Introduction to Russia and Eurasia

The territory of Northern Eurasia (roughly Macro-Russia, the Commonwealth of Independent States [CIS], or the former USSR) covers more than one-sixth of the earth's land surface. Much of it is blanketed by seemingly endless forest. It is inhabited by people speaking over one hundred languages and constitutes the third most populous geopolitical entity in the world. It extends from the Arctic Sea to the deserts of Turkestan and includes maximum and minimum degrees of temperature, elevation, precipitation, wind, land and mineral resources, and ecological, cultural, and linguistic variation.

The cultures of this huge area may be divided roughly into four parts that overlap—for example, the Jews and Gypsies, each with significant subcultural variation, range from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean. The four major culture areas are: European Russia, with its Slavic, particularly Great Russian, majority and many Tatar and Uralic minorities; Central Asia, with its predominantly Turkic, Muslim peoples, notably the Kazakhs and the Uzbeks, spread over vast steppes and desert ranges; Siberia, with its many small indigenous groups such as the northernmost Nganasan and a huge Russian (Siberiaki) majority mainly in the cities from the Urals to Vladivostok; and the Caucasus, where the density and multiplicity of cultures (e.g., Daghestan is known as "the Mountain of Languages") coexists with many shared patterns and traits.

In terms of more analytical dimensions, northern Eurasia includes at least three kinds of cultural entities (if by "culture" we mean a broad constellation of ecological, economic, social, and religious factors) : ancient and self-conscious peoples with a complex class structure, a literary tradition, and a developed economy, of which Georgia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Tajikistan, and Russia proper are good examples; relatively large ethnic groups with much historical identity that have or have had considerable political standing such as in the Baltic states, the Udmurt and other Finno-Ugric groups near the Volga, the Tuvans, and Yakut (Sakha) ; and relatively small groups—such as the Even, Gagauz, and the peoples of Daghestan—often tribally organized, in some cases shamanic in religion, that in recent times have been politically subjugated to a degree; some, like the Kalmyks, have been pushed toward oblivion, and others, like the Yukagir, into it.

(1) European Russia, occupied mainly by Slavs, runs from the Baltic Sea and the Polish border east to the Ural Mountains and from the White Sea south to the Black Sea, the southern Russian steppe, and the Caucasus. It is basically a vast plain interrupted by rivers, lakes, and ranges of hills and ravines. The three main subdivisions of the East Slavs—the Russians proper, the Ukrainians, and the Belarussians—although differing significantly from each other, also share many basic cultural patterns such as reliance on grains in the diet, the importance of the somewhat extended nuclear family, the steam-bath complex, long and elaborate weddings, a village commune ( mir ) tradition, and certain annual holidays that have carried over from earlier times, notably Easter and Christmas.

Over half the East Slavs live in villages, but about two-thirds of the 150 million Russians proper or "Great Russians" are urban. This urban population shares certain patterns. The majority now live in large, crowded, dilapidated apartment houses and work in foundering, inefficient factories or service trades while being imperfectly assisted by public health and social security amid an unending sequence of shortages, inflation, and breakdowns of transportation, heating, and food delivery. Nonetheless, some aspects of urban culture preserve earlier (even czarist) levels of quality, notably education in mathematics and certain arts (ballet and poetry). Urban life is made more feasible by dense personal networks (often by phone), by patterns of informal exchange (often by barter), and by traditions shared with the village such as the local steambath. There is a remarkable similarity, incidentally, between urban apartments and the interiors of rural dwellings. There are, moreover, long-standing, strong, and continuing traditions of peasants working in the cities, of wealthier city folk having country cottages and cabins, and of all social classes maintaining familial and other personal ties with the countryside. Additional processes of ruralization today are resulting in the migration of city dwellers (especially Russians from non-Russian states) to villages and a large increase in truck farming (family plots) near cities.

The Russian area is conveniently and realistically subdivided into three parts: the southern "black earth" zone, with large villages and the raising of many kinds of grains in fairly open country; the central "industrial" zone of rolling fields, low hills, and groves, with its mix of diversified agriculture (e.g., dairy and truck farming), local arts and crafts, and many heavily industrialized cities and their huge sectors of skilled and semiskilled workers, intellectuals, and bureaucrats; and the large northern and northeastern zone, with many lakes, streams, and rivers, extensive forests (mainly of birches and conifers), and small villages, typically with large homesteads—in the northeast there is also much lumbering, mining, and some heavy industry. Well over half the Great Russian population is nominally Russian Orthodox and probably a larger proportion believe in spirits of various kinds (e.g., house spirits, forest spirits, river nymphs, etc.) in a system of partly pagan beliefs that is strongly supported by folklore (e.g., proverbs, sayings). Kinship networks, village communal Organization, and a bureaucracy (although the latter is inefficient) help to maintain a semblance of social order.

