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The Koryak People of Siberia

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AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION1902 • celebrating 100 years • 2002

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Miami Money and the Home GalKaren E. Richman 119

“Without Deer There Is No Culture, Nothing”Alexander D. King 133

Could She Be Dying? Dis-Orders of Reality around Deathin an American HospitalHelen S. Chapple 165


Maquiladora CousinsTamar Diana Wilson 185


Five Poems in Three LanguagesMeditación in and about Mbohapy Ñe’e 192

Pax Nobiscum 193

Muse 194

Pride? 195

Ignoramus 197Tracy K. Lewis

Slugs 198

Soft Boiled Eggs 199Brian Swann

Imprecation against Two Cambridge Policemen forDisturbing Dave Sapir’s Party 203Dell Hymes


“After Genres”: A Biography That Illuminates Ethnography(In the Arms of Africa: The Life of Colin M. Turnbull, Roy Richard Grinker)Christopher Eric Garces 205

Silicon Valley Light (Cultures@Silicon Valley, June Anne English-Lueck)Jennifer Croissant 207

New Perspectives on Female Circumcision (The Female CircumcisionControversy: An Anthropological Perspective, Ellen Gruenbaum)Barry P. Michrina 208

Africa Reclaiming Herself (On the Postcolony, Achille Mbembe)Donald Robotham 209

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A Place to Write: The Bartender as Ethnographer (A Place to Stand:Politics and Persuasion in a Working-Class Bar, Julie Lindquist)Warren Olivo 211


The Society for Humanistic Anthropology is pleased to announce thatthe 2002 Victor Turner Prize for Ethnographic Writing was won byHenry Stephen Sharp for his book Loon: Memory, Meaning, and Realityin a Northern Dene Community. Honorable Mention awards were wonby Mary Weismantel for her book Cholas and Pishtacos: Stories of Raceand Sex in the Andes, and Catherine Lutz for her book Homefront:A Military City and the American 20th Century.

Kent Maynard won the 2001 Wick Chapbook Prize for Ohio poets. Hiscollection, Sunk like God behind the House, was published in the fall of2002. Several of the poems first appeared in Anthropology andHumanism.


Zoya Petrovna cooking for her relatives in a Koryak reindeer herders’camp, Kamchatka. Zoya echoed the statement that the reindeer werethe basis for the Koryaks’ entire culture. Photo by Alexander D. King.

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“Without Deer There Is No Culture, Nothing”


Department of AnthropologyUniversity of AberdeenOld AberdeenScotland AB243QYUnited Kingdom

SUMMARY This article presents the pragmatics of reindeer herding by Chukchi andKoryak people in northern Kamchatka, Russia, to convey a sense of the importance ofherding as a symbolic resource. A detailed description of brief visits to a reindeer herd inKamchatka uncovers the power of reindeer as a symbol for indigenous people andindigenous culture in this area. I use a first-person, subjective ethnography and includesome of the challenges I met in the field and my attempts to overcome them. The titlequotes a reindeer herder impressing upon me the importance of his work for his people.Reindeer are connected to human beings in a totalizing manner. Reindeer are simultaneouslyindex, icon, and symbol of human social organization, economic activity, spiritual practice,material culture—in short, “our culture,” as I was told by many people in Kamchatka.

The Reindeer are a dominant symbol of collective identity in northern Kam-chatka, Russia. A reindeer head is featured on the official flag of the KoryakAutonomous Okrug (KAO), even though two-thirds of the population are notnative and the administration is run mostly by Russians and other incomers. Myfirst impression of this representation was that it was a romantic stereotype,similar to the generic Indian buffalo hunter used by whites in North America asschool mascots or to sell Jeeps. I had little intention of studying reindeer herdersdirectly—my focus was political discourse, and I imagined this to take place atadministrative centers—but I discovered that reindeer herding was more than aromantic symbol of the primitive other. Although very few native people inKamchatka are directly engaged in reindeer herding, they frequently refer toreindeer and to herding activities while talking about themselves and their ownculture. Incomers see reindeer herding as an index of the primitiveness of nativepeople, a problem needing a solution. Native people talk about reindeer herdingin specific contexts, those of childhood experiences, the lives of relatives andfriends, and religious rituals that are important to them, and as an index oftraditional wealth and independence.

In July 1997 my wife, Christina, and I went to the village of Srednie Pakhachi,accompanied by our friend and colleague Valentina Dedyk. Christina and I hadmet Valentina (Valya) and her family during our first trip to Kamchatka in 1995.She is the Koryak-language teacher at the Palana Teachers College in the admin-istrative center (Palana) of the Koryak Autonomous Okrug. Valya had spent twomonths in 1996 at our home in Charlottesville, Virginia, helping me with Koryak,learning English, and conversing about ethnography. After we returned toKamchatka in April 1997, Valya invited us to go with her family on their summervacation to visit other members of her family and friends in her childhood homeof Srednie Pakhachi. It was an opportunity to visit a village of reindeer herderswhere many people still spoke Koryak and where people had owned private deerthrough the Soviet era, even though most reindeer had been appropriated in the

Anthropology and Humanism 27(2):133–164. Copyright © 2003, American Anthropological Association.

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1930s during collectivization. We stayed with Valya’s elder sister, Tanya, and herfamily.

The last week of my month in Srednie Pakhachi, I accepted the invitation ofTanya’s husband Volodya Yatylkut to visit the herd of the village’s privatelyowned deer. This first visit with Volodya was short, only three days in all, but itwas a revelation. I discovered that the deer were a root metaphor for Koryakculture, at least in this village that was traditionally focused on reindeer herding.If I were going to have any sense of what native people were about, I had to studywhat I had earlier disparaged as salvage ethnography. Discourse about reindeerherding in Palana was either in the context of an economic problem in need ofsolving or in the context of cultural survivals of earlier, primitive lifeways (cf.Grant 1995:8, 128; Slezkine 1994:125, 260, 341). Vladimir Bogoraz (1904–09) andVladimir Jochelson (1908) had done an excellent job of documenting reindeerherding among Chukchi and Koryak people. Soviet ethnographers such asBilibin (1932, 1933), Antropova (1971), and Chesnokov (1997) had covered manyof the changes in reindeer herding in the 20th century. However, the meaning ofreindeer herding—the meaning of daily pragmatics in the people’s sense ofthemselves, their culture, and their human dignity—was not clear from theseethnographic accounts. After my first short visit to the privately owned reindeerherd, I knew that I needed to learn the meanings of representations of reindeerherding for native people through some old-fashioned participant-observation.1

The structure of my presentation follows Abu-Lughod’s call for “ethnogra-phies of the particular” (1991:149–152). I agree that a “tactical humanism,” whichaims for representations of other people’s everyday lives and tries to avoidexoticizing, can be used to overcome tendencies toward essentialism, false coher-ence, and hierarchy latent in common use of the term culture (Abu-Lughod1991:159). My style is inspired by Edith Turner’s ethnography of Native Alaskanhealers in The Hands Feel It, in which she concentrates on relating “present-dayculture in action” in an Alaskan village (1996:xxvi). My article has similar goalsas Petra Rethmann’s ethnography of particulars in northeastern Kamchatka,which uses “analytical and textual strategies that work counter to the exoticizingtechniques of earlier ethnographies” (2001:9).

Through experience and action, not through speaking and listening, I learnedthe basic importance of reindeer in these people’s lives.2 Though it has become asin for ethnographers to essentialize other people, many Koryaks and Chukchiin Kamchatka essentialize themselves by insisting on reindeer as the essentialkey to ethnographic understanding. A reindeer herd is not just a group of deermanaged by people. It is a holographic entity providing a scale model of the sociallife of animate beings in the universe, or a “total social phenomenon” (Mauss1990:3).3 Deer and people are connected to one another in a vital social universe.

This article has three goals: to provide an ethnography of reindeer herdingpractices among Koryak and Chukchi of northern Kamchatka, to discuss thereligion and worldview of these people in the context of reindeer herding, andto present the context of ethnographic knowledge production and problems ofparticipant-observation. The following account of Koryak-Chukchi reindeerherding pragmatics is presented in chronological order, simulating field notes inplaces, to evoke a sense of experience. If “the true locus of culture is in theinteractions of specific individuals,” as Sapir says (1949:515), then the locus ofethnography is in the interactions between ethnographer and people assistinghis project (in other words, “natives”). I include myself as a character in thenarrative to make it plain to the reader the circumstances of the invention of theculture I call Koryak/Chukchi/Srednie Pakhachi (cf. Wagner 1981:3f.).4 The

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conclusion will focus on general problems of deer, people, culture, and ethno-graphic understanding.

July 1997

“How long are we going for?” I asked Volodya as I swung my pack onto myback.

“That depends on how long you want,” he answered.“When it begins to snow, you can return by sled,” his son-in-law, Valeri, joked.

“I have a pair of really fast sled-deer at that herd.”Volodya’s face and arms were tanned a deep brown. Although he was only in

his midforties, his hair was already graying, attributed by his wife to a close brushwith a grizzly bear. He had an old army pack and wore the drab clothing ofoutdoorsmen common across the former Soviet Union. Sometimes I felt like acosmonaut with my bright red Gore-Tex raincoat and fancy backpack from amountain-climbing shop.

Together with Valya and her family, my wife Christina and I had been fishingwith Tanya and Volodya Yatylkut and their family for the past two weeks, andthey had spent just as much time talking about deer as about fish. Volodya is atypical resident of Srednie Pakhachi in many respects. First of all, he identifieshimself as Chukchi. Groups of Chukchi moved south into Koryak territory(Bogoraz 1904–09:15), and now there are several communities in this part of theregion where locals speak a dialect of Koryak, although their primary identitymay be Chukchi or Even. Their spiritual beliefs and material culture are acombination of Koryak and Chukchi cultures, as described by Jochelson (1908)and Bogoraz (1904–09), but when compared to “real Chukchi” living on theChukotka peninsula, they walk and talk more like Koryaks by their own ac-count.5

Volodya was born and raised a reindeer herder. He had worked all of his adultlife in the local sovkhoz (government collective farm) until three years ago: “Theydon’t pay you, and when you come to town for a rest, they tell you that you owethem. A month’s pay doesn’t buy groceries [since the 1990s]. At that time I wasmaking 2000 [rubles] a month [about US$20], and that bought sugar and that’sall. The bookkeeper keeps track of pay owed and how many groceries you take,and you end up owing them.” This is a pattern being repeated all over the North,where the sovkhoz runs a company store operation, enriching the immigrantsovkhoz directors at the expense of the native population. That is why Volodyaleft the sovkhoz.6 They stopped paying herders with money, and he had to learnto fish for salmon to feed his family and earn cash through caviar production.This is not a new pattern. People herding deer in Kamchatka and Chukotka havetraditionally fallen back on salmon fishing during hard times when deer herdpopulations fall or disappear altogether. It is not easy, however, for a richreindeer herder, a chawchu, to take up the lifestyle of a Nymylan, a town-dweller.Resorting to salmon fishing when reindeer herds decline through disease or warwith neighbors is a pattern that has been documented for centuries (Jochelson1908:472–474; Krupnik 2000). Subsequent shifts in deer populations also pro-vided opportunities for settled people to take up herding (Vdovin 1973:217–232),and a large reindeer herd is the traditional mark of wealth in the area of thePakhachi, Achavayam, and Apuka rivers.7

Volodya was eager to take me out to spend time at the herd. He missed hisdeer and wanted to check up on them. They could not be far; any day now theywould be crossing the river, and there would be a slaughter. Everyone in townwas pining for meat, tired of fish every day. We set off by river, motoring

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downstream in a small aluminum outboard motorboat for about half an hourand then turning up a tributary. The main river is large and swift, navigable foreven large barges carrying tons of coal or other cargo. Volodya deftly navigatedthe shallow tributary until the motor began scraping the bottom. He got out inhis hip waders and towed on foot as I poled from the boat. The water becamedeeper and we set about starting the motor, not a simple task with the old,Soviet-built 25-horse. After a few pulls it was clear the sparkplugs needed one oftheir twice-daily cleanings. I would have thrown them away and bought newones a long time ago, but here, even if they did have the money for newsparkplugs, there were not any to be found. They make do.

