The Collections of the Peoples of Siberia and Far East Culture

Today the collection of the Russian Museum of Ethnography of the culture of the peoples of the Extreme North, Siberia and the Far East numbers about 50 000 ethnographic artifacts. Being the largest in the world, the collection of the Siberian region is the most valuable source characterizing all the aspects of culture of 36 Siberian peoples.

The Indigenous Peoples of Siberia and the Far East

The limitless spaces of Siberia embracing 67% of the territory of Russia are the motherland of 34 peoples. The sea animals' hunters: the Asian Eskimo, the Aleuts, and the Coastal Chukchi, the tundra reindeer breeders: the Chukchi and the Koryaks, the fishermen Itelmens live in the extreme North-East (Chukotka and Kamchatka); the fishermen and huntsmen:  the Nivkhs, the Nanai, the Ul’chi, the Orochi, the Oroki, and the  Negidals along the big rivers in the south of the Far East (Primorye, Priamurye and the Sakhalin Island). The South Siberia is the homeland of pastoralists and agriculturalists:  the Altaians, the Tuvinians, the Khakass, the Tofalars and Buryats. In Western Siberia fishermen – the Khants and the Mansi,  huntsmen -  the Selkups and reindeer breeders – the Nenets live.

The Nganasans the huntsmen of wild reindeer and the reindeer breeders Dolgans and Entsi inhabit the Peninsula of Taymyr. The huntsmen Evenks are dispersed along the entire territory of the Eastern Siberia and the huntsmen and fishermen Yukagirs, and the reindeer breeders Evens live at the junction between the Eastern Siberia and the North-East. The central part of the Eastern Siberia and west of the North-Western Siberia are homeland of the Yakuts second in number people of the Siberian region, the northernmost horse breeders in the world.

The First Collectors

The base of the RME vast and extremely valuable collection of  the peoples of Siberia and the Far East was established in the first decade of XX century when such brilliant persons and insightful researchers of peoples' everyday life as D.A.Klemetz, E. K. Pekarsky, V. K. Arseniev, A.A. Makarenko, F. Ya. Kon, V. N.Vasiel'iev and S.I. Rudenko gathered collections for the museum.

Many of them got interested in research of local population's culture being in political exile in harsh conditions of Siberia. Invaluable contribution to the museum collection was also made by local residents: officials, teachers, local historians.

The First Exhibits

In 1902 the first collection of the Evenks’ male fur clothes, items of hunting and reindeer breeding handed to the Ethnographic Department by the district head from the Yakutskya oblast was registered. The second museum collection comprised the leather utensils for making kumis already rare in that time  presented by A. I. Popov, also the local resident in 1901.

Engaging  the Local Intelligentsia

From the moment of creation of ethnographic museum its first director D.A. Klementz, responsible for the vast region of Siberia, placed particular expectations on the aid of local correspondents and engaged them in cooperation.

The A. I. Popov's  Yakut Collection

The Councilor of the Yakut District Board A.I. Popov was one of the first who responded. He engaged in work the renowned ethnographer, folklorist and linguist E. K. Pekarsky who served his sentence of exile in Yakutia. A. I. Popov gathered more than 900 ethnographic artifacts of the Yakut culture including a set of ritual objects, bridal dowry, festive horse harness and  the objects of shamanic cult.

The E. K. Pekarsky  Yakut and Koryak Collection

E.K. Pekarsky bought from the Yakuts about 400 exhibits: cult objects, items made of mammoth tusk, carved wooden calendars, utensils and jewelry. The figurines of birds, sea and land animals, shamans, and scenes of the Koryak daily life carved of walrus tusk are of particular interest.

The N. P. Sokol’nikov Collection of the Peoples of the North-Eastern Siberia

In these years the vast collection of walrus tusk figurines was received from the State Councilor  N.P. Sokol’nikov and the physician N.V.Slyunin.

In total N.P.Sokol’nikov could gather more than 2 600 objects on the culture of Chukchi, Koryaks, Evens, Eskimo, Kereks, Chuvans and Aleuts. His wife Eudoxia of the Chuvan and Koryak descent helped him to   establish contacts with local population, to gather and to process material. Especially valuable artifacts of the Aleut culture in this case are wooden headdress of huntsmen of marine animals, clothes of bird skins and intestines of marine animals, toys woven of grass. The Koryak funeral clothing, cult masks and women curing bands are also unique.

The V.I. Iokhelson Kamchatka and the Aleutian Islands collections

The collection of 700 items on the ethnography of Koryaks, Evens, Aleuts and Itelmens gathered by renowned scientist V.I.Iokhelson in 1909-1911 entered our museum together with the collection of the Museum of Peoples. Up to the date this collection comprises the museum golden fund on these peoples.

