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Customs of Kamchatka Tribals
November 27, 2018 14:12


Volcanoes and geysers, lakes and mountains, amulets and dream traps, fishing and dogsleds... Just a short while ago, Kamchatka was a closed and secret territory. Until 1990, no foreigner could step on the land of Kamchatka - and even a Russian had to get a special pass to get there.
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Things to Know Before Travelling to Kamchatka
The tribals inhabiting the faraway peninsula add to the mystery of Kamchatka.
The Itelmens, Koryaks, Aleuts, Chukchi, and Evens – these are the names of local ethnic minorities. Their traditions and customs - throat singing, ethnic dances, tambourine rituals, and numerous legends are an integral part of the mystical and unknown land of Kamchatka. Tourists visiting the peninsula bring home unusual souvenirs, including items of national clothing, handicrafts, dream traps and various amulets.
Kamchatka Souvenirs - What to Bring from Kamchatka

The Itelmens: Raven’s Children or Red Indians of Kamchatka 
The Itelmens are the most ancient northern people, whose ancestors settled in the Kamchatka region around 15,000 years ago. Their genes, mythology and rites unite them with North American Indians.
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Northern Mongoloids
Anthropologists attribute the Itelmen to the arctic small race belonging to the northern Mongoloid type. Scientists have found similar genes in the Indians of the North American Navajo tribe and Alaskan Tlingit. The visits of Itelmens to the remaining tribal representatives confirmed the presence of similar elements in their culture, rituals, and mythology.
The Itelmens excelled in their endurance; they could run and work hard without dyspnea for a long time. In spite of unsanitary conditions, they boasted good health and longevity: the average age was 60 to 75 years.


Family Life
By the arrival of the Russians in Kamchatka, men played the dominant role among the Itelmens, but the remnants of matriarchy still played a significant role. Women were honored in every way, with all their whims fulfilled.
The Custom of “Earning a Wife”
The custom of “earning a wife” has been preserved till date. The potential groom moves into the yurt of the girl he likes and performed any work there like a servant. Sometimes it can last for several years, until the bride agrees to marry, if at all. Paradoxically enough, during the service term, the potential husband and wife are free to indulge in carnal pleasures with each other.

“Grab” Wedding Ritual
Once a man decides that he has served long enough and won the sympathy of the bride, he offers to hold the “Grab” ritual. The chosen girl gets dressed up in several layers of clothing, tied up and meshed. The purpose of the groom is to turn her loose, undress and touch her womb. He is obstructed by the bride’s female relatives, who beat, bite, and scratch him for real. If the goal is reached, in spite of all the predicaments, the bride utters “no way”, and since then the marriage is in effect.
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Dwelling
The Itelmens settled as tribal communities from 15 to 100 people each. In winter, the ancestral community lived in one common house: a half dugout 1.5 meters deep, enclosed with a small rounded canopy and a roof covered with turf and snow. In summer they settled in huts raised on four poles up to 4 m high. The quadrangular huts had conical roofs.
Local Cuisine
The basis of the Itelmen ration is fish of salmon species. Their famous national dish yukola, which is dried, sliced salmon. Caviar was dried with tree bark, and along with yukola was staple food all winter long.
Read about Kamchatka Cuisine

The "First Fish" Rite
The main occupation of the Itelmen is river salmon fishing. The fishery lasts from April to November. There is an ancient local ritual of the “First Fish”: a braid is woven from herbs and the caviar of the first catch salmon and put into the water upstream while saying spells for a rich new fishing season.
They also prayed earnestly to the sea god Mitga, the owner of the sea, as they wanted his favour in hunting for seals, fur seals, and whales.


Myths and Beliefs
The religious beliefs of the Itelmens vary from animism and shamanism to fetishism and totemism. For them, there was no one god. Instead, the world was inhabited by many spirits with various functions: owners, patrons, helpers, satellites, and pests.
The central hero of their myths was Kuth, the Raven God, the creator of heaven and earth, who is present in the beliefs of northern American Indians as well.

The Itelmens believed: after death, all living creatures, from man to flies, are reborn in the underworld, where they get a better life. That explains why suicides were not that rare among the Itelmens in the past. 
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Read more about Kamchatka...
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Author: Vera Ivanova

Tags: Kamchatka Kamchatka Cuisine Customs and Traditions   

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