Interesting Stuff

During my peregrinations about Kamchatka, people have given me many beautiful things. This pages is a virtual selection from my collection of "ethnographic artifacts." The two hats are QuickTime objects, so you will need the QuickTime plug-in from Apple. It is available for both Macs and PCs. If you don't have it installed, you will see a query asking you if you want to go get it.


The Koryak word for hat, "penkin," can refer to any headgear, but in Kamchatka it is most often associated with reindeer-skin hats and caps with beaded ornamentation. The two QuickTime VR objects here are winter hats. These hats, as all the hats in my collection, were gifts from people I visited. Generous hospitality is one of the few traits that Russian and Kamchatkan native cultures share. When I stayed with Koryak or Chukchi families, I was always given parting gifts. "You always have to give a guest something after he stays with you, preferable something nice," one of my hosts explained to me as he told me a story about why he could never hang onto good binoculars. He was always giving them to visitors. Several times people came up to me as I was leaving a village, people I had never met before in some cases, and gave me presents. They were honored that I had travelled so far to visit their home.

These two hats are of superior craftsmanship. Hats are made with a double-walled construction, with fur facing out and in. Koryak and Chukchi hats are the softest, warmest hats I have ever worn, and I would never wear anything else while riding a snowmobile or sled across the tundra.

The first hat on the right was given to me by a grandma in Tymlat. She was born and raised in Anapka, located on Anapka Bay and closed in 1974 as "without prospects." It was, and continues to be, an excellent fishing area, and was closed only for administrative convenience. One day in 1974 several border guards from the contingent in the district center of Ossora showed up with a barge and said, "get your stuff together. You are leaving today." People were forced to evacuate their ancestral homes in less than a day, as if they were faced with imminent attack or other disaster. Pensioners and disabled people were sent to Ossora. People employed in the reindeer collective farm were sent to Tymlat (about 30 km north of Ossora), and professional fishermen and their families were sent to Il'pyr', as small village on a low spit separating Anapka Bay from the Bering Sea. Thus extended familiers were broken up across three different villages.

Grandma Uvarava, who made the hat, is respected as a powerful person who has control over spiritual forces. Russians call her a "shaman" or a "witch," but Koryaks prefer to say that she simply sees things, and has powers to heal sick people, talk to the dead. Residents of Tymlat include not only people from Anapka and Tymlat, but also Rekinniki. People from Rekinniki and Tymlat do not like her, and they stressed her negative qualities to me. I talked with her for only a short while, but she expressed only generosity and gratitude that an American would visit her village and take a serious interest in Koryak traditions.

This is my only hat from outside the Koryak Autonomous Okrug. It was given to me as I was leaving Upper Paren in Magadan Oblast. The Paren River flows west from the high and rugged tundra areas into the shallow Penzhina Bay near Poitelo Island (called "Dobrezhinskogo" by the Russians). The Koryaks of Upper Paren are reindeer herders, and those living on the coast (referred to as just "Paren" or "Ust-Paren.") are hunters and fishermen. These two populations, separated by an annoying administrative boundary,form one socio-economic group. They exchange reindeer meat and hides for seal skins, whale meat (nowadays only beluga is still hunted), and other sea products. Ust-Paren is also famous for its blacksmiths, who forged knives, spearpoints, and other metal tools out of trade iron since before Russian contact.

In my opinion, and that of many of my friends back in Palana, this is the most beautiful hat I have. The alternating white and black bands demonstrate a style specific to Penzhinsky Koryaks.

I would like to thank Will Rourke and Michael Tuite at the New Media Center of the University of Virginia for their help in making the QuickTime objects. Will especially put in several hours of hard work preparing the images and making the QTVR objects.

Main Page

Page Date: March 27, 2002

Alexander King, WEBMASTER (at) KORYAKS (dot) NET, University of Aberdeen, Scotland, UK