The administrator of mining industry in the Peninsula of Chukotka G.A.Borisov and the assistant of the head of the Petropavlovsky District K.D. Loginovsky actively participated in formation of collections.  In these years they gathered about 800 daily life items on the edge of disappearance among the Chukchi, the Asian Eskimo, Aleuts, Evens, Koryaks and Itelmens. 

The Results of V.K.Arsen’iev Travels to the Far East

V.K.Arseniev, renowned traveler, ethnographer, writer, whose entire activity was closely connected with the peoples of the Far East, played brilliant role in formation of the museum fund. He knew well and sincerely loved local residents who saved his party of   freezing and hunger death in the cold winter of 1909.  He handed to the fund of the Ethnographic museum more than 200 objects of the daily life of Orochi, Nanais, Ul’chi.

The Collections of the Renowned Game Manager and Geographer D.K. Soloviev

From 1910 the renowned game manager and geographer D.K. Soloviev and the ethnographer V.N.Vasil’ev actively gathered collections by commission of the museum. Still being a student of the Geographical Faculty of the Saint Petersburg University D. K.Soloviev went to the Far East where he purchased ethnographic objects on his own expense  (partly recompensed later) among the Orochi, the Udege, the Ul’chi and the Nanai. D.K.Soloviev could gather more than 1000 objects characterizing all the aspects of life of the researched peoples. The most valuable of them are cult objects, shaman costume, carved utensils of the Bear Feast, funeral male clothes.

The Legendary Person – the Ethnographer V.N.Vasil’ev

The culture of the Nivkhs, the Oroks and the Negidals was profoundly studied by another collector, legendary and brilliant man V.N. Vasil’iev. During expedition of 1910-1911 in course of eight months of constant field work in extremely difficult conditions V. N. Vasil’ev gathered about 2 600  objects of culture of these peoples. The collection contains really unique and highly valuable from aesthetic point of view artifacts: the set of objects of the Bear Feast, fish skin covers for chum, male funeral costume with embroidery of the deer neck hair, shaman attributes.  D. K. Soloviev gathered the only in the world collection of culture of the Manegir, the particular group of the Evenks living in the upstream of the Amur River.

Contribution of A.A. Makarenko in the Formation of the Collections

Important contribution to formation of Evenk collections was also made by renowned ethnographer and folklorist, the former political exile A. A. Makarenko.  The ethnographic materials gathered by him number about 800 exhibits. The most valuable objects of his collection are the complete set of shamanic chum, ritual hunting clothes of the Syma Evenks, hunting tools, smithing instruments, children toys of the Transbaikalian Evenks-Oroquens. A. Makarenko engaged local residents in gathering of collections and successfully directed their collecting activity. For instance, during several years the Siberian peasant P.T. Voronov gathered for the museum collection characterizing allmost all the aspects of the culture of the Evenks of the Srednya and Nizhnya Tunguskas. The objects gathered by local engineer E.V. Bliznayk by commission of A.A. Makarenko include the unique birch bark boat and the attributes of shamanic cult. 

The Work of D.M. Golovachev Among the Evenks

The acquisitions of the renowned social activist, writer and statistician D. M. Golovachev became valuable addition to the museum  Evenk Oroquen collection. His collection contains instruments for treating skins, utensils, children cradles and attributes of shamanic ecstatic ritual kamlanie and burial. 

The Buryat Collections. The Role of M.N.Khangalov and Tz.Zh.Zhamtzarapo

In first decade of the XX century the main gatherer of Buryat collection was the teacher, the ethnical Buryat. With deep understanding and knowledge of material M.N.Khangalov gathered more than 300 objects, significant part of which comprise the ongons (the images of ancestral spirits) of different functions: pastoralist, hunting, curing and family ones. The exhibits of similar type purchased among the Eastern Byryats were received from the famous orientalist and philologist Tz. Zh. Zhamtzarapo. Apart of the ongons, his collection contains the objects of shamanic cult, lama's clothes, the Buddhist icons and amulets. This collection is particularly valuable due to the fact that alongside the widespread Buddhism the collector could find and purchase from the Aginsky Buryats the unique objects of shamanic cult.

The Buddhism in its Lamaism form deeply penetrating life of the Buryats is represented in two small but very valuable collections purchased from the renowned collector the Prince E.E. Ukhtomsky and later from his son D. E. Ukhtomsky.

