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woman and reindeer
In the past most of the Oroqen lived off hunting, gathering and fishing. They went on hunting expeditions in groups, and the game bagged was distributed equally not only to those taking part in the hunt, but also to the aged and infirm. The heads, entrails and bones of the animals killed were not distributed but were cooked and eaten by all. Later, deer antlers, which fetched a good price, were not distributed but went to the hunters who killed the animals. [Source: China.org china.org |]

Oroqen used to live in teepee-like tents—the immortals pillar— supported by a center pole. Around the pole there were frames of branches, which supported a wall made of bark or animal pelts. There was no floor. Generally, a single family occupied an immortal pillar (tent). Often several families with blood ties lived and traveled together in groups called wulileng. Wulileng were the basic unit of Oroqen. Members of a wulileng worked together and shared the products of their work. Men were usually were hunters. Every wulileng had its own hunting fields, usually with a river flowing through it .[Source: Ethnic China ethnic-china.com*]

Horses, guns and hunting dogs were their most valued possessions." Their short but strong horses were well suited for hunting in the forests. For hunting they used whistles to attract game and guns to kill it. What they killed was often smoked for preservation so it oculd be eaten anytime. They also fished from boats made with birch bark. Women and children gathered wild herbs and vegetables. *\

The Oroqen were nomads to some degree that traveled according to the season and the habits of the game the pursued. They moved their tents in small carts pulled by their horses. Starting fires was difficult so they carried burning embers with them. They carried their babies inside a cradle when on the move and hung the cradles inside the tent when they camped. The cradle was decorated with hanging cloth figurines— images of the gods—that were supposed to protect the children by scaring off evil spirits and ghosts. When somebody died, the corpse was hanged from the branches of a tree until it rotted, and then it was brought down and covered by stones. *\

In the past, the Oroqen used the skins of roe deer to make their clothes. From the hats on their heads to their trousers and boots, everything they wore was made of the same material—roe skin, sometimes embroidered with simple patterns. They made quilts with the skin of roe and other animals. On festive days, Oroqen women wore decorated headwear. Most of their daily-used utensils were made of animal pelts or birch bark. *\

Oroqen Hunting

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Hunter's camp
The Oroqens are expert hunters. Both the males and females are sharp shooters on horseback. Boys usually start to go out on hunting trips with their parents or brothers at the age of seven or eight. And they would be stalking wild beasts in the deep forest all on their own at 17. A good hunter is respected by all and young maidens like to marry him. Horses are indispensable to the Oroqens on their hunting expeditions. Hunters ride on horses, which also carry their family belongings and provisions as well as the game they killed over mountains and across marshes and rivers. The Oroqen horse is a very sturdy breed with extra-large hooves that prevent the animal from sinking into marshland. |

Oroqen hunters relied on dogs and shotguns and used horses obtained from the Manchus and Mongols. They hunted year round, going after furs in the winter, deer with antlers in May and June and deer for venison and male organs in September. Hunters wore animal skins clothes and wore hats made from the head of a deer or other animals.

Hunters traditionally worked in groups of four or five. Meat was shared equally, with special care taken to make sure the sick, aged and disabled were provided for. The hunters usually cooked and ate the internal organs and head together. Women sometimes hunted and fished but usually they were responsible for drying the meat and tanning hides.

The Oroqen no longer rely on hunting but hunters south of the Amur River still brave -30̊F temperatures in the winter to track deer and moose. The winter was often the best time to hunt because animals could be easily located by following their tracks.

Ab 83-year-old former Oroqen leader named Baiyaertu told Time magazine in 2008. “Hunting is good. It’s good for the body. After you came back with something, you feel really happy...In the past there was no road, no railroad. There were no Han people. There was nobody here. You could see deer, roe deer, everything. Now there are people here, and the animals have all gone.”

