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The Ewenki ethnic minority

(People's Daily)

17:43, August 26, 2011

Population: 26,400

Major areas of distribution: Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang

Language: Ewenki and Han

Photo: Chen Haiwen

This ethnic minority is distributed across seven banners (counties) in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and in Nahe County of Heilongjiang Province, where they live together with Mongolians, Daurs, Hans and Oroqens.

The Ewenki people have no written script but a spoken language composed of three dialects belonging to the Manchu-Tungusic group of the Altai language family. Mongolian is spoken in the pastoral areas while the Han language is used in agricultural regions. The Ewenki Autonomous Banner, nestled in the ranges of the Greater Hinggan Mountains, is where the Ewenkis live in compact communities. A total of 19,110 square kilometers in area, it is studded with more than 600 small and big lakes and 11 springs. The pastureland here totaling 9,200 square kilometers is watered by the Yimin and four other rivers, all rising in the Greater Hinggan Mountains.

Nantunzhen, the seat of the banner government, is a rising city on the grassland. A communication hub, it is the political, economic and cultural center of the Ewenki Autonomous Banner.

Large numbers of livestock and great quantities of knitting wool, milk, wool-tops and casings are produced in the banner. Some 20-odd of these products are exported. The yellow oxen bred on the grassland have won a name for themselves in Southeast Asian countries. Pelts of a score or so of fur-bearing animals are also produced locally.

Reeds are in riot growth and in great abundance along the Huihe River in the banner. Some 35,000 tons are used annually for making paper. Lying beneath the grassland are rich deposits of coal, iron, gold, copper and rock crystal.


The forefathers of the Ewenkis had originally been a people who earned their living by fishing, hunting and breeding reindeer in the forests northeast of Lake Baikal and along the Shileke River (upper reaches of the Heilong River), tracing their ancestry to the "Shiweis", particularly the "Northern Shiweis" and "Bo Shiweis" living at the time of Northern Wei (386-534) on the upper reaches of the Heilong River, and the "Ju" tribes that bred deer at the time of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) in the forests of Taiyuan to the northeast of Lake Baikal. Later, they moved east, with one section coming to live on the middle reaches of the Heilong River. In history, the Ewenkis and the Oroqens and Mongolians living in forests to the east of Lake Baikal and the Heilong River Valley in the Yuan Dynasty (1280-1368) were known as a "forest people," and a people "moving on deer's backs" by the time of the Ming (1368-1644). When it came to the Qing period (1644-1911) they were called the "Sulongs" or "Kemunikans" (another tribal people different from the Sulongs at the time) who knew how to use deer.

In 1635, the Kemunikans came under the domination of Manchu rulers after their conquest of the Lake Baikal area, to be followed around the years from 1639 to 1640 by their control of the Sulongs living to the east of Lake Baikal. From the mid-17th century onwards, aggression by Tsarist Russia had led the Qing government to remove the Ewenkis to the area along the Ganhe, Nuomin, Ahlun, Jiqin, Yalu and Namoer -- tributaries of the Nenjiang River. In 1732, 1,600 Ewenkis were called up in the Buteha area and ordered together with their family dependents to perform garrison duties as frontier guards on the Hulunbuir Grassland. Their descendants are now the inhabitants of the Ewenki Autonomous Banner.

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