Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Nivkh (also known as Gilyak) live in the Russian Far East along both banks of the lower Amur River and the northern parts of the Sakhalin Island. They speak an isolate language (also called Nivkh) with two main dialects, one spoken in Amur and the other in Sakhalin. The traditional subsistence of the Nivkh was based on fishing and marine hunting, supplemented by hunting for land mammals during the fall. By 1990, the Nivkh were well integrated into the Russian economy and culture. Yet many Nivkh families continued to observe traditional economic activities and cultural practices which they were eager to perpetuate.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Asia --North Asia



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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication and eHRAF document number.

Documents in the Nivkh collection (RX02 ) provide a variety of cultural and historical information, circa 1850 to 1930. Two of the documents are in English (Black 1973, no. 23; 1972, no. 24), three translations from German (Schrenck 1981, no. 2; Pilsudski 1910, no. 15; Seeland 1882, no. 3), and two translations from Russian (Shternberg 1933, no. 1; Kreinovich 1935, no. 6).

The oldest documents in the collection were compiled by two German scholars who travelled in the Amur region in 1854-1856-- Schrenck (1881, no. 2) and Seeland (1882, no. 13). Together, these works provide the first systematic attempts at describing the history and culture of the Nivkh (and some of the neighboring ethnic groups). The most comprehensive account of Nivkh society and culture in the collection is Shternberg (1933, no. 1). Authored by a Russian anthropologist who worked among the Nivkh in 1890-1897, this book provides a detailed description and analysis of Nivkh kinship system, marriage rules, family structure, religion, and economic activities. The collection also includes two other equally old first-hand accounts which add depth to the information on nineteenth century Nivkh society and culture by focusing on specific themes. One is by a German scholar who described pregnancy, childbirth and reproductive health issues as observed in 1895-1905 (Pilsudski 1910, no. 15). The other is a Russian ethnologist who provided a first hand account of hunting practices based on fieldwork conducted in 1931 in different Nivkh villages (Kreinovich 1935, no. 6).  The remaining two documents in the collection are published articles by anthropologist Lydia Black who, based on a wide variety of secondary sources in English and Russian, reconsiders some of the earlier arguments in the literature on Nivkh marriage and family life. One of these articles evolved from a dissertation in which Black notes important weaknesses in the ways both Fredrerick Engels and Claude Levi-Strauss interpreted cultural information on Nivkh social organization and family system to build their respective theories (Black 1973, no. 23). In the second article, Black argues that "wife takers" in Nivkh society did not always possess superior status over "wife givers" as alleged by previous writers (Black 1972, no. 24). Instead, she argues, status differentials between inter-marrying lineages were often related to land ownership, choice of residence and other contingencies.  

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this collection, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document. For additional information on other ethnic groups in Amur region and Southeast Siberia, see the Ainu Collection (AB06), Koryak Collection (RY04) and Chukchee Collection (RY02).

Overview by

Teferi Adem

Akkhmalk - wife givers  - use "REGULATION OF MARRIAGE (582)" with "KIN RELATIONSHIPS (602)"

Imgi - wife takers - use "REGULATION OF MARRIAGE (582)" with "KIN RELATIONSHIPS (602)"

Indynd - prohibition of looking at close relatives - use "AVOIDANCE AND TABOO (784)"

Lan raf - birth hut - use "CHILDBIRTH (844)"

Lerund - avoidance of joking, teasing and playing to persons with whom sexual expression is prohibited - use "AVOIDANCE AND TABOO (784)" with "KINSHIP REGULATION OF SEX (835)"  

Kuzennogo braka - cousin marriage - use "REGULATION OF MARRIAGE (582)" with "COUSINS (605)"

Mu - large boats - use "BOATS (501)"

Narta - dog sled - use "ANIMAL TRANSPORT (492)"

Pandf - inter-marrying lineages - use "LINEAGES (613)" with "REGULATION OF MARRIAGE (582)"

Psarnd - purification of ritual for new mothers - use "POSTNATAL CARE (846)" with "PURIFICATION AND ATONEMENT (783)"

Tulf tyu, or to- winter dwelling - use "DWELLINGS (342)" with "ANNUAL CYCLE (221)"

Indexing Notes by

Teferi Adem

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