Koryaks and Kerek - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. The cult of the Raven (Qujgin'n'aqu or Qutqin'n'aqu in Kerek-Qukki), a demiurge and creator of life on earth, was present among Koryaks, as among other northeastern Paleoasian peoples. Sacrifices were made to kind as well as evil spirits, with the goal of propitiating them. Among the kind spirits were the ancestors, who were worshiped at special sites. Settled Koryaks had guardian spirits for their villages. A dog was considered the most pleasing sacrifice for the spirits, especially because it would be reborn in another world and serve the ancestors. Koryak religious ideas and sacrificial practices were preserved among nomad reindeer herders (and Kereks) and survived until the establishment of Soviet rule, and in fact into the 1950s.

Religious Practitioners. Koryaks carried out sacrifices themselves, but when they could not overcome the machinations of vicious spirits, they resorted to the assistance of shamans. The shaman, either a man or a woman, was a curer and seer; the shamanic gift was inherited. The tambourine ( iaiai or iaiar ) was indispensable to the shaman. Kerek shamans apparently did not use tambourines.

Ceremonies. Traditional Koryak holidays have remained in the people's memory. One example is the autumn thanksgiving holiday, Hololo, which lasted several weeks and consisted of a great number of successive ceremonies. The Koryak-Karaginets still celebrated this holiday in the 1960s and 1970s. Today a yearning for the reconstruction of ethnic self-identity is strengthening.

Arts. Koryak folklore is represented in legends, tales, songs, and dances. The State Koryak Ensemble of Folk Singing and Dancing, "Mengo," is well known not only in the former Soviet Union, but in other countries as well.


Medicine. Originally the curer was the shaman, and this practice continued until the 1920s-1930s. Today Koryaks are included in the public health system of the district.


Death and Afterlife. Koryaks had several methods of burial: cremation, burial in the ground or at sea, and concealment of the dead in rock clefts. Some groups of settled Koryaks differentiated the method of burial according to the nature of the death. Those who died a natural death were cremated; stillborn infants were buried in the ground; those who committed suicide were left without burial. Kereks had a custom of throwing the dead into the sea. Reindeer herders preferred cremation. All the utensils and objects that the deceased would need in the other world were placed on the funeral pyre. Accompanying reindeer were intentionally harnessed incorrectly—the Koryaks believed that in the next world all things had a form diametrically opposite to things in our world. Contemporary Koryaks bury their deceased in the Russian manner, whereas reindeer herders still cremate the dead.

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