Evenki (Northern Tungus) - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities . The traditional Evenki economy was based on the raising of reindeer (or horses) for transport, the hunting of wild animals for meat, and the hunting of fur species for trade and the payment of taxes. Fishing and the gathering of wild plant foods also contributed to the diet, which consisted most of the time of unseasoned boiled meat. (Reindeer milk, while sweet and creamy, is low in butterfat, and a female reindeer gives only a pint a day, at most.) The Soviet state in the 1930s organized farms to pursue the traditional Evenki activities and also introduced fur farming and agriculture.

Approximately 30 to 50 percent of the Evenki currently work in reindeer husbandry and hunting. Many others are employed in unskilled physical labor. An increasing number participate in the tertiary sector, especially in health care, education, and administration, and a few have entered the industrial work force. The rate of unemployment (i.e., lack of jobs in the public sector) is higher among the Evenki, especially for females, than among the Russian population, and social problems are widespread.

Trade. During the periods when clans congregated, they exchanged gifts. Formal exchange ties were recognized, especially where reindeer-herding Evenki lived in close proximity to settled or horse-herding Evenki, and goods needed by one group were readily produced or procured by the other. Reindeer were rarely sold but only given as gifts, at least between Evenki (they were sold occasionally to Russians). Trade, as such, was uncommon among the Evenki. Rather, gifts were freely given, and a person was welcome to borrow from a cache (a small log hut) whatever equipment or food was needed, with the expectation that he or she would return it when possible.

The Evenki traded furs, most notably sables and squirrels, with the Chinese, and later with the Russians. In exchange they obtained tea, guns, ammunition, fabric, flour, sugar, salt, tobacco, and alcohol. As Russian miners and settlers moved into Evenki territory, they sought to obtain Evenki-made fur clothing, footwear, and gloves, which were well adapted to the severe Siberian climate, and they purchased birch-bark baskets and foodstuffs such as mushrooms and berries.

Both men and women wore coats of deerskin, preferably of fawns, opening in the front and underlain by a leather chest-piece with an apron, and either leggings and short boots or thigh-high boots. The cut of the garments and decorative embellishments of fur, beads, and metal pieces differed for each gender. Today Western-style dress prevails in summer, but traditional attire is still worn in winter.

Division of Labor. Among many Evenki groups women herded and milked the reindeer, cooked, tended children, and tended the camp; men hunted fur-bearing animals, and, for meat, large game. Women processed birch bark and cleaned and sewed hides. Men processed wood, antlers, and bones; slaughtered and skinned animals; and worked as blacksmiths. Many innovations borrowed from other cultures first entered the men's domain, then the women's (e.g., weaving fishnets, baking bread Russian style, sewing with machines). Recently, women more often than men have tended to seek white-collar jobs, frequently in larger villages or urban areas. Evenki men remain predominantly employed in rural physical labor.

Land Tenure. Although the concept of ownership of land was totally foreign to the Evenki, clan usufruct of specific areas for hunting and pasturing reindeer was recognized. A clan territory usually centered around a stream and included the lands on both sides. Boundaries of these territories, however, were apparently fluid, and more than one clan might use the same area without conflict. At the individual level, there was respect for a man's customary squirrel- and sable-trapping grounds.


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