English translation from the official periodical of RAIPON “Мир коренных народов живая арктика” (Indigenous Peoples’ World Living Arctic) No. 8, 2001
About native Chukotka in native language
translated from Chukotkan into Russian by V.A. Gracheva
Below is the translation from the Chukotkan language of a composition by Ms. Nataliya Nikolayevna Noskova, teacher at the Anadyr medical school, winning the first prize among other works written in Chukotkan for “Chukotka on the Threshold of the 21st century”, a youth contest to mark the 70th anniversary of the Chukotkan Autonomous Okrug.
Live by doing good and loving next of kin!
I was born in the most northeastern village of our country – Uelen. From my green years I was pretty sure that one’s birthplace determined largely one’s nature and has a bearing on the rest on one’s life. The village of Uelen is world famous not only for its bone carving art but also its native people: Yu.S. Rytkhëu, V.K. Veket, Tukkay, Seygutegin, and many others. V.V. Leontev, L.V. Belikov, B.A. Vasilevskiy worked in Uelen for years. As children, we were plunged into the atmosphere of arts and creativity. It was in the 1980s, when Chukotka was on the upswing: people worked to be and make other people happy, domestic problems were virtually nonexistent and nobody could even suspect that in a short while everything would be changed.
Possibly, the prerequisites for taking hard knocks were laid down then, in “the full belly times…” My grandfathers and great-grandfathers were reindeer herders. Here is what my mother, V.A. Ranautagina used to tell me:
“Our granddad, Panan, owned a large reindeer herd and was a well-to-do Chukchi. He had two wives. His second wife, her name was Papy, died in the early 1970s at the age of over 100. Up until her death, she was always busy with doing some work in her power about the house, nursing her grandchildren”. In the 1950s, collective farms (kolkhozes) were imposed all across Chukotka. Collectivisation was triggered. Ranautagin, my father, was a skillful reindeer herder. He and my granddad Panan are frequently referred to in V. Leontev’s narrative “Time to Hunt Walrus”. Granddad Panan was of sound mind and a skillful man. He taught his sons, Ranautagin and Konop many smart things of the world. Leontyev writes about it in his story “Fortune-teller”:
“The old man was too weak though tried to be of help one way or another: carried out repairs of reindeer sledges and harnesses, mended snow shoes and gave advice every now and then… And when Ranautagin asked the old man he looked thoughtful for a moment and then, in full view of everybody present, took a shoulder blade of a freshly flayed reindeer, put on it a little smoldering piece of coal from the hearth and started to blow… The old man looked at the crack for a long time, feeling it with his hardened fingernail and whispering something under his nose. At last, the old man said quietly and confidently: “Calving should take place in the valley of Kyttapvaam”.
I remember my granddad Konop quite well. He was a strong and courageous man. His physical defect (he was one-legged) did not prevent him from working at a collective farm and, later, a state farm as a guide. He knew the tundra like the back of his hand, he could find the way in any weather.
At my little age, when Konop was still alive, I was unable to realize the profundity of that man who, in my view, personified the whole epoch, but my respect and that of my kinsfolk for that great man was boundless. Konop was a man of few words but those few words, gestures and expressions on his face were more than enough for him to show his feelings and thoughts. With his passing, it seems to me, a piece of ancient wisdom was lost forever and at times I catch myself wishing to ask him and nobody else: “What next – what’s to be done? What shall we do and every one of us in particular?”
I had good luck not only in as far as my place of birth and my relatives were concerned but also in the acquaintances of mine, the people I came across as fate willed. First and foremost, it is Iliya Aleksandrovich Radov. Having no specialisad ethnographical education, he has been doing individual research into the traditional lineage-based social organisation of the Chukchi. Residing in Uelen, he spent time having long talks with old reindeer herders, Konop and Kiyem, and drawing family trees. He managed to identify specific features of various tribes, drawing out the differences between the Reindeer Chukchi and the Coastal ones, tracing the migration itineraries of certain tribes across Chukotka. After moving to Ust’-Belaya and while working in the state farm there, he went on with his research, talking with thousands of natives, mostly of old age, and discovering relationships between the Chukchi inhabiting the Chukotskiy District and those living in the Anadyr District. He has collected valuable materials and his book, written in co-authorship, will soon be out of print in Magadan. Iliya Aleksandrovich has spent 34 years in Kamchatka working in agriculture, the most labor-intensive branch of economy. He is in fact “a soldier of an unknown front” – it is in his time that the state farm has managed to stay among the most stable units against the background of total disintegration of reindeer breeding. Having sacrificed his best years to Chukotka, this man has failed to save even for an apartment somewhere in mainland Russia.
