In official sources you will learn that the so-called patriarchal slavery existed among the Chukchi up to the 18thcentury, but it is possible that the situation was quite different…

Marital Relations of Chukchi

Chukchi woman with children. The beginning XX

Chukchi woman with children. The beginning of the 20th century

Among the Chukchi there were echoes of group marriage in the form of so-called changeable marriage. In this case, when visiting with a family of Chukchi in neighboring camps it was allowed to exchange wives. First Chukchi asked permission from their wives, without failure. It is believed that in this manner Chukchi, considering their small population, were able to avoid the development of many of hereditary diseases common in the cases of related marriages prevalent among small peoples (Chukchi population even in 2010 there were just over 15,000 people, and a few centuries ago it did not exceed 7-9 thousand). This is how they were able to avoid the disappearance of their nation.

Naturally, children born to mothers were always associated with her family line.

This tradition of changeable marriage was mostly characteristic to Chukchi reindeer herders; the wives of settled Chukchi were extremely jealous.

An offer to a welcome guest to spend the night with the wife of the host was described by those people who had a chance to deal with Chukchi, at least until the middle of the 20thcentury. Most likely this tradition is characteristic of the settled Chukchi.

Chukchi had a very pronounced gender disparity: there were a lot more men than women. How this problem was solved, we’ll describe below.


Chukchi trade with the Americans

Chukchi trade with the Americans

As a result of attacks on neighboring nations, Chukchi villages began being populated with slaves. As a rule, slaves lived with their families in a yurt, they were assigned the hardest work, and no one treat them as decent human beings.

Even other Chukchi could become slaves themselves as a result of accumulated debt, but it was not particularly common.

Chukchi actively attacked other settlements in America. After all, at the narrowest point Chukotka and the American coast are separated just by a few kilometers of the Bering Strait.

The scenario of the attacks was pretty standard: a surprise attack to kill all the men, grab valuables, furs (later sold to Russians) and women.

Captured women became slaves for Chukchi reindeer herders, and for settled Chukchi they could even become wives. Sometimes, attractive slaves could become sex slaves, but wives were not jealous of them because they were not “real people.”

According to Igor Riga, natural conditions did not allow for slavery to develop. In everyday harsh life the slaves quickly became full-fledged members of society, especially it was true for young attractive women.


The pic 1 from Russian Ethnographic Museum.

The pic 2 from “Asian Russia”, V.1. (1914).

This article contains the descriptions by K. Merk and E. Rozhkov.

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