Meeting the people
The geography of Evenk dissemination in Siberia is extraordinary wide: their settlements could be met from Yenisei towards the Far East and from the Arctic Ocean towards China and Mongolia. At the same time the nation's total number is estimated as 29.9 th. people (as per 2002). Such differentiation of residence of Evenk ethnos historically is linked, first of all, with their nomad life style - scientists-ethnographers of the 19th century called them "taiga gypsies". Evenks previously names as Tungus, actively migrated across taiga searching for new hunting grounds, taking on deer their tents and house-wear with them. Settled living occurred to take place only when the Soviet power came, and at the same time the traditional housing - tent - became to be replaced with the Russian style log huts - izba. Despite the transition to settled living, Evenks kept during the 20th century basic types of housekeeping - hunting and deer-breeding.
At the territory of the Republic of Buryatia nowadays Evenks use to compactly live in three districts - Bauntovsky, Kurumkansky and Severobaikalsky. Also depending on the basic activity they are divided into three groups - orochens, or deer Evenks (from evenk word 'oron' - deer), murchens, or horse evenks, and lamochens - from the word lamo' - lake (meaning Baikal). It will not be mistake to say that the most traditional, who saved their culture fully, are orochens, mostly inhabiting Bauntovsky district, because other Evenk groups left deer-breeding not long ago due to objective reasons (mainly - death of deer of epizooty in late 19th century).
The history of relations between Russian pioneers with trans-Baikal Evenk tribes started since 1640s when Cossacks actively develop land east of Baikal. Thus, in 1641 Cossack sotnik (lieutenant) Ivan Osipov submitted the first known "message on Tunguses", which, in particular, said: "There are Tunguses the deer living at the other side of Lama (lake Baikal). They have the bow fight. The arrows have bear spears and kopeitsos (a sort of twister) all made of bone, and few are made of iron. They slash both timber and firewood, and yurts are cut with stone- and bone-made hatchets. They are living in yurts like huts covered with skins. They are breeding deer and are big masters in hunting, especially for big game».
Therefore it is obvious that Russians met Tunguses practically in primeval condition. In 1652 the Bauntovsky Cossack stockaded town was originated The friendly affairs with trans-Baikal Tunguses are established by this time, their lands are peacefully adjoined to the Russian, and the local population has "taken the citizenship of the White Tzar". Since the moment of trans-Baikla lands access to the Russian crown Tunguses immediately are charged with taxes and became the "yasak people", i.e. those who pay yasak - contribution to Tzar in the form of fur, named at thattiem as "soft junk". It is interesting that during 17th - early 18th centuries the fur business became the major occupation of Evenks, displacing the previously wide spread "meat" hunting for big taiga animal. If previously hunters shoot sables and squirrels mainly to decorate clothes with fur applications, now fur became the commodity. Procured above yasak skins were possible to be exchanged for money, flour or alcohol. It's known that fur buyers often cheated unsophisticated children of forest. They arrived at nomad camps, made everybody a drunkard and lend hunting supplies, food staff and other goods. They left loaded with "soft junk" and bondages in fact local population - there are instances that some Tungus families were debtors of merchants for whole generations.
Orochens, deer Evenks of Baunt, left for hunting on deer! Fur hunt was divided into two stages: since mid October to wards mid December it was hunting for squirrel period mostly, than it was rest till mid January, celebration of tribal holiday Suglan and preparations for the next hunting period. Since mid January through end of February it was the major hunt for sable, lynx, fox, squirrel, ermine and other fur animals. Hunters left wives with kids in tents, saddled deer and rode about the taiga. Sometimes they spent one and a half or two months if forest -all the hunting time! Deer were trained to carry on people, luggage, packs with food, soft junk. They perfectly moved across taiga in snow due to large hoofs. The wealth of Evenk those times was numbered in amount of deer.
Evenk tent appeared to be conically placed poles, which were covered with fur-skins in winter periods, and with birch bark in summer time. There was the fire place inside the tent upon which the horizontal pole for the pot was arranged. On top of the tent the hole to provide the outlet of smoke was made.
In summer period Evenks joined their kins for cooperative deer pasture. Since May the calving
started and till July they with youngsters were kept inside the fenced areas protecting young deer from predators. It's interesting that the rest of time deer pastured freewheeling approaching tents only to satisfy the salt hunger. Summer was the period for upland fowl (big taiga birds), hunting for Manchurian deer (Russian merchants willingly bought up antlers), fished, picked berries, wild garlic and leek. Evenks did not eat mushrooms. Meat stocking and preparations for new hunting season took place during the autumn period.
Before the revolution Orochens had a kin style of life, they had hunting and tribal cults, totems, shaman mythology. Each kin had own shaman, who was requested in cases of illnesses of men
or deer, rituals for success in hunting, and to take the soul of the deceased to the superior world. The system of shaman mythological conceptions of Evenks reminds on the shaman cults of Northern American Indians and other small nations of the North and Siberia. The Universe was divided into three worlds - lower world, the kingdom of evil spirits, middle world, i.e. earth, and the superior world, where Seveki, the superior deity of Evenks, and good spirits were accommodated. Namely there the soul of deceased is leaving to, and it was accompanied with shaman to avoid misroute. Still in the Northern Buryatia the upper burials could be met -amazing constructions made of piles, upon which the woody flooring is arranged to place the body of deceased. The burial rituals often were accompanied with sacrifice, as usual deer ones. The deer meat was eaten, and the skin, head and some internals were left for spirits.
