The formation of the Khanty is based on the culture of ancient indigenous Uralic tribes, which were engaged in hunting and fishery. Subsequently, they were influenced by the Andronovo livestock-raising tribes of Scythian-Sarmatian culture. In the course of the merger of these ethnic elements, by the middle of the first millennium B. C., the Ob-Uralic tribes were established. By the end of the first millennium B. C., from the east and south-east, northwestern Siberia was settled by Samoyedic tribes, another Uralic group. The subsequent stage of ethnic interactions, which resulted in some of the Ob-Uralians assuming some elements of the Samoyedic culture, continued as late as the first ages of the second millennium. By the end of the first millennium B.C., the migration flow led to the establishment of the Ust-Polui culture in the Lower Cis-Ob Region, and later gave rise to the Potchevash culture in the northern Cis-Irtysh Region. Both these cultures are thought to be proto-Khanty. On the whole, archeological evidence indicates the complexity of the proto-Khanty cultures, containing different ethnic elements. Later, during the Middle Ages, they were substantially influenced by the Turkic ethnic component. In addition, some traces of the Tungus and Ket influence are found. Subsequently some of the western Khanty moved over to the East and North. In the North, the Khanty contacted the Nenets and partly were assimilated by the latter. In the southern region some intensive processes of Turkization, and, since the 18th century, Russification were underway. By the 20th century, the Khanty were almost completely assimilated by the Siberian Tatars and Russians.
Contact with Russia
The Russian hunters and merchants were familiar with the Yugra state as early as the 11th century. However, the annexation of this territory to the Russian state began as late as the defeat of the Siberian Khan Kuchum. By the advent of the Russians, the Khanty had numerous tribes. Every tribe had a dialect of its own, its own center and its own chiefs. Every tribe had two exogamic phratries: monítí and por. All the phratry members were considered blood relatives. Later, the phratry exogamy was replaced by the clan one. The Russian rulers relied on the clan leaders (knyaztsy). Striving to strengthen its influence on the Khanty, Russia introduced Christianity. But it was exceptionally formal, and almost did not affect traditional religious beliefs. In the course of the 17th - 19th c. the Khanty lifestyle did not undergo any changes. For tactical reasons, the government did not strive to totally disrupt their social life. By the year 1917, their main legal distinction from Russian peasants was exemption from conscription. In the course of the three centuries (17th-19th) of their being part of the state, the Khanty number rose from 6.3 thousand to 16.2 thousand. The number increase continued as late as the 20th century. The Khanty is one of the few indigenous minorities of Siberia with an autonomy in the form of the autonomous okrug. This autonomy has played a considerable role in the consolidation of the ethnic group. That process particularly intensified in the 1980s - 1990s due to the Khanty movement to protect their territory from the industrial expansion of various ministries and agencies. The autonomy also has a great role to play in the retaining of the traditional culture and language, which have been preserved in the Okrug to a much greater extent than in the Khanty of the Tomsk Region, where the traditional lifestyle has been lost.
The traditional occupations of the Khanty are fishery, taiga hunting and reindeer herding. In the southern regions and along the Ob River, the Khanty have been engaged in livestock husbandry and vegetable growing. Gathering is very important in the life of the people. In the majority of Khanty, the most reliable means of subsistence was dam fishery. Over 200 techniques of fishery, using various dams are known. The Khanty hunted for the reindeer, moose, squirrel, fox, sable and other furbearers, and also for ducks and geese. Active methods were used (chasing the prey with dogs) and passive methods (various traps, shooting sets). In spring, geese and ducks were captured with pereves, i. e., by nets stretched in a clearing specially cut between water bodies. Flying from one water body to another, the birds got entangled in the nets. Reindeer herding is widespread in the bulk of the Khanty territory. On the tundra and forest-tundra, the types of harness, the techniques of harnessing, and type of sleds give grounds to attribute the reindeer herding to the Samoyedic type. In the forest zone, reindeer herding is local, used mostly for transportation. Free or semi-free grazing is practiced. When natural forage is lacking, the deer are provided supplemental forage.
