The Red Book of Peoples of the Russian Empire: the Aliutors

October 7, 2008 at 6:48 am | Posted in Language, Naming, Siberia | Leave a comment
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More information from the Red Book of peoples of the Russian Empire:


Like the Chavchu group of the Chukchi and the Koryak, the Aliutor people were mostly nomadic reindeer-breeders which is exactly what their self-designation, ramkyken, means. The earliest reports of settled off-shore Aliutors date from the end of the 17th century. They called themselves elutel’u. S. Krasheninnikov, who explored Kamchatka in 1755, considered the Aliutors to be a separate ethnic group. Various documents from the 18th century also give separate mention to the Koryaks, Aliutors and Chukchis. In the 1930s the Aliutors were confused with the Koryaks, and both were called nymylan. The name Aliutors, reinstated later, obviously comes from the previous designation of the settled tribes. Hence also, the name of the Oliutor district.


The Aliutors live on the Kamchatka Isthmus in northeast Siberia. Their territory encompasses nearly 15,000 sq. km. stretching from the Karaga Bay of the Bering Sea to Oliutorka (formerly Alutorskoye), and from Rekinniki to Podkagernaya on the coast of the Okhotsk Sea. Administratively, they belong to the Koryak Autonomous District, Kamchatka Region, Russian Federation. From 1930 to 1977 the territory had the status of a National District. Beside the Oliutor District, Aliutors live in the southern part of the Karaga district and the northern part of the Tigil district. The administrative centre is Tilichik (Tyliran) in the Oliutor district. Most of the territory belongs to the zone of woodland tundra. The climate is influenced by both the Bering and the Okhotsk Seas.


No official data on the Aliutor population is available. A report of 1934 mentions them as a sizable ethnic group after the Chavchus. Nowadays, the Oliutor district, like the Koryak Autonomous District displays enormous ethnic variety. In all probability official statistics still do not distinguish the Aliutors from the Koryaks. Their actual number is possibly 2,000 to 3,000.

Anthropologically the Aliutor people, like the Chukchi and the Koryak belong to the mongoloid Northern-Asiatic race. They are characterized by a swarthy complexion, dark eyes and straight hair, a short and stocky figure, a very broad flat face and a conspicuous Mongolian fold. There is little facial hair.


The Aliutor language is a member of the Chukchi-Kamchatka group of the Paleo-Asiatic or Paleo-Siberian languages. Genetically, it is connected to the Chukchi, Koryak, Kerek and Itelmen languages. In the 1930s Aliutor was still unanimously considered one of the four southern dialects of the Koryak language, but since the 1950s, it has been regarded as a separate language. Morphologically, the language most resembles Chukchi. In terms of structure Aliutor is an incorporating or polysynthetic language.

There are three dialects: Ukin, Karaga and Palana, but neither the dialectal division nor the individual dialects have been sufficiently studied. According to P. Skorik, the Karaga and Palana dialects could be classified as cognate languages of Aliutor.

As with the Chukchi language, there are regular pronunciation differences in men’s and women’s usages. Women say ts where men have l or s (e.g. plaku versus ptsaku ‘footwear’). Men’s usage is considered improper for women and vice versa.

Through close contacts with their kindred peoples the Aliutors are able to use their mother tongue to communicate with the Koryak and the Chukchi. The role of Russian has grown since the 1930s and since the 1960s the Aliutors have voluntarily started to change over to the Russian language as this schooling helps them gain work in a Russian environment.


There is no written language. Instead, the Aliutors, who were then considered just a dialect group of the Koryak, used the Koryak written language introduced in 1923. A few articles in the so-called Aliutor dialect were published in a local newspaper. Since 1958, Aliutor has been considered a separate language (P. Skorik), but this has not meant a higher prestige, more attention or more active research. Communication with neighbouring peoples is still in either Koryak or Russian. Russian is also the sole language of education and cultural activities.

All research on the Aliutor people dates from recent times. The first notes on their language were made by S. Stebnitski in 1927. He was also the author of the first survey of the phonetics, morphology and syntax of the language (1934, 1938), but, as everybody else he considered it a Koryak dialect. Any attention hitherto paid to the Aliutor language and its dialectal divisions can hardly be considered sufficient. A survey by I. Vdovin (1956) and a study of the Karaga dialect from the point of view of experimental phonetics made by G. Melnikov (1940) are unpublished. The longest publication available is a chapter dedicated to the Aliutor language by A. Zhukova, published in Vol. 5 of The Languages of the Peoples of the USSR (1968).


The Aliutors have long been considered as part of the Koryak people. Yet the Aliutor reindeer-breeders ramkyken could be distinguished from Chavchus as the Chavchus’ main activities were fishing, and seal hunting, and their herds were not large. So the language and life-style of the ramkyken were more resemblant of those of the settled Aliutors for whom fishing and the hunting of sea animals was the main livelihood.

By the end of the 18th century the resistance of the Kamchatka peoples was broken by Russians. The territories of the Aliutors were also conquered. In the 19th century Russian Orthodox missionaries were followed by Russian merchants. As well as being swindle by the merchants — often pulled off with the help of vodka and promissory lists — the Aliutor people were subjected to the whims and compulsions of Russian bureaucracy.

Major changes were brought about by the establishment of Soviet power in 1923. In 1930, the Koryak National District was formed. Along with the introduction of collectivization the reindeer-breeders were forced to settle down. This had a far-reaching effect on a large part of the Aliutors as well. Their whole life-style changed. New economic relations were woven accompanied by ideological reorientation and the abolishing of illiteracy. Initially, the Aliutors learned the Koryak script, but the use of written Russian gradually came to dominate. A ‘militant atheism’ was propagated to counter shamanism and religion. Russian homes and machines, their education system and traditions in clothing and diet were held up as examples of progress. Nowadays all of these things are constituents of the normal way of life. The use of the Aliutor language and the observance of local customs are derided by Russians who consider such conduct primitive.

The fate of the Aliutors is a sad example of the accumulation of negative phenomena in accompaniment with the advance of civilization. The political and industrial innovations have become a danger not only to the survival of the Aliutors’ own culture but also to their whole physical existence.


Some tiding up

October 1, 2008 at 3:32 am | Posted in Chatting, Naming | Leave a comment
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When I started this blog more than six months ago my knowledge of Arctic peoples was weak, very weak. I was starting almost from zero, so the firsts posts where uncertain and maybe a bit vague, not to mention I categorized and tagged them intuitively, without a previous planning. This lead to a bit of chaos in the categories system, which I have just tried to partially solve. I have been reorganizing the categories for the location of the information.

There were two evident problems:

1) A mixed system was used, with some categories (Innu, Na-Dene), referring to tribes or ethnicities and another ones (Scandinavia, Alaska) referring to geographical places.
2) The categories for the places where not well-established, coexisting denominations such as Russia/Siberia, or Scandinavia/Sápmi which refer to similar places.

So some decisions where made, and now the new categories to locate the entries are the following:

Alaska, Canada, Greenland Scandinavia, Siberia, Japan

Of course, this system has problems. In some cases it existed a decision to be made between the native name (Sápmi instead of Scandinavia for the Saamis, or Kalaallit Nunaat for Greenland) and the general or English one. Though n those cases my personal preference and tendency is to use the native name, I finally opted for the general name in order to keep the blog usable and accessible to more people.

My decision for avoiding the tribe or ethnicities name is because for me it is very difficult to create a closed list right now. Furthermore, the number of categories would be too high, making more difficult the navigation through the blog. The name of the tribes has been used when tagging, so it should not by difficult to find it anyway.

Of course good-intentioned criticism is always welcomed, as the list is like a trial for next months.

