Jokes About Chukchis

Almost every culture has a go-to group that become the butt of jokes: a rival country, an ethnic group, or a subculture such as "rednecks." In Russia, they tell jokes at the expense of the Chukchis, who live in remote northeast. The jokes aren't all that special; you've probably heard the same ones told about other groups. But how did they become the subject of such jokes? Chukchis are aboriginal people of the frigid northeast corner of Russia, who survive by herding reindeer and harvesting seafood in the harsh climate the Soviets reserved for punishment. And the jokes may have been born from the Soviets' failure to turn the Chukchis into modern Communists. For example, why should they take orders from Moscow about when to hunt animals, when they've been doing it just fine for generations?

...the Bolsheviks completely disregarded the obvious fact that the Chukchis have been what Spencer Wells calls “wonders of adaptation”: over thousands of years they have “developed a lifestyle that allows them to exist in an environment of unimaginable harshness”, a landscape of “an other-worldly tundra, covered in snow and frost from September to June” (Spencer Wells, The Journey of Man, p. 134). Being heavily dependent on the few animal species that survive in such an environment – reindeer, seals, dogs, polar bears, and fish – the Chukchis developed a keen understanding of these animals and their lifecycles. What could the Russians, coming from an entirely different ecosystem, possibly tell them that the Chukchis did not already know? Attempts at collectivizing the Chukchis and imposing a more centralized system on them during the 1930s proved extremely unsuccessful.

Cultural misunderstanding gives plenty of opportunities for jokes, but like other such groups, there is the occasional payback.

   The Soviet Army test fire an SS-20 missile and lose track of it as it goes into the vast northern tundra. They drive a jeep up there to try to find it. “Hello”, they call out to a passing Chukchi. “Did you happen to see a big, flaming stick cross the sky?”

    “No”, replies the Chukchi. “I saw some birds, a plane, a helicopter, and an SS-20 missile… but no big flaming stick.”

Read about the Chukchis and the history of their relations with the rest of Russia at GeoCurrents. Link -via Metafilter


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