By a Cold Ocean.

Dmitry Pruss sent me this link (in Russian), called Старинные люди у Холодного океана [People from Old Times by a Cold Ocean]; it contains excerpts from the 1914 book of that title by Vladimir Zenzinov, who (as you’ll see if you visit that Wikipedia link) had an extraordinary life. Among his adventures as a member of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party was being arrested and banished to Siberia; after he escaped and was recaptured, he was sent to northern Yakutia “to make escape impossible” and “devoted himself to ethnographic studies,” among which was the book in question, about the villagers of Russkoye Ustye in the delta of the Indigirka River, “settled several centuries ago by ethnic Russians, who mixed to some extent with the indigenous Even people.” The LiveJournal link has remarkable photos; I thought I’d translate the first part of the section on language (IX. Особенности языка):

In the course of centuries, the speech of the Indigirkans was influenced in very complex ways by the language of the Yakuts and the people of the Kolyma region, as well as by the Russians who had long lived in Yakutia, who had also developed distinctive linguistic features thanks to their long separation from Russia in Siberia. Apart from that, the people of Russkoye Ustye preserved words and expressions peculiar to them, for example “Yo, brat!” [an expression of pain or strong feeling] and “kabyt’” [= kak-nibud’ ‘so-so’].

The weakness of the influence of the Yakut language on the speech of the Indigirkans […] is perhaps the most interesting feature of their way of life. Knowledge of Yakut is not widespread; only a few inhabitants can make use of a limited vocabulary of Yakut words, with the help of which they manage to make themselves understood by Yakuts and Yukagirs. In this they differ greatly from the Kolymans and the Ust-Yanskyans, for whom Yakut is as native a language as Russian. The Russians of Ust-Yansk and Kolyma speak only Yakut among themselves; Yakut is the conversational language of the entire North.

Zenzinov goes on to say that the people of Russkoye Ustye are well aware of their unusual ways of speaking, and will often say to visitors “We say it like this; how would you say it?”

Comments

  1. Zenzinov also explained that it was fashionable to use some Kolyma Russian expressions, as it was a skill of a man well traveled (some locals traveled nearly a 1000 miles over frozen tundra to a Kolyma fair to trade their dogs for Kolymans’ birch sleigh runners). The words most borrowed were the sled dog commands (which had no similarity whatsoever between the Russkoe Ust’ye people and the Kolymans)

    The resident Yakuts of the Ust’ye area bore a very Russian surname of Novgorodov’s.

    Oh, and some Russkoe Ust’ye words were later unmistakably traced to Vyatka dialect of Russian, like scherba (a fish stew)

  2. Man, I love that kind of thing! Things are so much more complicated than simplified accounts make them seem.

  3. Russians of Russkoe Ust’ye live in tundra where no farming is possible. For cultural reasons, they refused to adopt reindeer herding which is the most non-Russian way of life imaginable.

    So they turned to fishing instead. At least, some Russians in European Russia did fish (and many still do), so one could still live by fishing and consider oneself Russian. But obviously you couldn’t become nomadic reindeer herder and still remain a Russian.

    Due to lack of Russian women, since 17th century they took women from neighboring Siberian peoples and by now they are thoroughly Asian looking. Not even a hint of European admixture left. But somehow they never lost Russian language and ethnic identity and very proud of that.

    Utterly fascinating, really. Can’t recall anything even remotely similar in centuries of European colonial expansion.

    Russkoe Ust’ye folklore even has its own version of Genesis which starts with:

    “In the beginning, created God heavens and tundra”

  4. Wonderful!

  5. Stu Clayton says:

    🎶”Love me tundra, love me peat,
    Never let me go …”

  6. John Cowan says:

    Due to lack of Russian women, since 17th century they took women from neighboring Siberian peoples and by now they are thoroughly Asian looking. Not even a hint of European admixture left. But somehow they never lost Russian language and ethnic identity and very proud of that.

    Sounds very like the mestizos and métis of the Americas.

  7. Zenzinov reported that the locals didn’t intermarry with the native tribes, and haven’t for a long time, and that European looks were relatively common among them, although he never doubted that they had some local blood from the old days.

    They weren’t sedentary despite having homes. Fishing and geesing required hundreds miles of seasonal travel, and they hunted reindeer too. Incidentally they didn’t use Russian word tundra, calling it by a dialectical word sendukha, also known in some Northern dialects of European Russia. Mother Sendukha and Mother Ocean were much feared and revered.