Photo by curiousyellow under Creative Commons

Alaska Native Collections

September 28, 2008 at 3:41 pm | Posted in Alaska, Education, Maps, Naming, Siberia | 4 Comments
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Today I want to share a very good general resource I found las week: the Alaska Native Collections site, by the Smithsonian institute. Despite its name, the site includes information about Alaska but also about Russia or other polar contruies. The site is not only beautifully designed but also packed with a lot of maps, photographies and information, allowing the visitor to learn about the arctic cultures easily. If you just want to learn a few basics, you can do a quick reading, if you want to deep more, you just need to open the “Read more” sections.

Through the Sharing Knowledge project, members of Indigenous communities from across Alaska and northeast Siberia are working with the Smithsonian Institution and the Anchorage Museum to interpret the materials, techniques, cultural meanings, history, and artistry represented by objects in the western arctic and subarctic collections of the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) and National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in Washington, D.C. The Arctic Studies Center, which organized and implemented the project, is a special research program within the Department of Anthropology, NMNH, with offices in Washington and at the Anchorage Museum in Alaska.

The goals of Sharing Knowledge are to make the Smithsonian collections accessible to all and to support cross-cultural learning among Indigenous home communities, in schools, and around the world. Interest in the extraordinary arts and cultural heritage of the North is truly global in scope. Participants in this project are Elders, scholars, artists, and teachers who invite all to explore, learn, and appreciate.

The combined holdings of NMNH and NMAI are vast—more than 30,000 items from Alaska and northeast Siberia, most collected between the mid-19th century and the mid-20th century. The great majority has never been published, exhibited, or seen by contemporary residents of source communities in the North. Collaborative study of these collections for Sharing Knowledge began in 2001-2005, with a series of trips to the museums in Washington by more than forty Elders and regional representatives. This documentation process will continue as many more objects are brought from Washington to new Smithsonian exhibition galleries and Arctic Studies Center facilities at the Anchorage Museum, starting in 2010. Through its alliance with the Arctic Studies Center (since 1993) and its planned physical expansion to house these programs and collections, the Anchorage Museum has become an important Smithsonian partner in fostering the collaborative work of museums and Native communities.

Object records on this site include edited transcripts of museum discussions as well as summaries drawn from history, anthropology, and recorded oral tradition. The Cultures section includes regional introductions and information about contributors. The Resources section offers reading materials, web links, and a curriculum guide with lesson plans designed for middle and high school students.

The Sharing Knowledge site reflects the current state of an on-going project, with inevitable gaps and uneven representation of the different cultural regions. It will grow over time as more information is recorded and new contributors can be brought into the discussion. Please watch the site for continually updated materials and features.

Photography (C) Larry McNeil

As I mentioned this place has tones and tones of info about the cultures and the people, so it seems an unforgetable place to ask for help whenever I can manage to do the big trip!

The Red Book of Russian People: the Aleuts

September 17, 2008 at 8:26 am | Posted in Naming, Siberia | 6 Comments
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As promised, I am digging in the Red Book of Russian People website. Today it is the turn of the first group of tribes, the Paleo-Asiatic ones. And we start with the Aleutians. I wrote about them in this other post, and today we will read more about them:

The Aleuts

The present self-designation aleut was first suggested by the Russians who reached the Aleutian Islands in 1741 during an expedition led by V. Bering. Written sources have used the name since 1747 and gradually it has been adopted by the Aleuts. Final consolidation of the name took place in the first decades of this century. According to G. Menovshchikov the name is derived from an Aleut word allíthuh meaning ‘community; host’. The old self-designation unangan evidently applied to the eastern Aleuts only, meaning probably ‘coastal people’ (K. Bergsland). Local groupings and inhabitants of different islands are known to have also used other names for themselves.


The Aleut people are the native inhabitants of the Aleutian Islands, the southwestern part of the Alaskan peninsula and the off-shore islands of Shumagin. Since the beginning of the 19th century there have been resettled Aleuts living on Commander Islands (Bering and Mednyi) which are under Soviet jurisdiction. The Aleut District in the Kamchatka Region was established in 1932. In 1969 the Aleuts of those two islands were gathered to live in Nikolskoye, Bering Island.


In the middle of the 18th century, when Russians first explored the place, the islands were nearly all inhabited. The number of the Aleuts was estimated at approximately 25,000. Mass murder and enslavement of the natives reduced their numbers drastically. According to the data supplied by the missionary I. Veniaminov in 1834 there were less than 2,500 Aleuts left. The 1918 epidemics of smallpox and grippe took a further toll. In 1945 the anthropologist A. Hrolicka estimated the number of Aleuts at about 1,400. Nowadays the world number of the Aleuts is believed to be about 6,000. Part of the Eskimos of southeastern and southern Alaska also consider themselves Aleut. In the 1970s there were about 500 Aleuts living on the Commander Islands, but by 1984 their number had dropped to 300. On the US part of the Aleutian Islands a census was carried out in 1960 according to whose data there were 2,100 Aleut (mostly half-bred) who made up 35 % of the local population.

Anthropologically Aleuts are close to the Eskimo people belonging to the mongoloid Arctic race. Their mingling with other types often emphasized in academic literature is evidently not well grounded. Newer results prove that despite the historical heterogeneity of the Commander Aleuts their genetic structure is Aleut.


The Aleut people were believed to have first arrived on the Aleutian Islands from the coast of northeastern Asia or from Alaska, not earlier than 3,000 years ago. Latest research suggests that the aleuts arrival must have happened considerably earlier. Now the settlement of the Aleutians is associated with the time when there was still a land connection between America and Asia, that is, no later than 10–12 thousand years ago.


The Aleut language, belonging to the Eskimo-Aleut languages, is considered as a member of the Paleo-Asiatic group. According to incomplete data the Aleut language can be divided into three dialects: Attu (Western), Atka and Unalaska (Eastern). The differences are small and do not impede mutual intelligibility. The present-day Aleuts are bilingual. The American Aleuts speak English, while the Asiatic Aleuts had already been russified by the beginning of the 19th century.

According to G. Menovshchikov the Aleuts of Bering Island speak the Atka dialect with a well-preserved basic vocabulary and grammatical structure. The version previously used on the Mednyi (Copper) Island was of the Attu dialect. In addition the strong Russian influence has produced a strange pidgin where verbs are conjugated by means of Russian suffixes, etc. Menovshchikov has suggested that the pidgin which is still spoken to a certain extent on Mednyi Island was at one time a lingua franca for Russians and the Aleut people.

Although the Aleut language has relatively much in common with Eskimo languages, the grammatical and lexical differences are considerable. The glotto-chronological method dates the linguistic divergence of the Aleut and the Eskimo peoples as at least 1000–2000 years back. Common developments can be traced in the phonology and word structure, but there are very few common roots in the lexis of the two languages. It is believed that the phonology of Aleut is more ancient than the Eskimo language.

The linguistic and cultural influence of Russian started to make itself felt by the 18th century. By the beginning of the 19th century practically all Aleuts living on Russian territories had been converted to Russian Orthodoxy. This was an efficient means of checking the local culture and language. On Bering Island the Russian influence has not penetrated to grammar yet, but some of it has been noticed in the vocabulary. The inhabitants of Mednyi Island are very much isolated from the remaining Aleut area. Nowadays their ordinary means of communication is Russian. Aleut has been preserved fragmentarily by the older members of but a few families but in general Aleut has receded before Russian.

Another strong wave of Russian swept over the islands during the Soviet period. Many Aleuts have left their native islands in search of better education. Ethnically pure marriages are rare, in most cases the spouse is found among another nation. According to R. Lyapunova the number of Aleuts living at Nikolskoye, Bering Island is about 300. About 200 live elsewhere, mostly on the Kamchatka peninsula. The same author points out that outside their own native islands the half-bred Aleuts refrain from calling themselves Aleut, but returning home they resume their ethnic identity.



Ethnic culture

The Aleut people have always derived their livelihood from the hunting of sea mammals (seals, fur-seals, etc.) and fishing. In the severe polar conditions the gathering of everything edible was also of great importance. Hunting and fishing gear was made of stone, bone and wood. Family relations were characterized by polygamy (both ways), giving away children to uncles to foster, and the mutual exchange of children.

