People of the land

Khabarovsk Krai in Russia’s Far East is best known for its nature. From orchids to tigers, the region boasts an amazing variety of flora and fauna. The banks of the Amur are also home to the indigenous Nanai population (the ethnonym translates simply as «people of this land»).

Modern-day Nanais represent a complex historical community. They are the descendents of the Tungus, Turks, Mongols, and Machus who at different times settled in the Lower Amur basin. Since ancient times, the Nanai people have relied on fishing not only for sustenance but as a way of life. Today, pollution and overfishing has led to a decline of Amur salmon among other fish on the river. This has devastating repercussions for the livelihood of the Nanai people.

The native language continues to be taught at schools, but, according to the people I spoke to, it is given no special priority and is taught «in the same way as other foreign languages». Only some of the older generation speak their native language to a proficient degree, and nobody else speaks it in everyday life.

In spite of this, the Nanai community are passionate about preserving their culture. More than a dozen national ensembles work in the Nanaian villages: the work of the Nanaian masters of arts and crafts is truly diverse and known far beyond the borders of Russia.

"Bachigoapu andana!" - translated from Nanai means "Hello friends!"
An abandoned house in the village of Naikhin. The decline in industry over the last 10 years has spiked unemployment numbers in many of its rural villages. As a reaction to this, young people are moving away to bigger towns
A resident of Dada village. Traditional Nanai dress is distinguished by the quality of the fabric, its bright colours and rich, complex ornamentation, symbolising various natural motifs
A secondary school in Naikhin
Recent graduates of Naikhin school photographed shortly after their final ceremony. This year, only seven students graduated from year 11
During graduation at Naikhin secondary school
Leonid Makdyovich Beldy pictured beside his bee-hives in the village of Dada
A local ensemble practices ahead of a national holiday dedicated to the anniversary of the Centre of Nanaian Culture, situated in the village of Jari
A display of traditional household items during the celebration of the anniversary of the Centre of Nanaian Culture
In the village of Djari, I met younger inhabitants who were practicing parkour with a GoPro camera. It turned out they were filming videos for their YouTube channel
A resident of Naikhin pictured outside the Post Office
Students of the Children’s Centre in Naikhin before their end of year performance
Valeria, who works for House of Culture in Naikhin
The process of making fish soup, which will be treated to guests of the holiday dedicated to the anniversary of the Inter-Settlement Center of Nanai
In Dada, I talked to Danil Ivanovich Beldy, a PE teacher with nearly 40 years experience, and a coach in national sports and gymnastic competitions. Almost all the equipment in this gym was made by Danil himself
House in the village Dada
Locals are worried that fish have become scarce over the last few years. Many are outraged that this is happening as a result of exploitative fishing methods used by larger enterprises on the Amur River
A fisherman’s house