Multi-ethnic interaction on the Baikal land

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The ethnic heterogeneity is a common phenomenon for Siberia (as for the whole world). Peoples reflected this in various legends. Thus, in the Yakut Legend “Er-Sogotokh” a knight related to a Mongol tribe, passionately loving the Baikal still leaves it and goes to live in new places down the Lena River. There is only one reason for that, Er-Sogotokh does not want to be an “assassin” for Genghis Khan. Having gone a long way down the river, the bator (knight) meets people whose “speech was clear and the language was familiar”. Later on, Er-Sogotokh suppressed his feelings of love, and did not marry the Yakut beauty, but wived a hardworking Tungus girl “to preserve the gens in a foreign country in the generations of mighty descendants”.

Other evidences can be found in the legends of the Baikal aboriginal people, and it expands the types of mixed marriages. “Th Buryats hunted together with the Tungus and lived next door, and soon they became relatives: the Buryats married the Tungus girls, the Tungus guys married the Buryat girls. They mingled their blood so much that it was hard to distinguish whether it was a Buryat family, or a Tungus one. Later on, when the Russian appeared in these lands, they also became relatives to the Buryats and Tungus. So now it is hard to read a person’s nationality in his face – whether he is a Buryat, Tungus, or Russian ".

Clearly enough, people going to Siberia, the Russians and other settlers were not always able to take women with them. The physiological need and the need to continue genus made these people look for life partners among the natives. Moreover, according to the norms of the time, men were not particularly scrupulous about the ways and forms of this search: not only voluntary international marriages happened in the course, but girls were also stolen and bought. Besides, the indigenous peoples of Siberia, in particular, the Buryats, had a long tradition of selling women for paid dowry, as well as the theft of the future spouse from other clans and tribes (Do you remember the tragic story of the first wife of Genghis Khan – Borge, stolen from her husband, and who was rescued from marriage in captivity only by the courage and valor of her husband?). Still children born in mixed marriages and “celibacy”, especially at first, apparently were disliked by the “unmixed” on both sides (at least they were given distinctive nicknames). This can be proved by the Buryat word kharym (karym) that in Russian means “alien”, “aloof”, “the one who betrayed his faith” or “the one who married a Russian”. There even appeared such settlements, where such “mixed” or “alienated” people lived; they were Karymskaya station in the Chita region, Village Karymskoe near Turuntaevo in Buryatia, the villages with similar names in Kuytun, Ust-Uda and other areas of the Irkutsk Oblast. Besides, people born in mixed marriages, in Zabaikalie are called gurans, though in the Baikal regions this word more often means “the indigenous inhabitants of Siberia”. Of course, such a guran had more distinctive features of a Buryat and Evenk. It is believed that the origin of this name could also come from the fact that the Trans-Baikal Cossacks – the old-timers – wore hats made of guran, a wild goat.

On the territory of the Baikal region marriages of Russian settlers with local peoples were supported by the founded local monasteries, thus striving to facilitate sedentism among peasants and thus accelerate the development of agriculture in the border areas of Siberia. The Trinity-Selenga monastery activity acquired the largest scale. This monastery, one of the largest in the Trans-Baikal region and one of the greatest in Siberia, was founded in 1681. On the 22nd of February Moscow authorities decided to build it on the Selenga River. Based on the government fiat, the Tobolsk metropolitan Paul ordered the abbot Theodosius, the black priest Macarius, and with them the other 10 monks – “brothers from Moscow” – to go to “Daur” and there find where to build a monastery in the name of the Trinity on the Selenga River, and other Daurian cities and fortresses, and to encourage people and baptize strangers in the Orthodox faith ...”. The Selenginsk Trinity, and later the Posolsky monastery were granted the right to settle Russian fugitives and newly baptized Buryats on their lands. To consolidate the established villages, the monastery bought the Buryat women and girls, paying dowry for them (the price for a “wife” was 2 rubles 60 kopeikas, the horse was sold for 3 – 5 rubles), and after baptizing peasants settled in the monastery lands, married them. Thus, there appeared a bastard Russian-Buryat population in several parishes on the Selenga: Trinity, Posolsky, Kudarinsky, etc.

The cases of kidnapping Buryat women or Buryat women fleeing into Russian villages were quite frequent. In either case, however, the clergy did not set obstacles to this, knowing how important the “feminine element” is in consolidating the sedentism and thrift; for this reason they organized wedding ceremonies of the aborigines with the kidnappers. The very fact of baptism closed the door for a Buryat woman to go back. The only thing the injured relatives or deceived husbands could do was to regain their property that was lost together with abducted or runaways.

The incest and mixed marriages at will and without it were a common phenomenon in Siberia. What impact incest made on the characteristics and culture of the local population is not that evident. There were pluses and minuses in it. Shevelev G.L., a social activist of Verhneudinsk of the first half of the 19th century, divided the whole population of the Baikal region into three classes: the Old Believers (Semeiskie), old-timers and the Mongols (Buryats), and described such a phenomenon characteristic for the region: “old-timers, adapting to the former inhabitants of Siberia – Mongolians, marrying their daughters, have made some sort of a mixture of Russian-Mongolian, generally lazy and careless creatures; they do more hunting and fishery, animal husbandry and cabbing, i.e., easy jobs; and they perform these jobs in a most pitiful form”.

The intricacy of the issue is primarily manifested in the position of the descendants of people who were once involved in mixed marriages or in extramarital affairs. For example, the author of these lines had an ancestor in the fourth generation who was a yasashny Buryat and married a widow, who had come to Lake Baikal from Vologda; after wedding he took her last name. Naturally, if we take as the initial point the pedigree of my ancestor, who also had blood of shamans, then I surely can be attributed to the “the most native of the natives”. But the genealogy of my ancestor on the female line refers me to “newcomers” with all the ensuing consequences.