According to traditional practice the catch and game belonged to the whole community, not to the hunter and his family only. The dwellings were half-earthen and large. Male as well as female clothing was made of animal and bird skins. Mats and baskets woven of grass were popular in every household. Traditional food consisted of the meat of sea mammals and seabirds, fish (eaten raw) and molluscs.

The sources of Russian cultural influence were the Russian administration, the Russian Orthodox Church and the parochial school. Folk art (pantomime dances, for example) still survived, but were practised in jealously guarded secrecy for fear of Russian disparagement.

Nowadays mink-farming and cattle-breeding as well as horticulture have developed in addition to the traditional branches of economy.

Those Aleuts who were forcefully resettled to the Commander Islands had to accommodate their life-style to the local natural conditions. There the winters are colder and there is more snow than on the Aleutian Islands. The inhabited northern part of Bering is just flat tundra, and Mednyi is rocky. New means of transport — the dog harness (also in summer) were introduced.

Nowadays folk culture survives to a certain extent thanks to the Museum of Local Lore, Children’s Art School and a folklore ensemble.


The Aleut people became an object of research following the Russian occupation. The initiative belonged to the missionary I. Veniaminov. Nowadays extensive research projects are under way in the USA. An Aleut writing system with its base the Cyrillic alphabet, was devised in the 19th century by I. Veniaminov and V. Metsvetov. As on Bering Island there was a parochial school (belonging to the Russian-American company), and nearly all adult men could read and write in Russian. In addition there was always a native Aleut around teaching children the same skills in the Aleut language. In 1867 when the Aleutian Islands were ceded to the USA the writing system fell into disuse. The teaching of the Aleut language to the US Aleuts was resumed in the middle of the 1970s only.

It seems that the situation it is very bad for them after the Russian occupation. It may be difficult to reach them during the travel, as they are perhaps hard to locate and contact. By the way, I should start thinking on updating my route map!

The Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire

September 3, 2008 at 2:49 pm | Posted in Language, Naming, Siberia | Leave a comment
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Deepening into the geography of Russia is not easy, as it is en enormous country with lots of tribes and peoples. This website, The Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire, offers a very good guide to wide our knowledgment, as it lists and describe a long list of Russian languages and tribes. It is based on a book with the same name published in Estonia, that you can also buy. I present the site today, and I will keep posting about the Nordic tribes later on:

The Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire


In the cliché-ridden propaganda of the Soviet era tsarist Russia was frequently dubbed the “prison of nations”. When the Soviets came into power this “prison”, by virtue of new national policies, transformed into a family of friendly and brotherly nations in whose bosom all the national cultures flourished. To boast of the achievements under the Communist Party leadership, grandiose cultural festivals were arranged in the Soviet republics, folkloristic dance, song and instrumental groups were established and the revival of old peasant culture was encouraged. The slogan “socialist in content, nationalist in form” came to be applied to the new Soviet culture. Behind this deceptive facade of ethnographic originality, the tsarist prison of nations never ceased to exist: russification was carried out on a large scale, nationalist intellectuals were persecuted, a policy of extensive exploitation of land was pursued and nations were continuously resettled and mingled. The desired result was the birth of a new, Russian-speaking “Soviet nation”, and to lay the theoretical foundation for this a whole army of scholars was employed. The evolution of the Soviet nation was seen as the process of history within the cognizance of Marxist-Leninist principles which was as inevitable as the process of life itself.

The recent rapid collapse of the Soviet economic and political system has revealed the consequences of these brutal colonization policies: hundreds of culturally and economically crippled nations, with the smallest of them nearing the crucial point of extinction.


The authors of the present book, who come from a country (Estonia) which has shared the fate of nations in the Russian and Soviet empires, endeavour to publicize the plight of the small nations whose very existence is threatened as a result of recent history. Perhaps it is not too late to give a supporting hand to them without an attempt at either ideological brainwashing or economic exploitation.

Peoples according to language groups

[I quote the only the groups related with this blog, if you want to read the complete list you have it here]

PALEO-ASIATIC PEOPLES: Aleuts, Aliutors, Asiatic Eskimos, Chukchis, Itelmens, Kereks, Kets, Koryaks, Nivkhs, Yukaghirs.

MANCHU-TUNGUS PEOPLES: Evens, Evenks, Nanais, Negidals, Orochis, Oroks, Udeghes, Ulchis.

URALIC PEOPLES: Enets, Ingrians, Izhorians, Karelians, Khants, Kola Lapps, Livonians, Mansis, Nenets, Nganasans, Selkups, Veps, Votes.

It seems that my work it has been multiplied now! But I see they use the language as a criteria to stablish the boundaries of a tribe, so I have not been wrong until the date. They offer also a selected bibliography of the different tribes for further research.

Geography of Siberia: first aproximation

August 18, 2008 at 6:19 pm | Posted in Demographics, Maps, Naming, Siberia | Leave a comment
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If you take a look at a map, you will see how a vast land Siberia is. Thousands of thousands of frozen kilometers that extend from the Urals in the border between Europe and Asia to almost Alaska. Breathtaking! As it is to find out which indigenous people live there, where and who they are. So I will start looking fot it. In the following months I will try to redraw my route map, to make it more concrete. First step, the Wikipedia, as usual:

Demographics of Siberia

Geographically, Siberia includes the Russian Urals, Siberian, and Far Eastern Federal Districts. The north-central parts of Kazakhstan are sometimes included in the region.

Siberia has population density of only three persons per square kilometer. The oblasts with the highest population densities are Chelyabinsk Oblast and Kemerovo Oblast, with 41 and 30 persons per square km, respectively. Koryak Okrug has population density of less than 0.1 per square kilometer.


Click here to see the complete list of districts and territories.

Excluding territories of north-central Kazakhstan, Siberia thus has a total population of ca. 38.7 million (2005). The North Kazakhstan oblast has another 1.1 million inhabitants (2002).

About 70% of Siberia’s people live in cities. Most city people are crowded into small apartments. Many people in rural areas live in simple, but more spacious, log houses. Novosibirsk is the largest city in Siberia, with a population of about 1.5 million, followed by Yekaterinburg (1.3 million, Urals), Omsk (1.1 million), Chelyabinsk (1.07 million, in the Urals), Krasnoyarsk (0.91 million), Barnaul (0.60 million), Irkutsk (0.59 million), Kemerovo (0.52 million), Tyumen (0.51 million), Tomsk (0.48 million), Nizhny Tagil (0.39 million, Urals), Kurgan (0.36 million), Ulan Ude (0.36 million), Chita (0.32 million).

The above count, however, by including the entire Urals Federal District, includes areas not usually considered part of Siberia, e.g. the cities Yekaterinburg and Chelyabinsk and Nizhny Tagil listed above.

Ethnicities and languages

Most Siberians (close to the average measured over all of Russia of 79%) are Russians and Russified Ukrainians, but in certain Oblasts (e.g. Tuva), Slavic population is as low as 20%.

Most non-Slavic groups are Turkic. Smaller linguistic groups are Mongols (ca. 600,000 speakers) Uralic (Samoyedic, Ugric, Yukaghir; roughly 100,000 speakers), Manchu-Tungus (ca. 40,000 speakers), Chukotko-Kamchatkan (ca. 25,000 speakers), Eskimo-Aleut (some 2,000 speakers), and languages isolates, Ket and Nivkh.

Mongolian, Turkic and Manchu-Tungus languages are sometimes taken together under the term Altaic. Uralic and Altaic form the Ural-Altaic group, and the Uralo-Siberian group combines the Ural-Altaic with the Chukotko-Kamchatkan group. These are more umbrella terms than accepted linguistic relationships.

This last part is the most interesting for me. There are also some interesting links at the bottom of the page, this will be tomorrow’s homework. I see that they do not include the territories that are next to the Bering Strait and Kamchatka. So separate searches for them too.