  8. You should also remember that in Imperial Russia, identity was hereditary, official and immutable. The Yakuts and the Yukaghirs were subordinated to their uluses (self governing ethnic communities) and paid yasak ( tribute) to the Czar in pelts, while Russkoye Ust’ye people were hereditary townspeople taxed in cash. It was a source of their perennial grievances and petitions but nothing could be done. Descendants of townsmen couldn’t be switched to yasak, period.

  9. Some hatters may be interested in the following research group:

    https://www.ruhr-uni-bochum.de/lilab/krasovitsky/krasovitsky-eng/index.htm

  10. Indeed!

    The focus of the project is the situation of the long-term language contact in Russian outpost communities in the tundra area of Siberia and in the Kamchatka Peninsular. The communities in question emerged as result of Russian colonization of northern territories in the 17th century (in Siberia) and in the 18th (in Kamchatka). Large-scale migration from European Russia that in the course of time completely modified the ethnographic and linguistic situation in Siberia and Far East during a long time did not affect small Russian outpost communities in remote and hard-to-reach areas. Old settlers there preserved the lifestyle and the language of their ancestors, namely of the mixed Slavic–indigenous population which inhabited Russian townships and strongholds in the early years of colonization. Each of these communities developed its own variant of the language influenced by environment and social situation.

  11. But somehow they never lost Russian language and ethnic identity and very proud of that.

    Very interesting. In some ways this is paralleled by northwestern Russia, where people may continue to identify as e.g. “Chudes” or “Meryans” despite having lost most cultural practices and even the knowledge of this having once been a separate ethnicity from Russians altogether. To some extent this is now playing out in western Siberia too. Indigenous languages are still on the way down, but then now that minority peoples have some priority claim to e.g. fishing rights, ethnic identification is growing after heavier Russification in the 19th to mid 20th century; e.g. the Khanty have risen from 20K in 1979 to 30K in 2010. Still far from the about a million self-identified Russians living in even just the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug though.

  12. For several centuries Western Siberian natives were saved by total unsuitability of their lands for Russian style agriculture. This meant that their land didn’t attract much Russian settlement and natives were left alone.

    However things changed in 1960s with discovery of huge oil and gas reserves in Western Siberia. And currently it looks like there will be even more development as they keep finding more and more of the staff (and increasingly on the shelf). Far from being temporary, oil and gas towns in Western Siberia are turning into permanent (and very rich) urban zones.

    So the verdict is simple – natives will become richer and more numerous than ever, but utterly swamped by influx of oil and gas workers from all over Russia and near abroad.

    Chances for survival of their languages are slim.

  13. John Cowan says:

    people may continue to identify as e.g. “Chudes” or “Meryans” despite having lost most cultural practices

    Very familiar in all countries of immigration, which Eastern Russia definitely is. Annoys the crap out of the people back in the Old Country, at least when there is an Old Country.

  14. northwestern Russia, where people may continue to identify as e.g. “Chudes” or “Meryans” despite having lost most cultural practices and even the knowledge of this having once been a separate ethnicity from Russians altogether.

    It’s hard to see a parallel. In Russia’s Northwest, there is no continuity. Instead, it is a part of the spectrum of attempts to reclaim or even reinvent the traditions of the pre-Soviet past, with ample attention paid to vestiges of pagan beliefs. It spans from an interest in village crafts, to their spiritual reinterpretation as pagan symbolics, to full-blown Novoverie, the new organized paganism. My family was involved in one of the most successful reclaiming / reinvention developments, when a Veps fabric doll design was claimed and popularized as a Slavic amulet and gender symbol.

    Merjamaa is one of the more persistent Novoverie reinventions, likewise drawing on the rediscovered or made up heritage of the Katskari, a regional group of Russians in Yaroslavl area, whose name was originally just a geographic designation, and used to imply no cultural distinctions. A new Paganism-associated anthropologist claimed to have discovered a few Merya-related words and even customs, but it’s strongly disputed in the academic circles. Still the economically depressed area managed to develop a museum and a tour destination, exploiting the interest in New Paganism, and since the 1990s the word “Katskari” is increasingly understood as a subethnic group, and increasingly embraced by the locals themselves.

  15. Ethnogenesis in real time!

  16. January First-of-May says:

    In Russia’s Northwest, there is no continuity.

    …IIRC, in the extreme northwestern parts (Pskov Oblast and thereabouts), there is little continuity even among the Russian locals – not after the region was utterly ravaged by the Nazis in WWII.

