The favorites of the Baikal taiga

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The Evenks (Tungus) living in Eastern Siberia include those living in the territory near Lake Baikal; they are one of the oldest indigenous people who lived in these areas and with whom the Russians cooperated since their first steps to these taiga lands. Though the Evenks were under the dominion of the Buryats and paid them a tribute they did not immediately submit to the dominion of newcomers. The famous explorer Georgy was one of the first who described that: “During the Russian attacks the Tungus showed more courage than any other Siberians, and no defeat could make them leave their home lands. After being defeated they rebelled many times in the subsequent period; and in 1640 the Tungus from River Lena plucked the beards of those who gathered the tribute. The Tungus who lived on the western side of the Baikal submitted to Russia not earlier than 1643, on the eastern side of the lake and at River Vitim only in 1657”.

The life of the Evenks in nature, their unity with it formed their simplicity, sincerity, high moral qualities, reverence to ancestors, and that became the basis for their traditions and behaviour. “…They always spoke and did what they had in their hearts. To lie was a sin for them, and this preserved them from suspicion and oaths. Theft and deceit are deeds so shameful that they often shoot arrows if they have wrangles. Having all the important supplies they cared much about them, and that is why they stay with their ancestors’ customs and way of life without any other whims and fancies”.

The Evenks were mainly engaged in reindeer breeding, hunting and fishing. In the taiga near the Baikal they hunted hoofed animals (elk, Siberian stag, goat, and musk deer), fur-bearing animals (fox, sable, Siberian weasel), and bears and wolves if needed.

The Evenks’ attachment to their traditional activities created an opinion about their certain fear of Lake Baikal and even their desire to avoid it. K. Balkov writes about that in his novel “Baikal, the Sacred Sea”: “The Evenks tribes’ attitude towards the Siberian Sea is prayerfully and childishly simple-hearted; they do not appear on the white sandy shores very often, living in the taiga knolls and mountain rivers through ages, building chums (tents) near tracks of animals and dens of bears, where the sun peeps in sometimes struggling through thick crowns of the taiga giants. Courageous in struggles with animals they become faint and weak-willed when find themselves on the shores of the Baikal, and fear bursts out at once in their little sharp-sighted eyes, and they set foot carefully and irresolutely and murmur quietly looking at the blue sea: “Oh, bachka, bachka!” And as soon as the necessity to be near the Siberian Sea is dismissed, they try to go away as quickly as possible”.

It is hardly possible to agree with the resoluteness and even validity of such opinions. When you travel on the shores of the Sacred Sea and find lots of Evenk names of its places (Aya “beautiful”, Ayaya, Shegnanda, Urbikan, Tomnuda and other poetic names), you understand how much this people loved and animated the Baikal, wondered its beauty. In the Baikal area in many places the Evenk names prevail (especially in the north). Still there is a reason for Balkov’s ideas: the products of the Baikal could not fully provide the ration of hunters and cattle breeders. Besides in low-lying places on the shores of the lake «the basis» of the Evenks’ household, deer, was mercilessly plagued by botflies, mosquitoes, and midges. And this determined the departure of animals and their owners to the mountain alpine meadows. For these reasons they came to their “breadwinner” only in certain periods. This can be confirmed by the Evenks’ calendar broken into periods: the season when duck sheds, the season when grayling spawns; the season when omul spawns, etc.

There is evidence given by Gerhard Friedrich Mьller that the Evenks of the Baikal had significant differences in their lifestyle from the steppe peoples. He described the Evenks of the Selenga who were occupied with cattle-breeding such as the Tatars and Mongolians, and he mentioned that “that is not a sufficient proof of their common origin. The opposite conclusion is most probable, because they did not have in their Tungus language names of different kinds of cattle and numerous objects concerning cattle-breeding, so they borrowed them from neighboring Mongolians. We can make a probable conclusion out of it that in the ancient times those steppe Evenks lived in forests and mountains of Middle Siberia like other Evenks: they did not know anything about cattle-breeding like all forest Evenks, they rode reindeer; and only while changing their living place they got used to the lifestyle of other steppe peoples”.

