Asiatic Eskimos

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Asiatic Eskimos

ETHNONYMS: Yupik (self-designation); depending on the territory inhabited: Nevuga Yupiga, Singhinem Yupiga, Sivugam Yupiga, Ungazim Yupiga; Russian adaptations include Chaplintsy (Unazitsky), Naukantsy, and Sireniktsy.


Identification. The Asiatic Eskimos belong to the Arctic (Eskimo) Group of the Great Mongolian racial category; they are the indigenous population of the northeastern and southeastern shore of the Chukchee Peninsula and the St. Lawrence Islands. Their territory belongs administratively to the Chukchee Autonomous District (okrug) (with its center in Anadyr') of the Magadansk region (its center is the town of Magadan). To the west Magadan borders on Yakutia, to the south on the Kamchatka region. The St. Lawrence Islands, 64 kilometers from the shore of Chukotka, belong administratively to Alaska. Contacts between Eskimos of the various settlements, especially those of the coastal and island dwellers, have been very close. After 1936 the reciprocal trips of Soviet and American Eskimos, until that time regular and very popular, were subject to the deteriorating relations between the two nations, and during the Cold War (after 1948) they ended completely. Contacts have been gradually renewed since 1988.

Location. Until the seventeenth to eighteenth centuries the Asiatic Eskimos lived on a much larger territory than they do today: along the shore of the Arctic Ocean from Bering Cape to Helena and, farther to the south, in an unbroken chain of settlements as far as the Bering Sea and along the southern shore of the Chukchee Sea to Kresta Bay. The duration of their occupation of this area has not been established. The settlements of the Eskimos abutted on those of the sedentary Chukchee. Until the 1920s and 1930s the Eskimos lived in twelve to fifteen nearly single-ethnic settlements on the northern and southern parts of the Chukchee shore. At the present time a large number of the Asiatic Eskimos are concentrated in five settlementsthree village centers (New Chaplino, Sireniki, and Uel-kal') and two administrative centers (Providence and Lawrence). In these settlements the Eskimos constitute over 50 percent of the population only in New Chaplino. All the village centers are multinational: the Eskimos live in close contact with the Chukchee and immigrant Russians. The two administrative centers are settled basically by Russians: Eskimos and Chukchee constitute only an insignificant part of the population.

Demography. According to the first census, carried out by N. S. Gondatti in 1895, the Asiatic Eskimos numbered 1,307 persons. That number has remained relatively unchanged: 1,301 (1926); 1,309 (1939); 1,118 (1959); 1,308 (1970); 1,510 (1979); 1,720 (1989). It may be that the numbers for 1979 and 1989 are somewhat inflated.

The demographic structure of the Asiatic Eskimos at the beginning of the twentieth century was stable: men and women were about equal in number; there were many people capable of work, a high birthrate, and a high percentage of children younger than 16. The official thesis that the Asiatic Eskimos are suffering from "degradation" and dying out does not correspond to reality. The rather low natural growth of the population was the result of a high mortality rate, a shortened longevity, and outbreaks of exogenous mortality during years of epidemic and famine. Toward the middle of the twentieth century, as a result of a real "policy of amalgamation"that is, the massive closure of traditional settlements and ill-conceived, sometimes forceful resettlement of the inhabitants to larger and, from the point of view of the authorities, "more suitably located places"the demographic structure of the Asiatic Eskimos was destroyed, traditional groups mixed with each other, and the Eskimos became a minority amid the Russian population. The Asiatic Eskimos were in the worst possible demographic situation toward the end of the 1980s: an extremely high mortality rate (including child and infant mortality), an abundance of single-parent families, and the destruction of traditional patterns of marital relations all put the Asiatic Eskimos on the verge of extinction. At the present time there are signs of a gradual recovery.

