Ecological knowledge and Metrology

CALENDARS OF NORTHERN PEOPLES. As in all nations, trad. c.n.p. were lunar, timed to the Moon’s phases. The word for a calendar month in the Khant lang. is iki; in Mansi, etpos; in Nenets, ibry; in N’ganasan, kicheda; in Evenk, bega, in Nivkh, long, in Shor, ai, all meaning “Moon,” “month,” Each c.n.p. had (acc. to number of lunar phases) 13 months or traces of them instead of 12. (Sometimes there were more than 12-13 months.) And the c.n.p. had no standard length for a month; it could be 15-20 to 90 days depending on the season.

The N people believed the yr. (khu in N’ganasan, al in Khant, anugani, ayugana in Evenk and Nanai) was divided into halves, the summer and winter ones (in Khant, melek for warmth, etikh for winter), or into 4 parts: the Ulcha, Nanai word tue and the Udegey tua mean “winter,” with nenne for “spring,” zua, zue for “summer,” and bolo for “autumn.” Mansis, respectively, had tal (teli), tuya (tuv), takvys (takvsi). The Even calendar had 6 natural seasons: nelkeni, nelki meant forespring; neenini, neuneii, late or second spring; duvoni, summer; montelsni, Indian summer or early autumn; bol’ni, late or second autumn; and tuveni, winter. The Nepa Evenks had 7 seasons; they divided the spring into 3 parts: early spring, or nelkini; spring proper, or ovilasani; and late spring, or neuneni. Autumn had 2 parts (simple and late autumn). Negidals had 5 seasons.

The yr. began with the spring equinox for some (Nenetses, Evenks, Khants, Mansis, Selkups). When the yr. began in autumn, it could start from Sept. to Nov. for diff. peoples of the N (groups of Evenks, Khants, Ulchas, Nanais, Negidals). In the Arc. N, where spring comes later, the N’ganasan yr. began in May-June.

In most cases the names of months in the c.n.p. were assoc. with nat. changes in climate, length of day and night, arrival of birds, and ec. activ.: hunt., fish., reindeer breeding, gathering. Thus, the names often had similar meanings. It might be the month of great darkness. The darkest was ngarka (nyudya) pevdei in Nenets, or foimarunga kiteda in N’ganasan for Dec. and Jan. The month of shortest days, Nov.-Dec., was vankhat tylis in Khant, vatyakhot etpos in Mansi, khol’onok in Ket, and khudkarpe in Evenk, with variations. In Mansi, the term vat sagrap nal (“30 axe handles”) was used, since one axe handle could be made in a day, and the month had 30 days. In Selkup, the term was nopit gogal ireti (“the month of the mitten thumb”), since an old woman could make only one mitten thumb a day. In Altaian it was kychi kyrlach, kurtyag ai (“old woman’s month”)—an old woman has hardly time enough to put on footwear during the day.

There were also “the greatest frost” months: varg kandak iret (everything is cracking) in Selkup and chagan ai (biting) in Shor for Jan. Oth. terms were yanyg pal etpos in Mansi for March-Apr. and khongdan biani in Nanai for March. Apr.-May, the time of drifting ice, was called yangk patne etpos in Mansi and nobytty tylis in Khant. There was also the time of birds’ arrival: turan in Evenk, urn ike in Khant, and karr long in Nivkh (the crow month, or March-Apr.) Another designation was the month of the eagle’s arrival: limbya irii in Nenets for Jan., retyng nyusvoi in Mansi, kuryk tylis in Khant, and gusi beni in Ulcha, Ulta for Feb. Similar terms were limpi ireti in Selkup, and diyyp in Ket for March. And there was the time of abundant mosquitoes: nenyang irii in Nenets, nganmakta in Evenk, and byrdak yia (mosquito) in Dolgan for June, while khunmin in Evenk and nyimyrel ireti (time of gnats) in Selkup denoted July and Aug. Irgilekhe in Evenk and pilyu irii (gadfly period) in Nenets also occurred in Aug.

Peoples occupied in fish. had many month names assoc. with fish. and the migration of fish. There was the month “to set up fish locks”: karba kula iret in Selkup for Apr.-May, and ai (elle) ver iki (small or big locks) in Khant for June-July. The month of “seining for nelma” was sulos in Ket and uenti ireti in Selkup for Aug., and vush novi in Khant for June. Burbot month was Dec.: ziyengen yia in Dolgan and sokh tylis in Khant. The month of hunchback salmon and of autumn chum salmon was uuru biani in Nanai for July, dava in Negidal for Sept.

Month names of peoples breeding reindeer were assoc. with their main occupation: May was assoc. with reindeer calving—ty nits, ty sapolaka in Nenets, vyli omysty tylis in Khant, and suonkan (May) in Evenk. The month was anyia todyu kiteda (first calves, May-June) in N’ganasan, but ty khora irii (reindeer-bulls) in Nenets for Oct. and vyli yerdy tylis (counting reindeer) in Khant for Jan.

