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The last of the bone carvers
To be modern, but live by traditions - this is the path chosen by a young Udege from the village of Krasny Yar in the north of the Primorsky Territory.
He makes a living by carving a craft and riding dogs, his Sevens fold their hands in a rocker greeting, he collects a cedar cone, plans to acquire a farm and is not going to leave his native corner of the taiga.
A spacious room in the craft house of the national village of Krasny Yar, six hundred kilometers from the capital of Primorye, in the north of the region. 28-year-old Yuri Kanchuga, the only Udege bone carver in Primorye, a master of national souvenirs, begins his day. Lay out tools, inspect material, check sketches. Before picking up the engraver, he puts headphones in his ears - he likes to work with music.
Photo: Gleb Ilyinsky
“I listen to different things: rock, folk, hip-hop, pop - little by little,” says the bone cutter.
The national village of Krasny Yar is located on the left bank of the Bikin River, next to the national park of the same name, which is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. 550 people live in the village. Two-thirds of them are Udege, one of the indigenous small-numbered peoples of the Far East. The Bikin National Park was founded in 2015, its main task was to preserve the culture and traditions of the indigenous peoples of the Far East.
“From childhood I liked to draw, it turned out well. Parents, noticing my hobby, recommended after school to go to study on a bone carver. I went to study in Chukotka - in our village this craft has been forgotten. In 2015, the Bikin National Park was established in our area. A new house was built especially for the craftsmen, and I got a job, ”says the young craftsman.
Yura went to master a forgotten craft in Chukotka, because there are no bone carvers left in the Primorsky Territory and there is no education in this profile. The descendant of the indigenous small people of these places admits: he was thinking about leaving his beloved, but hard-to-reach village. “Many people leave because there is not enough money. When a national park was formed here, and I started earning good money, I thought: it’s better to stay, ”says Kanchuga.
Yura makes souvenirs. At first, locals came up for them, then tourists willingly began to buy. Traditional Sevens are amulets-protectors, patrons of people and their homes, protecting from negative forces. Jewelry for women and men - earrings, bracelets, rings, necklaces, all with meaning.
“If you give a gift with the image of the sun, then, according to the faith of the Udege, you wish the person happiness. If with the image of a fox, then it adds to the hostess everyday resourcefulness and ingenuity. The tiger, according to the traditions of my people, symbolizes fierce strength and incredible grace, ”explains the master.
Yuri also has more labor-intensive jobs. For example, the skull of a red deer with branched horns, which Yura cut for several months. On the skull - national openwork patterns, on the horns - images of a young man and woman, animals. Yura explains that he depicted an ancient Udege legend about the origin of his people. According to the beliefs of these places, men descended from a tiger, and women from a bear. The master works in two techniques: relief, when a volumetric figure or pattern is cut from a solid bone, and engraving, with the help of which a drawing is applied to the work plane.
The young Udege says that he works not only with his hands. His great-grandmother was a shaman, and Yura believes that her gift was passed on to him. “Many people say that my sevens and wards bring good events and heals. Once a friend bought a gift from me for a girl, hoping for her favor. I have invested good luck and goodwill in love affairs in the decoration. They succeeded, now they are together, ”says the master.
Local hunters get the material for their work. Manchurian horns, wild boar and musk deer tusks, bear claws and fangs are the strongest parts of animals charged with strength and vitality. There is also material from Chukotka - walrus tusk, whale bone, which can be found literally underfoot, on the coasts.
Yura takes the images for his works both from the old masters and invents himself. One of these masters is Vladimir Leonidovich Sulyandziga, a well-known woodcarver of the Udege people in Primorye. The young bone carver brings the spirit of modernity into traditional images: for example, his sevens "speak" to us with modern gestures: fingers show "V" (victory), "goat" (rockers' gesture), "thumb up" ("OK" ). In the interpretation of the modern representative of the ancient people, his Sevens say that life is beautiful and amazing.
Souvenirs are eagerly bought by tourists visiting the Bikin National Park, and their number is growing from year to year. If in the first years of operation the specially protected zone was visited by no more than half a thousand people, then by 2020 this figure increased to one and a half thousand. People come from all over the world to look at the wild taiga, to get acquainted with the culture of the people, whose representatives are almost gone.
Bone carving is not Yura's only way to make money. Since last year, he has been developing sled dog breeding in the village - also a national way of transportation, which existed until the middle of the last century. The Udege used to ride dogs over long distances, to hunt and fish, now it is more entertainment for tourists, and in everyday life, dogs have replaced snowmobiles. Yura won a grant for the development of sledding sports, bought puppies, equipment, fellow villagers helped to make sleds. He mastered - again in Chukotka - the profession of a musher.
“Our ancestors did not use dogs for movement as actively as, say, the inhabitants of the tundra,” says Yuri, “that's why I had to fly to Chukotka to master this business. But all the same, the dogs have always helped the Udege and Nanai people from the camps of the Bikin River. "
“I managed to get a job in the national park for one and a half rates, so I am now close to respectable people,” says Yura, not without pride.
Most of the residents of Krasny Yar are adults, old people. Young Udege get their education in the large cities of Primorye and Khabarovsk Territories. There is a lot of work, says Yura, but the desire to stay in the village is less and less among young people. But there are also those who, like Yura, return after training in the city. Yura's friend, having studied at the Pedagogical University, returned to work at his native school, teaches physical education.
The Udege, no matter what they do, are connected with the taiga by strong ties - the roots of the people take their own. A well-known researcher in the late 19th - early 20th centuries of the Far East, Vladimir Arsenyev, called them "forest people": the culture of this people was formed in close relationship with the surrounding nature. Young Ude, just like their ancestors, have the opportunity to hunt, fish, gather wild plants, since the wild taiga begins right behind the village.
“This year the pine cone will be cedar, we will collect it, it is expensive. In fact, with the arrival of the national park, young people have just begun to pull back home. You can start farming. I want to breed about fifty chickens, sell eggs to the store, ”the young Kanchuga plans.
Previously, Krasny Yar was literally cut off from the big world. Impassable jungle, lack of roads, floods of the Bikin River ... You could get here only by ferry, and then only in the warm season. The villagers have long been accustomed to living independently, relying on themselves. After the construction of three bridges across the river, civilization came to the village. Now in the ancestral hunting grounds there are solar panels, on the ulmags - the national wooden Ude boats - now instead of the poles that pushed off the bottom for speed, there are Japanese motors. The village has internet and mobile communications. And a new hospital. The doctor is a local Udege.
“People are treated in the hospital, but they also use our means. Hanadi is practiced - massage of the back with the convex side of a spoon until bloody bruises. Helps with colds and headaches. They are treated with tinctures of ginseng, eleutherococcus, manchurian nut and other plants and herbs. Old Udege people knew acupuncture, ”Yura said.
There are few entertainments in the village for young people, but, probably, with the rich nature, they are not needed. A beautiful deep river, age-old trees, household chores in the bosom of the Ussuri taiga, probably, give more impressions than artificially invented joys. “We can sometimes meet with friends, drink beer, listen to music, dance to modern hits, but in moderation - there is plenty of work,” Yura hurries up.
What is the dream of the last bone carver in Primorye? “My life today suits me, I am satisfied. In ten, twenty years, I want everything to remain the same. I will work in a workshop, ride dogs. It doesn't matter where my children will live, in Krasny Yar or any other part of the world - as long as they are happy too. "