In part these signs are connected with the reestablishment of direct contacts with their blood relatives on the St. Lawrence Islands. As a result of these contacts, the self-consciousness of the Asiatic Eskimos suddenly changed: they recognized that they were part of a larger ethnicityindeed, their number "rose" from 1,700 to 2,800 persons. As they could easily see during their trips to the islands to visit relatives, another life better provided for and more dignified, was possible. This development may bring back to them their long-lost belief in themselves and inspire hope in the future.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Asiatic Eskimos speak three languages. Two are closely related: the Chaplinsky (Unaziksky) and Naukansky variants of Siberian Yupik; the third, Old Sirenikovsky, has practically disappeared. Siberian Yupik, along with two languages of the Eskimos of Alaska, belongs to the Yupik Language Group. The Yupik Group together with Old Sirenikovsky and the Innuit Group of northern Alaska, Canada, and Greenland constitute the Eskimo Branch of the Eskimo-Aleut Language Family. In the past the Asiatic Eskimo inhabitants of the extreme northeast of Chukotka spoke a language of the Innuit Group, but today it has disappeared. There are about 50 speakers of Naukansky, 200 of Chaplinsky, and 1 of Old Sirenikovsky (a 74-year-old resident of the settlement of Sireniki).

History and Cultural Relations

The contemporary Asiatic Eskimos are the cultural inheritors (and possibly the direct heirs) of the people of this region who, several millennia ago, worked out a highly effective system of cultural adaptation of the maritime (coastal) type. The Asiatic Eskimos always had very close contacts with the Chukchee, who had a significant influence on their material culture, social organization, and spiritual life. There is much evidence in the folklore of the Eskimos and Chukchee of armed encounters between the two peoplesthe attacking side, as a rule, being the Chukchee. In the folklore of the Eskimos and in their contemporary, everyday consciousness, there exists a definite ethnic stereotype of the reindeer-herding Chukchee as cunning, intelligent, and wealthy, with a character different from that of the Eskimos; the Eskimos regard the Chukchee as hot-tempered, grudge-bearing, and emotional, whereas they regard themselves as peaceful, well-wishing, and good-humored.

Contacts with European culture, mainly involving trade, began in the seventeenth century with the advent of the Russians and, later, the Americans. There were no attempts at Christianization in the region. After the establishment of Soviet power in the 1920s, rather contradictory processes began. There were efforts to introduce schools and medical aid and to supply the population with provisions, which were undoubtedly beneficial but which depended primarily on the enthusiasm of transient teachers, doctors, and Soviet workers. Many of them, such as E. S. Rubtsova and G. A. Menovshchik, subsequently became doctoral candidates and then associates of the Leningrad Institute of Linguistics and did much for the study of Eskimo, including the compilation of dictionaries and grammars. The transients, however, with the self-assurance typical of Europeans at that time, sometimes unconsciously and sometimes consciously denigrated the culture, customs, and language of the local population and pushed the Asiatic Eskimos toward a rapid transition to a culture of the European type. Within the framework of "the campaign for the struggle against religion," practically all the shamansthe spiritual leaders of the Eskimo population, the bearers of the people's knowledge, tradition, and customswere arrested and shot. Apparently, the last shaman, Aglo, who practiced very little, died in the settlement of New Chaplino in 1975. The sedentary way of life of the Asiatic Eskimos left them vulnerable and exposed, thus rendering their language and culture less resistant to the processes of assimilation.


The shores of the northeastern and southeastern extremities of Chukotka are medium-elevation mountain country. Deep valleys bordered by mountains extend to bays (Providence, Tkachen) or to lagoonlike lakes (Imtuk, Kirak), that are set off from the sea by narrow sand spits. In the past a settlement of Asiatic Eskimos or of maritime Chukchee was to be found in every bay or "cell" and the promontories (capes) were natural boundaries. Most Eskimo settlements were located at points of the highest concentration of biological resources. Most often the settlements were situated on small terrace-shaped ledges on spits of sand or shingle, directly on a coastal declivity, or on a spit of pebbles separating the sea from a sandy lagoon.