There are two other major East Slavic groups. Ukraine has a population of 51 million, of which 37 million are actually Ukrainian. It is the breadbasket of the Slavic area and produces wheat, maize, and other cereals in prodigious quantities; half the Ukrainian population, concomitantly, still consists of peasants who live in villages of 1000 to 5000 in population that are laid out in cluster, chain, ribbon, or grid patterns. The great cultural center of Kiev, with its many legendary bells, rivals the northern capitals of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Many western Ukrainians belong to the Uniate church. The black-soil plains and steppes, as in Russia, are crosscut by large rivers, notably the Volga, the Dnieper, and the Bug, all critical for transportation. Farther to the west the much smaller Belarussian population of about 8 million, much of it heavily Russified, lives in an industrialized, urban environment, in cities such as Minsk, or in a countryside that is often marshy and low-lying. Here are Belarussian peasants in their small villages of 5 to 100 households, each typically consisting, as among the other Slavs, of a dwelling, a granary, a feed barn, a livestock barn, and a cold cellar. Fishing is important in the north, as it is among the northern Great Russians.

Elements of chauvinism notwithstanding, the culture of the East Slavs is highly syncretistic, involving native Slavic, Finno-Ugric, Turko-Tatar, Mongol, Greek (e.g., Byzantine), western European, and, most recently, American components.

In cultural terms the East Slavic mass includes all its outliers and diaspora in neighboring states and regions, where they often form large minorities (e.g., one-third the population of Estonia and a large fraction of that of northern Kazakhstan). The Siberian Russians (and Ukrainians) are scattered across a continent to the east although centered in western Siberia, notably in Kurgan and near the coal mines of Novosibirsk. Despite their distinctiveness—their character as "Siberiaki"—they are more Russian (or Ukrainian) than anything else in language and customs. To the south and southeast are several groups of Cossacks such as the Don Cossacks of the Don River area, who, while retaining associations with cavalry and choruses, are today grain farmers, miners, and members of the intelligentsia.

Within, among, and adjoining the East Slavs, there are many minorities. The Tatars include the now partly repatriated Crimean Tatars and the Volga Tatars with their great cultural heritage and intense national consciousness (which includes a reformist Islamic revival). Several Finno-Ugric groups are dispersed in the central Volga area, often not far from the river itself. The Udmurt, the Mordvinians, and, more to the northeast, the Komi, although heavily Russified, are tending more and more to revitalize and restore their indigenous cultures. Between Ukraine and Romania are found the Romanian-speaking Moldovans, and, within Moldova, almost a quarter million (Orthodox Christian) Gagauz Turks. Despite problems of classification, cross-reference, and marginality, the area we are calling European Russia, including its minorities, is integrated in many critical ways by culture, politics, economy, and a shared history, and it is demarcated by bodies of water, the Urals and the boundaries of neighboring states. The Baltic groups constitute the exception: the Estonians, Karelians, Latvians, and Lithuanians, although influenced by Russia's traditions and political economy, are primarily associated with western Europe and are relatively marginal to the area in question in terms of culture and political attitudes (e.g., the Lithuanians are Roman Catholic, the Latvians Lutheran).

The mosaic and synthesis of cultures today reflects a long and tragic history—from primeval beginnings of dispersed hunters and fishermen intermingling with Finnic peoples, to the gradual emergence of Slavic polities, to conquest by the Varangians (Vikings) in the ninth century, to conversion to Christianity under Vladimir (988) with subsequent Byzantine influence, to the emergence of the mainly southern principalities of today's Ukraine, to the often genocidal conquest by the Mongols (thirteenth century), to the rise in the Middle Ages of the Muscovite State in the north (notably under Ivan III and Ivan the Terrible), to the rapid imperial expansion and explosive economic growth during the eighteenth century, to the high culture and world-power status of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, to the First World War and the Russian Revolution, and then the Soviet period, the Second World War, and finally the chaos and regeneration of perestroika. Throughout these years the boundaries often shifted but the basic process was imperial expansion at the cost of Turk, Pole, Tatar, and Siberian native; the colonial exploitation of subject peoples such as the Volga area Finno-Ugric groups; and the creation of culturally and politically defined national entities, particularly of Russia and, later, of Ukraine and Belarus.

