The Oroqen (or Orochon) are another of the Tribes of the Manchu-Tungusic descent and language branch. Among these the Oroqen historically rank among the smallest and most primitive Tribes.
According to the year 2000 AD National Census there were 8.200 Oroqen living in China (P.R.C.), which is considerably up from the recent past. Numbers from 1917 AD report the Oroqen population at 4,000 souls, whereas in 1943 AD the number had fallen to 3,700. The census taken in 1953 AD reported number only 2,250 Oroqen.
The Oroqen mainly reside in the wide rough and forested spaces of HeilongJiang Province and Inner-Mongolia Autonomous Region. Most Oroqen now live in their own compact community, the 55.000 Square Kilometer large Oroqen Autonomous Banner of Inner-Mongolia Autonomous Region, established in 1951 AD. This Autonomous Banner is located in the greater and lesser Hinggan Mountains, a sparsely populated area of the North-East bordering on HeilongJiang and the Russian Province of Siberia and consists for 95% of Forested lands. The Main Town of the Autonomous County is named Alihe, a modern although somewhat industrial small Town. Other Oroqen communities are spread through HeilongJiang Province and Inner Mongolia AR, of whom some prefer to retain their nomadic woods-bound lifestyle.
Alternative names for the Oroqen People are Orochon, Oronchon, Olunchun, Elunchun and Ulunchun. The Oroqen, as do the entire ethnic branch descend from the ancient Xiaobei People ("Shiwei", meaning Forrest Men).
In the past the Oroqen were found living even further North, across the HeilongJiang River (Amur) and in Russia, on the outher Hingan (Xing'An) Mountains. However, pressures from advancing Czarist Troops of the Russian Empire since the 17Th Century, have forced the Oroqen to migrate South. Initially the Oroqen consisted of seven communities which were the seven tribes. Each of these clan communes was called "Wulileng" and consisted of five to a dozen families descended from a male ancestor. The commune head was elected in a Tribal Council. In the Wulileng commune, which was then the basic economic unit of the Oroqens the hunting equipment and horses were owned by the Tribe.
Traditionally the Oroqen are hunters of the Forest, where in the past they would hunt Deer and other animals in collective groups. Oroqen, literally translates as "people using reindeer". Other possible translations are "deer trainer", or "people living in the mountains". The Oroqen were primitive hunter-gatherers, who apart from eating the meat of the animals they caught, deer but also fish, was supplanted with berries and roots found scattered in the woods. Among them the catches were equally shared, with the elderly and sick not forgotten but receiving equal share as well.
Later, during the Qing Dynasty Era, the Oroqen were introduced to Horses, which meant that they hunted
The ancient religion of the Oroqen used to be Shamanist. In fact, the word Shaman was derived from the Oroqen language name for their Priests. Their beliefs were polytheistic in that many objects in nature carried powerful spirits. Revered were the God of the Sun, the Mountain God, the God of the Tree, the God of Fire, etc. Magical animals included the Bear and the (Manchurian) Tiger. In the past the Oroqen did not dare say their names but only referred to them in indirect ways.
According to several reports including one by National Geographic (The Last of the Mountain Gods), the last Shaman of the Oroqen, Chuonnasuan (Meng Jin Fu), passed away at the Age of 73 on 9 October 2000, leaving no living Shaman to perform the Oroqen Rituals for the Mountain Gods. His rituals however have been reportedly recorded and preserved (O.a. by National Geographic Society) and are available in books and even online.
Their religions included ancestor worship. The elderly have a high and respected position among the Oroqen. Sacrifices to dead ancesstors are still frequently made. As one of the few ancient tribes in China the Oroqen practice wind burials. The Daur another local Tribe of the North-East practice wind-burial but only for children. In this case the corpse is wrapped in bark, then placed in the branches of a tree.
Wind Burial in the case of the Oroqen this means that when an adult dies his or her corpse is put into a hollowed-out tree trunk and placed with head pointing south on two-meter high supports in the forest. Often, the horse of the deceased was killed to accompany the departing soul to netherworld (not in practice today). Only the bodies of young people who die of infectious diseases are cremated.
Reportedly, with the help of some christianised Daur by 1995 AD some Christian Missionary activist had managed to convert some 30 Oroqen to Christianity, after several of their arduous attempts had failed. More misguided conversion attempts are ongoing.
The main festivals in Oroqen Culture are the Spring Festival, The Dragon Boat Festival and the Mid-Autumn Festival, mainly under influence of the Han People which occurred since 1949 AD. Yearly, on Januari the 3rd of the lunar calendar, they hold national sports contests involving horse games and sharp shooting with guns and bow and arrow and more. This National Festival is named Gulunmuta which translates as worshiping the fire-spirit.
The Oroqen people also have their own song and dance troupes, film projection teams, broadcast stations and clubs.
With no industry or mechanized tools in the recent past, the Oroqen are now rapidly adopting a modern way of life.
All school-age children are enrolled in primary and middle schools. Every year a number of youth enter institutions of higher learning. The Oroqen Autonomous Banner became self sufficient in grain production in the year 1976 AD and has since increased production. There are now 37 factories and workshops for farm machinery, electric appliances, flour and powdered milk established in the Oroqen Autonomous County. Furniture, leather, fur and candies are also produced. The banner also has built schools, department stores, hospitals, banks and cinemas. Mobile medical teams organized and payed for by the government now operate in the area, drastically improving available medical help for the Oroqen. Since the 1980's the total population of Oroqen in China has been on slowly on the Rise. In 1982 the Census among Oroqen reported that their number had grown to 4,100. As mentioned, by the Year 2000
this number had doubled to around 8000. Many Oroqen however have trouble adapting to a modern way of life. The Roe Deer are gone and there a few animals to hunt. Hunting is banned, unemployment and discontent with life and the Han immigrations is high and alcoholism is rampant.
