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Today, 90% of the population living in Siberia are Russians. But hundreds of aboriginal peoples of Siberia still live here, enriching the picturesque world of Siberia with its colors of mystery, and, of course, unity with nature.
For many centuries, the peoples of Siberia were living in small settlements. Each separate settlement was home to a certain clan. The inhabitants of Siberia lived friendly among themselves, maintained a common household, often were relatives to each other and led an active lifestyle. But due to the vast territory of Siberia, these villages were quite far apart. So, the language and even the way of life in one village could be totally strange to its neighbors. Over time, some settlements disappeared while others grew larger and developed very actively.
The Samoyedic (Samodeic) tribes are believed to be the first indigenous inhabitants of Siberia. They populated the northern part and were mainly engaged in herding and fishing. The Mansi tribes settled to the South; they lived by hunting. Their main business was fur production; they used it to pay for their future wives and to buy all the necessary goods. Upper Ob was inhabited by the Turkic tribes. Their main occupation was nomadic herding and smithcraft. To the west of Lake Baikal was the territory of Buryat tribes, who were famous for their iron-craft. The largest territory from Yenisey to the Sea of Okhotsk was inhabited by Tungus tribes. Among them were many hunters, fishermen, herders; some of them were occupied with some craft. The Eskimos settled along the coast of Chukchi Sea. In comparison with other nations, the Eskimos were the slowest in terms of the social development. Their instruments of labor were made of either stone or wood. Their major economic activities were gathering and hunting.
A high probability is that the North American Indians have their origin from the peoples inhabiting the territory between the Ob River and the Yenisei River. The ancestors of the Indians of North America and South America moved there from Siberia through the Bering isthmus (now - the Bering Strait), once united North America and Eurasia. If it was before the disappearance of the Bering isthmus 12 thousand years ago, then this migration took place from 70 thousand to 12 thousand years ago.
So who are these mysterious inhabitants of Siberia?
The peoples inhabiting the northern and northwestern regions of Siberia
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The population of Western Siberia was sparse, scattered along the banks of numerous rivers, streams, lakes, mixed ethnic composition and language. In the northern coastal zone of Western Siberia, there are small groups of ancient settlers - Arctic sea animals hunters. They caught walruses, seals, lived in dugouts grouped along the coast in small villages. Aboriginal peoples of the North and Northwest Siberia are the Northern Selkup, Nenets, Khanty, Mansi and Kety. Mansi and Kety lived on both slopes of the Middle Urals, on the eastern slopes of the Urals.
The indigenous population of the Northwest Siberia was hunting and fishing. People of more northern regions - Nenets – were nomadizing with reindeer. Nomadic reindeer breeding allowed to maintain pastures, which needed 10-15 years to recover. Khanty, Selkups took care of the enviroment, nature gave them food, clothing and shelter. Hunters and fishermen lived in low huts, top of the roof was heated using the ground. Floes were windows in the winter. Selkups hunted with bow and arrow: squirrels, geese, ducks. As food they prefered salted fish and dried Yukola. They made flour out of dried fish – Porsa (fish flour). They also used garbarge (fish entrails, heads, bones) to make fat. They moved along the rivers using the dugout, decorated with images of animals and birds. Some of them were "covered" with a roof made of birch bark.
The northern Khanty from the Lower Ob had domesticated reindeer. Khanty adopted deer farming from the Nenets, as evidenced by the associated event legends. Dogs were kept everywhere and were used for hunting and for movement. The cattle-breeding was developed in southern settlement of Khanty and Mansi that passed under the influence of the Bashkirs and Tatars. Mansi had primitive agriculture, in addition to hunting and fishing. The northern peoples developed dressing of leather, fur and wood. They made clothes and shoes from animal and reindeer skins, shirts from nettle, warm hats from skins of fur-bearing animals and birds.
The peoples inhabiting the western regions of Siberia
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The oldest of living in Western Siberia peoples are Selkups, Khanty and Mansi, as well as the Siberian Tatars. Selkups still live in the Tomsk and Tyumen regions and the Krasnoyarsk Territory, the Khanty and Mansi – in Ugra. Tatars were the only people that before the arrival of Russian, managed to organize state power - the Siberian Khanate. Khanty and Mansi were traditionally semi-settled hunters and fishermen, in addition, there was reindeer herding in the north, and cattle in the south. Hunters and fishermen for every season of the year had a seasonal settlement and housing. There was so many types of dwellings, some of them were temporary, demountable, others were permanent. There were various household outbuildings, religious buildings and structures. Household items were made from local materials: wood, birch bark, cedar root, etc.