(2) The Caucasus, occupying the south-central portion of the area, runs from the southern Russian steppe to the borders of Iran and from the Black to the Caspian seas. Apart from some tropical coastal areas in the west and parching deserts in the northeast and flatlands here and there, this is largely a region of mountains (including some of the highest in the world) and of lush, fruit-tree-filled valleys.

The Caucasus may be discussed in terms of five cultural classifications: Georgia, in the west, with at least seven Georgian subdivisions, all of them Georgian Orthodox in faith (except the partly Islamic Ajarians and the non-Georgian Abkhazians), an ancient, high cultural tradition, a complex and diverse economy, and a strong national polity over a thousand years old; Armenia, in the south-central Caucasus, with Eastern and Western subdivisions, also with an ancient high culture, a national (Monophysite) church, a sense of identity as a nation-state, and large numbers in diaspora; Azerbaijan, in the east, Turkic-speaking and mostly Shiite Muslim, with a complex economy in which the oil industry predominates; the Northern Caucasus, roughly north of the Caucasus mountain range, ranging from the Circassians, some of them near the Black Sea, to the Chechen and Ingush in the center, to the Avars near the Caspian Sea; and the Daghestan area that contains over fifty distinct groups, some of them small, occupying a single valley, others, notably the Avars, numbering in the tens or hundreds of thousands and having a strong sense of history, a high rate of literacy, and a complex social structure.

In terms of history and prehistory, by the end of the Stone Age the three main indigenous groups may well have been in place: the Northwest Caucasian or Abkhaz-Adyghe peoples occupying an area from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov and inland to the Kuban River; the Northeast or Nakh-Daghestanian peoples living in an area extending from somewhere north of the Terek River south along the Caspian Sea into what is now Azerbaijan; and the South Caucasian or Kartvelian peoples in what is now Georgia and some adjoining areas, particularly Turkey. Some or all of these regions were successively subjugated or at least influenced by the Greeks under Alexander (fourth century B.C. ) and, later, by Byzantine Greece (c. sixth century A.D. ); the Persians (e.g., the Sassanids [third to seventh centuries]); the Arabs and the Muslim expansion (mainly in the seventh and eighth centuries); the Mongols (thirteenth century); then Tamerlane (fourteenth and fifteenth centuries); the Ottoman Turks; and, finally, the Russians (starting mainly in the eighteenth century). At present the Caucasus is being drawn in conflicting directions toward the Russians to the north, Europe to the west, and the Turkic and Muslim worlds to the south.

Linguistically, the North Caucasian languages are usually divided into the Northwest, the North Central, and the Northeast (e.g., the Chechen-Ingush); according to some views, they are related to each other, but, according to other views, even the Northeastern group may not constitute a family; according to yet other theories, the North Caucasian languages as a set may have been related to Proto-Indo-European. Indo-European-language speakers on the scene today include the Armenians, who, by one hypothesis, occupy the original Indo-European homeland area, and the Iranian Ossetes in the northern mountains. There are some half-dozen Turkic languages such as Kumyk in the northeast corner of the area and Azerbaijani, the language spoken by the largest Turkic group in the Caucasus; some form of Turkic (or "Tatar") serves as a lingua franca in much of the area, particularly Daghestan. The dominant or characteristic linguistic fact is the great diversity, ranging from Georgia, where eight or more dialects of Georgian are spoken, to Daghestan, which, although about the size of Illinois, contains groups speaking over thirty distinct languages and a vastly greater number of dialects. The Caucasus displays far more linguistic diversity than all of western Europe.

Despite the overt fact of cultural and, in particular, linguistic heterogeneity, various large subsets of the cultures of the Caucasus share a number of patterns, some of them worth itemizing here: a large porch as the locus for many family activities; centering the home on a cooking pot suspended on a chain over the central hearth, and/or the pattern of a decorated pole in the center of the main room; national foods made of grains and milk or meat (for example, khinkal —spiced meat in a dough pouch) ; men's fur caps, several typical jackets and coats, daggers, and women's complex jewelry and many-storied headgear; marked segregation and division of labor between the sexes; variously compacted villages (e.g., the "beehive model") ; patrilocal and patriarchal family organization combined with strict taboos for the in-marrying woman; extraordinarily developed patterns of ritual kinship and of hospitality; kissing or at least touching the breast of an unrelated woman in order to be accepted into her clan as an honorary member (resorted to in some communities to end a feud); clan ( tukhum ) endogamy in Daghestan but exogamy elsewhere. Although there are large modern cities such as Makhachkala, Baku, Erevan, and Tbilisi, most people live in regional centers and mountain hamlets.