As Volodya was cleaning off the sparkplugs and adjusting the ignition, weheard a rifle shot from upstream through the woods. “Hunters?” I asked, mildlyconcerned about stray bullets flying through the trees along the stream of thismixed forest-tundra area.

“Probably poachers,” Volodya affirmed.Five minutes later a man with a rifle over one shoulder and a lasso coiled over

the other appeared on the bank. “Hello. Where are you going?” he asked.“To you!” we exclaimed in unison. He was not a poacher but one of the reindeer

herders with the private herd. We had expected to hike for a day and a half,lugging a tent across the swampy tundra and spending the night alone, withouta rifle, in bear country (all of Kamchatka is bear country). Volodya introducedme to the young man named Slava, who was in his twenties (see Figure 1). Heled us to the nearby campsite he and another herder, Viktor, were setting up inadvance of the herd. As we drank tea, Volodya asked about the news of the herd.They were planning to cross the river the next day, and they had already sent aman into the village to announce the slaughter.

Volodya and I went to go find the herd, farther up the valley. I had to workhard to keep up with Volodya over the rough terrain. Kamchatka tundra is bogin summer, punctuated with rugged pine bush-covered hills. Volodya walkedwith an unhurried, steady pace that covered ground quickly. As soon as we leftthe herders’ camp, I heard him making noises I had never heard before, a breathysong of whistles and heavy breathing. I was puzzled, and I thought that maybebreathing like that helped his measured walk, so I tried to imitate his rhythm.

We stopped every five minutes to scan the landscape with binoculars, lookingfor the herd. After half an hour, Volodya spied deer on the ridge to our left,making their way along higher ground. As we got closer I heard a cacophony ofgrunts, snorts, and snapping tendons. Although it was a small herd, less than1,500 head, it was never quiet. Even while resting, the deer seemed to be talkingto each other and rustling about. It was a calm, unhurried kind of rustling,however. The men constantly whistle as they walk, loud and soft, as a sort ofconversation with the deer, who as a herd are also constantly making noises,talking among themselves and maybe answering the men’s sounds. While Kam-chatkan domestic deer are too wild to approach closely and touch (unlike Evenkideer, for example), they are not so wild that they abhor human company.

Volodya is a field consultant after an anthropologist’s dream. From the firsthour we met, he began explaining things to me in great detail with clear languageand answering all of my questions. When we got to the reindeer herd, however,he did something he had never done before. He began giving me Koryakvocabulary. In talking about fishing, Volodya’s explanations were alwaysstraightforward, technical descriptions of how things were made and done,material culture with little symbolic elaboration. “This is how we weight nets.We set them this way because of the following reasons,” and so forth. Whatmattered were fillets on the drying rack for food and caviar in the bucket for cash.

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“I am learning, too,” Volodya explained to me, as he had left the Soviet sovkhozonly two years before. Fishing is loaded with spiritual significance for nativepeople in Kamchatka. Other people in Srednie Pakhachi could go on all afternoonabout the significance of fish and proper ritual form for cleaning fish so as not tooffend the spirits. Volodya’s spiritual life was not on the river, was not with fish.It was on the tundra, with the deer.

“In Chukchi, in our own language,” he explained, “we call the deer in front‘yanothoy.’ ”8 We walked across the front of the herd and up the hill. Volodya’swhistles were now intermixed with calls and other kinds of grunts. He wastalking to the deer, reassuring them, telling them where he was and where theyshould be going. As we went toward the back of the herd, Volodya continued

Figure 1Slavawiththeriflehecarvedandassembledonthetundra.PhotobyAlexander King.

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his vocabulary lesson: “The deer that are always in the back, coming up last, arecalled ‘yavalahoy.’ ” Behind these deer we saw the herder, Volokha. Tall andconfident, he was about ten years Volodya’s junior, the younger brother ofValentina and her sister, Tanya. He was making noises similar to Volodya’s, alsotalking to the deer.

I asked, “Who owns the deer?”“The whole village; each person may have ten to 70 deer.” Individuals own

deer, and Volokha was pointing out yearlings that belonged to Volodya’s daugh-ter, his wife, and other household members. The herd moves and eats for twohours, then rests for an hour, and thus it goes around the clock. After half an houror so, they were ready for a rest and settled down at the foot of a ridge.

We made tea up on the hill overlooking the deer. Volodya and I got wood asVolokha collected some final stragglers together with the herd and got water. Istarted breaking twigs near a previous campfire, and Volodya told me we hadto move to where we could see the whole herd and the herd could see us. Thedeer stay grouped better and are calmer when men are constantly present.Volodya also pointed out that the smoke from our fire helped ward off flies andmosquitoes, although it seemed as if this particular campfire was too high up theridge for that. Volokha asked me, “Would you like some Korean noodles? It sayson the packet, ‘Ready in three minutes.’ ” Packages of instant ramen noodles inStyrofoam bowls from South Korea had become ubiquitous since the mid-1990s.He broke up the noodles into small pieces, adding only enough water to theStyrofoam bowl to soften them up without broth, so we could eat them on bread.

After we were again on the move, Viktor came to relieve Volokha, and weheaded back to the tent. On the way, Volodya pointed to a pretty area near thestream and said, “Tanya and I had tea here two years ago when we werecollecting cloud berries.” I was amazed at how he could identify and rememberevery bend in every little stream. To me it was wilderness. To him it was wherehe lived.9

We had cold fish soup for dinner. I asked Slava, “Who pays you?”“We work without pay,” he answered. I asked him if it was fun work.“Yeah, it’s fun work,” he answered sarcastically. Then he continued seriously,

“These last deer are everything. Without deer we are not people.10 Without deerthere is no culture, nothing.”

Herding deer is not only a way of life, it provides the core meaning forChawchu existence. I had noticed that many native people living in the regionalcapital, Palana, often talked about reindeer and the problems confronting herd-ers. It seemed to be a much bigger issue than demography or economics wouldwarrant; these people also derive much meaning for their lives from theirreindeer-herding relatives, even if vicariously. Slava’s remark summed up theChukchi and Koryak understanding of reindeer herding as holographic; herdingis a trope not only of identity but of native conceptions of self-respect, their ownhumanity.

The next day had been the day of the river crossing and slaughter at the privateherd. I got up just after the others at 6:30. I had my usual cup of instant coffeeand piece of bread for breakfast before going off with Volokha to watch the herd.We walked along the ridge and found the herd down below, resting. Viktor toldus the night was uneventful.

A strong wind came up with rain varying between drizzle. I went back to campand fetched raincoats for myself and Volokha. As the herd began to move, wewent along the ridge and then down the bank. The deer wanted to go around theridge and back toward the west, but Volokha kept them going east. He pointedout different deer and explained the color terms and antler shapes in Koryak, as

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Volodya had done the day before. Unfortunately, I could not write anythingdown in that wind and rain.

After Volokha and I had finished our midmorning tea break, men from townbegan showing up. Volokha slowly moved the herd toward the river. Herdingdeer is a subtle business, with more whistling and walking than shouting andrunning.11 By the time the herd was in the woods and near the beach, some youngfriends of Volokha’s arrived with some spirits, “American Spirit” (the label read“Made in Tennessee: For human consumption” and “Export Only”). We hadthree cups between us, drinking in turns. My black plastic camping mug drewcomments. I ended up leaving it in Volokha’s pack that day, and it became partof the herders’ dishes. The alcohol was nasty stuff, but I choked down a smallshot to be polite. We followed the deer through the trees. Several dozen men andfamilies had shown up and were helping to gather the deer on the shore. Theywere all experienced herders and owners, so it was calm and matter-of-fact.

The herd ran back and forth on the beach several times. People had cleanedthe driftwood off a section of the river bank so no one would trip and fall, andthe space was confined so the herd never went far in any one direction. Finally,one man got the deer he wanted to slaughter, and they hauled it off. Theyslaughtered the deer as an offering before the crossing so that everything wouldbe fine. Volodya told me later that afternoon, “It is important to slaughter a deerbefore the crossing. Once a sovkhoz herd leaped right into the water and swamacross before they had a chance to slaughter a deer, and a man drowned that day.”

I crossed the river with Volokha and his friends in a rowboat. We had moreshots of spirits in the woods near where the deer swam ashore. After judging thespeed of the current and the width of the river, Volokha could tell exactly wherethey would land and was ready for them to arrive. That side of the river waswhere Lower Old Pakhachi had been, and there are still some ring moundsmarking the location of long-abandoned, semi-underground houses, and thetreeless track of a former road through the woods. Volokha told me that “shoreKoryaks” (Nymylani) used to live there. I asked what happened to them. “Theymixed with the others. Everyone is all mixed up.”

Indigenous northeast Asians have been highly mobile for a long time. Peoplemove from one place and marry those from another; they have kin and friendsin many villages over a wide area. It is impossible to provide a set of consistentand rigorous distinctions between Chukchi and Koryaks, as Bogoraz (1904–09)and Jochelson (1908) point out throughout their work. These ethnic terms referto names or identities and not groups. I find the terms problematic for general-izing about cultural or even linguistic differences between communities. Everyarea, village, or even family may have its particular customs or cultural tradi-tions. While one may want to label particular customs as Chukchi, Koryak, orEven, one cannot identify bounded groups such as the Koryak or the Chukchipersisting unchanged in culture or language through time. People like Volokhaand his sister Tanya were aware of this in their comments on their own andothers’ ethnic identity, describing ethnicity in a situational and flexible manner.

The deer ran toward the old town site, and a few were running around andover the mounds and afterward turned away from the river. Then my wife,Christina, arrived from town with Volodya, who had gone back to town to fetchher and his family. We went off with Volodya and Volokha toward the herd.They had to bring the deer back toward a large flat area where the slaughterwould take place. I thought they would turn them around and send them rightback, but one cannot turn a reindeer herd on a dime. We slowly herded them ina large circle, over a hill, and then back down to a large meadow just above OldSrednie Pakhachi, as the cold, Kamchatkan drizzle soaked everyone.

