Gilyak, Nivkh in Ukraine

Gilyak, Nivkh
Photo Source:  Anonymous 
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People Name: Gilyak, Nivkh
Country: Ukraine
10/40 Window: No
Population: 500
World Population: 4,300
Primary Language: Gilyak
Primary Religion: Ethnic Religions
Christian Adherents: 6.00 %
Evangelicals: 0.50 %
Scripture: Portions
Online Audio NT: No
Jesus Film: No
Audio Recordings: No
People Cluster: Ural-Siberian
Affinity Bloc: Turkic Peoples
Progress Level:

Introduction / History

The Nivkhs are a small people group who inhabit regions of the Far East on the island of Sakhalin and basin of Lower Amur. The Nivkhs have been known as the Giliaks up until the 1930s in literature. The word "Giliaks" in Tunguso-Manchu language means "people, moving with the help of twin oars on big boats." The word "Nivkhs" means "man." In 1989, according to the census, there were 4,673 people. A territorial sign divides the Nivkhs into two groups: Insular (Sakhalin) and mainland. The Sakhalin Nivkhs used to occupy the whole territory of the island; however, now it mainly only occupies its northern part. Mainland Nivkhs inhabit lower Amur, Amur estuary coast, and Tatar Strait. The Nivkhs' language can be distinguished within three dialects: Amur, East Sakhalin, and North Sakhalin.

What Are Their Lives Like?

The economy of Nivkhs was complex and basically was of a hunting nature. The types of trade that were defined by the environment were fishing, sea hunt trade, and hunting. Products of hunting and sea hunt trade were an essential help in their economy. The hunting trade was very important to their economy; it was even on the same level of importance as fishing. The hunting trade provided them with fat, meat, provender for dogs, skins for clothes and footwear, leather and so on. At the same time, Nivkhs were also involved in livestock production. Dog production was an old branch of the Nivkhs' economy. The dogs were used as transportation when hunting and as sacrifices. These occupations formed the material base of their lives. Fishing for salmon breeds is a complex occupation that had a paramount economic importance. Nivkhs fishermen have studied all the water basins of their regions and fish resources of those, as well as the peculiarities of migration of salmon fish, because of their century's practical experience. Once fishermen become experienced, they reach this certain degree of perfection. By the rivers' stream and meteorological conditions, the Nivkhs define along which riverside there will be more fish. Based on their suspicions, they build their fishing camps accordingly. Their vegetable products in their food rotation included: berries, nuts, herbs, algae and shellfish. The Nivkhs lived in tribes, and the tribe was the main self-governing cell. The supreme authority of the Nivkhs' government was the Council of Elders. In the process of a long historical development they were able to create their own graphic art, presenting rather high artistic values. Until the middle of the 19th century, the Nivkhs remained outside of the influence of any state authorities. In the community of the Nivkhs, there are a lot of folklore, songs, and myths on how the universe (including humans) was created. There were also some on how ancient fantastic heroes, spirits and beast had battled with each other.

What Are Their Beliefs?

The Nivkhs are shamanist. The traditional religion was partially based on animist beliefs before the Russians encouraged them to convert to Eastern Orthodox Christianity. They believed that the island of Sakhalin is a giant beast lying on its belly and the hair was the trees of the island. The Nivkhs thought that the Earthquakes meant that the beast was upset, therefore it awoke and trembled. They have a variety of gods the rule over the mountains, rivers, seas, and sky. Today, some of the Nivkhs have transformed their religion to Russian Orthodoxy or other religions; however there are still many that practice the traditional beliefs. Fire is the symbol of the unity of a clan. It is thought to be a deity of their ancestors, who is protecting them from evil spirits and guarded them from harm. The Nivkhs would 'feed' the deities by offering items to them. For example, the sea god would be feed something important so that he would protect the travelers.

Prayer Points

Pray for the Nivkhs' hearts to be hungry for Truth and to be searching for the One True Living God.
Pray for messengers to go to the Nivkhs and to present the gospel not only with words which can be understood but with their very lives.
Pray for Nivkh believers to grow in their faith and to carry the good news to other groups living around them and even those far away.

Text Source:   Jubilee Adleta