Orochen Life is Worthless Without Reindeer

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Orochen Life is Worthless Without Reindeer

Submitted by: Yuri Klitsenko

Donatas Brandisauskas, Leaving Footprints in the Taiga Enacted and Emplaced Power and Luck among Orochen-Evenki of the Zabaikal Region in East Siberia, 2009

Elder Agafia Dandeeva from Rossoshino reveals such interrelations among reindeer and humans (retold by Anna Naikanchina):

Orochen life is worthless without reindeer. Therefore, Orochen love reindeer as a brother. Many years ago, when reindeer could understand and speak in the Orochen language, one reindeer lived with a hunter’s family. He was very clever and all the people loved him. However, he became old and the head of the family decided to kill him. The reindeer heard about the decision, but he did not want to leave humans anyway. He was not afraid of death. He was thinking about his devotion to people and he started to cry about being divorced from his family. When the Orochen saw him crying, they decided to let him live. Since then, the head of families decided to go hunting together. Since then, reindeer and people always stay together, and even after death reindeer and human stay together.

Orochen believe that reindeer can be only presented or exchanged, while slaughtering of domestic reindeer just for food is seen as the result of aggression by the herder, as well as the landscape since both are interrelated. When somebody kills reindeer for money or drink, the landscape also turns into neglected land, herder will lose his own health or reindeer will abandon herder. Nevertheless, reindeer is killed as a present for master-spirits or in the healing rituals. It is performed when humans experience bad luck or illness. Nadia Zhumaneeva told me about her brother who suffered from epilepsy in his childhood, and after a bad seizure, her father performed a special rite by killing a young reindeer and cutting out its heart. The floundering heart was put on the boys’ breast. Only this helped the boy to recover. The idea of exchanging strength -chinen with reindeer is a widespread belief among Orochens. Reindeer are slaughtered in public and in clan rituals as in the case of a death of a reindeer herder. It is said that then reindeer is slaughtered to transport a soul to the world of dead. Then, a reindeer is skinned in a special way leaving all attributes such as the hooves, eyes and penis hanging on the skin, which is erected on a pole. Nikolai says that it is always important to ask forgiveness of the reindeer before the killing also constantly making offerings for a master-spirit by feeding the fire during butchering. He typically used to sprinkle rice, sugar, and vodka excusing to reindeer when a reindeer was slaughtered and butchered by his brother Iura. Elders say that one must explain to the reindeer before slaughtering him that the herder had no other choice.

[FLH Comment] Thank you. We just don't understand how someone can say that they love animals and proceed to kill them. If we are truly filled with God's love we couldn't harm any other living being.

[YK Comment] Today clergy and scholars had an interesting discussion about a new textbook on the Foundations of Orthodox Culture for Orthodox children studying at state elementary/primary schools. Patriarch Kirill said that the new textbook includes Russian Orthodox love towards animals but lacks Russian Orthodox love towards plants. His Holiness ordered to add plants. One theologian said that God is "Father" for humans only, for plants and animals God is "Creator", not "Father". Since plants and animals were not created as "God's image", they are God's creatures, not God's children.

In Evenki culture soul of human is directly connected with soul of domestic reindeer. I think that Evenkis treat domestic reindeer as any other member of family. "Elders say that one must explain to the reindeer before slaughtering him that the herder had no other choice". Well, in time of hard hunger Evenki tribe would explain to widows and children that tribe can't no longer feed them. No widow or child would ever protest against leaving them alone in the forest - humans are as obedient as reindeer.

Evenki life is worthless without reindeer, as life of Native American is worthless without Tatanka - Buffalo. White men civization of consumption and consumerism pushed Evenkis and other pagan folks to far Northern lands with very hard climate - no agriculture is actually possible there. However, different way of life doesn't mean that Evenkis don't love humans, animals, plants. They do - in accordance with their culture and climate. However white men wouldn't leave Evenkis and reindeer in peace - oil civilization of consumption and consumerism need to exterminate them totally - like Tatanka and Indians before them Evenkis and reindeer must die.

[FLH Comment] Dear Yuri: Thank you, however, we see more in the meaning of God's creation of the animals, but not plants. If you look at Hebrew culture, they bring the children to the elder male family member for naming, just as God presented the animals to Adam.