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About the Tribe
Evenki are the most widespread Indigenous Peoples of the North. Formerly known as the Tungus people, they can be found from the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk in Russia’s Far East, throughout southeastern Siberia, and along the entire length of the Yenisei River to the tundra regions of the Taimyr Peninsula. Traditionally nomadic, they have practiced traditional subsistence activities, including reindeer herding and hunting. According to the 2010 census there are approximately 38,000 Evenki in the Russian Federation. Evenki food culture is mainly based on wild reindeer. Evenki also herd reindeer, but prefer to use their domesticated animals for hunting and transportation. For Evenki to eat their own animals would be a last resort. Other popular foods are mountain birds, water-fowl, occasionally bear and elk, and fish. In summer and early autumn the Evenki diet is complemented by reindeer milk, berries (blueberries, honeysuckle berries, blackberries, cloudberries, lingonberries and others), mushrooms, pine nuts and wild onions. But still, reindeer have always been and remain the absolute «king» of Evenki food culture. Everything is used from reindeer, and nothing is wasted. Evenki also eat everything except for the spleen, it being the only organ which should not be eaten, it is even forbidden to give it to the dogs.
Area Occupied by the Evenki
Like their cousins the Evens, the Evenki are unique in the world in that they have a small population but occupy huge expanses of land, in many cases at a density of one person per 250 square kilometers of land. They are the most widely distributed people in Siberia and the Far East and can be found in around half the territory west of the Urals. They can also be found in Mongolia and in northern Manchuria in China.
Evenki Population lives:
40 percent live in Yakut Republic
13 percent live Khabarovsk territory
28 percent live in Irkutsk and Amur Provinces and Buryatia
The Evenki make up 14 percent of the population of the Evenk Autonomous District north of Krasnoyarsk, where about 12 percent of them live.
In the Sakha Republic, the Evenki, live where there are no roads or towns, only taiga and tundra and snow. The nearest city, Yakutsk, is an hour and a half away by air. Along the Amur river in the Far East they live with the Nania and Ulchi ethnic groups.
The heartland of Evenki culture is in southeastern Siberia, north of Manchuria. The Evenki migrated out from this region using reindeer. After their first contacts with the Russians in 1540 they retreated to area between rivers. In the Soviet era they pleaded with the government to keep Russian settlements away from the traditional hunting grounds.
Importance of Animal Products
Evenki food culture is mainly based on wild reindeer. Evenki also herd reindeer, but prefer to use their domesticated animals for hunting and transportation. For Evenki to eat their own animals would be a last resort. Other popular foods are mountain birds, water-fowl, occasionally bear and elk, and fish. In summer and early autumn the Evenki diet is complemented by reindeer milk...
Here we present two Evenki traditional dishes: Kapka and Buyuren. These two are essential dishes for Evenki reindeer herders in the southern part of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia).
The term of this ancient dish «kapka» is used both for the designation the dish, and for the reindeer trachea. The dish is common among Evenki reindeer herding communities in this region, specifically the Neryungri and Olekminsky districts. The process of making the dish: When butchering the reindeer, you use the entire reindeer head to get the primary ingredients for kapka. You will need the trachea, lips, ears, cheeks, meat and muscles around the eyes, and different parts of meat (usually some meat with sinews). Separate all the ingredients from the skin and bones, rinse and cut into pieces. Fill the trachea with the cut-up ingredients. Connect the ends of trachea together to make a ring (by using a strong thread). Use a skewer made from willow to insert into the trachea and stake it near an open fire for 45-50 minutes, periodically turning the kapka, in order that it cooks evenly. After 45-50 minutes remove from near the fire, let it cool and slice. Place the sliced pieces of kapka on a pan and keep near the stove in order that they became drier (but do not fry). Women prepared kapka to give to their men, when they were going hunting or herding reindeer. They are quick to make and serve as a highly nutritious snack, which can be conserved for a year or longer. Traditionally, it was saved to use in bad times, when there was not enough meat to eat. People could boil it and make soups, or eat it as a snack. It is important to note, that during the process of cooking, no salt was added to kapka. Because once it is salted, it quickly becomes moist. Once cooked kapka was conserved in cotton bags, usually kept away from heat, or outside of the tent in special packs (immek) made of birch bark and reindeer skin. Immek is used for keeping and transporting different products, such as wheat flour and other perishables. There were no special occasions to cook kapka, though herders tried to make it while the reindeer meat was still fresh. In addition, it did not matter whether the reindeer was a female or male, but that the important rule in Evenki culture be followed – it is forbidden to eat reindeer calves. We (the authors) chose to present this dish, as we think it is important to show that it is not only meat which is used from the reindeer. Every part is important, and can be cooked. And kapka is both rich in nutrients and flavor.
BUYUREN – BLOOD SAUSAGE
Reindeer blood sausage (in Evenki language buyuren, buyukse, beyuhe, and subai in the Yakut language) is a popular dish for all reindeer herding peoples in the circumpolar North. Nonetheless, blood sausages are quite different in various reindeer herding regions and have different specifics in the process of cooking, in textures and even colors. Evenki reindeer herders usually make very soft sausages, sometimes of a very light color. The darker color sausage is less tasty, but not less healthy. Actually, the taste of blood sausages depends on the amount of blood and the fat content of the intestines. There are just two main ingredients for this dish:
fresh reindeer blood and intestines.
