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The Orochis

The self-designation is a problematical issue. One of the names used has been nani - 'a man of this country', which is the same name that has been used by the Nanais and the Oroks. However, nani has not become established as a self-designation of the Orochis and has almost faded into oblivion with them. Another possible self-designation is orochisal. The Udeghes called them pyaka, the Evenks lamka, the Ulchis orochi, the Nivkhs tosung and the Russians orochon. The term Oroch was first employed in ethnographic literature by the French explorer La Pйrouse who in 1786 met people on the seashore referring to themselves as Orochi. The name has two explanations: a) it derives from the Manchu-Tungus term oron for a domesticated reindeer, or b) from a native word oro - 'a newborn bear cub'.
The Orochi settlements are in the southern part of the Khabarovsky Krai, more particularly on the lower reaches of the River Tumnin (Usjka, Usjka-Russkaya) and on the Amur and Kopp rivers. In this wide area between the Lower Amur and the Tatarsk Strait there used to be numerous small Orochi settlements for winter and summer use, divided into five territorial groups. In a search for better fishing grounds and hunting forests there were migrations to the River Amur and Sakhalin Island in the 19th century. In the first decades of the 20th century the Orochi left the coast of the Sea of Japan for regions inland, seeking refuge from the war.
Anthropologically, the Orochi are Mongoloid, with strong characteristics of the Baikal type.
The language belongs to the Southern Group of the Manchu-Tungus languages. The closest relations are the Evenki, Udeghe and Negidal languages.
In the second half of the 19th century the whole aboriginal population between the rivers flowing into the Tatarsk Strait in the north and almost as far as Vladivostok in the south, as well as on the banks of the River Ussuri and the tributaries of the Amur, Hungar and Anyui, was regarded as Orochi. The first person to make a distinction between the Orochi in the north and the Udeghes in the south was I. Margaritov in 1888, who marked the River Botch as the borderline. The works of several researchers, V. Arsenyev in particular, proved the validity of this demarcation. In literature the origin of the Orochi is left rather obscure, no treatment having provided a single answer. The language is somewhat more clearly distinguishable. There are tribes among the Orochis who are related originally to the Nanais, the Ulchis, the Udeghes, the Negidals, the Nivkhs and the Evenks. Thus, there are present in the Orochi both old, native ethnic features as well as those of a northern, taiga origin. The influence of Manchu and Chinese cultures is also detectable. A similar variegation can be pointed out pertaining to the self-designation. Despite this the ethnographer A. Smolyak holds that the people once had a common designation for themselves -- orochisal. According to him, the term originated not in the word oron -- 'reindeer', as it had been generally believed, but in the word oro, or oroko -- 'a newborn bear cub'. This would link with a legend that has the birth of the Orochi resulting from a marriage between a woman and a bear. It is probably not a coincidence that they should have been called Orochi by their closest neighbours, the Nanais and the Ulchis. Smolyak's hypothesis appears somewhat more credible than a self-designation derived from the reindeer that the Orochi have never, to any notable extent, bred.
The traditional means of subsistence for the Orochi has been fishing and hunting. In coastal regions the Orochi have also practiced hunting sea animals. Breeding sledge dogs was a widespread occupation. Agriculture was introduced only at the beginning of the 20th century by the Russians. Though the same occupations have persisted, their relative importance has changed considerably.
Despite some diversity of opinion among the explorers the Orochi can be regarded as a more-or-less settled people among whom only the hunters led a more vagrant life. This differentiates them clearly from their nomadic kindred people, the Udeghes, with whom they have often been identified. Formerly, the seasonal nature of fishing and hunting necessitated the erection of summer and winter settlements. Their modes of construction differed greatly -- bark dwellings sufficed for the summer while sod huts cased inside with timber were built for the winter. The hunters erected conical tents covered with grass in winter. Russian-type log cabins were introduced towards the end of the 19th century.
Neither the Orochi themselves nor anybody else has created an Orochi written language; education is given in Russian. As a matter of course the native intelligentsia - teachers, doctors, etc. -- has received an exclusively Russian education as well. The use of native language is confined to homes and, at best, amateur stage performances. The reputation of the Orochi language is low which is vividly demonstrated by the percentage of native language speakers in 1979 which was 40.7 %. At the same time 57.5 % considered Russian their native language and free command of Russian was reported by 77.9 % (Orochi -- 45.2 %). Mixed marriages are also constantly on the increase.

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