older woman holding drum resting on ground

The Koekchuch: Lesbian Shamans of Kamchatka

In the far northeastern corner of Asia, on the Kamchatka peninsula of Siberia, women enjoyed a degree of freedom and respect unknown to most 20th century women. Lesbians were free to pursue lovers and professions of their choice. They could marry other women if they wanted to. Some wore men's clothing and became hunters. The Kamchadals called these women koekchuch.

Far from being stigmatized, as lesbians are in patriarchal societies, the koekchuch were honored and even looked to as spiritual leaders: "Among the Kamchadal there are no special shamans as among other nations but every old woman and koekchuch is a witch, and explains dreams," wrote Krassheninikov in his "Description of the Country of Kamchatka" (1775).

The Koryaks of Kamchatka were matrilocal, meaning that most men lived with their wives' families. Children remained with their mothers' clan. Russian travellers wrote that Kamchatka women were able to control their pregnancies by drinking a tea of konlakhin grass. Before the Russian conquest, these Siberian women proudly gave birth before the entire community, assisted by their mothers and old women.

Max Dashu

Home | More Articles | International Catalog