Widespread “hunting” names incl. sanga iret (wood grouse land on sand) in Selkup for Sept., and for Oct.-Nov. poikangko in Nanai, khoika beg’anyn (loops for sable) in Negidal, and vont imelta iki (time to go to taiga) in Khant. Feb.-March was girgun (shooting wild deer) in Evenk. Nokh kenchit iki in Khant, kaietyn in Ket, and kau kiteda (moose hunt.) in N’ganasan were Feb., Sept., and Oct., respectively. Deptasa kiteda (birds shedding feathers) was July-Aug. in N’ganasan, while Apr. was olti yengep in Mansi and tunt tylis, lont vesekh iki (geese, ducks) in Khant. Babi kicheda (wild deer month) in N’ganasan was Nov.-Dec.

The people of S Sib. also had month names reflecting agric.—tidu yailag-ai, oda-ai (month to weed crops) in Altaian for July—and kanyakit (digging Sib. lily or sarana root) in Evenk for July-Aug. Tyopan mizukunta iret (time to collect berries) in Selkup was Aug., while kandyk ai in Shor was an Apr. gathering time.

Selkup month names confirm the terr. division of the p. into N and S Selkups. The N people (reindeer breeders) used names assoc. with reindeer breeding, such as tapakil iret (of male reindeer). Month names of S Selkups reflect their involvement in hunt., fish., and gathering: kuelainyu iret (of migrating fish), sebka iret (time to hunt chipmunk), tyoprakrasse kutei iret (flowering berries).
The Enets calendar is less known, but it is closer to the Nenets one. Month names of N groups of Khants and Mansis also are close to the Nenets ones (assoc. with reindeer) while month names of S groups are close to Selkup fish. names).

Some Yakut month names reflect the distant past, when Yakuts populated areas further S: mus ustar yi (opening up of rivers) for Apr., and atyrdyakh yi (hayfork or haystack-making month) for Aug.

Some month names of Evens, Chukchi, Koryaks were timed to holidays: khezeek (time for dances) in Even for June-July and tenatrytvangyrgyn (winter killing of reindeer) for Dec.-Jan.; in Chukchi, mi’zyrgyn (spring thanksgiving) and ryrkavamat (autumn walrus); and in Koryak angyt ng’i’ylavut (autumn holiday of heads), k’oyannyaitat (autumn reindeer calf holiday), and kilvei in March-May (holiday of reindeer horns). Onel jr kokh (sacrifice month) in Khant was Oct. The Even month names were also assoc. with games: mun’n’ak (time for sport assemblies) was June-July.

The Tungus-Manchurian peoples (Evenks, Evens, Ulchas, Nanais, Oroches, Negidals) had a calendar in which months were named after parts of the body. The Evenk calendar had 13 of them: sonaya, or the head (the start of the year); evrimira, or the left shoulder; ichan, the left elbow; bilyan, the left wrist; unmu, or joints at the base of fingers on the left hand; charatki, or mid. joints of fingers on the left hand; ogikta, or last joints of fingers on the left hand. Further on, the months were in reversed order: ogikta, or last joints of fingers of the right hand; charatki, or mid. joints of fingers on the right hand; unmu, or joints at the base of fingers on the right hand; bilyan, or the right wrist; ichan, the right elbow; and tuktirimira, the right shoulder. Traces of a similar calendar can be found in the Rus. pop. of N Sib. Its origin is still obscure: some people believe it to be the most ancient calendar of Tungus origin; others think it was invented by the Rus.
Nanais, besides common month names, had numer. ones for some of them: Apr. was the sixth month, May the seventh, June the eighth, July the ninth, and Aug. the tenth.

The similarity of calendars of diff. N peoples can be traced within common ling. fam.: the Urals (Samodian and Ugrian), the Tungus-Manchurian, the Turk and Paleo-Asians (p. of NE Asia). The Yukagir calendar has been lost.

Under the infl. of Rus. in the late 19th—early 20th cent., many N peoples began to use the church calendar with the yr. starting in Jan. The p. of the Eur. N (Saami, Vepses, Komi) had the Orthodox church calendar as early as the 19th cent. Rus. infl. is also seen in the names of some months in the trad. c.n.p.: rus’t etpos (Rus. month), perna khotan etpos (baptism), or ilpil tal enkhp (month of the New Year) in Mansi for Jan.

Today peoples of the N have a universally accepted Julian calendar. Only old hunters remember the trad. calendar and assoc. their ec. activ. with it.

Ref.: Simchenko, Y.B., Smolyak, A.V., Sokolova, Z.P. “Calendars of Siberian Peoples.” Calendar in the Culture of the People of the World. M., 1993; Golovnev, A.V. Speaking Cultures: Traditions of Samodians and Ugrians. Yekaterinburg, 1995.