The nomadic camp "Neltenke"

Yu.A. Sleptsov

Camp “Neltenke” is a nomadic camp established to revive the traditional way of life, language, spiritual culture and customs of the indigenous Even people. The name "Neltenke", or "Sun" in English, was thought of and selected by the young children – Camp Neltenke ’s future pupils.


Camp “Neltenke” is located in the Momsk District of Yakutia, in the upper reaches of the river Arga-Tirekhtyakh, in the territory of the reindeer-breeding unit "Choloy" of the State Unitary Enterprise "Momskiy".

In 2000, the camp was visited by eighteen Even children in the 4 to 17 years age group. The children came from the Khonuu settlement, of the village Kulun-Elbyut and the town of Yakutsk . Ten of the children came from single-parent households or socially challenged families, and four children were under the protection of the Child Care Department. In 2001, nineteen Even children between 7 and 17 years of age from Khonuu, Kulun-Elbyut and Yakutsk participated. Three of these had handicapped parents, eight were from single-parent households, two came from large families, and two were orphans.

The main purpose was to study and learn the native Even language and ancestral customs. The teacher (E.N. Gerasimov) applied the language training techniques used in pre-schools. The children studied every day for 1-2 hours and practiced speaking Even with each other after school; i.e., during meal preparations, camp work and breaks. The children quickly learned to master the most common words used in ordinary conversation. They also learned songs and rhyme, to help them to understand and remember words. To begin with, the children hardly spoke or remembered any of the language and had to use notes to read. But by end- summer, the children both read, remembered and understood much of the dialogues, and carried on Even conversations without notes.

Before the camp started, some parents had felt ashamed of the fact that their children did not know their own native language. After the children returned from “Neltenke”, the parents expressed great pleasure in their children’s knowledge of the Even language, and they were no longer ashamed. This was the highest distinction paid to the project participants. 

An examination carried out at the end of the season showed very good results: the children had begun to speak and understand their native language. When visiting Momsk and the village Kulun-Elbyut again, E.N. Bokova, one of camp employees, happily informed me that children who had participated in the camp, were accepted at high school faculties.

In addition to the Even language, children studied extreme survival techniques, how to use portable radio sets and fire-arms, and orientation and they learned ancestral customs and place-names. Their ancestors named places according to their properties and features, and knowledge of places is especially important for future reindeer breeders. The children studied basic occupational safety, transportation, and crossing of mountain passes. They distinguished between and gathered various sorts of berries. Mountain cranberries, blueberries, black and red currant, cloudberries, crowberries and arctic blackberries grew in the camp vicinity. Older children went hunting and fishing together with the instructors. Children liked the salty fish prepared according to my recipe. When I salted a fish, children sat around and watched with great interest. We caught mainly grayling, as there practically was no other fish.

The children who visited the places of their nomadic ancestors, not only relaxed, but also received a charge of vivacity for the whole year. They also played various sport games with pleasure.

I would like to explain one of the Even games. Games using rocks were especially interesting. Using rocks of various size and colours, the children constructed miniature nomad camps staffed with people and reindeer. Through this game they learned the order of things in place and time in nomadic camps, where the clan leader, the reindeer breeders, their families and housings should be, depending on the location of the pastures, etc. This game made helped the children understand their heritage, and to accumulate knowledge of the unwritten laws of a rough, nomadic life.

The children also learned how to store meat the traditional way by preparing fresh meat and hanging it out on pegs and smoking it for preservation and storage.

Children were trained in many other skills necessary for a nomadic lifestyle. These skills will undoubtedly, be useful to them in their future lives. In the end, the camp fulfilled its purpose: children became professional reindeer breeders, learned to express themselves in their native language, and acquired all the necessary working skills necessary for a nomadic lifestyle.