fourth problem has to do with choices and skills relating to vehicle use for particular purposes and conditions. The safety of mobility largely has to do with weather (temperature, precipitation, daylight) and natural hazards (ice thickness, snow depth, overflow, submerged sandbars, and rocks), but also the skill of the operator. Based on interview data, weather does have an influence on when to move (daylight: all vehicles; day or night: snowmobiles; temperature ≤ -30˚C: avoid travel) and particular activities (warm, breezy weather: stalking moose). Natural hazards are less easy to quantify and predict, given that they have very specific and sometimes difficult to observe conditions of development. Matters relating to cognition, skill, and vehicle choice are in need of further study.
When mobility is examined on a purpose/frequency basis, one methodological problem is categorizing the purpose(s) of trips. In studying the Nukak, Politis (2006: 28–37) found that their mobility had a variety of purposes and tasks, such as sanitation, food production, resource collection, and seeking mates, however, he did not specify the frequency of these reasons. Defining the purpose of trips may be easier to do in cases of logistical mobility (Binford 1980), but even the logistical trips I recorded among the Evenkis often had one or more secondary purposes. These codes are convenient, but do not fully match the Evenkis’ patterns of behavior that show purposeful trips for foraging and logistics, but also contingent preparation (bringing a firearm and skis on logistical trip) and mixed purpose trips. While I attempted to capture the range of activities and purposes during a trip, this type of coding may be problematic for some kinds of analysis.
My goal in studying the Evenkis’ mobility has been to identify important factors in the observed patterns of human behavior and relate them to technology, environmental conditions, and animal behavior. These patterns sometimes relate to the goal of mobility, such as searching for reindeer, and sometimes relate to the process of mobility, such as traveling on a packed snowmobile trail before it is obscured with falling snow. In patch choice theory and economic studies, it may be important to distinguish between causes of variability in the goals and processes of a behavior. Historically, in many ethnographic accounts, mobility is poorly documented and similarly, in some more recent anthropological studies mobility may be a hidden source of variability. My hope is that this study provides useful analogies to those interested directly in mobility and those who find mobility relevant to their topics of interest.
The unique opportunity to research with the Evenkis of the Katanga Region of Eastern Siberia was made possible through the Home, Hearth, and Household Project, NSF grant #0631970 of Dr. John Ziker. My deepest gratitude to Nina Veisalova of the Irkutsk Native Peoples Association, and Dr. Artur Kharinski and Dr. Evegenii Ineshin of the Irkutsk State Polytechnic University for their very generous assistance. This work is dedicated to the people of Erbogachen, Khamakar and the Kochema who graciously shared their homes, tables, and experiences with me.
Saami is the modern ethnonym, Lapp was the term Pelto used—both refer to the same ethnic group.
The running joke about Soviet boat motors: “before you could hear nothing but cussing and yelling on the river, but now all you hear are motor sounds,” after many have switched to more reliable Japanese or American outboards.
In Russian: naled. See Conover and Conover (2006: 152–157) for a description of techniques for dealing with overflow. Overflow is commonly referred to as naled or aufeis in scientific literature. See Hardin et al. (1977) for an explanation of overflow formation.
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