EVENS

The Even People of the Arctic

The Even, who were formerly known as the Lamuts, occupy a large area in the far east of Siberia. Today, there are about 17,200 Even living in a territory that includes the northern part of Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), Chukotka, Magadan Region, and Kamchatka. The origin of the Evens culture is closely linked to that of the Evenks and also the Yukagirs. The Even were, and primarily still are, hunter gathers who also breed reindeer. The origin of the Evens is connected with the Tungus tribes who probably originated from the Lake Baikal area. According to historical data the Tungus nation, including Evens, had their own state, Bokhai, from the 7th to about the 9th Centuries AD. The Tungus tribes were forced to move north after attacks by other tribes and by the 11th & 12th centuries the Evens had settled in the Kolyma river basin. By the time of their first contact with Russians in the mid-17th Century some Evens had migrated as far as the Sea of Okhotsk. During the 18th and early 19th Centuries the Evens had moved to the northern part of the Okhotsk coast and to Kamchatka. Their contact with the Yakuts was so profound that a number of the Evens adopted the Yakut language and culture.

Language

The Even language belongs to the northern group of the Tungusic-Manchurian languages. The isolation of some Even groups led to the development of different dialects. Today there are about 20 Even dialects and they have many similarities with both the Evenki language and culture. Nowadays most Even also speak Russian.

Daily Life

Even father and son
The traditional occupation of the Even was reindeer breeding, hunting, trapping and fishing. The most important part of their economy was hunting. During their winter migrations they hunted animals for their meat. Their main prey, were, wild reindeer, moose, mountain sheep and occasionally bear. They also trapped sable and squirrel for their fur. They lived in conical shaped tents that were quite similar to the Chukchi yarangas. The Evens on the Okhotsk coast lived a more settled life. They fished, catching salmon with both harpoons and nets, and they also hunted marine mammals. Nowadays, most Even live in settlements but when they are out with their reindeer herds or hunting, they use canvas tents.

Food

The mainstay of the Even diet is reindeer meat, but they also eat moose, mountain sheep, bear and a whole variety of fish. They collect berries and edible plants during the summer. The Evens who lived on the coast ate fish and meat from sea mammals. After they got access to flour from trading, bread and bannock began to form part of their diet as they now have access to flour. The shops in settlements where Even now live sell a wide selection of Russian food.

Transport

Reindeer were the main form of transport for the Even. Their reindeer are larger and stronger than the tundra reindeer of the more northerly peoples of Siberia. They are able to ride their reindeer by sitting on the front shoulders and they also used them as pack animals during the summer. When they migrated during the summer young children were placed in special cradles. It was only occasionally that they harnessed reindeer to sleds. The Even who lived on the coast used dog teams for winter transport. They ran the dogs in tandem, a system in which dogs were tied from both sides along a central strap. Nowadays, snowmobiles are being increasingly used by the Even.

Traditional beliefs

The Evens originally had shamanistic beliefs which they later mixed with Christianity. They had a cult of the ‘masters’ of nature and the elements (taiga, fire, water etc) and used to sacrifice reindeer. Sacrifices were often made when people were ill. The Evens buried their dead on raised wooden platforms and traditionally a wooden figure of a raven was placed in the coffin. After the spread of Christianity in the 19th Century, some Evens began to bury their dead in the ground, but it’s still possible to come across Even traditional burial sites in the taiga.

Clothing

Even clothing is quite similar to the Evenk. Both men’s and women’s outer clothing consisted of caftan style coat made from the hide of a young reindeer. They had a chest piece sewn onto them and the women’s caftan was worn in conjunction with a knee length apron which was decorated with beads, coins, copper plates and other ornaments. Under the caftan they wore short hip pants (kherki), fur stockings, and boots of reindeer skin. In winter, fur parkas were worn, which had a slit at the front, but the front parts overlapped. The headwear for both men and women was a tight-fitting beaded hood (avun). In winter men wore a large fur cap over the hood, and women sometimes wore a headscarf. Women’s gloves (khair) were decorated with a beaded circle in the form of the sun. From the decoration on their clothes it was possible to tell what district a person was from, what clan they belonged to and whether they were single or married.

Social Problems

The main social problems occurring in many Even communities today are alcoholism, unemployment and poverty which are associated with the decline of their culture.

 


Text © B & C Alexander