Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Russian Academy of Sciences
Novikova Natalia Ivanovna



The Nivkh. Modern Culture and Crafts, Folklore Groups, Professional Art

The modern Nivkh culture has deep traditional roots. This is manifested, first of all, in the visual component that the Nivkh demonstrate during holidays, festivals, and exhibitions. One example of the art and modern culture of the Nivkh was the European Folk Art Exhibition Fair of 2017, organized by the Hungarian Union of Craftsmen. Several hundred craftsmen from Hungary and other countries took part in it including ten masters from Sakhalin who were honorary guests of the Exhibition.

Masterclasses on working with fish skin, birch bark, and traditional embroidery were very popular at the Exhibition. The production of souvenirs made of wood, bone, and fish skin, aroused great interest among buyers and became a means of preserving and promoting folk knowledge.



The Nivkh also participate in the annual Moscow exhibition “Treasures of the North”, where they represent their culture by participating in concerts, and exhibitions, presenting folk costumes, dolls, embroidery, carvings, and traditional ethnic food.




In the areas where the Nivkh reside, regional centers of folk art, museums, and folklore groups are involved in the preservation and development of their culture. The ensembles that are very popular among the indigenous and local population are “Mengume ilga” (“Silver patterns”), Poronaysk; “Lyudi Ykh Mif” (“People of Sakhalin”), Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk; “Kekh” (“Seagull”), Tymovskoye; “Ari la mif” (“Land of the North Wind”), Nogliki; "Pila Ken" ("Big Sun"), Okha. The ensembles have become an excellent school not only for Nivkh activists, but also for farm managers and entrepreneurs, and contributed to the development of the social capital of the Nivkh community.

The musical instruments have become a bridge connecting the ancient and the modern Nivkh culture. Natalya Mamcheva, an expert in Nivkh musical culture, published a detailed description. According to her, the music log, being a sacred instrument, was used at the Bear Festival at the most important moments of the ritual. It symbolized the body of the sacred beast, the bear. The log was decorated with the inau wood-shaving sticks. Playing it allowed one to communicate with spirits. Today, the music log is widely used in the performances of amateur ensembles. It is easy to make, which allows it to be installed in ethnic summer camps, where children and teenagers enjoy learning to play it. The sound of the log accompanies songs and recitatives performed in the Nivkh language. The modern Nivkh musical instruments are varied: percussion (logs, sticks), various mouth harps, string picolute, wind instruments (trumpets), rattles, tambourines, and others.

The Bear Festival does not exist any longer. The largest comparable event on Sakhalin was “The Feeding the Spirit of the Master of the Sea”, which was held 30 times in 2022. Initially, the holiday was financed from the funds of tribal farms. It served to strengthen the prestige of local organizations and develop tolerance in the field of interethnic relations in the area.

The members of minorities make up only a small part of the festival participants. The event contained a ritual of feeding the spirit of the sea, competitions in folk sports, and an ethnic cuisine festival. All this introduces both the Nivkh youth and the rest of the population to the ethnic traditions. At the festival, the fishermen and farm managers received guests, including the local administration, from all over Sakhalin. They also organized a celebratory feast for everyone. An important part of the holiday was a presentation of valuable gifts to the most successful farms.

Another project aimed at popularizing the culture of the Nivkh was “Tales to Listen to” carried out by the Sakhalin Regional Museum of Local Lore. It involved reading folklore tales in the Nivkh and Russian languages.