Power, Resistance, and Security: Papers in Honor of Richard G. Condon, Steven L. McNabb, Aleksandr I. Pika, William W. Richards, Nikolai Galgauge, Nina Ankalina, Vera Rakhtilkon, Boris Mymykhtikak, and Nikolai Avanum || Indigenous Leadership in Northwestern Siberia: Traditional Patterns and Their Contemporary Manifestations

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  • Indigenous Leadership in Northwestern Siberia: Traditional Patterns and Their ContemporaryManifestationsAuthor(s): Andrei V. Golovnev and Sergei KanSource: Arctic Anthropology, Vol. 34, No. 1, Power, Resistance, and Security: Papers in Honorof Richard G. Condon, Steven L. McNabb, Aleksandr I. Pika, William W. Richards, NikolaiGalgauge, Nina Ankalina, Vera Rakhtilkon, Boris Mymykhtikak, and Nikolai Avanum (1997),pp. 149-166Published by: University of Wisconsin PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40316430 .Accessed: 18/06/2014 13:15

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    ANDREI V. GOLOVNEV Translated and Edited by SERGEI KAN

    Abstract. Using archival materials, previous ethnographic works, and data collected by the author during ethnographic fieldwork between 1977 and 1994 among the Nenets, the Sel'kup, the Khanty, and the Mansi, this paper outlines the main characteristics of traditional (pre- and early contact) leadership in northwestern Siberia and the effects of Russian and Soviet colonial rule. I then examine in some detail modern manifestations of leadership in four different communities/regions, focusing on continuity and change in the system. Traditional leadership in Samoyed and Ob-Ugrian culture and society has been largely neglected until now.


    "From now on, you will be called Eldest Yaptik," Youngest Yaptik commanded to the next-to-the- oldest of his brothers. The story of "Five Yaptiks" (narrated to the author on Yamal in 1993 by Ngoet Tadibe, a Nenets storyteller) illustrates an intrigue, typical for the heroic folklore of the Nenets peo- ple, in which the younger relative suddenly as- sumes a senior role which had previously be- longed to an older one. Nenets legends usually begin with the oldest brother dominating the younger ones, but end with the youngest becoming the leader over the rest of his male siblings. We see here possible traces of ultimogeniture, which un- doubtedly was once part of the Nenets cultural values and practices. At the same time, these leg-

    ends illustrate the flexibility and "democratic" character of Nenets leadership.

    Archaeological surveys verify the existence of fortifications, dating from the early Iron Age and the Middle Ages (700 BC-AD 1600s), through- out the Ob River region in areas occupied by the Khanty, Mansi, and Sel'kup peoples. Ugrian and Samoyed folklore contains numerous references to military conflicts. In fact, such groups as the Koda Ostyak (now called Ob-Atlym Khanty), the Pelym Vogul (Southern Mansi), and the Pegaia Orda (Narym Sel'kup) each had a reputation for being the most bellicose among their neighbors. Their "capitals" were governed by "grand princes,"1 whose own status and rank as well as those of their satellites, called bogatyr's (Russian pl. for "mighty warriors"), were based on heredity and rank.2

    Andrei V. Golovnev, Institute of History and Archaeology The Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, R. Luksemburg 56, G20360 Ekterinburg, Russia

    ARCTIC ANTHROPOLOGY Vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 149-166, 1997

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  • 1 50 Arctic Anthropology 34:1

    This paper examines traditional leadership among the Nenets, Sel'kup, Khanty, and Mansi, in- digenous peoples of northwestern Siberia (Fig. 1). Continuity and change in response to Russian and Soviet pressures are also discussed.

    Historical Background Leadership among the indigenous peoples of northwestern Siberia (i.e., the Samoyeds and Ob- Ugrians) is largely unexplored in Siberian ethnol- ogy, and might be depicted in two major dimen- sions: in accordance with its social functions and in an historical context. The mutual interdepen- dence of these two aspects of leadership is evi- dent: the leaders' social roles were shaped by political events (especially Russian-Soviet colo- nization), while local political history was im- pacted by the activity of individual Native leaders.