Many travelers and writers, who came across the everyday life of those children of nature, mentioned in their memories a wonderful combination of hospitality, even helpfulness together with the sense of their own pride. It is necessary at least once in your life to get on a nomad camp, to see deer in a willow pound through dark blue fog from smoky fires, a rope between trees, where the spread fish looks like silver earrings, fireplaces with a black tea-pot that has traveled half-tundra; it is necessary to be invited in a chum (tent), to glance over poles where wet gloves dry, to throw back your head and see a dark blue circle of sky as if it is seen from depth of a well. And when people saw that sincere desire, going from the very soul of the Baikal aborigines to share even the last piece of bread with others, this generosity and attentiveness of owners was perceived as an element of the environment, as natural as the beauty of surrounding area or as mystery of rocks.

There was and still exists an unwritten code of traditions for the Evenks that regulates social, family relations and relations with other peoples. It also touches upon the relationships of a man with the nature around him. It was indicated by the word ity (itin), meaning “the mode, law, regulation”, and also “custom, tradition and order”. According to the views of the Evenks, Ity as legal laws and traditions of life was given to the Evenks by the sky god of Boug. In a folklore version, they were left as precepts by the god-creator Seveki, who created Middle earth, a man and animals. They are the precepts common to all mankind, and the Evenks should live according to them. Socially, psychologically and ecologically the following precepts seem to be the most important ones:

• The man lives by the blessing of the sky Boug and earth. The sky-parent Boug gives everything to his children, the sky-parent Boug feeds the man. Do not disobey him; do not do anything opposite to his will.

• The earth raises everything and everybody, the man is also its mote.

• Do not grudge all that is granted by the sky-parent of Boug for other people. Share freely, following the custom of Nimat. Yet no one has died of that he fed an orphan, and the sky-parent Boug will bless and feed you.

• To live a life means to cross more than one mountain. Yet nobody in the world lived without suffering from a misfortune.

• Every living being finds a couple for himself, everyone has its root. How can a man be born without a woman-mother? Make your path following the traces of your mother, parents and ancestors.

• People must live sharing intimate ideas with each other, and live in harmony. Listen to those who saw the sun before you (i.e. listen to advice of elders).

• Do not think that you are the master of your own, or an independent branch of a tree. Let the good expose of you, and repress the bad in your soul.

• You will not go far with unkind thoughts; their road is short and abrupt. You will prolong your road only with good thoughts. When kind the idea a long way passes.

• The desire and passion to humiliate a man is the most sinful of all the prohibitions, to find guilt in an unguilty man is the severest sin. And even the most unattractive man can become a people’s pride.

• Do not rejoice at bad things, even if it turns out to be beneficial for you. In fact only nails and hair rejoice at the death of a man, because they begin to grow irrepressibly on a dead body.

• A bad speech pronounced by you will return to you following your track. Your bad words will be said back to you, later they will go after you and will end up coming to your children.

• Kindle the family hearth, give birth to a child, breed a cattle and you will become a real man.

A considerable part of food ration of the Evenks is fish. They get it in different ways. Georgi wrote that «they set out on water in small boats (Yau) that had light wooden basis and flanges of the same kind, the latter were sheathed with birch bark so densely, that water could not get through it.

Their boats are quite flat at bottom, both ends sharp, the length of them varies from 1 to 3 sazhen (1 sazhen = 2.1 meters), the width of the top varies from 1 to 2 feet, the weight is about 1 pood (16.4 kg), but they are hearty enough to ride safely not only for one, but for four or five people on rivers and great lakes, and on the Baikal, far from its shores. The paddles look like shovels; and they row them in turn, first the one and then the other. Brodniki (type of net), seine sets and other fishing tackle are unknown for them. Fish is caught with a rod that they put into the water over the edge of a boat going on rowing, and with trident iron pitchforks... When in autumn there is omols (omuls) motion from the Baikal to its rivers, they build a fence interlaced from twigs and put it in the river at an angle not far away from the bank, and they stand behind it in water and throw out fish to the shore with their bare hands, the fish that comes to the fence, and it is great in number» (80).