In terms of religion the Caucasus includes a remarkably vital substratum of indigenous (pagan) practices including, variously, animal sacrifice, shamanism, and rainmaking ceremonies. Islam brought with it Sharia (the code of Islamic law), which now complements the traditional adat (customary norms) of the northern Caucasus and Daghestan, various elements from Christianity, and, of course, the secular laws.

(3) Central Asia occupies the vast expanses that extend from the southern Russian steppe and the Caspian Sea eastward to and into the Altai Mountains and the Pamirs and from southern Siberia south to the borders of Iran, Afghanistan, and China. There are hilly or low mountainous areas in the core, as in Kazakhstan, and true mountains on the eastern peripheries; most of Tajikistan consists of mountains and narrow valleys. But much of this is a flatland consisting of treeless steppes and deserts that are marked by frequent dust- and sandstorms and continental extremes of cold and heat (up to 50° C in the Kara Kum) and of aridity and drought—the latter reaching ecologically disastrous proportions as in the partial dessication of the Aral Sea. In such an environment, the great rivers of the Amu Darya, Syr Darya, and Hi, serving as linear oases, have played a crucial role (e.g., in the Ferghana Valley).

The population of what used to be Russian Central Asia now exceeds 50 million. In some of the former republics, such as Kazakhstan, the eponymous Turkic peoples actually constitute less than half of the population, but these groups have been growing explosively in recent decades, often creating severe social problems of unemployment, ethnic conflict, and the like. The entire region can be subdivided into six parts: Turkmenistan in the southwest corner around the Kara Kum Desert (population about 3 million, almost all Turkmens); Uzbekistan, with 200,000 Uigur in its south-central zone, 400,000 Karakalpaks around the Red and Black deserts, and some 14 million Uzbeks in a polity of 19 million—the Uzbeks are thus the most numerous Turkic group in Northern Eurasia; Kazakhstan, spread all across the north and center (about 5 million Kazakhs within a population of 15 million); Kyrgyzstan in the southeastern corner (almost 2 million Kyrgyz within a population of 4 million) ; also in the southeast, the non-Turkic Tajiks, who are Iranian (about 3 million) ; yet farther east, the likewise Iranian Pamir peoples on the "Rooftop of the World"; the Pamir Mountains are also home to the Ichkilik (or Pamir-Kyrgyz) Turks, and there are other minorities in Russian Central Asia as a whole (e.g., the Shiite Ironis descended from Iranian slaves). There are many millions of Russians and tens of thousands of other minorities (e.g., Germans, Siberian Estonians)—who have been rapidly leaving Central Asia for their own titular regions since about 1985.

All the major eponymous groups are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi rite, observing such major holidays as Ramadan and the Korban (the great sacrifice of Abraham) and often visiting Muslim holy places or belonging to Sufi brotherhoods ( tariqa ) or localized semi-Muslim burial shrines. The principal exceptions are the Pamir peoples, most of whom are Ismailis of the Nizarot rite (followers of the Aga Khan), the Bukharan Jews, and the Russians and Ukrainians. A strong attachment to traditional Islamic values is exemplified variously: by the early marriages of girls, by respect for elders, and by the importance of the Quran. Today the rapid breakdown of Muslim values in some quarters is competing with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, which seeks to revitalize or even exaggerate these same values: many consider themselves members of the Islamic community, the umma, without being either fundamentalist or particularly observant. Speaking more generally, Central Asian religions still bear the mark of pre-Islamic practices contributed by ancient Iranian and Mesopotamian religions, such as Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, Gnosticism, and Nestorian Christianity, not to mention the shamanism indigenous to Siberia and Central Asia. In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan Islam grew to prominence only in the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries, roughly corresponding to Muslim missionizing promoted by the Russians via the Tatars.

