Sunday, January 19, 2014

CEREMONY & TREK SURVIVAL - PART 2 (A)

[This story is an improved version from mini cassette recordings of Mekkar’s actual voice in 1990 while hiking and walking as a University student; Then, it was converted to a Windows Media Audio File and transcribed in 2011. Mekkar’s spoken English skills are nowhere near as polished as Saavo’s are.]

Some of the animals have different colors. They have birth marks and color spots just like people. Their colors can change and vary according to the seasons too! [Wikipedia] There is a tendency to conserve all white reindeer fur a little longer so that the material can be used for more special occasions. Products such as footwear and clothing as used in specialty cultural events such as weddings, etc.

Once upon a time, in many places, the principle was once married one usually stayed together for life. Mekkar suggests that divorce would be almost non-existent on the part of both parties, if there were some type of major price to pay for all involved. A price that involved more than just financial assets. If both persons were to be put to death for this drastic action of separation, then both individuals might think twice and try to work it out. Marriage would also be held in higher esteem than it is today and more like the institution it was in the past. Now, there isn’t any place that is not infected by the new divorce trend. To him, it is very unlike the old native customs. In Mekkar’s mind, there has been a rapid progression in many areas, especially in the past few generations. He chalks it up as part of a range of negative effects that has affected many native cultures. The dark side influences brought on by modernization and modification. He feels that not all of these changes are good and positive, but instead destroy the old ways. He feels that this is only one element of a larger extensive ongoing agenda. A plan carried out on purpose. One that is predetermined to extinct native peoples by fully and forcibly assimilating them into the overwhelming cultures surrounding them.

Anyway, on the trek the key is to find a few followers among the reindeer to move right along with the leader. The idea is that the rest in the herd will follow suit. A keen herder can soon identify those traits in regard to individual animals and nudge them to the proper locations, if necessary. Those reindeer are harder to find than a number one. There are always a few animals who will battle for the top spot because it gains favor with the females of the herd. Growth and hardening of annual antlers are also used in later dominance sparring sessions around rutting time. Demonstration of individual battle readiness and prowess practice to ward off all foes will be exercised as well. Yes, they make a spectacle of themselves and show off just to impress future potential mating partners, just like people do. Of course, there will be some younger ones, stragglers, and others that are too exhausted for whatever reason to continue onward. In those cases, there are a host of actions taken to transport those animals along the journey.

The trek is an amazing thing. It could involve many reindeer clumped together from different families. To an outsider, it could look like a pure nomadic setting and total chaos, but that observation would be incorrect. There is always a plan and these methods have been used successfully for a long time. The group has chosen a strategy that would take the beasts away from the low lying areas after the long winter. They have been somewhat buffered from the harsh winter weather, now it is time to go. Biology dictates moving the herd to higher ground above the tree line in the spring and summer. All herders desire positive outcomes during the calving phrase. Replenishment is the key to not losing each person’s whole collection of animals. A protective and anti-pest rationale is also used to keep everyone on the trek away from predators and nagging insects. This ritual has been practiced for many generations.

Natives joke when giving advice to tourists and others planning to visit the region. If you are arriving here for the nice, sunny weather and the infamous twenty-four hour sun show up in May or June. That is, the sun in the middle of the summer never completely sets below the horizon, even in the middle of the night. They are also told not to come during July or August. Otherwise, the sightseers might become fresh meat and a nice blood supply for the mosquitoes to feed on. As the locals know those insects flourish in the many waters and lakes during the extra sun periods of the year. The vermin can fill the sky when migrating from bush to bush. The local inhabitants of the area then eagerly await bird arrivals, which then gorge on the pests. There is such a plentiful food supply, the fowl get too full to fly. A waiting period is needed before they fly back down south for the winter as part of their yearly migration.

Movement from place to place according to the seasons is based on an old principle. You do not want to have the animals, and for that matter people, use up all the resources that available in a specific area. If a group or individual uses everything up in that small location, there might not be any grow back in a timely manner. That includes limited food supplies also. Like it was mentioned beforehand, it is all part of the cycle of life and taking care of your environment for survival. It is the opposite of the modern concept of always attempting to dominate your surroundings and changing it to suit your needs. Mekkar is of the opinion, those prejudices will eventually come back to bite a person in the rear end, usually at the time when it is least expected.