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Slaughtering a private reindeer was a process I witnessed many times andvideotaped (at the behest of my hosts).12 Two or three men lasso the deer andbring it over. People associated with the deer—its owners and others who willeat it—walk clockwise around the animal and then stand facing east for amoment. Then a man stabs the deer in the heart with a spear or large homemadeknife. After the deer is dead, the woman in charge of butchering the animal takesa little blood out of the wound and scatters it in all directions as an offering tothe spirits. She then takes fresh water and ritually washes the wound and thehead of the animal, speaking soothing words to its soul, asking forgiveness andexplaining their need for food. A pillow of freshly cut branches is placed underthe head to show respect to the deer, and then several women start skinning ateach leg and under the chin. Tanya cut off the antlers with a hatchet, and set theskull aside. Later we ate the brains raw (along with liver and other choice pieces),and I was surprised at the nice flavor and pleasant texture. They removed thestomach and emptied the contents about two meters from the head of the deer.When the deer was completely skinned, they set the carcass on freshly cutbranches. Organs were removed, innards cleaned, and so on. Two legs and someorgans were given away to the women who helped. I was told that they may takewhat they want. The legs were separated at the knee, leaving the meaty thigh onthe carcass. Tanya added the gallbladder, the antler skin (too old and dry to eatin July), and other inedible bits to the pile of stomach contents. The antlers,connected by a small piece of skull, were carefully set up over this pile. Theseactions demonstrate respect for the deer and its spirit, so that it will go to the landof the dead in a proper manner. In the next world it will be born, live with theherd of deceased ancestors, die, and be sent back to this world, returning to theherd and increasing the family holdings of deer in this world.

I went to the campfire to warm up and attempt to dry my socks in the rain. Ithought about the scene I had just witnessed in contrast to the slaughtering ofcows at my parents’ small farm. It was not less gory, but it seemed less gruesome.Instead of being a cold, mechanical routine, I saw the deer slaughtered with loveand respect. Every deer is connected to an individual owner, and the physicalconsumption of reindeer flesh by humans is organized by the spiritual connec-tions between deer and humans. The relationship is unequal—humans aresuperior—but it is symbiotic. Deer rely on people to take care of them, lead themto good pastures, protect them from predators, and pay proper respect to theirspirits. People rely on the deer for food, for protection from the winter cold, andto provide meaning in their universe—to be their cultural foundation.

In an hour or less, Tanya came with some meat and put it on the fire to cook.She mentioned that all the others just put their meat away and took off. “Peopleare no good anymore,” she commented. There was plenty for all who werestanding in the vicinity. I got a big piece, as did everyone else. They do not boilit for long, so the meat was tough, but very tasty, not at all like wild game. It wasthe freshest meat I have ever had, cooked within a couple of hours after butchering.

Without Deer We Are Not People

When Slava told me, “Without deer we are not people. Without deer there isno culture, nothing,” I wrote it down right away. People in Kamchatka expectethnographers to take notes and make recordings. His choice of words, liudi(people), not narod (a people, folk), is interesting. Later I heard this statementechoed by an elder in the village (pictured on the cover of this journal), who alsoused the word liudi. Without the reindeer, these Chukchi think of themselves assomething less than people. The deer provide an index of traditional culture, a

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direct, physical connection between practices and the meanings of those prac-tices. Of course, much of the way deer are herded has changed during the 20thcentury, and thus the traditions change, associated with elders’ knowledge andhabits. Elders here are an age-grade and not a generation. Undomesticatedanimals live in their own societies, separated from humans. Deer are socializedinto the human world like no other nonhuman entity. Every individual deer hasan individual owner, and deer are gathered into herds in a manner parallel tohuman social organization in its networks of extended families and other coresi-dents. Traditionally, when a person or family changed residence, they took theirdeer with them to join another herd.

With Soviet collectivization, people were forced to give up most of their deer(if they did not slaughter them in spite) (Forsyth 1992:297, 337). I had difficultylearning the history of the private herd from people in Pakhachi: “Some peoplejust took their deer deeper into the tundra,” I was told (cf. Anderson 2000:47).Eventually, I learned that most collective farms in Kamchatka allowed eachherder to own a few deer, which ran together with a sovkhoz herd (cf. Klokov2000; Konstantinov and Vladimirova 2002), except in Srednie Pakhachi andAchavayam. These two villages organized a separate herd of private deer, whichwas limited by sovkhoz administrators but managed by the owners amongthemselves. The herd had been very large in the late 1980s, more than 5,000 headof deer. The sovkhoz director forced them to slaughter more than 2,000 head inone year, claiming that the private owners were too rich and degrading pastures.The 1990s has seen the elimination of all subsidies for reindeer herding (espe-cially well-paying jobs that allowed families to pool cash to provision the peopleherding the private herd), a rise in predation, and an increase in poaching. By thetime I arrived for my second stay in Srednie Pakhachi the following spring, theprivate herd had declined to fewer than 1,000 head of deer.

April 1998—Spring Corral

I traveled to Koryak villages on the coast that fall and winter. In the early springI worked with native intelligentsia in the regional capital, Palana. As Aprilapproached, I made arrangements to return to Srednie Pakhachi. The annualcorrals were starting, and I wanted to see the one for the private herd. Right afterarriving by the weekly helicopter flight, I got out the pictures and the video fromthe previous summer and watched with my hosts the videotapes of fishing onthe river and the summer’s slaughter.

Volodya’s friend Dima commented, “When a deer falls on its rear after beingstabbed, that means that someone will die. If it falls on its left side [wound side],that is not a problem, as long as it is not butt-first.”

Volodya laughed and said, “We try to get them to fall right, but they fall asthey will.”

Tanya elaborated, “When children come home from school or someone comesfrom far away, it is proper to slaughter a deer in their honor, so that everythingwill be good, but now we have so few deer, it is hard.” Also the herd is usuallya long way from town, where most of the people are.

“Why do you look to the east during the ritual before slaughtering?” I asked.“To pray,” they answered.“To whom?”They were not sure. “The sun?” one person ventured. “We don’t know,” was

the definitive answer with laughter.While watching my video of people dressing a deer, I asked, “To whom exactly

did that deer you slaughtered first belong?”

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“Us,” Dima informed me.“I understand. Was it a family deer, or was it connected to a person?”“Our second daughter Natasha is the owner. When the father of Anna [Dima’s

wife] died, his deer were divided among the grandkids, and our second daughtergot most of the deer.” Dima added, “It used to be connected to marriageprospects. A girl with many deer had an easier time finding a husband.”

Later that evening, Volodya came into my room to look at the computer andsee my work. I explained how I use the notebooks to make notes while peopleare talking, like during the video watching, and then type it up later. Hementioned the praying, saying it was not really praying. “We try to do thingslike our ancestors did. Of course, it is nothing like the same, but what we do isnot bad.” Wagner (2001:22) found that the Daribi in New Guinea also could notexplain the meaning of ritual performances when he inquired. The maintainingof traditional rituals is not remembering their meanings but continuing thepractices. When the ethnographer demands the meaning of such actions, ordi-nary people feel inadequate, put on the spot. Elders knowledgeable in suchreligious esoterica explained to me that the tundra includes a plethora of spiritsand that one needs to be respectful to all of them, including to spirits unknownor forgotten. The east is connected with the rising sun so “sun” was a logicalguess, but Volodya, Tanya, Dima, and Anna knew that Chukchi and Koryaks arenot sun worshippers. The east’s connection to the rising sun is with birth, life,and hope for a good future. Addressing the west is connected to death andmisfortune and is done only to converse with the recently deceased and avert aspecific misfortune or with evil intentions, that is, doing someone else harm.

After breakfast the next day Tanya put a double reindeer skin parka over mefor the ride from the village to the corral for the private herd. I was warm on thesled behind the Soviet-made Buran snowmobile as we traveled on the now frozenriver in −30 degrees Celsius. We turned off the river and found a couple of tents.Farther up the valley, we found a group of six tents: five in a line and one theherders had set up out in front. The tent had a square European design with apeaked roof, making it easier to transport and set up than the traditional roundyayanaga.13 The floor was covered with birch branches. The door was to the south,a wood stove to the west of the door, a window opposite the stove to the east.The sleeping area was in back, but people also spread skins out along the sides.Branches went up vertically to support the roof between the side beam and thepeak beam. The walls were sewn reindeer skin.

I visited a couple of tents, talking more about Alaska and Indians than aboutKoryaks and Chukchi. People often asked me if there are Chukchi in Alaska,because they know that the two areas used to be one. A tractor arrived soon afterwe did, pulling a ten-meter-long steel sledge with two heavy fur tents and abouttwenty people. In nine tents there were almost one hundred people, some visitingfrom other villages. I went to the herder’s tent and Volokha was sleeping. WhenI had seen him earlier that day, he was drunk. He seemed happy to see me, buthe also wanted to continue drinking. He woke up and introduced me to his newwife, Rita, also drunk. She was his second wife and worked at the private herd,too. He wanted to go to town with me to get more vodka, but I insisted that I didnot want to “kvasat’ ” (get pickled). Valeri (Tanya and Volodya’s son-in-law)laughed, “Correctly said.”

On the first day of the corral activities, we got up at first light, before the sunwas over the hill. People sleep fully clothed. They have a change of clothing, andthey put on warm fur socks, boots, parka, a whole reindeer-fur suit. They sleepon winter deer skins. Some also cover themselves with blankets. In the morning

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they change into the second set of fur clothes and let the others dry out duringthe day.

That day they brought the castrated bucks and sled deer near the camp. A fewcastrates were lassoed for slaughter, and about a dozen women began dressingthe deer. Volokha pointed at the tethered sled deer and said to me, “We arenothing. It is for them, for the children. I work so that there will be at least a fewleft for the children.”

“Do you want a slug?” he asked, proffering his bottle.“No.”He got up and walked off. Heavy drinking is common across the north.

Especially at festive occasions, people shared a few bottles of vodka and I usuallyjoined in, even if I knew I would suffer the next day. Volokha was a typicalreindeer herder in this respect. After months in the tundra with the herd, he wasnotorious for carousing in the village for several days or weeks, then headingback to the herd for several more months of hard work.14

The second day of the corral saw the first of three deer-sled races. This one wassponsored by Sergei Kerguvye in honor of his daughter Yulia’s first birthday.Before the race, his household conducted a ritual offering (enelwit) to the fire andother spirits, so that “everything will be fine.” A fire was set up on the level abovethe tents where the corral area was. Blood soup was scattered in all directions byseveral women and racers. Then a knot of dried intestine was “speared” and cutup and distributed to be eaten, as a substitute for a live deer. People ate the restof the soup, and enelwit was fed to the fire. One grandmother said some wordsquietly in Koryak while others looked on. Later, one of the grandmothersexplained, “All of our life comes from the fire.” Enelwit is food for the spirits, amixture of rabbit fur and reindeer fat. Koryak and Chukchi cosmology is similarto other Siberian peoples’ cosmologies: the fire is a doorway to worlds above andbelow the middle plane that we live on. It is used to send offerings to spirits andsend the deceased into the next world, and shamans and other powerful nonhu-man persons can use the fire as a gateway to the other worlds.15

First prize in the races was an otter skin; second, a seal skin plus fishing gear;and third place won a collection of store items (gloves, earrings, etc.). Eldersparticipated (see Figure 2), but younger men were the ones who placed. Later Ilearned that the winner did not keep his prize but was obligated to give it tosomeone who asked for it based on kinship claims. A man visiting from Khailinovillage to the north won, and Volokha came in second.

After lunch they moved the herd back to where the corral was set up, andTanya and the other women of our tent took a shovel-full of fire over to the areafor the enelwit. It was the same enelwit as the race offering. I ate the bit of intestineoffered me. There was more soup to eat, but I did not ask for any, and none wasoffered.16 Immediately after that, when they were ready to move the herd intothe corral, a big wind started up and blew the cloth “fence” around. It was useless.The wind was going to knock it down, so they took it down and postponed thecorral till the next day. Everyone was very disappointed.

