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The Ewenki ethnic minority (3)

(People's Daily)

17:52, August 26, 2011

Life Style

The Ewenkis are an honest, warm-hearted and hospitable people. Guests in the pastoral areas are often treated to tobacco, milk tea and stewed meat by the Ewenki hosts. Such delicacies as reindeer meat, venison, elk-nose meat sausages are generously offered in the hunting areas. /When Ewenki hunters go out on long hunting trips, they leave whatever they cannot take along -- foodstuffs, clothing and tools in unlocked stores in the forests. Other hunters who are in want, may help themselves to the things stored without the permission of their owners. The things borrowed would be returned to the store owners when the hunters happen to meet them at any time in future.

Monogamy is generally practiced. In old days exogamy was strictly observed. Members of the same clan were not permitted to marry one another, and those going against this unwritten law would be punished.

An Ewenki wedding is an occasion for dancing and merry-making. All Ewenki folk dances are simple and unconstrained. The dancers' foot movements, executed in a forceful and vigorous style and highly rhythmic, are characteristic of the honest, courage and optimistic traits of this ethnic minority.

Myths, fables, ballads and riddles form their oral literature. Embroidery, carving and painting are among the traditional lines of modeling arts as commonly seen on utensils decorated with various floral designs. An adept hand is also shown by the Ewenkis at birch bark carving and cutting in producing all kinds of fancy beasts and animals as toys for children.

Most Ewenkis are animists while those in the pastoral areas are followers of the Lamaist faith. A few living in the Chenbaerhu area are believers of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

While believing in animism, Ewenkis also worship their dead ancestors, and lingering influences of bear worship is still found among Ewenki hunters. After killing a bear, the Ewenkis would conduct a series of rituals at which the bear's head, bones and entrails are bundled in birch bark or dry grass and hung on a tree to give the beast a "wind burial." The hunters weep and kowtow while making offerings of tobacco to the dead animal. In the Chenbaerhu area every clan has its own totem -- a swan or a duck -- as an object of veneration. People would toss milk into the air upon seeing a real swan or duck flying overhead. No killing of these birds is permitted.

Wind burial was originally given to the dead. But it has now been replaced by burial in the ground, thanks to the influence of other ethnic groups living nearby, then and now.

Dispersed to live in different places and with many Ewenkis dragged into the army by the Qing rulers, the Ewenki ethnic group was threatened by extinction. Of a total number of 1,700 Ewenki troops sent to suppress a peasant army of other nationalities that rose against the Qing government in 1695, only some 300 survived the fighting. Following their occupation of northeast China in 1931, the Japanese imperialists not only intensified their exploitation of Ewenki people but drafted many of them into the Japanese army. They lured Ewenkis into the habit of opium-smoking and used some of them for bacteria experiments. All this, coupled with the spread of smallpox, typhoid fever and venereal diseases, brought about a sharp population decline. For example, there were upwards of 3,000 Ewenkis living along the Huihe River in 1931, but less than 1,000 remained in 1945.

Things took a turn for the better for this ethnic minority after the Japanese surrender in 1945. Two years later democratic reforms were carried out in both the pastoral and farming areas. As for Ewenki hunters roving in the forests, efforts were made to help them develop production and raise their cultural level. With the setting of cooperatives, these hunters, who were then at the transitional stage from primitivity to a class society, leap to socialism. Socialist reforms in most of the Ewenki area were completed towards the end of 1958.

The Ewenki Autonomous Banner was established on August 1, 1958, in the Hulun Beir League (Prefecture). Five Ewenki townships and an Ewenki district were set up later. A large number of Ewenkis were trained for administrative work.

A series of measures, including the introduction of fine breeds of cattle, the opening of fodder farms, improved veterinary services, building permanent housing for roving nomads and the use of machinery, have been taken to boost livestock production in the Ewenki Autonomous Banner. In the forested areas, Ewenki hunters, who used to be on the move after their game, now live in permanent homes. They still hunt, but they have also gone in for other occupations.

In the old days almost all the Ewenkis were illiterate. Today more than 90 per cent of all school-age children are at school. Some Ewenkis have been enrolled in the Central Nationalities Institute in Beijing, Inner Mongolia University in Hohhot and other institutions of higher learning.

With improved health care, TB, VD and other diseases that used to plague the Ewenki people have been put under control. Hospitals, maternity and child care centers, TB and VD prevention clinics are now at the service of the Ewenkis who knew no modern medical care formerly. As a result the population in the banner, which had dwindled for a century or more, has increased by many folds in the past four decades. The Ewenki ethnic group which was dying out is freed from the threat of extinction.

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