Because of a scarcity of game the Chinese government outlawed hunting in the Oroqen banner in 1996. While some hunt in Heilongjiang Province where hunting is allowed and poach in the mountains hunting as a way of life has vanished.

Oroqen Customs and Taboos

The Oroqen have traditionally had many taboos. It was considered a taboo to kill bears for example. Some important ceremonies revolved around placating disturbed bear spirits. If a bear is killed in self defense its bones had to be spread on a structure made willow branches to ask for forgiveness. There were also taboos regarding women and hunting. Special boxes associated with hunting gods were not to be touched by women. Women were not supposed to walk behind tents and had to give birth in a special tent or hut. Specific plans were never made for a hunt because it was widely believe they prey were able to sense such plans.

One taboo prohibited a woman from giving birth in the home. She had to do that in a little hut built outside the house in which she would be confined for a month before she could return home with her newborn. [Source: China.org china.org |]

The Oroqens have a long list of don'ts rooting in their hunting traditions and way of life in the forests. For instance, they never call the tiger by its actual name but just "long tail," and the bear "granddad." Bears killed are generally honored with a series of ceremonies; their bones are wrapped in straw placed high on trees and offerings are made for the souls of dead bears. Oroqens do not work out their hunting plans in advance, because they believe that the shoulder blades of wild beasts have the power to see through a plan when one is made.

Immortal Pillar: the Oroqen Teepee

"The immortal pillar" (also called a slashing pillar and known in Oroqen language as a "wooden pole horse") is the name of the traditional Oroqen dwelling—a teepee-like tent built by using twenty or thirty five-to-six meter-long wooden poles, animal skins and birch bark. Constructing an immortal pillar is very simple: 1) use several wooden poles—which have branches on top that help to hold the other poles up—to prop up a conical framework of poles with a slope of 60 degree. 2) Add other wooden poles to the framework with the proportional spacing similar to that of an umbrella. 3) Cover frame with deer skins and birch bark.[Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

The "immortal pillar" is built to keep out rain in summer and cold and snow in the winter—and it can be bitterly cold, as cold as Siberia, where the Oroqen live. Like a teepee there, there is a hole at the top, where the branches come together, to let in the light and let out smoke when a fire is going. The door is located in the south or southeast part of the house. The cover of the immortal pillar is changed with the seasons. In winter, it is mostly covered in deer skin. About 50 or 60 deer skins are needed. In spring, birch bark is the preferred material. To prepare the birch bark, the hard external layer is removed and the internal soft layer is heated to make it softer and tougher. Threads made from horsetails or deer and elk tendons are used to sew together the small pieces of bark together to form several large pieces. The coverings are placed over the frame from bottom to top, one layer over another, fixed on the wooden poles with pitons and straps in the corners. In winter, the immortal pillar is built on the leeward of hills with a sunny exposure while in summer, it is mostly built in on the place with a good breeze. ~

The inner furnishings of the immortal pillar are very simple and consist mainly of beds for sleeping. There are two kinds of beds: one is the shakedown which is made by directly laying wood, hay, birch bark and deerskins on the ground. The other is the doss which is made by erecting wooden stakes to set up a bed. In a immortal pillar, people can sleep on the three sides, with the other side left for door. In the middle of the dwelling is a fire for warm and an iron boiler on the fire, which can be used to prepare a meal or hot drink. ~

The framework of the immortal pillar is very simple and is easy to put together and take apart. The materials are very easy to gather from the forest—a product of the Oroqen's hunting life. Even when they were nomads, the Oroqen sometimes settled temporarily in "Mukeleng" houses built with logs. After they were settled, the Oroqen began to live in tile or concrete structures with normal roofs and windows. Some Oroqen families still raise immortal pillars outside their modern homes or build them temporarily in winter for shelter from cold or when they go out hunting. ~