The majority of Khanty led a semi-sedentary mode of life, migrating from constant winter settlements to seasonal, located on their hunting grounds. Traditional winter houses are frame pole subterranean and semi-subterranean dwellings with entry by way of roof hole. In the 18th - early 19th century, log semi-subterranean houses and ground log houses appeared. Reindeer-herding Khanty lived in Samoyedic type tents (chums) covered with reindeer skin (in winter), or birch bark. The chum was also widely used as a seasonal dwelling on hunting grounds. The Khanty built pile board barns and log barns with double-pitch or flat roofs and also shed platforms. A special feature of the Khanty settlements were some special poles installed in front of each house to tie up horses and reindeer. Occasionally, they were adorned with dents bearing human, animal, or bird designs. The Khanty reindeer herders use for outerwear a shirt-like (without a slit on the front) garment with a hood, which they derived from the Nenets. In other groups, such clothes (malitsa, gus) were used for traveling. A common outerwear was a fur coat of reindeer fur, squirrel or fox feet. Serving as winter footwear were the Nenets pimy of kamus (reindeer leg skin) and socks. The male and female garments were decorated. Formerly, the main staple food of the Khanty was fish, meat of wild reindeer and other mammals, including fur-bearing (squirrel, otter). In autumn, the meat of wild reindeer was stored. Regarded as a delicacy was the smoke-cured reindeer fat. The meat was eaten fresh, sun-dried or frozen. From the entrails, the fish oil was extracted to cook cakes or varka (minced fish boiled in fish oil), which was consumed by travelers and hunters. Fish heads and fragments were used to produce meal, or boil batter. Baked bread was known as early as the 17th century, but it became widely used fairly recently. In summer, the Khanty used various types of boats. In tributaries, they used dugout canoes. On the Ob River, some more sophisticated boats were used with a bottom of the Siberian pine wood, and spruce boards. For long trips, they used birch bark covered ilimka boats with a straight seal mast. In winter, the main means of transportation were skis, and also reindeer and dog sleds. The northern Khanty used the reindeer-driven sled throughout the year. The Khanty also kept horses, and horse sleds.
In the spiritual culture of the Khanty, of great importance is the bear cult and associated set of rites. Originally, the bear festival was conducted only by the phratry members: it was thought that the phratry originated from the bear. With time the festival became national. In addition to the phratry totems, clan totems are also worshipped. Before the beginning of the hunting and fishing season, these totems are offered sacrifices. Shamanism was also present. The shamans wore no special clothes except a cap. The older Khanty people have retained numerous beliefs and cults . The Khanty have various myths, epics, folk tales, riddles, and historical legends. They tell about the origin of phratries, totem ancestors, inter-clan battles and other historical events. In applied art, of particular interest is embroidery in beads, metal plaques and applique. String instruments were very common: five-string zither 9- or 13-string harp, and also a single- or double-string instrument. The strings for all the instruments were produced from moose tendons. During the recent decades the Khanty have developed professional painting and literature. Among popular Khanty authors are A. Tarkhanov. E. Aipin, R. Rugin, the artists G. Raishev, V. Igoshev and others.
The Mansi first emerged as an ethnic group from a process of ethnogenesis that occurred around the first century A.D., when migrating Uralians from the south mixed with existing hunting and fishing tribes of the trans-Ural mountain region. The Mansi evolved as a result of this merger of tribes from the Uralic Neolithic culture with other Turanian tribes, which migrated in the 2 - 1 millennia B. C. from the south to the steppes and forest-steppes of Western Siberia and Northern Kazakhstan. The combination of the cultures of taiga hunters and fishermen and steppe pastoralists in the Mansi culture has been retained. It is most vividly manifested in the cult of the horse and the celestial horseman Mir Susne Khuma. Originally, The Mansi were distributed in the southern Urals and its western slopes, in the Cis-Kama Region, Cis-Pechora Region, along the tributaries of the Kama and Pechora rivers (Vishera, Kolva, etc.), in Tavda and Tura, but due to the colonization of this area by the Russians, they migrated to the Trans-Ural Region. All the Mansi groups are essentially mixed. Their culture includes some features that indicate Mansi cultural interaction with the Nenets, Tatar, Bashkir and other peoples of the Region. The contacts with the northern groups of Khanty were particularly close.
