Koryaks and Kerek - Orientation



Identification. The Koryaks are the main aboriginal population of the Koryak Autonomous District ( okrug, the center of which is Palana), a part of Kamchatka Oblast in Russia. A small number of Koryaks live in the Chukotsk Autonomous District and North-Evenk Territory: both are parts of the Magadan Province of Russia. In the past Koryaks did not have a general name for themselves. They are divided into two groups distinguished by economic activity: Chavchuvens (nomadic reindeer herders) and Nymylan (settled fishermen and sea hunters). The largest tribal groups of Koryaks are Al'utor (inhabiting the area of Korfa Bay, east coast of Kamchatka), the Palan (west coast of Kamchatka), and the Karagin (Litke Strait, east coast of Kamchatka). A small number of Kereks who live on Chukotka Peninsula in the Beringov Territory of Magadan Province (on the coast of the Bering Sea) are not considered by all experts to be related to the Koryaks. The material culture of the Kereks is similar to that of the Nymylans.

Location. The territory occupied by the Koryaks (including the Kereks) stretches from the Gizhiga River to the east, including the basins of the Paren' and Penzhina rivers (both of which flow into the Sea of Okhotsk), up to the coast of the Bering Sea (the area of Cape Navarin). In the south Koryaks are spread across Kamchatka to the middle of the peninsula, where the administrative boundary of Koryak Autonomous District lies. The modern neighbors of the Koryaks are Yukagir, Even, and Chukchee to the west and north and Itelmen to the south. The environment is tundra, plateau, and, on Kamchatka, mountainous. The climate is oceanic on Kamchatka, and continental in the mainland areas in the north and northwest, where the average annual temperature is below 0° C.


Demography. The aboriginal population of the Koryak Autonomous District (Koryaks, Itelmen, Even, and Chukchee) is a little more than 20 percent of the entire population of the district. The total number of Koryaks is about 8,000. According to estimates in the 1960s, about 90 percent of the Koryak population could speak their native language. This number is much lower today and it is constantly decreasing. During the last decades some of the less populous ethnic groups, like the Itkan and Apukin, have been combined with the larger groups of Koryaks. Kereks have been assimilated by the Chukchee. In 1990 there were only three men who could speak the Kerek language. The entire Koryak population is rural.


linguistic Affiliation. The Koryak language is classified as belonging to the Chukotko-Koryak Group of the Paleoasian languages. The Paleoasian languages are not historically related. For example, the Itelmen language is classified with the Chukotko-Koryak languages but is historically isolated, whereas the historical connection between the Chukchee and Koryak languages is unquestionable. The Koryak language has four distinct dialects: the language of the nomadic reindeer herders (Chavchuven), the language of the Nymylan of the western coast of Kamchatka (Palan), the language of the Nymylan of the eastern coast (Al'utor), and the language of the Karagin (Nymylano-Itelmen contact zone). The language of the Kereks, who are separated geographically from other Koryaks, is also distinct. The written Koryak language was introduced in 1931. It was based on the Chavchuven dialect. First the Roman alphabet was used, and then, from 1937 on, the Cyrillic alphabet.

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