Tofalar - Orientation

Identification. The Tofalar are an ethnolinguistic group and the indigenous people of an area called Tofalaria. Tofalaria, as the place where the Tofalar reside, is not a distinct administrative area within the Russian Federation. Thus, "Tofalaria" is a crudely conventional, albeit generally accepted, designation. It is located in two village soviets: the Tofalar and the Upper Gutarskii, both of which are in the Lower Neudinskii District ( raion ) of Irkutsk Oblast in Russia.

Location. Tofalaria is located on the northeast slope of the eastern Sayan mountain range and abuts on the north and east with the Krasnoyarsk Krai, on the southwest with Tuva, on the southeast with Buriatia, and to the east with other village soviets of the same Lower Neudinskii District. It lies between 95°37′ and 100°05′ E and 51°53′ and 54°59′ N and is thus relatively close to Central Asia. All of Tofalaria is in mountains covered primarily with larch and cedar. The heights of the spurs of the eastern Sayan range and the high-mountain plateaus are covered with alpine meadows and mountain tundra rich in reindeer moss. The northwestern and southwestern parts of the territory are a zone with almost no flora, and on the heights of the mountains there is always snow and ice. The elevations of many mountains are between 2,200 and 2,600 meters above sea level, although Pik Trianguloiatorov reaches 2,875 meters and Pik Grandioznyi 2,742 meters. The climate of Tofalaria is typical for the mountain districts of southern Siberia, and the higher the mountains, the colder and harsher the climate. In the valleys between the mountains the climate is milder. Winter temperatures range to — 15° or —20° C; summers are moderately warm (about 20° C), with frequent rains (especially in July and the first part of August) that cause flooding of the rivers. If the summer temperature rises to 30° or 35° C, a considerable melting of mountain glaciers and snow masses ( snezhniki ) increases the flood.

Demography. According to the 1979 census, there were 763 Tofalar in Russia, with 476 of them in Tofalaria itself. By 1985 there were 596 Tofalar in Tofalaria out of a total of 710; by 1989 this total was 722. In recent decades their number has generally increased: 543 for 1851; 456 in 1882; 426 in 1885; 417 in 1926; 560 in 1959; 620 in 1970.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Tofalar language is related to the Tuvan language in Russia, to the languages of the Tsaatans and Uigur-Uriankhai living in Mongolia, and to the languages of the Monchak and the Sayans living in Mongolia and China; all these together form the Sayan Subgroup of the Siberian Turkic Language Family. A writing system based on the Cyrillic alphabet was introduced for Tofalar in 1989, and instruction in the language in schools was initiated at that time. Until then, Tofalar existed only in spoken form.

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