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The conceptions held by modern-day taiga Evenk are reminiscent, on the whole if not in every detail, of those recorded in earlier ethnographic sources. Their worldview is inseparable from their view of the human person. The symbolic components of the person are three in number: khanjan ìthe shadowî, been or ille, ìthe physical envelopî and omi, ìthe soulî, which is recycled from one generation to the next (Anisimov 1951: 198ñ201, Keptuke 1996: 52ñ53). The place known as omiruk, where the ìsouls to be bornî reside, is located towards the rising sun, towards the east or the south, which is also the upstream direction of an ìinvisibleî river the engdekit (a term formed from the verb e- ìto be invisibleî and the suffix ñkit, ìplaceî, Cincius, 1975ñ1977: 457; Vasilevich 1958: 559). The souls descended this river to become fetuses in the womb of mothers and be born on earth among the living beings. When a person dies, the soul descends the river, in the direction of the setting sun, towards the west or the north. There it awaits a new life, like the first, comprised of hunting and raising reindeer, at the end of which it returns to the headwaters of the invisible river engdekit to be reborn once more (Anisimov 1951: 198ñ201).
The course of life is thus conceived in the image of the course of a river, as a constant flow, being born at the headwaters and dying at the mouth. Under the influence of Christianization, conducted irregularly since the 18th century, this conception developed into a division of the universe into three separate worlds. The ìupper worldî, corresponding to the upper course of the river (ugu buga or ugu dunne), is the dwelling place of the ìsouls to be bornî; the ìmiddle worldî, corresponding to the middle course (dulin dunne or dulin buga), is the dwelling place of the living; and the ìlower worldî, corresponding to the lower course (hergu buga or hergu dunne), is the dwelling place of the dead (Vasilevich 1969: 212). These three worlds are connected by the river engdekit. The ìupperî of the Christianized conception has positive overtones, like the upstream of the Evenk conception, and the ìlowerî a negative connotation, like downstream portion of the river. If at nightfall the river roars downstream, it means bad weather; if it roars upstream, it means the weather will be good.

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

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