Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, Russia
gather% / fish % / hunt %
fat % / protein % / carb%
A rough estimate to help us understand how carnivorous and how ketogenic these people were before being exposed to western civilization
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About the Tribe
Even (formerly known as Tungus) are an Indigenous people of Eastern Siberia living in five regions of the Russian Federation: Sakha Republic (Yakutia), Khabarovsky krai, Magadanskaya oblast, Kamchatsky krai and Chukotka. Today, Even number over 22,000 people according to the 2010 Census. Nomadic Even were reindeer herders and hunters; and also fished seasonally. The primary activities of settled Even on the Sea of Okhotsk were fishing, gathering, and hunting marine mammals. Even of the northeastern part of the Sea of Okhotsk coast call themselves Orochel, i.e. ‘reindeer people’, ‘owning reindeer’ (Popova 1981: 5). Even of the Magadan oblast call themselves Menel, which means ‘seated people’, ‘living in one place’ (Popova 1981: 11). Even from the Lower Kolyma river call themselves Ilkar – «real people» (Petrov 1991: 3). Even also have an internal distribution of names: Namankans (sea Even or people of the coast) and Donrytkans (‘living in the deep taiga’ or ‘people of the deep interior’ (Popova 1981: 6–7).
The Evens are hunter-fishermen related to the Evenki that live in the Chukotka, Kamchatka and Magaden regions. Also known as Lamuts and Tungas, they have traditionally lived in chums, wigwam-type dwellings covered with bark or fish skin, and made a variety of things from birch bark.
Like the Evenki, the Evens are unique in the world in that they have a small population but occupy a huge expanse of land. There are only around 17,000 Evens but have traditionally lived in an area covering 3 million square kilometers, an area roughly the size of Western Europe, that embraces mountains, taiga and tundra. Their neighbors include the Yakut, Yukagir, Chukchi and Koyak.
The existence of the Even as a distinct group is partly the work of the Russians who defined them as a distinct group rather than a subgroups based on their language and cultural elements. Over time they became more distinct as they borrowed features from other groups such as the Koyak methods of herding reindeer and the dwellings of the Chukchi and Koryak.
Importance of Animal Products
Even people as well as Evenki people do not have a word for «hello» or «goodbye» in their languages. When Even meet each other they usually say: yav bultanny? Which means ‘how was the hunt?’ Or yak ukchenek, ‘what’s the news?’ A combination of reindeer herding with fishing and hunting is at the core of Even culture. Since Even people were mostly living in mountainous regions, an important food source is the wild mountain sheep (Ujamkan). But there are also others such as wild reindeer (Bujun), moose (Toki), bear (Nakat), musk-deer, (Buchen), marmot (Chamak), different birds and fish. Nonetheless, reindeer are at the core of Even culture and spiritual life. They say: Oron bidjin – Even bidjin, Oron acha odjin – Even acha odjin (As long as there is reindeer – Even will exist. If reindeer disappear – Even will also disappear). Even use reindeer as transport for hunting and for milking. If hunting or fishing was not successful they would resort to slaughtering their own reindeer for food. The connection to reindeer is very close, so this would only be done as a last resort. A reindeer would live for a long time in the family, especially transport reindeer (Gildak) and people preserve a close connection to every reindeer.