In the 1940s and 1950s the majority of the traditional settlements of the Asiatic Eskimo were classified as "without prospects" and closed; their inhabitants moved to larger settlements. Thus, in 1942 Aran was closed, in 1946-1947 Tasik and Kivak, in 1950 Siklyuk, in 1958 Naukan and Plover, and in 1959 Unazik. The sole Asiatic Eskimo settlement that remained in its traditional location was Sireniki. (According to the provisional evaluations of archaeologists, it has been in existence roughly 2,000 years.) This policy had an enormous negative effect on the fate of the Asiatic Eskimos, depriving them of their traditional places of habitation, which were very suitable from the point of view of productivity; it also negatively influenced their psychological state and their sociodemographic situation, which led to the irrepressible growth of alcoholism, the rise in the number of suicides, and social apathy alternating with outbursts of individual aggressiveness.

Today among the Asiatic Eskimo there is a strong movement for a return to the traditional settlementsfirst to Naukan, Unazik, and Aran.

In the past there were two types of winter dwelling: the large, semisubterranean nenglu and the ribbed tipi (karkasnaya yaranga ) of the Chukchee type, which also served as a summer dwelling and was originally covered with walrus skins, later with tarpaulin. For heating and lighting their dwellings they used the fat of sea animals. Today they live in more or less standard wooden houses with stoves or steam heat and electric lighting. These houses are not too well adapted to northern conditions and are distinguished from the same houses in European Russia only by yet greater impoverishment.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The basic feature of the Eskimo system of subsistence is the complex use of resources. The basic way of providing for life is the hunting of marine mammalspinnipeds (walrus [lakhtak ], small seals [sivukha ]) and cetaceans (Greenland, gray, white, and humpback whales)supplemented by fishing and hunting for land animals and maritime birds. The Eskimos also collect eggs, sea products, and edible plants. The associated lexicon is highly evolved: dozens of names for maritime animals differentiate them according to appearance, age, behavior, direction of movement, etc.

In the past among the Asiatic Eskimos there existed at least two local variants of nature utilization. The basis of the first was the hunting of large sea mammalswhales and walrusand of the second the hunting of small pinnipedsnepra-akiba, lakhtak, and larga (all types of seals). Toward the end of the nineteenth century the commercial hunting of furbearing and sea animals began to play a large role in the economy.

The traditional economic year was divided into four seasons: winter (December until early April), spring (mid-April until June), summer (July and August), and autumn (September to November). In winter, the basic activity was the individual hunt for seals; in spring, the collective hunt on open water with large sea-going canoes (angyapiks ; Russian: baydars ) for sea mammals and also transient birds; in summer, the hunt for birds and the collection of eggs and edible plants; in autumn, once again the collective hunt for sea mammals. The well-being of the settlement depended on two short periods of hunting, in spring and fall, when the amount obtained could exceed tenfold the results of efforts over the rest of the year. In addition, until the development in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries of the Chuckchee practice of keeping large reindeer herds, August was the optimum time for hunting wild reindeer.

The collectivization of the Asiatic Eskimos only began in the 1930s and in its first period involved the simplest forms of cooperation for production and distribution. The first kolkhozy somehow corresponded to old models of subsistence. In the 1950s the collective farms were amalgamated (their number decreased by 40 percent), which led to the emergence of large, diversified multiethnic economies in which the traditional types of work were crowded out by new ones such as animal trapping (Russian: kletochnoye zverolovstvo ). This consolidation led to a decline in employment of the native population and its exclusion from the more prestigious and highly paid social and economic spheres.

Industrial Arts. The sedentary form of life and the complex, highly specialized character of maritime hunting were conducive to the wealth of the traditional material culture of the Asiatic Eskimos, to the diversity of the objects of everyday life and of the implements of work. By the close of the nineteenth century, however, the livelihoods of the Asiatic Eskimos depended on finished, imported goods: firearms, wooden sailboats and then motorboats, metal tools, and so forth. All this equipment was brought by American (rarely Russian) trading and hunting ships in exchange for local products.

