Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Northern Selkup are divided into groups of hunters, fishers, and reindeer herders. Hunting is considered the most prestigious specialization. As a rule, good hunters also keep a small herd of reindeer (ten to thirty head), which is used for the long expeditions during the winter hunting season. Those who specialized in fishing were usually without reindeer. Hunters and fishers also were distinguished among the Southern Selkup, but such a division depended on the district of settlement: near the Ob, the Selkup specialize in fishing; in the upper reaches of the tributaries (of the Ket and Tym), in hunting. Horses were used for transport. Among the Northern Selkup, harnessed reindeer served as the means of conveyance (reindeer herding was borrowed by the newcomer Selkup from the Nenets and Evenki). Fishing on the Taz was carried out year-round by means of nets (in earlier times made from nettle fibers) or dammed structures with wicker-wattled snares of pine laths, as well as with fish spears and hooks. On the Ob, the catching of fish was halted during the time of the mass death of fish ("the rusting") from January to April. Besides fish, the products of the hunt—meat, pelts, bones of elks and wild reindeer, aquatic (in summer) and pine-forest (in autumn) birds—played an important role in providing their livelihood. Furs were used to pay tribute (iasak) and as a legal tender.
There is evidence that in the past the Southern Selkup engaged in limited agriculture, including the cultivation of tobacco ( çope ) and possibly of barley ( laaria ) . In the Narym dialect there are words suggesting the practice of agriculture: kyraç medy, "clear a thicket of forest"; vylial' dotyty, "loosen the earth"; soçaptiko, "cultivate, plant"; çokor, "millstones." The gathering of berries, nuts, and martagon (a species of lily) roots was widespread. Raw vegetable material supplemented the basic foods, meat and fish. Flat cakes of barley flour ( myrsa ) and martagon ( togul ) were baked, and a kind of brandy ( ul' ) was also prepared. One of the most widely prepared dishes was fish fermented in red whortleberry; another typical food was boiled or raw meat or boiled or fire-baked fish. Women prepared the food, whereas men procured the meat and fish.
Trade. In the nineteenth century a bunch of ten squirrel skins, sarum, was the basic exchange unit. A wolverine or a red fox pelt was equated with one such bunch, that of a polar fox or sable with three. In the seventeenth century a successful hunter could bag up to 200 sables and 2,000 squirrels during the winter season. In conversion into money a squirrel was worth 1 to 2 kopecks, a sable was worth 1 ruble (on the international market the price for a single black Narym sable reached 200 to 300 rubles per pelt). Imported goods vital to the Selkup were priced relatively inexpensively. Apart from furs, fish, reindeer, horses, bows and arrows, and boats served as goods in internal trade. In exchange with the Russians for furs, fish, berries, and nuts, the Selkup acquired metal tools, weapons, cloth, flour, tea, sugar, tobacco, and vodka. Taksybyl'kup (trade people) operating as middlemen emerged among the Selkup.
Industrial Arts. Property consisted of dwellings and household buildings (barn, storehouse, awnings, smoking sheds, pens for horses or reindeer, etc.); hunting implements (iron traps, bows and arrows, and guns and ammunition); fishing tackle (nets, seines, dams); and means of transportation (horse sleds, reindeer sledges, skis, and boats). The inside of the dwelling was divided into a female part (by the entrance) and a male part (opposite the entrance), where the corresponding female and male things (clothing, instruments of labor) were kept. The most significant possession of the woman was sewing equipment; of the man, a knife with belt and weapons. The Northern Selkup wore fur coats of reindeer hide, pargy; the Southern wore fur coats sewn from scraps of pelts (paws or ears) of squirrel and sable with boots and mittens from the skins of sturgeon.
In the pre-Russian period (before the sixteenth century) the Selkup had a highly developed ceramic industry: not only were various vessels prepared from clay, but also smoking pipes, sinkers for nets, smelting forms, crucibles, children's toys, and religious sculpture. Pottery has almost entirely vanished since the seventeenth century. At the same time weaving degenerated under the influence of trade based on the processing of nettle fibers, saatçu. Among the Northern Selkup, blacksmithery was preserved until recent times; earlier, the Selkup smiths, çotrl' kum, were famous among the neighboring peoples for their ability to forge weapons, armor, helmets, masks, mirrors, and adornments. At present, masters are honored in the preparation of boats among the Northern Selkup, as well as in the sewing of fur clothing.