Tribes and Dialects
Order the book
Habitat. The Kereks make up a small linguistic enclave near the Gulf of Ugolnaya and Navarin Cape on the coast of the Bering Sea in northeastern Siberia. The administrative unit to which they belong is called the Bering District of the Chukchi Autonomous Territory which is part of the Magadan Region of the Russian Federation. Their habitat is the Artic region with its permafrost tundra and harsh climate.
Population. There is no official data on the number of Kereks. In 1934 they numbered 90 (S. Stebnitsky). Since then "about a hundred" has been repeatedly quoted (for example, Soviet Estonian Encyclopedia, 1968, 1979), but no more exact data exists. "Not more than 70" is the estimate given by V. Avorin in 1966.
Anthropologically the Kereks, like the Koryaks and the Chukchi, belong to the Mongoloid North-Asian race. They are short and stout. Their skin is dark, their eyes and hair dark and their face broad with high cheekbones. They have a deep Mongolian eyefold.
The Kerek language belongs to the Chukchi-Kamchatka group of Paleo-Asiatic or Paleo-Siberian languages. The closest related languages are Chukchi, Koryak, Aliutor and Itelmen. Morphologically, the closest is Koryak, though as regards vocabulary the Chukchi displays most similarities. The structure of Kerek is incorporative or polysynthetic.
Two dialects are distinguishable: Khatyrka and Maino-Pylgen. The latter is spoken by the majority of the Kerek people. The dialectal differences and the dialects themselves have not been studied separately.
The Kerek and the Koryak languages diverged after the Koryak and the Chukchi had separated. The Chukchi influence is strong. It is most likely that colonization by the Chukchi has prevented the Kereks and the Koryaks forming an enclave. All Kereks are able to use spoken and written forms of the Chukchi language.
The Kerek vocabulary where it concerns the environment and related activities (fishing, sea animal hunting) is quite rich. Chukchi has been a source of loan-words, many deeply ingrained but also many absorbed from Russian via Chukchi during the Soviet period. When Russian came to be spoken more widely, the words were directly borrowed from Russian. This was inevitably followed by full-scale usage of Russian. The Kereks face the danger of losing their identity and becoming either Chukchi or Russian.
History. The Kereks have long been regarded as a Koryak tribe among the Chukchi but they differed from the pastoral nomads because they led a settled life and their main occupations were fishing and hunting sea animals. By the end of the 18th century Chukotka and Kamchatka were under Russian control and any native resistance had been subdued. The Kereks, however, never adopted the Russian Orthodox faith. In the 19th century Russian merchants expanded their activities into Chukotka. After selling Alaska (1867) Russia hastened to strengthen its positions in northeastern Siberia. Economically, Russia did not gain control over these areas until Soviet rule had been established and competitors from the U.S.A., Japan, Norway, and elsewhere were shut out behind closed borders.
With the introduction of Soviet rule (1923) big changes took place. In 1930, the Chukchi national territory was formed and collectivization began. The collectivization of the Kereks was relatively easy because they were already a settled people. The change over to Soviet ways was more than painful. The Soviets introduced new houses, new technology and means of transport, health care and literacy, but they also introduced ideological brainwashing and repression. Militant atheism was strongly opposed to the animistic beliefs and the shamans who where the true leaders of the Kerek people. The Soviet all-Union industries exploited natural resources. The life of the Kereks was regulated by Soviet norms, rules and regulations and these crushed the local people, their natural habitat and their national interests. The local and the ethnic (be it building, dress or language) became synonymous with the primitive and the provincial.
The fate of the Kereks is a pitiful example of what happens when a minor ethnic group is forced to leap into Communism under the duress of their colonizers. The Russian-language mass culture poses a threat to the Kerek language and cultural identity, and its military-industrial colonial policies are hazardous to the life and health of all (see, the Chukchis).
Writing. There is no written language. In 1932 the Chukchi written language was created and the Kereks, who formed a linguistic enclave within the Chukchi habitat, began to use it too. Since the 1960s Kerek has been regarded as a separate language, but there have been no changes. The language for communication is Chukchi or Russian, and the language for education and cultural life is Russian. There no longer exist enough people to maintain a written language.
Research has begun recently into the Kereks. Some linguistic and ethnographic material was collected earlier by V. Bogoraz who presented a comparative analysis in his monograph on the Chukchi (in English 1922, in Russian 1934). The first linguistic treatment of the Kereks was published in 1968. This was written by P. Skorik, who used the material collected from Chukotka between 1954 and 1956. The Kereks and their language have not been sufficiently studied. No samples of texts, or dictionaries have been published, and the dialects, grammar and vocabulary have not been treated separately.