Ewenki Peo­ple: Seek­ing Har­mo­nious Co­ex­is­tence with Forests

Seek­ing Har­mo­nious Co­ex­is­tence with Forests

China Pictorial (English) - - Contents - Text by An Yi and Fan Zhang Pho­to­graphs by Fan Zhang

Lo­cated in the north of China’s Hei­longjiang Prov­ince and In­ner Mon­go­lia Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion, the Greater Khin­gan Moun­tains are an oxy­gen­gener­at­ing nat­u­ral won­der cov­er­ing a large and dense for­est area. With a to­tal length of more than 1,200 kilo­me­ters and a width of 200 to 300 kilo­me­ters, the vast ex­panse is an im­por­tant forestry base in north­ern China and home to the largest in­ten­sive bright conif­er­ous forests in the coun­try. The fer­tile area not only sup­ports di­verse plant and an­i­mal species, but also nur­tures the “Rein­deer Ewenki” peo­ple of China. More than 300 years ago, rein­deer-herd­ing Ewenkis had al­ready set­tled in the Greater Khin­gan Moun­tains.

Mi­gra­tion of Rein­deer-herd­ing Ewenki

The Ewenki peo­ple are a cross-border eth­nic group pri­mar­ily in­hab­it­ing Rus­sia and China to­day. And a small pop­u­la­tion can also be found in Mon­go­lia. Ac­cord­ing to China’s 2010 na­tional pop­u­la­tion cen­sus, the Ewenkis, which are rec­og­nized as one of China’s 56 eth­nic groups, have a pop­u­la­tion of more than 30,000. In Chi­nese his­tory, the Ewenki had three branches: farm­ers, herders and hun­ters. The hun­ters, most known to the public, were ac­tive in the Greater Khin­gan Moun­tains. Be­cause they re­lied on do­mes­ti­cated rein­deer for milk and trans­port and hunted other an­i­mals for meat, they have been known as the rein­deer-herd­ing Ewenkis.

As early as the 18th Cen­tury, the rein­deer-herd­ing Ewenki peo­ple re­lo­cated to the Greater Khin­gan Moun­tains from even fur­ther north ar­eas.

In the mid-20th Cen­tury, the lives of rein­deer-herd­ing Ewenkis be­gan to slowly but steadily change. Be­fore 1949, the rein­deer herders were a pa­tri­lin­eal so­ci­ety. Af­ter 1949, un­der or­ga­ni­za­tion of the gov­ern­ment, Ewenki peo­ple have re­lo­cated four times, grad­u­ally fur­ther from the deep moun­tains. The last “mi­gra­tion” hap­pened in 2003, when a ma­jor­ity of Ewenki peo­ple moved to Ol­guya Town­ship of Genhe City in the In­ner Mon­go­lia Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion, a move mo­ti­vated by eco­log­i­cal pro­tec­tion of the Greater Khin­gan Moun­tains.

Log­ging Ban

Due to the needs of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, China started to de­velop the Greater Khin­gan Moun­tains in the 1950s. As a re­sult, the forested area saw a rapid de­crease. In the 1990s, the coun­try re­al­ized the se­ri­ous im­pact of en­vi­ron­men­tal and for­est re­source crises caused by ex­ces­sive ex­ploita­tion and be­gan to change re­lated poli­cies to bet­ter pro­tect the moun­tains. In 2000, China launched its Nat­u­ral For­est Pro­tec­tion Pro­gram to curb the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of the eco­log­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment at the root causes, pro­tect bi­o­log­i­cal di­ver­sity, and pro­mote sus­tain­able so­cial and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

Since then, the Greater Khin­gan Moun­tains have seen great ef­forts to ad­just the for­est re­gion’s eco­nomic struc­ture, in­dus­trial struc­ture and prod­uct mix. In 2011, the area be­gan its trans­for­ma­tion to eco­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ment. Tim­ber yield was re­duced in con­sec­u­tive years. Be­gin­ning from 2014, log­ging has been com­pletely banned in the area, sav­ing an es­ti­mated two mil­lion cu­bic meters of tim­ber re­sources each year.

Since the log­ging ban on the Greater Khin­gan Moun­tains went into ef­fect, the area has been in rest and re­cov­ery, but now the rein­deer herders face an­other change in life­style.

