Ket - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Even in the 1960s the Ket depended on migratory foraging for game, fish, and vegetal materials in intimately known lands and waters. Extensive biological and geographic knowledge, as well as ritual, supported their efforts. Except for individually shot squirrels, and other fur bearing animals, and some fish, their yields came through family-lineage cooperation and were shared. Their thirteen-month folk calendar began with the month of Leaf Fall, a period of fish netting and spearing from aspen canoes and of bird snaring in thickets. Tipis 4 to 5 meters in diameter with hoop-reinforced seven-pole foundations and birch-bark mat coverings, provided shelter. Within each was a "clean" ritualized side to the east and an entrance to the west. There, household goods and family dogs had their places. The door had "eyes" represented so it might "see."

During the month of Ground Freeze the groups traveled by boat to deeper forest and then moved into semi-subterranean dwellings designed like the tipis but holding entire lineages. At this time, too, many Ket recaptured draft reindeer released over the summer. Then came the Small Walk, in which men traveled by skis or reindeer sleds to hunting areas, later separating to their own lines. Dogs helped in the hunt, as well as in pulling sleds or toboggans. The men spent nights in pits in the snow, covered sometimes by rough wigwams. The women remained behind, gathering firewood, fishing under ice, trapping capercailzie and hare, and making clothes and footgear.

During the Short Days, darkness and intense cold precluded most movement. Stored supplies and food from Russian villages supported life. Summer-born people now told stories to promote warmer weather. With the brighter Long Days, entire camps left for hunting grounds, men breaking trails, and women, helped by reindeer or dogs, hauling baggage sleds. Men made side trips to hunt moose, reindeer, and small game during Moose and Eagle months. In Chipmunk month, a difficult and hungry time, the Ket were back in base camps, where they freed reindeer, repaired canoes and large vessels, and began fishing. Pike Spawning, Taxes and Fairs, Small Duck Molting, and Large Bird Molting marked the less stressful warmer months.

Industrial Arts and Trade. Until recently the Ket made most of their equipment, including knives, axes, arrows, fishhooks, and shamanistic ornaments of iron, copper, and tin. They sewed their clothing and footgear, using Russian cloth for summer articles. Through shaping, joining, and gluing, they made vessels, skis, and a variety of containers, especially of birch bark. They used nettle twine for small fish nets; the larger nets—like cauldrons, tea kettles, dishes, guns, and ammunition—came from the Russians. The Ket built their own tipis and houses, including log cabins of the Russian type. They foraged for animal foods, fish, and lily bulbs; eating loons, eagles, swans, and mushrooms was prohibited. Flour, sugar, tea, and tobacco were imported.

Division of Labor. Men related by blood or marriage formed the basic Ket work groups. In hunting moose, reindeer, or bears, the discoverer of the game would notify others by loudly hitting a ski with a staff. A pursuit group would form, with the leader following the game closely; he would discard all unneeded articles along the way, and the others would pick up his things as they prepared to join in the killing and butchering. Large-scale netting and winter house building also were communal tasks. In contrast to furs, food was shared; the hungry could take food from caches. There was a basic division between men's and women's work. It was rationalized by fear of menstrual blood and applied even to activities such as cooking and handicrafts. Yet, despite such restrictions, women hunted small game and fished.


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