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Living with Koryak Traditions

Playing with Culture in Siberia

Alexander D. King

Publication Year: 2011

What does it mean to be a traditional Koryak in the modern world? How do indigenous Siberians express a culture that entails distinctive customs and traditions? For decades these people, who live on the Kamchatka Peninsula in northeastern Siberia, have been in the middle of contradictory Soviet/Russian colonial policies that celebrate cultural and ethnic difference across Russia yet seek to erase those differences. Government institutions both impose state ideologies of culture and civilization and are sites of community revitalization for indigenous Siberians. In Living with Koryak Traditions, Alexander D. King reveals that, rather than having a single model of Koryak culture, Koryaks themselves are engaged in deep debates and conversations about what “culture” and “tradition” mean and how they are represented for native peoples, both locally and globally. To most Koryaks, tradition does not function simply as an identity marker but also helps to maintain moral communities and support vulnerable youth in dire times. Debunking an immutable view of tradition and culture, King presents a dynamic one that validates contemporary indigenous peoples’ lived experience.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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Title Page

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p. iii

Copyright Page

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p. iv

Table of Contents

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p. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. viii-ix

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pp. xi-xv

This book participates in an intellectual tradition embedded in Boasian anthropology, which started with a focus on Native Americans but quickly became curious about connections between the cultures and peoples of North America and North Asia from a perspective where Asia lies to the west across the Pacific and America lies in the east.

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Introduction: A Semiotics of Koryak Culture

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pp. 1-40

This book, if it can be summarized in a phrase, is an ethnography of speaking about indigenous culture in Kamchatka, Russia, specifically Koryak culture. People in Kamchatka are very aware of having a culture (kul’tura) that entails distinctive customs (obychi) or traditions (traditsii). Unlike most anthropologists visiting other parts of the globe,...

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1. Discovering Koryak Culture through History

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pp. 41-81

When I tell people in Scotland or in the United States that I am an anthropologist, they either ask if I am searching for the “missing link” or they do not have any idea what anthropology is. In Russia most people still associate the term antropolog with biological anthropology, and so I called myself an etnograf, an ethnographer. Ethnography is a household word among former Soviet peoples, as Bruce Grant...

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2. Genuine and Spurious Culture in Kamchatka

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pp. 82-110

A performance incorporating native or local (mestnye) themes was organized jointly by the okrug art school and the House of Culture to celebrate Earth Day 1997. The concert consisted of a series of dance routines and skits by students, punctuated by narration about humanity and our relationship to the earth. Koryaks and natives were portrayed as close to nature, living in harmony with the climate, its seasons, and the ecology of the region, and contrasted with the environmental depredations of Western, urban culture.

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3. Dancing in the Koryak House of Culture

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pp. 111-147

In November 1995 the KAO Teachers’ College was feted on the occasion of its fifth anniversary with a jubilee evening. The small theater in Palana was packed to standing room only, and bureaucrats’ tedious speeches of congratulations were politely tolerated in between performances of music and dance by college students and other local artists.

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4. The Culture of Schools and Museums

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pp. 148-193

Most people living in Kamchatka have not lived at a herding camp, especially those in power. The views of indigenous Kamchatkans and Koryak culture typical of the scholars and travelers discussed in chapter 1 form an ethnographic canon, from which teachers, administrators, and other authoritative people in Kamchatka draw their model of Koryak culture.

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5. “This Is Not My Language!”: Koryak Language in Schools

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pp. 194-233

A way of speaking is one of the most salient markers of self and other present in everyday life. The way one speaks indexes not only ethnicity and social identity but the entire being of the speaker and the array of real and possible relationships among speaker and audience (Hanks 1996; Silverstein 2004). This linguistic anthropological insight into the indexical power of language was implicit in the discussions...

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Conclusion: Koryak Culture and the Future of Tradition

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pp. 234-262

Human beings inhabit a meaningful world. The patterns and organization of these meanings, many of which are unconscious or implicit, are what culture is all about. It continues to be a keyword that never seems to be out of fashion. Culture, variously termed, is at the middle of large clashes (“civilizations”), is often under threat (“our way of life”), the frequent focus of revitalization...


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pp. 263-283


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pp. 285-287


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pp. 289-320


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pp. 321-329

E-ISBN-13: 9780803236011
E-ISBN-10: 0803236018
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803235090
Print-ISBN-10: 0803235097

Page Count: 348
Illustrations: 23 illustrations, 2 maps, 1 glossary
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 733040372
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Living with Koryak Traditions

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Koryaks -- Cultural assimilation -- Russia (Federation) -- Kamchatka Peninsula.
  • Culture and globalization -- Russia (Federation) -- Kamchatka Peninsula.
  • Kamchatka Peninsula (Russia) -- Ethnic relations.
  • Kamchatka Peninsula (Russia) -- Social life and customs.
  • Koryaks -- Russia (Federation) -- Kamchatka Peninsula -- History.
  • Koryaks -- Russia (Federation) -- Kamchatka Peninsula -- Ethnic identity.
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