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Holidays and rituals of the Itelmens


Back in the 18th century, researchers noted a special culture of holidays among the Itelmens. The representatives of this people have celebrations on a grand scale. For example, at feasts and holidays, they drank infusion of fly agaric or swallowed the dried mushroom itself. The onset of intoxication helped both to become more fun for melancholic, and to liberate the modest.

Важнейший обрядовый праздник ительменов – “Алхалалалай”. В празднике в обрядовой форме воспроизводятся элементы мифов о сотворении мира и ритуалы, связанные с благодарением природы. Он завершает хозяйственный цикл года и призван отблагодарить природу за дарованный урожай: рыбу, мясо, ягоды, грибы. Это праздник очищения, конца одного периода жизни и начала второго. Он длится несколько дней. Вершиной “Алхалалалая” становится обряд очищения, когда каждый из присутствующих должен пройти под связанным ветвями березы и бросить в костер пучок травы.

Сегодня ительмены по-прежнему празднуют “Алхалалалай”, на который съезжаются гости со всей Камчатки. Современные ительмены соревнуются в ловле и переработке рыбы, приготовлении национальных блюд. Особым конкурсом считаются танцы: плясать надо на полусогнутых ногах без перерыва (разрешается лишь три минуты отдыха в час). Современный зафиксированный рекорд был установлен в 2017 году и составляет 16 часов 50 минут. Помешать танцам не может даже плохая погода. И, конечно, проводится обряд очищения: все с помощью тех же березовых ветвей, сплетенных вместе, и огня. К традициям предков здесь по-прежнему относятся серьезно.


Competition of grimaces at the "Alhalalalai" festival. Photo: Olga Logvinets

In the old days, the number of festive rites included dragging a birch through a hole in the roof of a dwelling. Those inside tried to drag the tree in, and those who stood outside held it tightly and did not allow it to be done. It was a kind of competition between the two teams, and whoever won, it all ended in fun. You cannot drag anything through the roof of a modern house in the village, so the ritual with a birch looks different. Two women hold birch branches in their hands, connected by tops. Each party to the holiday must pass under this arch.

At the Alhalalalai holiday, a grimace competition is traditionally held. These are echoes of ancient beliefs that a woman, with the help of facial expressions, can scare away the evil spirits - gamula.

G. Steller described an interesting custom among the Itelmens. If a person liked another person, then he could offer him his friendship and count on the same on his part. The idea of friendship is to help and support each other. Such an alliance was consolidated in the following rite: a person invited the one whom he wanted to see as a friend to his home, having previously removed his family. The host cooked a huge amount of food and heated the dwelling with the stones so hot in the hearth that both the guest and the host undressed. Then the guest was asked to eat everything that was prepared. The guest ate and sweated, the owner poured cold water on the hot stones, steam rose from them and became even hotter. It was a test that the guest had to endure, which not everyone was able to do. And then the owner took away from the guest everything that was with him: clothes, dogs and sledges, on which he arrived. Then he opened the door of his dwelling, gave him the opportunity to come to his senses and gave in exchange old, shabby clothes, bad, weak dogs and broken sledges. It was a test of a new friend, a test of his greed. Much depended on how the new friend would behave in such a situation. After a while, the guest and the host changed roles: the one who was the host went to visit the one who was the guest. And everything was repeated from the beginning. If both passed the test, then they became true friends and helped each other without fail. This is how the Itelmens were friends three hundred years ago.

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