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Collection on culture of the peoples of the Volga and Urals regions

The Middle Volga region and the Urals is particular cultural-historical region geographically situated at the junction of Europe and Asia. It predetermined its multinational character. Among the main massive of Russian population the peoples belonging to two large ethno-linguistic groups − Finno-Ugric one (Komi, Udmurts, Mordva, Mari) and Turkic group (Chuvashes, Tatars, Bashkirs) live here. All these people passed complex way of ethnogenesis  in course of which mutual influence and diffusion of culture took place, that’s why every people is subdivided into a series of local groups with their cultural  specifics.  

Gathering of collection in the early XX century

The bases of collection of 30000 items were established in 1902-1914: the period distinguished by very active collection gathering. It was typical for this time acquisition of collections by museum personnel during expeditions and involvement in collection gathering of famous scientists and local correspondents. Among the latter were peasant and craftsmen, priests, local teachers. Among the people dedicated their life to study of history one shouldn’t fail to mention such scholars− experts in Volga ethnography as G.H. Akhmarov, M.E. Evsevev, I.K. Zelenov, S.K. Kuznetzov, S.I. Rudenko, S.I. Sergel, I.N. Smirnov. A.A. Miller, N.B. Nikolsky.

Other sources of museum replenishment with collections  

The significant part of collection entered the museum from the State Museum Foundation and the Glavvystavkov and exhibitions: the Paris World Exhibition (1900), the All-Russia Craft Exhibition 1902, the All-Soviet Agricultural Exhibition (1923) and Craft-Industrial (1925). Moreover, interesting exhibits come from Antireligious and Archeological Cabinets from the governments of the Volga republics.   

In 1948 together with collections of Moscow Museum of the Peoples of the USSR the RME received materials of the largest expeditions — the Eastern-Finnic and Votskaya realized by this museum in 1920s.

Gathering of materials in contact zones

After establishment of Separate Department of the Peoples of the Volga Region and Urals in 1938 systematic gathering of exhibits to  fill the gaps on these people started.  In result of many years of expedition and collection activities of the Department staff headed by well-known ethnographers G.A. Nikitin and later T.A. Kruykova the storages became sufficiently complete and diverse in their thematics.  

In 1960-1990s special attention was paid to collection of materials reflecting complex ethnic processes of mutual influence and diffusion of cultures of neighboring peoples. The exhibits from the areas with mixed multinational population, so-called contact zones provoke particular interest in this respect.

Today the collection on ethnic culture of the peoples of the region is the largest and the most comprehensive respecting ethnographic themes and geographical scope of all the museum collection on the territory of Russia. The scientific value of this collection is priceless; the scholars from regional specialized scientific-research institutions, professors of higher schools, post-graduate students and students constantly consult it. The museum collection was also used for composition of regional atlases on history of national culture of the peoples of Volga region. Many monographs and articles are written on its base.

At the first stage many collectors simultaneously gathered exhibits among several peoples. To these scholars one can group S.K. Kuznetsov, worked among Mari, Komi, Chuvahes and  Bashkirs, S.I. Rudenko  studied Bashkirs, Mari, Chuvahs, Komi, and the peoples of Siberia, I.K. Zelenov traveled to Udmurts, Tatars-Kryashens, Besermyans, I.N. Smirnov  studied U dmurts, Besyarmayns, Mordva, Mari, Tatars-Kryashens and  T.A. Kryukova worked among Komi, Mari, Udmurts, Besermyans, Tatars, Chuvashs, Bashkirs. In result of activity of these enthusiastic people the base of the Department’s collection was formed.

One can also include in number of these collectors S.I. Sergel who gathered about 500 various objects on the culture of Komi-Zyrians which have great museum value.

The unique contribution of S.I. Rudenko

S.I.Rudenko was equally enthusiastic collector who being a student of Saint Petersburg University started gathering of collections among Bashkirs and later other peoples of the Volga region in 1906.

About 8000 items gathered by S.I. Rudenko for the museum in various regions of Russia comprise 52 collections; of which 18 collections with total number of 2000 items are on the peoples of Volga region. Particular value has exhibits on traditional culture of Bashkirs.

In his report of 1907 S.I. Rudenko wrote: “In these collections the entire Bashkiria is quite comprehensively represented…Respecting completeness of collection I can also note that I don’t consider it to be full, however, it can lack just ten or twenty original objects (in respect of variation of existing) items, which ocassionaly escaped my attention or remained beyond the areas I studied.

The Modrva collections of S.I.Rudenko contain old woman clothes, jewelry, utensils. All the exhibits are accompanied by detailed annotations with indication of local terminology. The material on the Chuvash Pre-Christian beliefs is unique: yerekhi — Chuvashs’ guardian spirits, anthropomorphic wooden tombs, instrument for making “living fire” with which incensed village during epidemics and epizootic Most of these rarities were published by S.I. Rudenko in his articles and books.

I.K. Zelenov and his collection

The collections acquired for the museum by I. K. Zelenov are scientifically comprehensive. He was countryside teacher and knew folk culture from inside. Having permission of the Ethnographic Department I.K. Zelenov as early as in 1904 sent to museum collection on culture of Udmurts, among the items of which particular place belong to the objects of traditional cult. 

The value of collection of Udmurts cult objects and study of their use in ritual practice undertaken by I.K. Zelenov can hardly be underestimated not only in scientific respect, but also in relation with question about so called Multan Affair. Not long before Zelenov’s trip the criminall case against a group of Udmurt priests of the village Multan of the Sarapul District accused in performing rituals with human sacrifices was opened. The real picture of Udmurt secret prayers, where human sacrifices were unthinkable recorded by I.K. Zelenov in expedition at legal process allowed to withdraw charges in fact brought against the entire people.

