Monday, June 15, 2015

Ancient Arctic Folk

Representation of a Chukchi family by Louis Choris (1816)

The Chukchi   

The Chukchi are the ancient people living within the Chukotka Peninsula (northeastern Siberia)  as well as on the shores of the Bering Sea and Chukchi Sea. It is believed that they originated from the inhabitants of the Okhotsk Sea. 

Traditionally, the Chukchi are divided into two divisions: the Maritime Chukchi who lived along the coast and are focused on hunting sea mammal and the Reindeer Chukchi who wander within the inland tundra region with their reindeer herds. 

The name Chukchi is Russian stems from the word Chauchu – rich in reindeer - and is used by the Reindeer Chukchi to identify themselves. They are also referred to as the Anqallt (sea people).
During the prehistoric times it is thought that these ancient people were engaged in the nomadic type of hunting. Today they still hunt marine mammals, reindeer and polar bears. 

Their religion is considered a native form of shamanism in which every object whether animate or not had a spirit. Their rich folklore included creation myths, jokes about foolish people, misfortunes brought about by evil spirits, and ancient battles between them and Eskimos.

Here is an example of one folktale:
Several shamans were traveling on the ocean when their boat started to leak. The boat's owner succeeded in stopping the leak with the aid of seaweed-spirits. When they got near land, he told the seaweed-spirits to depart. The leak began again and he challenged the other shamans to stop it.  Not as skilled, they could not drown. Only the shaman who was able to master the seaweed-spirits swam to safety.

In 1920s, the Russian Federation setup state-owned operations based on reindeer herding, walrus ivory carving and more. As is often the case, they were educated within the dominant culture school system.  That resulted in a loss of cultural ways, such as language and elements of their nomadic lifestyle.

Today it has been reported that their native language is being revived among many of the population of 16,000. So are some aspects of their nomadic herding traditions.

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