THE VOLUNTARY DEATH OF THE CHUKCHI PEOPLE
Maggie H is a Global Explorer and Wellness Advocate from Hong Kong. Among many spiritual endeavors, Maggie practices and leads Qigong meditation to help people around the world find their inner balance. Find out more about this and other Eastern Philosophy & Meditation practices every Monday on the ICBRKR blog.
Benjamin Franklin once wrote that nothing is certain except death and taxes. Most of us deal with taxes every year. When it comes to death, we will all most likely need to deal with it at least once in our life.
Here is one unique way (to put it mildly) in which death is faced by an indigenous tribe called the Chukchi people of Siberia, also known as Eskimos of the Chukotka. Chukotka is located in the Far East region of Russia where the sun rises first. Despite being about three times the size of the United Kingdom, its population is only 50,000 because of its harsh environment and lack of food, making it difficult to survive for most people.
Nevertheless, Chukchi people have been living in this area for over 6,000 years and the majority of them still pursue the traditional lifestyle of fishing, reindeer herding, and seal hunting. To survive in this frozen land, they all need to be tough warriors.
In their tradition, death is not a tragedy and dying due to old age or disease is disgraceful. Instead, dying on the battle field or Voluntary Death is considered as the dignified and humane way to exit from this world. When Chukchi people get old or seriously ill, they pick a close friend or family to kill them. The person whose help is sought must either help them by stabbing them with a knife or spear, or by strangling them with a string.
Of course, when someone has decided to go along this route, family and friends initially try to persuade the person to change their mind. However, they shouldn't drag it out for too long otherwise the awaiting ghosts — who were called as soon as the decision was made — will take someone else's life instead.
When someone is unable to take care of oneself in such a harsh environment, Voluntary Death is typically chosen to release the burden off of family members or relatives. To some people, this approach may appear to be too barbaric or grotesque, but it can also be seen as a most honourable and courageous way of overcoming the fear of death. In their own way, this is how family elders teach the younger generation the will to survive beyond the fear of death in extreme conditions like in Siberia. This could be a compelling reason why the Chukchi people have never been rendered powerless against their challenging external environment or foreign invasions.
Since its discovery in the 17th century, Russia attempted to invade and occupy Chukotka many times, but the environment was too harsh for any immigrants to survive, even though Chukotka is blessed with plenty of natural resources which can be developed further. Chukotka remains the only region that the Russians have been unable to conquer in totality. It may have something to do with their strong will to sustain their dignified way of living.
Personally, I am still ambivalent about how I feel about Voluntary Death but at the very least, I can understand that its act is deeply and viscerally rooted in respect for life.
Maggie H is a Life Cartographer, Eastern philosopher, Qigong master, Buddhist and Taoist meditator, Feng Shui practitioner, and researcher of Buddhist scriptures. She lives in Hong Kong, and regularly travels to both India and South Korea to further her spiritual growth and development. Her lifelong motto is: "benefit to all humankind."