The Koryak People of Siberia

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AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION 1902 celebrating 100 years 2002


ANTHROPOLOGY AND HUMANISM VOLUME 27, NUMBER 2 DECEMBER 2002CONTENTSMiami Money and the Home Gal Karen E. Richman Without Deer There Is No Culture, Nothing Alexander D. King Could She Be Dying? Dis-Orders of Reality around Death in an American Hospital Helen S. Chapple 119 133


FICTIONMaquiladora Cousins Tamar Diana Wilson 185

POEMSFive Poems in Three Languages Meditacin in and about Mbohapy ee Pax Nobiscum Muse Pride? Ignoramus Tracy K. Lewis Slugs Soft Boiled Eggs Brian Swann Imprecation against Two Cambridge Policemen for Disturbing Dave Sapirs Party Dell Hymes 192 193 194 195 197 198 199


BOOK REVIEWSAfter Genres: A Biography That Illuminates Ethnography (In the Arms of Africa: The Life of Colin M. Turnbull, Roy Richard Grinker) Christopher Eric Garces Silicon Valley Light (Cultures@Silicon Valley, June Anne English-Lueck) Jennifer Croissant New Perspectives on Female Circumcision (The Female Circumcision Controversy: An Anthropological Perspective, Ellen Gruenbaum) Barry P. Michrina Africa Reclaiming Herself (On the Postcolony, Achille Mbembe) Donald Robotham

205 207

208 209

A Place to Write: The Bartender as Ethnographer (A Place to Stand: Politics and Persuasion in a Working-Class Bar, Julie Lindquist) Warren Olivo


ANNOUNCEMENTSThe Society for Humanistic Anthropology is pleased to announce that the 2002 Victor Turner Prize for Ethnographic Writing was won by Henry Stephen Sharp for his book Loon: Memory, Meaning, and Reality in a Northern Dene Community. Honorable Mention awards were won by Mary Weismantel for her book Cholas and Pishtacos: Stories of Race and Sex in the Andes, and Catherine Lutz for her book Homefront: A Military City and the American 20th Century. Kent Maynard won the 2001 Wick Chapbook Prize for Ohio poets. His collection, Sunk like God behind the House, was published in the fall of 2002. Several of the poems first appeared in Anthropology and Humanism.

ON THE COVERZoya Petrovna cooking for her relatives in a Koryak reindeer herders camp, Kamchatka. Zoya echoed the statement that the reindeer were the basis for the Koryaks entire culture. Photo by Alexander D. King.

Without Deer There Is No Culture, NothingALEXANDER D. KING Department of Anthropology University of Aberdeen Old Aberdeen Scotland AB243QY United Kingdom SUMMARY This article presents the pragmatics of reindeer herding by Chukchi and Koryak people in northern Kamchatka, Russia, to convey a sense of the importance of herding as a symbolic resource. A detailed description of brief visits to a reindeer herd in Kamchatka uncovers the power of reindeer as a symbol for indigenous people and indigenous culture in this area. I use a first-person, subjective ethnography and include some of the challenges I met in the field and my attempts to overcome them. The title quotes a reindeer herder impressing upon me the importance of his work for his people. Reindeer are connected to human beings in a totalizing manner. Reindeer are simultaneously index, icon, and symbol of human social organization, economic activity, spiritual practice, material culturein short, our culture, as I was told by many people in Kamchatka. The Reindeer are a dominant symbol of collective identity in northern Kamchatka, Russia. A reindeer head is featured on the official flag of the Koryak Autonomous Okrug (KAO), even though two-thirds of the population are not native and the administration is run mostly by Russians and other incomers. My first impression of this representation was that it was a romantic stereotype, similar to the generic Indian buffalo hunter used by whites in North America as school mascots or to sell Jeeps. I had little intention of studying reindeer herders directlymy focus was political discourse, and I imagined this to take place at administrative centersbut I discovered that reindeer herding was more than a romantic symbol of the primitive other. Although very few native people in Kamchatka are directly engaged in reindeer herding, they frequently refer to reindeer and to herding activities while talking about themselves and their own culture. Incomers see reindeer herding as an index of the primitiveness of native people, a problem needing a solution. Native people talk about reindeer herding in specific contexts, those of childhood experiences, the lives of relatives and friends, and religious rituals that are important to them, and as an index of traditional wealth and independence. In July 1997 my wife, Christina, and I went to the village of Srednie Pakhachi, accompanied by our friend and colleague Valentina Dedyk. Christina and I had met Valentina (Valya) and her family during our first trip to Kamchatka in 1995. She is the Koryak-language teacher at the Palana Teachers College in the administrative center (Palana) of the Koryak Autonomous Okrug. Valya had spent two months in 1996 at our home in Charlottesville, Virginia, helping me with Koryak, learning English, and conversing about ethnography. After we returned to Kamchatka in April 1997, Valya invited us to go with her family on their summer vacation to visit other members of her family and friends in her childhood home of Srednie Pakhachi. It was an opportunity to visit a village of reindeer herders where many people still spoke Koryak and where people had owned private deer through the Soviet era, even though most reindeer had been appropriated in theAnthropology and Humanism 27(2):133164. Copyright 2003, American Anthropological Association.


