The Siberian Collection – A New Perspective


The balls in the pictures were photographed in various places round Chukotka. In the regional folk club in the Uelen settlement, in the museums in Lavrentia and Anadir. The balls in the basket are used to play with by kindergarten children from Uelen.
In Chukotka, such balls are said to be, depending on the nation, either Eskimo or Chukchi. Though the Asian Eskimos most often call themselves the "inventors" of the ball. In conversations with the inhabitants of the Chukotka Peninsula in 2018, the ball often featured in childhood memories and playing ball was remembered with smile and nostalgia. However, no one seems to use the ball to play anymore, except for children in a local kindergarten in the Uelen settlement. As one of its oldest inhabitants, the eighty-year-old Armagirgin, pointed out that in the 1960s footballs appeared in the settlement and the "Chukchi" balls were abandoned. Currently, the ball is an important part of cultural identification. Has it grown closer to its symbolic roots that reach deep into the past of the Chukchi peoples? The ball is a constant element of myths about the creation of celestial bodies and ornaments, most frequently in the shape of circles, are seen as solar symbols suggesting its ritual beginnings often associated with producing light or renewing the world. One of the versions of the myth known in Chukotka and Alaska is about a raven which pierces the aurora with its beak and thus gets into the world of ghosts, kelet. There, from a girl, the daughter of kelet  ghosts, it swindles balls, which it then splits with its beak freeing the sun, the moon and stars. The echoes of these tales may be hear in contemporary conversations with the Chukchi and Eskimos.

The oldest balls in international museum collections date back to the mid-nineteenth century.

Let's listen to the Chukchi version of the myth about the ball and the stars. Also to a personal story of Tatiana Tyeyutin, who was very ill as a girl and who was cured by auroras. Elizaveta Dobryeva will talk about the ball from the Eskimo point of view, and Lili Aslapova (Evenki) will talk about a characteristic aspect of playing with the ball. An aspect associated with dividing people into two teams that is still done today, i.e. into men and women.





We live at a time when groups deprived of their identity have started searching for it. There is a great hunger for simple marketable identification; selling instant identity to big consumers, i.e. tourists. Let's take a look at excerpts from an article by Anton Lobanov from RIA Novosti. According to him, a truly bright future awaits the Chukchi ball:

The production of Eskimo balls, which are to become the symbol of Chukotka and result in drawing attention to the tourist potential of the region, started in Anadir. This is what the deputy director of a non-commercial organisation called Business Centre Chukotka Andrei Kataev said.
"Today, the district authorities are faced with the task of creating a branch of the economy of the region that would bear fruit in the form of significant tax revenues to the budgets of all levels, and which would effectively solve employment problems among Chukotka's indigenous people. Tourism should become one of such branches. And for the whole world to learn about the tourist region of Chukotka, it is necessary to create a clear, easily recognisable style of the region and actively use it to support the tourist potential of Chukotka. This is how the idea of creating the Eskimo ball as the main tourist symbol first appeared, "said Kataev. According to him, it was necessary to find a symbol of Chukotka which would be recognisable and unique. In addition, it should be original against the background of the already existing traditional images like the reindeer, the white bear, etc. It should be something like a Matryoshka doll but in the form of a product characteristic of the Chukotka peoples. All these requirements are met by the Eskimo ball which is an element of the culture not only of the Eskimos but also of the Chukchi. "In December, as part of a project to support small and medium businesses run by the district authorities under the auspices of Business Centre Chukotka, a business plan was drawn up. It was successfully presented at the district council meeting and received a grant of 350,000 roubles (about 23,000 Polish złoty) from the finance department. Material for the production of balls was purchased for the money," continued Kataev. As a result, production began with about 40 balls made daily (the price per ball should be about 700 roubles). At the same time, an important social problem has been solved - the employment of graduates of the Applied Arts department of the Chukchi multi-profile college. At the moment, 8 position have been set up in the workshop, however as production levels grow, so will the number of positions. From the earliest times (balls were found in archaeological excavations dated one and a half thousand years ago), the Eskimo ball has been a symbol of the sun and a representation of the cosmos for the indigenous peoples of Chukotka. Earlier, the ball had mainly religious significance, it was played at the beginning of the hunting season. The ball symbolised the beginning of the new year, the approaching new times. Throwing the ball during the game and passing it symbolised sending goodwill and warmth ...

3 March 2009 (the article, translated by Andrzej Dybczak