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The Koryaks

The KoryaksThe Koryaks live in North-East of Russia.

Self-designation. The Koryaks call themselves by two different names: the traditionally nomadic reindeer-herding tribes use the name chavchu 'reindeer rearers', 'rich in reindeer', the resident tribes nymylan 'resident, settler' (nym = a dwelling place, settlement). Koryak originates from a neighbouring people who derived the name from the Koryak stem kor 'reindeer (korak 'at the reindeer', 'with the reindeer'). The Russians adopted this variant and popularized it.

Most probably the Koryaks were first mentioned in writing in 1755 by Russian explorer S. Krasheninnikov in his book of travels. The national policy of the 1930s encouraged the use of self-designations as the official variant. In the case of the Koryaks the name nymylan predominated but after the war the former name was reinstated.

The Koryaks live in the northeast of Siberia, in the northern part of the Kamchatka Peninsula and on the adjoining mainland from the Taigonos Peninsula to the Bering Sea. The traditional roaming area of the nomadic Koryaks has been west of the Kamchatka Central Range, up to the Itelmen settlements. Administratively the Koryaks live in the Koryak Autonomous Area of the Kamchatka Region of the Russian Federation (from 1933 to 1937 the Koryak National District). This covers 301,500 km2 in all. The population is 40,000 (1989) and the administrative centre is the town of Palana (3,500 inhabitants in 1975). The Koryak territory is mostly forest tundra and tundra in the subarctic climate belt. The mean temperature in January is -25 ?C and in July +12 ?C.

Anthropologically the Koryaks, as well as the Chukchi, belong to the Mongoloid North Asian race. They are short and sturdy with a characteristically dark skin. The face is wide and flat (also the nose), the cheekbones prominent and the lids have the specific Mongolian eyefolds. The eyes and hair have dark pigmentation (black and dark brown), and the hair is straight and coarse. The men are predominately beardless.

The Koryak language, as well as Chukchi and Itelmen, belongs to the Chukchi-Kamchatka group of Paleo-Asiatic languages. Structurally Koryak is incorporative or polysynthetic. It is assumed that prehistorically it had been related to the languages of the American Indians. It is likely that their common original home was on the Asian mainland from where the forefathers of the Indians set off to America before the Bering Strait severed the land route.

The Koryak language has seven distinct dialects (though some sources indicate four). The majority of Koryaks speak the relatively uniform chav-chyvan dialect. The language of resident Koryaks is more diverse. In the northern part of the National District the following dialects are distinguishable: Paren, Kamen, Itkana and Apuka, and in the south Palana and Karanga. Each dialect has features not observed elsewhere. The diversification of Koryak into dialects has been insufficiently studied. For example until the 1960s the Aliutor and Kerek languages were considered to be Koryak dialects.

The Koryaks' closest relations have been first and foremost with their kindred peoples. It has been said that Chukchi is the closest related language to Koryak, morphologically, however, it is the Kerek language and lexically, Aliutor. The Koryaks can communicate with the Chukchis and Aliutors in their mother tongue without any trouble. As the Koryaks have interacted with all their neighbouring peoples, there has been a mutual linguistic influence. Since the 1930s Russian has most affected the Koryak language. The need to name new phenomena, notions and terms has caused extensive linguistic borrowing. The loan-words used to be incorporated into Koryak in compliance with its inherent laws. The practice ended in the 1960s when Russian loans had to be used as they were in the source language. Mixed settlements, collective farms and schools, and in addition, Russian-language media, administration, culture and ideology led to the further predominance of Russian. The incidence of intermarriages in the 1960s diminished the importance of the Koryak language in the family circle.

The mentality of the Koryaks underwent profound changes. Extensive brainwashing accompanied a campaign to abolish illiteracy. The Koryaks became anxious and resentful of demands for children to be sent to boarding schools. In 1933 Koryak schoolchildren numbered 1,543. At school they had to absorb the new ideology. Besides extensive anti-religious propaganda and scorn for shamanistic practices Koryak tradions were viewed with great suspicion. Soviet officials were of the opinion that the Koryaks could be well off only if their lifestyle mirrored that of the Russians. It meant such things as better housing, technology, technical appliances and education. But, it also meant the disappearance of an existing natural way of life along with its associated traditions. Many Koryak settlements were forcibly liquidated, for instance Makarevsk, Uka, Dranka, Hailyuli, Gishiga, Anapka, Napana, Kultushnoye, Moroshechnaya and Rekinniki.

It is true to say that during the last 40 years the degeneration of the Koryaks as a nation has been quick and, most probably, irrevocable. Soviet economic and national policy has consistantly worked toward making the natives feel unwanted outsiders and portraying them as troublemakers in their own homeland. As masters and supervisors, the Russians have decreed the site for a mine or a prison, a wharf or a dump -- the Koryaks have had no say in these matters. As the achiThe Koryaksvements of modern civilization are solely the benefits of Russian intervention it follows that Russians are the only ones to have a say in the matters of local infrastructure. The prestige of the Koryak language is low, the traditions are considered to be ridiculous and any distinctive ethnic feature is held up as a sign of inferiority.

For everyday purposes the illiterate Koryaks used pictographs. From 1913 Koryak children attended Russian church and mission schools(13 children in 1916) but their own script, like those of other northern peoples, was only created in the 1930s. The All-Union New Script Board approved the model alphabet of 28 letters compiled in 1930, which is the basis of the Koryak writing in Chavchyvan dialect. The first primer, Jissa kalekal (The Red Book) was published in 1932 and in 1934 a reader and various other textbooks were printed.

The basic genres of narrative folklore are myths and fairy tales. Music is submitted by singing, recitative, rattle.

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