Chuvans - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Social organization in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was based on the bilateral kin groups. The nucleus of a local band, usually of some fifty to sixty members, consisted of patrilineally related men, although in-law male relatives with their families and some sort of "subordinates" were widely listed in early Russian reports. Modern Russian authors present the Chuvans as a "tribe" of some twelve to fourteen "clans," but the real nature of in-group social relations is still unclear, given bilateral filiation, frequent matrilocal residence, and adoption of in-laws and outsiders. In administering the collection of iasak (tribute), the Russians retained the former band division and labeled each band a separate "tribute clan" under the name of its leader. Through the decades of clashes, famines, and administrative pressure, these original tribute groups have decreased in number and lost their inner clan bonds. In several cases, fragments of these tribute clans were later rearranged by the authorities into purely "administrative clans"; the only remaining obligation common to the entire group was to pay regular fur tribute.

Political Organization. Political organization of the creole Chuvans in the second half of the nineteenth century reflected these artificial social divisions. People of patrilineal Russian descent were registered as "peasants" or "petit bourgeoisie" ( meschane ) to pay respective taxes, whereas the descendants of native genealogical lines continued to pay iasak, according to former administrative-clan filiation. By the 1890s the highly mixed creole population of the Anadyr Valley was reorganized into five status "communities" (two Russian and three native, the largest one called Chuvanski), each with its elected "community elder." This affiliation was used in the 1920s to 1930s as the base for a new Soviet ethnic labeling, which again separated local mixed "Russians" from the so-called natives, including Chuvans. For a short time the latter gained the protected status of an Arctic minority group and a new official ethnic label, "Etel" (which was their standard name in Koryak and Chukchee). Both new privileges were canceled in the late 1930s, because of the creole image of the Chuvans, their lack of a native language that could be used in Soviet schools, and administrative policies. The Chuvans were then excluded from the list of twenty-six Soviet Arctic minorities and were not registered as a distinct ethnic group in the Soviet censuses of 1959, 1970, and 1979. Their minority and ethnic status was restored in the 1980s.

Social Control. Public opinion, intervention by elders, and appeals to traditional practices were the most efficient mechanisms of conflict resolution before the establishment of a permanent Russian administration in the Anadyr Valley in the late 1890s. Since that time the district supervisor and local police officer have been in charge of keeping order among the sedentary creole population, which was always obedient and loyal to the district officials.

Conflict. Since the early nineteenth century, with the end of Russian-Chukchee hostilities, no clashes have been recorded in the Anadyr Valley between the Chuvans and any of their neighbors. Local conflicts over hunting regulations, land, and inheritance claims were solved mainly through village community meetings, which followed the pattern of self-government of Russian peasant communities. In cases of confrontations over land and game rights with outsiders, the usual pattern was to submit appeals to district and province administrators, who sided mostly with the native residents.

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