Koryak family, mannequin of Koryak dancer to left
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Koryak Dancer.
Dancing was an important part of Koryak social and religious life, and special costumes were created for this purpose. This man is wearing a reindeer skin coat ornamented with tassles and embroidered designs; the spots may represent stars. This garment may have belonged to an Aliutor shaman. Leggings and boots are decorated with Venetian trade beads.

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map of Koryak habitation area
Cultural affinities between Native Siberians and Native Alaskans go far beyond the Bering Strait area. Anthropologists have found striking parallels between the myths, rituals, and dwelling types of the Koryak - inhabitants of the Kamchatka Peninsula - and those of Tlingit, Tsimshian, and other Native peoples of America's Northwest Coast.

The central figure of Koryak mythology is Big-Raven (Quikil or Quikinnaqu), who appears as the first man, the father and protector of the Koryak, as well as a powerful shaman and a supernatural being. As the Great Transformer of the world, Big-Raven presides at every shamanistic ceremony. Almost all Koryak myths and folktales deal with the life, travels, adventures, and tricks of Big-Raven and his family. About 80 percent of those episodes have parallels in the mythology of the Northwest Coast indigenous peoples.

These similarities have led researchers to seek ancient cultural connections or even a common origin for these peoples separated by the North Pacific. Koryak (as well as neighboring Itelmen and Chukchi) were once called "Americanoids" and were thought to be return migrants from America to Siberia, after the initial peopling of the New World.

Although this hypothesis lacks proof beyond similarities in myths and beliefs, Koryak-Northwest Coast affinities are still a key subject for research.

- Igor Krupnik
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