Image for post
Image for post

Asya Pereltsvaig, The Altaic Family Controversy

The Tungusic languages are spoken by small groups scattered across the sparsely populated taiga forestlands of central and eastern Siberia, including Sakhalin Island, as well as adjacent parts of northeastern China and Mongolia. The one Tungusic language that is well known in history is Manchu, the language of the Manchu conquerors who established the Qing dynasty in China (1644–1911). Today, fewer than a hundred people still speak Manchu, although the ethnic population is reported to be as large as 11 million; the vast majority of Manchus have switched to Mandarin Chinese. Other Tungusic languages include Even (7,170 speakers in northeastern Siberia, scattered in the Yakut Autonomous Republic and Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Federation), Evenki (approximately 27,000 speakers spread thinly over vast areas in Russia, China, and Mongolia), Oroqen (1,200 speakers in Heilongjiang Province, China), and Nanai (3,890 speakers in the extreme far east of Russia, at the confluence of the Amur and Ussuri rivers).Of the Tungusic peoples of Siberia, the Evenks (or Evenki) are the most important, with larger numbers than the other groups spread over a larger area. The Evenk homeland is believed by many to have been located in and around in and around the Sayan Mountains of northern Mongolia and south-central Siberia. The Sayan area was an early locus of reindeer domestication, and the Evenk have long been noted as reindeer pastoralists. Unlike the reindeer herders of the tundra zone, the Evenks and related peoples of the taiga (or boreal forest) kept relatively small numbers of reindeer (20 to 30 per family), which they used primarily for transportation and milking, rather than for meat. By supplying protection from predators, using smudge-pots to drive away midges and other biting flies, and providing salt, the Evenk assured that their reindeer would never stray far. Reindeer riding, facilitated by the use of the saddle, gave the Tungusic people of Siberia tremendous mobility. As a result, they were able to spread over the vast expanses of the taiga. In doing so, they seem to have absorbed a number of indigenous ethnic groups into their societies, thereby reducing the cultural and linguistic diversity of Siberia.

The Tungusic languages are spoken by small groups scattered across the sparsely populated taiga forestlands of central and eastern Siberia, including Sakhalin Island, as well as adjacent parts of northeastern China and Mongolia. The one Tungusic language that is well known in history is Manchu, the language of the Manchu conquerors who established the Qing dynasty in China (1644–1911). Today, fewer than a hundred people still speak Manchu, although the ethnic population is reported to be as large as 11 million; the vast majority of Manchus have switched to Mandarin Chinese. Other Tungusic languages include Even (7,170 speakers in northeastern Siberia, scattered in the Yakut Autonomous Republic and Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Federation), Evenki (approximately 27,000 speakers spread thinly over vast areas in Russia, China, and Mongolia), Oroqen (1,200 speakers in Heilongjiang Province, China), and Nanai (3,890 speakers in the extreme far east of Russia, at the confluence of the Amur and Ussuri rivers).

Of the Tungusic peoples of Siberia, the Evenks (or Evenki) are the most important, with larger numbers than the other groups spread over a larger area. The Evenk homeland is believed by many to have been located in and around the Sayan Mountains of northern Mongolia and south-central Siberia. The Sayan area was an early locus of reindeer domestication, and the Evenk have long been noted as reindeer pastoralists. Unlike the reindeer herders of the tundra zone, the Evenks and related peoples of the taiga (or boreal forest) kept relatively small numbers of reindeer (20 to 30 per family), which they used primarily for transportation and milking, rather than for meat. By supplying protection from predators, using smudge-pots to drive away midges and other biting flies, and providing salt, the Evenk assured that their reindeer would never stray far. Reindeer riding, facilitated by the use of the saddle, gave the Tungusic people of Siberia tremendous mobility. As a result, they were able to spread over the vast expanses of the taiga. In doing so, they seem to have absorbed a number of indigenous ethnic groups into their societies, thereby reducing the cultural and linguistic diversity of Siberia.

I have the image of the Evenks ranging through the ancient boreal forest, riding their reindeer, and spreading shamanism across all Asia.

Written by

Founder, Work Futures. Editor, GigaOm. My obsession is the ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store