The last two acknowledgements show that existing for long time mixed marriges could not but affected the appearance of specific ethnic groups. This is confirmed by anthropological studies. Thus, the study of Russian inhabitants in Tarbagatai and Baikal-Kudara areas, carried out by the anthropologist I.M. Zolotareva in 1956, showed that the residents of the settlements of Baikal-Kudara differ significantly from the residents of Tarbagatai. It turned out that the Baikal- Kudara Russians’ visage reveals clear features of the Mongoloid race. This is first of all the color of hair and eyes, growth of beard, profile of cartilaginous nasal, zygomatic diameter, transverse diameter of the head, physiognomic and morphological face height, height, etc.

Considering that the residents of the Tarbagatay area are mostly descendants of Semeiskie, who by their religious beliefs were a more isolated ethnic group and openly opposed the inter-ethnic marriges (especially with “aliens”), while the ancestors of the inhabitants of the Baikal-Kudara area lived in the area belonging to the above mentioned Trinity-Selenga monastery, the origin of the discovered differences is no surprise.

In ethnography there is a well known fact that over 40 percent of Americans confess their mixed parentage. And what is the situation like in the Baikal region? To learn this we put the people living near the Baikal the following question: “Are any of your relatives of other nationalities?” The results surpassed all our expectations. It turned out that 47 percent of respondents had such relatives, 44, 5 percent of them did not, and 4, 3 percent of respondents did could not answer.

The stated figures and facts show that the “audience” of Siberia from the very beginning was international. It is possible to find here representatives of different nations, as we have already iterated. But it is worth recalling that the Soviet period has contributed most significantly to the development of poly-ethnicity in the Baikal region. The sources of this phenomenon, starting with the 30s, were:

• Repressive measures against certain social groups of some nations and even against certain ethnic groups in general in the prewar and postwar periods (they were the inhabitants of the Baltic republics, Western Ukraine and Belarus, the peoples of the Caucasus region and Crimean Tatars, Volga Germans, etc.), part of them turned out to be compactly settled in various settlements of Irkutsk and the Buryat-Mongol Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.

• Construction of a cascade of hydropower plants, giant aluminum and petrochemical industries (Angarsk, Shelekhovo), enterprises of construction timber industry, as well as the notorious pulp mills in Baikalsk and Selenginsk. All of this by its romance, and more by job vacancies attracted people of different nationalities. The lyrics of the song “our dear home... we left forever to make factories appear in the forest, new cities grow up” was familiar to the souls of the sons and daughters of many peoples.

• One of the recent activities that replenished the ethnic diversity in the region was the construction of the Baikal-Amur Railway, the most difficult part of which passes through the territories of Irkutsk and the Buryat Republic. At this construction a peculiar innovation manifested itself: each Union republic pledged to build a station on the railway track, and equipping it with country-specific peculiarities of its builders. A number of station buildings and the architectural style of some cities and towns of the BAM still keep the unique original architectural features and design of the Soviet peoples, now the so-called the “near abroad”;

• Growing number of people of different nationalities in the region naturally increased the flow of different “merchants” from the respective peoples, and these traders – both legal and illegal (speculators, spivs, etc.) served everybody with specific goods.

In addition to that, other causes of increasing polyethnicity of the Baikal region were: a) household and everyday circumstances forcing people to migrate (reconnections with relatives, the possibility of obtaining housing, relocation from their parents, etc.); b) recurring function of Siberia as a place for various penalties (prison, labor camps, exile, settlement, place of work for parole – the famous “chemists”); upon completion of their sentences, some ex-prisoners and “chemists” who had had long terms, became permanent residents in these places; and c) arrival of the various teams in Siberia, usually the members of such teams were of the same ethnic group, they came here to earn money (like once famous student construction teams), whom the locals called simply “the Armenians”. Some of the so-called “Armenians”, along with their compatriots, who had served in the Soviet Army in this region, remained for a long time settled in these lands.

A. Tvardovsky in his poem “Distance beyond Distance”, in the lines describing the overlap of River Angara in the Irkutsk Oblast and birth of the Baikal’s grandson – Irkutsk reservoir, characterizes international composition of the inhabitants.

Siberians! The rumor is not lying –

You are chosen at random people,

Though fassambly, but selected,

The eagle of a people: in its turn

With reliable shoulder will support –

Will not let you down!


They willingly called themselves,

And though differed in languages,

Shapes of eyes, and faces.

But the coloration was of common kind:

Siberia honored gift –

Beneath the summer tan

There was a winter tan.

There was a faraway Ukrainian there,

And a resident of nearby places – Buryat

The Kazakh, Latvian, and Kabardian,

And more numerous than others was the elder brother...

The poetizing of the polyethnicity of Siberia by A. Tvardovsky is caused not purely by external factor that is the existence in these parts representatives of many nations. More important was the fact that these different people lived in peace and harmony, engaged in common creative activity: “seized with a common impulse, equal in a labor family”. And today this international unity somewhat shattered, cracked. And the most urgent task today is to restore the traditions of healthy and humane relations between people of different nationalities, to overcome xenophobia, and to develop hospitality. It is urgent for the Baikal as well, as its protection is a most international affair. 

See also


  1. A.D. Karnyshev "The Many Faces of Multilingual and Mysterious Baikal"© BSU Publishing House, 2011

Выходные данные материала:

Жанр материала: English | Автор(ы): Karnyshev A.D. | Источник(и): The Many Faces of Multilingual and Mysterious Baikal. Ulan-Ude. 2012 | Дата публикации оригинала (хрестоматии): 2011 | Дата последней редакции в Иркипедии: 30 марта 2015

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Тематический указатель: Irkipedia English