Celebrating the incredible resilience of Nenets women by documenting the experience of pregnancy and childbirth in their extreme natural environment, as well as their experience of cultural and climate changes
Women at the End of the Land
Through visual storytelling, ‘Women at the End of the Land’ explores and documents traditional midwifery wisdom and knowledge of indigenous Nenets women transmitted during their yearly winter migration across the Yamal peninsula.
My name is Alegra Ally and I am an ethnographer, photographer, and explorer. The expedition ‘Women at the End of the Land’ is part of the Wild Born Project, which I initiated in 2011 and have been tirelessly devoted to since. The Wild Born Project aims to explore and document traditional knowledge and ancestral wisdom of women members of remote tribal communities during the many phases of motherhood: pregnancy, birth, postpartum and right-of-passage rituals throughout each trimester. I started this project as a way to contribute to the revitalisation of indigenous knowledge in the present day, in order to ensure that their knowledge continues to be valued and can be passed down from grandmothers, to mothers to daughters and to the generations to come.
The Wild Born Project is distinct from the other ways women tribal members have been documented: it places women’s wisdom traditions at the center of focus and understanding. These ceremonies, rituals, herbal remedies and rites of passage have not yet been explored either because the traditions were too sacred to be shared, certainly not with an expedition of men, or because they were not seen as inherently valuable and transferable to the modern progressive world.
In my research, I aim to share the stories of women, their experience of motherhood within some of the most challenging environments on Earth while also considering traditional and modern techniques of birth and the relation between cultural practices and natural environments. I have worked with a number of indigenous communities around the world including Himba women in Namibia, Meakambut and Kosua communities in Papua New Guinea, Taut Batu communities in Palawan, Philippines, Changpa nomadic communities in India, and now for this upcoming expedition with nomadic Nenets communities of Yamal.
Going to Siberia
Why I need your help
So far, all of my expeditions to very remote communities have been self-funded. This coming trip to the Yamal peninsula is by far the most complicated and as a result – the most expensive. First I fly to Moscow from Australia where I am based. In country, my primary expenses are: the ‘fixer’, a local that organizes all the required permits, visas, means of transportation, as well as finds a pregnant Nenets woman in her 9th month of pregnancy that is comfortable with me joining her during her third trimester and a female translator to join me for the entire duration of the trip so that I can communicate with the women. The gear I need ( including my clothing, camera gear and satellite phone) is very specific to function in the extreme conditions of the Siberian winter. Lastly, printing the photography book will also be a big expense. For this expedition to happen I need your support.
What will this Kickstarter campaign achieve ?
“The voices of indigenous people matter because they can still remind us that there are indeed alternatives, other ways of orienting human beings in social, spiritual, and ecological space.” Wade Davis
Documenting oral traditions is important because it helps with reconnecting people to their land and ancestral ways of life while affirming their own identity and rights.
Why is it important?
“Women At The End Of The Land” is a project that empowers women, tackles diverse cultural issues, and promotes indigenous rights. As I document the journey through film, photography, and media engagements, I hope to raise awareness of the imperative issues facing these communities and mothers today. Oral traditions of ancestral knowledge within indigenous societies are disappearing. Gathering traditional heritage also enables indigenous communities to record their historic presence on the land and their cultural and spiritual connections with it. In many cases, this record can support Indigenous Peoples’ attempts to uphold their rights when facing development pressures that might radically alter their natural environments and their ways of life.
The importance of now
Currently the women of the Nenets people stand at the crossroads of two cultural ways of life. Most Nenets have chosen to live traditional lives, migrating using wooden sledges and living in Chums (tents) made out of reindeer skins. However, due to the wealth of natural resources in the area, the Nenets also have increasing access to an array of technologies from mainstream society. When it comes to childbirth, some women still choose to birth in their Chums while migrating, relying on traditional midwifery skills and knowledge. However, more frequently families are opting the use of snowmobiles as a means of emergency transportation or embracing aid offered by the Russian government in the form of helicopter transportation to hospitals throughout the Peninsula. The outcomes of this expedition should therefore not only provide complex anthropological knowledge supporting the heritage of the indigenous people for future generations, but also has as objective to explore the inherent cultural changes that both enrich and threaten Nenets collective identity. To what degree do their living environments impact their culture and beliefs? How have Nenets women responded to cultural, environmental and climate change? What are the social and economic factors that reshape how Nenets people perceive and practice childbirth?
“The message on vanishing cultures is about cherishing, respecting, sharing. Espousing cultural survival, not cultural preservation. recognising the right of cultures to evolve according to their own dynamics and values, not those imposed from the outside. “ Wade Davis
I am asking for AU$29,300 (US$22,000) to be successful in my project. This goal will help me cover most of the costs to make this expedition a reality. All dollar amounts contributed to this project truly count and any funds beyond my original goal will enable me to deliver a better product, gain greater insight and share more findings: more financial support will increase my satellite data allowance so that I can send more updates to the website and backers. Furthermore, it would allow me to increase the page number of my hardback book to feature more photographs from this expedition.
At the end of this expedition I will create a high quality photography book which will feature photographs and stories documented from the expedition. This WOMAN AT THE END OF THE LAND book is part of the Wild Born Project series.
Pledges of $50 or more and you will receive a signed, limited edition hardback copy of this wonderful photography book. For pledges of $100 I will also send a limited edition photo set printed on high quality paper.
If you have any questions and would like to talk to me personally , pledging $250 will give you the opportunity to talk one-on-one with me for 60 minutes via Skype – I will happily share insights and answer all your questions about the project and expedition.
Pledging $500 or more and you will have the opportunity to choose your favourite photograph to be gallery wrapped and printed on 20″ x 30″ museum quality canvas for your home or workspace. A signed copy of the Hardback book is also included
Pledging $1000 or more and you will have the opportunity to choose your favourite photograph from the expedition to be gallery wrapped and printed on 36″ x 48″ museum quality canvas. A signed copy of the Hardback book is also included
In March 2017 I will be presenting at the Annual Dinner of the Explorers Club in NYC. For $1500 I would like to take this rare opportunity to invite you to join me at a private lunch to honour you and show you my gratitude. There we can talk about the expedition and enjoy a special one-hour tour of the famous Explorers Club Headquarters!
Lastly, I will happily curate a Photography exhibition of Women at the End of the Land expedition, along with a short film screening and a talk at the venue of your choice located in either North America, Europe or Australia. This $3,500 pledge is limited to 3 exhibitions.
Risks and challenges
This trip was initially scheduled for February 2016 but finding a woman in her ninth month of pregnancy in such a remote location and being able to reach them while they are migrating was a very challenging task.
Having to deal with the extreme weather conditions and remoteness of the Nenets people have had a huge impact on the planning if this expedition.