Selkup - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. The Selkup social structure was much altered under the influence of the Russian and Soviet state systems. As far back as the seventeenth century there were the "best people" ( somal'kumyt ), "the rich" ( koumde ) , "simple people" ( manyrel'kumyt ) , "paupers" ( segula ), and "slaves" ( koçgula ) . The shamans played a special social role, often as leaders of individual communities or territorial groups. According to legend, magic single combats and actual duels arose between shamans of various associations, as a result of which one overcame the other and appropriated his power—his spirit helpers.

Political Organization. The Selkup were not a unified political entity. On the contrary, there are several legends about clashes between individual clans and territorial groups. As a rule, communities settling the basin of some small river were considered a unit. Such communities numbered several tens of families. Their territory was demarcated in the upper reaches of the river by a sanctuary, in the lower reaches by a cemetery. Earlier, at the head of such communities stood heroes ( sengira ) and princes ( kok ). The territory subject to the prince was called pontar (edge/side); it formed as a result of conquests. After the defeat of the Piebald Horde, these leaders gradually became middlemen between the native inhabitants and the Russian administration. The communal meeting, takol, was mainly occupied with economic problems.

Social Control. The basic issues, regulated by the norms of customary law, were land ownership, property arguments, and inheritance. The Selkup had three types of land ownership: çevçom —the land of the family, inherited by the husband's line; matarym —clan lands, to which belonged the common hunting ground at a distance from the settlement; and edika-da-çonje —collective settler grounds. Social norms require the provision of mutual aid. Also, in case of their infringement, there were severe punishments, including death (for example, for the breach of çevçom). Property was considered the personal property of the owner (manufacturer); in case of the death of the owner, a significant portion was placed in the grave or alongside it. Use of another's things was considered prohibited. Thievery was seen as a dangerous illness, subject to shamanic treatment. In the interrelations between kinsmen and affines there existed the custom of mutual giving (exchange of gifts). Criminal acts fell under the jurisdiction of the local district or province administration. Acts of civil status were recorded in the registry of birth of the Orthodox church.

Conflict. Intracommunal conflicts were usually resolved by the heads of the families or, in special cases, by shamans. The most significant clashes were interethnic. War ethics, in opposition to those of times of peace, encouraged ferocity, cunning, violence, and thievery in relation to foreign tribes. Legends recount wars of the Selkup with the Nenets, Khanty, Evenki, Siberian Tatars, and Russians. The uncompromising nature of relations with enemy groups is indicated by Selkup folklore, in which the Selkup cultural hero Lyia often appears in the role of warrior and conqueror of foreigners.


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