The Tree of Life and worldview of the Amur Mohe Buyeo Sushen (Tungusic people)

The people of the Amur know a long, cosmopolitan history. In ancient times, trade route spassed from China and Mongolia through this region. Several peoples of the Turkic, Mongolian and Manchu-Tungus linguistic groups have travelled down the Amur route since antiquity. They have either remained in this region or moved on to new territory since then. Neolithic history of the Amur has left a legacy of pottery, which bears similarities to that of Korea and Japan. There are also similarities between the motifs on Amur petroglyphs dating back 5000 years showing cosmic serpents and dragons, and the aboriginal art of the more distant North America, Indonesia and Polynesia. In the first and second centuries AD, the region of the Amur, Korea and Japan formed a cohesive cultural entity. Chinese imperial power extended into the Amur region in the seventh century AD and would continue to exercise authority in the region until the Russians arrived.4  This period of Chinese imperium has left an indelible imprint on Amur material cultures. … decorative arts of the Amur do reveal indigenous motif traditions. A. Okladnikov traces motifs in Amur material culture to the ancient petroglyphs of Sikhote Alin29. The petroglyphs, which date back approximately 5000 years, depict birds, spirals and masks. The same depictions can be found in Amur decorative arts of the nineteenth century and later. 30 People of the Amur attributed special powers to nature and fauna. Both find stylised and conventional representations in clothing. The stylised depiction of birds, fish, serpents and water is a series of elaborate curves or spirals with one or two distinctive characteristics of each motif interspersed in the pattern.
Tree of life The tree of life symbol is a ubiquitous motif on Amur clothing and is derived from local mythology. The tree of life connects the upper world and the netherworld by passing through the middle world inhabited by humans. Its roots are in the netherworld, pictorially depicted with fish, snake and lizard figures. The trunk of the tree passes through the human world. In this middle panel one finds depictions of forest animals familiar to the Amur people. The treetop represents the upper world where birds, as creators of the universe in Amur mythology, nestle.31
Serpent, spiral or dragon motifs In local myths, the serpent is a benevolent creature and is attributed supernatural powers and wisdom. The serpent is also believed to be the creator of the universe in Amur mythology. Plunging from the skies into the earth, it created deep valleys and enough room to accommodate all earth’s creatures. Its descent on earth is represented in spiral and zigzag patterns both on ancient petroglyphs and on more recent decorative arts of the Amur. The serpent is also represented as a dragon, cited often as an illustration of Chinese influence. The dragon then appears along with fish in the panel representing the netherworld, in the tree of life design.
Fish motifs Fish appear in the tree of life design along with birds and animals. They are associated with the underworld and hence appear at the tree roots, in the lower panel of the design. The fluidity between the worlds is once more patent in the frequent depiction of birds with fish fins for tails, at the top of the tree. Fish was sometimes depicted in the bird’s body – in all probability a reference to fish as the bird’s prey.
Reindeer motifs Other land animals familiar to the Amur people appear as motifs on clothing and other objects. On fish skin jackets, they appear in the tree of life panel work along the spine of the garment. The animals are depicted in the middle or human world. Often the depicted animal is a reindeer.
Water symbolism Water, both as river and sea, is a recurring motif in the belief system of the Amur people. Local legends suggest fluidity between land and water. In these narratives, hunters marry sea gulls or mammals and live on both water and land. When characters in legends cross the water, it is usually to begin a new phase of life. The water and the crossing thereof, is a metaphor for transformation. Water is also attributed healing properties in local lore. 33 Designs on clothing and other objects, in all their symmetry, twist and curve gracefully. Perhaps the flow of these spirals suggests the central place that water occupies in the lives of the Amur people.
The transformation of animal skin into clothing worn close to the human body imbued the sewing process with power. Amur people depended on the animal world for their survival and care was taken that the animal spirit was not offended. Clothing had to be painstakingly, carefully and beautifully made. The clothing made of animal skins connects the human with the animal, which was invested with spiritual powers. The sewing of clothing enabled this transformation. Women as seamstresses were a catalyst for this transformation that was fundamental to the Amur people’s belief system. 23 Seamstresses were subject to restrictions and taboos. They were prohibited from sewing while the men were out hunting in case the act would offend the animal to be hunted and either cause the animal to flee or cause harm to befall the men. Nivkhi women who were pregnant never sewed clothing that could be worn outside the home or given to a stranger. By observing this taboo, they ensured the safe birth of their child.24
Source: Layers of Meaning: Clothing of the Amur by SUDHA RAJAGOPALAN
Who are the Tungusic people?
Duggan AT, Whitten M, Wiebe V, Crawford M, Butthof A, Spitsyn V, et al. (2013) Investigating the Prehistory of Tungusic Peoples of Siberia and the Amur-Ussuri Region with Complete mtDNA Genome Sequences and Y-chromosomal Markers. PLoS ONE 8(12): e83570. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.008357
Evenks and Evens are spread over a wide area of northern Asia from the Yenissey river in the west to the Chukotka and Kamchatka peninsulas in the east, and from the Taimyr Peninsula in the north to northern China in the south. They are linguistically and culturally closely related with a traditional life-style of highly nomadic hunting and gathering and reindeer herding; their languages belong to the North Tungusic branch of the Tungusic language family [1]. Other Tungusic-speaking groups are settled to the southeast of the Evenks and Evens, along the lower Amur and Ussuri rivers, as well as on Sakhalin island. These include the linguistically closely related Negidal, whose North Tungusic language shows similarities to both Evenki and Even, as well as populations speaking languages classified as South Tungusic, such as the Udegey (also known as Udihe or Udeghe) and Ulchi. In contrast to the Evens and Evenks, the Tungusic peoples of the Amur-Ussuri region, who we here also refer to alternatively as Amur Tungusic, are traditionally sedentary fishermen and hunters rather than nomadic reindeer herders [2,3].
The South Tungusic populations, on the other hand, live in the vicinity of the Nivkh and formerly of the Ainu. The Nivkh speak an isolate language and were traditionally fishermen and hunters of sea mammals [13].
The populations of northern Asia are characterized in the maternal line by high frequencies of mtDNA haplogroups C and D [10,1418]; in contrast, the peoples of the Amur-Ussuri region carry high frequencies of haplogroups Y1 and N9b [10,18,19], while the peoples of Kamchatka are characterized by high frequencies of haplogroup G1, also common in the Negidal [18,20]. In the paternal line, Y-chromosomal haplogroup C is widespread over a large area encompassing both Siberia and the Amur-Ussuri region, being found in high frequency in North Tungusic and Amur Tungusic populations as well as in the Nivkh. In contrast, northern Siberian populations are characterized by high frequencies of haplogroup N, with N1c being the predominant haplogroup found in the Yakuts [14,15,17,19,2126]. There are thus discrepancies between the maternal, paternal, and linguistic perspectives concerning the population history of northern Asia and the Amur-Ussuri region: whereas the mtDNA data point to an ancient divergence between peoples inhabiting the two regions, the Y-chromosomal haplogroup frequencies link the Tungusic peoples of central and northeastern Siberia with those of the Amur-Ussuri area, and linguistically the Evenks, Evens, Negidals, and South Tungusic populations such as the Udegey and Ulchi share a relatively recent common ancestor. …
Figure 1. Map of Siberia showing approximate locations of sampled populations and their basic haplogroup composition. (Sub)population abbreviations as in Table 1. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0083570.g001