    One of the main difficulties in an analysis of the historical patterns of Native leadership in northwestern Siberia is that Russian medieval chronicles and other sources describe it in very vague and uncertain terms. Consequently, the same accounts may be interpreted in radically dif- ferent ways. For example, in his analysis of the Ostyak (Khanty) folklore, Patkanov (1891), referred to Native princes and princedoms (Russian sing. kniazhestvd). Bakhrushin (1955), another promi- nent historian of Siberia, did not hesitate to speak about " Ostyak- Vogul feudalism" (Fig. 2). In con- trast to these two authors, Stepanov (1936) and many scholars after him saw no basis for such evaluations and characterized the traditional so- cial relations among the indigenous peoples of northwestern Siberia as "very simple and not highly developed."

    The Russian invasion and the subsequent military subjugation of the Native peoples of Si- beria took place in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (see Forsyth 1992). This era, which might be called the "epoch of Ermak" (after the head of the Cossack detachment first to conquer Siberia in the 1580s), was the last time that Native chiefs were fully free to play their customary so- ciopolitical roles. Some of the local military con- federacies' resistance against the Russian troops seemed to be well organized. For example, the Pelym Mansi made preventative strikes across the Urals upon the Russian fort Cherdyn', while a Khanty "army" of about 2000 fought on the Irtysh River against a detachment of Cossacks. The Sel'kup of the Pegaya Orda, in alliance with the fa- mous Siberian Tatar leader, Khan Kuchum, offered stiff resistance to Russian troops from the Surgut area. Also, a detachment led by a Russian prince, Shakhovskoi, was defeated at the mouth of the Taz River by the Yurak Samoyed (Yenisei Nenets).

    During the tumultuous seventeenth century, some of the chief political/military centers of the region, such as the Pelym princedom and the Pe- gaya Orda, were defeated, while a powerful Khanty princedom, Koda, was incorporated into the administrative system of the new colonial gov- ernment. The Native "small princes" (Russian sing, kniazets) and "aristocrats" or "best people" (Russian pl. luchshie liudi) gradually became the local elders or chiefs (Russian sing, starshina),3 playing the role of intermediaries between the Russian state and aboriginal people. Within the domain of the Native societies' own internal af- fairs, the attention of indigenous leaders tended to shift at this point away from the military-political and toward the religious affairs. Explicitly or im- plicitly, shamans began to assume leadership roles, especially in those societies where shaman- istic power had traditionally been an attribute of military chiefs.

    From the indigenous peoples' viewpoint, the eighteenth century was a period of forced baptism by the Russian Orthodox Church. This new stage of the Russian government's assertion of control over Native Siberians could be called the "epoch of Leshchinskii," after the archbishop of Tobolsk who organized the mass baptisms of the Ugrians and the Samoyeds. Many pre-Christian ritual and ceremonial sites were destroyed, and in several lo- cations churches were built upon them. Not sur- prisingly, shamans were persecuted, considerably weakening their influence. This led to a gradual increase in the influence of alternative leaders - the starshinas - whom the state considered legiti- mate.

    The nineteenth century could be called the "Speranskii epoch," after a famous Siberian gover- nor who codified, developed, and was responsible for enforcing the 1822 statute "On the Indigenous Peoples' Administration" [Upravlenie Inorodtsev; see Forsyth 1992:156-157; Slezkine 1994:83-88). That statute combined local customary law and Russian civil law into one system. In so doing, Russian authorities co-opted the Native sociopolit- ical structures by allocating local governmental functions within the Russian administrative sys- tem to Native leaders. By legitimizing those lead- ers, the 1822 law allowed the Russian authorities to regulate their activities "in accordance with state law." Thus, the new law became a major step towards making the indigenous leadership subor- dinate to the state.

    It is hard to determine how many norms of indigenous leadership disappeared during the three stages of the establishment of Russian colo- nial rule: (1) the military invasion, (2) the persecu- tion of pre-Christian rituals and shamans and the promotion of secular elders and chiefs, and (3) co- opting of the indigenous leaders. Nonetheless,

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  • Golovnev: Indigenous Leadership in NW Siberia 1 51

    Figure 1. Traditional territories of the indigenous peoples of northwestern Siberia.