I sat in our tent listening to several women talk. Like everyone else here, theywondered if there were Chukchi left in Alaska. I was surprised at this recurrenttheme and said no, just Eskimos and Indians, as Kolya Evnito came in and satdown. He was surprised, “At one time Alaska and Chukotka were together andour ancestors lived together.” I answered that that time was about 12,000 yearsago. This did not seem to be relevant information. They joked again aboutrelatives in Alaska. Kolya said, “My daughter is metis.”

“How is that?” I asked.

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“My wife is Eskimo and I am Chukchi. She probably has relatives in Alaska.We should take our daughter to Alaska to marry an Eskimo there, so we wouldhave Alaskan relatives to visit.” Laughter all around. The Russian word metis inKamchatka can refer to anyone of mixed parentage, and it echoes Volokha’scomments the summer before about everyone being “all mixed up.” People arefamiliar with the academic ethnographic labels for people and ethnic groups, butthey see that these categories are rarely actualized in peoples’ lives as simplisti-cally as they are described in ethnographic writings.

As another woman came in and sat down, Kolya said, “She is my father’s sister.The last of our kulako,” using the Koryak plural on the Russian word kulak. Akulak (literally “fist”) designated a rich peasant and member of the exploitingclass under the Soviets, who applied the category to wealthy reindeer herders,shamans, and even heads of households. Anna commented that only now arethey finding out about what the Soviets really did: “They took everyone’s things,burned yarango [large round skin tents], killed people. Those people weren’tkulaks. It is from their own hard work that they were rich.”

The topic of Americans came up. A woman remembered her father talkingabout fairs. “The Americans would come with all this great stuff: teapots, beads,cooking pots, rifles. Everyone would get ready for the fair, preparing skins andother things to trade. We even have a flour sack from America. Of course, it isempty now [laughter]. The old people always had good words for Americans.”

Anna said, “One day when I was a girl in school, the teacher was going onabout evil Americans, imperialists, capitalists, and so on. I said that on thecontrary the old people have only good words for Americans. She put me in thecorner [facing the wall].” She laughed.

I asked about the term Chavchuven, “What people [narod] is it?”“It is not a people at all. It is what Koryaks call Chukchi, ‘rich, rich in reindeer.’”

All present agreed on this, but others elaborated that it could refer to any kind

Figure 2Srednie Pakhachi elders prepare for the first race of the spring corral. Photo byAlexander King.

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of wealthy person: “They could be rich in cars. It just happens that deer are ourwealth.” This throw-away statement may contradict Slava’s assertion (and myargument) about the importance of reindeer. This contradiction, however, issituated in a different context: the classification of indigenous people into ethnicgroups by Russian ethnographers, and the consequent valuations of communi-ties and individuals as falling short of being “real Chukchi” or “real Koryaks,”based on the disjuncture between people’s lives and the dictates of the classifi-cation system.17

As I wrote notes, Volodya’s brother repaired a broken riding switch. He helda small stick next to his knife blade to form a plane and shaved long strips off thelong branch to make a five-foot, flexible switch, on the end of which he tied acarved walrus tooth, an effective goad when driving a sledge. Chukchi andKoryaks never ride on a deer or burden it with a pack. That is a sin, they say,because it is both physically grueling and morally offensive to the deer.18

Most of the third day was spent in the corral. Inside it consisted of a small ovalspace, about twenty feet long, defined by several panels of board lashed together.A narrow opening at one end led to a larger oval space about one hundred yardslong defined by a fence of burlap suspended from poles. As long as the deer couldnot see the open space behind the fence, they thought it was impermeable anddid not challenge its physical integrity. The back of the burlap fence was open,and several men quietly herded the deer toward us. I was sitting with severalmen in a line along one side of the lowered burlap fence. There were manyherders along the back of the herd to keep the deer from breaking formation andrunning off in the wrong direction. An elder told me, “Sometimes it’s quick.Other times it takes a long time; the herd runs away.” The men in the rear slowlyadvanced and the herd moved into the corral, albeit anxiously. I noticed that therear part of the herd started churning counterclockwise.

When the herd was inside, we jumped up with the cloth wall and closed offthe opening. Men set up poles and anchored lines. The herd panicked. With hugeeyes, the whole mass started to turn counterclockwise as the deer ran in a circle.A herder told me, “They always go that way.”

Another said, “Once a month [i.e., rarely] they turn clockwise.”“They are closing off the heart side.”We stood and watched for fifteen minutes or so, letting them calm down.

About four hundred deer were churning like a typhoon around Volokha whostood in the center of this storm, looking for the deer his sister Tanya wanted toslaughter (see Figure 3). Most of the meat is eaten or shared by the householdthat owns the deer, although some portions of meat are sold or traded for goods.

Then, groups of eight to 15 deer were herded into the small pen of boardfencing for counting. Inside, ear tags were placed or replaced. Deer have earnotches and tags, but the tags fall out. There were three or four occasions whenthe ownership of a deer was in question. Ears were closely examined for mark-ings, and the coloration was also discussed. Each family notches the ears in aparticular manner (analogous to a cattle brand), but sometimes careful inspectionis required to be sure of the form (cf. Jochelson 1908:492). At this time youngbucks were castrated using a small knife. When done properly there is nobleeding, but it is difficult, and few people can master it.19

All deer were tallied on a master sheet and on owners’ sticks. A man carves asquare peg with a round head on one end, thus resembling the anthropomorphicsacred fireboards used to start a fire with a fire drill. Notches are made along eachcorner for the different classes of deer: bucks/sled-deer, does, fawns, steers.There were kids and grandmas inside the corral, sitting and standing inside thefence. With a dozen reindeer with antlers moving in the tight space, it got chaotic

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at times, especially with several deer on the ground being tagged or castrated.Men would form a line and close in, and then the deer would run in front of themin a panic. It seemed hazardous to me, but no one got hurt, and people rarely do.At the end of the day there were about twenty deer left, and they decided it wouldbe faster to lasso deer individually in the large area. At first they tried one or twoat a time, then lassos were flying everywhere in all directions. Elders wereswearing at younger men casting long shots. Ropes got tangled. Deer scamperedas lassos sailed across one another. A deer running toward me was lassoed andstopped just four feet away. A grandmother was working on a deer with her son,tagging an ear. Just as they were about to release him, a lasso came flying out andhit her, cinching around the end of her scarf. She was there sitting on the groundin the middle, scolding the careless young man as deer were running panickedall around her.

The second race was sponsored by Georgi Panteleievich on the third day. Itwas a race for young deer, two year olds. This made it exciting because they arenot fully trained. At the last stretch, which went across the front of the encamp-ment, two sleds veered off into wild directions at the last minute, as the deerdecided on their own to go a different way. Volokha came in first, and the prizewas a fishing net and skin. The other prizes included a small seal skin, store-bought work gloves, fishhooks, and fishing line. When I asked Georgi why hesponsored the race, he said, “Just because,” adding that there must be races everyyear at the corral. Jochelson (1908:87) compares reindeer races among Koryaksto ancient Greek games, with all of the religious and political implications.

I asked Volodya’s friend Dima about motives for sponsoring a race. Heexplained, “People have many different motives for setting up a race. The firstotter I caught, I announced that I would put it up as a prize for a race. The samething with the first wolverine I caught, so that I would have success in the future.People sponsor a race so that they will have good fortune,” he concluded. Peoplein Kamchatka use the Russian word udacha, usually translated as “luck,” toexpress a concept that has little to do with chance. One has good fortune in thefuture because of proper actions in the past; first hunts are significant and requirespecial recognition. Hunts succeed, the herd and people prosper because thespiritual world is in order. This order rests on humans paying the proper respectto different spiritual powers and personae.

Figure 3Volokha looking for his sister’s deer. Photo by Alexander King.

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Native people’s concern about reindeer made a lot more sense after four daysat the corral. In Palana many people bring up the problem of the shrinking herdsin conversation, in public meetings, and in the press. Now I understood that thepeople’s concern was not about the cash value of reindeer meat in stores, noreven subsistence. It was about the spiritual relationships that organized theiruniverse and their personal and cultural identities, their sense of value as humanbeings. Koryaks who work in the Russian bureaucracy know that they are stillKoryak because there are deer at the herd that belong to them. They may see theherd less than once a year, but they are secure in the knowledge that theyparticipate in the traditional relationship of deer and owner, if only vicariously.When native culture is the topic of conversation, they use personal pronouns andmake specific references to their childhood. Natives who do not have these “deerin the bank,” so to speak, talk about native culture more abstractly, even quotingBogoraz or Soviet ethnographers. Still, they often invoke “elders” or “herders”out “in the tundra” or “in the north” (north of Palana) as loci of their traditionalculture, which is their spiritual home, if not always physical.

I still had many questions about the details of the relationship between people,deer, and spirits. After five days of working and writing in town, I went back tothe private herd for a couple of weeks to observe and participate in the herders’life and work in the tundra.

Spring Work at the Private Herd

To reach the private herd we traveled by reindeer sled. I rode on Rita’s sled(see Figure 4), and it was exhilarating, with the soft sounds of hooves and runnersover snow—such a contrast to the loud, smelly snowmobile ride to the corral aweek before. We stopped for a break at a sacred rock on the river. My companionslaid several broken cigarettes on the ice, and I laid down some gum as an offering.They actually suggested this as I was pulling it out, and did not seem to think it

Figure 4Traveling to the private herd on the back of Rita’s sled. Photo by Alexander King.

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was funny as Valeri did the previous summer when I threw a couple of piecesinto the river as we motored by in the boat. We stopped for supper about twohours later. Volokha asked if Slava had any offering, and he gave him a littleplastic bag. I asked what it was, and Volokha told me it was enelwit as he handedit to me. I opened the bag and fed the fire with the mixture of rabbit fur and deerfat. Slava said, “Whoa, that’s a lot.”

Volokha answered, “It’s fine. Now give some to the earth.” I tossed a little bitonto the snow nearby. He scolded, “You shouldn’t throw it, but scrape the snowaway and lay it on the earth.” I did that, and he explained, “We throw only todogs. You don’t want the spirits to take offense.”

I had brought four packets of Korean instant noodles. We read the ingredientsas we waited for the water to boil. The last one said, “Artificial meat from its ownprotein.” Volokha pointed this out.

I said, “So here we are in the tundra, reindeer herders eating artificial meat.”Slava laughed and said, “You can write that in National Geographic when you

get home.”We continued traveling after dinner, but the left deer of our sled eventually

stopped pulling. He ignored the switch, and we lagged behind. The others waitedfor us, and Slava traded places with Rita. He said, “The deer is not tired, he is justquitting on us. They do that, the bad ones do. Just wait till he lies down, thenwe’ll really be fucked (Russian poebalis’).”20 Around 9:00 p.m. he sat down in thetwilight. Slava got ready to tie him to one of the lumps that form in the tundraand leave him behind, but the deer stood up at the last minute. Slava put on mysnowshoes, which I had ordered out of the Cabela’s catalog. The aluminumtubing, plastic tops, and ice-gripping spikes had engendered debate about manu-factured Canadian snowshoes versus Koryak wood and sealskin ones, and Slavawas eager to test out the Canadian ones. He walked and I rode with the rifle thathe had been carrying over his shoulder. The deer sat periodically, eventuallyevery ten meters. A couple of times Slava was ready to tie the deer up for thenight. It was really dark and snowing—white with black shadows here and there.Once he stopped to examine a tall, dark shape on the ridge with his binoculars.“Goddammit! In a month we’ll have to worry about fucking bears,” he mutteredas he replaced the binoculars.