Nimat - Customary Law Many Indigenous Peoples have the tradition of gifting, sharing and reciprocity in their system of social relations. Formally, gift and gifting are voluntary in these societies, but in practice are required; enabling a system of social relations based on the gift that is wider than just economic relations (Godelier 2007). Nimat is the customary law of Even and Evenki. This law is related to hunting and reindeer herding traditions. In literature it is often written that Nimat is a sharing law, but this is a simplification of this tradition. It is more than just sharing. After a successful hunt, a person who killed an animal(s) would offer this as the gift to a friend or his relative. He usually takes only the stomach with intestines or anything else, which would deteriorate quickly. Other parts of the animal usually stay at the place where it was harvested. Then he went home and told his friend or relative that he has a gift for him (Nimat) and that he can find this gift in a certain place. Then he explains him how it can be found. That person had to go then to find it and bring the game back home and share it among other members of community (Gayun – sharing and distribution of game between members of community). He had to decide which part of the animal(s) everyone would get. (Osenin 2017) Nimat is a fundamental law for Even people and food culture is deeply connected to this law. Game caught by one, is also for others: shared with all, and not only between those who are involved in the hunting, but also visitors will get their share – «Nemada» (share of the hunting without participation in it). Not only relatives but also neighbors, and even random people enjoyed unlimited hospitality and fell into the category of the Mata - a person who got a share of the game after hunting. In the past, this custom, and law in the understanding of Even people, pervaded all areas of their lives: it has an explanation in terms of economy, in particular, distribution practices, and in terms of social life, as a mechanism for establishing friendly and, under favorable circumstances, kinship relations on the exchange. It was also deeply rooted in the mind of a hunter, who believed that hunting success depends largely on the goodwill of the host-spirits. In Even traditions the custom of Nimat was elevated to the level of law. But the punishment for violation of this law would come not from people, but from nature. Even believe that after a successful hunt for a mountain sheep, wild reindeer or any other animal; if you do not share with your relatives or friends, then you will not have hunting luck, you will get nothing. The custom of sharing game is a kind of social relations between people, but also relates to the relationship between the society / individual and nature: the need for sharing caused by the traditions based on Even and Evenki notions of our connection with the earth. This was also an attempt to establish social relations with the world of nature and the spirit world in order to ensure vital functions and continued life. The apparent reason for sharing – the expectation of reciprocity and gift not only from a person, but from the nature/ earth/host-spirits (because the hunter did the «right» thing). The accumulation of moral benefits, exceeds the scope of social links and moves into the sphere of relations between «humans – animals – spirit-owners.» Nimat provides territorial and economic relations between the nomads not only between relatives but also between unrelated clans. Probably, this custom helped Even and Evenki peoples settle Siberia so widely, where they had to live on the land occupied by other ethnic groups. So Even people are a very hospitable people, their hospitality has even been spoken of as being unlimited. They have another custom called Idekhe. This is about the slaughter of reindeer for guests and people close by. When you have a guest or when someone close by to you comes to your camp, reindeer herders make Idekhe.
OKEN’ – REINDEER MILK
Even use reindeer also for milking. They can milk reindeer from July to February. An adult productive female reindeer (Nyamichan) can produce approx. 1 liter of milk per day with a fat content of up to 19%. Even add it to tea. They also beat milk using a whisk (Itaki), which is then added to Even bread and blueberries.
KEBEL – EVEN YOGURT
For Even, the favorite dish made from reindeer milk is Kebel. To make it, fresh reindeer milk is filtered through a dense sieve and cooled down. Then you need to add 1/2 of teaspoon of leaven diluted in a tablespoon of milk and slowly, slowly stir, gradually adding it to 0.5 liters of reindeer milk. Within 15 - 20 minutes the milk will ferment and become a yogurt, then you add blueberry, cloudberry or Even bread and a tasty delicacy is ready. It is usually served for breakfast and you can work for a full day with the reindeer, without feeling hungry. But the most important thing is the leaven preparation: You need fresh abomasum of a just slaughtered reindeer, turn it inside out and, without washing the contents fill it with the fresh reindeer milk. Hang it in the Chora (Even traditional tent) above the fire with smoke and then dry it in the shade. You can also prepare a leaven from the abomasum of the wild mountain sheep – Uyamkan.
