Eventually, Zhong replies. I support the Communist Party. In the Qiqian settlement, Zhong received Chinese-language education, and spent more and more time away from her former forest home. When the government moved the Evenki and their reindeer to Old Aoluguya in , local officials sought to bring animal husbandry in line with the nationwide collectivization of agriculture.
The state bought ownership rights to the animals, but allowed their original herders to continue raising them. While their children attended school in Old Aoluguya, hunters still spent long periods in the mountains. The government encouraged herders to breed livestock in greater numbers. By the s, reindeer numbers had increased from several hundred to around 1,, according to research by the scholar Lin. Most Evenki reportedly expressed satisfaction with this arrangement, often using their new permanent homes as a base from which to arrange hunting expeditions and participate in the antler industry.
Recognizing its value in Chinese medicine, the state later assumed the right to procure and sell the yearly antler crop.
He Xie holds a photograph of himself and two friends at the former reindeer herding camp in Old Aoluguya. According to research by Siqinfu, an ethnic Mongolian scholar of the Evenki who carried out studies in the region around the turn of the century, life in Old Aoluguya did much to assimilate the Evenki into Han culture.
And by the s, the local logging industry had brought in a sizable community of Han migrants. In , as China embraced the market economy, the government partially privatized reindeer husbandry, returning ownership of the animals to the 20 remaining herding families and signing contracts that granted them pasturing rights in certain areas.
He Lei relaxes with his daughter in New Aoluguya Above. He Lei relaxes with his daughter in New Aoluguya left. Large numbers of reindeer required vast quantities of lichen. Evenki hunting grounds, much of which comprised virgin forests, shrank from an estimated 8 million hectares in to around , hectares by the s, according to Siqinfu. Local officials may also have thrown their weight behind the ecological migration project to secure much-needed funding from the national government, Lin suggests. In , the national government rolled out a vast reforestation initiative that encouraged herders to bring livestock numbers under control.
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When the Evenki were resettled most recently, in , both the local government and state-sponsored media outlets cited the ecological migration policy as justification for the move. Multiple scholarly sources attest that the municipal government then signed an agreement with the state-owned Daqing Oilfield Company to manage the former site of Aoluguya. Researchers refer to domestic media reports of this event, but all of them now seem to have been expunged from the Chinese internet.
Daqing did not respond to our repeated phone calls and emails requesting information about its current interests in the area. A serious man with Evenki ancestry, he takes a pragmatic view of the ecological migration campaign. Since the s, both Chinese and Western scholars have focused their research on the loss of Evenki cultural heritage amid their ever-tighter embrace with a modern, consumerist economy.
Evenki (Northern Tungus) - Religion and Expressive Culture
But for Dai, the benefits of the new settlement are clear. Before moving to New Aoluguya, reindeer herders were more vulnerable to seasonal fluctuations in income, Dai says. In , herders earned an average of 1, yuan per year, most of which was generated through hunting; by , annual incomes had risen to 15, yuan, according to the Genhe municipal government. Although this figure is high compared to nearby rural areas, urban households in Genhe earn an average of nearly 25, yuan per year. Dai steeples his fingers.
Previously, we only went into the mountains and hunted when we needed to. The way I see it, perhaps the only difference is that our standard of living is better here, and every family owns a car. A lthough New Aoluguya positions itself as a self-contained tourism zone, barriers to development remain.
Regional infrastructure is hardly traveler-friendly; the nearest major airport is in Hailar, an industrial city more than kilometers south. Government figures state that Genhe welcomed 1. Individual figures for New Aoluguya are unavailable. When we take a trip to the tourism zone in March, there are no visitors to be seen. The site fares slightly better in June, when a few weekend picnickers stroll around the zone or buy tickets to the local museum of Evenki culture.
