Khanty - History and Cultural Relations

The first documents to refer to the Khanty indicate they had relations with Novgorodian traders in the eleventh century. Linguistic, archaeological, and folkloric evidence indicate that nomadic ancestors of the Ob Ugrians, possibly fleeing Christianization, had come north by the ninth century from steppes farther south. Crossing the Urals, they mixed and fought with indigenous populations and may have developed their dual phratry (or moiety) social system at that time. Conflicts with ancestors of the Mansi, Komi, and Nenets resulted in captives, who were made wives, slaves, or sacrificial victims. The Khanty paid tribute to the Tatar Khanate of Sibir from the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries.

In 1582 some Khanty decided to side with the famous Cossack Ermak against the Tatar Khan Kuchum. To the Cossack's joy, a delegation of Khanty elders bearing furs and wearing jewels and silk arrived in the Cossack camp. Ermak assumed that these elders were princes with greater authority than they actually had, but the alliance lasted long enough to defeat Kuchum. Both before and after, trade relations proceeded with mutual benefit and, sometimes, misunderstandings. Khanty paid what Muscovites and Novgorodians considered a fur tax, iasak, in return for gifts and trinkets that the Slavic traders saw as insignificant. Colonization followed Kuchum's defeat, although a few Khanty uprisings persisted into the seventeenth century. Some rebellions against Moscovite rule involved coalitions of Tatars, Samoyeds, and Ob Ugrians. In 1604 the Khanty attacked Berezovo, a Cossack outpost built where a Khanty sacred grove had stood. They were led by disillusioned members of the elite Alachev family, earlier favored by Moscow and even christened before the czar. Christian proselytizing took place soon after conquest; Khanty children taken hostage were among the first to be converted. Tax incentives were offered for Khanty to become Orthodox, and sacred ancestor images were burned.

Russian settlers at first focused on the southern parts of Khanty territory, displacing some Khanty northward. By the nineteenth century Russians had moved to riverside villages throughout the region and a few had intermarried with the Khanty. Concern for Siberian natives was reflected in the liberal reforms of 1822 initiated by Count Speranskii and in periodic campaigns to curtail the sale of alcohol to natives by unscrupulous traders. Some Khanty joined a native revolt led by the Nenets Vauli Piettomin in the 1840s. By the twentieth century officials were alarmed at reports of disease, poverty, and population decline, especially among Khanty living in more southern areas.

In the north the Soviet era began as a rumor. Stories reached the Khanty of a Russian war, the czar's death, and "Lenin's new road." Most Khanty were not directly involved in the wave of destruction that swept Siberia during the civil war, as Red (Bolshevik) forces fought the Whites of Kolchak. The Khanty were worried, however, about village burnings on the Irtysh and supply shortages. A few Khanty revolutionaries, such as Ernov and Druzhinin, exposed traditional Komi enemies as Whites and eventually helped organize Soviet collectives. Native councils were formed with the guidance of the Moscow-based Committee of the North in 1924. The Ostyak-Vogul District, established in 1931, became the Khanty-Mansiisk District in the 1940s.

Collectivization involved a process of settlement, sometimes forced, of Khanty nomadic reindeer breeders, hunters, and fishers. Culture bases, kul'tbazy, established at Kazym and Lariak, were model collective centers, with schools, medical points, and stores. But the Khanty identified kul' with a word for "evil spirit." A 1933 revolt in Kazym resulted in Khanty taking Russian officials hostage, fleeing to the tundra, and eventually being arrested. Collectivization was not consolidated until the 1950s, when many people were again moved into larger villages.

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