Native people of Kamchatka

July 29, 2008 at 1:39 pm | Posted in Maps, Naming, Siberia | Leave a comment
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Some times you find out information in a weird way, as it happened to me last week. I was finding material fot the blog, and I ended up in a website with information of the native people of Kamchatka, a big big island in Russia. The surpising thing for me was that the site was owned by a travel agency! Anyway, it was a good starting, this is what they say:


The Koryaks are the main population of the northern Kamchatka part. They have their own autonomy – the Koryaksky Region. The name of this people as Krasheninnikov and Steller thought originated from “khora” – “deer”. But Kryaks don’t call themselves with this word. The coastal residents call themselves as “nimilany” – “residents of a settled village”. Nomads herding deer called themselves “chavchuvens“, it means “reindeer people”.

For the Chavchuvens reindeer breading was the main, even the only way of living. Deer gave them everything necessary: meat, skin for clothes (reindeer skin for coveralls, footwear) and for building of thansportable dwellings (yarangas), bones were used for making tools and household articles, fat – for dwelling lightening. Deer were a means of conveyance either.

For the Nimilans the main way to survive was fishing. Fish was generally caught in rivers with the help of stinging-nettle (it took about two years to make one net and it was used only for one year). In settled villages marine hunting was the second way of surviving after fishing. Going out to sea on skin covered baydarkas was common. Harbor seal and whales became the target of harpoons, which were tied to the bow, and were killed with stone tip spears. Marine animals, skin was used for boat, ski covering, footwear, bags, sacks and belts. Domestic activities were highly developed – wood and bone carving, metal works, national clothes and carpets making, embroiling with beads, braiding. A lot of such works are displayed at the Museum of Local Lore. Tourists can admire the skillfulness of the masters. The Nimilans lived in groups: in winter – in half-dug-houses, in summer – in booths with their families, they used to catch fish, to hunt, and to pick berries. The Chavchuvens lived in temporary settlements consisting of some skin-covered yarangs. They used to herd reindeer and to dress skin. Hunting and fishing were of the secondary value for them. They migrated on dog- and reindeer-sledges.


The name of the nationality means “living here”. The south bound of settling is the Lopatka Cape. Northern one – the Tigil River on the west coast, the Uka River is on the east coast. Ancient Itlmen settlements were located on the banks of the Kamchatka (Uykoal), Yelovka (Kooch), Bolshaya, Bistraya, Avacha rivers and on the Avacha Harbor coast.

At the end of the 17 – beginning of the 18 centuries, when Russian explorers crossed the central part of Kamchatka, the Itelmens were at the level of disintegration primitive communal system development.
At the settlement consisting of a few half-dug-houses the folk Toyony lived. Some names of Toytony are written on the of Kamchatka. Itelmens life in summer was spent near some water resources and on them. They moved along the rivers in whole-carved boats made mainly of poplar. They caught fish with threshed nettle nets, built trapping dams. Some fish was cooked as yukola, some was burried for some time under the ground. But lack of salt didn’t allow to store much fish.

Hunting was of the same value for this folk – fox, sable, bear, snow sheep; at the coast area – marine animals: sea lion, seal, sea otter. Also gathering was very popular (edible roots, edible and officinal plants, berries). Means of conveyance were made of birch (sledge and cargo sledge with soft belts). The ancient sledges were richly decorated.

The Itelmens ate a lot of fish, preferred baked one (chuprikh) and fish cakes “telno”, they ate young sprouts and runners of Filepinolium Maxim, Heracleum Dulse Fish (processed and ate them only after they acquired stinging power); as a medicine against scurvy they used cedar cones with dry salmon caviar chasing this mixture with tea. Food was seasoned with fat – favorite spice of all northern peoples. Women-Itelmens had a custom to wear wigs. Those who had the most luxurious and the thickest one was highly honored. Those fashionable women never wore hats. Young women did up their heavy black raven-wing-like hair in lot of thin plaits decorating them with small hair wigs in the shape of hats. Perhaps, that’s why the Chukchis and Koryaks might have called the Itelmens kamchadals, because in both languages the word “kamcha” means “curly”, “disheveled”, and “levit” or “lyavit” means “head”.

Itelmens clothes were extraordinary, they were made of sable, fox, snow sheep, dog’s skin with numerous ermine tassels and fluffy edged sleeves, hood, collar and hem. Steller wrote: “:the most beautiful reindeer skin coveralls (kukhlyankas) were decorated on the collars, sleeves and hems with dog’s fur, and on the kaftan (short reindeer skin coverall) was hanged with hundreds of seal’s tassels coloured red, they dangled to and fro at every movement”. Such Itelmens’ clothing made an impression of hairiness.

Evens and Evenky (tunguses)

The Evens and Evenky (tunguses) are similar by culture. The Evens ancestors having come to Kamchatka changed their traditional occupation hunting for reindeer breeding. Russians arriving to Kamchatka called the Evens roaming from place to place along the Okhotsk seaside “lamuts”, it means “living by the sea”. Herdsmen they called “orochi”, it means “reindeer men”. Beside reindeer breeding and hunting the coastal Evens caught fish and hunted marine animals. For fishing they made different kinds of dams and traps. Blacksmith’s work was very popular with the Evens.

The Evens did not wear blind clothes like the Koryaks, Itelmens and Chukcis did, but unlacing ones. Complete set of a man’s wear consisted of a short knee-reaching reindeer parka with running down lapels, trousers, a chest apron put on the parka, knee protectors, furstockings and boots made of reindeer led skin with soles of bearded seal skin. Wearing especially women’s one was decorated with beads. In contrast to other natives of Kamchatka the Evens didn’t use dogsleds and didn’t wear blind clothes.


The Northern Koryaks’ neighbours were the Chukchis, “reindeer men” (chauchu), some of them moved to Kamchatka. As for the household the Chukchi were like the Koryaks – reindeer breeders. A holder of less than 100 reindeer was considered poor and couldn’t keep a herd. Unfortunately, history of these two peoples’ neighbourhood knows a lot of examples of wars for herds. The Chukchis are native Kamchatka people, now a lot of them live here. Like the Koryaks there were the Chukchis who lived in settled villages and provided their living by fishing and hunting for marine animals. The Chukchis are perfect seamen skillfully operating boats on a cold sea. It is well known that their “fleet” used to trade with the Eskimoes launching towards the American shore. Main hunting implements were a bow and arrows, a spear and a harpoon. A bow and a spear were used in hunting for wild reindeer and snow sheep, a harpoon and a lance – in marine hunting. Arrow-, spear- and harpoon-heads were made of bone and stone. In catching all water-fowl and game the Chukchis used bola (an instrument for catching birds on the wing) and pratsha (a military weapon either). The protection armour was made of antlers, walrus’ skin and tusks. Main Chukchis‘ means of conveyance was reindeer, but like the Koryaks and Itelmens they also used dogsledges. On the sea the Chukchis moved in kayaks accommodating 20-30 men. With favorable wind they used square sails made of reindeer suede (rovdugas) like the KoryaksNimilans, and for a better balance they tied to board sides stocking-like sealskin, which was filled with air.


The Aleuts – ancient Aleutian Islands natives. They called themselves “unangan”, it means “seaside residents”. Main traditional Aleuts‘ occupations were hunting for marine animals and fishing. For winter the Aleuts stored eggs from birds colonies on the seashore.

The dwellings of the Aleuts were similar to the traditional half-dughouses but slightly different. Among the household articles there were baskets, bags plaited from grass; for storing of fat, yukola, crowberries with fat and so on dry seal stomach was used. On the Bering Island dogsleds became a very popular means of conveyance. For wandering in the mountains the Aleuts of the Medny Island used broad skis covered with seal skin for the nap would help while climbing not to slide down from the mountain.

Did you read that? Aleut people in Kamchatka! I find this connection amazing. I am reading a book about genetics, if I finish it some day – I will, I will… – I will summarize the main information related to this blog. Anyway, I also searched a bit about Kamchatka, as, to be honest, I did not now almost anything about it! So thanks to the Wiki, here you have some facts:

Illustration from Stepan Krasheninnikov’s Account of the Land of Kamchatka (1755).