Contact with Russia
According to written sources, the contacts of Russians and the Mansi can be traced back to the 11th century, when the Mansi were identified as an independent group, but then under the name "Yugras". By the 14th c., the name "Vogul" became usual. The social structure of the Mansi society by the time Siberia became part of the Russian state was fairly complex. Along with the dual-phratry organization, there existed the military organization in the form of the principalities, which offered armed resistance to the Russians. After Siberia was annexed by Russia, the tzarist administration put up for some time with the existence of the Ugric principalities, but finally all of them were transformed into volosts (districts), whose heads were named knyaztsy. In that case, the volost administration did not always consist of the former princes, there were often new rulers "installed", more loyal to the Moscow administration. With further colonization, the number ratio between the Mansi and the Russians changed, and by the late 17th century, the latter predominated throughout the entire territory. The Mansi gradually moved to the North and the East, and some of them were assimilated. In the 18th century, the Mansi were formally baptized.
The traditional subsistence complex of the Mansi included hunting, fishery and reindeer herding. In the Ob River and the lower reaches of the Northern Sosva fishing predominated. In the upper reaches of the rivers the main sources of subsistence was hunting. Reindeer herding, which the Mansi derived from the Nenets, became common fairly late. One of the major elements of traditional subsistence was hunt for the reindeer and moose. Of substantial importance was hunting for the forest game birds and waterfowl. Waterfowl were harvested in the course of migrations, using special nets stretched between tall trees along bird passageways. The harvest of fur-bearing mammals also has a long-standing tradition. Fishing was done throughout the year. The most widespread fishery method is dam construction, which was also done in winter. Reindeer herding was the major occupation of a small proportion of the Mansi, essentially, in the upper reaches of the Lozva and Northern Sosva rivers and Lyapin, where there were favorable conditions for the maintenance of large herds.
The traditional dwelling of the Mansi during the pre-Russian period were semi-subterranean houses, the methods of roof attachment varying. Later, a log house with a double-pitch roof became the main type of dwelling. The entrance was made in the front wall and it faced the river. The reindeer-herding Mansi lived in the chum (tent) of the Samoyedic type. The fishermen Mansi lived in similar birch bark-covered chums in the lower reaches of the Ob river in summer. As a temporary dwelling , they used sheds of poles. To conduct festivals, the Mansi built community buildings, which differed from residential only in size. The traditional female garment of the Mansi is a yoke dress, a cotton or cloth gown; and in winter, a sakhi double fur coat. The clothing was richly ornamented with beads, straps of color fabric, and motley fur. Serving as the headdress was a large kerchief with a broad edge and fringe, which folded diagonally in an irregular triangle pattern. Men wore shirts, which looked like female dresses in cut, trousers and sashes, to which hunting equipment was attached. The male outerwear is the gus without a front slit, tunic-like, of cloth or reindeer skin, with a hood. The main means of transport in winter were the yesa skis lined with kamus (reindeer leg skin) or a colt skin. For cargo transportation they used hand sled. When needed, they were also pulled by dogs. Reindeer herders had deer teams and cargo or passenger sleds. During the summer season, the main means of transportation was the kaldanka boat. The traditional staple food was fish and meat. The northern Mansi particularly valued the Sosva herring. A substantial supplement to fish and meat dishes were berries: blueberry, mooseberry, cowberry, black cherry, and wineberry.
Source: RAIPON (Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North)
The traditional religion of the Mansi is based on the triple division of the world: the upper (the sky), the middle (the earth), and the lower (subterranean). According to the Mansi beliefs, all the worlds are populated by spirits, each of whom has a special function to fulfill. The equilibrium between the human world and the world of gods has been maintained by means of sacrifices. Their purpose is to ensure success and to protect oneself from the malign forces.The traditional Mansi religion is also characterized by shamanism, and a set of totemic concepts. The bear was the most deeply respected. In honor of this animal, bear festivals were conducted regularly: a complicated set of rites associated with bear hunt and consumption of the bear meat. The Mansi folklore is characterized by myths, folk tales, and legends. With the advent of letters, the national literature appeared. Well known in the Russian Federation and beyond it are the Mansi authors Yu. Shestalov , M. Vakhrusheva, A. Tarkhanova, to name a few. The traditional musical instruments are the tumran (vargan), boat- or bird-shaped string instrument sangultap, or a violin-like instrument.
The Situation of the Indigenous Ethnic Groups of Russian-controlled Northern Eurasia
Links to external websites about the Khanty-Mansi peoples, their land, history, and culture (pages will open in new window):
Endangered Uralic Peoples:
The Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire:
Survival International: Khanty
RAIPON (Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North)