Until the middle of the nineteenth century the basic tools of the hunt were: for sea animals, spears, harpoons, and thong nets; for dry-land hunting, snares and bows and arrows with bone or stone tips; and for birds, slings and snares. During sea hunting, walrus and whales were struck by a "swing (rotating) harpoon"a remarkable invention of Eskimo hunters that consisted of a harpoon, the blade of which turned to one side on entering the carcass of the animal in such a way that it was impossible to pull it out. Floatsthe skins of harp seals inflated with airwere tied to the harpoon on a long thong. The hunters finished off the wounded animal with spears in the course of a chase that in some cases lasted several days. The presence of firearms notwithstanding, harpoons with floats are being used with success to this day. Between the 1950s and the 1970s sea hunting declined because the government forbade the Eskimos to go out to sea; officials feared that the proximity of the national boundary would provide an opportunity for a "provocation on the part of American imperialism." Some customs of the hunt have been preserved, however, primarily in the settlement of Sireniki (six animal-killing [i.e., hunting] brigades, as opposed to two in New Chaplino). Thus, in August of 1990 in New Chaplino they staged a grandiose "Walrus Day," with invitations to hundreds of guests, including some from Alaska. In the course of this festival it was proposed to arrange a "meeting" with a walrus who had just been killed; for the hunt the most experienced brigade was invited from Sireniki, which then, for the festival, killed two walrus.

Until the arrival of the Whites, the Asiatic Eskimos used two basic types of boat: the kayak, a one-seated leather boat with a hatch in the middle, the edges of which were hermetically bound around and to the belt of the boatman; and the angyapik, a multiseated boat of walrus skin, very light and durable, with a capacity of 4 tons. At the present time the art of making angyapik has not been lost; in Sireniki they make baydars for their own use and for sale. In the summer of 1990 there set forth out of Sireniki an international expedition of Soviet, Canadian, and American Eskimos and Russian, American, and Canadian Whites on three baydars that had been manufactured in Sireniki under the supervision of experienced master craftsmen. The goal of the expedition was to advertise traditional leather boats.

The basic means of land transport was the dog rig. A fan-shaped dog harness existed until the middle of the nineteenth century, when it was replaced by the general Siberian (Chukchee, Koryak, Itelmen) harness in which a pair of dogs is fastened to a central strap. At the present time few harnesses (or rigs) remain; the Asiatic Eskimos use mechanized transport (snowmobiles, including those of their own making, and trucks).

Clothing. The Asiatic Eskimos were very skillful at sewing clothes and footwear from the hides of reindeer and sea animals. The traditional clothing in the winter was of double-layered fur upper garment (kukhlyanka ) for the men and overalls for the women; in summers, both men and women wore a single layer of winter clothing and a sleeveless mantle (kamleika ) made from the intestines of sea animals (since the middle of the nineteenth century it has also been made from brightly colored, purchased textiles). Dress today is basically of the European type, with rare elements of the traditional costume (ornaments, sealskin pants combined with Russian quilting, the traditional hat, etc.). The traditional clothing corresponded beautifully to the needs of the sea hunt, a very arduous and dangerous activity: even if the hunter fell into icy water he could survive, because the traditional clothing was waterproof. The contemporary clothing of the sea hunter in a similar situation simply hastens his death. At this time the art of sewing traditional clothing among the Asiatic Eskimos is gradually being revived.

Trade. In the past the basic trade partners of the Asiatic Eskimos were the reindeer Chukchee, who fulfilled the role of middlemen between the inhabitants of the more western regions (Yukagir, Even, Yakut) and the litoral areas. At the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries there existed in the tundra regular places for meetings between the coastal hunters and the tundra reindeer herders for trade and exchange (for example, the middle course and mouth of the Kurupki River and the region of Penkigney Bay, among others). Products of maritime hunting were exchanged for those of reindeer breeding and imported goods. From the end of the nineteenth century onward trade developed first with Americans and then with Russian manufacturers and merchants. Eskimos delivered whalebone, walrus tusks, and furs in exchange for rifles, cartridges, iron products, tobacco, and foodstuffsflour, tea, sugar. After the creation of collective farmsand, later, state farmssuch private trade practically stopped and was replaced by state supply of provisions and wares from the eastern regions of the country. Today the settlements are supplied with gengruz (general freight) by ships of the merchant fleet during the short summer period when the water is navigable; they are also supplied by air.

