Koryaks (or Koriak) are an indigenous people of Kamchatka Krai in the Russian Far East, who inhabit the coastlands of the Bering Sea to the south of the Anadyr basin and the country to the immediate north of the Kamchatka Peninsula, the southernmost limit of their range being Tigilsk. They are akin to the Chukchis, whom they closely resemble in physique and manner of life. Also, they are distantly related to the Kamchadal (Itelmens) on the Kamchatka Peninsula.

The Koryaks' neighbors are the Evens to the west of Koryak lands, the Alutor to the south on the isthmus of Kamchatka Peninsula, the Kerek to the east, and the Chukchi to the northeast.

The koryak are typically split into two groups. The coastal people Nemelan (or Nymylan) meaning 'village dwellers' due to their sedentary fishing habits and the inland Koryaks, reindeer herders called Chauchen (or Chauchven) meaning 'rich in reindeer' who are more nomadic.

The Koryak language and its relative, Alutor, are linguistically very close to Chukchi. They are members of the Chukotko-Kamchatkan language family.


The name Koryak was from the exonym word 'Korak' meaning 'with the reindeer (kor)' in a nearby group Chukotko-Kamchatkan language. Earliest writings of the name 'Koryak' were recorded by the Russian explorer Stepan Krasheninnikov in 1775. The variant name was adopted by Russia in official state documents hence popularizing it ever since.


The origin of the Koryaks are currently unknown. During the Late Pleistocene a land bridge was connected between the Eurasian and North American continent. People moved into the Americas crossing modern day Koryaks land. Various peoples traveled back and forth from the area before the ice age receded with the Koryaks more likely to be a remigration back into Siberian Asia from North America. Cultural and some linguistic similarity exist between the Nivkh and the Koryaks.


Koryaks once roamed a much larger area of the Russian Far East. Their overlapping borders extended to the Nivkh areas in Khabarovsk Krai until Evens arrived and pushed them into their present region. Warfare with Russian Cossacks and a smallpox epidemic in 1769-1770 reduced the Koryak population from 10-11,000 in 1700 to 4,800 in 1800. Warfare with Russian Cossacks and a smallpox epidemic in 1769-1770 reduced the Koryak population from 10-11,000 in 1700 to 4,800 in 1800. A Koryak Autonomous Okrug was formed in 1931 named after Koryak, but this was merged with Kamchatka Krai effective July 1, 2007.


Families usually gathered into groups of six or seven, forming miniature states, in which the nominal chief had no predominating authority, resembling common small group egalitarianism.


Koryaks practice a form of animist belief system especially via shamanism. Koryak mythology centers around the supernatural shaman Quikil (Big-Raven) who was the first man and protector of the Koryak. Big Raven myths are also found in the Tlingit, Tsimshian, and other Northwest Coast Amerindians.


Koryak lands are mountains and volcanic covered in mostly Arctic tundra. Coniferous trees lie near the southern regions near the coast of the Shelekhova Bay of the Sea of Okhotsk. The northern regions inland are much colder only with various shrubs but enough to sustain reindeer migration. Mean temperatures in winter is –25 °C (-13 °F) while short summers are +12 °C (53 °F). The area they covered before Russian colonization was 301,500 km² (116,410 mi²), roughly corresponding to the Koryak Okrug of which its administrative centre is Palana. The Koryaks are the largest minority group with 8,743 people among the larger mostly Russian Cossack colonizers.

See also



  • Chaussonnet, Valerie (1995) Native Cultures of Alaska and Siberia. Artic Studies Center. Washington, D.C. 112p. ISBN 1560986611
  • Friedrich and Diamond (1994) Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia- China. Volume 6 G.K.Hall and Company. Boston, Massachusetts. ISBN 0816118108
  • Kolga, Margus (2001) The Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire. NGO Red Book. Tallinn, Estonia 399p ISBN 9985936922
  • Gall, Timothy L. (1998) Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life:Koriaks. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research Inc. 2100p. ISBN 0787605522

Further reading

  • G. Kennan, Tent Life in Siberia (1871); "Über die Koriaken u. ihnen nähe verwandten Tchouktchen," in But. Acad. Sc. St. Petersburg, xii. 99.
  • Jochelson, Waldemar. The Koryak. New York: AMS Press, 1975. ISBN 0404581064
  • Jochelson, Vladimir Il'ich, and F. Boas. Religion and Myths of the Koryak Material Culture and Social Organization of the Koryak. New York: [s.n.], 1908.
  • Nagayama, Yukari ed. The Magic Rope Koryak Folktale. Kyoto, Japan: ELPR, 2003.

External links

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