Monday, September 19, 2011

Nivkh Dugout

My previous posting, concerning the sturgeon-nose canoes of the (North American) Pacific Northwest, generated a comment by "Anonymous" who mentioned that the Nivkh  people of Siberia also built sturgeon-nose bark canoes. I did a quick Google search which didn't reveal any specifics about these, but it did turn up the information that the Nivkh people were a maritime culture of the Siberian northeast with certain cultural similarities to the Ainu of northern Japan. In addition to their use of bark canoes, the Nivkh also built dugouts of poplar.
Nivkh dugout canoe. (Click to enlarge.)
The photo above, from the Russian pages of Wikipedia, shows a Nivkh dugout under oars. Three oarsmen sit in the bow, each pulling two oars, while a helmsman sits high on the rounded stern, steering with a paddle. There is much empty space between them for cargo or passengers. The bow has substantial overhang, and some kind of decorative stem post rising about to the level of the rowers' heads. There is one thwart visible aft of the aft-most rower, and from the first and third rowers' elevated positions, it appears that they are not sitting in the canoe's bottom; i.e., they must be sitting on seat thwarts or some loose objects. The middle rower appears to be somewhat lower and might be sitting in the bottom.

I can not make out the object that appears between the head of the first rower and the stem post. It looks like a paddle or oar blade, but its location there makes no sense to me.


  1. Hi Robert,
    It surely is confusing, but it might be more generic to attribute the Russian sturgeon-nosed birchbark canoes [omorochkas] to the Nanai although the Nivkh used them as one of their boat types. One thing for sure is that the Omorochka was a beautiful and highly developed bark canoe form. It is interesting how the cutwater recurves and therebye repels grasses, branches, and other flotsam as it passes through the water.

    The ‘Nivkh dugout’ mentioned is not actually a dugout, but an extraordinary plank boat. However there were contemporary boats that were either dugout versions or progenitors.
    A larger version of the image shown is here:

    If downloaded and then zoomed in, one can see that the black mark is likely just another photo-negative artifact and not part of the boat or its accoutrements - and is supported by other photos that I have seen of that boat type.

    mick allen

    1. Mick,
      Thank you for this input. The omorochka photo for which you provided a link is a lovely and extraordinary craft. I'd love to learn more about it. However, I was able to find only two more omorochka photos:
      The first shows a bark canoe under construction. This could be like the boat in your photo link:
      The other, although labeled a Nanai "omorochka," is different boat altogether:
      I believe you're right about the mystery mark that appears above the bow of the boat in this blog post: probably just a flaw in the negative.

    2. Hi Robert,
      Yes unfortunately for simplicity, the term “omorochka” in Russia is used for small boats as well as bark canoes. In the case of the

      nonbark boats, I believe they are Yugaghir canoes of which either the dugout or the plank type have quite pinched ends and ‘breasthook’ like thwarting near the very ends as in your photo.


      Birchbark omorochkas are quite difficult to find info on though I have been able to discern 7 different types. I can’t wait to get my eyes on ‘Bark & Skin Boats of Northern Eurasia” when it eventually comes out in order to see what some of the other variations are like. Of the seven types, there are three main divisions:

      1)The small ‘torpedo’ shaped omorochkas of the Yenisei region [and others] are quite compact, beautiful, and interesting – especially as they are bark fore-decked and one cannot help wonder what the next evolution of their design might have been. These seem to be about 13 feet [under 4.5m] long.

      2) The type we have already referenced: a 2-3 person larger type [still fairly shallow though] with strongly recurve ends. Depending on where measured from they’d be 14-20 feet [4.5m-6.5m] long:

      3) Large packing canoes for 3-6 persons and a lot of gear – this one from the Buryats region:

      Although I don’t believe there is written evidence that birchbark canoes existed in Russia before about 200 years ago, birch-bark material culture was highly developed over many regions. To back this up there even has been found a well built, nicely preserved 2500 yr old bucket, so I don’t doubt that bark omorchkas were present as well.

      mick allen