Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Russian Intermarriage with Indigenous Peoples of Siberia Gave Rise to New Nationalities

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Nov. 1 – Moscow has long played up cases of the assimilation of non-Russian peoples to the Russian nation, but it has not wanted to talk about moves in the opposite direction, when Russian intermarriage with indigenous peoples has led to assimilation in the opposite direction and even the rise of entirely new nationalities.

            Not only does that raise questions about the inevitability and irreversibility of Russification, but it highlights something else – the strength of certain non-Russian identities which in some places mean that the latter are more likely to assimilate Russians than be assimilated.

            Nonetheless, there are cases of this pattern which can’t be ignored, especially in Siberia and the Russian Far East where the original Russian colonizers were almost exclusively men and where even since that time there have been more males than females and where Russian men have intermarried with indigenous women.

            In many cases, the indigenous women assimilated to the Russian community; but in others, the reverse happened or a Métis community arose. That phenomenon has led ZenYandex to publish an article entitled “What peoples in Asia and Siberia arose on the basis of Russians?” (zen.yandex.ru/media/centralasia/kakie-narody-v-azii-i-sibiri-voznikli-na-osnove-russkih-619c7889f169457c0e38a31c?&).

            The most prominent of these communities consists of the Albazintsy, who were formed when Cossacks married Chinese women and then moved to China where they continue to exist and attract the attention of Russian Orthodox leaders because despite their appearance and identities, they remain Orthodox in religion.

            A second group is the Kamcahdaly. These are a branch of Itelmens, who intermarried with Russian and became more or less separate because they combined local knowledge with Russian concerning agriculture and thus proved more prosperous than either of those groups among whom they lived.

            A third group is the Gurany, which arose in the Transbaikal as the result of intermarriage between Russian men and Buryat, Mongol, and Manchu indigenous people. Today, the term is often used to refer to all the residents of that region because almost all of have some non-Russian ancestors.

            And yet a fourth such group are the Russko-Ustinsty, a metis community which arose on the basis of intermarriage between Russians and Sakha. Many of its members stopped speaking Russian by the end of the 19th century and lived apart, but in the 20th century, a process of re-Slavization took place. Some of them now refer to themselves as Sakhalyary.

            Russian demographers and officials typically refer to these groups as sub-ethnoses of the Russian nation, but it appears that many of their members view themselves and are viewed by those among whom they live as separate nationalities.


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