Outsiders approaching a certain culture always see things from a different point of view. They look at aspects that those who grow up in a society take for granted and never recognize. On the other hand, insiders use metaphors and take stances that outsiders will never understand. It is always a matter of individual perspective and cultural upbringing that shapes a person. Each person is different in how they assimilate the world in their own mind and through their own belief system or bias filters, as Mekkar refers to them. True examples of these different avenues of communication occur specifically in sports locker rooms and companies that have an international flavor. Some of the people who didn’t grow up in that particular environment or with a certain language might not understand the banter and jokes among the team or business associates. It takes time to blend in as Mekkar calls it, even more than an individual anticipates.           

Okay, so as the crew starts the trek, the members of the herding band have brought a plentiful supply of winter clothing since that season has not completely passed. It is heavier in construction due to an expectation of not so pleasant weather at times on this trip. It is the arctic after all and the climate can do an about-face quickly. On the tunic there are bright colors that stand out and a darker colored background. Some of the older trekkers have black as the background. The young Mekkar sported a blue top with multiple striped colors on the shoulder regions and well as the various edges. The youngster wore the hat that he received, as a gift, from the shaman. In the old days some would use the hat in conjunction with daytime reflection the sun and shadows as a type of compass. Mekkar was hoping for a bonus that included some of the special powers emanating from the shaman himself. He would be disappointed in that regard. The boy wouldn’t know how to use those special abilities anyway. Either way, the symbolism is overt and evident. Once in a while, the hat is used for storage for small items or grass can be stuffed in it. The headpiece matched the shoes for insulation. The grass helps with moisture absorption also. The clothing is water-resistant and the boots can be made fairly leak proof depending on the materials used and the amount of effort in the construction. Most outer reindeer fur overcoats are sufficient and thick enough to keep one warm in the frosty elements.

There is also the ventilation feature taken into account. A person doesn’t want to have excessive body sweat in the harshest winter cold. The risk of somebody’s pores or sweat glands freezing is real. It can result in a slow enough heart rate to possibly stop it and potentially kill you. The worst thing one can do is to fall asleep in extreme cold temperatures. The idea is to keep moving with the blood pumping throughout their body. On television or in photographs, you can see Arctic or Antarctica research explorers cover their face and extremities when outside in the harshest weather conditions. Otherwise, wind burn-marks can result from the pure dry cold. People have lost body parts from severe frostbite of exposed skin areas.

Adaptation to this type of environment, in these areas, has evolved over thousands of years. The norm is a very dry climate with low humidity, however, that depends on the season. The herding party has been fortunate and has encountered snow, on this journey, that is deep and packed down real well so far. In many Arctic societies’ native languages there are many more words for snow than let’s say, english. Some of the words describe the texture, the type of flake in its shape and size, moistness, and many other aspects of the winter white stuff. Yet, key more precise terminology to keep mere mortals alive in the midst of potentially brutal elements.

Well, as the crew is beginning the trek. Mekkar is feeling prepared and eager to get going. He feels confident in his fairly water resistant wares on his body. Even his shoes are modified to slip on the skis that across his back, if needed. Very similar to the old fashioned methods which his people have been employing for a few millennia. The function of skiing, not just for sport, was invented in the Arctic regions. Mekkar would refer to it as an area north of the Arctic Circle. In modern lingo, it is referred to as a Land of The Midnight Sun. In reality, there are quite a few large territories encompassing this region of the globe.

Past settlers and leaders from outside of the territory have placed their own claims to this land previously inhabited by native tribes. It was common for invading chiefs, kings, and warlords to resort to conquering these vast areas by force. Brutal, forced religious conversions of the local populations were used against the inhabitants already living there. The main goal was to own the area’s vast natural resources which included subjecting the native peoples to unconscionable conditions. In some instances, driving them to their death by treating them like worker drones. This was also carried out by newcomers through a method of raping, plundering, pillaging, intimidation, and other means to get what they wanted. Like all so called civilized cultures do, the foreigners’ mindset was to act in a manner that imposed their will, military strength, and lifestyle. They have a belief that their actions will automatically bless the hapless and backward natives without consideration to consequences. There is an applicable modern saying that fits the superiority attitude of the invaders, “Might makes right.” [The Melian Dialogue by Thucydides, 431 BC; Adin Ballou, 1846] The results have shown that betterment is not the case most of the time. Any benefits afforded the locals are usually negated due to that mistaken ignorance of modern man. Unfortunately, the indigenous people bear the brunt of the suffering.

During this growth period and development children in Mekkar’s area of the planet learn to ski, ice skate, and walk at relatively the same time. That is the case for many youngsters in the same age range as him. Exposure to cross country skiing is essential and used as a transportation method during the wintertime. A valuable skill when there is too much snow and one doesn’t have the desire or the time to dig out their vehicle. Don’t forget the added obstacles of the road conditions.