Naturally, such fishing, counting the small number of Evenks, who live in the Baikal area, did not cause noticeable harm to the nature, especially if they caught the fish rolling after spawning. But later on the rivers of the Baikal they began to catch masses of fish going to spawning, or rolling after spawning with nets. It affected the fish quantity of the lake very seriously. The Evenks also had specific skills of hunting. “Animal trade is performed differently. They use bows, arrows, bear-spears, snares, traps, and especially arbalests and dogs that are trained to hunt animals... Usually they go hunting one by one, and sometimes they disappear because of unhappy adventures: falling from mountains, sticking feet between unsteady dirt that covers rocky mountains, and also because of rapid rivers, predatory animals, etc.”

The Baikal seal attracted the Evenks’ special attention; moreover they felt special respect to this animal. For instance, they considered the Ushkani Islands not only the main residence of the Baikal seal, but also the main residence of the tsar of all seals. They even believed that seals had their own language and could feel: when they feel good, they are quiet; when they feel bad, they swim up to the banks and moan. Since the need in food and clothes made the Evenks hunt seals, they aimed, however, at regulating the hunting scale by different laws.

Sometimes watching the Evenks’ unhurried and quiet activities people conceive them as traditionally meditative and lazy. This prejudice exists among those random people who wander in the taiga, who see the Evenks unwilling to plough up land or mow the grass, and perhaps they simply do not wish to get used to new activities that is a pleasure for the Russian, Ukrainian, and now even for the Yakut and Buryat farmers. But if we look at an Evenk in the taiga – who can be compared with him in his skill, quickness and courageous capacity for work? B. Tugolukov, an explorer of the Evenks’ history and lifestyle, is right naming the notorious "native laziness" a historical mistake.

The Evenks are people very well adapted to live in harsh and cold areas of Siberia. Their adaptability to the hardest extreme situations evoked the greatest surprise in many European and Russian tourists. In the book "Siberian Habitation in Ancient Legends and Today Impressions" N. Shchukin describes a "wild" case seen by an officer: an Evenk woman gave birth to a child without any help at 35C degrees below zero and lay weak on the ice of a river. She managed to wash the child with snow, tie up the navel, wrap the child in a piece of fur and put him in the cradle, but then she weakened, and was unable to sit on a deer. She refused any assistance. What a surprise it was for the officer, when in no time the woman caught up with them in a shelter for the night, arranged her housing, unsaddled the deer and started cooking! The Aboriginal woman answered to the question whether she needed anything like this: "No, but if you have wine, so give me a glass ".

The lives of many Tungus (Evenks) tribes are closely connected with the area around Lake Baikal. There is a legend that in the northern part the Evenk tribe of Moyogirs used to live. Later on, during the migration of the Tungus to the north-western lands the tribes of Kindigirs came to the shores of Lake Baikal from the banks of the Amu River. When they reached the shores of Lake Baikal, the Kindigirs did not go further, the beauty of these places and the wealth of the taiga captivated them. The sea was so full of living creatures that the waves threw fish to the shore, and it could be gathered with hands. According to the legend, the Kindigirs fought for the right to stay on this land with their relatives the Moyogirs, the Buryat tribe Barghouti and Mongolian tribes.

In the Baikal region in the XII – XVI centuries the Evenks inhabited the areas of Barguzinsky and Bauntovsky taigas, the northern and eastern coast of Lake Baikal, they also lived in the upper reaches of the Uda River, the Eravna lakes, as well as of the south of Lake Baikal at Rivers Snezhnaya , Manturikha, Temnik, Armac and Dzhida. In the second half of the XVIIth century the Balakirs of Barguzin settled on the coast of Lake Baikal near Lake Kotokel. They lived at Rivers Kika and Suhkhaya, occupied the upper reaches of Rivers Itantsa, Courba and Ona, tributaries of the Selenga, Uda and the Ridge Ulan-Bourgas. Together with the Limagirs they lived in the river basin of the Turka. The Evenks of Verkhneangarsk settled in a large area covering the modern North-Baikal region of Buryatia, going out its limits towards the direction of Rivers Chui, Kai, Chechuya, Mama, etc. The southern side of Lake Baikal was inhabited by the Kumkagirs. They wandered mostly around Kultuk along the south-eastern tip of Lake Baikal, including the Mishikha River. The Evenks also settled in the upstream of the Temnik, along with the Tungus from the mountains and the Selenga River, they often wandered in the eastern Hamar-Daban, the Selenga and its tributaries.