A characteristic feature of indigenous religion of the West Siberia was animism. The cult of trees idols was widespread, the branches were decorated with jewelry made of precious metals and silk. Mansi had the sacred larch. They prayed and sacrificed there. The bear’s murder was accompanied with special ceremonies and a vow on the skin of the bear was especially sacred. The burial places were revered, many of them turned to the holy places. There were also recognized gods, revered by different tribes. Their images are stored in special religious centers.
The scattered Turkic tribes lived in the southern forest-steppe and steppe zone of Western Siberia. They were formed from mixing Altai Scythian tribes, East Siberian Kyrgyz and Kipchaks. This confusion is reflected in their physical type, language, material and spiritual culture. Turkic tribes, Tatars and indigenous inhabitants of the left bank of the river Tom (modern city of Tomsk) - Shors as well as farming and ranching, hunted, including skiing in the winter months.The arsenal included hunting bow and arrows, crossbows, knives and various traps. Valuable animal skins were used to pay tribute to the neighboring nomads and to trade with them. The fish were caught with nets, special arrows or fishing iron hooks. Gathering was usually done by women and children, finding edible roots. The hunting and fishing equipment was found in mounds during the excavation of burials of XVI-XVII centuries, as well as many household items.
The peoples inhabiting the south and southeastern regions of Siberia
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The main peoples of the south and east Siberia are Altai people, Khakas , Tuvinians, Buryats, Tatars, Evenks.
Pastoral culture of the peoples of southern Siberia is a unique combination of Central Asian and Siberian elements. These peoples of Siberia are distinguished by certain cultural community, caused by long-standing cultural and ethnogenetic bonds. Fundamentals of nomadic and semi-nomadic way of life of these peoples evolved over the centuries, some of the most archaic features back to the Scythian period (VII-III c. BC. E.). The hunting of northern Altai people and related Shorians prevailed over other types of economic activity. Evenks are the people who doesn’t have their own language and epos. Their Native language is Tungus. Evenks are born hunters and trackers.
By the end of the XVII century the most advanced peoples of Siberia were Altai people, Buryats and Tatars. Tatars were the only people that before the arrival of Russian, managed to organize state power. Buryats occupy an important place among the peoples of Siberia. Their appearance is quite reminiscent of the Mongols. Buryats live in the villages consist of octagonal huts, but many people like living in felted nomad tents; the interior of the housing they decorate the interior of the housing with weapons and expensive clothes. Buryats are very good-natured, intelligent and hard-working; they still retained the patriarchal way of life of nomadic tribes. The main activity is the breeding of horses and cattle; In addition, they hunt, fish, and some of them have become quite settled and they are successed in arable farming. Buryats are characterized by remarkable vigilance and accuracy in shooting: the frontier Siberian is composed of them.
The peoples inhabiting the northern and northeastern regions of Siberia
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The main peoples of the north and northeast Siberia were, and still are Evenks, Yakuts, Chukchi, Eskimo, Koryaks. Yakuts, Evenks and Yukagirs are similar in culture, affected by Russian.
The Chukchi were divided into nomadic herders who had huge herds and harness the reindeer, and seaside - sedentary sea animals hunters living with the Eskimos. Many nations, such as the Evenks and Tungus, hadn’t own written language. Eskimos settled along the coast of the Chukchi Sea. In comparison with other nations, the Eskimos had the slowest social development. Tools were made of stone or wood, the main economic activity was gathering and hunting.
The main traditional activities of these peoples are general - horse breeding, herding, cattle breeding, crafts. Men looked after horses, women – after cattle. In the north, they bred deer. Cattle was grazed in summer and they were in the barn (Houghton) in winter. Fishing was also developed, mainly in summer, and ice-holes were made for it in winter for it; in autumn everybody hauled a seine to shore and shared out the catch. Hunting was especially prevalent in the north, making up the main source of livelihood here (fox, rabbit, reindeer, elk, birds). By the time when the Russians came, taiga was well-known for hunting, both for meat and fur hunting (bear, elk, squirrel, fox, rabbit, bird, etc.)
