1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Chukchi
CHUKCHI, Chanktus (“Men”) or Tuski (“Brothers” or “Confederates”), a Mongoloid people inhabiting the northeasternmost portion of Siberia on the shores of the Arctic Ocean and Bering Sea. They are settled in small groups along the Arctic coast between the Bering Straits and the Kolyma river, or wander as far inland as the Anadyr basin. Though their territory embraces some 300,000 odd sq. m., the most trustworthy estimates put their numbers at but a few thousands. They were first carefully studied by the members of the Nordenskjöld expedition (1878–79), who describe them as tall, lean, with somewhat irregular features—hence de Quatrefages classes them as “Allophylian Whites.” The accounts of their physical characteristics are somewhat confused owing to the presence of the true Eskimo in the Chukchi domain. The typical Chukchi is round-headed, and thus distinct from the long-headed Eskimo, with broad, flat features and high cheek-bones. The nose is often so buried between the puffed cheeks that a ruler might be laid across the face without touching it. The lips are thick, and the brow low. The hair is coarse, lank and black. The general muscular development is good, though usually the body is stunted. It has been suggested that they emigrated from the south, possibly from the Amur basin. In their arctic homes they long carried on war with the Ongkilon (Ang-kali) aborigines, gradually merging with the survivors and also mixing both with the Kùsmen Koryaks (q.v.) and the Chuklukmuit Eskimo settled on the Asiatic side of Bering Strait. Their racial characteristics make them an ethnological link between the Mongols of central Asia and the Indians of America. Some authorities affiliate them to the Eskimo because they are believed to speak an Eskimo dialect. But this is merely a trade jargon, a hotchpotch of Eskimo, Chukchi, Koryak, English and even Hawaiian. The true Chukchi language, of which Nordenskjöld collected a thousand words, is distinct from Eskimo and akin to Koryak, and Nordenskjöld sums the problem up with the remark—“this race settled on the primeval route between the Old and New World bears an unmistakable stamp of the Mongols of Asia and the Eskimo and Indians of America.”
The Chukchi are divided into the “Fishing Chukchi,” who have settled homes on the coast, and the “Reindeer Chukchi,” who are nomads. The latter breed reindeer (herds of more than 10,000 are not uncommon), live on the flesh and milk, and are generally fairly prosperous; while the fishing folk are very poor, begging from their richer kinsfolk hides to make tents and clothes. The Chukchi were formerly warlike and vigorously resisted the Russians, but to-day they are the most peaceable of folks, amiable in their manners, affectionate in family life and good-humoured. But this gentleness does not prevent them from killing off the old and infirm. They believe in a future life, but only for those who die a violent death. Thus it is regarded as an act of filial piety for a son to kill his parent or a nephew his uncle. This tribal custom is known as kamitok; and of it Mr Harry de Windt writes (Through the Gold Fields of Alaska to Bering Strait, 1898), “The doomed one takes a lively interest in the proceedings, and often assists in the preparation for his own death. The execution is always preceded by a feast, where seal and walrus meat are greedily devoured, and whisky consumed till all are intoxicated. A spontaneous burst of singing and the muffled roll of walrus-hide drums then herald the fatal moment. At a given signal a ring is formed by the relations and friends, the entire settlement looking on from the background. The executioner (usually the victim’s son or brother) then steps forward, and placing his right foot behind the back of the condemned, slowly strangles him to death with a walrus thong. A kamitok took place during the latter part of our stay.” The Chukchi are nominally Christians, but sacrifice animals to the spirits of the rivers and mountains, and also practise Shamanism. In personal habits the people are indescribably filthy. They are polygamous, but the women are treated kindly. The children are specially petted, and are so wrapped up to protect them from the cold that they have been described as resembling huge balls crossed by a bar, their arms having to remain outstretched owing to the bulk of their wrappings. Chukchi women are often tattooed with two black-blue convex lines running from the eye to the chin. Since their adoption of Christianity the men sometimes have a Latin cross tattooed on their chins. The Chukchi burn their dead or expose them on platforms to be devoured by ravens.
See Harry de Windt, Through the Gold Fields of Alaska to Bering Strait (1898); Dittmar, “Über die Koriaken u. ihnen nahe verwandten Tchouktchen,” in Bul. Acad. Sc. (St Petersburg), xii. p. 99; Hooper, Ten Months among the Tents of the Tuski; W. H. Dall, Contributions to North American Ethnology, vol. i. (1877).