Oroqen Food: Roe Meat and Wormwood Buds

The traditional food of Oroqen is mainly the game meat and fish, in which the meat of the roe deer was favored followed by the meat of deer, elk, bear and boar. Roe meat tastes fresh and tender, the Oroqen say, and is rich in nutrition. In the past, there were many roes in the forests of the Great and Small Xingan Mountains, so roes were the primary target of hunting and the source of clothes for Oroqen people. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

The Oroqen cook roe meat many ways: bake it, steam it, braise it, but stewing it to be eaten with the hands is the most common way. Half-cooked, even with some blood, is regarded as the best. Hunters have traditionally liked eating the kidney and liver of roes. Every time they kill a roe, they take out the kidney and liver on the spot and share it and eat it. They believe that eating the raw kidney and liver is good for their eyes and health. ~

At weddings, festivals and feasts, the Oroqen prepare a rich feast of roe meat, with a variety of roe meat dishes. According to tradition, at an Oroqen wedding, both the bridegroom's family and the bride's family prepare a roe meat feast. A respected elder is put in charge of this roe meat wedding feast. The roe deer are supposed to be captured alive and slaughtered and prepared at the wedding feat. The deer skin is supposed to be singed on fire so the smoke spreads everywhere, letting everyone share the happiness and joy of the wedding. ~

In the past, the Oroqen people didn't grow vegetables and the wild wormwood bud was their favorite and most important plant dish. Even now, when Oroqen have access to a wide variety of vegetables and their diet has changed a lot, their passion for wormwood bud is undiminished. The wormwood bud grows wild along river sides. Oroqen describe the taste as fresh and fragrant. The wormwood is also considered a highly-prized medicine plant useful in treating colds, fevers, stomachaches, hypertension and diabetes. Every spring and summer, the Oroqen women go out with baskets and collect wormwood buds. They can be braised with meat or fish or fried and slathered in sauce. Sometimes they are pickled and preserved to be eaten later.

Oroqen Roe Deerskin Clothes

Oroqen have traditionally worn clothes made from skins of animals they hunted. They wear leather clothes in winter, spring and autumn, and even in summer, especially when they go hunting in the mountain because the leather clothes can keep out cold and are waterproof and wearable. Oroqen women like to wear roe skin gloves with all kinds of patterns of birds or animals sewed on them. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

The Oroqen's traditional way of living is "eating meat and sleeping on the fell", with “fell” meaning a roe deer skin and fur. During the long life of hunting, the Oroqen displayed their originality and resourcefulness by putting roe deer skin to numerous uses and developing a whole culture around it. Their clothes—from hat to shoes—their bedclothes and tent covers and household goods were mainly made of roe fell. Roe fell is not only durable it is also waterproof and good at keeping out cold. Roe fell of different seasons can be used to make different kinds of clothes. The roe head winter hat, for example, is made of autumn and winter roe fell, which is very thick and tough and has long and dense hair. The roe fell of summer has short and sparse hair, abd is suitable for spring and summer dress. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

Oroqen clothes consist mainly of robes and gowns and includes fur robes, fur jackets, fur trousers, chaps, fur shoes, fur socks, fur gloves, fur waistcoats, and roe head hats. The roe head hat is the most unique and distinctive. It is made completely from the fur of a roe deer head and looks like a deer head. To make one: 1) take off the skin and fur from the roe head and steam it. 2) Place two pieces of black fur on the two holes of eyes. 3) Cut off the two ears and sew up two artificial ears made of roe fell. Retain the roe horns. This kind of hat not only keeps one warm, it also is the perfect disguise for of hunting. The artificial ears are added in part so hunters can tell the difference between a roe head hat and a real roe deer and not take a shot at the hat and its wearer.

Image Sources: Nolls China website, Donsmaps, University of Washington, San Francisco Museum, CNTO

Text Sources: 1) "Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China", edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company; 2) Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~; 3) Ethnic China ethnic-china.com *\; 4) Chinatravel.com \=/; 5) China.org, the Chinese government news site china.org | New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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