Even - History and Cultural Relations



The ethnic formation of the Even is relatively recent but complex. The key event was the separation of the northern part of Old Tungus society as a result of migrations and the consequent expansion of the Tungus Language Group over the territory of northeastern Siberia. The Tungus had cultural contacts with almost all the ethnic groups of the region: Yukagir, Yakut, Koryak, Chukchee, and keimen, all of which influenced local Even culture—as has the recently arrived Russian population.

Three basic stages can be distinguished in the ethnogenesis of the Even. An early stage (roughly until the eleventh century B.C. ) was characterized by the emergence of the northern branch of the Tungus community as a result of the contact and mutual cultural influences of Tungus society with the ancestors of the Yukagir. Archaeological evidence indicates the existence in Yakutia in the early Iron Age of an Old Tungusic and an Old Yukagir tradition that evolved in a parallel manner; the Even and Evenki are also closely related in terms of physical anthropology. Turkic-speaking Yakut populations penetrated into the basin of the Lena River and other regions of eastern Siberia (after the fifth century), a movement that was connected with other demographic processes in Central Asia and the expansions of the Mongol peoples. The Tungusic ancestors of the Even and the Evenki were displaced from the territory that they had occupied.

Under pressure from the Turks, the Tungusic-speaking groups migrated to the west, north, and, in particular, the northeast. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries they emerged on the shore of the Sea of Okhotsk. The advance of the ancestors of the Even to the northeast affected the Yukagir and the Koryaks and led to the loss of a large part of their ethnic territory. The extremely low population density notwithstanding, this movement of population was accompanied by numerous interethnic conflicts. Particularly sustained and stubborn was the struggle for the Okhotsk littoral between the Even, who were seeking new hunting grounds for themselves and pastures for their reindeer, and the sedentary Koryaks, who already occupied the area. In many legends there are references to tense relations along the seacoast at that time. The Koryaks would attack the migrating Even at one of their camp sites—either when the men were out hunting and only women, old people, and children were left, or at night by creeping up to the tents unnoticed. The Even undertook retaliatory campaigns. Both sides used bows and arrows and spears. In addition, the Even used in hand-to-hand combat the palma , a broad, heavy knife attached to a long wooden handle.

The third stage in the ethnic formation of the Even and the final consolidation of Even territory began with the arrival of the Russians in eastern Siberia during the first half of the seventeenth century. The Russian government, in no small degree, facilitated the advance of the Even onto the lands of the Koryaks and the Chukchee, using Even hunters and herders to impose a system of tribute on the indigenous peoples of eastern Siberia. In the third stage, as in the earlier ones, the processes of mutual cultural influence between the Even and the Yukagir and between the Even and the Koryaks continued, but, unlike what occurred in the second stage, it was peaceful, particulary during the second half of the eighteenth century. This stage ended in the first half of the nineteenth century with the advance of the Even to the northeast as far as the Kamchatka Peninsula.

The existence of the Even as a distinct ethnic group is attested to by the fact that the Russians, as early as the seventeenth century, distinguished the Even from other Tungus-speaking groups on the bases of both their language and the features of their culture. Ultimately, Even culture became syncretic, with a general Tungusic base and cultural elements borrowed from other indigenous peoples of the North. For example, after contacts with other cultures the Even adopted the Koryak-Chukhotsk manner of herding reindeer in large herds and borrowed several modes of transportation (Koryak sleighs) and a particular kind of conical cylindrical dwelling—a combination of the Tungus tipi ( chum ) and the Koryak and Chukchee yaranga —used by the majority of the Even groups.

After establishing its power in the North in the early 1920s, the Soviet government, together with local councils (soviets), instituted programs among the Even and other indigenes to encourage cultural and economic development. These included abolishing taxes and fulfillment of certain obligations; defining various privileges; and carrying out a long-term program for converting reindeer herding from a migratory to a sedentary form—mainly through weakening native ideas about the necessity of preserving the traditional complex economy (reindeer herding, hunting, and fishing), which was more rational and applicable to the northern conditions. An important and significant condition for the transition to a sedentary style was the construction of centers for the dissemination of contemporary culture—the northern settlements ( posëlki ) .


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