The Kamchatka Peninsula (Russian: полуо́стров Камча́тка) is a 1,250-kilometer long peninsula in the Russian Far East, with an area of 472,300 km². It lies between the Pacific Ocean to the east and the Sea of Okhotsk to the west.[1] Immediately offshore along the Pacific coast of the peninsula runs the 10,500 meter deep Kuril-Kamchatka Trench.

[…] Muscovite Russia claimed the Kamchatka Peninsula in the 17th century. Ivan Kamchaty, Simon Dezhnev, the Cossack Ivan Rubets and other Russian explorers made exploratory trips to the area during the reign of Tsar Alexis, and returned with tales of a land of fire, rich with fish and fur.

In 1697, Vladimir Atlasov, founder of the Anadyr settlement, led a group of 65 Cossacks and 60 Yukaghir natives to investigate the peninsula. He built two forts along the Kamchatka River which became trading posts for Russian fur trappers. From 1704 to 1706, they settled the Cossack colonies of Verkhne- (upper) and Nizhne- (lower) Kamchatsky. Far away from the eye of their masters, the Cossacks mercilessly ruled the indigenous Kamchadal.

Excesses were such that the North West Administration in Yakutsk sent Atlasov with the authority (and the cannons) to restore government order, but it was too late. The local Cossacks had too much power in their own hands and in 1711 Atlasov was killed. From this time on, Kamchatka became a self-regulating region, with minimal interference from Yakutsk.

By 1713, there were approximately five hundred Cossacks living in the area. Uprisings were common, the largest being in 1731 when the settlement of Nizhnekamchatsky was razed and its inhabitants massacred. The remaining Cossacks regrouped and, reinforced with firearms and cannons, were able to put down the rebellion.

The Second Kamchatka Expedition by the Danish explorer Vitus Bering, in the employ of the Russian Navy, began the “opening” of Kamchatka in earnest, helped by the fact that the government began to use the area as a place of exile. In 1755, Stepan Krasheninnikov published the first detailed description of the peninsula, An Account of the Land of Kamchatka. The Russian government encouraged the commercial activities of the Russian-American Company by granting land to newcomers on the peninsula. By 1812, the indigenous population had fallen to fewer than 3,200, while the Russian population had risen to 2,500.

In 1854, the French and British, who were battling Russian forces on the Crimean Peninsula, attacked Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. During the Siege of Petropavlovsk, 988 men with a mere 68 guns managed successfully to defend the outpost against 6 ships with 206 guns and 2,540 French and British soldiers. Despite the heroic defense, Petropavlovsk was abandoned as a strategic liability after the Anglo-French forces withdrew. The next year when a second enemy force came to attack the port, they found it deserted. Frustrated, the ships bombarded the city and withdrew.

The next fifty years were lean ones for Kamchatka. The military naval port was moved to Ust-Amur and in 1867 Alaska was sold to the United States, making Petropavlovsk obsolete as a transit point for traders and explorers on their way to the American territories. In 1860, Primorsky (Maritime) Region was established and Kamchatka was placed under its jurisdiction. In 1875, the Kuril Islands were ceded to Japan in return for Russian sovereignty over Sakhalin. The Russian population of Kamchatka stayed around 2,500 until the turn of the century, while the native population increased to 5,000.

World War II hardly affected Kamchatka except for its service as a launch site for the invasion of the Kurils in late 1945. After the war, Kamchatka was declared a military zone. Kamchatka remained closed to Russians until 1989 and to foreigners until 1990.

Well, it seems that this project is getting bigger and bigger, and the more I learn the less I know! A lot of job for the summer I guess 😉

Deepening in Alaska indigenous languages

July 26, 2008 at 2:38 pm | Posted in Language, Naming | Leave a comment
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Few months ago I promised to deepen in the Alaska Native Languages Center of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. So did I, and I listed all the languages they describe ont heir site:

Aleut: Unangax^ (Aleut) is one branch of the Eskimo-Aleut language family. Its territory in Alaska encompasses the Aleutian Islands, the Pribilof Islands, and the Alaska Peninsula west of Stepovak Bay. Unangax^ is a single language divided at Atka Island into the Eastern and the Western dialects. Of a population of about 2,200 Unangax^, about 300 speak the language. This language was formerly called Aleut, a general term for introduced by Russian explorers and fur traders to refer to Native Alaskan of the Aleutian Islands, the Alaska Peninsula, Kodiak Island, and Prince William Sound (see the section on the Alutiiq language). The term Unangax^ means ‘person’ and probably derives from the root una, which refers to the seaside. The plural form ‘people’ is pronounced Unangas in the western dialect and Unangan in the eastern dialect, and these terms are also sometimes used to refer to the language. The indigenous term for the language is Unangam

Alutiiq: Alutiiq (Sugpiaq) is a Pacific Gulf variety of Yupik Eskimo spoken in two dialects from the Alaska Peninsula to Prince William Sound, including Kodiak Island. Of a total population of about 3,000 Alutiiq people, about 400 still speak the language. Although traditionally the people called themselves Sugpiaq (suk ‘person’ plus -piaq ‘real’), the name Alutiiq was adopted from a Russian plural form of Aleut, which Russian invaders applied to the Native people they encountered from Attu to Kodiak. Closely related to Central Alaskan Yup’ik, the Alutiiq language is divided into the Koniag and the Chugach dialects. Koniag Alutiiq is spoken on the upper part of the Alaska Peninsula and Kodiak Island (and Afognak Island before it was deserted following the 1964 earthquake). Chugach Alutiiq is spoken on the Kenai Peninsula from English Bay and Port Graham to Prince William Sound where it meets Eyak. The first work on Alutiiq literacy was done by Russian Orthodox monks Herman and Gideon and the talented student Chumovitski, although their progress continued only until about 1807 and almost none of their work survives. After that, a few others – notably Tyzhnov, Uchilishchev, and Zyrianov – worked on the language during the Russian period, producing a translation of Matthew, a Catechism, and primer, but they achieved less success than those who worked in Aleut. The first modern linguistic work on Alutiiq was done by Irene Reed in the early 1960s and by Jeff Leer beginning in 1973. Leer has produced both a grammar and a dictionary of Koniag Alutiiq for classroom use.

Ahtna: Ahtna Athabascan is the language of the Copper River and the upper Susitna and Nenana drainages in eight communities. The total population is about is about 500 with perhaps 80 speakers. The first extensive linguistic work on Ahtna was begun in 1973 by James Kari, who published a comprehensive dictionary of the language in 1990.

Central Alaskan Yup’ik: Central Alaskan Yup’ik lies geographically and linguistically between Alutiiq and Siberian Yupik. The use of the apostrophe in Central Alaskan Yup’ik, as opposed to Siberian Yupik, denotes a long p. The word Yup’ik represents not only the language but also the name for the people themselves (yuk ‘person’ plus pik ‘real’.) Central Alaskan Yup’ik is the largest of the state’s Native languages, both in the size of its population and the number of speakers. Of a total population of about 21,000 people, about 10,000 are speakers of the language. Children still grow up speaking Yup’ik as their first language in 17 of 68 Yup’ik villages, those mainly located on the lower Kuskokwim River, on Nelson Island, and along the coast between the Kuskokwim River and Nelson Island. The main dialect is General Central Yup’ik, and the other four dialects are Norton Sound, Hooper Bay-Chevak, Nunivak, and Egegik. In the Hooper Bay-Chevak and Nunivak dialects, the name for the language and the people is “Cup’ik” (pronounced Chup-pik). Early linguistic work in Central Yup’ik was done primarily by Russian Orthodox, then Jesuit Catholic and Moravian missionaries, leading to a modest tradition of literacy used in letter writing. In the 1960s, Irene Reed and others at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks developed a modern writing system for the language, and their work led to the establishment of the state’s first school bilingual programs in four Yup’ik villages in the early 1970s. Since then a wide variety of bilingual materials has been published, as well as Steven Jacobson’s comprehensive dictionary of the language and his complete practical classroom grammar, and story collections and narratives by many others including a full novel by Anna Jacobson.

