Population and Distribution
The Oroqen ethnic group, with a population of 8,196, is the third smallest of the 55 ethnic groups in China. They are mainly live in the Oroqen Autonomous Banner of Hulunbuir League in the Greater and Lesser Xing'an Mountains of Inner Mongolia. A small number are scattered in Heilongjiang Province.
The Oroqen ethnic group is one of the ancient ethnic groups in north China. Oroqen, means 'people living on the mountain' or 'people using reindeer', it is a name they gave themselves. The ancestor of the Oroqens originally lived in the vast area south of the Outer Xing'an Mountains and north of Heilongjiang. In the 17th century, following the invasions of China by Russia, some Oroqens moved to the area near the Greater and Lesser Xing'an Mountains. They used to be called 'Suolunbu', 'Dashengbu' and 'Shilubu'. After the founding of the PRC in 1949, they were formally named the 'Oroqen ethnic group'.
The Oroqens have their own language which belongs to the Tungus branch of the Manchu-Tungusic group of the Altaic language family. They have no written script of their own. They now use Chinese spoken and written language along with their own language. Some of them can speak the language of the Daur ethnic group.
The Oroqen people practice Shamanism and totemism. They are very much in awe of the bear. Being animists, they worship nature and their ancestors, and believe that everything in the world has a spirit. They also believe their own fate and the esoteric acts of nature are in the hands of gods. Diseases are thought to be caused by the magical power of devils or ghosts.
The main group of Oroqen people is the Oroqen Autonomous Banner which is situated deep in the Great Xing'an Mountains. The forest here are filled valuable plants such as larch, birch, oak and aspen trees and rare animals such as tiger, bear, roe deer, boar, mink, fox, water otter and lynx. Various local specialties, including agarics, filbert, mushroom, also grow in this forest. Besides, this area is also has rich deposits of coal, iron, zinc, gold and lead.
Before the founding of the PRC in 1949, the Oroqen people mainly lived on hunting, collecting and sometimes fishing. After the 1950s, they gradually left the forests, stopped their nomadic life and settle down. With the support of the government, they began to take up agriculture and animal husbandry. Industry and manufacturing are now progressing well.
The Oroqen people usually have one or two meals per day. Their staple food used to be animal meat, like roe deer, elk (moose), deer and wild boar. With the development of agricultural production, dishes made of grain are now more appearing more frequently on their tables. Oroqen men like drink white spirits and home-produced koumiss.
Xierenzhu, meaning 'house supported by wooden poles', is the traditional house of the Oroqen people. It is a conical wooden shanty made of 20 or 30 pine or birch poles, of which four poles with branches on their tops serving as the main supporting frame. The covering of the hut varies according to the season. In summer, it is enclosed with stitched birch bark while in winter with the skins of the wild animal such as roe. The size of Xierenzhu varies according to the numbers of the family and seasons. It is usually 5 meters in height and 6 meters in diameter. The door of the tent usually faces to the east or south. In its center is a need-fire used to cook warm people and illuminate. Due to their need to move constantly, their houses are simply furnished. In the room, apart from beds, there are only the basic necessities for daily life and production.
After the founding of the PRC, all the Oroqen people have ended their nomadic life and settled down. They first lived in wooden houses and earthen brick houses and nowadays moved into brick and tile houses.
The Oroqen people used to live on hunting. In the long history of hunting life, this influenced the creation of their unique dressing culture.
Clothing of the Oroqen, includes hats, shoes and socks, are made of animal skins, of which the roe deer skin takes an important place. The clothing for the summer, autumn and spring are made of skins of the summer roe deer, which is characterized by the sparseness and shortness of its fur. The skin of the winter roe is made into the winter dress. The leggings, which are worn by men and women, are made of two or three skins. The leggings have only trouser legs, and some have laces on them. They fastened with a leather rope at the waist. It can protect the trousers when they are hunting or cutting firewood. The leather trousers are made of three skins of roe deer living in autumn or winter.
The Oroqens are good at dancing and singing. Most of their songs praise nature or are about love, hunting and the struggles of life. The Oroqens often try to represent their dreams and wishes through dances. The most popular folk dances are 'Black Bears Fight Dance' and 'Wood Rooster Dance'. The common music instruments played the Oroqen people are pengnuhua (a type of harmonica) and wentuwen (hand drum).
The Oroqens have many tales, fables, legends, proverbs and riddles. They have been handed down from generation to generation and reflect the origin of the human beings, the legend of their ancestors and their hunting life.
Spring Festival is the most important festival of the Oroqen people. They celebrate it on the same date with the Han Chinese. On New Year's Eve, they burn incense and kowtow to their god, to the old people, and wish everyone good fortune in the coming year. Various entertainment activities, such as wrestling matches, horse racing and archery, are held from the first to the sixth day of the New Year.