Ket - Orientation

Identification. The Ket are a remnant population of hunters (of squirrels, moose, reindeer), fishermen, and gatherers currently inhabiting the Yenisei and its tributaries between 61° N and 68° N. They migrate annually between upstream hunting territories and main-river trading and administrative posts. Closely related to the Ket were the Kott-speaking peoples (Arin, Kott, Asan, Yastyn, and others) formerly of the upper Yenisei and now assimilated by Turkic peoples and Russians. The Yeniseian languages are isolated, although significant lexical analogues have been found in Tibetan.

Location. The Ket habitat is primarily boreal forest, predominantly spruce and pine in the west and larch in the east. Birches and aspens are rarer but economically important. South to north a transition from forest to forest-tundra occurs. The climate is severely continental but somewhat moderated by storms that bring heavy snows and lower summer heat. The variety and bioproductivity of the terrestrial biota are much reduced by permafrost. Important mammals include squirrels, hare, chipmunks, brown bears, moose, and reindeer, as well as wolves and ermines. Sables, once almost exterminated, have been partially restored. In the North, arctic foxes are significant. Migratory birds (geese, ducks, swans) and endemic ptarmigan and capercailzie also contribute to Ket food and materials supplies. The rivers, until their recent depletion, provided valuable fisheries, largely of Salmonidae (char, trout, whitefish, and grayling). Vegetal foods include nuts, berries, and wild roots, but raw fish and meat are needed as major protections against scurvy. The formerly Kott areas stretching to about 52° N are richer, so that cattle and horses as well as dogs and reindeer could be kept there.

Demography. The Ket population was relatively stable in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, notwithstanding periodic epidemics and chronic hunger. This was evidently true in the nineteenth century as well, when catastrophes were limited by government stores and some medical help. Between 1926 and 1959 the reported Ket population declined from 1,250 to 1,019. Assimilation, particularly of Ket women, by Russians, Selkup, and Evenki was probably the major process involved.

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