On the banks of the Amur river 6146 kilometers away from Moscow is a place of true wonder and amazement. Here on the banks of the Amur a group of people called the Nania (in Avatar the Na’vi”) have lived in peace and harmony for thousands of years. The name Nanai means, “people of the earth”. There are no floating rocks nor is there a “Tree of Life” but dotting the landscape are hundreds of Petroglyphs on many of the larger rocks that were carved by the Nania people in ancient times. The people here do not suffer from those who came looking for Unobtanium, but from mining companies that have exploited them for the last 70 to 80 years.
Traditional ways of Life
In the late summer and early autumn months they would fish for salmon in the rivers, with the whole community involved in the process of catching, preserving and storing the fish. Groups of men would head out into the forests on long hunting trips for furs during the winter, while in spring and early summer they would hunt for meat. Summers would see the communities living in tipi-like tents or circular huts made from birch bark, and in winter people would live in dugouts. The Nanai used to wear clothes and shoes made from fish skins and were known also as the “fish skin people”
Quote from Lindsa before she died, “everything in the natural world has consciousness, and if you are given energy be sure to pass it on – give it away; don’t keep it to yourself”
What are Their Beliefs?
Their traditional belief is shamanism; however, there are some who are Tibetan Buddhist. The Nanai believe that the shamans have the power to expel bad spirits by praying to the gods. They worship the spirits of the sun, the moon, the mountains, the water, and the trees. Among all of their beliefs, they believe that the land was once flat until great serpents gouged out the river valleys. They also believe that all the things in the world, each thing possess its own spirit who wanders independently throughout the universe. Inanimate objects were regularly personified. A common example is Fire; it was personified as an elderly woman which they called Fadzya Mama. The children were not allowed to run up to the fire, because they might startle Faszya Mama. Men were always courteous in the presence of fire. They would generally bury the deceased in the ground, unless it was a young baby under one year whom they would put in a tree.
The Nanai Today
Today, the Nanai face many problems related to local ecology and the near-disappearance of the Nanai language. For some time the Nanai have constituted only about 10 percent of the regional population, which has contributed to the disappearance of the language among those in the 20- to 30-year-old age group. For several years, efforts to revive the language have focused on language classes taught in the local schools.
Although some old traditions—especially as regards material culture—survive, the Nanai are today a modern people with a relatively high educational level. On the collective farms, fishers are mostly the elderly. In villages and cities the Nanai work in a range of occupations and are often highly trained and skilled. Women work mostly in service occupations, especially as teachers and in health care.
One area that is fascinating is the folklore of the Nanai people, here in the following collage of pictures is one of the fairy-tales told with pictures.
Illustrations by Gennady Pavlishi