Deg Xinag: Deg Xinag (also Deg Hit’an; formerly known by the pejorative Ingalik) is the Athabascan language of Shageluk and Anvik and of the Athabascans at Holy Cross below Grayling on the lower Yukon River. Of a total population of about 275 Ingalik people, about 40 speak the language. A collection of traditional folk tales by the elder Belle Deacon was published in 1987, and a literacy manual in 1993.

Dena’ina: Dena’ina (Tanaina) is the Athabascan language of the Cook Inlet area with four dialects on the Kenai Peninsula, Upper Inlet area above Anchorage, and coastal and inland areas of the west side of Cook Inlet. Of the total population of about 900 people, about 75 speak the language. James Kari has done extensive work on the language since 1972, including his edition with Alan Boraas of the collected writings of Peter Kalifornsky in 1991.

Eyak: Eyak is not an Athabascan language, but a coordinate sub-branch to Athabascan as a whole in the Athabascan-Eyak branch of the Athabascan-Eyak-Tlingit language family. Eyak was spoken in the 19th century from Yakutat along the southcentral Alaska coast to Eyak at the Copper River delta, but by the 20th century only at Eyak. It is now represented by about 50 people but no surviving fluent speakers.only one remaining speaker, born in 1920 and living in Anchorage. Comprehensive documentation of Eyak has been carried out since the 1960s by Michael Krauss, including his edition of traditional stories, historic accounts, and poetic compositions by Anna Nelson Harry. The name Eyak itself is not an Eyak word but instead derives from the Chugach Eskimo name (Igya’aq) of the Eyak village site near the mouth of Eyak River (Krauss 2006:199). The Chugach word Igya’aq is a general term referring to ‘the outlet of a lake into a river.’
With the passing of Marie Smith Jones (pictured above with linguist Michael Krauss) on January 21, 2008 Eyak became the first Alaska Native language to become extinct in recent history.

Gwich’in: Gwich’in (Kutchin) is the Athabascan language spoken in the northeastern Alaska villages of Arctic Village, Venetie, Fort Yukon, Chalkyitsik, Circle, and Birch Creek, as well as in a wide adjacent area of the Northwest Territories and the Yukon Territory. The Gwich’in population of Alaska is about 1,100, and of that number about 300 are speakers of the language. Gwich’in has had a written literature since the 1870s, when Episcopalian missionaries began extensive work on the language. A modern writing system was designed in the 1960s by Richard Mueller, and many books, including story collections and linguistic material, have been published by Katherine Peter, Jeff Leer, Lillian Garnett, Kathy Sikorski, and others.

Haida: Haida (Xa’ida) is the language of the southern half of Prince of Wales Island in the villages of Hyadaburg, Kasaan, and Craig, as well as a portion of the city of Ketchikan. About 600 Haida people live in Alaska, and about 15 of the most elderly of those speak the language. Haida is considered a linguistic isolate with no proven genetic relationship to any language family. A modern writing system was developed in 1972.

Han: Hän is the Athabascan language spoken in Alaska at the village of Eagle and in the Yukon Territory at Dawson. Of the total Alaskan Hän population of about 50 people, perhaps 12 speak the language. A writing system was established in the 1970s, and considerable documentation has been carried out at the Alaska Native Language Center as well as at the Yukon Native Language Centre in Whitehorse.

Holikachuk: Holikachuk is the Athabascan language of the Innoko River, formerly spoken at the village of Holikachuk, which has moved to Grayling on the lower Yukon River. Holikachuk, which is intermediate between Ingalik and Koyukon, was identified as a separate language in the 1970s. The total population is about 200, and of those perhaps 12 speak the language.

Inupiaq:Inupiaq is spoken throughout much of northern Alaska and is closely related to the Canadian Inuit dialects and the Greenlandic dialects, which may collectively be called “Inuit” or Eastern Eskimo, distinct from Yupik or Western Eskimo. Alaskan Inupiaq includes two major dialect groups ? North Alaskan Inupiaq and Seward Peninsula Inupiaq. North Alaskan Inupiaq comprises the North Slope dialect spoken along the Arctic Coast from Barter Island to Kivalina, and the Malimiut dialect found primarily around Kotzebue Sound and the Kobuk River. Seward Peninsula Inupiaq comprises the Qawiaraq dialect found principally in Teller and in the southern Seward Peninsula and Norton Sound area, and the Bering Strait dialect spoken in the villages surrounding Bering Strait and on the Diomede Islands. Dialect differences involve vocabulary and suffixes (lexicon) as well as sounds (phonology). North Slope and Malimiut are easily mutually intelligible, although there are vocabulary differences (tupiq means ?tent? in North Slope and ?house? in Malimiut; iglu is ?house? in North Slope) and sound differences (?dog? is qimmiq in North Slope and qipmiq in Malimiut). Seward Peninsula and North Alaskan dialects differ significantly from each other, and a fair amount of experience is required for a speaker of one to understand the dialect of the other. The name “Inupiaq,” meaning “real or genuine person” (inuk ?person? plus -piaq ?real, genuine?), is often spelled “Iñupiaq,” particularly in the northern dialects. It can refer to a person of this group (“He is an Inupiaq”) and can also be used as an adjective (“She is an Inupiaq woman”). The plural form of the noun is “Inupiat,” referring to the people collectively (“the Inupiat of the North Slope”). Alaska is home to about 13,500 Inupiat, of whom about 3,000, mostly over age 40, speak the language. The Canadian Inuit population of 31,000 includes about 24,000 speakers. In Greenland, a population of 46,400 includes 46,000 speakers.

Koyukon: Koyukon occupies the largest territory of any Alaskan Athabascan language. It is spoken in three dialects – Upper, Central, and Lower – in 11 villages along the Koyukuk and middle Yukon rivers. The total current population is about 2,300, of whom about 300 speak the language. The Jesuit Catholic missionary Jules Jette did extensive work on the language from 1899-1927. Since the early 1970s, native Koyukon speaker Eliza Jones has produced much linguistic material for use in schools and by the general public.

Siberian Yupik / St. Lawrence Island Yupik: Siberian Yupik (also St. Lawrence Island Yupik) is spoken in the two St. Lawrence Island villages of Gambell and Savoonga. The language of St. Lawrence Island is nearly identical to the language spoken across the Bering Strait on the tip of the Siberian Chukchi Peninsula. The total Siberian Yupik population in Alaska is about 1,100, and of that number about 1,050 speak the language. Children in both Gambell and Savoonga still learn Siberian Yupik as the first language of the home. Of a population of about 900 Siberian Yupik people in Siberia, there are about 300 speakers, although no children learn it as their first language. Although much linguistic and pedagogical work had been published in Cyrillic on the Siberian side, very little was written for St. Lawrence Island until the 1960s when linguists devised a modern orthography. Researchers at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks revised that orthography in 1971, and since then a wide variety of curriculum materials, including a preliminary dictionary and a practical grammar, have become available for the schools. Siberian Yupik is a distinct language from Central Alaskan Yup’ik. Notice that the former is spelled without an apostrophe.

(Lower) Tanana: Tanana Athabascan is now spoken only at Nenana and Minto on the Tanana River below Fairbanks. The Athabascan population of those two villages is about 380, of whom about 30, the youngest approaching age 60, speak the language. Michael Krauss did the first major linguistic fieldwork on this language beginning in 1961, and this was continued by James Kari. Recent publications in the language include the 1992 edition of stories told by Teddy Charlie as recorded by Krauss in 1961, and a preliminary dictionary compiled by Kari in 1994.

