Polar People

June 25, 2009 at 8:11 am | Posted in arctic, Demographics, Maps, Research | 2 Comments
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The North and the circumpolar regions, above 60º latitude, are considered to be one of the less populated areas of the world. This map shows the last numbers on that, distributed by country and organized by percentatge. This is published in Arctic Pollution Issues. A State of the Arctic Environment Report. Stefansson Arctic Institute, 2004. Arctic Human Development Report, and the map was created by Hugo Ahlenius, UNEP/GRID-Arendal.

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.

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!

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.

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