During the process of slaughtering, Evenki herders always collected the blood, usually the amount is about 5 liters, approximately 3 liters of which would be used for blood sausages. The blood is collected in a big bowl. One should let it be still for a while. Considering the fact that blood tends to coagulate, you should first slightly cut the very first layer of the blood with a knife. Then squish the coagulated pieces with your hands while the blood is still warm, in order to get more liquid blood. Do not stir the blood. Then filter the whole bowl, giving you only pure blood and let it be rest for approximately 8 hours (In some regions they let it rest for 5-6 hours). That which is left in the filter is given to the dogs. While the blood is standing, it starts to divide itself into three layers. The first layer is plasma - a very light mass on top. You use this first layer to make light blood sausages. The second layer can also be used for sausages or mixed with plasma, then they will have a darker color, but still soft. The blood from the second layer can also be fried with onions, or other vegetables. It is a very delicious and healthy dish especially for those who have anemia or low hemoglobin. The bottom layer is also boiled for dogs. While the blood is resting so that it divides into layers, you can clean the intestines, wash them and start selecting. The thin ones are sometimes used for sausages. You need to check that the intestines are not broken by blowing into them to check that there are no holes. Intact intestines can be filled with plasma or blood. Bring the ends of the intestine together and use a thread to connect them. Reindeer herders in the Aldan region also add salt, black pepper and garlic to the sausage. Place the intestines with blood into boiling water for 15-20 minutes. Add salt. Boil over a small fire, otherwise the sausage might rupture. A little bit later, poke the sausage with a toothpick to let some air out. Slice the cooked sausage and serve hot. Blood sausages usually were eaten right after they were cooked. But these days, raw sausages can be frozen and cooked later when preferred. However, it is important to remember, that only raw sausage can be put in a freezer, and that frozen sausages should defrost a little before cooking.
Importance of Plants
In summer and early autumn the Evenki diet is complemented by reindeer milk, berries (blueberries, honeysuckle berries, blackberries, cloudberries, lingonberries and others), mushrooms, pine nuts and wild onions. But still, reindeer have always been and remain the absolute «king» of Evenki food culture.
Transition to Industrialized Food Products
History of the Evenki and Evens
Until around a century ago no distinction was made between the Even and Evenki—ethnic minorities that are recognized as different today. The two groups are more alike than they are different. Their lifestyles, Tungus-Manchu, Altaic language and traditional religions are similar. The main difference is that the Even live mainly in northeast Russia and the Evenki live in the southeast and north central areas of Siberia. The two groups have been physically separated from each other long enough that some different characteristics have emerged.
Tungus-speaking people emerged in ancient times in Siberia. The ancestors of the Evens and Evenki were closely related to the Turkic-speaking Yakut. Around the 11th century B.C. a northern branch of the Tungus began to have contact with the ancestors of the Yukagir. Threatened by the ancient Turks, Tungus-speaking people began migrating to the west, north and particularly the northeast. In the 15th and 16th centuries the people that became the Evens and Evenki settled on the shore of the Sea of Okhotsk. Even though this area was very sparsely populated there were conflicts with other people that lived there, particularly with the Koryaks over grazing pastures for reindeer.
The consolidation of the Evenki as a distinct group with a distinct territory took place after the arrival of the Russians. The Russians set up a system of tribute and in the process of defining which group gave them what they helped the groups establish territories with roughly-defined borders.
The Evenkis used to be called the Tungus. Describing them in the 1820s, the explorer John Bell wrote: "They have no homes where they remain for any time, but range throughout the woods and long rivers for pleasure; and,wherever they come, they erect a few spars, in clinging to one another at the top; these they cover with pieces of boiled birch bark, sewed together, leaving, a hole at the top to let out smoke...They can not bear to sleep in a warm room, but retire to their huts and lie about the fire on skins of wild bears. It is surprising that these creatures can suffer the very piercing cold of these parts."
"They are very civil and tractable, and like to smoke tobacco and drink brandy...I have seen many of the men with oval figures, like wreaths, on their foreheads and chins...These are made, in their infancy, by pricking the parts with needles and rubbing them with charcoal...They have many shamans among them, I was told of others, whose abilities for fortune-telling far exceeded those of the shaman."
"The women dressed in a fur-gown, reaching below the knee, and tied about the waist with a girdle...made of deer skins, having their hair curiously stitched down and ornamented...The dress of the men consists of a short jacket with narrow sleeves made of deer skin, having the fur outward; trousers and hoses of the same kind of skin...They have besides a piece of fur, that covers the breasts and stomach, which is hung about the neck with a string of leather."
"Their arms are a bow and several sorts of arrows, according to the different kinds of game they intend to hunt...In winter, the season for hunting wild beasts, they travel on what are called snow shoes...They have a different kind of shoe for ascending hills, with the skins of seal glued to the boards, having the hair inclined backwards which prevents them from sliding on there shoes...When a Tungus goes hunting into the woods, he carries with him no provisions, but depends entirely on what he has to catch."