It is much quicker to slip on your skis and be ready to go. Of course, like anything else a person is unfamiliar with, cross country skiing is harder than it looks. The closest experience most individuals have to it would be the ski motion exercise machines. It is a good workout especially if an individual is not used to it. You work many muscle groups, upper and lower body, all at the same time. That goes for places you didn’t realize you had or have neglected for a long time. The next day soreness will definitely be felt by the inexperienced. Mekkar has conducted this activity when it is freezing cold outside. The hazard is one doesn’t want to overwork themselves and incur too much exposure to the surroundings. The Arctic boy has learned to first prepare the body for acclimation, similar to a warm up. There is a delicate balance in keeping the body temperature warm and refrain from exhaustion due to amount of effort exerted.

Still, you have all of these reindeer that have been gathered from the various families from the village, including Mekkar’s. One question never asked or mentioned would be regarding how many reindeer each family has. A similar scenario would be if a person asked the personal question of, “How much money in the bank do you have?” A real personal and private thing, indeed. On top of that it is also considered rude. The total number of animals in the herd was a fair amount considering the small size of Mekkar’s village. Not quite big enough, population-wise, to be considered a town or hamlet by the government far to the south. The number of people in the area would fluctuate during the high point of the peak tourist season. However, it shrinks back down to a certain level of minimal visitors throughout the rest of the year.

Well, this journey began in the late winter and will continue on into springtime. A reindeer round-up area had been previously setup to the north. The goal was to gather the initial herd together for overland travel. This environment is not for the timid and weak. There is a ruggedness of the people that live here and even more so that go on these treks. The problem is there are scarce resources which replenish themselves very slowly or not at all during the winter season. Plus, they get used up quickly by all surrounding them, even by others, who take no precautions toward the delicate environment. It is a necessary concept to trek by moving the animals around from place to place, just as it has been for many years. At least not become stagnant and continue to rotate to higher ground and back down every year. Trekkers benefit as it keeps them regularly in touch with nature. The journey also forces them to learn and remind them of what they need to do to survive. As he got older, Mekkar pondered further on these concepts.

That is the whole key to the Arctic native existence lifestyle. Survival in an area that almost nobody else wants to live in. For the longest time, the regions in the far north were left alone and were basically avoided. Until later, when it was realized that the polar circle territories could be exploited and provide benefits for those far to the south. Vastly outnumbered natives have been pushed further north throughout history. Encroaching populations have advanced up to the point where there is no where else for the natives to go.

Mekkar, in a playful manner, blows air out of his mouth to estimate a guess of the temperature and moisture in the air. He also originally over estimates the number of persons from the village that would be involved on this particular trek. It turns out there would be a little less than fifteen that would accompany the herd. The youngster is raring to go and already had his gear packed along with skis.

Initially, he proceeds to trod through the deep snow among the trees around his house. Mekkar picks up his knees as high as he can in practiced anticipation. The thought runs through his mind that he hasn’t done this for awhile. The remembrance reservoir of Mekkar is still so small due to his young age. Not only that, his sense of time is very inaccurate as compared with a grown-up. He regards a week as a long period of time. Oh! The impatience of youth.

The Arctic youth feels like he is ready to get going. However, this will not be a short journey. In addition, this travel route is going to a different place, not their group’s usual location at this time of the year. Mekkar has begun to convince himself that this will be a good trip and a positive experience. Mekkar overheard the trek leadership speaking about it and thus assimilated the information into his feelings, his inner being. The boy listened as Ansetti and others were discussing the state of the whole reindeer herd.

The exchange included the last fall selection for edible uses, rutting time, and surviving through the winter season. It was determined by the group that the remaining reindeer will be starting out on this trek as a healthy group. It is important the beasts not resort to laziness either. They also need exercise to increase their strength to fatten up later on in the year. Mekkar listened to the conversations about the parallels of movement increasing stamina. The notion is to fend off exhaustion and disease for the benefit of the upcoming birthing process. Mekkar was being selfish as he heard the dialog by only thinking about himself at this point. He gave no consideration of the trekking hardships and their effects upon the animals.