It was characterized by specific methods: with a bull (hunter stalks, hiding behind the bull), sometimes following the hounds.
There was a gathering too- collecting pine and larch bark, which were then dried and stored for winter, roots, herbs, berries, but raspberries wasn’t used, it was considered foul. Agriculture was borrowed from the Russians at the end of the XVII century, and was very underdeveloped until the middle of XIX century; Russian settlers promoted its spreading. The woodworking was developed (carving, alder broth painting), birch bark, fur, leather; dishes were made from leather, blankets from horse and cow hides, blankets - from hare fur, etc .; horsehair was used for cords, weaving, embroidering.
The traditional crafts and way of life
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Traditional men's and women's clothes are short leather pants, fur abdominal band, caftan, in winter – with fur, in summer - from a horse or cow hide (wool inside), the rich people had it made from fabric. Later, the fabric shirts, leather belts with a knife and flint have appeared, with silver and brass plaques for the rich.
Main house is a cylindroconical tent made of reindeer or walrus skins (vault based on three poles in the center), yurts or dugouts.
More interesting facts from Hidden Siberia Journal ►►►
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Shamanism, the traditional worldview of peoples of Siberia, is a special form of seeing and experiencing the world, which considers man as a part of the Universe. It is aimed at the direct perception of the world and at the understanding of the man and nature relationship. Shamanism was formed as part of the ancient dualistic worldview, which divides the world into sacred and mundane. The basis of its concept is the animistic view of the world: belief in spirits and deities of nature, the soul of the people, the shaman's spirit helpers.
Siberian shamanism, in particular, reflects the classic shamanic worldview. Thanks to Russian travelers and Siberia explorers and researchers, the word "shaman", taken from the Tungus languages, became known throughout the world.
Shamanism today is recognized as one of the three traditional religions of Siberia and has a certain amount of support from the state, although not as much as Buddhism. The government has made land and buildings available for the shamanistic organizations, including two buildings in Kyzyl and others. A small group of shamans works there for a few months at a time before being replaced by other shamans from the regions. One of these building includes a center attached to the Dungur society for teaching children about Shamanism.
At the moment there are more than 500 shamans in Siberia, just a few of them are considered to be real shamans.
Researchers justifiably note that one ought not put an equal sign between traditional Shamanism and the contemporary Shamanism, which is being actively revived today. In order to distinguish the one from the other, some propose that the modern version be called "Neoshamanism”. The differences between traditional Shamanism and Neoshamanism are as follows. First, if in traditional culture Shamanism was accessible only to those, who were clearly and obviously chosen by spirits, or to whom this gift was transferred by inheritance, today`s Shamanism has become accessible practically to anyone, who is sincere and accepts the basic conditions of Shamanism. Second, if in the past a person did not choose the shamanic path for himself (herself), he (she) was selected for it by spirits (refusal of this gift led to illness), now this path is chosen voluntarily. Third, if in traditional society shamanic practice occupied a central place in the life of a person, everything else remained on the second and third levels. In the contemporary situation, the person decides himself, what place shamanic practice will take in his life. Fourth, if in the past a shaman could work only in his own tribe and his power depended directly on a concrete geographical place, today he can practice independently and does not need to be attached to a specific geographical place or ethnic group.
It is an interesting phenomenon that Shamanism became tightly connected with throat singing — khoomei. There are many cases today, when one and the same person is simultaneously a throat singer and a shaman.
At the same time, a new tradition has been born on the basis of Neoshamanism — urban Shamanism. Its existence, primarily in the cities, far from the nature and the places of power, is paradoxical for shamanic practices.
The original religion of the Siberians was Shamanism. The second major religion of them, Buddhism, was a later (thirteenth century) arrival; it never supplanted Shamanism, but alongside Shamanism was declared one of the two state religions in the eighteenth century. The Russian authorities did not interfere in the religious life of the region or challenge the authority of the religious leaders, and during the time of the Russian protectorate new Buddhist monastic centers were established. Meanwhile, Shamanism is flourishing so vigorously as Buddhism in today`s Siberia — perhaps more so, since its roots proved harder to eradicate in socialist times.