Division of Labor. Men's traditional activities were the hunt, trade, and the construction of dwellings; women's were the collection and storage of berries and edible plants, the preparation of food, sewing, and other work around the house. The basic productive unit of the Asiatic Eskimo band was the hunting brigade, usually including four to six grown men and several adolescents related by blood or marriage. Within the band there was an assignment of roles for the hunt and for the division and allotment of game. At the present time more women than men have "qualified work"; qualified women's professions include teacher, doctor, worker in a kindergarten, and secretary; less qualified jobs include workers in animal farms, baths, and lavatories. The more qualified men's jobs are chauffeur, tractor driver, mechanic, hunter, and reindeer herder; the less qualified are handyman and stoker.

Land Tenure. The idea of "land tenure" was foreign to traditional Eskimos, but between neighboring communes there were hunting boundaries that were well known to both sides and, as a rule, strictly observed. For the turn of the nineteenth-twentieth centuries we have no information of conflicts between neighboring coastal settlements because of hunting territories. Under Soviet law, the land on which the Asiatic Eskimos live was the property of the state.


Kinship Groups and Descent. The Asiatic Eskimos differ substantially from other Eskimo groups in that they have patrilineal clans or lineages. Clans are clearly distinguished to this day and are the characteristic feature of social organization. Being a member of one clan or another can be a subject of pride; all adults who belong to a given clan know by name all the "relatives," even those living in other settlements.

Kinship Terminology. A precise division is observed between relatives in the paternal as opposed to the maternal line: anana (mother's sister), asaq (father's sister), atata (father's brother), anaq (mother's brother)note ata (father), ana (mother). Cousins are also differentiated on this basis: atalghun (children of the father's brother) and aghnalghun (children of the mother's brother). The kinship terminology groups cross cousins together under one term but differentiates between paternal and maternal parallel cousins and the corresponding nepotic kin; for example, ilughag (father's sister's or mother's brother's children), anagaghag (woman's brother's children), nughag (woman's sister's children), gangighug (man's brother's children), uyghu (man's sister's children).

Marriage and Family

Marriage. The law of exogamy was observed strictly. As a rule, the parents or older relatives would come to an agreement about the marriage, sometimes while the couple were still children or even newborns. The actual marriage included several stages. At the beginning the relatives of the groom would give gifts (tools, hides, other valuables) to the relatives of the bride. Then the young man would perform bride-service in the house of the bride's parents for about one year, taking part in the hunt with the father of the bride and fulfilling all the male economic obligations. Sexual relations between the groom and the bride would usually begin in this period. The young couple would return to the groom's parents' house, after which time the marriage was considered validated; there was no special marriage ceremony. Divorce was similarly informal. Either the woman left or was ordered out of the man's house, and she returned to the house of her parents.

In case of the death of an older brother, his wife became the wife of a younger brother, even if he was already married. Care for the children of the dead brother lay fully on the shoulders of his younger brother and on his clan as a whole.

The Asiatic Eskimos had the custom of sharing wives between partners (nangsaghag ), who were considered "brothers," shared food, helped each other in the hunt, and showed each other hospitality. They had the right to enter into sexual relations with each other's wives. Polygyny also existed, primarily among powerful and wealthy men such as shamans; otherwise, it was rather rare.