Approximately from the beginning of the 19th century the Evenks settled in the places near Bolshoy and Maly Goloustny and in the settlements near by, i.e., on the western side of the Baikal. Today the little villages Nizhniy and Verkhniy Kochergat are the remains of the Evenks’ settlements that had existed before, judging by their names: Bulunchuk, Dzhervochak, and Zagota. In a bigger settlement Zochi where the Evenks were put togethered in the times of the Soviet Union there was a small hunters’ artel named after Voroshilov. Unfortunately, the war, diseases and assimilation made their contribution, and now one does not meet the Evenks along the course of River Goloustnaya any more.

Interesting facts about the fate of the Evenks of the southern Baikal are provided in the book recently written by V.S. Pulyaev (for some reason with no publication information). He calls them “Kultuk Tungus” and shows that the hunting land of these aborigines got over the territories along Rivers Kultushnaya, Bezymyannaya, Utulik, Murino, Snezhnaya, Pereemnaya, Manturikha, Mitikha, etc. Those Tungus belonged to the tribes of Kumkagchirs and Galkagirs, and divided into 3 clans: Zaektaevsky, Tsingidinovsky and Tyreevsky. The latter, Tyreevsky clan, lived near the Buryats, and that is why it was mixed and sometimes called a Buryat clan. When in the 18th century the aborigines of the area were called to do the military Cossack service at the outlying districts of the country, all the Evenks were transmigrated by the sovereign’s decree of 1763 to the valley of River Dzhida to protect the boundaries of Russia. “There they founded Settlement Armak that still exists. However, the hunters’ land from Kultuk to Posolsk was left for the Kumkachirs, and they possessed them till the end of the 20th century.

It goes without saying that in connection with it two questions arise. First, why the number of the Evenk population in the Baikal region has changed so much, if, for example, in the northern areas of the Irkutsk Oblast and Buryatia there are only about two or three thousand of them. Second, where are the Evenks of the southern Baikal, whose number is almost nullified, now?

Answering the first (and partially the second) question it is necessary to gain a glimps into their history. Applying to the indigenous peoples in Siberia quantitative change data, scientists have come to the conclusion that the sharp decline of the Tungus and the growth of the Buryat and Yakut are caused not only by high mortality of the first and natural growth of the latter, but mostly by their assimilation among themselves. It is calculated that by the end of the 17th – beginning of the 18th century the Tungus population was 36.2 thousand people, while at the same time the number of the Buryats is estimated to be 27.3 thousand people, the Yakuts – 28.5 thousand people. "By the end of the 19th century this ratio has changed dramatically. According to the census of 1897 the number of the Evenks population was 61 thousand people, the Buryats – 288 thousand, the Yakuts – 226 thousand people. Thus we can assume that, when the Russians arrived to Eastern Siberia, the Tungus tribes were in the process of assimilation with the Buryats”.

For a long time the most significant place of the Evenks’ settlements was the valley of River Barguzin. But in the first third of the 18th century the Buryats began to move rapidly from Predbaikalie to these places. Soon there were a lot of Buryat ulus (settlements) in the valley, and the Evenks were forced to call for construction of the so-called "Urta Hure" (“long hedge”) – a fence that was to be a kind of the Chinese wall separating belongings of the two peoples. This separation wall was located almost across the entire valley and there were certain conditions and restrictions connected with it: it was prohibited to cross Rivers Barguzin and Harasun in some places, to pasture cattle, etc. If the conditions were not met, the Evenks applied their sanctions: they seized the cattle and beat its masters. But in the end the wall could stop neither the resettlement of the Buryats, nor the Evenks’ assimilation in the Barguzinskaya Valley. (N. Damdinov described in detail the peculiarities of that migration in his documentary tale “Barguzin-Tukum”).

