Tribes and Dialects
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Habitat. The Evens inhabit a large territory in the Khabarovsk district, the Magadan region, the northern part of Yakutia, the Chukchi, and the Kamchatka Peninsulas in the Russian Federation.
Population. Census data is as follows:
Anthropologically the Evens belong to the Baikal (Paleo-Siberian) group of the Mongolian type. Compared against the Evenks, the Evens are shorter and their skin is lighter.
The language of the Evens belongs to the northern group of the Manchu-Tungus languages. It has much in common with the Evenk language, and has often been considered as just a dialect. The differences can be observed in the vocabulary and in phonetics. The Even language can be divided into two dialects: the eastern dialect and the western dialect. In addition to these there is a small Arman dialect. The literary language is based on the Oli dialect belonging to the eastern group of dialects.
The origin of the Evens is closely associated with that of the Evenks, and for a while the Evens were considered to be a territorial subgroup of the Evenks. In the north of Yakutia they still live together. It is probable that the origins of the Evens do not lie with the Tungus, but that their way of life and language did change considerably under the influence of the Tungus. The Evens have developed as a result of the intermingling of Tungus and Yukaghir elements during the last millenium. The material culture of the Evens does not differ from that of the Evenks.
The formation of the Evens is connected with a tide of constant movement. In the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century their small groups and solitary settlements were situated in the area from the river basin of the Lena to the Pacific Ocean, but this was the result of a long process. The Evens reached Kamchatka in the 1840s and met the Koryaks there. On the Chukchi Peninsula they had contacts with the Chukchi, and in the river basin of the Kolyma they assimilated a considerable number of the Yukaghirs and an Even-Yukaghir cultural area was formed there. In the 17th century they had a strong influence on the Koryaks on the coast of the Okhotsk Sea. The assimilation of the Yukaghirs and the Koryaks explains the threefold increase in the population of the Evens. Contact with the Yakuts was so intense that a number of the Evens adopted the Yakut language and culture, thus making their contribution to the Yakut culture. The closest contacts with Russians developed on the coast of the Okhotsk Sea.
The majority of the Evens reared reindeer and hunted. A part of the Evens had reindeer pastures in the river basin of the Kolyma, the Omolon and the Indigirka, others had theirs in the area closer to the coast of the Okhotsk Sea. On the coast there was a semi-settled group of Evens whose main activity was fishing and hunting sea mammals. They used dogs, not reindeer, as draught animals. The basis of the economy of the Evens was the reindeer. They used reindeer as draught animals and for riding. They also hunted animals for fur (sables, foxes, squirrels). Hunting accounted for up to 90 percent of their income. For hunting they used dogs, which were known, and appreciated, in Kamchatka as Lamut dogs.
The ethnic consolidation of the Evens only began during the Soviet period. The first Even soviets were formed in 1923 on the coast of the Okhotsk Sea. In northeastern Siberia, co-operatives of hunters and reindeer herders were formed and from them the first kolkhozes were organized in 1929--30. Small Even villages were gradually set up round these centres. In order to introduce the new ideology to the Evens so-called 'Red tents' were established. At Nagayevo Bay there was a cultural centre for the Evens. The collectivization of the Evens on the coast of the Okhotsk Sea was completed by 1936, though in other places it took somewhat longer. As a result of collectivization, permanent settlement were formed. New ways of making a living -- cattle rearing and land cultivation -- were introduced. Smaller groups and families started to assemble in larger villages and collective farms. It was only at this time that the Evens began to develop an awareness of national identity. This process was supported by the formation of national territories. For example, in the Bystrin national district the Even settled at first in three centres (1928), then later, in one only. The same thing happened in the North-Even district, and in several other places. At the same time, researchers observed that the consolidation of the separate groupings did nothing to advance the contacts between them even within the boundaries of one region or national territory. On the contrary, when the Evens were settled, they started to associate more closely with the Yakuts, the Koryaks and the Russians. The number of mixed marriages, which had been small, began to increase. Linguistically, the Evens also grew closer to other ethnic groups. In 1979 the percentage of native speakers among the Evens was 56.9, a little more of them could speak the language -- 60.3 % -- but 71.8 % could speak Russian. At the same time only 19.9 % of the Evens considered Russian their native language. The role of the Russian language as a native language is unfortunately increasing (in 1959 it was 5.7 %). Of the 5,800 Yakutian Evens about 70 % could speak the Yakutian language. In order to arrange the life of the Evens more efficiently, the Even-Bytantai national district has been formed in Yakutia.
Writing. The first Even language text-books, based on the Oli dialect, were published in 1932. In primary schools Even was taught, though further education was in Russian. A number of comprehensive works on the Even language have been published. From the former Institute of the Northern Peoples in Leningrad came the first writers and poets writing in their native language (N. Tarabukin, E. Cherkanov, V. Keimetinov). Still the Even-language school and Even culture go largely unsupported because of the low prestige the Even language enjoys. Hopefully, some form of national awakening of the Evens might have resulted from the Congress of the Northern Ethnic Minorities in Moscow in 1990, where there were 16 Even representatives and where the representative of the Yakutian Evens, A. Krivoshapkin, delivered a speech.