    I’ve personally visited the Katskari ethnographic museum in Martynovo; I doubt that the customs are original, but I admit that the dialect might be. The area was apparently relatively isolated for most of the 20th century.

    where people may continue to identify as e.g. “Chudes” or “Meryans”

    Pretty sure that in that case the ethnicities in question died out (and/or merged into the Russians) way back in medieval times; not that this stops modern heritage reclaimers.

    I’m sure that there’d have been self-declared Carians or Isaurians in Turkey by now if that country wasn’t so hostile to any non-Turks.

  17. I’ve personally visited the Katskari ethnographic museum in Martynovo; I doubt that the customs are original, but I admit that the dialect might be. The area was apparently relatively isolated for most of the 20th century.

    In the woodlands away from the main agricultural corridors around and to the South of Volga River, it was rather traditional to have geographic labels for the local groups of the Russians after the river basins rather than towns or official districts. Among them were Kus’skie for river Kus’ in Kostroma, Katskari for river Kad’ in Yaroslavl’, and Sitskari for river Sit’ also near the boundaries between Yaroslavl’ and Tver’. Semi-insulated in the woods, their villagers intermarried and learned the same trades (and they were mostly known to the outsiders by their wares and by the crafts they practiced by the winter, when the peasants left their villages and moved far and wide to earn some extra cash). Many remote places practiced Old Believer Orthodoxy which insulated them even further. Some of these groups had origin legends and others didn’t (Sit’ Russians traditionally claimed Tatar descent).

    Of course Tver’ was a hotspot of XVII c. migrations when the land was laid bare after the twin devastations of plague and the Time of Troubles, and the government opened it to the Orthodox refugees from Polish and Swedish lands, primarily Belorussians and Karelians (the former seems to have completely assimilated in the XXth century, but the vestiges of the latter are still around). Genetically, Katskari were shown to be very similar to their other Russian neighbors, while Sit’ Russians seem to have descended from a yet unidentified Slavic group, perhaps the vestiges of the pre-plague Tverians.

  18. Incidentally, my interest in the research group I gave that link to yesterday is due to the parallels I perceived (and of which I hoped to find further examples) between the influence, upon these isolated Russian dialects, of various Indigenous Siberian languages, on the one hand, and the influence of Cree and other indigenous languages upon the French spoken by some Métis groups in Western Canada on the other (these varieties of Cree-influenced French are NOT to be confused with the better-known Cree-French mixed language known as Michif. In turn some other Métis communities traditionally spoke Cree, but a “Métis Cree” which was quite distinct from the Cree spoken by indigenous [i.e. non-Métis] speakers).

  19. John Cowan says:

    In Russia’s Northwest, there is no continuity.

    Not much continuity in Eastern North America either: it’s just been willed into existence for the most part, as with the revival of Wampanoag.

  20. the parallels I perceived (and of which I hoped to find further examples) between the influence, upon these isolated Russian dialects, of various Indigenous Siberian languages, on the one hand, and the influence of Cree and other indigenous languages upon the French

    They may be deep parallels in the history, regulation, and customs outcomes too, because in both cases the driving force of the migrations and metization was the fur trade. Russian documents on organization and supplies of the early fur expeditions, and their conflicts over the scarce resources with the local Russian administration and direct appeals to the central government in Moscow are pretty amazing to read. The vocabulary is unusual too, centered on the Russians’ relations to the uzhina ужина, a share in the supplies of an expedition which could have been owned by an expedition member or lent from a merchant.

    In the course of mere decades, Siberian sables went nearly extinct, but the Arctic fox exploitation continued. The early XIX c. smallpox outbreaks devastated the North-Eastern tribes and disrupted what remained of the fur business, leading the Russians to abandon their only town in the Indigirka basin, Zashiversk ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zashiversk ) (a few residents stayed on for another century, but for most of the XXth century, the ghost town consisted of one wooden church with a bellfry … in the 1970s it was moved to an anthropology museum in Novosibirsk). From then on, the Yakuts moved into the depopulated tundra, and the Yakut language cemented its lingua franca role there.

  21. In Russia’s Northwest, there is no continuity.

    Possibly not much cultural one, but by descent very much yes, Northern Russians consistently turn up as a “missing Uralic people” in comparative genetic surveys, closer to the Mordvins and the northern Finnic peoples (Finns/Karelians/Vepsians) than to southern Russians. (Some Central Russians do so too, I wonder if maybe these more towards the eastern end of the “primary formation” around the Ivanovo and Nizhny Novgorod oblasts, the former lands of the Muromian and Meshcheran peoples.)

    in the extreme northwestern parts (Pskov Oblast and thereabouts) (…)

    Pskov is still only mid-western. Identifiable Uralic background, also in e.g. substrate toponymy and loanwords starts turning up more heavily in the Yaroslavl, Kostroma, Vologda and Arkhangelsk oblasts.