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together, on horeseback, while more horses were needed to carry the caught game and the Oroqen's lifelyhood across mountains and rivers.
The Qing Dynasty Era also introduced Military service to the Oroqen. As were the other Manchu-Tungusic Peoples of the North-East, at the dawn of the Qing Dynasty (1644 AD - 1911 AD) the Tribes of Manchuria were incoorporated into the 8 Banner system, a system that would function as the core of the Manchurian Armies. Many Oroqen served for the Qing Dynasty, often in far away places as Xinjiang in the West and Yunnan in the South. However, no large groups of Oroqen ever settled in these places. Most Oroqen men drafted for Military service succumbed or died on the battlefield, which is why the Oroqen are only found in the North-East today.
Under the Japanese Occupation the Oroqen, although located remotely, suffered several brutalities. Among the most noteworthy facts some of them were used in bacteriological warfare experiments by the now infamous Unit 731. At the same time the regions where Oroqen lived and resided were the targets of arial bombarments with various virusses and other lethal agents. Furthermore the Japanese Occupation brought along Opium use, a practice encouraged by the Japanese in an attempt to control these wild and largely nomadic people. Where possible the Japanese further tried to press-gang Oroqen men into the Manchukuo army or use them as forced laborers in the foresting industry. Last but not least the Japanese raided the few Oroqen settled communities, destroyed their means of agriculture and drove the Oroqen away from civilization and into the Forrest.
As one result, at the time of the Japanese defeat only some 1000 Oroqen remained alive in China (P.R.C.), all of them scattered in the Forests.
Oroqen are excellent horsemen and sharp-shooters on horseback.
They even have horses that are especially adapted to the terrain and climate. Great sturdy animals with large hoofs to prevent them from sinking into the often soft underground.
Children traditionally learned their skill from a very young age with boys often going out with their father as young as age 7. The women of the Oroqen are equally skilled hunters. Women however specialize in household task, such as fixing or manifacturing the animal skin clothing of the Oroqen and/or embroidering them with lively and colorful patterns. Also, Oroqen women are uniquely adapt at make basins, bowls, boxes and other objects from birch barks. Pelts were also prepared by Oroqen women using them to make caots, boots, gloves, socks, bedding and tents.
This primitive Oroqen Forest lifestyle has continued until the 1950's when the Communist Government of the new Peoples Republic of China launched a development plan for the Oroqen People.
Much has changed for the Oroqen since the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China. In the 1950's the Government has set up a a special program to include the Oroqen Ethnic Minority in the progress that China as a nation was planning to make. Han Experts sent by the government first established a local government, the Oroqen Autonomous Banner which was founded on October 1, 1951 (shortly after the Tibet had been violently brought under Central Government Rule by the Peoples Republic of China), and then proceeded to "help" the Oroqen to settle down in villages, rather than dwell in the Forest. Several autonomous townships were set up within the large region where the Oroqens could settle and live in compact communities. Construction of housing there began in 1952 AD. Along standard lines of communist thinking the Oroqen were supposed to be better of with a higher yield and production, so the Oroqen apart from being organized in hunting communes, were pressured to adopt agricultural lifestyles. From the year 1956 AD and onwards the Oroqen received training in agricultural techniques by both Han and by Daur Farmers, the latter being originally a primitive tribe that resembled the Oroqen in lifestyle. The Daur had adopted (small scale) farming earlier, as described in the Daur Section of this website.
Since then the Oroqen have been encouraged to settle down in communities, get engaged in agriculture and forestry as an industry. Along with it a program of education in the Chinese (Mandarin) National language was introduced. In 1996, Hunting was officially banned among the Tribe and in the Region, thereby outlawing the traditional existence and culture of the Oroqen. Today's Oroqen lifestyle is modernized but still revolves much around nature and the forest. The tourist industry is growing enabling the Tribe to retain some if its traditional handicrafts, which are in high demand as unique tourist items.
The Oroqen have a spoken language but never developed a written version of it. There are to dialects of Oroqen Language, Guanki and HeilongJiang Oroqen. The majority of the modern Oroqen speak Chinese and use their written language. Oroqen also speak Chinese, Mongolian, Russian, Ewenki, or Daur (Dawoer). The Oroqen language belongs to the Manchu-Tungusic branch of the Altaic languages as does the Evenki language which is remarkably similar. It is believed that Oroqen and Evenki can understand 70% of each others language.
The Oroqen are famed for their handicrafts work of the Forest consisting of boats made of birch-bark, and other wooden and bark objects, often finally crafted. In this they resemble Evenki and Nanai People. Traditional Oroqen houses are Forest Tents named sierranju (Chinese: xierenzhu). In the summer these are covered with birch bark wheras in the winter they are covered with deer furs. Cooking is done on an open fire at the cnter of this tent structure.
Their traditional clothing items were usually made of the skin of their main prey animal, the Roe Deer. However, modern Oroqen no longer wear animal skins but have adopted modern Chinese dress. Furthermore, since the 1996 AD hunting ban in the region deer skins are no longer available, so this style of dress is only rarely produced these days. The traditional hats of the Oroqen, crafted from a complete head-skin of the Roe Deer, are no longer available.