CHALMI, HILTA HILEN – STOMACH SOUP
The slaughter of a reindeer (Idekhe) or the occasion of a successful hunt for wild reindeer or mountain sheep means time for a feast for an Even family. The first dish is always made from the intestines of animals – a stomach soup (Chalmi, Hilta hilen). When you slaughter domestic reindeer, you immediately make an incision in the solar plexus and cut a blood vessel located along the spine, this is blood for making blood sausage. It turns out a lot of whey and with that you can make a sausage with a bright color. The entrails should be carefully and completely pulled out from the body so as not to spill the contents of the rumen onto other organs. The rectum (Momikan) and cecum, (Mevki) should be kept for the preparation of blood sausage. Other entrails: rumen (Goodi), abomasum (Orakan) and omasum (heŋŋi) should be washed with warm water. And the small intestine (hilta) and duodenum (Kurikich) are washed very carefully, without washing out the contents because they contain a variety of useful enzymes for human consumption, especially in the small intestine. In the old days, the bouillon from stomach soup without fat used to be given to malnourished people who had been hungry for a long time. It can be lethal to eat immediately after a long period of hunger. To such people, do not give a lot of the stock, only small portions every half an hour to revitalize the flora inside their stomach. After only a day or two, this person could drink more bouillon and eat nonfat cuts of viscera. Gradually he/ she will recover after this dish. Many people have been revived thanks to this knowledge. After washing the intestines, you put them into a large pan of boiling water in a specific order. First the rumen, then the abomasum, the midriff and the duodenum. At the end, you put in the small intestines. The small intestines are not boiled for long and are removed after 2 - 3 minutes, otherwise they will dissolve, and the bouillon will become bitter. After boiling all entrails, they are cut into small pieces and added to the bouillon. This soup is poured into bowls and served hot. Even food culture is diverse and rich and a wealth of knowledge is embedded in the Even food system and it is important to preserve, use and develop this knowledge system. Our food systems are little studied and the taboos and sacred knowledge surrounding it offer rich insights and clues as to how Even people can thrive moving forward into the future.
In Topolinoye 30 years ago an elder reindeer herder was lost. His name was Golikov Dmitry Gavrilovich. Afterward he couldn’t explain how it happened. He just went to search for his missing reindeer, without light, food, tent or any other things. They were looking for him for a long time and had not found him. We thought that he and his riding reindeer had been killed by a bear or that there had been an accident. After 1.5 months, this herder came by himself into the camp, which was 700 km away from his herd. He was exhausted and had been starving for a long time. Reindeer herders immediately slaughtered a reindeer and made a bouillon from the stomach soup to give to him. He survived. All reindeer herders are aware of this method from their parents. Story told by Maria Pogodaeva
The Even have traditionally been reindeer herders and hunters. Originally reindeer were used primarily as beasts of burden but as their traditional hunting methods changed they began to rely more on them as a source of food and hides. Today, some Even maintain very large herds of reindeer, with the largest in the 1990s having around 2,000 or so animals. The migration routes are often well defined and in many cases have been followed for centuries by particular clan groups or ethnic groups.
The Even eat nearly every part of the reindeer, including marrow, tendons, gristle and the soft parts of the hooves and horns. They regard eating the meat and tissues raw—particularly the lungs, kidneys and liver—as healthy. They also eat gathered plants, locusts, berries and nuts. Sufferers of frostbite were traditionally treated by wrapping them in the carcass of a freshly killed reindeer. Burns were treated with reindeer blood.
Even Hunting Life
The Even hunted of deer, elks (moose), bears, rabbits, foxes, mountain goats, musk deer and other animals for meat and for fur. When hunting wild reindeer they employed a domesticated reindeer attached with a lasso that would entangle any reindeer that tried to fight it. This deer would be maneuvered by a hunter to the leader of the herd who would try to battle it.
Before firearms became widely used the Even hunted bears alone with a spear and knife. The hunter encouraged the bear to charge and when it did the hunter threw a piece of cloth in the air to get the animal to rise up on its hind legs, leaving its chest area exposed. The hunter then kneeled and extended the spear forward. When the bear tried to lung for the hunter it impaled itself on the spear. The hunter usually had a dog with him whose purpose was to distract the bear if something went wrong with the hunt, allowing the hunter to escape.
