The Itelmens (Itelmen: Итәнмән, Russian: Ительмены) are an ethnic group native to the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia. The Itelmen language is distantly related to Chukchi and Koryak, forming the Chukotko-Kamchatkan language family, but it is now virtually extinct, the vast majority of ethnic Itelmens being native speakers of Russian. A. P. Volodin has published a grammar of the Itelmen language.

Native peoples of Kamchatka (Itelmen, Ainu, Koryaks and Chuvans), collectively referred to as Kamchadals, had a substantial hunter-gatherer and fishing society with up to fifty thousand natives inhabiting the peninsula before they were decimated by the Cossack conquest in the 18th century. So much intermarriage took place between the natives and the Cossacks that Kamchadal now refers to the majority mixed population, while the term Itelmens became reserved for persistent speakers of the Itelmen language. By 1993, there were less than 100 elderly speakers of the language left, but some 2,400 people considered themselves ethnic Itelmen in the 1989 census. By 2002, this number had risen to 3,180, and there are attempts at reviving the language. According to the 2010 census, there were 3,193 Itelmen in Russia.

Itelmens resided primarily in the valley of the Kamchatka River in the middle of the peninsula.[3] One of the few sources describing the Itelmen prior to assimilation is that of Georg Wilhelm Steller, who accompanied Vitus Bering on his Great Northern Expedition (Second Expedition to Kamchatka).

An Itelmen (1862)
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 Kamchatka Krai
Itelmen, Russian
Polytheism, Shamanism, Russian Orthodoxy
Related ethnic groups
Chukchi, Koryaks

Village structure

Itelmen tended to settle along the various rivers of the Kamchatka Peninsula. At the time of the arrival of the first Cossacks to the peninsula, in the early 1650s, villages numbered between 200 and 300 residents, a number which had dwindled to 40 or 50 at most by the time of the composition of Steller's account in 1744. Each village was centered around a single patriarchal household. Generally, young men seeking marriage joined the village of their wife. When a village became too large to sustain itself, it was divided and a portion of the villagers would create a settlement at another point along the same river. Steller describes a great variation of dialects from river to river, as the Itelmen predominantly communicated with communities which shared the river.[4]

Itelmen houses

Itelmen winter dwelling
Itelmen and their winter dwelling, 1774
Хижины камчадалов гравюра
Winter dwelling and summer dwellings

Itelmen lived in different houses during the summer and winter seasons. The winter house, which was inhabited beginning in November, was dug into the soil 3–5 ft (0.91–1.52 m) in the shape of a rectangle. The walls were then covered with sticks and straw to prevent moisture from penetrating the interior. Four beams at the center of the dwelling supported the roof of the house, upon which rafters were laid, connecting the top of the yurt to the earthen walls. Atop the wooden rafters, approximately a foot of straw was laid, on top of which the excavated dirt was placed and stamped down. An opening atop the yurt, off to one side of the four posts and supported by the two beams served as a smoke hole and an entrance. Opposite the fireplace, they made a passageway to the outside facing the river, which was left open only when fires were lit. Different sleeping quarters were demarked by pieces of wood, on which straw mats and reindeer or seal skins were used to sleep.

In the summer months, the Itelmen live in raised houses called pehm or pehmy. As the ground thaws in the summer, the floors of the winter houses began to flood. In the summer months, each family in the village lived in their own house, rather than sharing a large house as in winter. These raised homes or balagans as the Cossacks called them, were pyramids on raised platforms, with a door on the south and the north side. The extreme moisture of the climate required the raising of the homes for dry storage. Most villages, in addition to summer and winter houses, contained straw huts built on the ground, which were used for cooking dog food, boiling salt from sea water and rendering fat. Villages were surrounded by an earthen wall or palisades until the arrival of the Russians, after which this practice was banned.[4]


The Itelmen subscribed to a polytheistic religion. The creative god was referred to as Kutka or Kutga. Though he is regarded as the creator of all things, Steller describes a complete lack of veneration for him. The Itelmen attribute the problems and difficulties of life to his stupidity, and are quick to scold or curse him. [5] They believed Kutka to be married to an intelligent woman named Chachy, who was said to have kept him from much foolishness and to have corrected him constantly. Kutka was believed to have lived on the greatest rivers of the Kamchatka Peninsula, and is said to have left a son and daughter for each river, which is used to explain the great variety of dialects present on the peninsula. The Itelmen also worshiped several spirits, Mitgh, who dwelled in the ocean and lived in the form of a fish. They believed in forest sprites, who were called ushakhtchu, said to resemble people. The mountain gods were called gamuli or little souls, who resided in the high mountains, especially volcanoes. The clouds were believed to be inhabited by the god billukai, who was responsible for thunder, lightning and storms. They postulated a devil, who was called kamma, who was said to live in a tree outside Nizhnoi village, which was annually shot up with arrows.[4]

