Indigenous people from the snow forests of Inner Mongolia and Siberia have been reunited with century-old photographs of their family and communities as part of a research project and exhibition at the University of Cambridge.

Each photograph tells many, many different stories about the lives of the people, the clothes they wore, the animals they raised and the places they called home.

Jos Dudding

Previously unseen photographs showing life in a remote corner of the world a hundred years ago will be displayed for the first time as part of River Stars Reindeer at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

The photographs document the indigenous Evenki and Orochen communities and were made by Russian ethnographer Sergei Shirokogoroff and his wife Elizabeth between 1912-1917, and by Cambridge graduate Ethel Lindgren and her husband, Oscar Mamen, between 1929-1932.

The exhibition, which opens on June 23, is the culmination of a painstaking curatorial process, which involved choosing 70 images from more than 26,000 photographs; a process further complicated by the research team coming from ten different institutes located in three different countries.

One of the exhibitions curators, Jocelyne Dudding, said: “This is a unique opportunity to see the very best of their images together for the very first time. The photographs are not only a wonderful record of the ways of life for Evenki and Orochen, but they also speak of the more personal stories behind every image.

“Each photograph tells many, many different stories about the lives of the people, the clothes they wore, the animals they raised and the places they called home.

“These stories continue still as members of the community recognise the names or faces of family and friends that they had not seen for decades, or had never seen, as was the case of Anta Bu and her father.”

The conversations Dudding and her fellow researchers from Aberdeen, St Petersburg and Hohhot had with the indigenous communities directly influenced the selection process for the exhibition. As the project developed and word spread, more and more communities from other areas came forward and asked to be included.

“River Stars Reindeer comes about from a digital sharing project to reunite Evenki and Orochen communities with their photographs, and thereby their histories and their cultural heritage,” added Dudding. “We are now in the process of digitally sharing our photographs with them - having spent the last 18 months digitising 16,000 images so far.

“The response of the Evenki and Orochen to seeing these photographs has been very humbling and we are excited at the prospect of displaying these pictures and telling these stories for the first time here in Cambridge.”

The exhibition title River Stars Reindeer speaks of the cosmologies and realities of the lives of Evenkis and Orochens in an area known as the three rivers region.

River Stars Reindeer runs from June 23 to September 27, 2015 at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.


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