Tanacross Athabascan: Tanacross is the ancestral language of the Mansfield-Ketchumstock and Healy Lake-Jospeph Village bands. It is spoken today at Healy Lake, Dot Lake, and Tanacross on the middle Tanana River. The total population is about 220, of whom about 65 speak the language. A practical alphabet was established in 1973 and a few booklets have been published at the Alaska Native Language Center, but Tanacross remains one of the least documented of Alaska Native languages.

(Upper) Tanana: Upper Tanana Athabascan is spoken mainly in the Alaska villages of Northway, Tetlin, and Tok, but has a small population also across the border in Canada. The Alaskan population is about 300, of whom perhaps 105 speak the language. During the 1960s, Paul Milanowski established a writing system, and he worked with Alfred John to produce several booklets and a school dictionary for use in bilingual programs.

Tlingit: Tlingit (Łingít) is the language of coastal Southeastern Alaska from Yakutat south to Ketchikan. The total Tlingit population in Alaska is about 10,000 in 16 communities with about 500 speakers of the language. Tlingit is one branch of the Athabascan-Eyak-Tlingit language family. A practical writing system was developed in the 1960s, and linguists such as Constance Naish, Gillian Story, Richard and Nora Dauenhauer, and Jeff Leer have documented the language through a number of publications, including a verb dictionary, a noun dictionary, and a collection of ancient legends and traditional stories by Tlingit elder Elizabeth Nyman.

Tsimshian: Tsimshian has been spoken at Metlakatla on Annette Island in the far southeastern corner of Alaska since the people moved there from Canada in 1887 under the leadership of missionary William Duncan. Currently, of the 1,300 Tsimshian people living in Alaska, not more than 70 of the most elderly speak the language. Franz Boas did extensive research on the language in the early 1900s, and in 1977 the Metlakatlans adopted a standard practical orthography for use also by the Canadian Coast Tsimshians.

Tunuu: although the early Russian fur trade was exploitative and detrimental to the Aleut population as a whole, linguists working through the Russian Orthodox Church made great advances in literacy and helped foster a society that grew to be remarkably bilingual in Russian and Unangax^. The greatest of these Russian Orthodox linguists was Ivan Veniaminov who, beginning in 1824, worked with Aleut speakers to develop a writing system and translate religious and educational material into the native language. In modern times the outstanding academic contributor to Unangax^ linguistics is Knut Bergsland who from 1950 until his death in 1998 worked with Unangax^ speakers such as William Dirks Sr. and Moses Dirks – now himself a leading Unangax^ linguist – to design a modern writing system for the language and develop bilingual curriculum materials including school dictionaries for both dialects. In 1994 Bergsland produced a comprehensive Unangax^ dictionary, and in 1997 a detailed reference grammar.

Upper Kuskokwim: Upper Kuskokwim Athabascan is spoken in the villages of Nikolai, Telida, and McGrath in the Upper Kuskokwim River drainage. Of a total population of about 160 people, about 40 still speak the language. Raymond Collins began linguistic work at Nikolai in 1964, when he established a practical orthography. Since then he has worked with Betty Petruska to produce many small booklets and a school dictionary for use in the bilingual program.

I have to compare this list of languages with the one provided by Ethnologue, but in case of non-coincidence I think that the ANLC is more reliable, as they work shoulder to shoulder with them.

Say it right: clarifying terminology

July 25, 2008 at 3:40 pm | Posted in Naming | 4 Comments
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Thanks again to Survival I found a small compilation of terminology related to indigenous peoples. Given the fact that pejorative terms have already been used for years, it is important to show respect using the right words:

There are a huge variety of terms used to describe the peoples most commonly called ‘tribal people’ or ‘indigenous people’. All of them are problematic; none are entirely satisfactory:

Some general terms

Tribe: means a distinct population, relatively small in number, with a common language and culture, dependent on their land for their livelihood, and not assimilated into the national society. This is perhaps the term most readily understood and used by the general public, and for that reason is commonly used by Survival (as in the expression ‘tribal peoples’). Many anthropologists dislike the term, believing it evokes the colonial era. Some English-speaking indigenous people, especially more politically active Indians in North America, also dislike it. However, many tribal peoples themselves use it. For example, almost all American Indians use the word ‘tribe’ to describe themselves to others, eg ‘the White Mountain Apache Tribe’, or the ‘Northern Arapaho Tribe’. Although nearly all tribal peoples are also indigenous, not all are: for example, many of the Thai hill tribes are not indigenous to the areas where they now live, having settled there relatively recently.

Native: the words ‘native’,’ aboriginal’, ‘autochthonous’ and ‘indigenous’ are virtually synonymous; in this context they mean a people who are originally from the area in which they still live. In other words, they have not arrived from somewhere else, but to all intents and purposes have developed in the land which is their ancestral territory. (Of course, according to current theories of human evolution, homo sapiens first evolved in Africa and subsequently emigrated to populate the globe, but as this is thought to have happened around 60,000 years ago, its practical ramifications can be ignored.) The terms ‘native people’ in Canada, and ‘native Americans’ in the USA, are perfectly acceptable in those countries, but the use of the English word ‘native’ elsewhere has rather colonial connotations, particularly in Africa, and should therefore be avoided if possible. ‘Nativos’ in Spanish has similar connotations in many South American countries (but not all).

Aboriginal: most commonly used in Australia, where it is slightly preferred (by some Aboriginal organisations) to the term ‘Aborigine’, although both are in common usage. The Spanish word ‘aborígen’ is common and perfectly acceptable in Argentina to describe that country’s indigenous people, though it is little used elsewhere in South America.

Indigenous: this is perhaps the term most often used by specialists and academics, although it is not in such common usage amongst the general public. Not all indigenous people are tribal: the Quechua and Aymara Indians of the Andes, for example, form what could best be described as an indigenous peasantry, being the majority rural, agrarian population in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, and often well integrated into the national economy. The Spanish term ‘pueblos indígenas’ is regularly used throughout Latin America and is perfectly acceptable (whereas pueblos tribales is neither).

Autochthonous: apart from in India, this is hardly used in English. In French, the term ‘peuples autochtones’ is widespread in academic debate, though not common elsewhere.

Some place-specific terms:

Indian: applies in this context only to the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Although some, particularly in the academic world, may worry that it has disparaging overtones, it is very commonly used by the people themselves. Almost all North American Indians will use the word perfectly happily to describe themselves (obviously, there are exceptions). In the USA, some prefer it to ‘native American’, as they feel the latter implies they are simply another national minority like African Americans or Hispanic Americans, rather than people who lived in that land before the state of America was created. For Spanish usage, the word ‘indio’ generally (though not universally) has derogatory connotations, although some urbanised Indians in the Andes have reclaimed the term. The Portuguese word ‘indio’ is not derogatory in Brazil, where it is commonly used by Indians and their supporters.

Red Indian: almost never used by the people themselves, it now has racist overtones and is best avoided.

Amerindian: a term that has now fallen out of use, though it is still the word most often used in Guyana to describe that country’s indigenous people (‘Indian’ is not used there, as a large part of the national population is originally from India).

First nations: a phrase that has developed in Canada to describe that country’s indigenous people. It is not used elsewhere.

Well, there is still a lot of work to be done, but this is a beginning. I may look the terms up in some dictionaries, but that will be for another day post.

Third step: Scandinavia

July 22, 2008 at 1:00 pm | Posted in Language, Maps, Naming, Scandinavia | Leave a comment
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I continue with the posts that place the Arctic circle cultures in the map thanks to Ethnologue website. The two previous ones were about Alaska and Canada on the one hand and Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland) on the other. will include the Kola peninsula and the territories that border it to have all the Saami languages toghether. I think this will help understanding the family languages.