Figure 1. Map of Siberia showing approximate locations of sampled populations and their basic haplogroup composition.
(Sub)population abbreviations as in Table 1.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0083570.g001

haplogroups D4, C4b, and C4a1 are the most frequent haplogroups among the populations analysed here (16.3%-11.4% overall; cf. [17]). Although the Evens and Evenks are characterized by high frequencies of these common haplogroups, they also differ in their haplogroup composition: Evens have a much higher frequency of haplogroup Z (15.6%) than Evenks (4.6%), while Evenks have a much higher frequency of C4a2 (15.4%) than Evens (2.5%), as well as of haplogroup A (8.5%), which is absent among the latter. Subhaplogroup C4b3a is present only in Evens and Yukaghirs, as found previously [17]; in contrast, subhaplogroup C5d1, which was previously suggested to be common in Evens and Yukaghirs [17], is found in four Stony Tunguska Evenks as opposed to only one Yukaghir and two Evens (Table S1). Furthermore, the subhaplogroup of C4b carrying the T3306C transition defined by Fedorova et al. [17] as C4b9, which they suggest is common in Evenks, is found here only in Evens (belonging to the Sakkyryyr and Sebjan subpopulations)

THE SUSHEN-YILOU WERE THE SUBJECT OF PUYEO
The Dongyi-zhuan in the Weishu of Sanguozhi gives a brief description of the Yilou as of the 3rd century CE. The Yilou are the descendants of Sushen people [and the ancestors of the Mohe-Nüzhen people]. Yilou is located in the mountainous forest region northeast of Puyeo that reaches the ocean. They  look similar to the Puyeo people, but their language is different from
that of Puyeo and Koguryeo. They produce grains, cows, horses, and hemp. Each village has a chieftain, but as a people, they do not have a king. They raise pigs for food, use skin for clothes, and grease their bodies with fats in winter for protection against wind and cold. They use long bows which are as powerful as crossbows, apply poison on (blue) stone arrowheads, and shoot arrows with deadly accurate marksmanship. They were the subjects of Puyeo since the time of the Han dynasty. As the Puyeo exacted heavy taxes and corvée, the Yilou rebelled in 220-6.
The Puyeo made quite a few punitive expeditions against the Yilou, but could not subjugate them because, though the Yilou were small in number, they dwelt in extremely rugged forests difficult to penetrate.6
The records of the Dongyi-zhuan are brief but give a rather clear idea of the ancient relationship between the Yemaek people in central Manchuria and the Mohe-Nüzhen people of eastern Manchuria.
KOGURYEO BECOMES A PROTO-MACRO-TUNGUSIC STATE
By the turn of the fifth century, King Kwang-gae-to (r.391-412) of Koguryeo decimated the Paekche army (in 395), conquered Liaodong (c.392-9), and subjugated the Sushen people (in 398). 7 Owing to the great military exploits of Kwang-gae-to, Koguryeo ruled the Mohe tribes in eastern Manchuria including the Blackwater-Mohe. As a result, there appear in various dynastic chronicles rather conspicuous records of the Mohe soldiers fighting for Koguryeo until the very last minute of its existence. 8
In the Samguk-sagi, there appear 6 records of Mohe soldiers being mobilized to fight for Koguryeo. King Chang-su (r.413-91), in personal command of 10,000 Mohe soldiers.
Source: The forgotten history of the Amur peoples

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