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Traditions of the Indigenous Peoples of Siberia

The chapter is about how numerous ethnic groups of indigenous Siberians preserve the traditions and customs of their ancestors...

Siberia is a unique region of Russia, striking for its size, natural resources, history and diversity of ethnic cultures. About 36 indigenous peoples live in the vast territory from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific coast. Previously, the local population lived in small settlements, over time, some peoples gained the right to self-government in autonomous districts, others formed their own republics within the new Russia – Yakuts, Buryats, Tuvinians. Each people has its own unique traditions, but there were many similar ones. Today we will give more details on the traditional cuisine, clothes and holidays of the indigenous peoples of Siberia.

Food as Part of Cultural Heritage

Since the settlement of the territory of Siberia took place mainly along the banks of rivers and lakes, the preparation of fish dishes was traditional for all peoples. The fish was eaten raw, dried, salted, smoked. Among the exotic fish dishes are stroganina (slices of frozen fish served cold) and raskolotka (pieces of frozen fish served cold), when fish in their raw form are abundantly seasoned with salt, spices, onions and vinegar. The highlight of the Siberian region is considered to be the Baikal cisco (omul).

In winter, pelmeni (meat dumplings) were always on the table in every house. During the hunting season the whole family shaped pelmeni, exposed them to the cold and then put into canvas bags. When going hunting in the taiga, hunters took them with them, threw them into boiling water and got a rich and fragrant dish: This is kind of Siberian fast food.

Other well-known national dishes include Siberian-style meat, Buryat buuz that look like manti, and talqan, a dish of Altai cuisine made from fried and crushed barley grains.

National Clothes: to Feel Comfortable and Warm

The Siberians said about themselves: "A Siberian is not someone who is not afraid of frost, but who knows how to "be preserved" from it". Due to the specific conditions of nature, climate and history, the indigenous peoples of Siberia mainly had complex sets of clothes, shoes, and hats.

In the harsh conditions of the northern winter, men were saved by warm clothes without closures, which were called "malitsa". It was sewn from a deer skin, turned inside out with fur. A straight wide shirt made of bright calico was put on top, and a sokui was put on it, which was a long straight-cut fur garment with a hood and sewn mittens, flared down. A mandatory accessory of a men's suit is a belt: Bone jewels were sewn to it and a sheath was hung. Hats for men were: a coneshaped hat made of deer fur; nakukhtarnitsa (a fishing hat made of rolled wool, with a canvas blade at the back); nasheynik (a fishing fur hat made of squirrel, hare, and dog tails); lesovushka (a fishing hat made of rolled wool).

In winter, women wore wide long fur coats made of deer fur. The hem, flaps and sleeves of the fur coat were beaded and decorated with fur mosaic. In the second half of the 19th century, a dokha (dakha, a heavy fur coat) came into use. It was sewn from the skins of dogs or wild goats, long, with a voluminous collar and a wide fold. For a long journey, more often a coat of raw sheepskin was chosen. The most popular winter shoes were valenki (felt boots), which were made of wool of natural colors.

In the warm season, men's clothing was a long shirt, which was tied with a belt, and trousers. Women wore long linen shirts with gathers at the collar and wide sleeves, and over it they wore a summer dress decorated with ribbons, embroidery, and a belt. Depending on the season, women covered their heads with a headscarf made of wool, calico, silk or linen. On holidays and celebrations, Russian ancient headdresses such as kichkas and kokoshniks were also worn.

At the end of the 19th century, innovations in clothing began to spread widely in Siberia, and traditional types gradually receded into the background. Kosovorotkas (Russian shirt for men, with collar fastening at side) and jackets were in fashion for men, skirts with a jacket and ready-made dresses – for women.

Today, the national dress of indigenous Siberians can be seen during festivals and celebrations of ethnic cultures.

A Holiday as an Important Element of Culture

The holidays and rituals of the indigenous peoples of Siberia were formed over a long historical period. Many of them are connected not only with Orthodox canons (Christmas, Easter, Epiphany, Trinity), but also with profane rites: For example, such holidays as St. John the Baptist day, harvest, and the vernal equinox are dedicated to the Sun.

The most significant holiday among the Samoyedic peoples (the first indigenous inhabitants of Siberia) was considered the Day of clean raw-hide tent, associated with the end of the polar night. It was celebrated in late January and early February, when the winter sun reappeared in the sky after a long absence. On the holiday, a "clean raw-hide tent" was built, in which the shaman conducted magical rituals for several days without interruption.

The most popular holiday among the Shors (a Turkic–speaking people living in the southeastern part of Western Siberia) was called Shachyg and it was timed to coincide with the ice drift. At this time, sacrifices were performed by which people asked the spirits for help in hunting or thanked the spirits they worshipped. The second famous holiday of the Shors was Payram. It was celebrated after the completion of spring field work in June.

One of the famous national Buryat holidays is Surkharban, which means "shooting into sur". Sur is the target made of lumps of wool covered with leather. It is celebrated in early July, when people are not very busy with household chores. In ancient times, shamanic prayer services were held at this time with the involvement of faithful. Today this holiday is celebrated in an open stadium with three types of competitions: Archery, horse running and wrestling.

The culture of each people is unique. Today in Siberia, people remember many ancestral customs and strive to preserve them. Did you know such a variety of traditions among the indigenous peoples of Siberia?