Six indigenous groups can be found on the Kamchatka Peninsula – Koryak, Even, Chukchi, Aleut, Itelmen and Ainu. The Itelmen and Ainu have been virtually assimilated into the mainstream Russian population. The Aleut were resettled by the Soviet government to the remote and near-inaccessible Commander Islands. The Chukchi live in the far north of Kamchatka in areas next to Chukotka. The Koryak have their own autonomous okrug, taking up the northern half of the Kamchatka Peninsula and beginning just north of Anavgay and Esso. The Even live mostly in the villages of Anavgay and Esso.
Some of the Chukchi and Koryak reindeer herders in the very far north of Kamchatka (particularly in Olyutorskiy and Penzhinskiy regions of the Koryak Autonomous Okrug) have preserved their language, chants, traditional reindeer fur clothing and shamanistic religion. Expensive and irregular flights serve the Koryak settlements from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Kamchatka‘s capital, but no roads lead there from the south of Kamchatka and no settlement is connected to any other by road. In winter zimniki (temporary winter roads on frozen rivers or made of compacted snow) open up though. One leads from Anavgay 36 hours up to the town of Palana in the Koryak Autonomous Okrug. More lead from Palana to points further north, to the very last settlements on Kamchatka. It is possible to hitch hike along these winter roads. In summer land travel is much more difficult, with just a few all-terrain vehicles crawling through the tundra to link neighbouring settlements. Villages in the Koryak Autonomous Okrug are all very small, and anyone you ask will know the whereabouts of the local reindeer-herding brigade and who from the village may be heading out on snowmobiles or sledges to visit the reindeer herders soon.
The Even have preserved less of their culture and very little of their language. Reindeer herding is for them shift work simply to earn money. None of them wear reindeer fur clothing any more. A lot live by hunting and fishing these days. Having said that, their villages of Anavgay and Esso are accessible year-round by public bus from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky and their reindeer herders still wander semi-nomadically with their herds and live in yurts in the tundra. They are also a friendly, fun bunch and a visit is highly recommended.
Click here for my blog about Anavgay and a stay with indigenous Even people in the tundra. It’s 5566 words and 24 photos.
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