After an hour or so, Slava took the switch, and every time the deer sat, hewhipped him until he stood back up. “You have to be careful not to hit thekidneys.”21 This scene was often repeated. Sometimes a prod from the snow-shoes’ spikes got him up, or a couple of times the first taps from the switch.Although it was totally dark, Slava knew exactly where we were. We reached thetent about 2:00 a.m. When Valeri came in the next afternoon, he asked about mytrip. I answered, “We arrived at 2:00 a.m. I never knew that deer can break down,”using the Russian verb usually reserved for machine breakdowns. He chuckledas he nodded in agreement.

As I wrote notes in the afternoon of April 21, Slava was using an axe to roughout a birch log into a rifle stock. He had carved one last fall but broke it just behindthe trigger when he smacked a dog attacking a deer during the corral. “The dogis still whole, but the rifle broke,” he said. He cut a four-foot log about six inchesin diameter with a saw, and all the other work was with an axe and knife, finishedwith a rounded chisel. He had it done in about a week, working on it during freetime in camp (see Figure 1).

During lunch I asked Slava about moving camp: “We do it less in winter, morein warmer times. It depends on the speed of the herd. In winter the herd movesslowly, digging in the snow, hunting for food. Sometimes they are in one spotfor a month; in spring more often. Summer every day, everything is green, and

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they are constantly on the move.” When there is snow, they can hitch deer to asled and ride to the herd to relieve the man on watch, so they need to move thelarge, heavy reindeer-skin tent less often. Soon they were going to switch to thecanvas tent, which is easier to transport.

In the morning they had to round up sled deer. I tried to help keep the deer inplace while they were lassoing several others to tie up. Four ran down a drawbelow the tent. After they had lassoed all they needed, I asked Volokha if the deerin the draw would come back by themselves.

“What’s down there?”“Four,” I said.“Need to go get them,” he said, walking my way. I volunteered, and he said

fine. I walked down there, and the deer moved up the draw. Melting ice keptthem from crossing the stream, although there was only an inch of water oververy thick ice. Finally, they crossed and went up the other side and back towardthe other sled deer. I was working hard to walk through the deep snow. I cameback to the tent with my jacket off and shirt open. “Hot, Alex?” Volokha asked.I felt like a wimp, beat after that little walk.

Slava returned from watch at the herd at 11:30. “I fell asleep as the sun cameout. I sat to boil tea and fell asleep. A wolf went by right before dawn, but Icouldn’t see it well enough to shoot. Need Terminator eyes and then there wouldbe no problem.” After lunch I went with Slava as he returned to the herd to checkon calving does.

With the deer of my sled hitched to the back of Slava’s sled, we traveled alonga tractor road from the tent to the herd. We came up to the rearmost deer, stopped,and got off the sleds. We slowly drove the deer east, up the valley and across astream into new pasture. We were along the south side of a river. I asked howoften they let the tundra rest to let the reindeer moss grow back. “It takes 20 yearsfor reindeer moss to grow. It varies, sometimes two, four, or five years. We travelover some areas every year. The other side of the valley doesn’t have yagel[Russian for “reindeer moss”] because it is a corridor for the third and fifthsovkhoz herds.” Two years ago they traveled over the area we were in now.“Land is scarce,” Slava said.

Four calves were born that morning and several more during the day. Alto-gether, Slava cut the ears of 12 deer. The following morning Volokha cut fourmore. Spring means a lot of work for the herders. They need to keep a close watchon pregnant does, and they help if need be. The day a calf is born they have tocatch it and notch the ears according to the owner, following the pattern on thedoe’s ears. The herders know every pattern and its owner.

During tea before we left to return to camp, I asked Volokha about spirits. Hewas finishing off the last chunk of moose meat and said, “We throw away onlymoose and bear bones. Deer bones must be burned or put into the water.”

“Why?”“To honor the spirits.”“Does each deer have its own soul, or is there just one in general?”“Deer have a soul like people.”“What happens after death?”“They go to the upper world, just like people. The upper world is exactly the

same as this one. When a person dies, some of his deer are slaughtered so thathe will have them in the next world. If the deer slaughtered at his funeral are nothis, then he will be poor. Likewise, if he is cremated with someone else’s clothing,then in the next world he will walk naked.”

At the corral I was told about what happens when one slaughters deer in thename of a recently deceased person but not belonging to that person. The antlers

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are set up, and if they fall before a year has passed, then the deer belonged tosomeone else and did not go to the intended person. Examples included theantlers of the deer of a certain person’s father, which had stood for five yearsalready. Another said that the antlers of her mother’s deer had stood for six years.Later I learned that the antlers are often knocked over by bears or other animals.This is not considered to be a random event but a directed attack on the theft ofanother person’s deer, which is offensive to the spirit world, which acts throughthe bear in this world.

One day several people arrived at the herd. One man, Teriocha (Sergei), cameback from visiting the first sovkhoz brigade. Valeri returned with Oksana (Tanyaand Volodya’s oldest daughter) and their one-year-old son, Yurik. An elder,Vitya, stopped for the night on his way out fishing upstream. Oleg went to watchthe herd, and the tent had eight adults and a baby in it. The weather had quieteddown around 8:00 p.m. The day before it had hailed again, and we had a littlerain mixed with snow. We prepared for the first phase of moving camp. With themove, we switched to a cloth tent, which was lighter and smaller.

As I wrote notes late in the afternoon of April 25, I was on watch at the herdwith Teriocha. Teriocha had come up from camp at about 1:00 p.m., and we hadtea, brought up the laggards, and moved to the new spot where we now were,closer to the herd. He put at least three kilos of meat into the pot for us to eat. Hehad run out of cigarettes and was using newspaper to roll tobacco from leftoverbutts while the meat cooked.

Yesterday I drove a sled for the first time. Slava and I were up for watch, andValeri got two of his best deer for me and showed me how to harness them. I gotthe ropes confused a couple of times and dropped or almost dropped a ropeconnected to a deer. Valeri chided, “Don’t let go of that or you’ll be walking.”This was repeated several times. “If you fuck up, the deer will take off withoutyou. Now watch Slava and do what he does.” Fortunately, my deer were verywell trained and tolerant of my ineptness. We walked the deer down the hill andthen got ready to go at the bottom. Valeri was beside me giving me instructions,“Don’t put the left rein between the two deer right away because they will thinkit’s time to go and they’ll take off without you. Wait until you are on the sled.”We set off without incident, and I was having a blast. They were good deer andfollowed Slava’s sled in an orderly manner. I was nearly high, thinking, “This iswhy I’m an anthropologist. No other way would I have experienced this! I evenlook like Santa Claus with my red Gore-Tex coat.” We did not let the deer domuch running because Slava was training a juvenile. I followed behind him anddumped the sled over only once. We met up with Volokha, Rita, and Teriocha,who were packing up sleds of freshly slaughtered meat for the return to camp.They gave us some meat and told Slava where to find the herd.

After Slava told me we had arrived, I could not find the herd in the twilightuntil he pointed it out to me, right below us, on the next hump of hill. We madea fire and cooked some of the meat and had tea. We discussed life in America,music, family. His favorite band is Kino, because he enjoys Viktor Tsoi’s words.His wife is six years his junior, although their marriage is not legally registered,but established from the native point of view. He took her off to the herd whenshe was 17. They have a three-year-old daughter and a seven-month-old son.

Slava enjoyed high school and his foreign travel during his army service. Hetold me about serving in Czechoslovakia in a tank and about traveling withVolokha to Apuka on the sea coast by sled last winter. It took three days. WhenI asked him if he had relatives there, he responded with a gesture that he hadthem up to his neck. He was born and raised in Apuka and moved to SredniePakhachi around 1980 with his parents. Slava has relatives over a wide area,

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except in one town, where he has only a few. He commented how they lost theirprivate herd in Apuka. Like others, he blamed them for eating all their deerthemselves and not looking after them properly. Koryaks and Chukchi haveknown bad times with deer, and people have lost entire herds during times offamine. The best people, however, find ways to preserve a viable herd. These arereindeer people, not like the Nymylans, who live along the sea shore; and a goodperson is, by definition, one with many deer.22


On April 26 I wrote my notes sitting on a sled in the wind. It was cold. Therewas a deer head, with skin, liver, two legs, and a two-day-old calf carcass lyingin front of me. As people had been leaving for their various tasks the morningbefore, I asked Volokha what I should do. He said, “Rest, write, sleep, chopwood.” I figured the last one was the best idea and set off with a sled. I found aspot with standing deadwood and picked out the driest. I chopped a branch thatwas sticking up in my way. Then I chopped down two dead trees and put themon the sled. I noticed another, really dry one a little farther in. I turned to my rightand stepped onto soft snow, falling forward onto the small branch I had cutearlier. As I was falling, I saw it was going to hit my side and I pictured apunctured lung and dying right there in a pool of frothy blood on the snow as Ihad seen a deer die when the spear missed the heart and hit the lung. However,this weak, flabby anthropologist was built more sturdily than he expected. It hita rib, and it hurt like hell, but it did not feel broken at first. After a couple minutesI got my wind back and felt OK. I cut the tree and loaded the sled. Suddenly, Ihad no strength at all. My chest and side hurt a lot. I could not breathe andhobbled to the tent. I lay down in great pain, telling Slava what had happened. Ihad a hard time breathing because of the pain, then I could not get enoughoxygen. I panicked or was just in general shock. I was panting hoarsely. Slava,Oksana, and Rita looked at me worriedly but could do nothing, while I just staredback at them and tried to breathe. Slava set out a couple of skins in the corner forme. I could not move all day for the pain in my side and chest.

Volokha came back from watch that evening and commented, “What? Are youinjured? Have to send you back to town. You’ll die in the tundra.” Later Iexplained to him what happened. He did not comment.

The next day I still felt very sore. I arose with everyone else but did not doanything when Valeri and Oleg left to visit the fifth sovkhoz herd. My wholetorso ached and hurt only when I moved. Lying, walking, and sitting did not hurtme much, but picking something up or moving my upper body was very painful.I slowly walked to the top of the hill next to the tent and looked around a bit. Ifound a spot sheltered from the wind and sat there a while to be alone. Myrelationship with the herders was at a nadir. They had rejected me as I wasincapacitated. I did not want sympathy, just some decent company. They werenot telling me stories or volunteering explanations, as they had before I brokemy rib. I felt depressed and unmotivated to work at all.