Collection Gathering of D.A.Klementz and His Assistant in the Altai

In 1904 the expedition to the Altai of the Director of the Ethnographic Department D.A. Klementz was realized, in course of which more than 600 objects were gathered.  The collection reflects all the aspects of culture of the Altaians-Telengits, first of all - the shamanism. In the same years significant contribution to the museum collection was made by the official of the Excise of the Irkutsk Governorate A.V.Adrianov.

The main part of the A.V. Adrianov's collection was gathered among various groups of the Khakass. He paid particular attention to gathering of collections among the Kyzyltsi and the Koibals whose traditional culture was rapidly disappearing in the early XX century. 

The Contribution of F. Ya.Kon to the Altai Collections

The collection of the famous ethnographer and anthropologist F.Ya. Kon consisting of 250 objects became an excellent addition to the collection of the culture of the Kachintsi.

In 1902 he stared his work among Tuvinians. F. Ya. Kon established good relations with local population to whom he provided all the possible kind of aid including medical treatment.  The explorer could gather precise information about the process of ecstatic ritual kamlanie, write down the precise text pronounced by shaman during this ritual and reveal the semantics of images on the shamanic clothes and the attributes of shamanic complex. 

F.Ya. Kon gathered more than 1000 objects establishing the base of the largest in the world collection of the Tuvinian culture. The complete shaman costumes, bronze mirrors playing important role in ecstatic ritual, the cane of the shaman-beginner replacing the drum, amulets against various illnesses, the unique headdress of lama have particular value. 

The Unique Tofalar and Shors Collections

The small Tofalars (Karagas) collection   became the common thread between the culture of the peoples of South and Western Siberia. The main collection numbering more than 300 objects of the culture of this people was gathered by V. N.Vasil’ev. It reflects all the aspect of the people’s traditional culture. The most valuable addition to this collection became 48 objects handed from the State Museum of the Peoples of the USSR in 1948. Among them there are a complete shaman costume, drum and beater, taken from the shaman’s burial by the ethnographer I. A. Evsenin. It was done with consent of Innokentii Bukhturbaev С — the father of deceased shaman.

The culture of the Shors — the people of the South Siberia is represented in the museum funds by small collection gathered by the renowned researchers the ethnographers L.  P. Potapov and A.K. Supinsky in 1934. It contains the objects of the first quarter of XIX century, among them the huntsman clothes sewn of home-made fabric is of particular interest.

The Contribution of S.P.Rudenko to Formation of Siberian Collections

The major part of collections of the Khant and Mansi culture was gathered by the correspondent of the Ethnographic Department, S.I. Rudenko the student of the Saint Petersburg University in that years  during his expedition to the Governorate of Tobol’sk in 1909-1910.  Up to the date the results of his expedition strongly impress many researchers. He did colossal work on the highest professional level. The excavations of the Obdorsky Burial yielding unique paleoethnographic materials on the Khants’ culture were carried out, more than 600 photographs were taken and processed and anthropometric measurements were made.  The collector acquired more than 2000 ethnographic objects of Khants, Mansi and Nenets cultures. The Nenets collection of S. I. Rudenko is the largest sample of the culture of this people. The unique set of objects used by Khants and Mansi at the Bear Feast which was already great rarity in that time is the most interesting.

The Collections on the Yuraks’ Culture (the Yenisei Nenets)

The replenishment   of the Yenisei Nenetsthe culture  of the tax inspector and local historian P.E. Ostrovskikh became addition to the collection of S.I. Rudenko gathered among the main group of the Nenets. The main part of ethnographic artifacts (about 1500 objects) was gathered by him among the Tungus, the Nganasans, the Yakuts, the Dolgans, the Kets and the Selkups inhabited the Turukhansky Krai of the Yenisei Governorate. The collection of P.E.Ostrovskikh contains unique and very rare exhibits among them are calendars, cult objects, shaman clothes and attributes.

The collection activity of museum carried out in the late XIX — early quarter of XX century established serious base for the formation of collections of cultures of many indigenous peoples of the Extreme North, Siberia and the Far East. 

The Results of the Expeditions of the 1920s for Replenishment of Funds

The formation of funds on the culture of the peoples of the Extreme North, Siberia and the Far East was restarted from 1920s. In 1923 thanks to the resources provided by the Glavnauka the first large expedition under leadership of S.I.Rudenko to the Transbaikalia and the Irkutskaya Oblast took place. The  museum fellows and renowned researchers A. A.Makarenko and A. P.Barannikov were also participants of expedition.  They succeeded in acquiring vast collection of the culture of the Buryats characterizing   various aspects of culture of this people: hunting, livestock breeding, fishing, agriculture, clothes, home crafts, dwelling, jewelry, education of children and beliefs.

