Khanty-Mansi (Ostyako-Vogul) National Region: Encyclopedia Arctica 10: Soviet North, Geography and General

Author Stefansson, Vilhjalmur, 1879-1962

Khanty-Mansi (Ostyako-Vogul) National Region

EA-U.S.S.R. )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,

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,

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,

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

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.

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

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

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

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:

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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

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

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 Siberia. 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