Evenki (Northern Tungus) - Orientation

Identification. An indigenous people of central and eastern Siberia, the Evenki were formerly divided into many distinct groups. They fall into two noncontiguous groups, according to their economic activities: the northern group of reindeer Tungus engaged in reindeer husbandry and hunting, and the southern group, or horse Evenki, engaged in horse and cattle pastoralism. There is a strong tradition of ethnic identity, even a sense of superiority among these "aristocrats of Siberia."

Location. The most widely distributed of all native peoples in Siberia, the Evenki inhabit a huge area stretching from west of the Yenisei River to the Sea of Okhotsk and northern Sakhalin Island and from the base of the Taimyr Peninsula in the north to the Amur River in the south. Evenki also live in northern Manchuria and Mongolia. Most of this homeland is mountainous and covered by larch forests, whereas in the far north of central Siberia, north of the tree line, the tundra prevails. Firs, Siberian cedar, and spruce are also encountered, especially along river valleys. Moose, wild reindeer, elks, roe deer, bears, wolves, and boars populate the forests, as do important fur species such as sable, squirrel, stoat, fox, hare, and otter. Wolves, bears, and wolverines are the most serious predators. Many varieties of fish, including several members of the salmon family, make for good fishing, and wild fowl such as wood grouse, ptarmigan, and various geese and ducks are hunted. The Evenki subsist primarily by hunting.

The climate is sharply continental, and permafrost is found under most of the land. Within the Evenki Autonomous District ( okrug ) in central Siberia, January temperatures average — 36° C and fall to —80° C, whereas summer temperatures average 16° C and reach 36° C. Annual precipitation is not great, varying from 25 to 40 centimeters; the snow cover reaches 50 to 80 centimeters. The Evenki Autonomous District covers 745,000 square kilometers, but this is only a fraction of the total homeland of the entire Evenki nation.

Demography. At the last published census (1979) Evenki in the USSR numbered 27,531. Earlier censuses in 1970 and 1959 listed 25,149 and 24,151 Evenki. Over 40 percent of the Evenki live in the Yakut Republic; 13 percent live in the Khabarovsk Territory, and less than 12 percent live in the Evenki Autonomous District. The other 38 percent live mainly in Irkutsk and Amur provinces (oblasts) and Buryatia. Most Evenki continue to live in rural areas.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Evenki language belongs to the Tungusic Division of the Tungas-Manchu Branch of the Altaic languages; they are thus related to the Manchu who conquered China in 1644. A literary language was created in 1928-1929 using the Latin alphabet, but the Cyrillic alphabet was adopted in 1937. In 1979, 43 percent of the Evenki considered Evenki their first language; most others spoke Yakut or Russian—bilingualism is common. The wide geographical distribution of the Evenki accounts in part for the existence of numerous dialects.

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