‘When I saw the vastness of the white landscape, my mind was overwhelmed with clarity’
ARCTIC TUNDRA, VANKAREM, CHUKOTKA
Ancient legends and archaeological evidence suggest that Chukchi takeover of Chukotka was anything but peaceful.
Unlike other native groups of Siberia, they were fiercely militant and have never been conquered by Russian troops. Under Soviet rule, the Chukchi people endured mass imprisonment and destruction of their traditional culture.
PEOPLE FROM THE SECOND BRIGADE
The Chukchi are an ancient Arctic people who chiefly live on the peninsula of Chukotka. They are unusual among the Northern people in having two distinct cultures: The nomadic reindeer herders (Chauchu) who live in the interior of the peninsula,and the village-based marine mammal hunters (Ankalyn) who live along the coasts of the Arctic Ocean, the Chukchi Sea and the Bering Sea.
The staple foods eaten by the inland Chukchi are products of reindeer farming: boiled venison, reindeer brains and bone marrow, and reindeerblood soup.
One traditional dish, rilkeil, is made from semi-digested moss from a slaughtered reindeer’s stomach mixed with blood, fat, and pieces of boiled
reindeer intestine. Coastal Chukchi cuisine is based on boiled walrus, seal, whale meat/fat and seaweed. Both groups eat frozen fish and edible leaves and roots.
Traditional Chukchi cuisine is now supplemented with canned vegetables and other foodstuffs purchased in stores.
Sculpture and carving on bone and walrus tusk are the most highly developed forms of folk art among the Chukchi. Common traditional themes are landscapes and scenes from everyday life: hunting parties, reindeer herding and animals native to Chukotka. In traditional Chukchi society, only men engage in these arts. Chukchi women are skilled at sewing and embroidering.
‘It is considered unseemly for a man to perform work usually done by women’
– Jimmy Nelson
REINDEER SECOND BRIGADE
Although both sexes share responsibility for running the household, they have different tasks. Chukchi men drive their reindeer in search of vegetation and travel to the edge of the taiga to hunt sea mammals and gather firewood and fish. The women’s work includes cleaning and repairing the yaranga, cooking food, sewing and repairing clothing and preparing reindeer or walrus hides.
The coastal Chukchi, like the neighbouring Eskimo, enjoy tossing each other high into the air on walrusskin blankets. Chukchi of all ages traditionally enjoy singing, dancing, listening to folk tales and reciting tongue twisters.
The traditional dress for Chukchi women is a kerker, a knee-length coverall made from reindeer or seal hide and trimmed with fox, wolverine, wolf
or dog fur. On holidays and special occasions, women can be seen wearing robe-like dresses of fawn skins beautifully decorated with beads, embroidery and fur trimmings.
At important traditional events, we see men wearing loose shirts and trousers made of the same material.
VYACHESLAV & OLESYA
Pollution, weapons testing, strip mining and overuse of industrial equipment and vehicles have greatly damaged Chukotka’s environment and endangered its ability to support traditional Chukchi activities.
YARANGA SECOND BRIGADE
For at least a few hundred years, the coneshaped yaranga has been the traditional home of Chukchi reindeer herders. It takes about 80 reindeer skins to build a yaranga. Nowadays, fewer and fewer Chukchi live in yarangas. The coastal Chukchi traditionally used dogsleds and skin
boats for transportation, while inland Chukchi rode in sledges pulled by reindeer. These traditional methods of transportation still survive, but are increasingly supplemented by air travel, motorboats, and snowmobiles.
SECOND BRIGADE, CHUKOTKA
The Chukchi, who call themselves the Lygoravetlat – meaning ‘genuine people’ – presently number slightly over 15,000. Their territory is mostly treeless tundra. The climate is harsh, with winter temperatures sometimes dropping as low as minus 54°C. The cool summers average around 10°C.
Traditional Chukchi sports are reindeer and dog-sled races, wrestling, and foot races. Competitions of these types are often performed following the reindeer sacrifices of the inland Chukchi and the sea-spirit sacrifices of the coastal Chukchi.
Chukchi beliefs and practices are best described as a form of shamanism. Animals, plants, heavenly bodies, rivers, forests and other natural phenomena are all considered to have their own spirits. During their rituals, Chukchi shamans fall into trances (sometimes with the aid of
hallucinogenic mushrooms), communicate with the spirits, allow the spirits to speak through them, predict the future, and cast spells of various kinds.
The most important traditional Chukchi holidays were festivals in which sacrifices were made to the spirits that the Chukchi depended upon for their survival.
Due to the harsh climate and difficulty of life in the tundra, hospitality and generosity are highly prized among the Chukchi. It is forbidden to refuse anyone, even a stranger, shelter and food.
The community is expected to provide for orphans, widows and the poor. Miserliness is considered the worst character defect a person can have.