Division of labor

In general, labor was very clearly divided based on gender, though many tasks were shared. When fishing, the men and women paddled together, however only the men fished while the women performed all related tasks such as cleaning and drying the fish and collecting the eggs. In home construction, men performed all the wood work, digging and carpentry while the women performed the task of thatching the straw roof and cutting the straw with bone sickles made from bear shoulder blades. The women prepare the whole fish supply, except fermented fish and dog food, which is left to the men. The women perform all the tasks of gathering seeds, berries and fireweed, which is used as a type of tea. From grass they construct mats, bags, baskets and boxes for storage and transportation. Dog and reindeer skins are tanned, dyed and sewn into the various garments worn by men and women.[4]


The Itelmen seldom observed a set eating time except when entertaining. They also seldom ate as a family unit except when eating opana (warm food), or fresh fish. Unlike their indigenous island neighbors, the Tungus and Yakuts, they do not enjoy fried food, eating mostly a diet of cold food. A common staple was fish eggs with willow or birch bark. A common food enjoyed at festivities, Selaga, was a mash made of sarana, pine nuts, fireweed, cow parsnip, bistort roots, and various berries cooked in seal, whale or fish oil. In Lopatkan, a fermented berry drink was consumed, though there is no indication that any other Itelmen settlements created fermented drinks.[4]

Cossack conquest

Steller cites anecdotal evidence of several Russian forays into Kamchatka prior to the arrival of Vladimir Atlasov. Atlasov began his conquest of Kamchatka by sending Luka Morozko on reconnaissance foray in 1695, and embarked himself a year later with 120 men, half of which were Yukakghir auxiliaries, to gather tribute and to annex the region for the crown.[6] Leaving from Anadyrsk bay on the backs of reindeer, they explored much of the western coast, crossed the mountains to the east to subdue the population there. By mid July, 1696, he had reached the Kamchatka River, at which point he divided his party in two, one band returning westward and the other remaining on the eastern coast. At this point the Yukaghir auxiliaries rebelled, killing 6 Russians and wounding 6. A band of Koryaks additionally absconded with Atlasov’s itinerant reindeer herd, but were chased down by the Russians and killed to one man.[6]

At the head of the Kamchatka River, they first encountered several heavily fortified Itelmen settlements. Here they were initially greeted cordially by the natives, and received tribute without contest. They proceeded to sack a rival Itelmen village upriver, cementing the alliance with the Itelmen.[6] The first Cossack settlement in the area was Bolsheretsk, founded in 1703 by Atlasov, Although, Steller notes that it was already a prominent village at the arrival of “that wind-bag Atlasov.” [4]

The Itelmen he found there were in possession of a captive Japanese merchant's clerk, who had been part of an expedition that wrecked and was overcome by Itelmen upon arrival at the Kamchatka River. Atlasov, who initially assumed the prisoner to be a Hindu from India, resulting in confusion over the word "Hondo" or Tokyo, had him sent to Moscow where Peter the Great had him establish a Japanese language school.[6]

In 1706, senior governing officials were killed by a band of Koryaks and a period of general lawlessness abounded. The Cossacks began to take great liberties with the legal amount of tribute required and began the practice of taking Itelmen as slaves, often gambling with and trading them.[4] During this time rebellions were abundant. Atlasov resumed legal control, in an effort to return law to the peninsula, after serving some time in jail. In 1711, his men mutinied, and he was assassinated in his bed, after fleeing to Nizhnekamchatsk, where he was given asylum. The mutineers were excused from the death penalty provided they continue government work. Thus an expedition to the southern tip of the peninsula and onto the Kuril Islands was conducted, led by Danila Antsiferov and Ivan Kozyrevsky.[6]

Under his rule, the Itelmen allied with their northern neighbors, the Koryaks, and burned Antsyferov to death in his bed. The rebellions did not quiet down until the 1715 outbreak of smallpox on the peninsula, at which point the Russian crown had lost 5 years of tribute and at least 200 Russians.[6]

Overtime, the remaining populations were assimilated. Due to increasingly large suicide rates, the crown made a law prohibiting natives from taking their own lives.[7] A large mixed population emerged, who were Russian Orthodox in religion, but distinctly Itelmen in looks and customs. The government granted legal status to these mixed children readily, Itelmen women were legally allowed to marry into the Orthodox Religion.[7] By the arrival of Bering’s second expedition to Kamchatka, the population had shrunk to approximately 10% of what it was prior to the arrival of the Cossacks.[4]