I came back to the tent and slept for a time. The pain became easier. Slava cameback around noon and told us that a wolf killed two deer and the herd trampledten calves. We had tea, and I left with Slava to salvage meat from the kills. I wasthankful he asked for my help, and I took the opportunity to demonstrate myability to be a real human being.23 We each controlled a single deer pulling a sledacross the bare tundra as we walked up the ridge. Teriocha was waiting for ushigh on the ridge next to one of the carcasses, where he and Slava shared a smoke.Slava went farther up the hill to fetch the deer he had buried under snow away

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from the ravens, while I sat next to the carcass Teriocha had kept from thescavengers. I was chilled from waiting by the time Slava returned with thecarcass. He set about dressing what was left of the carcass I had guarded fromthe ravens. He had ruined his knife blade hacking the antlers off the head of thedeer he had buried, so he asked me for mine. I was not happy about having myown knife dinged by the hard antlers of the second deer, but I gave it to him.Since it was dull, the blade was not dented on the antlers. Slava commented onthat later during dinner, and Volokha answered that it was a good knife, despiteSlava’s disparaging remarks earlier. We loaded my sled with the second wolf killand went down the hill, avoiding snow so as not to slide into the deer pullingthe sleds. On a snowy patch, I got into trouble with the sled pointing sidewaysand downhill from the deer. Slava simply waited at the bottom without offeringhelp. Men do not ask or offer help when a man is having difficulties but is not inserious trouble. They let him take care of it himself, which I managed this time.I moved the sled around and guided it and the deer to the bottom. Slava jokedabout getting a nap but did not disparage my ineptness.

We had pea soup for dinner, which was the last of our groceries, aside frommeat, tea, and salt. Volokha and Rita arrived about the same time as Oleg andValeri. Volokha and Rita had been taking down the skin tent and packing it upfor transport back to town. Volokha asked if I had healed. I said, “More or less.”Valeri and Oleg had seen several wolves on their trip to visit the fifth sovkhozbrigade, who had also run out of groceries. No luck getting any food or tobaccofrom them. During dinner Volokha commented about going hungry. I said thatSlava and I went hungry on the ridge all day (for about ten hours). Volokha andOleg said that is common. “You go hungry all the time in the tundra. You lookthinner. Many people don’t hold up.”

The day after I arrived I had said that I planned to stay two weeks. Rita’sresponse was, “If you hold up.” Now I was not sure if I would hold up since thecombination of difficult conditions, monotonous diet, injury, and less friendlyattitudes from my associates was dispiriting. The exertion on the ridge with Slavamade my torso ache severely the day afterward, and I felt physically andpsychologically beaten up. Briggs (1970) also describes the torture of beingshunned for improper behavior among a small group of Inuit living on thetundra. I tried to avoid her mistakes by pooling all my food with the group andavoiding outbursts. People had described to me how elders shunned childrenwho were behaving improperly instead of scolding them as Russians do. Speak-ing Russian with an accent and Koryak barely at all, I seemed childlike, and myconstant ineptness must have been more annoying than amusing, but they nevergave up on me completely. One evening Valeri and Slava invited me to eat rawbone marrow. Although I prefer it cooked, I ate the buttery meat. Valeri handedme a cleaned leg bone to crack open by smacking it with the back of my knife. Iwas not very good at it, and twice he said, “It’s very simple, just do it like this.”Whenever I had difficulty mastering some local skill, people in Kamchatka gotimpatient with my ineptness and insisted that it was simple.24

Teriocha and Valeri arrived on foot near dark, about 9:00 p.m. We had dinner.I had already eaten before they arrived, so I just had a cup of tea. I guess I wasstaring. I was so exhausted, I could do little more than sit and stare in front ofmyself. I was just sitting there. Volokha asked, “Is it interesting how we eat?” Idid not understand; I thought he was joking. A moment later he pointed out thedoor of the tent, at the herd, and said, “Look out there, Alex, at the herd. Watchthe herd. It is not polite to watch a person.” I felt horrible, alienated. I wasdefinitely other. They were tired of me, and I was tired of them. I looked at the

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ground, went outside and stood around, then collected my stuff that I had setout to dry. I went to sleep early before the others.

Volokha arose at first light the next day and started the fire. I got up before heroused the others, worried about appearing lazy. The men spent all morningcatching sled deer to take the skin tent back to town. At breakfast I asked if they(Teriocha and Oleg) could take me with them to town today. “I need to see thedoctor. My side still hurts. I’m worried that it’s broken.”

Rita sneered, “Let him go on foot.”Volokha calmly replied, “No problem, no problem.” But they could not take

me in addition to the heavy load. This was probably for the better, since it keptme from leaving when relations seemed the most strained. The night thatTeriocha and Oleg left for Srednie, I held watch with Slava. When I told Valerithat I was going to hold watch he perked up, as if I was doing a good thing. Lyingaround useless had gotten me into trouble with my hosts, but my side hurt verymuch. When your bones are broken, you just want to lie around and let themheal, but there is no such rest possible for reindeer herders. They have to take itin stride and go on with work as best they can. Slava and I went across the flattundra to a hill about 20 minutes’ walk away.

The herd had looped around the other side of the ridge, turned down the hill,gone right past the tent, and was then about a kilometer away. Apparently thefifth sovkhoz brigade had closed off the way by passing across our route, so theprivate herd had to turn toward the sea two weeks earlier than originallyplanned. We looked for some dead pine and set up a fire. A cold wind wasblowing out of the west, and the sky was clear. A crescent moon was setting inthe western sky as the twilight eclipsed. As we boiled tea and roasted liver, lungs,and udder, taken from the wolf kills, the stars came out. I noticed that the BigDipper was straight up and that Polaris was also high in the sky at this northernlatitude. Although the clear sky made for a colder night, a truly starry sky issomething I rarely see in my relatively urban life.

The next day was the first of May. I had been living with the herders for only12 days, but it seemed like a month. After being relieved from watch and eatingbreakfast, Slava and I went to go fishing on a sleigh ride from hell. Volokha toldus to take his deer, the ones with which he had won the second race at the corral.Slava said he would tie my deer to his sled, and I was disappointed. It would bea boring ride with nothing to do but sit on the sled behind and hold the left rein,as I had done several times before. I realized my misapprehension when I couldnot even get the deer untied. I had the rope wrapped around my right, mittenedhand, and was trying to untie the knot, when they decided to run off. I wasknocked over and dragged over dried pine bushes. My left hand got badlyscraped and, picturing broken fingers, a shredded coat, the rest of me scrapedand cut, and my rib puncturing an organ, I let go. After all, the deer were stilltied to the bush. Slava came up to help me. It was really cold out (I guess about−10 degrees Celsius), making it difficult to untie the knots. He got them down tothe sled and scolded me for letting go, saying I must hang on even if it hurt. I keptsilent and agreed. It was tricky getting those two jittery two year olds hitched up.

Slava jumped on (I was already on), and we took off like a shot across the flatfield. Slava’s deer were also young three year olds, and they decided to maketwo large circles at top speed before he got them pointed the right direction. I feltPhaeton’s terror as he rode in his father’s chariot, even though I had an experi-enced hand guiding my team. We flew along the tractor road toward the trees.We stopped to let the deer urinate and then continued through the woods at topspeed. The stream had some places of open water, which the deer leaped overand the sleds splashed through. The deer slipped and scrambled on the ice but

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did not slow down. They were so excited to run that my deer were pulling at thetether on Slava’s sled. Instead of Slava leading my team, they were desperatelytrying to pass him!

We charged up a hill, and the sled careened back and forth. We followed someruts and I dumped my sled. I bailed off at the right time so as not to land on myhead, and I was thankful my rib was not any worse for the fall. We finally got tothe fishing spot on the river. We tied the deer to tundra humps. Sprouts of somekind of plant the deer like were coming up, so they were happy to eat them. Slavaset up metal fish lures I had brought from the States with a rubber squiggly on ahook. We each caught two trout as we snoozed on our sleds over the holes in theice. The ride home was calmer but still frightening.

When we arrived back at camp, Slava mentioned that we had gotten a glimpseof a sacred rock, which was several miles away. Volokha asked, “Did you pray?”

“No, we were kind of far away.”“You must pray, doesn’t matter if you are far away.” When you look at a

person, whether human or not, you must address him or her.25 Just to look isimpolite. It started snowing around 10:00 p.m., just as Valeri arrived. The eldershe had visited had given him five arctic char, a pack of cigarettes, a little sugar,and some rice for helping them set up their yayanaga. The news was that avillager died in Tilichiki hospital.

The next morning I cut some firewood for the woodpile next to the stove andbrought up the subject of Christian Koryaks with Slava and Valeri, who weresitting nearby. They both insisted that Christian Koryaks are not real Koryaksanymore: “They are something else entirely. If you change your religion, thenyou have to change your whole culture and traditions, take on the way of life ofChristians, Russians.” Volokha, Slava, and Rita left to visit the fifth brigade toask them to change their route and open the way for us. Volokha asked me towatch the herd that afternoon. I would have preferred to visit the sovkhozherders, but understanding that was not an option, I did not ask.

I was left alone at the tent as everyone departed on their short trips to talk toother people, while I was supposed to watch the deer. I felt ditched, frustratedin my goal to talk to people about herding. Valeri came back from watch and saida wolf killed a deer and the herd trampled some calves. When I told him I wasgoing to watch the herd, he said that he and Oksana would come out later (seeFigure 5). He asked me to set up a camp fire with wood and a tripod.

I walked out and found the herd about three kilometers away. They were reallyspread out, but I did not know what to do. I found a spot and got firewood, butI did not have any matches with me, so I could not light a fire. The sun was out,and it was warm when sheltered from the wind. The herd moved west, so mypile of firewood and the tripod I had cut from a young tree were now too faraway from the herd. I gathered up the tripod and the driest pieces of wood andlugged them across the open tundra, which was grassy and easy walking. Thewood was heavy, however, and my ribs smarted from the exertion. I droppedthe heaviest piece of wood and continued west with the herd. Pretty soon, I wasdropping firewood every 100 meters. After less than a kilometer, I caught up tothe herd and set down the tripod and the two pieces of remaining firewood. I feltsilly, carrying firewood around the tundra, when herders just make a fire wherethe wood is. I had to collect more firewood from snow-encrusted pine bushes.When Oksana and Valeri arrived, a warm fire was going in no time, and we hadtea with frybread Oksana had made with flour from the elder whom Valeri hadvisited the day before.

Valeri asked me, “Did any deer go over the ridge over there?”“Only a few, but they are just on the other side, eating.”

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“Hmmm. The herd looks kind of small. I will go check to see who all is overthere. I should bring them back.” Oksana and I chatted while Valeri patrolled theherd. After about a half hour, deer started coming back over the ridge. First therewere just a few, then more and more. I had nearly lost half of the herd and hadnot noticed! Valeri came over the hill last and told us that, while he was walking,he saw a wolf and tried to shoot at it, but the melkashka (.22 rifle) did not have itsfiring pin. “Damn! There is a 2,000 ruble (US$333) bounty on wolves paid by ahunting organization in Tilichiki.”

We had more tea. We wondered if the delegation to the sovkhoz herd hadreturned. I walked back to the tent, where Volokha and the others had justarrived. “We got some meat and smokes from the fifth herd, but they are just aspoor as we are.” They agreed to alter the route, allowing the private herd tocontinue west before turning toward the sea. During Soviet times, the routes weremore strictly planned and managed, but now the private herders and the fewremaining sovkhoz brigades agree on the routes among themselves. They haveto balance pasture management with access to fishing streams, base camps setup in the tundra, and periodic proximity to the village. I gave them the rifle, andthey set about filing down a nail for a replacement firing pin (that was what theold one was made from). I changed into warmer clothes and left with Slava to goon watch for the night. Slava could sleep lying in the snow with his reindeer-furclothing, but since I did not have that, I needed a skin mat for insulation.

Slava had brought udder and lungs to roast, which were spongier than whenthey were boiled and therefore strange to me. We dozed maybe an hour beforeSlava awoke me. In the predawn a wolf spooked the herd. Slava told me to maketea while he checked out what was happening. When he returned, he drank thewhole pot. I was still full of tea from supper. I have never seen anyone drink as

Figure 5Valeri (left) with his wife Oksana and son Yurik. Photo by Alexander King.

