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Monday, June 20, 2011

The Chukchi People (Habitants of Ice)

At the very North of Russia (Siberia) there are many Paleo-Siberian, small and old group of people who have lived on the white lands for many years. Among those one group of people are called Chukchi who live near the Chukchi Peninsula and the shores of the Chukchi Sea and the Bering Sea region of the Arctic Ocean within the Russian Federation.

The Chukchi are traditionally divided into two main types, Maritime Chukchi, who had settled homes on the coast and lived primarily from sea mammal hunting and are shepherds, or the Reindeer Chukchi, who nomadised in the inland tundra region with their herds of reindeer. The name "Chukchi" is a Russian word which is derived from the Chukchi word Chauchu (rich in reindeer), which was used by the 'Reindeer Chukchi' to distinguish themselves from the 'Maritime Chukchi,' called Anqallyt (the sea people). The indigenous name for a member of the Chukchi ethnic group as a whole is Luoravetlan (literally 'true person').
The known history of Chukchi people start from the early 15-16th centuries when the Chukchi People were driven away from their lands by the Yukaghir tribes. They had to move to the very East of the country where the Asian Escimos lived and shared the land with them. Their relations were always quite peaceful and very soon their peoples mixed together and started speaking the mixed Chukchi-Escimo language.

Then in the year 1729, Russia started severe Military actions against the Chukchi people but that lead to no result at all due to which in the year 1760 it was realized that lots of ammunition and money has been wasted to finish these people so the Military operation was stopped..
while restricting the native people to pay heavy tax and condition that Chukchi people will not attack or harm the Russians passing through their lands which the Chukchi readily agreed. Chukchi religious practices were prohibited by the Soviet Union in the 1920s .In the year 1930 the russians included these people under the Soviet Union and the land of Chukchi became a base camp and jail for the strayers as the Russian government arrested millions of people and brought them to jail in the Chukchi lands.

Currently there are around 15000 Chukchi people present. Most of these people belong to the Independent district which is situated at the extreme northeastern part of Siberia. This area is devoid of any greenery and trees and consists of vast barren fields. Administratively, they belong to the Chukchi Autonomous District of the Russian Federation.

The atmosphere of the region is severe with the temperature reaching -54 degree Celsius in the winter and at most 10 degree Celsius in the summer. The places near the sea are damp and as you move further into the area the atmosphere gets more and more dry gradually.

Language and Names:
The Chukchi language belongs from the prehistoric asian languages. The language of females is slightly different from men. The women's language lacks the r-sound, they pronounce ts instead. The men's pronunciation of the r is regarded as unsuitable for women. Although there are many different dialects yet there isn't much difference in the language. Up till 1931 the Chukchi's did not have their own written language and around 75% of the people claim that they know their language completely without any written piece. 

Until the start of the 20th century most of the people had the same name and that tradition only changed when Russia asked the people to name their children on the family names so that there be no problem in getting the children registered in schools etc.
Some of the common names are as follows.
  • Tynga-gyrgyn ( Sun Rise )
  • Gyrongav ( Spring )
  • Umqy ( Polar Bear )
  • Galgan-nga ( Duckling )
  • Omryn ( Strong Man )

Traditions and Folk tales:

There is a common mention of Earth,Sun,Moon, Stars in the traditions of Chukchi people on how they were created and who created them, tales about animals and jokes are also common part of the traditions.

There is also a big part of the folk tales consisting of spirits who bring darkness and diseases for the native people. Shaman (The lord of Chukchi) is also considered a holy spirit and many tales are famous about his existence and creation, he is considered a the most powerful being among all the present. Wars and Skirmishes with the Koriaks and Eskimos are also present in their literature.

In Chukchi religion, every object, whether animate or inanimate, is assigned a spirit. This spirit can be either harmful or beneficial. Some of Chukchi myths reveal a dualistic cosmology. Chukchi religious practices were prohibited by the Soviet Union in the 1920s.

The people of Chukchi belong to a type of Shamanism religion, whose traditions and religious activities are different. Chukchi believer that every living things… animals, plants, trees, flowers, rivers, jungle and nature have a spirit of their own. In their religious activities Chukchi also use magic and certain chemical substances. They claim that by Shaman magic they can talk to the witches and spirits and also that witches talk to other people through them. Shaman not only magic but also predict their future using these techniques When the Soviet Union targeted the religious communities the Shamans were the least to suffer because they live in homes and did not have any sort of gathering to publicize the religion.

