What does the word "Ilkėn" mean?

A.N. Myreeva, Candidate of Philosophical Sciences, Head of Division of Evenk philology at IPMNS SO, Russian Academy of Sciences.

The Evenks, not having had any writing until the 1930s, used a system of symbols and drawings for communication. I. Georgi wrote about this ability: "Whenever they want to meet again in a different place, they have the ability to describe that place so exactly with fingers in the snow or in the earth that there is no doubt left of where to go and find it." Information about travel, catch of animals, reindeer casualties, etc., was communicated by using special route symbols and drawings on pieces of wood or rock surfaces. These symbols were made with improvised items like willow twigs, sticks, moss or stones. The most prevalent route symbols were called "ilkėn" - carvings in wood. They were made in places of permanent residence, along rivers and on mountain passes. With similar carvings they indicated paths to "dėvun" - places of dead or left-behind animals in the taiga. This were symbols used by messangers who, sent ahead on reindeer, brought the catch to the camp. Carvings placed on prominent trees were used to inform their fellow-tribesmen. With coal or "dėvė" - red or black mineral stone - mooses or wild reindeer were drawn , which meant "near-by is moose or wild reindeer, you may hunt them". Drawn upside-down they meant "killed moose or wild reindeer, please take it". Arrows carved beside the symbols indicated the direction to the place where the "dėvun" was to be found.