Chuvans - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Indigenous Chuvans of the seventeenth century were mainly mobile caribou hunters and fishermen, but they also had small stocks of domestic reindeer for transportation. Their creole descendants of the nineteenth century had a mixed economy based on salmon fishing, caribou and other land-game hunting, dog breeding, commercial fur trapping, and trading. Net fishing for king salmon was practiced during the summer runs in July and August; the annual catch was about 2,000 to 3,000 salmon per family in the 1880-1890s. Wild reindeer (caribou) killed with rifles and/or with lances from boats at river crossings during annual spring and fall migrations was the staple game resource. The reindeer runs in the Anadyr Valley terminated by the 1900s, owing to overexploitation and natural population cycles, making local residents even more dependent on fishing. In summer Chuvans hunted for birds (mainly for moulting geese) and collected and stored plants and berries. Black bears, wolves, red and Arctic foxes, wolverines, Arctic hare, ermines, and marten were the main fur animals pursued both for subsistence and commerce. Bears and wolves were hunted with rifles, foxes and wolverines were trapped with wooden traps of Russian-Siberian style (Russian: past', kleptsa, kulyoma ) , and hare and ermines were caught with snares. Reindeer Chuvans lived mostly by pasturing their herds and slaughtering domestic reindeer; the meat and skins were both for their consumption and for trade with sedentary neighbors.

Industrial Arts. Sedentary Chuvans and other Russian creoles were skilled in blacksmithing; building dog sledges; making wooden canoes and utensils, birch-bark containers, and decorated boxes; and processing reindeer skins.

Trade. Before the 1870s the Anadyr River valley was one of the major crossroads in the Russian-native trade network in northeastern Siberia, as local nomads and hunters moved there annually in search of manufactured Russian goods. Chuvans and other creoles were then very active as middlemen in the exchange of Russian tobacco, tea, flour, metal objects, and ammunition for furs, reindeer and sea-mammal skins, and walrus tusks brought by the natives. When American whalers and traders established themselves in the Bering Strait area, this pattern of local trade was disrupted and the amount of goods exchanged decreased by one-half. Creoles became mobile traders, traveling in dogsleds during the winter and exchanging products of their domestic industries, like homemade metal and wooden objects, for furs. This pattern survived until the 1920s and 1930s, when Markovo residents became active participants in the Chukotkan exchange of Arctic fox furs for American and Soviet manufactured goods, food supplies, and ammunition.

Division of Labor. Hunting, fur trapping, and fishing traditionally were the predominantly male occupations, whereas women were active in sewing, reindeer-skin processing, and housekeeping. During the summer salmon and caribou runs, family members usually worked together in close cooperation, although men were more involved in butchering reindeer carcasses and women were preoccupied with skinning and preserving fish. Plant gathering was done mainly by women.

Land Tenure. Each creole family possessed preferential rights to its traditional summer letnik, which it usually occupied for years and sometimes even decades. Although the idea of individual ownership of hunting and fishing grounds was never fully developed, cabins, rafters, and fish- and caribou-meat dryers were used as personal markers of site ownership to prevent use by unauthorized intruders.

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