Distinctive feature of Siberian Buddhism is the result of its centuries-long coexistence with Shamanism. It has adopted some shamanistic traditions: the cult of ovaa (spirit-guardians of a place) and eeren (protectors of the family), for example. In earlier centuries shamans would often take part in Buddhist ceremonies alongside the lamas and in the monastery there used to be a special category of spiritual individuals — the burkhan-kham (lama-shaman). If in the 1920s Buddhism took into itself shamanistic traditions and gave them a Buddhist interpretation, now the reverse is happening: the shamans are taking Buddhist rituals and are interpreting them in a shamanistic way.
Among the political elite there is a widespread idea that it is Buddhism that needs to be restored as the ideological basis of statehood in Siberian regions such as Tuva, Transbaikalia, Buryatia. Government funding has been forthcoming for the construction of Buddhist temples. The systematic revival of Buddhism was given a boost in 1992 after the first visit of the Dalai-lama to Tuva. At that time an agreement was signed between the government of Tuva and the Tibetan government in exile. Since1993 many Tuvan young people get spiritual education in the Tibetan monasteries in South India.
Rus (Muscovy) was traditionally perceived by the Russian population as "holy", i.e. the other countries were "unclean”; therefore everyone who visited the countries of other religions or the heathen lands fell into sin or "defiled" themselves. Since the time of Ermak expedition to Siberia, the Orthodox faith began its expansion through the missionaries. Hence, the exploits of Ermak troop must be seen not only as a military but also as a spiritual and moral feat. In the annals, describing the campaign, there are hints indicating that the army included monks, priests, and camp chapel. At the same time, the imposition of the orthodox religion, as it often happened in other parts of the world, was carried out in a violent way, sometimes really cruel.
At the beginning of the XVII century, the first Siberian Orthodox diocese was founded in Tobolsk. Over time, the Russian orthodox population started seeing Siberia not just as a Russian territory, but as a land where the God's blessing has spread.
The indigenous tribes of Siberia were pagans and preached shamanism and animism. Each clan had a totem animal, which was prohibited to kill and to call by name. The world was believed to consist of several layers. Important was the cult of female earth-god Aiyysyt. The Orthodoxy has spread onto the entire territory of Siberia in the XVIII-XIX centuries. Penetrating deep into the region, the religion inevitably altered and assimilated with local beliefs. The Christian worship was combined with the belief in good and evil spirits, and spirits of dead shamans. And in the end, Orthodoxy and shamanism have come to a quite peaceful coexistence with each other. This situation persists in Siberia up to this day, with the only exception that the number of religious beliefs in Siberia has increased.
Animism is a set of beliefs characteristic of tribal communities. Animism includes the belief in spirits, in existence of the soul of animate and inanimate nature, in animativeness of the nature in general. The term comes from the Latin words anima – ‘the soul’ and animus – ‘the spirit’. In Siberia and the Far East there are still a lot of small nations which adhere to animistic beliefs. These are Nanai, Negidals, Khakas, Khanty, Shor, Evenki, etc. As can be seen from the list, most of them inhabit the north of the Asian part of Russia.
Animists believe that human life continues after physical death; and that along with the physical world, the afterworld exists. After their death, souls can be sent to the afterlife, or be active in the physical world, for example, by coming into in people, animals, objects. Related to this is the phenomenon of obsession. If the spirit is infused into an object (fetish), then this object becomes sacred, magical.
Many animists rituals are aimed at coaxing the spirits, because otherwise they can harm both the individual and the whole tribe in many ways. One of the key ideas of animism is the possibility of reincarnation, which means that the soul that left a body can appear in a newly born child or animal. The system of beliefs concerning the relation of humans and animals is called totemism. According to it, a person can have a spirit totem, incarnated in a certain animal. This spirit helps a person in every way and saves him from adversities.
It is important to note that many of the views characteristic of animism are widely used in various esoteric theories that exist in the world today.