Most Evenks of the southern Baikal left their places and assimilated with the Buryats. An example here may be the fate of the Evenk tribe of Hamnigans who moved into the valleys of Rivers Temnik and Dzhida from their homes at the Baikal and Tunka in the17 – 18th centuries. B.S. Dorzhiev notes that the Hamnigans from Zakamensk gradually mixed up with local Buryats. They started forgetting their mother tongue and spoke only Buryat. Thus, the residents of the Hamnigan village Tsagan - Nura are the Hamnigans assimilated with the Buryats. Besides Bortoysky and Burguysky Hamnigans living in the valley of River Khamnei, there were more than ten yards of Hamnigans living in the upper River Ulekchin in the area of Ulyastuy.

Even in the early 20th century there were many opinions about the final degeneration of a number of Siberian ethnic groups were expressed. And that was in many ways related to the Evenks. Let me consider a story about one of their places of residence, written by A.M. Stanilovsky: "There is a tiny wooden chapel on the bleak, sandy shore ... Among the bushes and trees of the forest edge there are some miserable yurts of the Tungus. There is a solemn sign of oil paint above the large house: “Family estate of Podlemorsko-Shemagirsky clan Zabaykalsky region of Barguzinsky district, 1904. Those Polemorsko-Shemagirsky Tungus, who built their council last year, huddled in their yurts sticking out of the bushes. How could these savage people invent and build that beautiful building, the centre that unifys them? Of course, they are guiltless. All this has been created for them by the government, of course. And they have business of their own – they hurry up to die out rapidly (emphasis mine – A.K.).

Now this beautiful building that makes such a contrast with the surrounding taiga integrates and manages over 34 persons of both sexes and all ages. Less then ten of them are full payers”.

I must say that the authorities did not care much about the protection of the indigenous peoples, addressing to other more pressing and important issues. For example, on May 17, 1916 by the decision of the Irkutsk Governor-General a piece of the Evenks’ lands has been withdrawn from the use of the Evenks for building the Barguzinsky Reserve and founding the state hunting sector along with it, which were established by a decree. The Evenks of Shemagirsky clan from Settlement Sosnovka was relocated to the northern borders of their land – Podlemorye – to Rivers Shegnanda and Tompuda. Subsequently, the families left for the villages in the north of Lake Baikal. Two hunters, Philip and Nicholay Chernykh from the Evenks tribe were inspectors in the Barguzinsky Reserve in different years.

I have already mentioned the high level of survivability and adaptability of the Evenks to Siberian living conditions. And despite all the socio-economic upheavals of the 20th century, especially of its last decade, the Evenks of the Baikal have managed to maintain their culture, and they make every effort to revive their traditions that have helped them to survive and preserve the environment. And among them there are those that can be called the pearls of national mentality both in the sphere of human contact and in treatment of nature. Here are some of them:

• Help old men. The gladness of an old man can make others happy.

• Do not kill eagles; otherwise all the birds will be angry with you.

• As a deer keeps its head proudly so you hold you name.

• Do not throw away fish bones and do not let deer trample them.

• Never grudge food for people – and you will not ever need anything in your life. People will share with you too.

• Do not fish out all the fish from the lake; retain some for your descendants.

• A word of lie will not go far…

In conclusion I can draw a parallel: the safe existence of aboriginal people of the Baikal symbolizes the prosperity of the Sacred Sea in some way. And we must provide all the necessary facilities for such a beneficial symbiosis to continue infinitely for all nations. A world that recognizes the unique value of each individual must understand that the loss of any small ethnicity is a universal tragedy.

See also


  1. A.D. Karnyshev "The Many Faces of Multilingual and Mysterious Baikal"© BSU Publishing House, 2011

Выходные данные материала:

Жанр материала: English | Автор(ы): Karnyshev A.D. | Источник(и): The Many Faces of Multilingual and Mysterious Baikal. Ulan-Ude. 2012 | Дата публикации оригинала (хрестоматии): 2011 | Дата последней редакции в Иркипедии: 30 марта 2015

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Тематический указатель: Irkipedia English