SMALL SIBERIAN MINORITIES

SMALL SIBERIAN MINORITIES

The Chulyms are an ethnic group with less than 500 members that live in the Tomsk Region. The Enets are an ethnic group with less than 500 members that live in the Taimyr Region.

The Dolgans are a group that live in the Taimyr area and on the left bank of the lower Yenisei River. Also known as the Sakha and Tya, they arrived relatively recently from China and speak a Turkish language related to Yakut and have traditionally been nomads who lived in chums or wooden houses and produced everything they needed from wood, skin and fiber that they collected in their environment.

There are about 5,000 Dolgans They did not began consolidating into a distinct group until the 19th century, with those in the north hunting reindeer and those in the southern part of their territory hunting mountain sheep and elk. Fishing was very important. They preferred hunting reindeer to herding them but took up herding when they were pressure to do so under the Soviets.

Khakass

The Khakass is the name used to describe a loose of confederation of related Turkic-speaking peoples that live around the upper course of the Yenisey River in Siberia. Formally nomadic herders, they were artificially forged into a unified groups by the Russians, and are the remnants of the "Yenisey Kyrgyz."

The "Yenisey Kyrgyz” created an empire that stretched across Trans-Siberia and Central Asia from Kazakhstan to Lake Baikal from the 6th to the 13th century. During the Mongol period they were defeated and forced to move to their present homeland in Kyrgyzstan. Those that remained became the Khakass, a nomadic horse people, divided among a number of tribes, that adopted Christianity under Russian pressure. They lived in birch bark covered yurts Today their sedentary existence depends on sheep and goat husbandry.

There are about 80,000 Khakas. They make up 11 percent of the population of the republic of Khakassia, located in an area of Siberia with a relatively mild climate and sometimes referred to as “the Italy of Siberia”. Khakassia is now home to a large industrial complex and many Russians.

Khakassia

Khakassia Republic (southwest of Krasnoyarsk) is an Ireland-size chunk of land occupied by the upper Yenisey River Basin, Located between the Altay and Tuva Republics, it is the home of the Khakass and is covered mostly by steppe and mountains. Between the 6th and 12th centuries, the region was occupied by the "Yenisey Kyrgyz." Before the arrival of the first Russians in the seventeenth century, Khakassia was a regional power in Siberia, based on commercial links with the khanates of Central Asia and with the Chinese Empire.

Khakassia, an autonomous oblast that was redesignated an autonomous republic in 1992, is located about 1,000 kilometers west of Lake Baikal on the upper Yenisey River. The sparsely populated republic (total population in 1995 was about 600,000) occupies 61,900 square kilometers of hilly terrain at the far northwestern end of the Altay Range. Russians now constitute nearly 80 percent of the population of Khakassia, although in 1989 more than three-quarters of oblast residents spoke Khakass. The Khakass population is 11 percent of the total. The republic produces timber, copper, iron ore, gold, molybdenum, and tungsten. The capital of Khakassia is Abakan.

Khakas Life and Culture

The Khakass have traditionally lived in felt- or birch-bark- covered yurts. Under the Russians, they moved first into immovable log yurts and then into wood houses. Their traditional economy was based on a combination of cattle herding, hunting and fishing. Different Khakass groups emphasized hunting or herding depending on their wealth and location.

The Khakass are partly Christianized shamanists. Their traditional religion features a number of different spirits and deities. Helpful spirits are represented by small idols that are believed to protect those who possess them against illnesses and problems. They used to have shamans but they are largely gone. Orthodox Christianity was forced on them by the Russians. Their traditional beliefs have been mixed with Christianity to varying degrees. In recent years some have converted to Protestant sects.

Khakass culture mixes Central Asian horseman culture with northern Siberian hunting culture. Their practice two-tone singing like the Mongolians and Tuvans but have poems and tales and proverbs like Siberian hunters.

Wrestling has traditionally been a featured event at festivals and weddings. The traditional form of Khakass wrestling is called kures. Wrestlers wear tunics, sashes, baggy pants and boots. each wrestler grips his opponent on his sash and attempts to throw him to the ground.

Selkup

The Selkup are an ethnic group comprised of two main groups: a northern one that occupy areas on tributaries that enter the Ob and Yenisei and a southern group in the taiga. Selkup means “forest person," a name given to them by Cossacks. The Selkup have traditionally been hunters and fishermen and often favored swampy areas rich in game and fish. They speak a Samoyedic language related to language spoken by the Nenets.

There are about 5,000 Selkups in the Yamalo-Nenets national Area. They belong to the northern groups, which has traditionally been divided into groups specialized in either hunting, fishing ro reindeer herding, with hunters having the highest rank. Fishing was done with nets or spears in dammed off areas. The southern group in nearly extinct.

The Selkup had two kinds of shaman: ones who shamanized in a light tent with a fire and ones who shamanized in a dark tent without a fire. The former inherited their ability and used a holy tree and a drum with a rattler. Both kinds were expected to be skilled storytellers and singers and were called upon to perform a new song every year at the Arrival of the Birds festival. After death, the Selkup believed, a person dwelled in a dark forest world with bears before moving on to the permanent afterlife.

Tofalars

The Tofalars are a small minority that live in a mountainous area of the Irkutsk region near Tuva and Buryatia. Their language is similar to Tuvan. They were nomads who lived in conical tepees (ichums) until the late 1920s when the government forced them to settle down. They were traditionally hunters and reindeer herders. The reindeer they kept were the largest in the world and they were used as mounts and to carry heavy leads. Their food came mostly from wild animals such as Siberian deer and elk, died reindeer milk and food they gathered such as wild onions and cedar nuts. Furs from animals such as sables and polecats were used to buy things they needed and to pay taxes.

There are only around 600 Tofalars. Tofa is a language in danger of going extinct. It is spoken by about 200 people, Most Tofa are now settled. They continue to hunt but do not rely on it for survival. After they converted Christianity they kept many of their traditionally shamanistic customs. According to their belief system anyone could be a shaman. They had the same belief about doctors. The dead are buried with object that they believe will be taken to the afterlife.

Shors

The Shors is the name given to several Turkish-speaking group that live in the Altai region, specifically in the Kuzents Altai Mountains, an area with large iron and coal deposits and industry, where the taiga, Altai mountains and Central Asian steppes all merge. The have traditionally been very isolated, The region is very mountainous and the rivers are rocky and steep, making travel, trade and communication in the region difficult.

In historical times, the Shors were known as hunters, trappers, cattle herders, and metalworkers. They produced swords and tools for some Central Asian peoples and sometimes employed cedar-wood musical pipes to catch marals (elks). For centuries they there were the subjects of Mongol and Turkic empires and were not incorporated into the Russian empire until relatively late.

There are about 18,000 Shors living in the Altai region. They are mostly settled peasants and wage laborers who hunt and gather honey and nuts to supplement their income. Weddings are big events. They feature feasting and use to feature a large gift of parsnips to the bride’s family. There are strict rules about the interaction of a wife with her husband’s family. She is not allowed to call her husband’s elder brother by name or touch his brothers, sit with them or be left alone with them. The Shors have traditionally been shamanists. They were illiterate until the Russian Revolution. Most are now Christians.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia, China, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company, Boston); New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2016

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