Religion and Folklore

Christianization of the Evenki began in the 17th century, although adoption of Christianity was mainly a formal performance of rituals during the priest's visit. Spirit cults, shamanism, and totemic elements were retained. The Evenki had animistic beliefs—that spirits occupied all animals, rocks, and natural objects— and also believed in the existence of an Upper World (in the sky) and Lower World (in the ground) connected by the shaman river Engdekit, along which spirits and the shaman could travel. Shaman ritual dress included a special caftan with a fringe and metal badges, small bells, a cap with fur strips, sometimes with reindeer antlers, a tambourine of unusual oval form with a drumstick, and sometimes a staff and a long strap. There were elements of a bear cult, and rituals connected with the killing of a bear, division of its carcass, and eating its meat.

Folklore included song improvisations, new songs, mythological and historical epic sagas, fairy tales about animals, riddles, and legends. Legends were told of the actions of successful hunters and exploits of fearless warriors. Ideas of the earth and celestial bodies, and origins of humans and animals were reflected in Evenk myths, and there were legends about shamans.

Epics were usually chanted during the night, listeners often taking part in the performance, repeating some lines after the narrator. A jew's harp (metal or wooden) and a dried bird larynx were known to be musical instruments, and a circle dance (kheiro, sedjo) performed to song improvisation was known. Games included contests of wrestling, shooting, and running. Wood and bone carving, metal processing, embroidery with beads, silk, fur, and fabric applique (particularly among the eastern Evenki) were well developed.

According to the "Rules about the aborigines' management" of 1822, Evenki were divided into tribal groups, headed by a tribal chief, who was elected for three years. Their duties were mainly juridical—solving disputes and making sure that rules were upheld— and yasak (tax) collecting.

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