See also

Further reading

  • Schurr TG, RI Sukernik, YB Starikovskaya, and DC Wallace. 1999. "Mitochondrial DNA Variation in Koryaks and Itel'men: Population Replacement in the Okhotsk Sea-Bering Sea Region During the Neolithic". American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 108, no. 1: 1-39.
  1. ^ Russian Census 2010: Population by ethnicity Archived 2012-04-24 at the Wayback Machine (in Russian)
  2. ^ State statistics committee of Ukraine - National composition of population, 2001 (Ukrainian)
  3. ^ Map 3.7 (Kamchatka) from the series prepared for the INSROP (International Northern Sea Route Programme) Working Paper No. 90 in 1997.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Engel, Magritt and Willmore, Karen, Steller's History of Kamchatka, Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 2003
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b c d e f Benson Bobrick (1993). East of the Sun: The Conquest and Settlement of Siberia. Mandarin. ISBN 978-0-7493-0612-0.
  7. ^ a b Stephan, John, The Russian Far East, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994]

External links


The Alyutors (Russian: Алюторцы; self designation: Алутальу, or Alutal'u) are an ethnic group (formerly classified as a subgroup of Koryaks) who lived on the Kamchatka Peninsula and Chukchi Peninsula of the Russian Far East. Today most of them live in Koryak Okrug of Kamchatka Krai.

The name also occurs as Olyutorka, a settlement where many of the Alyutor people formerly lived.

There is no precise data on the number of Alyutor people, but it is estimated that there are approximately 2,000 to 3,000 of them living in Russia in the present day.

Atlasov Island

Atlasov Island, known in Russian as Ostrov Atlasova (Остров Атласова), or in Japanese as Araido (阿頼度島), is the northernmost island and volcano and also the highest volcano of the Kuril islands, part of the Sakhalin Oblast in Russia. The Russian name is sometimes rendered in English as Atlasova Island. Other names for the island include Uyakhuzhach, Oyakoba and Alaid, the name of the volcano on the island.

The island is named after Vladimir Atlasov, a 17th-century Russian explorer who incorporated the nearby Kamchatka Peninsula into Russia. It is essentially the cone of a submarine volcano called Vulkan Alaid protruding above the Sea of Okhotsk to a height of 2,339 metres (7,674 feet). The island has an area of 119 square kilometres (46 square miles), but is currently uninhabited. Numerous pyroclastic cones dot the lower flanks of basaltic to basaltic andesite volcano, particularly on the NW and SE sides, including an offshore cone formed during the 1933–34 eruption.

Its near perfect shape gave rise to many legends about the volcano among the peoples of the region, such as the Itelmens and Kuril Ainu. The Russian scientist Stepan Krasheninnikov was told the story that it was once a mountain in Kamchatka, but the neighbouring mountains became jealous of its beauty and exiled it to the sea, leaving behind Kurile Lake in southern Kamchatka. Geographically, this story is not without evidence, as after the last Ice Age most of the icecaps melted, raising the world's water level, and possibly submerging a landbridge to the volcano.

Following the transfer of the Kuril Islands to Japan by the Treaty of St Petersburg, 1875, Oyakoba as it is called by the Japanese, became the northernmost island of the empire and subject of much aesthetic praise, described in haiku, ukiyo-e, etc.

Ito Osamu (1926) described it as more exquisitely shaped than Mount Fuji.

Administratively this island belongs to the Sakhalin Oblast of the Russian Federation.


Chachy is a female deity of the Itelmens of Kamchatka. She has outstanding intellectual insight but she is of average physical appearance. She is the wife of Kutka, and is smarter than him.When the world was young, the divine couple met year after year at the many great rivers, and begat a son and a daughter at each of these, from whom the Itelmen trace their genealogical origin. As each river then started with this unique first pair of parents, so the many dialects are thus explained.


Chuvans (Russian: чува́нцы) are one of the forty or so "Indigenous small-numbered peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East" recognized by the Russian government. Most Chuvans today live within Chukotka Autonomous Okrug in the far northeast of Russia. Based on first-hand field research by several ethnographers in the 1990s, people who self-identify as Chuvans seem to do so by living in small villages and in the tundra in areas that are primarily associated with reindeer herding.

Danila Antsiferov

Danila Yakovlevich Antsiferov (Russian: Данила Яковлевич Анциферов) (died 1712) was a Russian explorer.