About 280 Buddhist objects were gathered for museum in the Buryat datsans; most of them are unique. In 1923 the complex expedition under leadership of the renowned scholar B.N. Gorodkov was organized by the Russian Academy of Sciences for comprehensive exploration of the basin of the Ob River and its population. The museum unsalaried assistant R.P. Mitusova, who gathered large collection of the Agan Khants culture, was included in the expedition In the next year she continued her gathering activity in the basin of the River Pur of the Tobolsky District among the scarcely known group of the Forest Nenets. In result of these trips the museum collection was replenished by valuable in scientific respect and well annotated collection of 850 objects.

In 1924  the complex Sayan-Altai expedition in the hardly accessible  eastern part of Altai took place.  During the expedition in spite of difficulties with communications and lack of funds the museum fellows S. I. Rudenko and A. N. Glukhov could carry out the ethnographic research of various groups of the Altaians.  The participants of expedition realized the paleoethnogarphic exploration, researched economic activities, lineage structure, kinship system, family relations, beliefs and the pantheon of deities of the Altaians.  Particular attention was paid to the evolution of dwelling. In result of this expedition about 500 ethnographic objects entered the museum.

In the summer of the same year the paleoethnographic expedition of the leading archeologist and historian of Siberia S.A.Teploukhov to the Minusinsky Krai took place. Its participant E.R.Schneider gathered small collection of 14 Khacass groups: Sagaitsi, Kachintsi, Kyzyltsi and Koibals. The significant part of exhibits  are livestock breeding objects, ornamental motifs stencils and examples of embroideries. The cult images tos are the most interesting of them. He also continued collection gathering in the Far East in 1927. The initial area of his research was the downstream of the Amur River, the area of inhabitance of the Nanai and the Negidals.

The fieldwork here started with archeological excavations transformed into gathering of ethnographic artifacts and resulted to be very sucessful. In result of this business trip about 900 items reflected all the aspects of the Nanai culture were gathered. 

In the late 1920s E.R.Schneider studied the taiga people Udege. During the calendar year he lived in the Jongo encampment and taught literacy to local population. The results of his trip were successful: about 200 objects, 400 photographs, 400 pages of ethnographic notes.  The collected materials embrace almost all the life sphere of the Udege of the Basin of the Khor River. The most brilliant of the material objects are richly ornamented birch bark utensils, examples of embroidery, clothes sets, and wooden cult objects. The ethnographic drawings supplement the collection of E. R. Schneider. 

From 1923 to 1930 the museum fellows participated in twelve expeditions to the Siberian region. All these expeditions were characterized by comprehensive exploration of region including collection of ethnographic, statistic, anthropological, archeological, botanical and geological materials. In 1929 total quantity of exhibits in the Siberian funds was 97000 numbers.

The Peculiarities of Collections' Formation in 1930-1940s

The 1930s, the time of repression were rather difficult period for the Ethnographic Department. New task were given to the museum which reflected in all kinds of museum activities including expeditions. Alongside the ethnographic materials the material stripped of the national specifics like newspaper, statistic data, posters, etc. was gathered. In this problematic time decrease of expedition gatherings occurred.  From 1933  to 1937 the Division of Ethnography of Siberia and the Far East organized only five expeditions which included ethnographic and archeological parties, but they didn't made significant contribution to replenishment of the museum funds.

The collection gathering was interrupted in the period of the Great Patriotic War. After the war until 1950 the main activity of department was concentrated on reconstruction works and from 1948 on registration of the collections handed from the State Museum of the Peoples of the USSR.

Restart of Expedition Collection Gatherings in the Early 1950s

In the first after-war decade cultural artifacts were acquired generally for constructing permanent exhibition "The Peoples of the North". In 1951 two expeditions: the first one of N.N. Nikitina to Nenets National District and the second of M.A. Kaplan to the Evenk National District took place.

The 1955 is important date in formation of collections of the Division of Siberia. From that time the constant collecting of exhibits by the Division fellows, who started to travel to Siberia for relatively long time renewed. Just from the  1955 to 1958 6 such expeditions were carried out. 

The Contribution of M.A. Kaplan and E.P. Orlova to the RME Collections

In these years the Division fellow M.A.Kaplan played significant role in replenishment of funds. Working among many peoples of the North in the hardest conditions of the Extreme North she gathered more than 1000 objects, filling the gaps in the acquisitions of previous decades. Not only ethnographic intuition but also the knowledge of the languages of the researched peoples helped her in her work.

