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The Orochon or reindeer herders
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The Orochon are one of the regional Evenk groups living in southeastern Siberia and northern China. This is the name they use for themselves. They say it is formed by adding an active suffix to oron, which means domestic reindeer in Evenk, something that is confirmed by most sources. But this etymology is rejected by other authors for two reasons. First of all, the earliest mention of this ethnonym, in 1686, refers to a group living on the right bank of the middle course of the Amur River, who are not said to raise reindeer. And secondly, the term oron is used to designate the wild reindeer by another Tungus people, the Nanai or Gold, who have never domesticated the reindeer. It was Georgi who introduced this name into the Russian literature, and there have been Orochon identified as Evenk reindeer herders in the ethnographic sources ever since. The explorer Orlov, responsible for locating the uncontacted native populations along the shores of the Okhotsk Sea, noted in 1846 that the Tungus groups that nomadized with their reindeer along the valleys of the Vitim, the Olekma and the Aldan rivers, called themselves Orochon. Evenk was the language of communication at the time among these Tungus groups as well as with the Nivkh or the Ghiliak (Vasilevich 1969: 22ñ24). They are said to have later settled in the foothills of the Stanovoi and the Jablonovyi Mountains, where some of them still live today. It is this region that yielded some of the shamanistic objects collected by Joseph Martin in the 1880s and conserved in the MusÈe de líHomme, like the metal mask on the right. Some Orochon also mixed with the neighboring peoples: Buryat and Yakut, but also Russians.
The Orochon have been studied very little in comparison with other groups, for instance those of the Yenisei or the Angara river bassins. One of the few works devoted exclusively to them is the monograph by A.I. Mazin (1984), an essential reference for researchers. Those Orochon who stayed in the Stanovoi Mountains have kept their nomadic way of life as hunters and reindeer herders. It is they who are shown in the photos taken by Alexandra Lavrillier during the five years (1994ñ2003) she spent doing ethnography among them in the valleys of the Njukzha, Aldan, Olekma and Gonym rivers.
Today Orochon also designates, in the Russian literature, a kind of mixed economy combining hunting wild reindeer and breeding a variety of domestic reindeer. The characteristics of this economy are the following: The herd is small (around 100 reindeer per nuclear family). The deer are very tame and allow themselves to be ridden, loaded and harnessed. They do not shy if a gun is fired by their rider. Their resistance and their acceptance of being packed permit the local form of nomadism, characterized by frequent moves. In hunting, domestic females are sometimes used to attract wild males.

Check the following table(s) for further information

Terms in use for various Evenk groups : Russia


Author(s): A. Lavrillier
Date created: 2004-03-01 - Date modified: 2004-04-14


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Metal mask


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