Upon the death of Vladimir Atlasov in 1711, Danila Antsiferov was elected Cossack ataman of the Kamchatka. Together with Ivan Kozyrevsky, he was one of the first Russian Cossacks to visit the Shumshu and Paramushir Islands of the Kuril Islands. Danila Antsiferov and his companions were the first ones to describe these islands in writing. He was killed by the Itelmens in 1712.

Haplogroup C-M217

Haplogroup C-M217, also known as C2 (and previously as C3), is a Y-chromosome DNA haplogroup. It is the most frequently occurring branch of the wider Haplogroup C (M130). It is found mostly in Central Asia, Eastern Siberia and significant frequencies in parts of East Asia and Southeast Asia including some populations in the Caucasus and Middle east.

The haplogroup C-M217 is now found at high frequencies among Central Asian peoples, indigenous Siberians, and some Native peoples of North America. In particular, males belonging to peoples such as the Buryats, Evens, Evenks, Itelmens, Kazakhs, Koryaks, Mongolians, Negidals, Nivkhs, and Udege have high levels of M217.One particular haplotype within Haplogroup C2-M217 has received a great deal of attention, because of the possibility that it may represent direct patrilineal descent from Genghis Khan, though that hypothesis is controversial. According to the recent result, C2's subgroups are divided into C2b and C2e, and in Mongolia, most belong to C2b(Genghis Khan modal), while very few are C2e. On the other hand, C2b takes minority and most are C2e in Japan and Korea and Southern East Asia. C2e is widely spread in Southern east Asia and east Asia, and it appears that those are part of Y haplogroup of Paleo-Asiatic race on the seaside, not the Y haplogroup which Mongolia wishes for. Its C-M48 subclade, which has been identified as a possible marker of the Manchu Aisin Gioro and has been found in ten different ethnic minorities in northern China, is absent from many Han Chinese populations (Heilongjiang, Gansu, Guangdong, Sichuan and Xinjiang).

Haplogroup M (mtDNA)

Haplogroup M is a human mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplogroup. An enormous haplogroup spanning all the continents, the macro-haplogroup M, like its sibling the macro-haplogroup N, is a descendant of the haplogroup L3.

All mtDNA haplogroups considered native outside of Africa are descendants of either haplogroup M or its sibling haplogroup N. Haplogroup M is relatively young, having a younger most recent common ancestor date than some subclades of haplogroup N such as haplogroup R.

Indigenous peoples of Siberia

Including the Russian Far East, the population of Siberia numbers just above 40 million people.

As a result of the 17th to 19th century Russian conquest of Siberia and the subsequent population movements during the Soviet era, the demographics of Siberia today is dominated by native speakers of Russian. There remain a considerable number of indigenous groups, between them accounting for below 10% of total Siberian population (About 4,500,000), which are also genetically related to indigenous peoples of the Americas.

Itelmen language

Itelmen (autonym: itənmən) or Western Itelmen, formerly known as Western Kamchadal, is a language of the Chukotko-Kamchatkan family spoken on the western coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula. Fewer than a hundred native speakers, mostly elderly, in a few settlements in the southwest of Koryak Autonomous Okrug, remained in 1993. The 2002 Census counted 3,180 ethnic Itelmens, virtually all of whom are now monolingual in Russian. However, there are attempts to revive the language, and it is being taught in a number of schools in the region.

(Western) Itelmen is the only surviving Kamchatkan language. It has two dialects, Sedanka and Xajrjuzovo (Ukä).


The Kamchadals (Russian: камчадалы) are native people of Kamchatka, Russia. The name Kamchadal was applied to the descendants of the local Siberians and aboriginal peoples (the Itelmens, Ainu, Koryaks and Chuvans), who assimilated with the Russians. These descendants of the mix-blooded Russian settlers in 18th-19th century are called Kamchadals these days. The Kamchadals speak Russian with a touch of local dialects of the aboriginal languages of Kamchatka. The Kamchadals are engaged in fur trading, fishing, market gardening and dairy farming, and are of the Russian Orthodox faith.

Kamchatka Peninsula

The Kamchatka Peninsula (Russian: полуо́стров Камча́тка, Poluostrov Kamchatka, IPA: [pəlʊˈostrəf kɐmˈt͡ɕætkə]) is a 1,250-kilometre-long (780 mi) peninsula in the Russian Far East, with an area of about 270,000 km2 (100,000 sq mi). The Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Okhotsk make up the peninsula's eastern and western coastlines, respectively. Immediately offshore along the Pacific coast of the peninsula runs the 10,500-metre (34,400-ft) deep Kuril–Kamchatka Trench.

