International significance of the Itelmen culture of southern Kamchatka

Summer 2003

Petr Bekkerov and Vasiliy Deschenko, Elders of the Union of Itelmen Families
Shevtsov V.D., Director of Elizovo Regional Museum of Political Geography

The international significance of the culture of the indigenous peoples of southern Kamchatka, its historical and comprehensive value, is explained by the fact that it is a kind of relict of a formely vast, primordial periphery. In a dialogue with the latter the Far East centers of civilization crystallized. In this connection, the culture is an integral part of the historical self-consciousness of the peoples of the Far East. It arouses certain public interest and could become a target of the international collaboration aimed at the development and strengthening of peace and sustainability in the region, preservation and enrichment of cultural originality of its peoples, and, which is most important, prevention of possible ethno-territorial conflicts.

The history and modern-day life of the indigenous peoples of southern Kamchatka are studied by Japanese, Chinese, Korean, American and other foreign scientists who have always been interested in ethnological and archaeological fieldwork in the region. Lately, foreign tourist companies also have shown interest in the land occupied by indigenous peoples. Foreigners are attracted not only by the exotic character of original culture of the aboriginals, reminiscences of their ancestors’ remote past which are linked to the region, but also by its unique natural conditions.

The traditions of the indigenous peoples of southern Kamchatka are noteworthy when taking into consideration successful modernisation of the countries of the Asian-Pacific region such as Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Peoples Republic of China and others. Undoubtedly, one of the main conditions of their rapid development was a rich cultural memory, preserving and maintaining traditional practices by modern means.

The system of communication, supported by such traditions, transmits new information, new values, a new system of traditional ecological knowledge. Under certain conditions these can become prerequisites of a complete socio-cultural synthesis resulting in an “economic wonder” as an alternative to “great leaps”.

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The Itelmens’ legend about the creation of the land called Kamchatka has been transmitted orally through the generations since ancient times to the present day.

According to the well-known legend, the great Itelmen God named Kutkh (Raven) dived into the ocean, grasped with his claws the bottom of the sea and dragged out the land to the surface, like a fish. After that he let it go. In the sites where he was holding the land, the mountains and volcanoes were formed. After that the land drowned, then raised up again; it is still trembling and balancing.

When the land was lifted, the peoples could go easily to each other on dry land, stay for a long time and watch other lands created by Kutkh.

After the land drowned again, many people who left could not return and stayed in the other lands.

This legend found its scientific approval only in the 20th century, when researchers from the Institute of Volcanology found on the bottom of the Sea of Okhotsk the peat layers which prove the fact that it was dry land not long ago.

This and other facts indicate that colonisation of the Kuril Islands, the Aleutian Islands and America originated from Kamchatka and Chukotka, and peoples living there have many similar traditions, subsistence practices and ways of life.