Domestic Unit. Within each local group the Asiatic Eskimos distinguished groups of relatives ("the big/extended family"). Each group of this sort included several small families, usually living in one large common dwelling. The head of such a large family (Russian: rod ) was called an umilyk or atanyk. The process of the dissolution of the traditional family structure and marital-reproductive relations accelerated dramatically in the mid-1970s. It was related above all to the sharp increase in the percentage of incomplete families, the children of which were born from "temporary" fathers. The main cause of the break was the age and subsequent dying out of the generation that had been born before 1930. This generation was the bearer of the traditional model of familial and marital relations, and practically all of this generation got married and subsequently had a high rate of reproduction and stable family relations. In the generation born in the 1950s, which since early childhood had gone through the system of boarding schools and hardly understood the Eskimo language, the breakup of marital and familial relations reached a very high level: in the settlement of Sireniki, for example, among Eskimo mothers under age 30, two-thirds of the children were born out of wedlock (among mothers born after 1955, it was three-quarters), and the percentage of unmarried women between ages 21 and 30 is 75 percent.

Inheritance. Inheritance was patrilineal, and the position of "clan head" passed from father to son.

Socialization. The most important institution for the socialization of children was the large family. Socialization was achieved by means of the inclusion of children in diverse forms of communal-productive and ritual activity and also with the help of special games and physical exercises directed toward the cultivation of physically hardy and psychologically stable people.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Asiatic Eskimos subdivide into two large territorial groups: the northern and the southern. Each of them included smaller groups, which could be considered separate tribes (Russian: plemená ). For each of these tribes there wastoward the end of the nineteenth centurya characteristically stable self-consciousness and a sense of opposition to other tribes, a historically stable relation to a definite territory, a special idiom (at the level of language, dialect, or speech variety [Russian: govor ]), a high level of tribal endogamy, and peculiarities in certain elements of spiritual culture.

The basis of social organization was the patrilineal clan. Until the beginning of the twentieth century, each clan was led by an older man whose duty it was to regulate the clan's social and productive activity. He opened and closed the hunting season, fixed the time for going into the tundra for barter, and led the clan's religious ritual.

Membership in one clan or the other influenced marriage choices (usually exogamous), economic unions (hunting brigades were usually made up of the members of one clan), the acquisition of territory (different parts of the settlement were considered to belong to different clans), the order of burial (the members of a clan were buried side by side), religious activity (a clan could have its own rituals), and folklore (legends of origin and of intergroup relations and cosmological myths).

Political Organization. Government of the territory of the Asiatic Eskimos theoretically rested with the soviets (village, regional, district), in which, as a rule, there were representatives of the native population. Practically all the powerlegislative, executive, and judicialbelonged to the local, regional, and district party organizations of the Communist party. Until 1990 elections to the soviets were fictional, and the very structure of the soviets and the legal regulation of their plenipotentiary power was seriously flawed. In recent times, however, there are signs of change in this system. In the entire countryand Chukotka is not an exceptionthere has arisen a powerful movement for real independence in decision making, for actualnot paperself-government. It is possible that some role in this movement will be played by newly formed social organizations: the associations of the peoples of Kolyma and Chukotka and the Eskimo Association (the latter is the only truly independently formed organization, the constitutional meeting of which took place in August 1990).

Social Control and Conflict. For the basic foods, an inequality in use, called forth by unequal property, was to a significant degree softened by the ruling social norms of mutual help and the communal allotment of the catch. There was nonetheless material inequality in the use of imported goods and in the ownership of imported objects.

Intracommunal conflicts were often resolved with the help of distinctive competitions, in which the offended parties poured out their emotions in ironic songs (Russian: draznilkakh ). In folklore there is evidence of conflicts and skirmishes with the Chukchee and also of war with "alien tribes."

