Koryak Mountains, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, Russia, 689534
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
Click this Slide deck Gallery to see high quality images of the tribe, daily life, diet, hunting and gathering or recipes
About the Tribe
The Koryak are an Indigenous people of the northern Kamchatka peninsula, who live in the Kamchatsky Krai, Chukotka and Magadan oblast’ of the Russian Federation. According to their livelihoods, Koryak are divided into reindeer herders - the Chavchuvens (čawčәvaw means rich with reindeer) and settled Koryak - the Nymylans (nәmәlˀu means settlers) engaged in fishing and marine mammal hunting. It was Koryak reindeer herders’ dialect Chavchuven that served as the basis when in 1931 writing was established. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer Koryak consider Koryak language as their mother tongue. According to the 2010 census there were 7953 Koryak people in Russia and 2191 (27.5%) considered Koryak as their native language, while in 1989 – 4847 (52.4%), and in 1959 – 99.6% of Koryak spoke their Indigenous language. Furthermore, the literature mentions 11 Koryak dialects, while today in Kamchatka there only four main dialects, namely Chavchuven (reindeer herders dialect), Palana, Alutor and Karaginsky (settlers’ dialects). There are no exact statistics, but by regional estimations, Alutor is poorly spoken by only 250 people. The Magadan dialect is studied poorly and not distinguished as a separate dialect yet. More effort is needed to bring the Koryak language into every day use and food may have an important role to play in this regard.
Much has been written about the traditional foods and rituals of the Koryak and other Indigenous Peoples of Kamchatka and the Magadan oblast’. If we look at one of the ancient cultural layers – story telling, it speaks to meanings and knowledge embedded in food culture and its connection to festivals and ceremonies. Below is one such story, told by Tamara Khupkhi in the village of Tilichiki, in the Olyutorsky district of the Kamchatskiy Krai. As this ancient tale tells, that to please the angry Qutkinjnjaqu, little mice prepared and started to treat the visitor to the well loved dishes, tolkusha (tilqәtil) and dried toadstool (wapaq). This is one of the favorite dishes of the Koryak and is served at Milanɣәt - the holiday of the Ringed Seal. Koryak food traditions are an integral part of their culture, are closely connected to their livelihood and are associated with a number of folk customs and regulations. For nomadic Koryak - čawčәvaw reindeer meat, blood, fat and entrails of the reindeer play an important role, while for settled Koryak – nәmәlˀu — fish, marine mammal meat, blood, fat, and guts were at the center, although today it is mostly fish. The food choices of both groups have always been seasonal and celebrations held on certain occasions. These celebrations consist of a set of certain ritual actions, including slaughtering of reindeer in one case and fishing or hunting for marine mammals in the other, and the preparations of certain dishes.
Importance of Animal Products
TOLKUSHA AND THE FESTIVAL OF MILANƔӘT: COASTAL KORYAK
In November or early December the coastal Koryak – the Nymylans celebrate the festival of Milanɣәt - the holiday of the Ringed Seal. The meaning of this holiday is to guide the spirits of marine mammals that have been hunted during the season, back to the sea. Every family that celebrates this holiday cooks special dishes, in particular tolkusha (tilqәtil). During the festival, all the guests that come to the feast are considered to be the seals. And during this festival, people meet each other with a cry «ololo» because ringed seals emit such sounds when resting on land. That is why this holiday is also known with the name Hololo or Ololo. When the master of the feast (a hunter or elder of the family) performs the rite of taking the seals back to the sea, small figures of seals are made from twigs of alder, and bound with sedge grass (lәˀutaŋ). Such seal figures are ritually fed with tolkusha, watered and sent to the fire. Almost all the rites are performed with fire. Everybody is having fun, playing the tambourine, dancing and showing to the seals who are ‘returning home’ that they had a good time with delicious food at the festival. Upon returning home, these seals would tell their friends, other marine mammals, about this holiday and would always come back again the next year. Thereby people secure hunting luck for the following season. This dish has a very sweet taste due to jiwjirˀu and also fortified and nutrition and vitamins. It is always served as a dessert. For Milanɣәt many other meals are also prepared, for example, kilikil. To make kilikil, boil fish, then mash it, remove the bones and add crowberries (ljәɣiˀәvәnˀu). The resulting mass is infused with mәtqәmәt - liquid ringed seal fat. One of the most common festive foods of any holiday, including Milanɣәt, is tavˀal – dried fish, yukola [a sun-cured fish dish, see Yukagir chapter]. It is especially tasty when eaten together with valival – ringed seal fat. Tavˀal is prepared in the summer, during the main run of salmonids. The Koryak make Yukola from salmon, Arctic char, trout or other fish. The dorsal and ridges are cut off, and only the fillet is separated and hung to dry.