The government provides resettled herders and their families with a range of preferential policies. The state guarantees food and accommodation to the children of herding families from birth until the end of high school, and pays families a subsidy of 2, yuan for every year that a child stays in education between kindergarten and high school. Dai is reticent about the impact of resettlement on Evenki culture. The local language is particularly under threat. These days, young Evenki often migrate to other cities in China for work instead of staying in New Aoluguya.
Lin, the Hangzhou-based scholar, says many such people no longer see the value of living in a community still somewhat removed from the rest of the population. But when we put this to local residents, most react with acceptance or helplessness. Since the s, the general picture of Evenki life has been one of compromise: sustained enrichment in return for a sedentary lifestyle.
Today, the average herding family is materially wealthier than ever. It sinks into your bones during dark, cold hours that pass with nothing to do. Several of the Evenki we meet smoke compulsively, eat excessively, or — most prevalently — drink heavily. Almost everyone we interview betrays a predilection for immoderate alcohol consumption or alludes to the drinking problem of somebody they know. According to Siqinfu, alcoholism became rife in the Evenki community in the mids. Citing statistics compiled by the government of Old Aoluguya, he says that as many as 83 Evenki died prematurely from heavy alcohol use, accidents — most of them alcohol-fueled — or suicide between and Many more were orphaned, abandoned by a parent, or born with physical or mental disabilities.
Today, the Chinese government keeps no statistics on rates of alcoholism among Evenki reindeer herders. Dai says the community has partially recovered, which he attributes to rising incomes and new forms of distraction. Perhaps understandably, men in the community prickle when the subject of alcoholism is raised. No lights, nothing. At night, you just lie around with nothing to do. He grows visibly heated when we ask if he frequently sees conflicts break out among Evenki people who drink heavily.
Like Dai, He Lei agrees that smartphones, computers, and other forms of technology are reducing alcohol consumption among younger generations of Evenki. He personally gave up smoking and drinking in April, after he was diagnosed with heart disease. He turns 34 this year. Fifteen years ago, few in the community were so health-conscious.
Religion and expressive culture - Evenki (Northern Tungus)
S ome herders openly reject resettlement in New Aoluguya. Liu Xia, for example, lives in a far-flung forest encampment near Alongshan, a former logging town about kilometers north of Genhe.
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In resisting the lure of material wealth to spend her days in the wilderness, Liu arguably preserves certain characteristics of Evenki culture better than people in the tourism zone — particularly her love for her reindeer. Her herd — around a dozen deer — also draws her inexorably back to the forest. Research by the Cambridge-based scholar Richard Fraser suggests that the Evenki, like many indigenous peoples of northern Asia, attribute personhood not just to other humans, but also to nonhuman agents like reindeer and the natural features of the forest.
Because meaningful interactions with these agents are key to the Evenki experience, Fraser writes, relocation outside their taiga homeland may produce profound feelings of pain, loss, and existential angst.
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Citing case studies of other relocated peoples, Fraser also notes that the negative feelings that can accompany resettlement sometimes seem to provoke or exacerbate physical and psychological health problems. Some herders, like Liu Xia, choose to live in the wilderness instead of New Aoluguya. Life out here is far harder than in New Aoluguya, but Liu enjoys the tranquility of the taiga. She sleeps in a large plastic tent that houses a pair of raised bunks, an old chair, and a blackened brick hearth for cooking. Outside, two solar panels provide electricity for a couple of light bulbs and, somewhat improbably, a small flat-screen TV.
But rejecting modern life brings complications. Her camp has no internet connection or mobile phone signal, preventing her from staying in touch with her adult son who lives away from New Aoluguya. In Alongshan — one of a constellation of decaying northern timber towns — the necessary medical care was unavailable. And Liu lives with other ailments, too: She walks with a limp and struggles with excessive alcohol use. Although the latter issue is improving, it still dissuades her from returning to the new settlement. Liu was born in Qiqian, the border town where the original Evenki settlement stood.
She attended five years of formal education but disliked school, which kept Evenki children from seeing their forest-roaming families. Throughout her youth, Liu found solace in forest life. Return to top of page.