The Even used powerful bows when hunting elk (moose) and crossbow-like contraptions to hunt small animals. Mountain goats were ambushed from a hiding place, deer were often killed only after being wounded and chased, sometimes for several days. In the winter the Even followed animals and track them on skis. The Even also fished and hunted nerpas (seals). During the salmon migration season they sectioned off parts of rivers and caught large number of fishing. To catch other kinds of fish they use square and conical nets.
Importance of Plants
They also eat gathered plants, locusts, berries and nuts.
Transition to Industrialized Food Products
History of the Evenki and Evens
Until around a century ago no distinction was made between the Even and Evenki—ethnic minorities that are recognized as different today. The two groups are more alike than they are different. Their lifestyles, Tungus-Manchu, Altaic language and traditional religions are similar. The main difference is that the Even live mainly in northeast Russia and the Evenki live in the southeast and north central areas of Siberia. The two groups have been physically separated from each other long enough that some different characteristics have emerged.
Tungus-speaking people emerged in ancient times in Siberia. The ancestors of the Evens and Evenki were closely related to the Turkic-speaking Yakut. Around the 11th century B.C. a northern branch of the Tungus began to have contact with the ancestors of the Yukagir. Threatened by the ancient Turks, Tungus-speaking people began migrating to the west, north and particularly the northeast. In the 15th and 16th centuries the people that became the Evens and Evenki settled on the shore of the Sea of Okhotsk. Even though this area was very sparsely populated there were conflicts with other people that lived there, particularly with the Koryaks over grazing pastures for reindeer.
The consolidation of the Evenki as a distinct group with a distinct territory took place after the arrival of the Russians. The Russians set up a system of tribute and in the process of defining which group gave them what they helped the groups establish territories with roughly-defined borders.
The Evenkis used to be called the Tungus. Describing them in the 1820s, the explorer John Bell wrote:
"They have no homes where they remain for any time, but range throughout the woods and long rivers for pleasure; and,wherever they come, they erect a few spars, in clinging to one another at the top; these they cover with pieces of boiled birch bark, sewed together, leaving, a hole at the top to let out smoke...They can not bear to sleep in a warm room, but retire to their huts and lie about the fire on skins of wild bears. It is surprising that these creatures can suffer the very piercing cold of these parts."
"They are very civil and tractable, and like to smoke tobacco and drink brandy...I have seen many of the men with oval figures, like wreaths, on their foreheads and chins...These are made, in their infancy, by pricking the parts with needles and rubbing them with charcoal...They have many shamans among them, I was told of others, whose abilities for fortune-telling far exceeded those of the shaman."
"The women dressed in a fur-gown, reaching below the knee, and tied about the waist with a girdle...made of deer skins, having their hair curiously stitched down and ornamented...The dress of the men consists of a short jacket with narrow sleeves made of deer skin, having the fur outward; trousers and hoses of the same kind of skin...They have besides a piece of fur, that covers the breasts and stomach, which is hung about the neck with a string of leather."
"Their arms are a bow and several sorts of arrows, according to the different kinds of game they intend to hunt...In winter, the season for hunting wild beasts, they travel on what are called snow shoes...They have a different kind of shoe for ascending hills, with the skins of seal glued to the boards, having the hair inclined backwards which prevents them from sliding on there shoes...When a Tungus goes hunting into the woods, he carries with him no provisions, but depends entirely on what he has to catch."
After the arrival of the Russians the Even were forced to expend more effort to producing furs for tributes to the tsar and less energy to traditional hunting. The introduction of firearms also changed their hunting style dramatically. Some hunters wore a hunting hat with ornaments made of walrus ivory.
Since the break up of the Soviet Union the Evenks and the Nenets have suffered catastrophic declines in life expectancy and high rates of sickness and death that have prompted speculation that some of those groups may become extinct. [Source: Library of Congress, 1996]