Equally interesting is collection of Chuvash Pre-Christian rarities, among them a bast box – the dwelling of yerekh, the spirit-protector of lineage women.

The collection of I.K. Zelenov  on the culture of Besermyan a small ethnographic group of Udmurts, the question of ethnogenesis of which is still  discussing is also unique. The clothes in collection of collector presented with detailed annotations were valuable base for research on the problem of Besermyans origin.

Particular place of M.E. Evsevev among collectors.

M.E. Evsev’ev - the people teacher, one of enlighteners of the Mordva people occupies particular place among collection gatherers of the Department. In 1908-1914  he established close ties with museum and in the time free of his teacher’s work carried out  active collection gathering in main areas of Mordva living. He gathered 31 collections containing the articles of clothes, utensils; some of them date to XVIII century. These are ancient wedding shirts pokai, some types of belt pendants, headdress, and adornments. Being intermediate link between archeological objects and materials of XX century the objects of this type are interesting for study of development of costume and archaic phenomena remained in ornamentation, separate details of clothes and technique of their making.  The archive of the Russian Museum of Ethnography contains huge and valuable documentary material collected by him as supplementary to collection of artifacts.

The collection of G.H. Akhmarov and I.N. Smirnov

The Professor G.N. Akhmarov - great expert in ethnography of the peoples of Volga Region, especially Tatars was among the collectors who helped to form collection of the Volga Region at the Ethnographic Department. The Tatar collection of collectors contain the articles of house furnishing - embroidered towels, prayer rugs (they were hanged on house walls) clothes, woman jewelry, objects of cult. The G.T. Akhmarov collection on Tatar costume is reliable source for study of clothes in social age and gender respects. The researcher paid much attention to gather objects among city Tatars.

According to commission of the Ethnographic Department the exhibits on culture of the peoples of the Volga region were purchased by the Professor of the Kazan University I.N. Smirnov. In 1902-1914 he explored Mordvinian, Mari, Udmurt, Tatar and Chuvash villages and acquired more than 400 objects. Some of them for example the clothes of Mordva-Karatai are unique because long ago got out of use and don’t represented in any other museum of Russia.

Outstanding role in formation and studies of collections of the region

In the late XIX - early XX cc. the interest of progressive Russian intelligentsia in traditional national culture was so high that not only ethnographers, but also scholars of other specialization: archeologists, geographers and artists enthusiastically gathered exhibits for established Ethnographic Department.  One of these successful collectors was archeologist Professor P.P. Efimenko. During excavations in Tonsheevskya volost of the Kostroma Governorate in 1908 he simultaneously gathered ethnographic objects. He acquired big and interesting collection of Mordvinian clothes (650 items). Unfortunately it almost wasn’t annotated. To fill this gap and introduce the collection in scientific circulation, in 1934 T.A. Kryukova repeated the route of P.P. Efimenko; the result of this trip was significant informative and explicative material for this collection.

T.A. Kryukova occupies special place among renowned researchers and collectors on ethnography of the peoples of the Volga region and the Urals. She worked at the Russian Museum of Ethnography 45 years studying cultural traditions of the Finno-Ugric people, predominantly of the Mari. In 1932 she started systematical expedition research in culture of the Mari people; she gathered the main part of the Mari collection of the Soviet period. During fourteen field seasons and numerous business trips she explored various groups of Mari both living in autonomous republic and beyond its borders.

T.A. Kryukova belongs to this unique type of scholars who give to work their entire life. In result of long-termed expedition work the storages of department were replenished with 68 collections consisting of 4 000 keeping items.

According to plans composed by the first head of department G.A. Nikitin and T.A. Kryukova, the systematic exploration of those areas where pre-revolutionary collectors couldn’t visit was suggested. Most frequently these are the localities where a small group of people live surrounded by other nationalities, firmly conserving some elements of lifestyle, long ago lost by ethnos in the main territory of living. 

Acquisitions of 1970-90s

Further from 1970s the fellows of the Department of Ethnography of the Peoples of Volga Region and the Urals many times carried out ethnographic exploration and collection of materials among ethnographic and confessional groups of various peoples living in contact zones. The results of these expeditions were fruitful and unexpected. For instance, during the expedition to  North Udmurts of the Kirovskya in 1977-1979 with participation of T.A. Kryukova, E.N. Kotova and L.M. Loiko the costume sets long ago lost by the Udmuts living on the main territory  and date to XVII-early XIX cc., were acquired.  

They have strict social age division: the costumes of old women, widows, young married women, maidens, including old maids— all these can be detected by specific patterns on shirts. Expeditions to Eastern Mari, “Bavlinsky” Undmurts (small ethno-local group migrated from the southern areas of Udmurtia to the southern areas of Tataria and south-eastern Bashkiria in XVII-XIX cc. were also fruitful.  There like among the North Udmurts the entire costume sets and separate parts of clothes already non-existing in the areas of the main geographical distribution of ethnos.

From 1950s one more direction of gathering activity was acquisition of modern applied art objects. For this purpose department personnel carried out exploring of  folk craft teams  including  “Pakha-tere” (“The Beautiful Embroidery”) of Chuvahes, the plant “Laborer” of Mari,  the “Agidel” of Bashkirs and selection of the best examples of these crafts production.  In 1980-1990s the storages are replenished through purchasing-storage commission and thanks to some donators.   

The volume of collection

In result of many years of collection gathering by full-time fellows and museum correspondents today the Department’s collections numbering more than 23000 artifacts and about 7000 photographs are unique source base for researchers.

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