  22. Possibly not much cultural one, but by descent very much yes

    No question about that. I don’t even need to look any further than into my own DNA to confirm. But your previous post here hypothesized an uninterrupted sense of identity (you wrote of

    northwestern Russia, where people may continue to identify as e.g. “Chudes” or “Meryans” )

    and it was important to point out that any such popular sense of Ugro-Finnic identity is quite recent (often, only as recent as the recent DNA studies, although scientifically, the role of Finno-Ugric substrates in the language and culture of the Northern Russians has been evident for quite a long time).

    But ethnic self-identification, and self-evaluation of the key cultural practices defining a group, are quite distinct from the “DNA legacy” in the historically mixed populations. Almost without an exception, people co-identify with their high-status real or mythical ancestors, to the exclusion of the other components of the past mix. And people tend to value “recent purity” even though deeper in the past, grand scale admixtures were at the root of today’s populations (like most of the contemporary Europe is genetically a three-way mix between the diminutive farmers of Middle Eastern origin, the olive-skinned hunters-gatherers, and the giant cattle-herding brutes from the Steppes, yet the Europeans don’t really identify with either of them, and viscerally consider themselves “pure”). Conversely, the outsiders may taunt the once-admixed people for their “impurity”, generally to be met with denial.

    In the case of the Northern Russia, the legendary ancestors from the Great Novgorod, their byliny and traditions were always touted, while the Ugro-Finnic connections, downplayed. Along the White Sea coast where I have my “Finnic” genetic roots, the more Southerly Pomors tended to look down on their Northern brethren as “mixed Karelians”. But the next village to the North would counter that, no, they too are pure Russians and only the Pomors further North are part-Karelian.

    In the case of Russkoye Ust’ye, the residents went to considerable lengths to keep the Russian traditions going, even living in wooden izba huts in the country without any trees, and baking pastries and alad’i pancakes from boiled-fish “dough” and from frozen caviar, respectively, for lack of flour. Not even to mention preserving their language. And while other Russians saw them as mixed-ancestry settlers, they saw themselves as pure.

    Both in Arkhangel and in the Indigirka Basin, in other words, the Russians identified with their Russian ancestors to the exclusion of the other genetic and cultural substrates.

  23. any such popular sense of Ugro-Finnic identity is quite recent

    You misunderstand. The system I’m talking about is not “Finno-Ugric” identity of any kind; rather something more like a phratry system that is by now devoid of any connection to national identity and involves perhaps only knowing a particular label for a particular family line. Probably the only way this kind of an identity could have survived, really.

  24. David Eddyshaw says:

    self-declared Carians or Isaurians

    As I met my wife in St Andrews, my children are evidently ethnic Picts. As a parent of Picts, it follows that I am logically also Pictish. I shall be vociferously objecting to any attempts to appropriate my culture, which I am even now elaborating. There may be lawsuits.

    The alphabet is of Pictish origin. (There are Pictish inscriptions. QED.) All paganism is of Pictish origin (obviously.) Also face-painting. I may start with that.

  25. John Cowan says:

    Sorry, but inheritance goes strictly the other way. Once a Moabitess, always a Moabitess, no matter how illustrious your descendants. (The exception is hair color: you can get gray hair from your children.)

  26. I am logically also Pictish. I shall be vociferously objecting to any attempts to appropriate my culture, which I am even now elaborating. There may be lawsuits.

    You start by forming Pictish nationalist movement with some catchy slogan.

    “It’s Pictland’s oil!” for example.

  27. @John Cowan: Ruth and David obviously beg to differ.

  28. Dmitry Pruss: I think I have already mentioned here at the Hattery that to my mind a book that needs to be written one day (to the best of my knowledge nothing like it exists today) is a comparative history of the fur trade in Siberia and French North America: I suspect such a book would need to involve heavy collaboration between several scholars, including linguists: the parallels to be drawn between the isolated Russian dialects of Siberia and the isolated French dialects of the Canadian West, both influenced by indigenous languages to a significant degree, both spoken by racially mixed groups, must be numerous. In like fashion the social and linguistic history of Michif and that of the mixed Russian-Aleutian language of Copper Island are just begging to be compared and contrasted.

  29. comparative history of the fur trade in Siberia and French North America

    And that’s comparative fact No.1 – “fur trade” in Siberia wasn’t actually a trade at all, but a form of taxation.

