It’s day 3 of my long-weekend visit to Inner Mongolia; and this morning we are filming at the Ewengki Ni Muzei – or the museum of the Evenk people, to you and me. It’s located very close to the downtown area of Hailar, and we’re lucky to have one of the museum staff as an adviser to the production unit. So a few choice words to the receptionist, and we plod in to learn something of the history of the area.
Evenk Autonomous Banner is an autonomous banner that lies directly south of the urban district of Hailar in the prefecture-level city of Hulunbuir. It has an area of 19,111 sq km. According to the 2000 census, there were then 146,808 inhabitants with a population density of 7.68 inhabitants per sq km.
The entrance notice tells us there is a total of 263 rivers flowing into the Eerguna River water area and Hailar’s water system. All in all there are 1,465 lakes covering 127 sq km in total.
The blurb goes on to tell us that there are 621 species of plants, 140 species of animals and 36 families of insects ... Ewenki Autonomy Banner is entitled as a "Paradise", it ends triumphantly, as I mull over how much more of a paradise it might be if there were fewer of those damned insects intent on chewing us all to bits.
Stuck on the wall is a “Birdview of guiding map”. We are standing in the “Foreword Hall”; beside us is the “Hisory Hall” to which we now head. To our right is something labelled “Stars”, and your favourite blogger is smart enough to work out that this is how one gets up to the next floor.
One of the staff is assigned to explain everything to us in microscopic detail. One suspects that she has been trained to recite in word perfect order; nothing, it seems, will detract her from telling us about every exhibit – even when she probably guesses that this foreigner smiling silently in front of her understands not one single word of what she is talking about.
But she is so eager to impart her knowledge to us that it would be invidious to try to get her to stop. She’s actually doing a very good job.
The Evenks (also spelled Ewenki or Evenki) are a Tungusic people of Northern Asia. In China, the Evenki form one of the 56 ethnic groups officially recognized by the PRC. They numbered about 70,000 in the early 21st century. A few thousand live in Mongolia, and the remainder are almost equally divided between Russia and China.
They are separable into two distinct cultures: hunters and reindeer breeders are scattered in the vast area of the taiga (boreal forest) from the Ob-Irtysh watershed eastward to the Sea of Okhotsk coast and Sakhalin, and from the Amur River basin in the south northward to the Arctic Ocean; horse and cattle pastoralists or sedentary farmers reside in Transbaikalia and northeastern China and Mongolia. Many of the Evenk are bilingual, and the Evenk language is not the native language of more than half of the ethnic Evenk.
We pass a hollowed out tree trunk that had been a boat once upon a time in its short existence. There are tools and loads of other bits and pieces on display too.
I love the mats (or are they simply decorations?) made of reindeer fur…
And as for these snazzy boots… Hey Mr Santa Claus… If I’m a good boy for the rest of this year, you can guess what I’d like for Christmas?
This is the first time I have seen metal seals using the local ethnic script…
… while these land title documents are written in both Chinese and Mongolian.
And if you thought that the crossbow had been invented in Europe, then think again. Here’s a local crossbow and we are told that its provenance goes back over a thousand years in this region.
The banners – or regions – of Inner Mongolia got their name from the banners that were typically used to show who the top guys were. There were always two banner holders who travelled with “Mr Big” wherever he went, so everyone would know whom it would be unwise to upset!
This museum covers every aspect of the history of the Evenks. There’s even a small display of their resistance against the Japanese while the latter were intent on taking control of Manchuria.
Religion, of course, holds a prominent place amongst the Evenk; and here is a prayer wheel they used …
In the “Natural Hall” there are a number of tableaux showing off the living conditions and wild animals to be found in the region. Reindeers were used to pull the sleds – Evenki people did not eat their domesticated reindeer (although they did hunt and eat wild reindeer) but kept them for milk.
But take a gander at this hat! Is that kool or what! Want one… Want one!
Naturally there are displays of all kinds of clothing they wore..
as well as a display of a family in front of a mini-yurt…
and life in front of the more traditional tepee. The Evenki made teepee-like dwellings out of a variety of natural materials, such as bark or hides. They were very conscientious about what they consumed and would keep and move the same dwelling as long as they could. Their culture greatly values the lives of animals and they never kill without honouring the sacrificed life. With respect to the slain animal, they eat the meat, save the hide, and use the sinews or bones for other tools. They also use tree bark for natural cures or medicine
For special occasions, such as weddings and big get-togethers, they put on their glad-rags …
While the question of how to rock the baby to sleep is solved with this ingenious crib that would be hung up between poles and pushed gently from side to side.
This local version of chess particularly attracts me. Based more on the rules of Chinese chess than western chess, each side has 12 wolves and a deer which has to be captured. So cute!
And yes, wolves are certainly to be found in the grasslands – as can be seen here…
…though lynx are also to be found.
But probably the most beautiful are the butterflies whose colours range from reds and yellows to blues and greens. So maybe – just maybe – there's something good to say about those 36 families of insects, even if at times they don't half overstay their welcome.