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Asiatic Eskimos believed in benign and evil spirits who occupied all surrounding objects, in Masters of the Sky and the Mistress of the Sea. Evil spirits (tughneghet ) were considered the cause of all sickness and misfortune. For defense against them amulets were used, along with a special, magical coloring of the face. The Upper World, the Peoples' World, and the Lower World were distinguished. Prohibitions were widespread against hunting certain animals and birds that were considered sacred: wolves, ravens, and swallows. These beliefs have been unusually durable. To this day young people, particularly those who grew up in a family and not in a boarding school, observe, albeit sometimes half-jokingly, the rituals of their ancestors. In particular, there is almost no exception made to the obligatory custom of "feeding the spirits" before the beginning of a meal when the first piece of food (traditionally meat but now whatever is lying on the table, including candy and alcoholic beverages) is thrown or poured into a small sliding window (Russian: fortochka ), when there is no open fire nearby. A (not strict) taboo also exists on pronouncing the name of a child or infant, but in a unique form: parallel to the official name under which each child is registered, many children have a "secret" traditional name known only to close relatives, which it is not appropriate to communicate to unknown persons or to pronounce aloud without special heed.

Religious Practitioners. Every settlement had its shaman, whose obligations included ritual and cult acts, the healing of the sick, and opposition to evil spirits. The shamanic gift, the basis of which was considered to be knowledge of songs and spells (spell-songs) capable of summoning animals or objects as helpers, was acquired through a magical experience to which the shaman subjected himself by going out into the tundra or some other isolated place (often a cemetery). The shaman could have a student whom he subjected to tests and to whom he transmitted all his secrets. After the wiping out of the majority of the shamans at the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s, shamanic séances began to be held very rarely and always "underground." Toward the beginning of the 1970s these séances had practically disappeared or had degenerated into a demonstration of tricks and the diversion of an audience.

Ceremonies. Ritual holidays were all connected with the cult of sea animals and were accompanied by generous feasts, magical singing and dancing, and athletic contests. The rituals had two goals: to request a successful hunt and to express gratitude for success in the hunt (addressed to the souls of the animals). The shaman would carry out magical acts to clarify the reasons for an illness, an accident, or failure in a hunt. Most ritual acts were carried out within the dwelling, with the exception of four holidays or festivals: the autumn requiem ritual of tossing each other a walrus hide, the summer ritual of competition in running and wrestling, and the spring and autumn ritual of lowering the baydar into waterall of these took place in the open air. The basic and obligatory element of any holiday or ritual was generous, joint feasting, and gift giving"hosting the ancestors." A ritual act could be carried out by any family or group of people in each dwelling.

Arts. Song and folklore were highly developed, as were the applied artscarving in bone, embroidering with reindeer hair and beads, and the production of utensils, hunting equipment, and magical objects.

Medicine. Sickness resulted from the "loss of soul," the influence of the evil spirit or some alien object, or the breaking of a taboo. The goal of the shaman was to establish the cause of the illness and to make it go away, usually by recommending that the patient stay away from certain kinds of food, or wear a certain amulet, and so forth. At the same time, the shamans also used practical medicine to a significant degree: they could treat wounds, they knew emetic, fever-reducing, and soothing techniques and remedies; however, the primary means of curing was still magic.

Death and Afterlife. The deceased was placed on a raised area in the dwelling, fellow settlers were called together, and a sumptuous feast was organized, usually to be held at night. The settlers then bore the deceased to the cemetery and left him or her there. If everything was done properly, the soul of the deceased would not return to the world of the living and would not cause the living any unpleasantness but, on the contrary, would become their helper. Until the present time, the Asiatic Eskimos have preserved ideas about the transmigration of souls that are reflected in the practice of giving the newly born the names of dead relatives. The customs of voluntary death and infanticide used to exist. Contemporary burials and burial rituals are, on the whole, similar to the traditional ones; under Russian influence, the dead are no longer covered with heaped stones but are buried in the ground, although not deeply.


Menovshchikov, G. A. (1964). "The Eskimos." In The Peoples of Siberia, edited by M. G. Levin and L. P. Potapov, 836-850. Translated by Stephen P. Dunn and Ethel Dunn. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Originally published in Russian in 1956.

NICKOLAY VAKHTIN (Translated by Paul Friedrich)

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Asiatic Eskimos

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