woensdag 18 april 2012

Walking in Siberia, forage psychogeography with the old world Eskimo

"MAPPING EVENKI LAND: THE STUDY OF MOBILITY PATTERNS IN EASTERN SIBERIA" starts with a number of maps showing Evenki land use but the paper gets even more interesting when it posits that each culture walks different before discussing the specific walking knowledge of the Evenki. This is forage psychogeography at it's finest.  

On Evenki mapping:
Evenki wander between situations or events that provoke and intensify the circuits of companionship and experiences of autonomy, rather than geographical points. With this in mind, describing Evenki land with an ordinary map imposed with spots and symbols on the continuous space or landscape becomes a real challenge. But if we inverse the main premise of map making in accordance with the logic of Evenki social organization we construct a depiction of Evenki land which will also grasp important traits of the Evenki mind. The task is easier than it seems, because the streams of Evenki paths covering their land are analogous to the changes (experiences of autonomy) from one companionship to another. Mapping Evenki land with an Evenki social organization could help us to find other such analogies between places and social interactions.


Following and watching an old Evenki man:
Only after we repeatedly watched the video recording that we made quite casually with Orochon walking in front of us through the taiga during one of our trips together, did we begin to notice some features of the particular Evenki way of walking. Orochon went through an animal pathway as if he was moving in a tube with thorny bushes as walls. He was carrying a stick on which he leaned. He took this stick in his right arm, but changed hands when some branches of the bush prevented him from going further. Then he took his stick in his left hand, and used his right hand to break the branches. The sound of this cracking was rather rhythmical and synchronised with his footsteps, which we could not hear as they were rather light. There were two images that we caught after watching this tape. One is that he was marking the path with these half broken branches he left behind. We supposed that these marks will be useful in winter, when the snow will cover the path, and only such marks above the snow surface will show where the narrow path is. Orochon himself told us that it is very important to clear pathways, because this is the basis for future hunting luck. He only commented that animals also preferred to use clear pathways, and if there were any such available then there would be plenty of prey. The other point was the importance of keeping balance. Orochon was moving through the taiga in the same way as if he was floating on a boat with a stick that helped not only in pushing forwards but also in keeping his balance. When Orochon was crashing through the branches he was also balancing himself, as his leap was counterbalanced by the inertia of branches. At these moments he had four points of support as if he had not two but four legs.
... We should not forget that Orochon was already 70 years old, but his movements had not lost any of this lightness.
Evenki go looking around for fun:
Evenki people learn from their earliest years not to be frightened and to be interested in and not exclude the new possibilities of hazardous situations – for the Evenki exploring new territories is a pleasant experience. The Evenki will prefer to go and have a look just for fun, even when there is absolutely no need to go anywhere. Looking for new places is a wonderful opportunity for experiencing companionship, and as a result it is a widely accepted thing to go somewhere with the intention just to look around. In company or alone, a trip to an unknown territory is also a fine experience of manakan (which signifies ‘independence’ and ‘solitude’ in the Evenki language), because even when together with somebody else, you perceive the place in your own unique way and take your own path. Once we participated in a ritual, in which the Evenki visited secret places in the forest. There was no obvious organization of movement from one secret place to another. Everybody was walking separately and they finally united in one place, the way hunters meet with their dogs at some moments, only to separate again without a shout or an order being given. The Evenki made their routes ever more difficult and complex. By walking in circles and making different loops they walked with the intention of looking around, thus raising their chances to come across somebody or something. The way the Evenki navigate explicitly shows their social organization, in which individuals each float freely, but are nevertheless eager for encounters and contacts with each other, uniting for a brief moment and then splitting up again to continue their individual free movement.

The emotions experienced are determined by the absence or existence of a concrete purpose for the trip. We have not only once witnessed how excited and happy the Evenki were when they were travelling without a specific purpose and also with risks (i.e. to new places) that could challenge the initial purpose. A broken wheel immediately transforms the situation during a trip, because you have to change your aims and figure out new ones, for example you need to go to your neighbours to borrow a new wheel and nobody really knows what will emerge from the new situation. Breakdowns, river crossings, drunken encounters and other occurrences, all of these incidents liberate you from the hegemony of the initial purpose, you receive the right to spontaneously change your route and combine different tasks and possible resolutions. All these conditions fill the situation with excitement and joy. In contrast to the predetermined purpose, for example the need to come back from the village to the camp to perform your household duties, this spoils the pleasure of the road and prevents total involvement in the travelling itself. Whenever possible the Evenki try to avoid moving under such conditions. For example, they find new reasons to stay in the village, even if they have no real place there and no money to spend. If they finally start on their way, the first coincidental encounter with someone will stop their movement and they will come back to the village accompanying the people they met. If there is no chance to escape from a trip with a predetermined aim, the Evenki look gloomy and keep silent, as if the existence of this concrete purpose prevents them from feeling free and getting pleasure from the trip.

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