itelmen

Photographer Valery F

November 2009

Kamchatka. With the Itelmen

One of the oldest and one of the smallest and Endangered Peoples of the North. In 1988, they numbered 2480 people; now about 1200. Their settlements are located on the Okhotsk coast of Kamchatka. Self-name “Itelmen” comes from the word “itenmen”, ie living.

The Itelmen subscribed to a polytheistic religion. The creative god was referred to as Kutka or Kutga. Though he is regarded as the creator of all things, Steller describes a complete lack of veneration for him. The Itelmen attribute the problems and difficulties of life to his stupidity, and are quick to scold or curse him. They believed Kutka to be married to an intelligent woman named Chachy, who was said to have kept him from much foolishness and to have corrected him constantly.

Raven or Shagoon

In Alaska and Siberia there is a native belief that the present world owes much of its form and features to an immortal being called Raven or “Shagoon”. Who’s combined attributes are of spirit, human, bird, genius, and fool. He is a god often known as Heaven and has a diffuse and distant interest in the world. Among Tlingit, this being is called Shagoon, with a complex meaning that includes ancestors, heritage, origin, destiny, and supreme deity.

Kutkh’s Boats

The raven Kutkh is the main god of the Itelmen, an indigenous people of Kamchatka, and «bat» meant long boat. Literally translated, this site’s name is «Boats of the god Kutkh». Indeed, the pumice looks very much like boats that are ready to return to water at the first signal from their master. Kutkh’s Boats (Bats) are a natural monument created from bizarrely exposed pumice located four kilometers from the source of the Ozernaya River (Kuril Lake). According to legend, the cliffs are boats (similar to Native American canoes) that the wise raven Kutkh once set to dry and then forgot ashore.

Tlingit dancer

Itelmen dancer

Raven Dancers

This is just one of the many similarities between the two different Indian ethnic groups. One being Russian and the other natives of Alaska. It seems that these two tribes may have a common ancestor that might have crossed the Bering Straits over 11,000 years ago. The cultural similarities at a minimum suggest a long history of indirect cultural contact between Asian and North American Peoples.

The Kamchatka Peninsula

One of the most authentic ethnic groups in Russia are the Itelmens, they are an indigenous people who live on Kamchatka peninsula. Even though their lives are still some what primitive they are very well educated as far as indigenous communities go. Today there’s a community of about 1,500 people living on the peninsula. If you wanted to reach them it would entail a long and difficult journey. The first part is a  nine hour flight from Moscow to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. Then another ten hours by car to the village of Esso. Once in Esso it’s another half an hour flight to reach the village of Ust-Khairyuzovo by helicopter.  Finally, forty minutes shaken in a car along the Sea of Okhotsk to ebb, and in winter by snowmobile or snow crust on dog sledding. The ultimate goal — a national Kovran village where live Itelmen. But once there you are in some of the most beautiful country of all of Russia.

Here’s a short video about the Kamchatka Folk Ensembles.

Sources:

The Itelmens – An Indian Tribe in Kamchatka Raven or Shagoon In Alaska and Siberia there is a native belief that the present world owes much of its form and features to an immortal being called Raven or “Shagoon”.

Small capital, Kovra.  Valley of the Kamchatka River, Kamchatka.

the center of economic, social and cultural life Itel'men. Several dozen rickety wooden houses, three storey buildings, a burned-out club, 400 residents, a countless sled dogs and just yards.

Valery F November 2009