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Sign Systems Studies

Volume 34, Issue 2, 2006

Between Semiotics and Anthropology

Eva Toulouze, Liivo Niglas
Pages 509-524

Parler de soi pour changer le monde. — Speaking about oneself in order to change the world

Speaking about oneself in order to change the world. Juri Vella is a Forest Nenets reindeer herder, writer and fighter for his people’s rights. In his private life, he enjoys silence, as it is a rule in his culture. But the public man, who is graduated from the Literature Institute in Moscow, is aware of the power of speech, and knows how to use it for his goals, to support his vision. He had to realise that the native peoples in Western Siberia have lost much of their skills and acquired none during the Soviet period, in which they were compelled to integrate in the society and to attend Soviet institutions as school or the army. This process has been intensified in the latest fifty years, with the invasion of their traditional territories by oil industry. But Juri Vella expects the oil reserves to finish one day, and then the aborigines will lack the goods bestowed upon them by “Western” society and will have to survive with the help of the traditional skills. He tries to promote his vision of the natives able to live in both worlds and able to recover their dignity. This article analyses his public speech in this behalf and the way Juri Vella speaks about himself, enlarging his “ego” both to his clan and the native peoples in general and connecting it very directly with the space around him. The main sources are Eva Toulouze’s fieldwork at Juri Vella’s taiga camp, living with the family five months, and the film Liivo Niglas has shot about him in 2003.

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