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About Russia

Nations of Russia

The Eskimos

They live in Russia, in Magadanskaya Oblast (1718 p.).
Anthropologically the Eskimo belong to the Mongoloid Arctic race. They are characterized by low stature, a stocky build, a relatively dark skin, a high cranium, stiff dark hair and a characteristic eye fold. The nose and the face with its high cheekbones are relatively narrow. There is very little hair growing on the face. Colour-blindness is almost unknown.
The language of the Siberian Eskimo belongs to the Eskimo-Aleut group of the Paleo-Asiatic languages. The Eskimos separated from the Aleuts at least 2,000-3,000 years ago and spread over a vast territory stretching from Northeast Asia across North-America to Greenland. In the course of time dialectal differences have developed into linguistic borders between language groups. At present the language varieties used by the Asiatic Eskimo are treated as three separate languages: Sireniki, Ungasiki or Chaplin, and Naukan which together form the Yupik or Western Eskimo language group. The differences are not extreme and in the 1930s the three languages were considered to be dialects of one and the same language. Most of the Asiatic Eskimo speak Ungasiki, while Sireniki and Naukan are on their way out.
The Eskimos have an extremely rich vocabulary concerning their own traditional spheres of life (nature, weather, sea, fishing, handicraft, etc.). There is also a unique "language of the spirits" used by the shamans that is full of archaic words and metaphoric periphrasis. Beside having close contacts with their eastern kin the Asiatic Eskimo have communicated even more closely with the Chukchi, so that the main features distinguishing their usage from that of the American Eskimo can well be attributed to Chukchi influence. The economic and cultural contacts with the Chukchi are at least 2,000 years old and are strongest in the areas of reindeer breeding and maritime affairs. Even though the Chukchi are more numerous and stronger than the Asiatic Eskimo and their language has more prestige, many an Eskimo element can be observed in the phonology, morphology and semantics of the Chukotko-Kamchatkan languages.
The Russian influence that first made itself felt in the 1930s has been extensive, continuous and ever growing. The Eskimo language was quickly infiltrated by unadapted Russian loanwords, bilingualism developed and the transition to Russian began. The influx of loanwords has stopped the operation of the flexible derivational system of Eskimo. The schooling, working and living environment is prevalently Russian now. In the 1960s there was a growing number of mixed marriages between Russians and the Eskimo, so the contact with the Russian language has acquired a direct and personal character. Now, in order to save the Eskimo language from complete extinction close and personal contacts with this language are necessary.
The Eskimos are the native people of Northeast Asia. About 2,000--3,000 years ago when the forefathers of the Eskimo and the Aleut diverged the Eskimos populated the whole eastern part of the Chukotka peninsula and its northern part up to the Kolyma river. The Chukchi, however, have advanced gradually northwards displacing the Eskimos to the American territories in the East, infiltrating those staying and Chukchianizing part of them.
The first records of the Eskimo people come from Russian conquerors (S. Dezhnev a.o.). In 1649 a fortified settlement (ostrog) in Anadyr was erected as base for the conquering of the Eskimo and Chukchi lands. This was not easy. The Eskimo as well as the Chukchi fought bravely for their freedom and refused to pay any tribute. They have never adopted Christianity. In 1822 their dependence on the state was still only partial. In the middle of the 19th century their contacts with the Russians were still very few.
Trade relations received a boost after 1867 when Russia sold Alaska to the USA and competition arose between the Russian and American merchants. For the Eskimos it meant, first and foremost, access to such vital equipment as boats, guns, ammunition, folding structures, etc. At the same time the Eskimos themselves soon became clever mediators trading with the Chukchis, Koryaks, Russians, eastern Eskimos and Americans. Living on the borderland they were not subjected to the sole authority of either side.
In 1923 Chukotka fell under the Soviet jurisdiction. Private trading had to retreat before co-operatives, the fishermen were also joined in co-operatives. In 1931 the first Eskimo kolkhoz called Novaya Zhizn 'New Life' was established. As collectivization proceeded more easily here than with the nomadic tribes 95 % of the Eskimo had become kolkhoz members by 1938 without particular repressions. Beside fishing the collective farms look up reindeer-breeding (with Chukchi herdsmen) and, on the Wrangel Island, fur hunting. Women were organised to work in sewing brigades. Collective farms were made more attractive for the Eskimo bydemonstration of modern technology and its advantages. The hunt for whale, for example, that traditionally used to take 3-4 days could be accomplished in 3-4 hours now by using a motor boat.
Great changes took place in the intellectual sphere. The first schools were opened in 1925. In 1928 centres for political enlightenment were established. These people, who quite unexpectedly had found themselves living in a socialist society were now having the advantages and nature of the new order explained. In 1923 a centre for disseminating literary was founded. After that, however, the people experienced overt colonialism, principally in economic and ethnic relations. Contacts with America (the distance between the Diomede Islands being merely 4 km) continued until 1949 when the border was totally closed. Since then all trade has been monopolized by the state. All essentials are imported from Murmansk, 6,000 km by sea. Nobody asked the opinion of the local inhabitants when Moscow decided to set up a mine, a prison camp or a new settlement. The mining and export of the mineral resources has also proceeded according to Moscow's plans, taking no heed of the environmental conditions or pollution. The Eskimos realized long ago that there is no way to resist this superior power. In 1958 and 1971 a part of the Eskimos were deported inland to ease the work of frontier forces. Now their settlements and local authorities are dominated by immigrants, Russian prevails at school, in hospitals, shops and offices. The Eskimo are tired of being Eskimos. Old customs are forgotten, the young people are passing over to Russian. Finding no suitable jobs they subsist on state emergency aid and are consoled by alcohol.
The overall degeneration and alcoholism are especially conspicuous among the Eskimo. In addition, the effects of the nuclear tests carried out in the region's airspace in the 1950--60s are making themselves felt. The impairment of the immune system by radiation has brought about explosive propagation of chronic ailments (hypertension, parasitic illnesses, tuberculosis, cancer of various organs, etc.). The average life expectancy of the Eskimo is only 45 years. The Eskimo language and culture are disappearing from the Asian mainland and even the physical existence of the people is endangered. (Cf. Chukchi)


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