4 nov 2010

The Nanai of the Amur

Name: Nanai
Living Area: Amur Basin, Russia and China
Population: 18.000
Language: Nanai
The Nani people (self name нани/"Nani" means natives;self name "Hezhen" means people of the Orient; Russian: нанайцы, tr. "nanaitsy"; Chinese: 赫哲族, tr. "Hèzhézú"; formerly also known as Golds and Samagir) are a Tungusic people of the Far East, who have traditionally lived along Heilongjiang (Amur), Songhuajiang (Sunggari) and Ussuri rivers on the Middle Amur Basin. The ancestors of the Nanais were the Jurchens of northernmost Manchuria.
The Nanai/Hezhe language belongs to the Manchu-Tungusic branch of the Altai languages.
[Na] means native and [nai] means people in different dialects.
Some of the earliest first-hand accounts of the Nanai people in the European languages belong to the French Jesuit geographers travelling on the Ussury and the Amur in 1709. According to them, the native people living on the Ussury and on the Amur above the mouth of the Dondon River (which falls into the Amur between today's Khabarovsk and Komsomolsk-on-Amur) were known as Yupi Tartars (fish-skin tartars, see the Economy section below), while the name of the people living on the Dondon and on the Amur below Dondon was transcribed by the Jesuits into French as Ketching. The latter name may be the French transcription of the reported self-name of the Nanais of the lower Amur, [xədʑən], which was also applied to the closely related Ulch people.
According to the Jesuits, the language of the "Yupi" people seemed to occupy an intermediate position between the Manchu language and that of the "Ketching" people; some level of communication between the Yupi and the Ketching was possible.
The people would live in villages along the banks of the Ussuri, and would spend their entire summers fishing, eating fresh fish in the summer (particularly appreciating the sturgeon), and drying more fish for eating in winter. Fish would be used as fodder for those few domestic animals they had (which made the flesh of a locally raised pig almost inedible by visitors with European tastes).
The traditional clothing was made out of fish skins. These skins were left to dry. Once dry, they were struck repeatedly with a mallet to leave them completely smooth. Finally they were sewn together. The fish chosen to be used were those weighing more than 50 kilograms. In the past centuries, this distinct practice earned the Nanai the name "Fish-skin Tartars" (Chinese: 鱼皮鞑子, Yupi Dazi). This name has also been applied, more generically, to other aboriginal groups of he lower Sungari and lower Amur basins.
Agriculture entered the Nanai lands only slowly. Practically the only crop grown by the Yupi villagers on the Ussuri River shores in 1709 was some tobacco.
The Nanais are mainly Shamanist, with a great reverence for the bear (Doonta) and the tiger (Amba). They consider that the shamans have the power to expel bad spirits by means of prayers to the gods. During the centuries they have been worshipers of the spirits of the sun, the moon, the mountains, the water and the trees. According to their beliefs, the land was once flat until great serpents gouged out the river valleys. They consider that all the things of the universe possess their own spirit and that these spirits wander independently throughout the world. In the Nanai religion, inanimate objects were often personified. Fire, for example, was personified as an elderly woman whom the Nanai referred to as Fadzya Mama. Young children were not allowed to run up to the fire, since they might startle Fadzya Mama, and men always were courteous in the presence of a fire.
Nanai shamans, like other Tungusic peoples of the region, had characteristic clothing, consisting of a skirt and jacket; a leather belt with conical metal pendants; mittens with figures of serpents, lizards or frogs; and hats with branching horns or bear, wolf, or fox fur attached to it. Bits of Chinese mirrors were also sometimes incorporated into the costume.
The deceased were normally buried in the ground with the exception of children who died prior to the first birthday; in this case the child's body was wrapped in a cloth or birchbark covering and buried in the tree branches as a "wind burial". Many Nanai are also Tibetan Buddhist.

Well-known by: Dersu Uzala
Dersu was the name of a Nanai hunter (who lived c. 1850–1908) who acted as a guide for Vladimir Arsenyev's surveying crew from 1902 to 1907, and saved them from starvation and cold. Arsenyev, in his Dersu Uzala books, portrays him as a great man. From 1907, Arsenyev invited Dersu to live in his house in Khabarovsk as Dersu's failing sight hampered his ability to live as a hunter. In the spring of 1908, Dersu bade farewell to Arsenyev and walked back to his home in the Primorsky Krai, where he was killed. According to Arsenyev's book, Dersu Uzala was murdered near the town of Korfovskiy and buried in an unmarked grave in the taiga.

© Text and images: Wikipedia

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