Important Festivals:

Most Important festivals of Chukchi people are those in which they sacrifice in the name of Holy Spirits so that there is no tragedy and their family remains safe. They also sacrifice so that their herd of Reindeer in the autumn while people near the shores sacrifice in the summer.

Other Traditions:
Once there were many traditions to follow when a baby chukchi was born but with the passage of time these traditions have died away. Whenever a female was pregnant it was a routine for her to see the rising sun everyday and as the sun moves along the day she had to change her direction accordingly.

When the time of birth is near no man Is allowed to enter the house because the Chukchi think bad luck can enter the house with the man. Similarly when someone dies the body is kept at a safe place in the hope that It might turn alive, but this is done only for two days after which the dead body is given a bath, given gifts such as tobacco and weapons, put in a wool of animal and burnt or left at an unknown place where it is believed that it’ll finish with the cold weather.

Relations Among Themselves:
Due to the barrenness and cold weather the life at Chukchi is very tough, that’s why the people of Chukchi take special care of their guests irrespective of any relative or stranger. If any passenger asks for food or stay over the Chukchi never refuse. It is necessary for the community to help the widows, orphans and poor’s. Greediness and Bad manners are hated.

The old and traditional houses of Chukchi are called Yaranga.  They are made by the skin of Reindeer and other animals inside which there is an opening which is used for sleeping. This opening box is made from fur and it’s so big that many people can sleep at once.

Even though the Yarangas are still present but now they have been taken over by wooden houses or at some places, even concrete buildings. People living at the shore use sledges or boats made of animal fur to travel from places, where as people which live in the dry areas use solid sledges which are run by Reindeers although now people do use motor boats and snow mobiles.

Sickness and Diseases:
Before the contact with Russia, people of Chukchi were unfamiliar with the word medicine because of the area they lived in. There were no such plants or minerals from which any medicine could be made, thus the diseases spread quickly usually killing hundreds of people.
The diseases of Chicken pox and Influenza were a gift from the Russians who spread it in this region; Chukchi had no medicines to fight these diseases.  It was very late when the Russian and European medicines reach this area, the doctors are the own people of Chukchi who do not charge much except that the medicines are not that frequently available. People smoke and drink a lot and killing is a common crime in the area with suicide.

Like every other country and place, the family here consists of Parents and unmarried children but having a baby before marriage isn’t considered that bad. In the Chukchi areas women are considered less superior to men. It was only after Soviet policies that the women got equal rights and that’s the reason that you get female administrators in the region. There are also many female teachers and doctors.

Women of Chukchi wear the traditional ‘Kerker’ dress which is made from the skin of Reindeer and Seals. In addition to that women also wear a special overall made by the skin of Deer.

Men wear loose pajamas and shirts which are also made from the same material as of women. Men and Women both wear shoes made of Leather which keep the feet warm, In the modern times Chukchi people wear modern clothes but it’s necessary to wear traditional dress on the festivals.

Chukchi people eat the meat of Reindeer; they also make soup and gravy from the meat. The brain and bones are also considered tasty.

The famous dish of Chukchi is ‘Rilkeil’. It is made from the undigested food from the kidney of Reindeer. Other ingredients include Blood, Cavities, and intestine of Reindeer. People living at the shore make dishes from the meat of fishes such as whales, Seals and walrus. But now bread, eggs, vegetables, and other items are easily available.

Most of the Chukchi kids study in secondary or boarding schools because the local colonies are too small to accommodate any schools. The only mode of education Is the Russian language because the government has prohibited the use of local languages as mode of study but still some people do manage to study in their local language at Chukchi.
The famous writer from Chukchi was from the 1950’s by the name of ‘Yuri Rytkheu’ whose poems, short stories and novels are famous all over Russia. In the 1980’s after the permission and Independence of local press He now is an active critic of Russian government policies for the Siberian people.

The famous sport of Chukchi is Sledge Race. It takes place on a car to which many dogs and reindeer are tied. Other than this Wrestling and Foot race are also famous.

Usually these sports and games take place on traditional festivals.


  1. really nice article Raffay! i liked it :)

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