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    Khanty-Mansi (Ostyako-Vogul) National Region

    Encyclopedia Arctica 10: Soviet North, Geography and General

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    )Eugene Golomshtok)



            The Khanty-Mansi (Ostyako-Vogul) National Region is situated on the

    West Siberian plain along both sides of the lower courses of the Ob and

    Irtysh rivers and covers an area of about 760,000 sq. km. between latitudes

    58° and 66° North. It is bordered on the west by the Ural Mountains and on

    the northeast and east by the Yamalo-Nenets National Region and the Krasnoi–

    arsk Region. The Capital, Khanty-Malisisk (Ostisko-Vogulsk), is situated

    on the right bank of the Irtysh River, 10 kilometers from its mouth. The

    territory was organized as a National Region in December 1930.

            The territory is uniform in relief, with small hills and large marshy

    areas and numerous small lakes. The principal rivers are the Ob and its

    right tributary the Irtysh, which, with their tributaries, play an important

    part in the economy of the region and form the main arteries of transporta–

    tion. The Ob River has six navigable tributaries from the right and five

    from the left. Amont the large left tributaries of the Irtysh is the Konda

    River (12,000 km.) which is navigable for 700 km. from its mouth.

            From the mouth of the Irtysh northward, the Ob Valley forms a meadow

    Composed of sand and mud deposits, 20 to 70 km. wide along its left bank,

    its right bank is high. The Irtysh flows through a valley 7 to 25 km. wide.

    Its left bank is [ ?] low and its right bank is high, rising in places

    almost 100 feet above the river level. Flowing through loose formations,

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    EA-U.S.S.R. Golomshtok: The Khanty-Mansi National Region

    both rivers constantly out their right banks, depositing the loose

    materials on the left sides and changing their courses as mcuh as 5 to 6

    kilometers a year. In the summer, both rivers flood their banks for tens

    of kilometers, at times covering as much as 60% of the marshy banks with

    water for a considerable length of time. This affects the mowing of hay

    or the period of free pasture for animals as well as the quality of the

    grass itself, which is often covered by muc and algae.

            The climate is cold and continental with comparatively warm summers

    and strong frosts in the winters, increasing in continental character as

    one moves eastward. The mean yearly temperature undergoes considerable

    variations; thus, in Surgut in 1932, it was minus 0.4° and in 1933 minus

    3.6° centigrade. The amount of atmospheric precipitation decreases toward

    the north, with half of if occurring during the summer months. The snow

    cover reaches its maximum during the month of March and varies from fifty cm.

    in the north to eighty cm. in the south, and remains for an average period

    of 198 days.

            The major portion of the region is occupied by peat-marsh soils. The

    river valleys are composed of dust-like sandy clays. North of the 63rd

    parallel permafrost is encountered.

            Forests, mostly of pine, cedar, fir, and birch, covers 21% of the area.

    The river valleys are covered by various grasses suitable for grazing and

    mowing, and there are as well a variety of wild berries.

            The fauna is rich and plentiful. Commercially important are the

    squirrel, hare, beaver, muskrat, ermind, fox, kolinsky, sable, arctic fox,

    brown bear, wolf, badger, otter, wild reindeer, and elk. The birds include

    a variety of geese and ducks, grouse, woodcock, field hen, etc. The most

    important fish are the Siberian sturgeon, Ob herring, nelma, mo k sun,

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    EA-U.S.S.R. Golomshtok: The Khanty-Mansi National Region

    taymen, carp, perch, pike, and salmon.

            Wood, brown coal, lignite, and peat form the main sources of thermal

    energy. There are quartzite sands, gold, and iron deposits.



            The history of the indigenous inhabitants of the region, Ostyaks

    (Khante) and the Voguls (Mansi) is not very well known. They are believed

    to be the result of a mixture of an as yet unknown group which lived at

    the lower Ob with the Ugrians, who came there from the steppes about the

    second century A.D. Both the Ostyaks and Voguls are liguistically classi–

    fied among the Ugrian subdivision of the Finnio linguistic family.

            This territory, known in Russian annals as the Ugrian country, attracted

    the interest of enterprising Novogorod merchants, who, from the eleventh

    century on, tried to penetrate the fabulously rich fur country across the

    Urals. A series of trading and military expeditions collected furs as a

    part of their tribute, first to Novogorod and later to Moscow. Attempts

    at uprisings resulted in a series of punitive expeditions. In the 16th

    century and the beginning of the 17th century, some of the Ostyaks were

    primarily fishermen for whom hunting was only a means of supplementing

    their diet. Other Ostyaks and Voguls were primarily reindeer breeders and

    hunters. They used their furs to obtain in trade: kettles, knives, axes,

    and lead.

