Chukchis used to be reindeer hunters; some of them, from the 14th to the 16th centuries, in contact with Siberian Yupik, settled on the seashore, while others, from the 17th century, started herding. Indeed, Chukchi constitute two different groups depending on their environment. On the coast, they traditionally live by sea mammal hunting (walrus, seal, and whale; in particular, bowhead whale), and in the tundra, they practice reindeer pastoralism, shifting their encampment according to the herds' needs. This traditional way of life is still flourishing, but complementary modern jobs such as postmen, teachers, or accountants have recently appeared.

Herders and hunters used to exchange the products of their work. Even today, people enjoy eating the meat obtained by the other group, and need such things as seal oil for lamps or reindeer skins for winter clothes. In some places, there is a modern revival of this sort of bartering.

Chukchi nomadic herders live in a cylindrical and semiconical tent covered with reindeer skins, called iaranga. Until the middle of the 19th century, coastal Chukchi used to live in a semi-subterranean house made from the jaws and ribs of whale and covered with grass and earth. Later they developed the iaranga. A coastal village could be composed of 2-20 tents. Tents in herder camps stand in a straight line from north to south. The northernmost iaranga belongs to the "leader" of the encampment; today it belongs primarily to the brigadir, chief of the working group, and before the Soviet period it belonged to the ermech'yn, the man who possessed the majority of the herd. A nomadic camp can comprise three to five tents. Today, Chukchi live in Russian houses or apartments and even nomadic herders have a place to stay in the village.

The nuclear family constitutes the basic social unit among Chukchi. The kinship system is patrilineal, with a bilateral tendency, and can be linked to the Eskimo type. The rule of residence is traditionally patrilocal and sometimes uxorilocal: when a family has no son, the husband may come to live in the bride's house. Men could be polygamous. Marriages were also possible among herders and hunters.

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