"Environmental mentality" and national costume
Speaking on the traditional beliefs of the Northern Buryatia Evenks it is necessary to notice the respectful attitude to the nature, the surrounding world. Actually, it was always characteristic for Orochens to have what now is called "environmental mentality". They not only consider the nature alive, inhabited with spirits and deify stones, springs, rocks and particular trees, but they were firmly aware of the reasonable limit - did not cut trees more than needed, did not kill game without need, did not touch dams with baby animals, even they tried to clean-up the area of hunting camp after themselves! All these "environmental" taboos and prescriptions were passed on from one generation to another in kins and built up the basis for ethic thinking of Evenks.
Russian geography scientists called Evenks "aristocrats of spirit and body". Actually, the clothes of Evenks distinguished with beauty and grace. Coats made of deer skins they decorated with beads and fur, and traditional footwear unts (high fur boots) embroidered with composite pattern. Unts were made of kamus - the most solid part of deer skin taken from the animal legs, from knees to hoofs. Kamuses were used to resole the skis underneath either. And traditional Evenk round carpets - kumalans - legally decorate many local history museums of Buryatia, Russia and the world! The external beauty of costumes of Evenks was added with internal beauty. Many travelers and scientists speak on such characters of the nation as kindness, responsiveness, politeness and ingenuousness.
Kuchelbecker, Pushkin and evenk poet A. Platonov
The big impression was made by the Evenks of trans-Baikal on A. Pushkin's friend Wilhelm Kuchelbecker, who served exile in Barguzin after the Decembrist rising. Visited the Evenk nomad camp in 1836 Kuchelbecker wrote to Pushkin a letter, in which he described the burden of life of taiga hunters and fishermen, life and customs of Tunguses. The same year in autumn A. Pushkin knocked off a poem "A monument vernicle raised myself", which contains the following lines: "The news of me will through the great Rus whole, And name me will any language real in it, The proud Slavic grandson, and the Finn, And savage now Tungus and steppe pal Kalmyk".
It is little-known that in the second half of the 20th century Evenks replied to Pushkin. Here is the poem made by the Evenk poet A. Platonov:
"Pushkin! Pushkin! In this blink
Look, the greatest poet,
Stare, what is Kalmyk
And Tungus, once were wild!
With song the people are here and there
Life beautiful they lift up.
That's your, your dream
Like happy sun that's rise up!"
Soviet period in nation history
Certainly, a sort of ideologizing feels in this poem, but the whole 20th century went down in history of Russia as the century of the great experiment, and the Evenk ethnos was one of the victims of the policy implemented by the Soviet Government and the Party. The policy aimed at the erasure of ethnic specificities of indigenous people of Siberia, creation of a unique nation under the "Soviet nation" name was in fact carried out in the Soviet period.
To illustrate this idea I'll provide the words of the Evenk folk song originated in 1930s, when Evenk community center (so called houses of culture) was named as "the red tents", and the CPSU took the lead role in imparting Evenks to the values of socialism:
" Urelduli - Lenin, Biralduli - Lenin,
Urikittun - Lenin, Evenkilun - Lenin",
what is translated as:
"On mountains - Lenin, Along the rivers - Lenin, At our camps - Lenin, With Evenks - Lenin".
Would notice that this song is not so much reveal the fanatic adoring of world leader of proletariat by Evenks as their ingenuousness: by 1930s many Evenks lived better than before the revolution. The medical services appeared, the deer loss stopped, the schools were built. There is nothing surprising that they attributed the positive social changes with Lenin's name and the Communist Party. Though, in 1930s the Party under the leadership of J. Stalin started to eradicate shamanism among Evenks and other indigenous peoples of the North. During the period of 1930s - early 1950s practically all acting shamans and even their family members were repressed and exiled for forced labour, and many were shut. Thus, the traditional Evenk religion went deep underground and since only late 1990s its renaissance started and the first shamans appeared.
Today such include mainly survived in the repression years descendants of the kin Evenk shamans. Except this fact the Evenk life in the Soviet period of our country was quite and it promoted the development of traditional ways of economy. Deer-breeding and hunting were successfully developing, fur-breeding sovkhozes and kolkhozes were establishing. It should be noticed that since 1960s Evenks became literate in total. Children of hunters and deer-breeders graduated with higher education at specialized boarding schools, what allowed their parents to be occupied in taiga. Many Evenks got higher education in Leningrad, in the Institute of North Nations (of the Herzen University) and were trained for professions different from traditional - form journalists to programming specialists.
During the World War II the Evenks of Baunt hand-in-hand with Russians and other nations defended our Motherland against German occupants, at that for a keen eye and firm hand the natural-bom hunters were assigned with the sniper units.