The Kamchatka Peninsula, the Commander Islands, and Karaginsky Island constitute the Kamchatka Krai of the Russian Federation. The vast majority of the 322,079 inhabitants are ethnic Russians, but about 13,000 Koryaks (2014) live there as well. More than half of the population lives in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (179,526 in 2010) and nearby Yelizovo (38,980). The Kamchatka peninsula contains the volcanoes of Kamchatka, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Koekchuch is an extinct gender identity recorded among the Itelmens of Siberia. These were male assigned at birth individuals who behaved as women did, and were recorded in the late 18th century and early 19th century.


Koryaks (or Koriak) are an indigenous people of the Russian Far East, who live immediately north of the Kamchatka Peninsula in Kamchatka Krai and inhabit the coastlands of the Bering Sea. The cultural borders of the Koryaks include Tigilsk in the south and the Anadyr basin in the north.

The Koryaks are culturally similar to the Chukchis of extreme northeast Siberia. The Koryak language and Alutor (which is often regarded as a dialect of Koryak), are linguistically close to the Chukchi language. All of these languages are members of the Chukotko-Kamchatkan language family. They are more distantly related to the Itelmens on the Kamchatka Peninsula. All of these peoples and other, unrelated minorities in and around Kamchatka are known collectively as Kamchadals.

Neighbors of the Koryaks include the Evens to the west, the Alutor to the south (on the isthmus of Kamchatka Peninsula), the Kerek to the east, and the Chukchi to the northeast.

The Koryak are typically split into two groups: the coastal people Nemelan (or Nymylan) meaning 'village dwellers,' due to their living in villages. Their lifestyle is based on local fishing and marine mammal hunting. The inland Koryak, reindeer herders, are called Chaucu (or Chauchuven), meaning 'rich in reindeer.' They are more nomadic, following the herds as they graze with the seasons.According to the 2010 census, there were 7,953 Koryaks in Russia.

Kuril Ainu language

Kuril Ainu, or Kuril, is an extinct and poorly attested Ainu language of the Kuril Islands, now part of Russia. The main inhabited islands were Kunashir, Iturup and Urup in the south, and Shumshu in the north. Other islands either had small populations (such as Paramushir) or were visited for fishing or hunting. There may have been a small mixed Kuril–Itelmen population at the southern tip of the Kamchatka Peninsula.

The Ainu of the Kurils appear to have been a relatively recent expansion from Hokkaido, displacing an indigenous Okhotsk culture, which may have been related to the modern Itelmens. When the Kuril Islands passed to Japanese control in 1875, many of the northern Kuril Ainu evacuated to Ust-Bolsheretsky District in Kamchatka, where about 100 still live. In the decades after the islands passed to Soviet control in 1945, most of the remaining southern Kuril Ainu evacuated to Hokkaido, where they have since been assimilated.


Kutka, also styled as Kutga or Kutku, is a creation deity of the Itelmens of Kamchatka. Some sources indicate he was a supreme deity but others see him being subsidiary to Dusdaechschitsh, a uniquely supreme being. His wife, Chachy, is smarter than him.

His son is Haetsch.


Kutkh (also Kutkha, Kootkha, Kutq Kutcha and other variants, Russian: Кутх), is a Raven spirit traditionally revered in various forms by various indigenous peoples of the Russian Far East. Kutkh appears in many legends: as a key figure in creation, as a fertile ancestor of mankind, as a mighty shaman and as a trickster. He is a popular subject of the animist stories of the Chukchi people and plays a central role in the mythology of the Koryaks and Itelmens of Kamchatka. Many of the stories regarding Kutkh are similar to those of the Raven among the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast, suggesting a long history of indirect cultural contact between Asian and North American peoples.

Russian conquest of Siberia

The Russian conquest of Siberia took place in the 16th and 17th centuries, when the Khanate of Sibir had become a loose political structure of vassalages that were being undermined by the activities of Russian explorers. Although outnumbered, the Russians pressured the various family-based tribes into changing their loyalties and establishing distant forts from which they conducted raids. To counter this, Kuchum Khan attempted to centralize his rule by imposing Islam on his subjects and reforming his tax-collecting apparatus.

Stilt house

Stilt houses are houses raised on piles over the surface of the soil or a body of water. Stilt houses are built primarily as a protection against flooding, and they also keep out vermin. The shady space under the house can be used for work or storage.

The Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire

The Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire is a book about the small nations of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, and the Russia and some other post-Soviet states of today. It was published in Estonian in 1991 and in English in 2001.

The foreword of the book explains the book's approach by saying, "the authors of the present book, who come from a country (Estonia) which has shared the fate of nations in the Russian and Soviet empires, endeavour to publicize the plight of the small nations whose very existence is threatened as a result of recent history."

Other indigenous

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