In the same years the head of the Division of Siberia E.P. Orlova collected material in the downstream of the Amur River and in the Sakhalin. During two field seasons she also gathered more than 1000 objects of culture of the peoples of region. The significant part of collection is wedding- funeral clothes and other objects of funeral cult. Up today the collection of E. P. Orlova and M.A. Kaplan serve as a base for research work and used on numerous exhibitions.

The Gatherers of 1970-1990s and Their Collections

The gathering activity of the Division successfully continued by other fellows in following decades. Throughout 1960—1970s the main ways of replenishing funds were still systematic, targeted expedition collection gathering. 

In 1960-1970s the expeditions of L.G. Lel'chuk to Buryats took place. She could significantly replenish the collection of the culture of this people, in particular she could acquire in the Buryat datsans the collection of very interesting objects of the Lamaism.  However, the larger part of her collection including about 500 objects was acquired later among the Yakuts, whose culture L.G.Lel'chuk studied for many years.

In 1960-1980s successful expeditions of M. S. Popova to the Khants and Mansi, the European Nenets, the Nagansans and the Dolgans succeeded. M.S.Popova could acquire the folk clothes disappearing of use, utensils and other objects of traditional culture. Together with the collection of the Koryaks and Evens of Kamchatka her collection reaches 500 exhibits.

The head of the Division P.I. Karal'kin, the ethnic Kumandin studied the culture of the South Siberian peoples. Although his collection is relatively small (about 200 objects), the role of P.I.Karal'kin in the joint expeditions with the famous scholar L. P. Potapov devoted to research of traditional beliefs and shamanism of the Altaians was very significant.

In 1970—1980s collection gathering was continued in the areas of the Far East Region. Two multidisciplinary paleothnographic expeditions to the Chukotka Area of the Magadanskaya Oblast headed by the Director of the State Museum of Ethnography of the Peoples of the USSR D. A. Sergeev took place.  Together with the participant of expedition B.Z. Gamburg they gathered about 800 objects of the culture of the Asian Eskimo and the Coastal Chukchi. The only in country complete set of the sea animals' hunting instruments and the works of the craftsmen of the Uelen bone carving workshop are of significant interest.

In 1970-1990s formation of collections of the peoples of Siberia was succesfully continued by the next generation of the Division fellows carefully using traditions and experience of older colleagues.  For example, the head of the Division V. V. Gorbacheva and I.V. Kulikova, the ethnic Chukcha gathered collection of the Chukchi culture. They acquire about 600 objects, among them the yaranga — traditional dwelling of the Chukchi, unique instruments for fire drilling, the woman-shaman clothes.

In 1970s the head of the Department of the Ethnography of the Peoples of Siberia and the Far East L.A. Fotiy started to study and collect objects of the Evenk culture, and in 1980s this work was successfully continued and performed by T. Yu.Sem up today.

The collections gathered by them are good addition to the collections of the Evenk culture of the beginning of the past century. T.Yu.Sem also acquired more than 150 objects of Negidals, Chukchi, Evens. In the last decades N.B. Margolina actively worked on replenishment of collections of the peoples of the southern Far East.  She gathered more than 500 objects among the Nivkhs, the Oroks, the Nanai, the Ul'chi and Orochi, significant part of them comprise clothes, utensils, carpets, birch bark and wooden works of folk craftsmen abundantly decorated with traditional ornament.

In the last years the main gatherers of   collections of the culture of the peoples of the Western Siberia (the Forest Nenets, the Khants, the Mansi) are I. A. Karapetova and K. Yu. Solovieva.

The Volume and Research of the RME Siberian Collections

In present time the collection of the Russian Museum of Ethnography of the culture of the indigenous population of the Extreme North, Siberia and the Far East numbers about 50 000  ethnographic artifacts. Being the largest in the world the collection of the Siberian region is the extremely valuable source characterizing all the aspects of culture of 36 Siberian peoples. The largest of the entire fund is the Buryat collection (more than 4000 exhibits).  Significant part of it comprises the Lamaism objects. The collection of the Evenk culture (more than 3000 exhibits) is second in number. 

It is invaluable source about traditional beliefs and in particular about the shamanism of the peoples of Siberia. The collections of ethnographic artifacts of Tuvinian, Yakut, Chukchi, Nanani, Nenents, Khants, Mansi, Koryak, Even and Altai cultures are a bit less numerous; each of them numbers about  2000 objects. There are also small in number (no more than 200-500 objects) but very valuable collections of the Nganasan, the Asian Eskimo, Negidal. Dolgan, Ket, Sel'kup and Itelmen cultures.

Being the invaluable ethnographic source the museum collections are often used for making temporary exhibitions, creation of the museum permanent exhibitions, constantly attract researchers from different countries and used in scientific publications and illustrated editions.

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