Spiritual culture

The spiritual culture of the Udege was based on a belief in the existence of countless spirits inhabiting the world around them. Being animists, they endowed animals and trees with souls, there were master-spirits in rivers, streams, mountains, and forests. The spirits of ancestors were just as important.

The Udege, like all the Tungus, had similar concepts about the structure of the world, the supreme god, the upper and lower spirits of the earth, and the master-spirits of nature. The world consisted of three parts, the aboveground being the world of heaven, the underground, and the earth. Each of these worlds has its masters and their assistant spirits, benevolent or evil, which control life on Earth. The masters live in the sky, fire, sea, rocks, trees, and their helpers take on the form of people, animals, birds, and other shapes. The underground or afterlife world of the Udege was called Buninge ( buni ). The supreme god, the master of the Universe, was Enduri . The other good masters are an old man Chinikhe Mafa , who controls precipitation, and an old woman Tagu Mama , who sends the souls of children and animals to earth. The master of the sea and rivers is Ganikhi, who sends fish into the sea, and his assistants are the masters of fish Sudzia Adzani . Onku was revered as the master of forests and mountains; all forest animals and birds obey him, and their masters watch the men in the taiga and their attitude towards nature and animals, reporting all to Onku. The most independent spirit is the master of fire Pudzia . The evil spirits that harm people are Amba and Ogdze ( Ogzo ).

Before going hunting or fishing, one would turn for help to the heavenly old woman Tagu Mama or Sangiya Mama , and when in the taiga one would deliver a prayer directly to the sky Buani and the master of the mountains Onku . Only after these rituals were completed one could begin fishing or hunting.

The cults related to fishing and hunting were associated with a certain system of beliefs and rituals. The unpredictability of hunting, which sometimes provided the only source of food, predetermined the vital need to win over the spirits. According to the Udege, each section of the area has its own master, who ensures that people do not take anything excessive from their area. If someone violates these rules, the spirit will punish the offender. To appease the master-spirits and ensure their support, the indigenous people had to follow the rules and enter into gift-exchange relationships, feeding and making offerings to the genius loci . For this purpose, the Udege performed special rituals and made offerings in designated places or small structures. There were various types of offerings: for good luck in taiga hunting, for killing a specific animal, for good luck in sea and river fishing, and also offerings to sacred rocks and cliffs when going fishing, hunting, or gathering.

The Udege had a special relationship with two animals, the tiger Kuti and the bear Mafa . Many legends and myths of creation speak of the mythological connection between the Udege clans and these two sacred animals. The religious beliefs of some Udege clans regard the tiger as a sacred relative. All the indigenous peoples of the Primorye and the Amur areas treated the tiger as a powerful protector whom they could ask for help and good luck. When addressing the tiger, they followed the same pattern of behavior as among relatives. The other sacred animal was the bear. At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, researchers regularly recorded the belief that this animal was the forefather of the people. In Udege folklore, there are several myths describing the creation of the Udege people from the marriage of a girl and the Mafa . A big bear holiday associated with the cult of the animal is widespread among the indigenous peoples of the Primorye and Amur area.

Shamans performed the communication with the world of spirits. Shamanism is the belief that certain human beings (shamans) can mediate between the world of people and the other worlds. Thanks to their supernatural abilities, they were able to travel the universe. Having established direct communication with the desired master-spirit, they could ask for good luck in the hunt, heal people, and escort them to the underworld ruled by Buni. The most powerful shamans could return human souls kidnapped by the evil spirits khanya from the other world back to earth.

The attributes of shamanism are the narrow-rimmed un'ktu tambourine, the giu beater, the toli metal disks, ritual wood-shaving sticks, men's and women's skirts, and several wooden figurines which serve as receptacles for the assistant spirits. The coastal Udege also used masks in some shamanic rituals. The Udege shamans, unlike the shamans of other peoples, could perform rituals in the taiga.

To this day, the Udege still retain memorial and funeral rites, albeit in a transformed variant. Knowledgeable family members usually supervise them, most often the elderly people, who pass their expertise in this area on to the next generation. These rituals are thus naturally remembered and retained by the attending children, who, just like the adults, perceive them as part of their national culture. According to the philosophy of the current generation, these phenomena do not run counter to the formal education received in schools and outside life.