Deer farm "Taloy"
During the winter of 2003 our film crew visited the deer farm Taloy located in three hundred kilometers form the district center - Bagdarin village. Two thirds of way we crossed upon the frozen river bed. In summer it is possible to get there only by off-road or helicopter. Taloy for the present time is the only remained after the postperestroika times deer farm where Evenks are trying to restore the traditional farming. The dynamics of deer-breeding degradation is oppressive in recent years in the district: if in 1970s-80s in Bauntovsky district there were 5 deer farms with I total population of 3,500 deer, than in 1990 the number of farms decreased to three, and the population - to 1,200 deer. And only one deer farm Taloy, which have only 158 deer, reached the millennium. Meanwhile, there is an opinion among Evenks of Baunt that Evenks are alive until the deer are. "No deer - no Evenks" - say old-timers and there is a grain of truth in these words -actually, for hundreds of years the life of Orochens was part and parcel with the deer herd and old-timers can't remember such situation as nowadays. Even in late 19th century when epizooty and mange epidemics took many thousands of deer, they still remained much numbered than today. As we were told by the Victor Mordonov, who came from family of deer-breeders, permanently lived with deer at Taloy farm, there are several reasons for such drastic reduce in deer number and the main - is economic. Deer-breeding did not fit the market relations - this occupation was never profitable, and in Soviet times it existed at the state subsidies. When the capitalistic relations returned to the lands of the Northern Buryatia nobody wanted to invest in unprofitable sector. Moreover, it is necessary to change in bucks with neighbouring districts and areas to revive the brood in order to maintain the deer population in good condition. It calls 'to add the fresh blood'. And the neighbouring deer farms somehow decayed themselves and there was no one to change in deer. Many deer were sold for meat - dietary venison had good sell among gold miners from goldfields operating around. Finally, when Taloy remained in splendid isolation, does without fresh blood began to born week calf, what was immediately used by wolves ranging around.
"2000 was the hardest time, though, - goes Victor Mordonov, - we thought deer wouldn't come to farm in spring at all." If the deer herd would come away from i the free pasturing into taiga, that would mean the end of deer-breeding in Bauntivsky district. But the herd returned to people and now it seems that the hard times are passed. The heroic efforts of Victor, his wife Olga and few Evenks assistants at the Taloy deer-farm in last years provided the increase of herd! It is happened because two farm workers protected she-deer with calf, provide vitamin feed-up in winter, poisoned wolves. Victor and the district veterinary even scheduled the trip to Chita, where deer-breeding was kept either, to share the buck. The fact that the deer-farm became the part of Evenk kintribal community "Dylachca" helped it to survive. The head of this community Andrey Turakin, being Evenk himself, is doing a lot to restore the traditional Evenk types of economy. The main income the community gets from gold-mining and jade trade, which is gladly purchased by Chinese. And proceeds are subsidized to deer-farm, restoration of hunting farms and fishing, conservation of traditional culture. Thus, Dylacha (in Evenk - sun) comforted the Baunt Evenks life in the very beginning of the 21th century. It seems that deer-breeding in the district has good perspectives!
Return of traditions
In conclusion I would like to tell that positive changes in Bauntivsky Evenk district are reported not only in deer-breeding. Overall Evenks demonstrate the awakened sense of ethnic self-identification, interest to own history, culture and traditions. In Bagdarin, district center, there is the Center of Evenk Culture, which is headed more than ten years by Evenkess Daria Mironova, Honoured Teacher of the Russian Federation. It's enough to list the several groups existing on the basis of this Center" to get clear - ethnic culture is coming back to Evenks, the traditions and skills are restoring. The group 'Hunting Environmental Path' provides young Evenks with ability to deep into taiga, to familiarize with the regional nature, obtain knowledge and skills necessary in life and hunting. Groups 'Fur and Skin Dressing' and 'Stitchcraft, Beadwork' allow young Evenks to learn traditions of dressing and processing of fur and deer skins, teach the Evenk art-and-crafts.
The group 'National musical instruments' not only familiarize with typical Evenk instruments, but allows children to produce them with own hands - such as, for instance, orevun - pipe made of birch bark imitating the sounds of Manchurian deer male during the rut. And dances performed by Hosinkan (Sparkle) company amaze with perfectly directed choreography and brilliance of folk costumes! And the main -there are Evenk language lessons, contests of best knowledge of folk proverbs, tales and riddles taking place on the basis of the Center of Evenk Culture and boarding school. Restoration of practically lost among youth native language allows children to legally feel themselves as the representatives of unique Siberian ethnos, getting them deeper in native Evenk environ, provides power and confidence in future. The Center of Evenk Culture is very big among Bagdarin youth, and it is visited by Russian kids too along with Evenk. Many children are visiting several groups at once.
The hunting is back either. Thus, the Chairman of the Regional Association of Indigenous Peoples of North Vlaidimir Torgonov, Evenk himself, went for hunting this winter to taiga at the Vitim river. And he spent whole two months using the open top canvas instead of the tent! Indeed, such examples evidence on that the restoration of the unique culture of amazing taiga people Evenks is taking place nowadays beneath our eyes. May Seveki help you, taiga aristocrats!