Ethnobotanical Knowledge of an Eskimo Family: Naukan Yupik People

 
PIIS086954150017605-5-1
DOI10.31857/S086954150017605-5
Publication type Article
Status Published
Authors
Affiliation: Institute for Linguistic Studies, RAS
Address: Russian Federation, Saint Petersburg
Affiliation: University of Alaska Fairbanks
Address: United States
Affiliation: Ca’ Foscari University of Venice
Address: Italy
Journal nameEtnograficheskoe obozrenie
Edition№6
Pages211-223
Abstract

This article analyzes the Naukan Yupik ethnobotanical knowledge, i.e. the use of plants as food, medicine, household or ritual objects, on the example of one family. Their resettlement from Cape Dezhnev to other settlements led to significant changes in their culture and language proficiency. Fieldwork was carried out in summer 2014 in the village of Uelen, Chukotka, using the methods of structured interviews and participant observation. Informants named 26 species belonging to 18 families; these species gave a total of 170 plant uses. Within one family, there is a sharp decline in the knowledge of the Naukan phytonyms, as well as the repertoire of plants used from older generations to younger ones. The disappearing knowledge includes the collection of plant roots harvested by tundra voles. However, aerial parts of plants, berries, and algae remain popular. The variety of methods for preparing plants is increasing, including due to contact with the Russian-speaking population and access to new technologies.

KeywordsPost-Soviet ethnobotany, ethnomedicine, traditional ecological knowledge, wild edibles, medicinal plants, Chukotka, Naukan Yupik, family knowledge
AcknowledgmentThis article is a translation of: В.Б. Колосова, К.А. Джерниган, О.С. Беличенко. Этноботаническое знание одной эскимосской семьи: науканские юпики // Etnograficheskoe Obozrenie. 2021. No 5. P. 17–32. DOI: 10.31857/S086954150017412-3
Received20.12.2021
Publication date23.12.2021
Number of characters33125
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1 The fact that plants play an important role in maintaining life on our planet does not require any proof: they supply the atmosphere with oxygen and they are the basis of many food chains. Thus, for people, they are not only food, but also material for the construction of a house and its heating, as well as raw materials for clothing. Plants are used in transport, medical and magical spheres, in perfumery and cosmetics and in dye manufacture. Also, they can perform a decorative function and many other ones.
2 Although information about the use of plants can be found already in the works of Aristotle, as well as in non-European traditional treatises, the word “ethnobotany” as a term was used only in 1895 (Ford 1994: 33).
3 For more than two centuries, ethnobotany has developed into a separate scholarly discipline with its authors (Richard Evans Schultes, Leopold Gluck), scientific societies (International Society of Ethnobiology, Society for Economic Botany) and specialized journals devoted not only to general issues (Ethnobotany, Ethnobiology Letters, Journal of Ethnobotany Research and Applications), but also to particular ones, for example, the role of plants in traditional medicine (Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Latin American and Caribbean Bulletin of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants) or in cooking (Foods, Appetite). At the same time, the subject of the study also evolved from “plants used by primitive and native peoples” (Ibid.) to the role of plants in any function and in any society.
4 The interaction of a particular ethnic group with the plant world depends not only on the set of plants available in a given climatic zone, but also on local ideas about the permissibility (or expediency) of their use, both rational and mythological. So, the use of wild plants for food can be caused not only by a shortage of food, but also by following tradition, fashion for eco- and bio-products, etc. In addition, flora is considered as an important food source in emergency situations (Sõukand 2016).
5 Although the number of publications on agrarian ethnobotany is steadily increasing, only a few of them pay attention to such an important part of the research methodology as the demographic characteristics of informants. These works prove that the ecological knowledge of each community is characterized by its own set of universal and variable features. Even in a book published in 1967, by V.A. Merkulova, it was noted that plants currently used for food only by children may be remnants of a more archaic tradition of habitual consumption (Merkulova 1967). The article on medicinal plants of the Brazilian Fulni-ô tribe describes both more or less predictable observations (older people are much more aware of plants used for medical purposes; women and men recognize and use different sets of such plants) and non-obvious ones peculiar to this culture (men name more plants than women; ecological knowledge of people over 75 is at the same level as that of young people) (Albuquerque et al. 2011). The authors of the study of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) in Nigeria came to the conclusion that gender and age are important factors affecting the volume and specifics of the TEK. And the results obtained by scholars show that in the studied community, the TEK of children does not include plants used in games, but it contains a wide list of forage plants, since it is their harvesting and sale that children are engaged in (Dan Guimbo et al. 2011). Therefore, N.P. Lunelli and co-authors discuss the importance of specialized knowledge, noting that men in the Brazilian Atlantic forest ecoregion are better versed in local tree species used in construction, for heating and in the manufacture of any objects (Lunelli et al. 2016). A.A. Ayantunde and colleagues found that in the southwest of Niger, gender differences in knowledge about herbs are more numerous than in knowledge about trees (Ayantunde et al. 2008). A study conducted in a peasant community in the Bolivian Andes revealed that the amount of knowledge about plants increased with age, while gender played a secondary role (Brandt et al. 2013). The question of the distribution and variability of ethnobotanical knowledge is little studied in Arctic and Subarctic societies. However, S. Yamin-Pasternak described how some demographic variables affect knowledge about mushrooms and their picking in Chukotka and on the Seward Peninsula (Yamin-Pasternak 2007). In continuation of the topic, the authors of this article propose a discussion of the knowledge of plants and the practices of their application by the Naukan Yupik.
6 Despite the scarcity, the local flora plays an important role in the nutrition and traditional medicine of the indigenous peoples of Chukotka (Ainana, Zagrebin 2014; Godovykh et al. 2005). This is important not only during the short summer, but also throughout the year, due to the storage technologies used (drying, fermentation and soaking in fat extracted from marine mammals (Jernigan et al. 2016, Yamin-Pasternak et al. 2014). The earliest data on the ethnobotany of this region can be found in the works of F.R. Kjellman on coastal Chukchi (Kjellman 1882). Bogoraz, in the descriptions of the material culture and social organization of the Chukchi, also gives some information about the use of plants (Bogoraz 1904, 1907). In Soviet times, highly specialized publications on the use of local flora appeared. Such outstanding studies as “Data on useful plants of the Eskimos of the southeastern coast of Chukotka” by B.A. Tikhomirov (Tikhomirov 1958) and “Wild plants in the diet of the indigenous inhabitants of Chukotka” by G.A. Menovshchikov (Menovshchikov 1974) include descriptions of the use of plants by the Chaplino Yupik. The academic works by T.G. Sokolova (Sokolova 1961) and I.G. Mimyk-Avtonova (Mimykg Avtonova 1992) provide information about Chukchi ethnobotanical practices. A recent study by S. Yamin-Pasternak compares the attitude to edible mushrooms of the Iñupiat from the Seward Peninsula in Alaska and Siberian, the (Chaplino and Naukan) Yupik and Chukchi in Chukotka (Yamin-Pasternak 2008). However, there are serious gaps in scholarly knowledge about this region of Russia, and the study of the role of plants in the life of local communities in the post-Soviet period is especially relevant.

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