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The nomadic unit can be as small as a single, unmarried person, but this is rare and frowned upon. Ideally the basic nomadic unit is made up of a couple and their unmarried children, who may be joined by an unmarried brother or sister, or a widowed parent. This household can spend the whole year alone or join up with others at certain seasons, depending on whether the needs of husbandry or of hunting take priority.
Reindeer husbandry, for instance, demands the cooperation of several basic units to cope with the difficulties of calving, reproduction and the summer heat. The reindeer also tend to spread out over great distances; not to round them up would be to risk losing them definitively. ìThe reindeer can easily live without us, but we canít live without the reindeer,î Evenk often say. When it is cold, the reindeer huddle together and cover only some 20 km a day. Even a man on his own can keep an eye on them and still have time to hunt.
Hunting demands that the group split up: each hunter needs as big a territory as possible to increase his chances of finding game. In most cases, the hunter will follow his game alone, covering tens of kilometers by sled, on reindeer-back or on foot, running in knee-deep snow.
Members of the same camp call each other nimak, a noun built on the verb nima-mi ìto share equitablyî, glossed as ìyou give, you receive, you give, you receiveî. The members of other camps are called mata; from the verb mata-mi meaning ìto go to another camp as a guest, drink tea and talkî. Thus two persons can be each otherís mata or nimak, depending on the season.
The logic of the groupings differs with the season and the prevailing activity. For hunting, what counts are personal bonds of friendship or marriage, while, for husbandry, it is the bonds of consanguinity (or assimilated bonds) that matter. In summer, for instance, a unit made up of a couple may be joined by their married children of both sexes, their spouses and their own children. Or it can take in someone who is alone, an ìorphanî, who contributes his or her labor. If other non-related basic units join the original unit, it is because there is a mutual desire to contract a marriage alliance.
While the entire family nomadizes together, a man may go off on his own to hunt or to fetch food in a distant raised larder or simply because he has been invited as a mata for some business affair. The woman too can go off on her own, but not for more than a day, to fetch the carcass of an elk or reindeer killed the previous day by her husband, to go fishing or fur trapping or to pay a call. From the age of eight or nine, a child can leave to spend several days with play-friends in a neighboring camp. Circulation of children between neighboring camps and their company are much appreciated and valorized.
People identify themselves by the name of the biggest river in the geographic area in which they nomadize. When introducing oneself, one gives a village name, a river name, a clan name, a family (or lineage) name and the name of oneís parents.

Author(s): A. Lavrillier
Date created: 2003-09-08 - Date modified: 2004-04-14


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Movie(s):
Nimat Ritual (0MB)
The mata's visit (0MB)

An Evenk nuclear family

Evenk camp in summer


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