Keepers of ethnic arts and crafts

L.G. Ignatenko
President of Union of Communities of Northern indigenous peoples of Kamchatka "Yayar"

A cultural training project, “Ethnic Arts and Crafts”, has been started up in the Elizovo District of Kamchatka. It has been initiated by the head of the public Union of Communities of Northern Indigenous Peoples of Kamchatka “Yayar”, L.G. Ignatenko, on request of the clan communities “Aleskam” in the villages of Razdolnyy, “Koyana” in Koryaki, “Kamyak”, “Kam-Avva” and “Arguch” in Elizovo, and primary organisations in the villages of Lesnoy, Nikolaevka, etc.

The Project is financially supported by the UNDP/GEF. Activities are threefold: woodcarving, weaving with natural materials, and ethnic products of leather, fur and beads. Every Saturday and Sunday people join with pleasure in their selected working circles. Work takes place in the Children's House of Creative Work kindly hired out to us by the director of the centre, Irina Borisovna Savina. It should be noted that people not only receive skills, but also in a relaxed way communicate in the native language of our ancestors – Itelmen. In conversations they recollect interesting histories, customs, recipes, tell about herbs, berries for gathering, catching fish, about preparation of meat, fur, leather, etc.

We are so lucky that the teachers who work with us are native speakers, and also keepers of the traditional culture of the peoples of Kamchatka . One of them, Viktor Viktorovich Ryzhkov, teaches the course in woodcarving. He is an outstanding person who on his own has mastered working with fur, leather, wood, metal, and even ceramics, which our people have done for ages. For many years he has collected songs, fairy- tales, and legends of the native peoples of Kamchatka, and he has made an audio- and a video-archive of many keepers of the traditional culture of Kamchatka. But his most important quality is that he has studied the Itelmen language towards perfection, and he is invited to communities to teach it. Viktor Ryzhkov enjoys an enormous authority among the native people of southern Kamchatka. This is probably why both adults and teenagers work with him, and he appeals to everybody. And although work has only been done for two months, the first “best pupils” have already appeared: Grandfather and grandson Anisimov from the community “Kamyak” in Elizovo, and also a person from the community “Kam-Avva”, Nataliya Stanovaya of the well-known clan Novograblenov, which is trying very hard to adopt the skill of woodcarving. The results can already be seen.

The head of the “Weaving of natural materials” course, Lidiya Innokentevna Chechulina, also deserves praise. Very few people own such rare gifts today. Lidia Chechulina is a carrier and the keeper of Koryak culture, who also perfectly masters throat singing, and knows traditional songs from native places. She is frequently invited to international conferences, where she not only tells about the people and culture of the Koryaks, and in general about the population of northern Koryakiya, but she also conducts training courses in many disciplines: work with natural materials such as leather, fur, and beads, weaving of sedges, sea grass, ivan-tea, and nettles; all crafts, which must be revived from scratch. Lidiya Chechulina also has her “best schoolgirls”: Elena Posvolskaya from Vilyuchiysk, Nadezhda Tokareva from Elizovo, and Viktoria Fedotova from Koryaki – an elder who wants to become skilled in weaving despite her age, and has made great progress.

The leader of the “Fur, leather and bead crafts” course, Zinaida Pavlovna Zaeva, also deserves much attention. The best results in her group are from Valentina Anatolevna Mashikhina from the “Arguch” community in Elizovo, and from Svetlana Anatolevna Kislova.

We will certainly leave a good legacy to our children and grandchildren. Yu. Kashnikova, the coordinator of our courses, with whom we began and organized this vital work, was right when he said: "We have lost much during the past years, which have been so difficult for our country. But the living soul cannot live without art, cultural roots, and native traditions".