Evenki (Northern Tungus) - Sociopolitical Organization



Historically, each clan was led by a clan assembly composed of the heads of households (men and women). This assembly of elders, which included the clan shaman, met periodically to resolve economic and social issues ranging from war and punishment of clan members guilty of unacceptable behavior to the adoption of children and the care of elderly clan members without family. During the czarist period the Russian government tried to control the assemblies by designating "elders" who would cooperate with its goals. This generally resulted in parallel institutions, one still appointed by the Evenki and answering the clan's needs and the other appointed by the Russians and acting as brokers between the two cultures.

Social and Political Organization. Although intraclan associations were politically important, Evenki would also unite in temporary groups for the purpose of hunting, pasturing, and fishing; these economic associations could include members from a number of clans living in close proximity. The institution of nimat should also be mentioned as a custom that crossed clan lines; upon return to camp after a successful hunt for meat, a hunter was obliged to share his bounty with all members of the camp, regardless of clan. The hide of the animal traditionally went to the hunter's mother-in-law (i.e., to a member of another clan), except for squirrel skins, which were retained by the hunter to be exchanged for tea and tobacco. As fur increased in commercial importance, nimat began to apply only to meat animals. This custom, which survived into the twentieth century, has been evaluated as an important mechanism, along with exogamous marriage, for strengthening interclan bonds.

In 1930 the Soviet state founded two Evenki national districts, as well as a number of lower-level national regions for the Evenki. Groups of hunters and herders were organized into native soviets (councils), the lowest level of the Soviet Union's political-administrative hierarchy. No longer designated "native," but in many areas still predominantly composed of Evenki, these councils exercise a limited control over local economic, political, judicial, and cultural affairs. National regions, long dormant, may make a comeback, as suggested by the recent establishment (1989) of one such region for the Even, a neighboring indigenous people. One of the two national districts created for the Evenki, the Vitim-Olekma National District, was abolished in 1938; the other, the Evenki National District (renamed the Evenki Autonomous District in 1977), remains. An elected head of this district (an Evenki) purportedly lobbies for the interests of his people in Moscow. Evenki constitute only 20 percent of the Evenki District's population, however; moreover, the representative's powers are very limited. The most outspoken proponents of Evenki rights have been Evenki writers, a situation common to other native Siberians.

Conflict. Evenki oral history is rich in accounts of clashes between clans and with neighboring nations. The abduction of women, blood feuds, and disputes over property or the usufruct of hunting territories could precipitate military campaigns, although peaceful negotiations might be attempted first. There were various conflicts with the Russian Cossack conquerors and with subsequent Russian settlers. More recently, conflict between some Evenki and the state has been reported, especially in the context of Evenki protests over governmental projects that threaten their economic activities and cultural survival. Most notable has been the fight against the planned construction of the Turukhansk hydroelectric project, which would have flooded a substantial portion of the hunting grounds and reindeer pasture in the Evenki Autonomous District. Recently there have been other severe conflicts involving the environment and ethnicity.


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