Traditional festivals

Young reindeer festival

In herding brigadeKakomay! Festival! In August, early in the morning the women prepare different tasty meals for the feast and ritual food to thank the spirits. They gather branches on which later they will lay reindeer meat and skins. Musical instruments (yararas) are placed around the yaranga. Their sound is already near the camp, one may hear it. A big, strong and beautiful reindeer with thin ramified antlers precede the herd – it is the leader.

The rite requires a fire. Traditionally the master strikes a fire from a flint and carefully ignites moss and small wood placed on a ritual board.

At the festival of a young deerAnd finally – “Ak-ak!” he shoots an arrow in the direction of the herd, one more arrow – many arrows fly and plunk! The festival begins! The reindeers are anxious and hold up their head. The yararas sing. Women throw fire after the arrows – go away, spirits of evil, we have good spirits of our ancestors, they protect us. Now it is time to slaughter reindeers. Such a long-awaited day! There will be meat for everybody and skins to make warm winter coats. People will be dressed and nourished. The festivities continue all day, during night and the following day. The fire does not dwindle, the yararas do not stop – people are celebrating the day of tomorrow. Kakomay!

Kilway (the first bull calf festival)

“This merry festival of Kilway” – the poem with this title by the prominent Chukchi poetess Antonina Kymytval conveys the atmosphere of the popular spring day festival. Spring! Nature wakes up and revives. New-born bull calves appear in the herds. In the nomadic camps people wait for a calf’s’ birth with joy and anxiety – they worry about them – how strong and healthy will they be? People have much work to do these days, still they celebrate the occasion. The festival begins!

Behind the yarangas, antlers thrown off by hinds (reindeer females) are laid down on pussy-willow branches, so that they form a small mound. Festival meals are served on wooden dishes. Dried meat is boiled and sliced. New green leaves are mixed with reindeer blood and seal fat. The master and mistress of the yaranga are in Sunday dress, with dishes and go to the mounds of antlers around the yaranga, following the path of the sun. The women make a bonfire and feed food that is cut into small pieces to the flame to gratify the spirit of fire who gives warmth to the people. Food is also thrown onto the antlers. Afterwards men pull the antlers away from the camp – the new, beautiful and smooth ones will appear soon.

Thanksgiving rite

The rite to thanks spirit is obligatory for traditional festivals devoted to young reindeer and the first bull calf – it is merry and colorful. Women make in advance reindeer figurines of fat and leaves. They boil venison (reindeer meat) and prepare traditional dishes. Reindeer skins, prizes, and musical instruments (yararas) are placed around the yaranga.

The master of the yaranga strikes a fire from a flint and ignites moss laid on a ritual board, from which he starts a bonfire. Then he mimics a reindeer slaughter with the help of a little figurine standing on a wooden dish. The honourable guests are entertained with all kinds of delicacies and tea.
Meanwhile the women – family hearth and home keepers – begin a competition near the bonfire. They jump over it and gain prizes for that. The men, during their turn, run a race around the bonfire. Men of different generations participate in the race which starts at the master’s order. Children run first, then young men; the elders run last. After the race follows the master’s dance – jumping accompanied with the yararas songs. Then the time to sing arrives, the mistress begins, other women join her. Their songs and dances are devoted to animals. The yararas play rhythmical songs, people are shouting “Ak! A-ak”, but a little girl voice prevails – the spirits should know that the clan has its continuation.

The festival ends with a ritual dance during which the dancers shake off remnants of evil from their clothes. Everybody is cheerful and happy.

The whale festival

Little eskimos whale on holidayA festival day devoted to the whale – “Polha” in Eskimo – is the greatest day for the inhabitants of the Chukchi Peninsula coast. The most important event that determines the hunters and their families’ existence during the next year is the harpooning of a gigantic animal – the whale. People meet the kayaks that lead the harpooned whale with cheerful shouts. But they will celebrate this occasion later in winter, when all work to provide the family with food until the next summer is done. People will preserve tasty morsels of meat and skin for the feast. The clan of the hunter whose harpoon first struck the whale dominates at the festival.

The festivities take place in the greatest yaranga of the camp, decorated on the outside with square blocks of snow. Wooden stakes are driven into the blocks with long oars attached on both sides of them. Behind the dwelling a kayak rudder is standing and the yaranga itself looks like a kayak on land.

All inhabitants of the camp go to the feast in the yaranga. They dance ritual dances supported by the sound of drums, participate in sports competitions and rites: brothers and sisters, relatives and close friends exchange their clothes. The rites will be practiced for the entire month, each of them having its magic significance. Such festivals encourage the youth to have a profound respect for the labor, they become conscious that human beings and nature are inseparable.

Eskimo games

Throwing spearThe amount of time spend on games and sport competitions of the Eskimo people depends on how busy the adults are. They hunt and work, and when the work is done they enjoy themselves together with their children.

Ball games are among the favorite ones. But to make a ball, an Eskimo must have first to get a seal. How to do this? An experienced hunter knows how to find a seal. In winter seals keep near the surface under the thin crust of ice. Due to its breath a knoll is formed in the ice with a small hole in it. The hunter finds a seal by the knoll. He kills it. In former times hunters were using spears, but later when firearms appeared they began using guns, even though the flesh of a seal killed with a gun is always less delicate.

Eskimo balls are made of seal skin, filled with reindeer hair and are well decorated. Eskimo people like ball games very much. Usually they play ball in the evening, trying to involve in games every child and adult person. There are many different games and each person always may choose a game according to his taste and capabilities.

Kayak launching

BaydarThis is a joyful spring festival – the celebration of the beginning of the hunting season. In the morning harpoons, spears, oars – hunting equipment – are brought into the yaranga, cleaned carefully and greased with reindeer fat. Then all local shamans are invited to practice their rituals during the day-time. After that, hunters prepared their gaffs and free them from the snow. Women make a pugnik – a mass of reindeer fat, necessary for the ritual feast. Inside the kayak that is on land hunters start a fire using moss to make more smoke. Then they set up the kayak and load it with their equipment and food. As usual hunters take children with them. Before launching the kayak its owners feed some food to the sea spirits – the hunters will be lucky if the spirits will help them.

All those who have been seeing the hunters off to their hunt receive some celebration food. They will wait for their return, believing in their skill, dexterity and quick eyes.