Tofalar - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The traditional activity of the Tofalar is husbandry of domestic reindeer. Their reindeer are the largest in the world. Tofalar use them as mounts and transport loads on their backs. When riding they use horse saddles of the Buriat type, with stirrups. For transport they use a special type of pack saddle. Reindeer mares were milked and the milk was used as food. The reindeer gave the Tofalar hides for clothing and the winter coverings of their tipis. Reindeer meat was also used as food, although the basic Tofalar diet consisted of the meat of wild ungulates (hoofed animals)—Siberian deer, elks, and musk deer. They also used the meat of large birds—capercaillies, partridge, geese, and ducks. They cared for their domestic reindeer because of their basic value as pack animals; without the reindeer it was impossible to move across the mountain taiga and the high-mountain tundra. The Tofalar hunted sables, Siberian polecats, and squirrels for their fur, using rifles and accompanied by dogs. The furs were used to pay taxes and to buy necessary goods. Fishing in rivers and lakes was an ancillary activity and did not have a major significance in the Tofalar economy. In addition to the curing (jerking) of meat and the drying of reindeer milk for winter use, dried saran (pl., sarana ) tubers were prepared in large numbers, and wild onions were also dried. In addition, during harvest years in the taiga, Tofalar prepared the meat of cedar nuts for eating. Thus, their traditional economy was three-fold: husbandry of domesticated reindeer, the hunt for game and furs, and the preparation of edible wild plants. Products such as flour, groats, salt, sugar, tea, tobacco, and alcohol were purchased from traders in exchange for furs. The Tofalar also bought various materials for clothing. Today they work in the state-run industrial economy that was created in the territory in 1967 on the former state farms.

The activities of the Tofalar at present remain the same as described above, although, of the gathering activities, only the collecting of cedar nuts has survived (having acquired significance in trade). Sedentary life permits them to keep (in addition to their hunting dogs) cows, hogs, and horses, and to grow potatoes and other vegetables. Domestic reindeer, which were collectivized in 1932 along with the hunting territories, became the property of the economic system in which the Tofalar work as hired reindeer shepherds, state hunters, and general laborers.

Industrial Arts. There were no specialized crafts or artisans. The Tofalar prepared all that they needed themselves from wood, birch bark, and leather. Metal products, including personal decorations, were usually purchased.

Trade. Before the Revolution the Tofalar mainly bartered with Russians, Buriats, and Mongol traders; they acquired saddles of Buriat and Mongol manufacture, hunting knives, axes, felt saddlecloths, harnesses, treated sheepskin, and diverse textiles and ornaments. In the 1920s, with the introduction of consumers' cooperatives among the Tofalar and the abolition of the tax in furs, they began to sell furs to the government for money, with which they then purchased goods.

Division of Labor. Men hunted, fished, pastured reindeer, and manufactured various useful objects from wood and birch bark. Women ran the home economy, cared for the children, prepared the food, and prepared and stored products such as jerked meat, dried sarana, onions, and reindeer milk; they chopped wood, fetched water, milked the reindeer does, cured hides, and sewed clothes from skins and textiles. In addition, they managed the nomadic movements of the family: they packed and unpacked the reindeer and took down and reassembled the tipis.

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