Subsistence and Commercial Activities . The basis of the traditional economy was hunting and reindeer herding. The Even hunted for arctic deer, elks, bears, rabbits, foxes, mountain goats, musk deer, and other animals (for both meat and fur). In northern Yakutia a specially trained decoy reindeer was used. A noose-shaped lasso was attached by a special technique to a domestic reindeer; then the owner, hiding behind some bushes or the deer itself, would lead him up to the herd of foraging wild deer. The leader of the herd usually stepped forth to do battle with the stranger deer in order to drive him away. Becoming entangled in the noose of the lasso, this deer became the hunter's prey. In winter the Even hunted for bears in pairs and triads because it was necessary to lift a bear out of its lair. Before firearms came into use, they also hunted bears alone, with a palma spear and a knife, which demanded skill and courage. As the bear advanced, the hunter would throw a cap or rag or some other object into the air to cause the bear to rise up onto its rear feet and bare a vulnerable part of its body such as the throat or breast. The hunter would be on one knee holding the palma propped against the ground with its point upward, on which the bear, descending with all its weight, would pierce itself and sustain a mortal wound. The bear was finished off with a blow of the knife to the neck. A solitary hunter usually took a dog along that, in case of mishap, drew the bear away from the fallen man. The Even generally hunted mountain goats from ambush, hiding on the leeward side of the animal's path and awaiting its appearance. To hunt otters, rabbits, and foxes in the taiga the Even used a bow-and-arrow device that discharged when triggered. Powerful bows were used for elks.
Even hunters were distinguished by exceptional endurance. If a deer or other animal were wounded and ran off from the hunter, the hunter would begin a pursuit that might last several days, until the complete exhaustion of the animal.
With the coming of the Russians to Siberia and the subjugation of the aborigines to the czar, the native population was saddled with the payment of tribute, a special tax that had to be paid with the skins of forbearing animals: sables, squirrels, marten, and so forth. In this way the fur industry acquired primary significance among the Tungus.
In the forested regions of Yakutia and in districts on the shore of the Sea of Okhotsk, the Even had small herds of reindeer. Reindeer were used primarily as beasts of burden—either for riding or transporting household property in large bags (Russian: tyuk ) ; consequently, the nomadic hunting population was very mobile. There are indications that individual families of Even had at their disposal thousands of head of reindeer. Among these groups of Even, hunting for meat was of secondary importance, as the reindeer supplied all one needed: skins for clothing, coverings for dwellings, meat for food, and a means of transportation.
The hunting and reindeer-herding Even were sharply distinguished from the sedentary Even on the shore of the Sea of Okhotsk, particularly by their economy. Their basic subsistence was through fishing in the rivers and the hunting and trapping of sea mammals, mainly seal, particulary the nerpa (a variety of freshwater seal). They exchanged the products of their hunting and trapping for the meat and skins of domestic and wild animals provided by the hunting and reindeer-herding Even.
At the present time the basic economic activity of the overwhelming majority of Even is the husbandry of reindeer in large herds, which is more profitable in the North. One herd contains between 1,500 and 2,000 reindeer. The herd is cared for by a group of four to eight reindeer herdsmen and their wives. During the summer the number of people in the group increases as students visit their parents in the tundra during their vacation. Despite innovations and the introduction into the area of technical devices and veterinarians, contemporary reindeer herding is characterized by the presence of many traditional practices. The migration of the reindeer herds, as in earlier times, is cyclical and the routes of travel in most cases correspond to the ethnic territories of local groups of Even.
Hunting for meat, now of lesser importance—as is fishing—nonetheless continues to figure in the contemporary economy. The Even hunt for deer, elks, mountain goats, etc. The methods include pursuing wounded animals on skis in the winter and hunting by ambush or by silent approach. It remains part of the traditional way of life, as do weapons like the palma spear.
The Even fish during the period of brief summer stopovers with the goal of diversifying their diet, using a very ancient fishing device, the elge, a pole with a detachable metal hook on the end, connected to the wooden part of the weapon by a line or a strap. Nets are square in form ( adal ) or conic ( mirosa ) . The Even block off sections of rivers and channels with locks and dams during the major spawning migrations of salmon.
Clothing. The main item of clothing for men and women was the open kaftan decorated with beads and appliqué of leather and fur, an apron covering the chest, leggings for the lower leg (Russian: nogovitsa ) , and footwear with shoelaces made from the legs of reindeer. At the present time the traditional fur clothing and footwear are worn only in the winter. In summer Even wear European-style, store-bought clothing, the occasional exception being footwear. Skins for clothing are to this day processed using archaic methods; the Even of Kamchatka, for example, use stone scrapers.
Food. Sedentary Even groups traditionally ate salmonite fish and the meat and fat of sea mammals. Moreover, every part of the reindeer was consumed, including brains and marrow, tendons and gristle, hooves and horns (the soft parts of the latter were roasted on a fire and considered a delicacy). Much of the carcass was eaten raw since this was considered healthy; this was particularly true of the kidneys, liver, and lungs, which the Even ate slightly chopped. Reindeer eyes were eaten totally raw, and Even drank the warm blood. Today the basic food of migratory Even continues to be the meat of domestic reindeer; otherwise game, fish, and several kinds of plants, locusts, berries, and nuts are consumed. Also commonly used are imported foods such as various meat and fish preserves, vegetables, fruits, and baked goods.
Division of Labor. Hunting, reindeer husbandry, and the making of various tools and weapons were traditionally men's work; as a rule, only older men slaughter domestic reindeer. Gathering, preparation of food, curing of hides, sewing of shoes and clothing, and caring for children were women's work. In addition, it was the woman's job to set up the house tent and to harness the pack reindeer during migrations and direct them on the way. This division of labor guides the education of the younger generation. As part of play, for example, boys learn the techniques of hunting and how to use a lasso, ax, and knife; girls learn to sew, to manufacture stone implements for cleaning hides, and to make ornaments. The transition to adult status usually takes place at about the age of 14 or 15 for both boys and girls.