New Life for “Eco­log­i­cal Mi­grants”

In 2003, due to a na­tional ban on hunt­ing, Ewenki peo­ple in the Greater Khin­gan Moun­tains handed in their ri­fles, and be­gan to adopt al­ter­nate means of sub­sis­tence, the most pop­u­lar of which was rein­deer herd­ing. At that time, many rein­deer herders moved to the new set­tle­ment con­structed by the gov­ern­ment in the sub­urbs of Genhe City. The new lo­cale was de­signed by Fin­nish ar­chi­tects. All the houses were con­structed of wood and in villa style to en­sure they stayed warm in win­ter and cool in sum­mer. The homes were equipped with ap­pli­ances, fur­ni­ture, ca­ble TV, flush toi­let, tap wa­ter, and cen­tral heat­ing, all of which were pro­vided to the Ewenki peo­ple by the gov­ern­ment, free of charge. Even hot wa­ter and tele­phone ser­vices were free. And each house­hold also re­ceived com­pli­men­tary daily use items from the gov­ern­ment. The strong Ewenki fla­vor in the new set­tle­ment at­tracted abun­dant tourists from both China and abroad.

While it takes time for some older hun­ters to ad­just to the new life, young Ewenki peo­ple con­sider the eco­log­i­cal re­set­tle­ment and hunt­ing pro­hi­bi­tion a new op­por­tu­nity.

They re­ceive gov­ern­men­tal sup­port and sub­si­dies to raise rein­deer, which has en­abled them to avoid mi­grat­ing through the dan­ger­ous deep forests like their fore­fa­thers. Rein­deer are no longer used for trans­porta­tion. Their antlers and skins be­come a ma­jor source of in­come for breed­ers. The lo­cal tourism busi­ness caused a boom in Ewenki fam­ily in­comes, which en­abled their kids to re­ceive bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion in big cities.

Nev­er­the­less, for re­set­tled Ewenki peo­ple, life is dif­fer­ent than their no­madic fore­fa­thers. To­day, each fam­ily or house­hold usu­ally raises a few dozen rein­deer. To en­able the rein­deer to run freely, which they need to grow up healthily, Ewenki peo­ple have made many in­no­va­tions. For ex­am­ple, Septem­ber is the mat­ing sea­son for rein­deer. Dur­ing the month, male rein­deer usu­ally have a hot tem­per and of­ten fight with each other. To avoid the fight­ing, Ewenki herders make the an­i­mals go out, move around, and feed in dif­fer­ent groups. While one group is out, the oth­ers are con­fined to fences made of pine or birch. They also col­lect con­sid­er­able moss to feed rein­deer in win­ter. Be­fore win­ter comes, Ewenki peo­ple ven­ture into the moun­tains to col­lect enough moss. They fill ten large bags, which take mul­ti­ple trips to carry back. Since moss, the sta­ple food of rein­deer, grows so slowly, when the moss of one for­est has been con­sumed, Ewenki herders move around to search for food for their an­i­mals de­spite be­ing set­tled.

More than 300 years ago, when they first ar­rived in the Greater Khin­gan Moun­tains, the rein­deer-herd­ing Ewenki peo­ple could have hardly imag­ined liv­ing so close to mod­ern cities. How­ever, these peo­ple, who pre­serve a deep love for forests, have been ex­plor­ing a har­mo­nious co­ex­is­tence with forests and re­main full of hope.

Treat­ing an in­jured rein­deer. Rein­deer will grow up healthily only when they can run freely. Thus, for a long time, many be­lieve that the an­i­mal can­not be raised at home.

For re­set­tled Ewenki peo­ple, each fam­ily or house­hold usu­ally raises a few dozen rein­deer. They have made many in­no­va­tions in or­der to en­able rein­deer to grow up healthily.

Be­fore win­ter comes, Ewenki peo­ple ven­ture into the moun­tains to col­lect enough moss and take mul­ti­ple trips to carry back.

A lo­cal makes a spe­cial tent, tra­di­tional res­i­dence for no­madic Ewenkis. Pre­vi­ously, Ewenki peo­ple lived in con­i­cal tents made from birch bark or rein­deer skin tied to birch poles.

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