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The Ewenki ethnic minority (2)

(People's Daily)

17:52, August 26, 2011

Economy and Life Style

Immigrations in the past led to population dispersion which in turn resulted in great unevenness in the social development of the Ewenki people dwelling in different places with diverse natural conditions. As a result, some Ewenkis are nomads; others are farmers or farmer-hunters. A small number of them are hunters.

The Ewenkis in the Ewenki Autonomous Banner and the Chenbaerfu Banner lead a nomadic life, wandering with their herds from place to place in search of grass and water. They live in yurts.

The Ewenkis excel in horsemanship. Boys and girls learn to ride on horseback at six or seven when they go out to pasture cattle with their parents. Girls are taught to milk cows and take part in horseracing at around ten, and learn the difficult art of lassoing horses when they grow a little older.

A "Mikuole" festival is traditionally observed by Ewenki herdsmen in May every year. At happy gatherings held everywhere on the grasslands, men, women and children in their holiday best go from yurt to yurt to partake wine, fine foods and other delicacies prepared for the occasion. It is a time for nomads to count new-born lambs and take stock of their wealth, and for young, sturdy lads to demonstrate their skills in lassoing horses and branding or castrating them.

With the institution of the "eight banner system" way back in the 17th century, Ewenki nomads were drafted into the army and had the obligation to pay leopard skins as tributes to the Qing rulers. This was at a time when they were at the transitional stage from primitivity to a class society. Helped by the Qing rulers, an upper stratum of Ewenkis invested with feudal rights then emerged. The expansion of agriculture and animal husbandry finally brought the Ewenki nomads to the threshold of a patriarchal feudal society.

A "nimoer" mutual-aid group consisting of a few to 10-odd families was usually formed by the Ewenkis to pasture their herds. People in the group were members of the same clan, and there was no exploitation of man by man at first. But in later years each "nimoer" group came to be dominated by a feudal lord, who had far more cattle than the other nomads in the group. In name the pastures belonged to the "nimoer" group, but in fact it was owned by the feudal chief who had the biggest herd. The poor nomads in the "nimoer" were at the beck and call of the feudal chief for whom they had to perform corvee.

A concentration of land also took place in areas where the Ewenkis lived as farmers or farmer-hunters. In areas near mountains, they lived by hunting, lumbering and making charcoal, with a few going in for farming. There emerged landlords, some possessing as many as 300 hectares of land. Here poor Ewenkis became employed hunters of landlords who supplied guns, ammunition and hunting horses and took away the bulk of the game bagged.

In the forests of the Ergunazuo Banner were Ewenki hunters who, having no permanent homes, wandered from place to place with their reindeer in search of game. When they stopped in the hunt, these Ewenki hunters lived in make-shift, umbrella-shaped tents built on 25 to 30 larch poles. In summer these tents were roofed over with birch bark, and in winter with reindeer hides. When the hunters were on the move, their tents and belongings as well as their capture were carried by reindeer, which lived on moss.

The roving Ewenki hunters were still in the last stage of the primitive society on the eve of liberation. Five or six to a dozen families who were very closely related were grouped under a clan commune, the chief of which was elected. All in the commune took part in hunting, and the game bagged was divided equally among the families. However, changes were already taking place in the clan commune system at the time of liberation when shot-guns, reindeer and the much-prized squirrel pelts were coming into the possession of individual families.

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