Anthropology and Humanism

Volume 27, Number 2

1930s during collectivization. We stayed with Valyas elder sister, Tanya, and her family. The last week of my month in Srednie Pakhachi, I accepted the invitation of Tanyas husband Volodya Yatylkut to visit the herd of the villages privately owned deer. This first visit with Volodya was short, only three days in all, but it was a revelation. I discovered that the deer were a root metaphor for Koryak culture, at least in this village that was traditionally focused on reindeer herding. If I were going to have any sense of what native people were about, I had to study what I had earlier disparaged as salvage ethnography. Discourse about reindeer herding in Palana was either in the context of an economic problem in need of solving or in the context of cultural survivals of earlier, primitive lifeways (cf. Grant 1995:8, 128; Slezkine 1994:125, 260, 341). Vladimir Bogoraz (190409) and Vladimir Jochelson (1908) had done an excellent job of documenting reindeer herding among Chukchi and Koryak people. Soviet ethnographers such as Bilibin (1932, 1933), Antropova (1971), and Chesnokov (1997) had covered many of the changes in reindeer herding in the 20th century. However, the meaning of reindeer herdingthe meaning of daily pragmatics in the peoples sense of themselves, their culture, and their human dignitywas not clear from these ethnographic accounts. After my first short visit to the privately owned reindeer herd, I knew that I needed to learn the meanings of representations of reindeer herding for native people through some old-fashioned participant-observation.1 The structure of my presentation follows Abu-Lughods call for ethnographies of the particular (1991:149152). I agree that a tactical humanism, which aims for representations of other peoples everyday lives and tries to avoid exoticizing, can be used to overcome tendencies toward essentialism, false coherence, and hierarchy latent in common use of the term culture (Abu-Lughod 1991:159). My style is inspired by Edith Turners ethnography of Native Alaskan healers in The Hands Feel It, in which she concentrates on relating present-day culture in action in an Alaskan village (1996:xxvi). My article has similar goals as Petra Rethmanns ethnography of particulars in northeastern Kamchatka, which uses analytical and textual strategies that work counter to the exoticizing techniques of earlier ethnographies (2001:9). Through experience and action, not through speaking and listening, I learned the basic importance of reindeer in these peoples lives.2 Though it has become a sin for ethnographers to essentialize other people, many Koryaks and Chukchi in Kamchatka essentialize themselves by insisting on reindeer as the essential key to ethnographic understanding. A reindeer herd is not just a group of deer managed by people. It is a holographic entity providing a scale model of the social life of animate beings in the universe, or a total social phenomenon (Mauss 1990:3).3 Deer and people are connected to one another in a vital social universe. This article has three goals: to provide an ethnography of reindeer herding practices among Koryak and Chukchi of northern Kamchatka, to discuss the religion and worldview of these people in the context of reindeer herding, and to present the context of ethnographic knowledge production and problems of participant-observation. The following account of Koryak-Chukchi reindeer herding pragmatics is presented in chronological order, simulating field notes in places, to evoke a sense of experience. If the true locus of culture is in the interactions of specific individuals, as Sapir says (1949:515), then the locus of ethnography is in the interactions between ethnographer and people assisting his project (in other words, natives). I include myself as a character in the narrative to make it plain to the reader the circumstances of the invention of the culture I call Koryak/Chukchi/Srednie Pakhachi (cf. Wagner 1981:3f.).4 The


Without Deer There Is No Culture


conclusion will fo