FESTIVE FOOD AT QOJAŊAJTӘK: REINDEER HERDING KORYAK
The nomadic Koryak hold their holiday called qojaŋajtәk (qojaŋajtatәk) in the autumn, during the waxing moon. Qojaŋajtәk literally means ‘to move the reindeer’. Women prepare Cencitkuwәtwәt, is a sacrificial green colored gruel made from the ’river beauty’ (here called ‘reindeer leaves’). It is harvested in summer, dried and then ground on a stone mortar. In the village of Achayvayam this is called qozjawәtwәto. The resulting mass is used for tolkusha and crowberries are added into it. While the coastal Koryak add ringed seal fat, the nomadic Koryak add reindeer fat to tolkusha. After certain rituals, yukola is eaten. For the qojaŋajtәk holiday, it is made from Arctic char with the head still on. It is called lewtetewˀel and literally means ‘sun-cured fish with fish head’. For qojaŋajtәk, sacrificial reindeer are slaughtered, and Qәmәl (bone marrow from the rear legs) is eaten raw. Everyone except male children eat the bone marrow. While girls are allowed to eat large amounts, boys are not, so that they do not lose their appetite, as they need to build their strength to herd the reindeer when they grow up. The meat of the sacrificial reindeer is laid out on a sled. The sacrificial meat (inelәtˀul), the lungs (zitcat), liver (pontan) and meat from the spine (zavjaw) are baked in the embers of the fire, which should be situated on the Eastern side of the entrance of the yaranga (the traditional Koryak tent). Then kinuŋi - meat boiled in a cauldron over the fire – is eaten. Half of the raw meat is hung on poles outside and after 2-3 days the dried meat is brought into the Yaranga where it is smoked over the fire and eaten in winter. A ritual sausage zezjat is made from the third stomach of the sacrificial reindeer. It contains boiled bone fat from the broken leg bones of a reindeer. Zezjat is considered to be a substitute for a live reindeer in a bloodless sacrifice during the winter and spring holidays. Part of the sausage can be eaten in the morning. During the holiday at the thanksgiving ceremony to the fire, ‘dried toadstools’ (wapaq) are a vital ingredient. Toadstools are collected in the summer, and removed completely with the top intact with care being taken not to touch it. They are strung out on a thread and dried in the Yaranga. The consumption of dried toadstools is considered to be essential during thanksgiving ceremony. In the early morning, a ritual blood soup called mŋeˀәpaŋa (literally, ‘fire soup’) is made, which no holiday can do without. To prepare the blood soup you need clean water and blood, which is boiled on a slow fire until a certain sound is heard. In connection with the birth of children, coastal Koryak hold the feast of Anaŋavisqatin («in celebration of women»). Here taknonoikau (bringer of happiness) is prepared, by first frying flour until brown, to which coastal Koryak add the blood, meat and marine mammal fat. Nomadic Koryak add reindeer meat, blood, and fat. Eating this cereal is supposed to provide a prosperous life for the newborn child. Considering the parlous situation of Koryak languages, the enduring traditions of Koryak food culture, their connection with rituals, celebrations and festivals, their rich terminology and methods and purpose of particular foods may assist the preservation and development of the Koryak language. Koryak traditions and ceremonies and all connected activities, including the names of dishes, ingredients, and so on, remained unalterable due to the sacredness of the rites themselves. In this way, these foods, their memories and terminologies act as a storehouse for the Koryak people and culture. The importance of these ancient and unchanging food traditions of the Koryak are a vital part of their desire to remain as a thriving and vibrant culture in a period of rapid change.