    All native tribes upon contact were presented with ultimatum: “Submit to the Tsar and pay yasak (tribute in furs)”. Rejection meant war with Russians and inevitable defeat and then the survivors usually started paying yasak anyway.

    “Pour encourager” reluctant taxpayers, they also had to present amanaty (“hostages”) from chiefly families who lived in Russian yasak-gathering forts.

    The Russian state recognized that in addition to the stick, some carrots were also required. So the yasak-payers were given gifts, usually various Russian manufacturing goods. This, in the minds of natives, made payment of yasak more like barter trade than payment of tribute (and so was more bearable).

    But from the point of view of the Russian government, it was taxation, not trade.

    Not very similar to French North America, right?

    I’d say this is more like treatment of Indians in colonial Spanish America.

  30. {thinking} striking contrast with English and French experience, but strong similarity to Spanish policy suggests common origin – obviously both the Russians and the Spanish learned their colonial policies from Muslims – from Tatars in Russian case and from Arabs for the Spanish.

  31. amanaty (“hostages”)

    From Arabic ‘amanat’ (أَمَنَة) – ‘trust’, by the way. Borrowed via Tatar, of course.

  32. No, it wasn’t ONLY the amanat hostage system early on, as evidenced by countless customs declaration of the 1600s. (And even by the end of the century, the “return gifts” of blue beads, metal spearheads, and fancy clothing items were a requirement). In the mid-1600s, the government interests in Eastern Siberia were mostly centered around silver exploration (since the Czars started to experience severe currency crisis, and only silver coinage remained acceptable). The fur business, at its beginning, was entirely private (run by two or three top-tier merchant houses of Moscow Gostinaya Sotnya ~~ The Hundred of Foreign Trade Merchants such as the Usovs).

    The fur expeditions competed for the sparse Siberian resources (food and merchantile supplies, riverboats and horses) with the government, with many documented conflicts, expropriations and compensation. The uzhina enterprise-share expeditioners partly trapped themselves and partly traded with the locals. By the royal decree their departure custom duties were deferred until such time when the expeditions returned (paying both the deferred export and the import duties in pelts) so the customs paperwork is rather detailed, describing all the goods and all the party members who owed the return duties individually if they were svoyeuzhinniki or through the agents if their shares were rented.

    As the silver dreams failed, as the fur business turned out to be exceedingly profitable, the government took it over.

  33. partly trapped themselves and partly traded with the locals.

    These “private” expeditions more often simply collected yasak from natives on behalf of the government and the local officials usually supplied them necessary capital, equipment, provisions, weapons, trade goods and, of course, legal documents (this is Russia, nothing gets done without documentation).

    Upon return, they submitted collected furs to the government, part as government owned yasak and part as their private furs (for which they had to pay custom duties).

    I suspect most of these private furs were also taken by force (explaining to natives that it is yasak for the Tsar), not traded. The natives wouldn’t know the difference, would they?

  34. Yasak was being collected only from the Czar’s subjects. Even in the very end of the XVIIth century, a whole number of tribal bands weren’t yet brought to Czar’s loyalty at all ( подведены под высокую царскую руку), and much interrogation and translator’s work is devoted to identification of not-yet-loyal bands and clans. BTW the translators were often local women ( and other bands were playing the authorities of Magnazeya uezd against Yakutsk uezd to get favorable tax treatment, so while their general loyalty was settled, their place in the bureaucratic system wasn’t )

    I don’t know when the Lena Basin yasak tribes were made subjects of the czardom, but I doubt that it happened before the late 1640s. And I haven’t seen the word yasak in the early expeditions’ paperwork, including their petitions to the Czar. So I don’t think that they were tax-collection agents as opposed to trappers and traders.

  35. Yasak was being collected only from the Czar’s subjects.

    Obviously payment of yasak itself made you a Russian subject.

    Not sure what do you mean by remark about yasak being late invention. Actually it was present since the beginning of Russian conquest, in fact, the word itself is of Mongol origin and payment of yasak was introduced in southern parts of Siberia by Mongols in 13th century.

    Anyway, I think you are reading early documents from Mangazeya which is hardly representative of Siberian experience due to its unique history (unauthorized Pomor settlement and trade for several decades, late establishment of government rule which coincided with the start of Time of Troubles, sea route to European Russia, etc).

    But even in Mangazeya the yasak collection started in 1600.

  36. Lena Basin

    Yasak collection from Lena river began in late 1620s. First official collection by Vasily Bugor’s gang of “sluzhilye i novopribornye ohochie gulyashie i promyshlennye lyudi” from Yeniseisk fort.

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