            During the early stages of Russian colonization, representatives of

    Moscow dealt with the local head men, enlarging their power and rewarding

    them for their help in collecting tribute and in military expeditions

    against as yet unconquered groups. By the middle of the 17th century,

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    however, the local head men were no longer needed and the Tzarist govern–

    ment removed their special privileges, reducing them to the status of

    police agents. Collection of tribute was accompanied by graft and open

    robbery of the population, with gradually increasing official indebtedness.

            Over and above the normal tribute [ ?] of 5 to 10 sable skins, and

    additional tribute was paid for "the person of the Tear," and for the chief

    "voevoda" (military administrator) and his assistants. Early in the 18th

    Century, seven-year-old Ostyak boys and girls were bought for 25 kopecks

    each and registered as lifelong slaves.

            Christianization by force (under penalty of death) according to the

    order of Peter the Great opened possibilities for now exploitation. From

    1820-1835 all trade in the Berezov region was in the hands of the priest

    Ergunov, who sold vodka to the natives and bought furs for a quarter of

    their value.

            The reaction of the oppressed population was expressed by refusal to

    pay the tribute, running away deep into the taiga and tundra, occasional

    murders of officials, plundering of vodka warehouses, and organized uprisings.

            In 1607 the revolting natives surrounded the town of Berezov and for

    two months cut it off from the outside world, but they were later defeated.

    Such uprisings continued intermittently and culminated in 1712-1722 in a

    revolt against the missionaries which was cruelly crushed by the government.

            Russian industrial capital penstrated into this territory, rich in

    fish and furs, and took possession of the best fishing places. Too poor

    to have good fishing implements, the natives rented their fishing rights

    to the Russians and became hired workers, paid in goods. The illiterate

    natives never knew the dates of contract expiration and continued to be in

    a state of perpetual indebtedness to the merchants.

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            From 1911-1914 more than 10,000 tons of fish were caught, and nearly

    90% of it was shipped into Russian in a crudely salted form which spoiled

    the principal qualities of the product. The ruthless methods of fishing

    and hunting depleted the natural resources of the region. Sable and beaver,

    killed in tens of thousands yearly, were almost exterminated.

            Animal breeding and agriculture were engaged in only by the Russian

    settlers who arrived early in the 18th and 19th centuries from central Russia.

    Later with the development of shipping on the Ob, and the necessity of pro–

    viding fuel wood, lumber villages sprang up on the shores of the Ob.

            Economic exploitation and pressure on the part of Russian emigrants

    resulted in the decline of the native population. During one 90-year period

    in the Berezov region the Ostyak population decreased by 10% and the Voguls

    by 24%.

            The October Revolution resulted in the establishment of the Ostyako–

    Vogul National Region with 6 administrative districts (Kondin, Samara,

    Surgut, Lariyak, Berezov, and Shuyshkar), comprising 28 National soviets

    in which some measure of self government was achieved.



            Population figures for the Khanty-Mansi Region vary. According to

    one source, the Ostyaks at present constitute 18.8% and the Voguls 7.2%

    of a total population of about 82,000, the remainder being Russians and

    some other native Siberian groups. Another source gives a total population

    for the region of nearly 85,000 in 1935; and the Large Soviet Encyclopedia

    gives a total population for the region of 102,200.

            Ostyaks live throughout the region, the bulk of them in the Berezov

    (5,052), Surgut (2,698), and Kondin (110) districts. Others, together with

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    Voguls (up to 866 families), live in the basin of the Kypina and Malaya

    Soava rivers. The major part of the Voguls live in the Berezov district

    (3,424), in the Kondin district (2,380), and in the basin of the middle

    Konda river. The Russian population lives primarily along the low shores

    of the Ob, Irtysh, and Konda rivers.

            The Ostyaks and Voguls of the Kondin region, as well as the Ob and

    Irtysh Ostyaks lead a sedentary life, while the rest are semisedentary.

    Only 3.2% of the total population of the region is fully nomadic and this

    number is decreasing.

            Some ideas of the growth of the population can be seen from the

    following figures:

    1926 13,331 Ostyaks 5,252 Voguls 870 Samoyeds
    1936 14,341 " 5,644 " 910 "

            For three years (1933-1936) the birth rate increased 13.8% and

    mortality dropped from 35.6 per 1,000 to 21.8 per 1,000.


    Occupation & Industry

            Nearly one-third of the territory of the region is occupied by water.

