The Nganasans (/(ə)ŋˈɡænəsæn/; Nganasan:
ӈәнә”са(нә”) ŋənəhsa(nəh), ня(”) ńæh) are an
Samoyedic people inhabiting the
Taymyr Peninsula in north
Siberia. In the Russian Federation, they are recognized as being one
of the Indigenous peoples of the Russian North. They reside primarily
in the settlements of Ust-Avam, Volachanka, and Novaya in the
Taymyrsky Dolgano-Nenetsky District
Taymyrsky Dolgano-Nenetsky District of Krasnoyarsk Krai, with smaller
populations residing in the towns of
Norilsk as well.
The Nganasans are thought to be the descendants of Paleo-Siberian
peoples who were culturally assimilated by various Samoyedic peoples.
The Nganasans were traditionally a semi-nomadic people whose main form
of subsistence was wild reindeer hunting, in contrast to the Nenets,
who herded reindeer. Beginning in the early 17th century, the
Nganasans were subjected to the yasak system of
Czarist Russia. They
lived relatively independently, until the 1970s, when they were
settled in the villages they live in today, which are at the southern
edges of the Nganasans' historical nomadic routes.
There is no certainty as to the exact number of Nganasans living in
Russia today. The 2002 Russian census counted 862 Nganasans living in
Russia, 766 of whom lived in the former. However, those who study
the Nganasan estimate their population to comprise approximately 1000
people.[Note 1] Historically, the
Nganasan language and a Taymyr
Pidgin Russian were the only languages spoken among the Nganasan,
but with increased education and village settlement, Russian has
become the first language of many Nganasans. Some Nganasans live in
villages with a
Dolgan majority, such as Ust'-Avam. The Nganasan
language is considered seriously endangered and it is estimated that
at most 500 Nganasan can speak the Nganasan language, with very
limited profiency among those eighteen and younger.
3.2 Contact with Russians
3.3 Soviet Union
6 See also
9 External links
The Nganasans first referred to themselves in Russian as Samoyeds, but
they would also often use this term when referring to the Enets people
and instead refer to themselves as “Avam people.” For the
Nganasans, the term signified ngano-nganasana, which means “real
people” in the Nganasan language, and referred to both themselves
and the neighboring Madu Enets. However, in their own language, the
Avam Nganasans refer to themselves as nya-tansa, which translates as
“comrade tribe,” whereas the Vadeyev Nganasans to the East prefer
to refer to themselves as a'sa which means “brother,” but also
Evenk or Dolgan. The Nganasans were also formerly called Tavgi
Samoyeds or Tavgis initially by the Russians, which derives from the
word tavgy in the Nenets language. Following the Russian Revolution,
the Nganasans adopted their current appellation.
The Nganasans are the northernmost ethnic group of the Eurasian
continent and the Russian Federation, historically inhabiting the
tundra of the Taymyr Peninsula. The areas they inhabited stretched
over an area of more than 100,000 square kilometers, from the
Golchikha River in the west to the
Khatanga Bay in the east, and from
Lake Taymyr in the north to the
Dudypta River in the south. The
hunting areas of the Nganasan often coincided with those of the
Dolgans and Enets to their east and west respectively. In the winter,
they resided in the south of the peninsula at the edge of the Arctic
tree line, and during the summer they followed wild reindeer up to 400
miles to the north, sometimes even reaching as far as the Byrranga
The Nganasan are considered by most ethnographers who study them to
have arisen as an ethnic group when
Samoyedic peoples migrated to the
Taymyr Peninsula from the south, encountering
living there who they then assimilated into their culture. One group
Samoyedic people intermarried with
Paleo-Siberian peoples living
between the Taz and
Yenisei rivers, forming a group that the Soviet
ethnographer B. O. Dolgikh refers to as the Samoyed-Ravens. Another
group intermarried with the
Paleo-Siberian inhabitants of the Pyasina
River and formed another group which he called the Samoyed-Eagles.
Subsequently, a group of Tungusic people migrated to the region near
Lake Pyasino and the Avam River, where they were absorbed into Samoyed
culture, forming a new group called the Tidiris. There was another
Tungusic peoples called the Tavgs who lived along the basins
of the Khatanga and Anabar rivers and came into contact with the
aforementioned Samoyedic peoples, absorbing their language and
creating their own Tavg Savoyedic dialect. It is known that the
ancestors of the Nganasan previously inhabited territory further south
from a book in the city
Mangazeya that lists yasak (fur tribute)
payments by the Nganasan which were made in sable, an animal that does
not inhabit the tundra where the Nganasan now live.