A small number are included on the journey and traded for other goods or sacrificed for food. Many other parts of the animals’ anatomy is consumed in some manner, nothing is wasted. Mekkar has worked out a plan where some of the bones and antlers are grounded up and sold to tourists as an aphrodisiac. It is popular with the Asian visitors, especially the Japanese, because they treated those items as an exotic product. Mekkar was aware that some would pay good money to purchase a small bag of the stuff. He wanted to capitalize on that. Various natives are always searching for ways to supplement their income. German marks, United States dollars, and British pound sterling were the common foreign currencies used in the transactions. Money from the United Kingdom was considered the best, during that time, because it offered the best exchange rate for locals.

Back to the trek, the adolescent Mekkar realized this was the first trek after his family had been fully domesticated with ownership of a permanent home. They were not labeled as semi-nomadic anymore. He knew the conditions outdoors were harsher than normal, but that did not temper his enthusiasm toward the trek that was soon to begin.

Ah! The weather outside was bearable, as they left the comforts of the village, on the first day of the trek. One of the elders made a statement, in a joking tone, that it was a pretty warm day for this time of year. It still was minus 15° Fahrenheit below zero (-26.1° Celsius). There was not too much wind, just pure bitter cold that burned the lungs as it was inhaled. The body clothing was fine and well suited for this. It was made for much chillier maximum conditions than this, even without other additional garments underneath. The outer layer fur coat made it downright toasty for Mekkar’s core area and easily kept in his body heat. The boy had his hat too stuffed with the insulation, so he was fine. He was used to being pelted in the face by the cold when frequently playing outdoors. Only in instances when the temperature dropped a lot further than this would he put on protective gear to cover the face. Otherwise, it is too much trouble. Mekkar refused to put on all of his extreme cold season gear for overland travel mobility reasons. Just in case, he kept some of it packed nearby and accessible. Off they went.

The whole crew followed the animals and went about, I don’t know, fifteen hours non-stop that day. A few of the straying reindeer and loafers were brought back to the fold by the mixed breed wolf-dogs that assisted the herders. These dogs were kept and trained by Mekkar’s family specifically for use on the trek. Their job would be to keep the drifters and slow members of the herd from running off through the action of snipping at their heels.

Those helper dogs were raised from the time they were pups. They were a mix of approximately seven-eighths wolf and one-eighth regional husky dog. Those animals were powerful and feisty too. An inexperienced boy was no match for them. There was a lack of desire to have purebred dogs to accompany the trek. In many cases unmixed pedigrees have certain diseases that have more of a chance to negatively affect them. There is a belief that it considered better to have mixed breeds to better resist potential diseases and they have a stronger immune system. These canines were purchased from a guy down south that Mekkar’s papa knew. The hybrid animals were extremely loyal and served the family well. They were still fairly young and had been in service for only a short time before this trek. Yet, they were tough and the reindeer knew it too. The individual members of the herd didn’t want the mongrels snapping at their heels. Thus, the reindeer pretty much stayed together as a group.

A few of the hooved animals had encountered live wolves before, so it wasn’t unheard of. Those reindeer knew exactly how to react by getting themselves back to the main group. Wild packs do roam the territory and the four legged beasts are acutely aware they could be in for a fight for their lives, if attacked. Mekkar felt the semi-tamed herd animals have some perceptive abilities. To him, the reindeer understood there was no real danger from the dogs keeping the crew together. It seemed that some reindeer also recognized which owners were connected to certain canines. Maybe, the young boy was just dreaming and not being realistic.

Some of the herd that had Mekkar’s own ear markings were somewhat comfortable around the youngster. It appeared as though they recognized him and there would be no harm done to them. Mainly because he had a habit of regularly going outside near his house and talk to the animals as they were being fed. On other occasions, Mekkar would give them treats.

Taking a throng of reindeer on a trip is not an easy task. Mekkar relates it to an overseas vacation. There is foresight and logistical coordination involved. Both the breeding and branding processes are a chore too. Most people would be clueless of what to do and the chaos might overwhelm them. In this band of trekkers, there are a small number that previously remembered the last long very difficult trek. It is a numbers game when everyone’s animals start off together from the home village with a limited number of human guides to accompany them. The burden is on the individual herder, even little Mekkar. You had to know what you were doing. Competency and skill can not be faked. The risks of a screw up could place everyone on the crew, as well as animals, in great danger. Death is a possibility as a result of a mistake or errors in judgment. Minimum consequences would be a price paid through suffering for all connected with the trek.

It is more beneficial in the native thought process to take your time, do things the right way, and avoid a series of little mistakes that can add up to large ones. Carrying out duties in an inconsiderate, unsafe manner could unsettle and rapidly ruin the expedition. Oh! The pressure. Later on in his life, conflicting cultural differences and similar courses of action would create inner conflicts within Mekkar.