Russian Central Asia is dominated symbolically by Speakers of Turkic dialects: those entering into the (relatively artificial) divisions of Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and Karakalpak; the Turkmen dialects (close to Azeri) ; and the Uzbek and Uigur languages; the three belonging, respectively, to the Kipchak, Oguz, and Chagatay branches of the Ural-Altaic Language Family. Almost all (96 percent to 99 percent) of these Turkic peoples classified their languages as primary (as against Russian). The writing systems, after a switch from the Arabic script to the Latin (in the 1920s) and to the Cyrillic (in the 1930s), today are reassuming Latin forms (although some people are advocating the Arabic script). The languages are the vehicles for a renowned oral (mainly epic) literature as well as, in the case of Uigur, a sophisticated written tradition going back to the Middle Ages. In addition to verbal arts, the Turkic peoples of Central Asia, in particular the Uzbeks, have highly developed dance, theater, classical music, and, especially among the Turkmen, a tradition of nearly peerless carpet weaving.

The long history of this area may be summed up briefly as an early period of indigenous and shamanic Tengri and Zoroastrian cultures, followed by the Islamic conquests, then the Mongol invasions led by Chinggis (Genghis) Khan and his successors (thirteenth century), the empire of Tamerlane (fourteenth century, centered in Samarkand), then annexation by Russia during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and, finally, the period of Soviet domination beginning in 1919-1921. In the course of these phases, local polities were overlaid with imperial power, followed by combinations of fairly autonomous tribes with various khanates (e.g., of Bukhara and Samarkand)—which were conquered by the Russians and replaced by administration through regions and districts—often to the extreme economic disadvantage of the colonized populations (a situation that is changing rapidly today).

Central Asia as a whole was for a long time a region of mixed (semi-) pastoralism characterized by transhumant patterns of (mobile) tent dwelling combined with sedentary agricultural villages of orchards and extended families living in clay or stucco houses built around courtyards and surrounded by orchards. In the late 1920s and early 1930s the pastoral side of society was assimilated to or converted into state-run villages with catastrophic consequences (e.g., the death of millions of Kazakhs through famine). Both types of society were ordered into larger clans or tribes in terms of the patrilineal principle (typically reckoned as far as seven or more generations). Sometimes, on an informal as well on an administrative level, women took on a relatively greater role in family decision making, especially in pastoral zones. For the most part, however, particularly later in Central Asian history, Islamic values involving sex roles eclipsed more egalitarian aspects of society.

The cultures of the region are known for a heavy reliance on mutton, grain, and dairy products and a rigid sexual division of labor and spatial segregation. In addition to intense and productive agriculture, notably in the Ferghana Valley, cotton is raised on a massive scale using "modern methods" such as chemical fertilizers with results that, depending on the area, range toward outright ecological disaster. Against the backdrop of former pastoralism, contemporary village collectives, and mechanized agriculture, there stand the many-storied cities with their complex economies and sophisticated urban ways: Bukhara, Tashkent, and Samarkand, as well as relatively modern centers such as Dushanbe. The gold mines of Uzbekistan rank among the richest in the world.

(4) Siberia, occupying about 7.5 million square kilometers, from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific Ocean and from the Arctic Sea to the borders of China and Mongolia, contains a population of approximately 35 million divided into forty or more ethnic groups (depending on one's criteria for counting them) speaking dozens of distinct Uralic, Turko-Tatar, and Paleosiberian languages and many more dialects—usually, today, with Russian as a lingua franca of sorts. The age-old pattern of intermarriage and genetic intermingling between these groups and other immigrants, particularly Russians, is continuing today. Large populations, mainly Slavic, are concentrated today in and around cities such as Omsk, Yakutsk, and Vladivostok and in industrial and/or mining areas such as Krasnoyarsk, in more or less urban (and often ecologically catastrophic) conditions. But the basic and initial demographic profile of Siberia is of small groups living in relatively simple conditions, thinly scattered and often migrating over great spaces (most extremely, the Evenki with about 17,000 individuals scattered over an area larger than western Europe).

Geographically, Siberia consists of four main zones: treeless tundra along and in from the Arctic coast; south of that a broad strip of taiga (mainly coniferous forests mixed with birch, larch, and aspen); a more complex landscape of steppe and hill country (e.g., the steppes of northern Turkestan); and the regions of mountains sometimes rising to over 1.6 kilometers in elevation (where the Tofalar of the Sayan Mountains, the Altai of the Altai Mountains, and the Tuvans of the Tuvan mountain range live). Siberia is intersected by many great rivers, which, unlike most of those of European Russia, run northward: the Ob, the Irtysh, the Yenisei, the Lena, and others have always been vital for travel and transport (east to west transport being served today in more southern areas by the Trans-Siberian railroad). Most of Siberia is subject to extreme cold—from -20° C in wintertime in many areas to world-record lows of-90° C or more in the north—necessitating extraordinary adaptive measures in clothing and housing, notably many-layered fur garments, tents of hides, insulated log cabins, and semisubterranean dwellings (which housed up to 100 persons among the Itelmen of yore). Yet many parts of southern Siberia are temperate enough to allow for prosperous agriculture, not only truck gardens near the city, but, particularly in the southwest, extensive dairy and wheat farming.

