Itelmen - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. As with all other northeastern Paleoasiatic peoples, the cult of the Raven (Kutx), demiurge and creator of life on Kamchatka, spread among the Itelmen. Sacrifices were not made to him, however, but to local spirits (gods), to good ones as well as to evil ones. There were special sites for sacrifices not far from the villages. In their earth huts Itelmen had also "household gods," hollowed from wood. Apparently there was also a certain supreme spirit, Nustaxcax, strictly speaking, "God." This word was fixed in the eighteenth century, but was not associated with the Raven-Kutx in any way. The religiosity of Christianized Itelmen was not deep. After 1917 they readily became atheists.

Religious Practitioners. The shamans were mainly elderly women, rarely men. In contrast to the practice of the shamans of the Koryaks, the Itelmen shamans did not use a tambourine. The priests of the Orthodox church were exclusively Russians; the service was also performed in Russian. There are no translations of the Bible in the Itelmen language.

Ceremonies. No traditional Itelmen holidays have been preserved. The most important one was the autumn thanksgiving holiday that lasted many days and was accompanied by various ceremonies. The settled Koryaks adopted this holiday; it is known among them as Hololo (see Krasheninnikov 1949, 413-427).

Arts. Ancient Itelmen mythology exists only in Russian and German renderings (Krasheninnikov 1949; Steller 1774). Only in the twentieth century has the amnel (the Itlemen genre of folktales) been recorded in the original language. Modern musical folklore is represented by songs, performed almost exclusively in Russian. The newly founded society Tkhsanom (see "History and Cultural Relations") has set revival of Itelmen songs and dances as its goal.

Medicine. Healing was done by shamans, who existed into the 1920s and 1930s. At present, there is a sufficiently developed system of health maintenance in the territories of the district.

Death and Afterlife. According to Itelmen mythology the world beyond the grave is organized exactly in the same way as our world is except that it is better in every respect. Thus death was imagined as a second life, moreover an eternal one. Itelmen carried seriously ill and dying people out of the house to the tundra or mountains and left them there. Often such people went away themselves. If someone died in a house, it had to be abandoned. The deceased were neither buried nor cremated. Stillborn infants were hidden in the hollow of a tree trunk. After Christianization Itelmen started to bury their dead in the ground. According to Russian custom, a funeral feast in memory of the deceased takes place on the ninth or fortieth day after death.


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