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Village and town Evenk
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In Russia, in addition to the nomads of the taiga, sedentary Evenk also live in villages or towns. The proportion of the Evenk population living in villages ranges from 10% to 90%. The proportion of city-dwellers, on the other hand, is low, except in Yakutsk (capital of Yakutia), which numbers nearly 2,000 Evenk.
The villages built under the Soviets usually have a multiethnic population, comprised of Evenk but also Chinese or Russians. In some regions, the Evenk have been completely sedentarized, and the villagers are no longer in touch with their nomadic kin. Among the Orochon Evenk, the villages function as a turntable for the nomads who gravitate around them in a radius of between 20 and 300 km.
Most of the villagers have salaried jobs with State institutions (postal service, schools, farms, healthcare centers, cultural centers, etc.) or with small local firms (shops, family cooperatives), the average salary in Siberia being around 60 euros. But the economic crisis that followed the end of communism sent the unemployment figures up alarmingly, and many people now are reduced to living on welfare (2.5 euros per month and per child) or retirement pensions (23.5 euros a month). This is where various subsistence activities come in: sewing for allochtonous people, making metis objects (reindeer-skin boots with felt soles, fur hats, etc.), sale of berries and mushrooms collected in the vicinity of the village to allochtonous people, sporadic hunting and fishing, and, for some, temporary work in the towns or the mines. The villagers also survive thanks to gifts of game and income from the sale of furs by their nomadic kin. The children from disadvantaged families who go to boarding school are fed, housed and dressed there. At the same time, some of the sedentarized Evenk are going back to the nomadic life. Aside being scarce, humanitarian aid is often more symbolic than sufficient.
The urban Evenk are essentially intellectuals with jobs in the university, administration and cultural institutions. We have them to thank for many modern literary works in Evenk and Russian, and anthropological studies, in particular on folklore; they have also created Evenk-language newspapers, television and radio programming, particularly in the autonomous Evenk okrug (a Russian administrative term meaning district; this is the Kranoyarsk region) and in Yakutia. Convinced of having a mission to save their people from cultural non-existence, they have taken on a role of spiritual guides and are reorganizing the collective rituals that were prohibited in the 1930s. It is in the towns and villages with large Evenk populations that these rituals of the ìback to traditionî movement are performed most regularly.
These urban intellectual circles also express and claim a pan-Evenk identity which is not really applicable among nomads. Although it cannot be termed nationalistic in the proper sense of the word, this quest for identity is behind the creation of Evenk associations for the preservation of traditional culture, language and ways of life. Today the Evenk National Okrug has its own flag, a Website (www.evenkya.ru) a parliament and a capital, Tura; while intellectuals are attempting to make themselves heard on the international stage. But villagers are unable to find funding for small-business plans that would enable both the sedentary and the nomadic populations to survive in the new market economy.

Author(s): A. Lavrillier
Date created: 2004-03-02 - Date modified: 2004-04-14


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