Old believers are present in Siberia historically but their numbers are small. Nevertheless, Orthodoxy has always remained of major significance in Siberia, which was practically the only region of the Russia where Orthodoxy could keep itself in its original form in that times when the Old believers were persecuted. It was at XVII century. Many Old Believer families went into hiding in inaccessible places, while others, men and women, withdrew into the forests to live alone as hermits. There are still many such hermits today, and they enjoy great spiritual authority among the local Old Believers, who often turn to them for advice. The Old believers church in Siberia are presented by several parishes and communities. In practice, Orthodox life centers on these parishes, which have several hundred members who attend the regular services on Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings, and up to 1000 who attend services at festivals.
Today a high proportion of the congregation are young people. The church runs a Sunday school, which is attended by children and adults. Native people make up ten per cent of the congregation, they are people who previously had no faith rather than converts from Buddhism or Shamanism. The church does not do missionary work among the Siberians. The church runs no monastic communities or organized charitable activity. In spite of this the position of Orthodox church in Siberia is firm and stable.
The penetration of Islam in the vast Siberian land has taken a long period of time from the end of the XIV century to the first half of the XIX century. Initially, it went through two channels: from Bukhara preachers of the Naqshbandi Order, and from the Muslim clergy of the Kazan Khanate. Already during the reign of Kuchum in the Siberian Khanate, a significant part of the local Turkic-speaking tribes has accepted the Islam, although shamanism remained a traditional religion for the most of the population. Along with Islam, the Muslim culture and morals came to Siberia, Muslim primary school (maktab) were established, followed by the secondary schools (madrasah) where not only religious but also secular subjects were taught: mathematics, geography, history, literature, and some other general subjects.
Establishing of the large military fortresses by the royal administration in Siberia was often combined with the construction of mosques at public expense. Salaries of mosque attendants were also paid by the state. This was done by the authorities to attract Muslims onto their side. There were also a lot of Muslims in the Siberian Cossack army. These mostly were the Kazan Tatars. They were allowed to practice their religion and to elect Imams from their midst.
Today, the process of religious revival continues in Siberia. New mosques are being opened in many towns and villages. In many of them, religious schools are already operating, where children and adults learn the basics of Islam and the Arabic language, learn the art of correct reading of the Koran. Muslim religious communities have launched extensive charitable activities, organized the fundraising campaigns for the construction of large stone mosques. Foundations of such mosques with madrasahs and hotels for nonresident students are laid in Novosibirsk, Omsk and other cities of Siberia. The Spiritual Directorate of the Muslims of Siberia was created to guide the activities of mosques. In 1994, the Muslims have widely celebrated 600 years of Islam in Siberia.
Despite the quantitative advantage of traditional religious organizations, nontraditional confessions have had a significant effect in the Siberia. Among them the religious organizations of Protestant orientation have conducted the largest-scale activity, and have branches not only in large cities, but also in the distant regions. In contrast to the Orthodox and Old Believers, the Protestants see missionary work as a high priority.
The South Korean Christian church of the Evangelical "Sun bok Ym” faith was organized in May 1995. It is led by a minister from South Korea. Several hundred people, 99% Tuvans and about 70% people of young and middle age regularly attend divine services. In 1997 a new religious community, "Way to the Truth”, created a division in the church. The Tuvan Nationality minister became its leader. Tuvans constitute the overwhelming majority. Both of these organizations are Pentacostalist. The church is active in charitable work, distributes humanitarian aid from South Korea and assists children`s homes through a special fund. Church members pray for the local authorities and consider themselves patriots. The church sets great store by wealth and health, forbids smoking and alcohol, and has a strict approach to morality.
The religious community of Jehovah`s Witnesses was officially registered in 1993. It is a fairly large association and is also led by a Tuvan. Baptism is a crucial moment for the followers of Jehovah`s Witnesses. It is not performed immediately, but after the passing of some time, when the new follower shows himself (herself) to be an active servant. There are over 1000 Jehovah`s Witnesses in Siberia; more than half of them are native people. The Missionary society "The Christian” is a fairly ramified and influential religious organization. This organization has a whole network of "daughterly” associations in practically all districts of the Siberia even in places, where the positions of Buddhism are traditionally very strong.
However, the list of confessions active in Siberia is not limited to the orientations mentioned above, since there are a number of other unregistered religious organizations. There is a Moslem community among them, for example, which brings together mainly representatives of the Tatar diaspora. There is also a small group of Krishna followers. They all exhibit varying degrees of activity.