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Historical reference

The oldest population of Kamchatka. Since the end of the XVII century it has been known as Kamchadals. In the works of the traveler S. P. Krasheninnikov the names of local and dialect groups are mentioned: kshaagzhi, kykhcheren, who lived between the rivers Zhupanova and Nemtik; chupagzhu or burin - between the Upper Kamchatka ostrog (Verkhnekamchatsky) - a stockaded town - and the river Zhupanova; lingurin - between the rivers Nemtik and Belogolovaya and kules - north of the river Belogolovaya.

Before the Russians came to Kamchatka, some ancestors of modern Itelmen in the north mixed with settled Koryaks, in some settlements of the southern tip of the peninsula there was a process of mixing with the Ainu.

The first contacts with Russians date back to 1697, when Cossacks founded Verkhnekamchatsky, Bolsheretsky and Nizhnekamchatsky ostrogi on the peninsula. In 1740s Christianization of the people took place at the same time with the establishment of Russian-speaking schools. In the 1730s and 1740s there were about 100 Kamchadal settlements in Kamchatka. There were about 2.5 thousand of yasak (tribute paid off in furs) Kamchadals - men from 15 to 50 years old, about 250 Russians of the servant class, and with their families, mostly of mixed origin, about 500. The Russians borrowed heavily from the aborigines their traditional way of life and culture. According to the census of 1926-1927, there were 868 Itelmens, 3704 indigenous people, recorded as Kamchadals, and about 3500 Russians in 62 villages in Kamchatka.

In the 1700s and early 1800s, the Itelmens were divided into a number of large local subdivisions with their own self-names and cultural peculiarities: Kamchatka, Avacha, Bslsheretska, Western, and Khairyuzov. At that time the northern border of the Itelmen settlement territory on the western coast of Kamchatka reached the basin of the Tigil River, on the eastern coast - the Uka River, and the southern border reached almost to the Lopatka River. In the first half of the 19th century, while the territory was preserved, the number of Itelmen settlements decreased, and in the second half of the 19th century, Itelmen lived only on the western coast of Kamchatka.

The historical fates of the Itelmen ethnic culture have several genetic plans. First, it includes a number of common elements characteristic of the majority of Paleo-Asiatic peoples of the North-East of Siberia: main types of economic activities, some types of dwelling and household buildings, partly transportation and winter clothing, main social institutions, main characters of early mythology are typologically similar. Secondly, the direction and intensity of cultural contacts led to the interaction of cultures of neighboring peoples, or adaptation by one of them of cultural elements of the other. Such relations of the Itelmen culture are established with the Ainu, both on the basis of archaeological materials and written sources. The early contacts, to all appearances, were of integration nature, while the later ones were of ethno-cultural interaction (exchange, marriage contacts, mutual influences in the field of material and spiritual culture). Another direction of ethno-cultural ties is traced with the Aleuts. Here, both the genetic aspect (commonality of formation) and historically later cultural ties are significant, which can be traced in dwelling, clothing, weaving techniques, ornamentation, etc. The strongest ties of the Itelmens with their northern neighbors Koryaks were in the places of joint residence. This is recorded anthropologically - Koryaks and Itelmens oppose Chukchas and Eskimos within the mainland group of populations of the Arctic race, the same is noted in the sphere of language. The main integrating role, apparently, was played by the Itelmens. Thirdly, this interaction with Russians, which began in the late 18th century and led to a radical transformation of their culture in the direction of syncretization, but with sufficiently intensive intermarriage contacts, a conscious ethnic group of Kamchadals was formed, ethnoculturally different from the Itelmens proper and gravitating towards Russians.

Read more about the origin of the Itelmenː

Georg Steller. On the origin of the Itelmen. (Chapter from the work “Description of the Land of Kamchatka”)

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