“If there is no culture, there is no history...”: Traditional Culture among Northern Kamchatka Reindeer Herders in the Post-Soviet Period
Oliutorskii Chauchu, the Koryak reindeer herders of Northern Kamchatka, have faced serious economic and social hardships since the collapse of the Soviet Union. They had to adapt their traditional reindeer herding, maintenance of village infrastructures and production to a free-market economy. Previously, they based these on the principles of state control. Despite the social changes during the Soviet era, they maintained not only their worldview but also various rituals connected with reindeer herding. Even though some Koryak reindeer herders – the local intelligentsia – received a Soviet education based on materialism, they openly expressed their conviction in religious traditions and discussed spiritual ties between reindeer herders, reindeer, nature and Koryak mythology even in the early 1990s. They saw no contradictions between science and Koryak religion and tried to explain some religious elements by means of science. They thought that finding rational explanations behind traditional beliefs was the purpose of science. They also believed that it was necessary to practice traditional Koryak knowledge and pass it, along with their rituals, to younger generations.
This paper aims to study how deeply religion was rooted in the everyday life of reindeer herders in the Oliutorsk Region (Northern Kamchatka). It also shows how religious experience helps young Koryak people form ethnic identity. The paper is based on the author’s observations and interviews, which he collected during his fieldwork among the reindeer herders in the Oliutorsk Region during the early 1990s.
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