Chukotka is now struggling through the worst time in its history. A medical worker myself, I have always been guided by concrete figures and facts. In the recent years, the indigenous peoples of the North have been subject to the most severe trials in their entire history. Indigenous people who have been engaged in subsistence activities are now forced to abandon the once so familiar and dear places and resettle in towns and villages where jobs are easier to find. The prevailing crisis of traditional subsistence economies is the main reason for the high unemployment level, and is compounded by bad, misbalanced nourishment and alcoholism among aborigines of the North. The high accident, murder and suicide mortality rates, three to four times higher than the average in Russia, and the average life expectancy of indigenous population being ten to eleven years shorter than the national average are the aftermath of the above. More than half of the total number of deaths among the aborigines of Chukotka falls among the able-bodied section of population. Only a few individuals reach pension age.
And here is what V.G. Bogoraz wrote in his monographic essay “The Chukchi”:
“The Chukchi are the healthiest tribe in northeastern Siberia. During the 1897 census in the Kolyma Area, families were encountered with five, seven and even nine children, all very much alive… There are many old people among the Reindeer Chukchi. There are also families with four generations living side by side with their great-grandfather being 70-75” - a comparison not in favor of the present day.
I cannot help mentioning one more person – Olga Dmitrievna Tumnettuvge. I consider her my professional teacher. She has taught me a lot in my professional activity, assisting me in becoming a specialist. Olga Dmitrievna has worked for more than forty years in health care. She has seen a good deal of everything but her soul has not grown stiff because of all the hardships she has experienced. She loves her job, the people. She is constantly full of ideas striving for creation, emotionally going through all the ordeal the Chukotkan people are enduring at this time. A.P. Chekhov was quite right saying: “What a lofty and happy fate it is to stay among the ranks of those saving people from sufferings, giving this idea everything, one’s youth, strength! “
And O.D. Tumnettuvge’s fate has been “lofty” and “happy” indeed. People’s life has been changed before her eyes and, unfortunately, not always for the better. There have been some shortcomings in the development healthcare in Chukotka, which have led to serious consequences. Namely, the people’s traditions and beliefs have been ignored, the strength of their family roots, as well as their food ration and diet dictated by a harsh climate have been disregarded. The forceful and, at times, thoughtless “alienation” could lead to the destruction of the entire civilisation. Over and over again I have been convinced that our Chukotka is rich in people, our real wealth, rather than in gold, tin, ore or precious stones – people like Konop, I.A. Radov, O.D. Tumnettuvge and many others whose lives are like the sun’s rays giving light and showing the way.
The wind’s so fierce, so devilishly cold,
The frost’s so biting like nowhere in the world.
In spite of all that, the folks are open an’ fair
In the land where the sun’s so welcome but rare.
What’s their openness one is talking about?
Their soul’s wide open, any stranger’s allowed
To enter it easily like their well-heated home –
The cost of the warmth among them is well known.
(Translated by W.Czarev)
Sometimes, a thought comes to your mind: what is your significance for this world? A human being in the universe is like a grain of sand in the ocean. On the other hand, how many good deeds and what an awful lot of evil things man can do during his so short a life.
Analyzing the situation Chukotka is now experiencing, thinking over the prospects for its future in the 21st century, I become ever more strongly convinced in one thing: to live with dignity one should start with oneself first. It was not without reason that L. Leonov said: “All victories start with the victory over yourself”.
This is the occasion when it is not a disgrace to become selfish and fall in love with your good self. Anyone inhabiting this land should take care of oneself, one’s health, one’s children. There must be no confidence in anyone whatsoever to avoid disappointment in future, which might be too much for you. You would never let yourself down, would you? The statement that “you are responsible for your children” is as old as the world. It just cannot be so, I refuse to believe it outright, that our strong and courageous ancestors struggled to survive for many centuries so that we would degrade ourselves and perish in a wink of an eye, in a few decades.
We, our fathers’ and grandfathers’ successors, are responsible to those who were among the first explorers to open up Chukotka, sacrificing their best years for the sake of this land. Don’t we have the right to be striving only for a better everyday life? I am sure that Chukotkan future will be bright and happy for those who inhabit the land. All there is to do is to work a lot, raising our kids in the spirit of traditional culture, never ignoring the precepts of our ancestors.
I would like to sum up my composition with the words of the great Michel de Montaigne:
“Life in itself is neither good, nor evil. It is a receptacle of both good and evil depending on what you have turned it into…”