    ) Mil ^ydan Pcninsu'a

    fnlfp ^ fll %f Vn-r/k

    /^ =^^

    i'Y ') C-\ l'i' Forest Nenets

    >- ^ > \v\ Khanty

    ~"x J 0^/ Mansi

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  • 1 52 Arctic Anthropology 34:1

    Figure 2. Medieval princedoms of northwestern Siberia.

    KARA SEA (3 o

    Yamal peninsula \/ / / \ V^^ Gydan peninsula

    ^ Kamennye Samoyeds J f f \ ^s^^^^^ s' (Nenets) ^J ) I r** ^S I

    SN \Koda princedom *

    \^ ^^J l*a1t ^s-S' - -^

    ^\ /? *J\ ^ (Sel'kup)

    Pelym princedom U_ ^^^7 j

    (Mansi)S i/ U_ ^r\/



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  • Golovnev: Indigenous Leadership in NW Siberia 1 53

    some of the forms of traditional or precolonial leadership have been retained to this day.

    Characteristics of Traditional Leadership

    Russian policies aimed at controlling and co-opt- ing indigenous leaders utilized various methods of transforming their main functions. Some of these functions, such as the military ones, were de- stroyed almost completely, while others survived but in rather different forms.

    In the pre- and early contact Samoyed and Ob-Ugrian societies, leaders did not significantly differ from each other in terms of specialization. The same person could simultaneously serve as a military chief, a powerful shaman, and a local ju- dicial authority figure. Nevertheless, several forms of leadership - military, religious, and administra- tive/judicial - can be sketched out here as ideal types.

    Military Leadership4 As Castren (1890:252), a prominent nineteenth century specialist in Finno-Ugric ethnology, noted:

    Long before they were visited by Ermak, primitive Siberian peoples had already acquired a great deal of experience in the bloody fun of war . . . Blood was often spilled as a consequence of internecine conflict between clans within the same tribe. The entire region was involved in a ... bellum om- nium contra omnes (Latin "war of all against all") . . . Eventually a few separate families within the same clan or tribe would unite and elect a chief or prince for their entire group.

    The Samoyed and Ugrian military ethic con- trasted sharply with the morality of their everyday life. All imaginable forms of violence against the enemy were allowed and even encouraged, includ- ing treachery, thievery, assault, and murder. Refer- ences to scalping, burning, and human sacrifice can be found in myths and historical tales. The specific features of a Native way of life, such as the Nenets pastoral nomadism and the relatively sedentarized existence of the Khanty and Mansi, had a major impact on the distinct norms and styles of Samoyed and Ugrian warfare.

    The Ugrians employed sophisticated meth- ods of defending their fortresses. In summer, they deployed boats on the rivers to annihilate enemies upon arrival. In fact, the sighting of an unknown boat in the distance could trigger an immediate alarm. A visit by strangers was considered to be an invasion, unless the guests behaved in accordance with particular social norms which signaled their friendly intentions. An uri (chief), who saw him- self as the strongest in his region would construct

    his fortified settlement upon the highest ground, while persons below him in status would settle on lower ground. One feature of Ugrian warfare is particularly remarkable. According to folktales, the urt's death inevitably led to the destruction of his settlement and the dispersal of its inhabitants. As the foregoing characteristics demonstrate, these forest- dwelling people lived in isolated, close-knit communities and had clear ideas of the bound- aries of their own lands and those of others.

    The nomadic Nenets, who often came across strangers on the tundra, had their own ritual for recognizing and testing potential foes. A standard sign of a challenge to fight was someone's knock- ing on the pole of a person's tent. Usually this knock was accompanied by the following words, "Would you like to be killed inside the tent, or would you come outside to fight?" For the Nenets, unlike the Ugrians, the idea of a foreign invasion into their territory was not sharply defined and, consequently, we find no fortifications in the tun- dra. Battles were conducted in open spaces. Ac- cording to Nenets tales, the best method of defense was supposed to be a rapid offensive raid against the enemy. Generally speaking, defense against an enemy meant the protection of the residents of a camp and its reindeer herd, rather than the de- fense of a particular territory. Escaping was not necessarily seen as defeat, but only a tactical ma- neuver, as is typical for many nomadic societies. In Nenets folklore, a fighter...


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