By the middle of the 17th century,
Tungusic peoples began to push the
Samoyedic peoples northward towards the tundra Taymyr Peninsula, where
they merged into one tribe called “Avam Nganasans.” As the Tavgs
were the largest Samoyedic group at the time of this merger, their
dialect formed the basis of the present-day Nganasan language. In the
late 19th century, a group of Tungusic people called the Vanyadyrs
also moved to the Eastern Taymyr peninsula where they were absorbed by
the Avam Nganasans, resulting in the tribe that is now called Vadeyev
Nganasans. In the 19th century, a member of the Dolgans, a Turkic
people who lived east of the Nganasans, was also absorbed by the
Nganasans, and his descendants formed an eponymous clan, which today,
though linguistically fully Samoyedic, is still acknowledged as being
Dolgan in origin.
Contact with Russians
The Nganasans first came into contact with
Russians sometime in the
early 17th century, and after some resistance, began to pay
tribute to the
Czar in the form of sable fur under the yasak system in
1618. Tribute collectors established themselves at the “Avam
Winter Quarters,” at the confluence of the Avam River and Dudypta
River rivers, which is the site of the modern-day settlement
Ust'-Avam. The Nganasans often tried to avoid paying yasak by changing
the names that they provided to the Russians. Relations between
Russians and Nganasans were not always peaceful. In 1666, the
Nganasans ambushed and killed yasak collectors, soldiers, tradesmen,
and their interpreters on three different occasions, stealing the
sable furs and property belonging to them. Over the course of the
year, 35 men were killed in total.
The Nganasan had little direct contact with merchants and, unlike most
indigenous Siberians, they were never baptized or contacted by
missionaries. Some Nganasans traded directly with the Russians,
while others did so via the Dolgans. They usually exchanged sable
furs for alcohol, tobacco, tea, and various tools, products which
quickly integrated themselves into Nganasan culture. Another
import from the
Russians was disease. In the 1830s, and again from
1907 to 1908, the Nganasans were ravaged by smallpox outbreaks.
See also: Soviet Treatment of Siberian Minorities
The Nganasans first came into contact with the
Soviets around in the
1930s, when the government instituted a program of collectivization.
Soviets had established that 11% of families owned 60 percent of
the deer, while the lower 66% owned only 17 percent, and remedied
this by collectivizing reindeer property into kolkhoz around which the
Nganasan then settled. This represented a great change in
lifestyle, as the Nganasan, who had primarily been reindeer hunters,
were forced to expand their small stock of domesticated reindeer that
had previously only been primarily for transport or eaten during
periods of famine. Additionally, the
Soviets took a greater
interest in the Nganasans as a people, and starting in the 1930s,
ethnographers began to study their customs.
Despite collectivization and the institution of the kolkhoz, the
Nganasans were able to maintain a semi-nomadic lifestyle following
domesticated reindeer herds up until the early 1970s, when the state
settled the Nganasans along with the
Dolgans and Enets in three
different villages it constructed: Ust'-Avam, Volochanka, and
Novaya. Nganasan kolkhoz were combined to create the villages, and
after settling in them, the Nganasans shifted from employment in
kolkhozes to working for gospromkhoz Taymirsky, the government hunting
enterprise, which supplied meat to the burgeoning industrial center
Norilsk to the southwest. By 1978, all domestic reindeer herding had
ceased, and with new Soviet equipment, the yield of wild reindeer
reached 50,000 in the 1980s. Most Nganasan men were employed as
hunters, and the women worked as teachers or as seamstresses
decorating reindeer boots. Nganasan children began schooling in
Russian, and even pursuing secondary education. The Soviet planned
economy benefited the Nganasan by providing their settlements with
adequate wages, machinery, consumer goods, and education, allowing the
Nganasan to achieve a relatively high standard of living by the end of
The traditional religion of the Nganasans is animistic and
shamanistic, and has remained relatively free of foreign influence due
to the Nganasans' geographic isolation until recent history.
Main article: Nganasan language
Soviet Treatment of Siberian Minorities
^ John Ziker, who lived with the Nganasans for extend periods, always
cites the Nganasan population to be approximately 1000 persons in his
^ a b Ziker (2002), p. 208
^ State statistics committee of
Ukraine - National composition of
population, 2001 census (Ukrainian)
^ Ziker (1998)
^ Ziker (2002)
^ Ziker (2010)
^ Stern (2005)
^ Janhunen, Juha.
^ a b c d Popov (1966), p. 11
^ Dolgikh (1962), p. 226
^ Dolgikh (1962), p. 230
^ Stern (2005), p. 290
^ Dolgikh (1962), pp. 290–292
^ Dolgikh (1962), pp. 291–292
^ Dolgikh (1962), p. 244
^ Dolgikh (1962), p. 245
^ Dolgikh (1962), p. 247
^ Stern (2005), p. 293
^ Stern (2005), p. 290
^ Forsyth (1994), pp. 177–178
^ Dolgikh (1962), p. 248
^ Chard (1963), p. 113
^ Johnson & Earle (2000), pp. 118–119
^ a b Ziker (2002), p. 209
^ Ziker (1998), p. 195
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Trailer for the Russian film "People of Taimyr" (ЛЮДИ
Russian documentary "Taboo: The Last Shaman" (Табу
Uralic peoples speaking Uralic languages
Ethnic groups in Russia