Identification. The Even, like the related Evenki, are singularly distinguished—not only among the peoples of the North and of Siberia, but also among the peoples of the world—by the fact that such a small population occupies such an enormous territory. Numbering only 17,199 persons (according to the 1989 census), they are settled over more than 3 million square kilometers—roughly equal to the area of all of western Europe. In recent decades the Even population has been increasing: in 1970 it was 11,819; in 1979 it was 12,452.
In the pre-Revolutionary period there was no sharp division between the Even and the Evenki; in most of eastern Siberia both were often called "Tungus." This joint designation has a simple explanation—the two peoples were more alike than different, with similar material and spiritual cultures, economies, and social organization. Their two dialects, having one base, were also quite similar. Only in the northeast of Yakutia and on the Okhotsk shore were the Even previously called "Lamuts" (from lama, lake, sea, large reservoir), thus "littoral dwellers."
Settlement among other ethnic groups also led to a series of other names: the Yakut called them "Lamuts" and also Omuks," whereas the Yukagir used "Erpe" and the Chukchee and the Koryak called the Anadyr and Penzhinsk Even "Koraramkyn" or "Koyayakyn." Today the term "Even" is emerging as the general one for all Even groups. The Even also have many names that reflect specific occupations: "Oroch" means reindeer among the Even of Kamchatka and the north shore of the Sea of Okhotsk; other terms indicate clan affiliation, such as "Tuges" (a clan of Tyugyasiets in the north of Yakutia), "Dutki," and the like. In the eighteenth century a group of sedentary Even on the Okhotsk littoral who fished and hunted sea mammals were called "unmounted" Tungus. Among Even of the Lower Kolyma the native name of "Ilkan," that is, "Genuine Man," became widespread; it arose among this group of Even settled next to the Chukchee as an obvious counterpart to the terms with the same meaning that were used for the Chukhots.
Location. Even territory covers distinct climatic zones: mountain taiga and vast expanses of wooded and unwooded tundra. Today Even live in the northern part of the Yakut Republic in the basins of the Lena, the Yana, the Indigirka, and the Kolyma rivers, where their neighbors from among the aboriginal peoples are the Yakut and Yukagir; in the southeast there are mixtures of Even and Yakut. The Even reside in Chukotka along the middle course of the Anadyr and its tributaries together with Chukchee peoples; in the Kamchatka Peninsula Even live with Koryak and keimen neighbors. Even are also found in the Magadan region, the Khabarovsk District, and on the shores of the Sea of Okhotsk in the basins of the Gizhiga, Okhota, and Kukhtui rivers.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Even language belongs to the Tungus-Manchu Branch of the Altaic Language Family. Its wide distribution over the territory of eastern Siberia occasioned the subdivision of the language into about twenty dialects (or other distinct modes of speech) of which four are eastern (Olyutorsk, Bystrinsk, Ol'sk, and Okhotsk), five are intermediate (Allaikhorsk, Oimyakonsk, Momsk, Tomponsk, and Upper Kolyma), and four western (Sakypyrsk, Tyugesirsk, Ust-Yansk, and Bulunsk).