Republic of Finland, Suomen Tasavalta. 5,214,512. National or official languages: Finnish, Swedish. Literacy rate: 100%. Also includes English (4,500), Northern Kurdish (1,293), Polish, Romanian (1,000), Russian (10,000), Somali (3,103), Spanish, Standard German, Tatar (1,000), Turkish (1,000), Vietnamese, Arabic, Chinese. Information mainly from M. Stephens 1976; B. Comrie 1987; T. Salminen 1987–1998. Blind population: 3,345. Deaf population: 8,000 to 307,333 (1986 Gallaudet University). Deaf institutions: 44. The number of languages listed for Finland is 13. Of those, 12 are living languages and 1 is extinct.

Saami, North
[sme] 2,000 in Finland (1995 M. Krauss). Ethnic population: 3,500 (1995 M. Krauss). Utsjoki, Enontekio, and Sodankyla. Alternate names: Northern Lapp, Davvin, “Lapp”, Saame, Same. Dialects: Ruija, Torne, Sea Lappish. Classification: Uralic, Sami, Western, Northern

Saami, Skolt
[sms] 300 in Finland (1995 M. Krauss). Population total all countries: 320. Ethnic population: 500 in Finland (1995 M. Krauss). Northwest of Inari Saami. Also spoken in Russia (Europe). Alternate names: Skolt Lappish, Russian Lapp, “Lapp”, Saame, Same, Lopar, Kolta, Koltta. Classification: Uralic, Sami, Eastern


Kingdom of Norway, Kongeriket Norge. 4,574,560. National or official language: Norwegian. Literacy rate: 96% to 100%. Also includes Danish (12,000), English, Finnish (5,358), Northern Kurdish (3,000), Russian (3,000), Spanish (6,500), Swedish (21,000), Tibetan, Urdu, Vietnamese (99,000), Chinese (3,000), from Africa (7,000), from Pakistan (17,000). Information mainly from M. Stephens 1976; B. Comrie 1987; I. Hancock 1991; J. Hupli 1998; B. Winsa 1998. Blind population: 4,000 (1982 WCE). Deaf population: 4,000 to 261,618 (1998). Deaf institutions: 12. The number of languages listed for Norway is 11. Of those, all are living languages.

Saami, Lule
[smj] 500 in Norway (1995 M. Krauss). Ethnic population: 1,000 to 2,000 in Norway (1995 M. Krauss). 31,600 to 42,600 ethnic Sámi in Norway (1995). Tysfjord, Hamaroy, and Folden, Norway. Alternate names: Lule, Saame. Classification: Uralic, Sami, Western, Northern

Saami, North
[sme] 15,000 in Norway (1995 M. Krauss). Population total all countries: 21,000. Ethnic population: 30,000 to 40,000 in Norway (1995 M. Krauss). Finnmark, Troms, Nordland, Ofoten. Also spoken in Finland, Sweden. Alternate names: “Northern Lappish”, “Norwegian Lapp”, Saami, Same, Samic, “Lapp”, Northern Saami. Dialects: Ruija, Torne, Sea Lappish. Classification: Uralic, Sami, Western, Northern

Saami, Pite
[sje] Between Saltenfjord and Ranenfjord in Norway. Alternate names: “Lapp”, Pite. Classification: Uralic, Sami, Western, Northern Nearly extinct.

Saami, South
[sma] 300 in Norway (1995 M. Krauss). Ethnic population: 600 in Norway. Hatfjelldal and Wefsen, south to Elga. Alternate names: “Northern Lappish”, “Norwegian Lapp”, Saami, Same, Samic. Classification: Uralic, Sami, Western, Southern

Russia (Europe)

[kpv] 262,200 (1993 UBS). Ethnic population: 345,000. Komi ASSR, 60′ N. Lat., nearly to the Arctic Ocean. South of Yurak, west of the Vogul (Mansi) peoples. Capital is Syktywkar. Alternate names: Komi. Dialects: Yazva. Lexical similarity 80% with Komi-Permyak and Udmurt. Classification: Uralic, Permian, Komi

Saami, Akkala
[sia] 8 (2000 T. Salminen). Ethnic population: 100 (1995 M. Krauss). Southwest Kola Peninsula. Alternate names: Ahkkil, Babinsk, Babino. Dialects: Closest to Skolt. Classification: Uralic, Sami, Eastern Nearly extinct.

Saami, Kildin
[sjd] 800 (2000 T. Salminen). 1,900 Saami in Russia (1995 M. Krauss). Ethnic population: 1,000 (1995 M. Krauss). Alternate names: “Kildin Lappish”, “Lapp”, Saam, Saami. Classification: Uralic, Sami, Eastern

Saami, Skolt
[sms] 20 to 30 in Russia. Ethnic population: 400 in Russia (1995 M. Krauss). Northern and western Kola Peninsula around Petsamo. Alternate names: “Skolt Lappish”, “Russian Lapp”, “Lapp”, Saam, Lopar, Kolta, Skolt. Dialects: Notozer, Yokan. Classification: Uralic, Sami, Eastern

Saami, Ter
[sjt] 6 (1995 M. Krauss). Ethnic population: 400 population (2000 Salminen). Alternate names: “Ter Lappish”, “Lapp”, Saam. Classification: Uralic, Sami, Eastern Nearly extinct.


Kingdom of Sweden, Konungariket Sverige. 8,986,400. National or official language: Swedish. Literacy rate: 99%. Also includes Amharic, Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic, Danish (35,000), Estonian (1,560), Greek (50,000), Kirmanjki, Latvian (450), Lithuanian (310), Northern Kurdish (10,000), Serbian (120,000), Somali, Spanish (35,000), Tosk Albanian (4,000), Turkish (20,000), Turoyo (20,000), Western Farsi (35,000), Chinese, people from Iraq (6,000), Eritrea, North Africa. Information mainly from B. Comrie 1987; I. Hancock 1991; E. Haugen 1992; O. Dahl 1996; B. Winsa 1998. Blind population: 15,716. Deaf population: 8,000 to 532,210 (1998). Deaf institutions: 72. The number of languages listed for Sweden is 15. Of those, all are living languages.

Saami, Lule
[smj] 1,500 in Sweden (1995 M. Krauss). Population total all countries: 2,000. Ethnic population: 6,000 in Sweden. Lapland along the Lule River in Gällivare and Jokkmokk. Also spoken in Norway. Alternate names: Lule, Saami, “Lapp”. Dialects: Lule Saami is quite distinct from other Saami. Classification: Uralic, Sami, Western, Northern

Saami, North
[sme] 4,000 in Sweden (1995 M. Krauss). Ethnic population: 5,000 in Sweden (1994 SIL). Karesuando and Jukkasjärvi. Alternate names: Norwegian Saami, “Lapp”, Saame, Same, Samic, Northern Lappish, Northern Saami. Dialects: Ruija, Torne, Sea Lappish. Classification: Uralic, Sami, Western, Northern

Saami, Pite
[sje] 20 in Sweden (2000 T. Salminen). Ethnic population: 2,000 in Sweden (1995 M. Krauss). Lapland along Pite River in Arjeplog and Arvidsjaur. Also spoken in Norway. Alternate names: Saami, “Lapp”, Pite. Classification: Uralic, Sami, Western, Northern Nearly extinct.

Saami, South
[sma] 300 in Sweden(1995 M. Krauss). Population total all countries: 600. Ethnic population: 600 in Sweden. Vilhelmina in Lapland, in Jämtland, Härjedalen, and Idre in Dalarna. Also spoken in Norway. Alternate names: “Lapp”, Southern Lapp. Classification: Uralic, Sami, Western, Southern

Saami, Ume
[sju] 20 (2000 T. Salminen). Ethnic population: 1,000 (1995 M. Krauss). Lycksele, Mala, Tärna, and Sorsele, along the Ume River. Probably no speakers in Norway. Alternate names: “Lapp”, Saami, Ume. Classification: Uralic, Sami, Southern Nearly extinct.

As you see, this classification is quite confusing, as the Saami languages are repeated in many countries. This is because the political borders, that cut the Saami lands. I will redo the classification in the future having as a starting point Sápmi and not those countries.

Anyway, you can also check the map to make the situation clearer:

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