    Fish are abundant, and fishing is the basic industry. Carp constitute 49%

    of the catch, with pike (23%), and salmon (17%), and others providing the

    valance. The amount of salmon increases toward the north and the amount

    of carp decreases.

            In Samarovo a large, complex fish-processing and canning factory has

    been built. It has various departments, taking care of fresh fish, salting,

    and finally, canning. The factory makes its won cans, barrels, and boxes,

    and has its own lumber mills, repair shops, and transportation facilities.

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    Its production grew from 751,600 rubles in 1933 to 1,500,000 rubles in

    1936. Seven other canning factories are now in operation. The factories

    of this region process the second largest amount of fish in any district

    of the U.S.S.R.; 2,500 persons are engaged in the industry, with an

    annual production of 5,000,000 cans.

            While only a small fraction of the rich lumber resources, estimated to

    be about 1,116 million cubic meters, was used prior to the revolution, there

    has been an increase in lumbering since the revolution. In 1936, 1/4 million

    cubic meters were removed. This increase was facilitiated by the construction

    of several sawmills after 1917, and it is hoped that the theoretical output

    of 7.3 million cubic meters annually can be reached in the near future.

            Hunting is also important, and the hunting territory occupies an area

    of 56 million acres. Squirrel, ermine, fox, sable, and muskrat (with muskrat

    being the most important) are hunted for their valuable furs. Conservation

    measures have been undertaken by the government. A state breeding and experi–

    mental farm for sable has been established, and eight thousand acres on the

    upper part of the Malaya Soava and Konda rivershave also been set aside as

    a natural preserve for fur-bearing animals. Various types of sable are

    crossed in order to obtain the best fur-bearing variety. These measures

    have led to an increase in the quantity of fur obtained.

            Many berries are processed at a jam-and-preserve factory in the town

    of Nakhrachakh in the Nonda area. There are also three brick factories,

    five wood-working factories, eight barrel factories, and several pottery,

    shoe, and clothing factories.

            The Mineral resources of the area include deposits of rock crystal

    in the Sura-Iz, Neirok, and Khusvoika mountains, producing 35% of the total

    output of this mineral in the U.S.S.R.

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            There has been a growth of agriculture and by 1937 an area of about

    25,000 acres was reported to be under cultivation, mostly concentrated in

    the two southern regions. More than half the acreage is taken up by grain

    and the rest by potatoes, vegetables, flax, and other plants which are for

    industrial use. The increase of mechanization and the use of modern agri–

    cultural implements enables this area to be self-sufficient in produce,

    and to supply the neighboring Yamalo-Nenets region with potatoes and

    vegetables. In 1936, livestock in the regions numbered 104,000 reindeer,

    21,400 horses, 34,300 cattle, and 18,000 sheep and goats. In 1936 the

    total industrial output reached the sum of 1,067,800 rubles.


    Education and Health

            The Soviet government's policy included plans to raise the material and

    social standard of living amont the minorities. In accordance with this a

    network of schools, totaling 168 schools, was established both for the Russian

    and the native populations and the number of pupils has increased 65 times

    since the revolution. By 1936 there were 60 native schools with 1,773 students,

    and 10 of these have boarding facilities for the students. Fifty-seven per

    cent of the Ostyak and 65% of the Vogul children go to school. In the native

    schools all basic textbooks for the first two years, as well as some litera–

    ture and newspapers, are published in the Ostyak and Vogul languages in

    specially designed alphabets. Libraries, motion picture theaters, reading

    rooms, hospitals, and kindergartens were organized. By 1935 there were 18

    hospitals, 63 clinics and maternity stations, and 10 medical stations in

    this area. A tubercular dispensary with X-ray equipment was built in

    Khanty-Mansisk, and in Semarovo there are two dental clinics. In the medical

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    school of Khanty-Mansisk there are 47 native medical students. Other

    cultural activities include work in 25 native clubs, a floating cultural

    base, and 25 traveling movies.


    1. Berg, L.S. The Geographical Zones of the Soviet Union. Moscow, 1947.

    2. Kartzov, V.G. The Short History of the Peoples of North-Western

    Moscow, 1937.

    3. Shumkov, V.I. Short History of Colonization of Siberia. In 17th to

    Beginning of the 18th Centuries. Academy of Sciences, 1946.

    4. Tarasenkov, G. "The Ostiako Vogul National Region." Soviet Arctic No.9

    1938, pp.43-61.

    5. Lamont, C. Peoples of the Soviet Union. New York, 1945.

    6. Large Soviet Encyclopedia

    7. Encyclopedic Dictionary of Brokhaus and Efron.


    Eugene A. Golomshtok

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