Chukchi and trampoline: why hunters and reindeer herders of the Far North jump on stretched skins

Chukchi and trampoline: why hunters and reindeer herders of the Far North jump on stretched skins

Categories: Culture | Nations

On the web, you can find a lot of pictures of Chukchi jumping on improvised trampolines. Among these photos there are both modern and vintage, taken in the late 19th - early 20th century. What is the reason for this custom of the Northern people? Does it mean that Chukotka can be considered the birthplace of all trampolines?

Chukchi and trampoline: why hunters and reindeer herders of the Far North jump on stretched skins

The Russian Chukchi, as well as American and Canadian Eskimos, have a tradition of jumping on walrus skins stretched by weight. There is no information that this is an ancient custom. It is noteworthy that the oldest descriptions of such jumps date back to the second half of the 19th century.

Chukchi and trampoline: why hunters and reindeer herders of the Far North jump on stretched skins

This means that it is impossible to consider the northern peoples as the inventors of the trampoline. In Europe and Asia, this device has been used for many centuries both as a circus insurance and for entertainment. So even though the Chukchi invented a lot of useful things, the laurels of the creators of the trampoline do not shine on them.

The Chukchi do not use stationary structures for their jumps. They just take fresh walrus skin and scrape it with knives until it gets the right thickness and elasticity. Then several people stand in a circle and firmly grasp its edges with their hands.

Chukchi and trampoline: why hunters and reindeer herders of the Far North jump on stretched skins

The person who is going to jump gets on the skin. At this time, the others lift it and, on command, throw the jumper as high up as possible. What is behind this action is a moot point. The option was seriously discussed that the hunter being thrown should have seen a whale from above in the sea and given a signal to start hunting. But this version is untenable. After all, it is difficult to expect that the sea giant will wait for the hunters to throw the trampoline and take seats in their boats.

Explanations linking jumps with religious rites or competitions of warriors in agility are much more similar to the truth. Magadan researcher Alla Frolova in her book describes the peculiar "Spartakiads" of the Chukchi. During them, representatives of the northern people compete in archery, running, harpoon throwing, wrestling.

Chukchi and trampoline: why hunters and reindeer herders of the Far North jump on stretched skins

Such competitions take place on a large flat area called "gechevatten" ("place of interesting meetings"). Usually they become a real holiday with songs, dances, group contests and treats. Buckles on walrus skins become one of the disciplines during such northern sports contests. It turns out that jumping on such a trampoline is very difficult. And all because it is very slippery. Few people can fly up into the air and land on their feet more than 2-3 times.

But some ethnographers believe that jumping did not become a sport immediately. Before that, they were some kind of shamanic rituals. With their help, they tried to influence the weather or attract good luck in hunting and fishing. The explorer of the Russian North Vladimir Tan-Bogoraz traveled through the lands of the Chukchi at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. He wrote that in one of the camps he was told an unusual version of the appearance of the custom of jumping on the skin.

Chukchi and trampoline: why hunters and reindeer herders of the Far North jump on stretched skins

The hunters said that their shaman in his visions saw evil spirits that jumped on the skin. Then he decided that this method would help protect the camp from many misfortunes. After that, the men of this village always jumped when an epidemic started in the area, or if it was necessary to go fishing in the sea, and the weather prevented this.

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