Until the sixteenth century the population of Siberia consisted mainly of scores of indigenous groups ranging in size from a few hundred to several tens of thousands, which lived in relative economic, political, and cultural independence, traded ubiquitously, often mixed socially, and sometimes warred with each other. Some regions were governed by local khanates or similar polities. Between about 1500 and 1598 Siberia was gradually conquered (mainly by Cossacks), secured by lines of forts, and gradually colonized and exploited by Russian commercial and governmental forces that exacted a tribute ( iasak ), usually in furs (often taking over existing tribute systems). During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries southern Siberia witnessed explosive industrial development, particularly of mines. Russian Siberia evolved a distinctive character, which enabled a few larger groups such as the Yakut and the Tatars to maintain some degree of economic and cultural viability. Siberia was the scene of bitter and brutal civil war after the 1917 Revolution; it was first controlled by the Whites (notably the Cossacks) and then taken by the Reds. From the 1920s to the 1970s Siberian history combined sensational economic buildup (e.g., in industry, mining and "virgin land" agriculture) with religious persecution, cultural destruction, and ecological ruination. Since the middle 1980s the area as a whole has been gripped by a new cultural and political consciousness, exemplified by everything from refurbishing local government to inviting Japanese and German capitalization of extractive industries to the exporting of (brilliant) Yakut theater to Chicago.

Siberia today falls into roughly four ecocultural areas: western Siberia, a lowland agricultural area where live the relatively Russified Nenets, Komi, Mansi, and Khanty; southwestern Siberia, with its huge mining and industrial complexes (e.g., around the Kuznetsk Basin), which attract some indigenous people, including women; east-central Siberia, dominated by the Buriats and Yakut but including many groups that are particularly interesting and important in terms of comparative ethnography, such as the Nganasan, the nothernmost people of Eurasia; and the Far East, with peoples such as the Eskimos, Chuckchee, and Nivkh, living on or near the Pacific Ocean or major rivers such as the Amur along the Chinese border. They typically devote much time to fishing and sea-mammal hunting. The Far East (Chukhotka, Kamchatka, and the Amur region), although included in much of the above discussion as part of Siberia, is thought of as a separate entity in many contexts; similarly, the Kazakhs and other peoples of northern and eastern Kazakhstan, although included in the discussion of Central Asia, are in many ways part of southwestern Siberia and are so classified in Russian-area anthropology.

For centuries, but especially in the Stolypin era (1906-1911) and during and after World War II, there has been migration, resettlement, and deportation into Siberia. Immigrant minorities include the numerous Siberian Germans, centered in Omsk, the well-organized and prosperous Dungans (from China), and the Koreans. Generally, indigenous peoples throughout Siberia still focus their livelihood on hunting, fishing, trapping, reindeer breeding, cattle raising, and the production of clothing. A few have low-status jobs in the cities or industrial settlements; some individuals of indigenous origin, however, are today leaders in politics, business, and the arts and sciences.

Despite its diversity and enormous spaces, the people of Siberia, or at least large blocks of them, including the Russian Siberiaki, share some values and characteristics such as physical and psychological adaptation to cold, small or relatively small extended families organized into large kinship networks, patrilineal organization (usually with clan exogamy), and, notably among the immigrant Slavs, an open or frontier-town mentality. Stereotypical of all Siberia was shamanism (the word "shaman" comes, according to some scholars, from the Tungus via Russian), shamans serving to protect group members from hostile forces, make predictions, and mediate between the human and supernatural worlds (e.g., as guides of the souls of the dead). Although devastated by Soviet antireligious campaigns, shamanism has survived in many places and today is experiencing a mixed revival—even a diffusion to the Russians in northern and eastern Siberia. Having reviewed the cultures, let us turn to a general, current problem.


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Sep 6, 2010 @ 2:02 am
Elucidating info. Is it possible to add a ' share/email' option on your page? I'd like it if I could send this to others. merci, Chamae

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