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much tea as reindeer herders, even when they are in town. Hot tea adds heat toa body at rest.26

Meanwhile, Teriocha and Oleg were in Srednie, and they told Volodya that Iwanted to return to town. Dima volunteered to fetch me with his dog team, andthe following day he came out to the herd. As I took my leave of the group, I gavemy large knife to Volokha, and he was happy to receive it. I gave my snowshoesto Slava, and he was equally glad for those. I had already given Valeri myheadlamp at the corral. We left at 7:30 a.m. and made good time, reachingabandoned Upper Pakhachi around 9:30. We had tea outside a house used bysovkhoz haymakers in the summer. As Dima offered the enelwit to the fire, hecommented, “I used to think only we did that, make an offering to the fire. ThenI learned that it’s common all over the world. Indians, Africans, people in SouthAmerica, in short, every nation of the world practices it, honoring the fire.” As Italked to more people, I found that many considered enelwit to be an offering tothe fire itself, which was an important person as well as a gateway—“the sourceof all life, heat, light,” as one elder said.

We left Upper Pakhachi around 10:30 and went along a snowmobile trail nearthe left bank of the river, which was thawing, and we passed open holes on eitherside of us, but the ice was still thick for the most part. At one point the dogs werenot paying close enough attention to Dima’s commands, and they towed usacross a hole. When the sled got stuck, I tried to push with my feet as Dima heavedthe sled to the right and yelled at the dogs to pull it out before it went any further.At another place, the dogs ran across some thin ice in the middle of the river, andit was cracking as we raced across it. He shouted at them to keep them at topspeed.

We stopped along the last tributary just outside of town to talk to a manwalking in the road. He was a herder returning to the third sovkhoz herd. WhenDima told him I was an American (in Koryak), he immediately turned to me andsaid (in Russian), “If we had our own land, our own republic here [drawingcircles with his hand]. . . . ”

“A Chukotskii Republic?” I suggested.“Yes. If we were separate from Russia, we would declare war on the United

States and then surrender the next day, so that the Americans would come andoccupy our country. We get nothing from Russia but misery. The boss lives welland that’s it. He has everything, is well, and doesn’t think about other people,about how we’re living with nothing.”27

Volodya came out to meet us just as we were tying up Dima’s dogs. We walkedto Volodya and Tanya’s house where I was staying and had tea. I joked aboutnearly losing half of the herd. My hosts were enchanted with the stories aboutdriving a sled, keeping watch over the herd, and my breaking a rib. The doctortold me there was nothing that could be done for it, just let it heal.


My sojourn with the private herd was short, just two weeks plus five days atthe spring corral a week earlier, but my friends in town thought it was a longtime. Native people in the village now took me more seriously, as I had demon-strated a serious desire to learn their lifeways personally. I understood betterpeople’s discourses on traditions and their priorities, and I could ask moreinteresting questions. People volunteered explanations and demonstrations thatI would not have received otherwise, such as a dog sacrifice after a funeral, beliefsand practices surrounding childbirth and menstruation, and family rituals ofremembrance for the ancestors and giving honor to the deer in the spring.

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This article aims to go beyond “conventional representations of suddenbaptisms into native society or other stories of the rapport . . . achieved infieldwork” (Fox 1991:6). My trials in the tundra certainly gave me symboliccapital with the natives; I had demonstrated an empathy with their lives byparticipating in the activity dearest to their hearts. More important, it was theonly way to gain information on herding practices, religion, and the person,without which I would not have been able to understand the key points elderswanted to make in subsequent discussions. Knowing these local pragmaticswas necessary to understand the indigenous signs belonging to reindeerherding, which contrasted with the orientalist images of reindeer herdingfound in administrative brochures, magazine articles, and politicians’speeches.

Whereas Russians and other incomers in Kamchatka essentialize native peoplethrough a stereotype of the primitive, I found that my Chukchi and Koryakconsultants had a sophisticated, praxis-centered theory of culture implicit in theirdiscourse about deer and people. When Chukchi and Koryaks talk about theirculture in town, their culture resides in the past and in the tundra, certainly notin the here and now. They negatively judge themselves as having “lost” tradi-tions, and they judge current practices as a debilitated shadow of what theirparents and grandparents used to do. At the reindeer herd and in the tundra,which is not a “wild” (dikoe) place as it is for local Russians and foreign anthro-pologists, native people express a sense of culture that is rooted in the here andnow (King 2002). This is why they all but forced me to experience reindeerherding myself firsthand.

Reindeer are implicated in all aspects of social life. For example, the sovk-hoz is the institution where deer mediate a history and continuing ambiguousrelationship between people and the state. Privately owned deer are literallytied to humans in the sacred household bundles (gichgiyu—ritual fireboards,wooden charms, carvings, and other talismans tied together with sinew),which are the material manifestations of ancestors, living humans, deer, andother nonhuman persons. Important sacred fires are started with a bow anddrill set into a hole of the household’s fireboard. These boards have a roundhead with a simply carved face on one end, and the body is a rectangle coveredwith holes for the fire drill. When a board is worn out, a new one is made, butthe old one is left tied to the bundle of charms, or at least the head is sawedoff and retained in the bundle. Each individual element in the bundle is fedwith fat at all important household rituals, which are conducted to rememberthe recently deceased, honor the deer herd, and pay respect to other spirits,all through the same act. Over the years, fat, soot, and dirt work to give theboards and other charms a deep black sheen. The fireboard is at once masterof the hearth and master of the herd; household and herd are one and thesame.28

Ingold argues that deer are incorporated into human social organizationanalogous to “jural minors, subject to the authority of their human master”(2000:72). The domination of animals by humans, however, is not mutuallyexclusive of trust; it is not a denial of the autonomy of the deer-persons anymore than employing poor men as herders in pre-Soviet times denied theirautonomy. Ingold’s (2000:73ff.) metaphor of slavery for pastoralism, takenfrom classical Indo-European texts, obscures indigenous Kamchatkan ideasof person and human–animal relations more than it elucidates. Just as poorherdsmen were highly mobile, seeking the most prosperous and generousemployer (Bilibin 1933), reindeer will leave a disrespectful human master. Therichest reindeer herders were not the most powerful, not those who dominated

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mostoverdeerandotherpersonsthroughsuperiorforce(physicalorotherwise);they were the hardest working, the most attentive to the physical needs of thedeer, and the most respectful of the deer as nonhuman persons.29

The reindeer were and continue to be the source of their wealth. Herdersbelieve (correctly, according to my estimation) that before collectivization in the1930s, wealth was both greater and more equitably distributed. They reject theethnonym chavchuven attributed to them by Soviet ethnographers. They do notcall themselves chavchuven and consider it a mere economic label. They said itis like the word bogatye (rich ones), referring to a group of people in a Russiancity who had a lot of money or cars and lived in one neighborhood. However,claims that they “just happen” to be rich in deer and not by means of some othermarker are disingenuous. Indeed, the number of individuals and organizationsrich in deer in all of Kamchatka can be counted on two hands, and by pre-Sovietstandards, none of those would have been truly rich. Nowadays, rich Koryaksand Chukchi control the same sort of European wealth that rich Russians do: cash(often in hard currency), secure employment, real estate, durable goods. “Deer”continue to equal “native,” or rather “native” equals “having deer.” Deer are sucha powerful symbol of native life that they have been extended to represent“Koryakness” or “nativeness” even among communities that never practicedreindeer herding or did so tangentially at best. The Chukchis and Koryaks withwhom I lived in Srednie Pakhachi can talk about these similarities and differ-ences, and use labels such as “Chukchi,” “Koryak,” and even “real Chukchi”(referring to Chukchi people living in Chukotka) without reifying these distinc-tions into bounded groups that are discrete and autonomous. They are namesdeployed as symbols whose meaning is dependent on the immediate context.People move about, populations change, “everyone is all mixed up [ethnically].”The people represented in this article often subvert such identities in the samesentence in which they are used.

The symbolic power of reindeer to represent “The Koryak” and “The KoryakAutonomous Okrug” (Chukchi are nearly invisible politically in Kamchatkasince they supposedly belong in Chukotka) stems from Soviet analogs of Westernorientalism as identified by Edward Said (1978). Incomers deploy reindeer as anicon of native culture: people’s lives are represented by an animal reflecting anideology that places Koryaks and Chukchi closer to animals than are the Russianadministrators, making the natives savages (Ingold 2000:62f.; King 2002). I havetried to avoid exotic essentialisms while simultaneously conveying the deep andheartfelt importance of domestic reindeer for many Koryak and Chukchi people.Such concepts, however, certainly do not explain what Slava meant when he toldme that “without deer there is no culture, nothing,” which I also heard in twoother conversations with elders in the village, including the grandmother pic-tured on the cover. The pragmatics of herding reindeer are intertwined withspiritual awareness, self-worth, and value as a human being. Thus, it is notsurprising to see that a general social despair, anomie, has accompanied thedrastic reduction in reindeer herds. Such a loss implicates the people in their owneyes as bad herders, either careless or disrespectful. There are certainly manypeople in Kamchatka (and across Siberia) who do doubt their own value ashuman beings (Vitebsky 2002). Labeling the situation post-Soviet or postmodernseems to miss this pain.

Postmodern ethnography, with all of its slashes and dashes, seems morefun to write than to read. A humanist approach to ethnography—writingabout other people’s lives—is one that is readable, interesting, and engagedwithout being ironic or romantic.30 In many of the debates and angst overrepresentations, power, inscription, and the like over the past two decades, the

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main goal of anthropology—learning something new about people, humanity—gets lost. Getting on with anthropology does not mean ignoring the validcritiques of the textual strategies of authorizing texts and masking power rela-tions (Metcalf 2002). While I have great power in Kamchatka, especially indefati-gable good health, adequate clothing and equipment, and tremendous mobility,I was also at the mercy of “the natives.” My ethnographic portrayals are notstrategies of having the last word but attempts at fulfilling promises I have madeto many people at their insistence: the promise to get it right and represent theirlives as lived—their real humanity—to the broader world. In the end, I wouldlike to see anthropology move more toward a future where the description “oneneeds a Ph.D. in anthropology to read this” becomes a clear recommendation forthe author to rewrite it for people in general.


Christina and I returned to Srednie Pakhachi in September 2001. We gavepeople copies of pictures we had taken and collected more information on thosephotos, and I followed up on various questions relating to myth, ritual, andreligion. One afternoon during tea, we watched part of a videotape I had madeat the corral. As we watched herders lasso their deer on TV, Tanya commented,“That’s history now, Alex. We don’t have our own deer like we used to. The herdgot so small, they had to unite with the private herd of Achavayam. We hopethat they will be able to build it up, but it’s doubtful.” It seems that I was doingsalvage ethnography after all. Slava had left herding to better feed his youngfamily through hunting and fishing. Volokha and Rita had gone with the lastPakhachi deer to join the Achavayam herd. Oksana had developed tuberculosisand was in the hospital in the district center of Tilichiki. The general mood of thetown had only become grimmer, and I did not have the heart to ask aboutidentity, herding, and religion. I could not think of a way to bring up Slava’s greatline without making it seem as if I were rubbing his nose in the loss. Certainlythey were still people after all, but they seemed more desperate than when I leftin 1998.

