Report: Okha


(12.08 – 19.08.2014)
Merja Salo & Erika Sandman

After arriving to Okha, the administrative center of the northernmost district of Sakhalin, we settled in a hotel, which was located in an ordinary apartment building next to the pet shop, barbers and a dentist. Downstairs there was the restaurant Cafe Pharaon, which was decorated with Egyptian style pictures and other utensils. The restaurant soon became our base in Okha. We also tried some other restaurants, such as Komilfo, a newly-opened restaurant combining Wild West and Lapland style, but our encounter with local “businessmen” and their girlfriends ended in quite confused feelings. No menu was available, no alcohol was for sale, but it was allowed to bring your own bottles. However, the entrance fee after 20.00 was 200 rubles. One whispering proposition was made: “Do you want our “special tea”?”

Okha is located c.a. 850 km north of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. According to the census 1989 there were 36 100 inhabitants in the town, but now the population is estimated to be 21 500, and it is still declining. The same trend is taking place in the whole district; only 9 villages out of the 37 are inhabited any more. Many old Nivkh dwellings have also been abandoned. In 1995 devastating earthquake hit the village of Neftegorsk, 98 km south of Okha. The few survivors moved to the town, where a church was built to honor the memory of the victims.

Okha is the center of Sakhalin’s petroleum industry. Oil was found in 1880. Nowadays the town provides education for petroleum industry workers. Local economy is also based on wood processing, ferroconcrete, masonry, mechanical, and fishing industry. Okha was occupied by Japanese troops from 1920 to 1925.

The next day (13th of August) we went to the village of Nekrasovka (with 900 inhabitants) and visited the Nivkh cultural center Kykh-Kykh (‘Swan’) led by Fedor Sergeyevich Mygun. In the cultural center we met one of our best language consultants, Mrs. Zoya Ivanovna Lyutova (born in 1946), who had accomplished a long career as a reporter. From her we got a lot of interesting sociolinguistic information, as well as material on grammatical topics such as Nivkh numeral classifiers and weather expressions. In Kykh-Kykh we also enjoyed many traditional dishes of the Nivkh people, including dried smelt, rowan berry jam and a salad made of crowberries, fish fat and sugar.