Tribes and Dialects
Order the book
Habitat. The Orochi settlements are in the southern part of the Khabarovsk Area, more particularly on the lower reaches of the River Tumnin (Usjka, Usjka-Russkaya) and on the Amur and Kopp rivers. In this wide area between the Lower Amur and the Tatarsk Strait there used to be numerous small Orochi settlements for winter and summer use, divided into five territorial groups. In a search for better fishing grounds and hunting forests there were migrations to the River Amur and Sakhalin Island in the 19th century. In the first decades of the 20th century the Orochi left the coast of the Sea of Japan for regions inland, seeking refuge from the war.
Population. The census data is as follows:
Along with the Oroks, the Orochi are the only Tungus people of the lower Amur and Sakhalin whose population fell 7.7 % between 1979--1989.
Anthropologically, the Orochi are Mongoloid, with strong characteristics of the Baikal type.
The language belongs to the Southern Group of the Manchu-Tungus languages. The closest relations are the Evenki, Udeghe and Negidal languages.
History. In the second half of the 19th century the whole aboriginal population between the rivers flowing into the Tatarsk Strait in the north and almost as far as Vladivostok in the south, as well as on the banks of the River Ussuri and the tributaries of the Amur, Hungar and Anyui, was regarded as Orochi. The first person to make a distinction between the Orochi in the north and the Udeghes in the south was I. Margaritov in 1888, who marked the River Botch as the borderline. The works of several researchers, V. Arsenyev in particular, proved the validity of this demarcation. In literature the origin of the Orochi is left rather obscure, no treatment having provided a single answer. The language is somewhat more clearly distinguishable. There are tribes among the Orochis who are related originally to the Nanais, the Ulchis, the Udeghes, the Negidals, the Nivkhs and the Evenks. Thus, there are present in the Orochi both old, native ethnic features as well as those of a northern, taiga origin. The influence of Manchu and Chinese cultures is also detectable. A similar variegation can be pointed out pertaining to the self-designation. Despite this the ethnographer A. Smolyak holds that the people once had a common designation for themselves -- orochisal. According to him, the term originated not in the word oron -- 'reindeer', as it had been generally believed, but in the word oro, or oroko -- 'a newborn bear cub'. This would link with a legend that has the birth of the Orochi resulting from a marriage between a woman and a bear. It is probably not a coincidence that they should have been called Orochi by their closest neighbours, the Nanais and the Ulchis. Smolyak's hypothesis appears somewhat more credible than a self-designation derived from the reindeer that the Orochi have never, to any notable extent, bred.
The traditional means of subsistence for the Orochi has been fishing and hunting. In coastal regions the Orochi have also practiced hunting sea animals. Breeding sledge dogs was a widespread occupation. Agriculture was introduced only at the beginning of the 20th century by the Russians. Though the same occupations have persisted, their relative importance has changed considerably.
Despite some diversity of opinion among the explorers the Orochi can be regarded as a more-or-less settled people among whom only the hunters led a more vagrant life. This differentiates them clearly from their nomadic kindred people, the Udeghes, with whom they have often been identified. Formerly, the seasonal nature of fishing and hunting necessitated the erection of summer and winter settlements. Their modes of construction differed greatly -- bark dwellings sufficed for the summer while sod huts cased inside with timber were built for the winter. The hunters erected conical tents covered with grass in winter. Russian-type log cabins were introduced towards the end of the 19th century.
Organizing administrative units on Orochi territories began in the late 1920s after the re-establishment of Soviet power in the Primorye District. Some national village soviets and districts were founded. These stood under the jurisdiction of the local Russian district executive committees on whose territory they were situated. The Tumnin National District, for example, established in 1927, belonged to the Sovetsk District. Here and there the Orochi, together with Ulchi, Nivkh and Nanai, lived in districts of mixed population. In 1931--1932 reforms were carried out and new national districts were established. An Orochi National District even came into existence, only to be merged later with the Sovetsk District "due to a shortage of native population". In the course of collectivization and the complete transition to a stationary mode of life all national village soviets were abolished. The last to go was the Kunsk village soviet which persisted until as late as 1959. The collectivization of the eastern Orochi (of the Sovetsk District) was completed in 1940 and they were gathered into seven villages comprising the collective farm Orochi. The western Orochi where gathered into the village of Ommi by the Amur which they now inhabit together with Nanais and Udeghes. The railway line between the cities of Komsomolsk and Sovetskaya Gavan was opened in 1945 and on that line there is also an Orochi station. The construction of the railway through their residential area brought some additional changes to the lifestyle of the Orochi. The appearance of the railway sped up the development of the forestry industry and geological research which in its turn brought about an influx of alien workers. Orochis were employed but the workforce was mainly Russian. The main centres of the Orochi population are now Usjka-Russkaya near the Orochi railway station, Kopp on the coast and Omm on the right bank of the Amur. All these are mixed settlements. Russian-type log cabins are the norm but here and there storehouses on piles or other old traditional constructions used as outbuildings have survived. Vegetable farming and animal husbandry have become the main occupations in the villages. Some people are still engaged in fishing and hunting, however, shooting animals for fur is strictly regulated by licence system and a general decrease in the numbers of fish and wildstock sets additional restrictions. Ethnic traditions have persisted to an extent in clothing and, rather conspicuously in diet -- for example, eating raw fish.
Neither the Orochi themselves nor anybody else has created an Orochi written language; education is given in Russian. As a matter of course the native intelligentsia -- teachers, doctors, etc. -- has received an exclusively Russian education as well. The use of native language is confined to homes and, at best, amateur stage performances. The reputation of the Orochi language is low which is vividly demonstrated by the percentage of native language speakers in 1979 which was 40.7 %. At the same time 57.5 % considered Russian their native language and free command of Russian was reported by 77.9 % (Orochi -- 45.2 %). Mixed marriages are also constantly on the increase.