I woke up on September 12 to Russian television news reports of the fallingtowers and possibly tens of thousands of casualties. I was surprised at thereaction of Volodya, Tanya, and other people in Pakhachi. They were con-cerned; they felt that the attack on New York was also an attack on them, onthe whole world. Several people expressed fear of going anywhere, flying inRussia or Kamchatka. “If they could do that to you (Americans), then no oneis safe.” The terrorists truly had struck at the navel of the world, and it wasdeeply felt at the extremity of Kamchatka. Tanya wrote us a letter in January2002, telling us that Oksana had died of tuberculosis. Valeri had lost himselfin a bottle, and now Tanya and Volodya’s two young grandchildren, Yurikand Yulia, call their grandparents “Mama” and “Papa.” With such swift anddramatic changes, it is impossible to write about Kamchatka in the ethno-graphic present, especially since my first intention is to remain honest to thememory of these people. If reindeer no longer provide an index of Koryakculture, then it is doubtful if it will be such a frequent icon of Koryak peopleor the region. However, I am confident that future Koryaks, Chukchis, Evens,Itelmens, and Kamchadals will be able to symbolize their humanity with thesame dignity as their ancestors.

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Acknowledgments. Research has been supported by grants from the International Re-search and Exchange Board (IREX), Wenner-Gren Foundation, National Security Educa-tion Program, National Endowment for the Humanities, and California State University,Chico. Logistic and intellectual aid was rendered in Kamchatka by Viktoria Petrasheva,Valentina Dedyk, Raisa Avak, Sergei Kutinkavav, Albina Yailgina, and the Yatylkutfamily. Many people have helped me in reading and discussing this material, especiallyDell Hymes, Roy Wagner, Claire Farrer, Marjorie M. Balzer, Hugh Beach, John Ziker, andChristina Kincaid. Without Edie Turner’s encouragement this article would never havehappened. Please blame me for enduring faults in the text.

1. Privileging indigenous meanings and agendas is by no means new (e.g., Landes 1938;Radin 1963[1920]) and is important to many anthropologists working in Siberia (e.g.,Anderson 2000; Balzer 1995, 1999; Humphrey 1996; Kerttula 2000; Rethmann 2001), inRussia (e.g., Pesmen 2000; Ries 1997), and around the world. I have no pretensions to pushthe boundaries of anthropological theory, but I hope that many others will be as interestedas I am, to “get on with anthropology” (Metcalf 2002:11).

2. Evenki in Taimyr imposed similar requirements on David Anderson (2000), as didYukaghir people in northwest Sakha on Rane Willerslev (2002).

3. My thinking on symbols and use of the terms pragmatics and holography have beenshaped through talking with and reading Roy Wagner (1986a, 1986b, 2001).

4. My reading of Wagner (1981) is that this invention is an interactive process; thus,including the ethnographer is simply an attempt at honesty and not self-reflexive indul-gence (cf. Metcalf 2002).

5. When Chukchi in Srednie Pakhachi talked about their ethnic identity, they sometimesdescribed themselves as “Koryakized” as compared with “real Chukchi in Chukotka.”Such comments were in the context of language. The people of Srednie Pakhachi speak avariant of Chavchuven Koryak, significantly different in phonology and grammar fromvariants of Chukchi spoken in Chukotka. In terms of religion, material culture, and socialorganization, the difference between reindeer-herding Koryaks and reindeer-herdingChukchi is very slight. Although some Evens have assimilated to Koryaks linguisticallyand even culturally, the Even language is completely unrelated to Koryak and Chukchi,and Even traditions are markedly different. My generalizations about reindeer-herdingpractices and beliefs are thus confined to Koryaks and Chukchi living in Oliutor Countyof the Koryak Autonomous Okrug. Bogoraz (1904–09:71–97) describes Chukchi andKoryak reindeer herding together, as does Jochelson (1908:469–501), who contrasts rein-deer herding of “the Koryak—Chukchee type” with Even and Sakha styles of herding (p.498). See Schindler (1997) for a good introduction to and summary of Soviet theories ofethnicity and how they have played out on the ground in northeast Asia.

6. The term sovkhoz is an invented word from two Russian words—soviet and khoziastvo(enterprise)—and refers to a state-owned collective farm. Caroline Humphrey (1998)provides the most thorough description of a Siberian collective farm, both before and afterthe demise of the Soviet Union. David Anderson’s (2000) account of a reindeer brigade inthe sovkhoz based in Khantaiskoe Ozero, Taimyr, resonates with experiences of reindeerherders in Kamchatka. Kerttula (2000:91) points out that reindeer herders were not onlyvery well paid under the Soviets, they had special access to hard-to-find goods. Thus, thepost-Soviet sovkhoz company store operation is experienced as an especially bitterbetrayal.

7. Chawchu is the source of the Russian word Chavchuven, which is used to refer toreindeer-herding Koryaks and their language. Bogoraz (1904–09:11) provides this as theorigin of the name Chukchi while admitting that reindeer Koryaks also call themselvesby this term. Chawchu was never connected to Chukchi in this way by people in Kam-chatka in the 1990s. The people in the villages of Achavayam and Srednie Pakhachi areculturally and linguistically very similar (Lebedev and Simchenko 1983). Chukchi in bothvillages are famous for their chauvinism, which can be organized by the analogiesChukchi = reindeer herder = rich, whereas Koryak = maritime = poor. This ideology wasdirectly stated to Kerttula when she was in Achavayam: “Real Chukchi don’t live on thecoast” (2000:23). This sums up the ideology I encountered in Srednie Pakhachi where thephrase “real Chukchi” (in Russian) was synonymous with “good herder” and highlighting

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another person’s Koryak ethnicity was most often part of a discursive strategy to castdoubt on his or her skills or knowledge of reindeer herding (“Nymylans don’t knowreindeer”). This hierarchy is absent among maritime and reindeer Koryaks living alongthe Sea of Okhotsk and the nearby interior, and among urban Chukchi in Anadyr (PattyGray, personal communication, 2002).

8. [t] is aspirated. The [h] is a separate sound, varying between a glottal stop and apharyngeal (a heavy “h” sound far back, with a tightly constricted throat).

9. Kerttula records this same understanding of the tundra as home throughout herbook, but most dramatically in an account of a young Chukchi woman wearing houseslippers in the tundra (2000:22). I develop the idea of tundra as a Chukchi and Koryakspace, as opposed to the Russian/European space of the village in King (2002).

10. He used the word liudi in Russian, for “people.”11. Chukchi and Koryaks in Oliutor County do not use herd dogs, although Koryaks

to the northwest in Penzhina County told me it was inconceivable to herd without the aidof trained dogs.

12. On my first trip to Kamchatka in 1995, everyone asked why I did not have a videocamera. How could I be an ethnographer without one? When I returned in 1997, I broughtone and found it useful not only for focusing my attention and recording activities butalso in soliciting commentary on those activities when I showed the footage to people andgave them copies of my tapes.

13. The sound represented by “y” varies greatly from one village to another. In SredniePakhachi it is a lightly voiced fricative, [dj] or [ds]. The sound represented by “ng” is avelar nasal as in singer.

14. Pika (1999) discusses alcoholism and other social problems in Siberia. Ziker (2002)also has a chapter on alcohol and violent death in Taimyr, which are similarly linked inKamchatka.

15. Bogoraz (1904–09, 1910) and Jochelson (1908) provide an excellent description ofrituals, myths, cosmology, and other aspects of Chukchi and Koryak religious life similarto what I saw in 1998.

16. Later I figured out that people assumed I would not enjoy such native dishes asblood soup, seal meat in oil, or deer stomach fermented in blood, so I began to ask to tryit. People were surprised and pleased, especially when they saw that I enjoyed the food.

17. See Note 7.18. Jochelson (1908:475) also describes this attitude. The English sin is the best transla-

tion of the Russian grekh in this case because it refers to an immoral act with spiritualconsequences. Human souls and deer souls are connected, and one causing the other tosuffer needlessly is a sin. Bogoraz (1904–09:84–92) and Jochelson (1908:484–488) providea good description of the lassos, goads, and sledges still used in Srednie Pakhachi in the1990s, where people were simultaneously using snowmobiles, large tanklike ATVs(vezdekhod), and helicopters (when available).

19. Bogoraz (1904–09:84) reports that Chukchi at the turn of the 20th century castratedbucks by biting through the spermatic ducts or tying off the scrotum, which thenatrophied and fell off. I was told that rubber bands were also used for castration, but theywere hard to obtain in the 1990s.

20. Contemporary herding camps and brigades are mostly men, and they sprinkle theirlanguage with stylistically creative variants of ebat’ (fuck) and khui (cock)—but vulgar,like motherfucker in American usage. These habits are picked up during obligatory militaryservice. Reindeer herders swear like Russian sailors, but drink less. Vitebsky and Wolfe(2001) describe the gender imbalances of contemporary reindeer herding due to Sovietpolicy for Evenks in Sakha. A similar situation obtains in Kamchatka.

21. Remember, there is a walrus tooth on the end.22. See Note 7.23. The ethnonym for Chukchi sometimes preferred by the Soviets, Luoravetlan, can be

translated from Chukchi as “real person.”24. David Anderson (2000:33–35) describes Taimyr Evenk pedagogy in a similar man-

ner.25. Sacred sites can have gender, often because they are a male or female person or

animal that has become a rock, mountain, or lake, as explained in the legend about that

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place. Some of these sites are more highly gendered in that they help men hunt success-fully or aid women’s fertility.

26. Jochelson (1908:569) comments on the large amount of water Koryaks drink year-round.

27. “The boss” (nachal’nik) could refer to anyone, from the Pakhachi sovkhoz directorto Yeltsin and everyone in between, most likely to all. I heard this joke more than once,but I could not find out if it came from the Peter Sellers movie The Mouse That Roared oranother source. There are similar jokes about the shame of America being too poor in the19th century to buy Kamchatka along with Alaska and even some serious speculation ona future purchase of the Russian Far East (Tsiurupa 2000). The ideological basis for suchideas is that the United States is rich, Alaskan natives live well, and Russia has betrayedall of the Soviet promises (cf. Grant 1995).

28. Jochelson (1908:33) gives gichgei (plural is gichgeyu) as the Koryak word for “fire-board,” but Pakhachi people with whom I talked use the word for both “fireboard” andas a general term for the bundle (also called idoli, “idols,” or khraniteli, “the guardians,”in Russian), of which the fireboard is the main item. Valentina Dedyk pointed out to me(personal communication, 2002) that the fireboard is called tEmilgEntung (E = schwa),based on the root milgEn, “fire.” The root qaya- (deer) can be prefixed to the word toproduce qayatEmilgEntung when one wants to highlight the connections to deer. Thus, theterms for these things tie people, deer, and spirits to one another as they are representedmaterially and cosmologically.

29. Killing and eating deer is not necessarily disrespectful. The manner in which thisis done is indicative of the honor and respect people pay to deer. As among other northernpeoples (e.g., Cree; cf. Brightman 1993), humans are also prey in cycles of interspeciespredation. The nonhuman kalaw who kill and eat humans are not necessarily evil butsimply a dangerous aspect of the world. Cannibalism, eating one’s own, is truly evil andabhorrent among Koryaks and Chukchi of Kamchatka (King 1999).

30. This does not preclude ethnography from being a scientific enterprise as well, butthat is another discussion.

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