Face Music - Settlements in Siberia - Southern Altai
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P & C December 1998
- Face Music / Albi

- last update 03-2016

more information: in German

Development of settlements in Siberia and the Southern Altai

The Bukhtarma valley is situated in Eastern Kazakhstan – the Bukhtarma is a tributary of the river Irtysh in Semipalatinski Rayon, which origin lies in China – settlements, their development, songs, traditions and costumes – a report by Olga Abramova – Director of the Folk-Centre Pesnokhorki in Barnaul

- Settlements in Siberia

Fur traders from Novgorod already in the 12th century had advanced into the Siberian area. Only some time later, this trade business was expanded under the trader family Stroganov and finally controlled by them. Under the order of Tsar Ivan IV "the Terrible" (1533-1584), this land was continuously settled. Settlements (Setches) were developed and forts (Stanitsa) built, woods were cleared and salt exploited. Don Cossacks under the command of Hetman Jermak undertook expeditions into this area. They advanced further towards the East by ship. In 1590 nearly thirty families were migrated to Siberia, and in 1593 the first exiles were deported to Siberia. Russia pushed settlements towards the East and promoted agriculture; this was accompanied by payment of taxes. The expansion of this territory by means of conquest reached its climax at the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th century, which was partly a result of these expeditions and partly a consequence of later crusades realised by the Cossack leader Ermak Timofeyev between 1583 and 1585 behind the Ural. The Khanate Sibir was annexed by the Russian Empire. Years later, 1639 – 1640, the Cossack leader Ivan Juriewitsh Moskitin advanced with his comrades and troops of the Tomsk army as far as the Pacific coast. In 1648 the Cossack leader Dejneff discovered the channel (today Bering land bridge). Under Ataman Dmitrij Kopylov ships sailed across this sea and finally reached Alaska. Conquerors came in contact with the Chinese for the first time along the Amur River. In 1689 they were forced to restore their conquests at the upper Amur to the Chinese. Further important expeditions were brought about by the journey of the Danish captain Vitus Bering during the years 1733-43.
An opening up of the Southern Altai took place in the year 1723. Mineral resources (iron, ores and also gold) in abundance in this Altai mountain range (the Golden Mountains) initiated a real boom. Mines were opened, and workers were recruited. In 1754 the Government began the systematic exiling of convicts and prisoners to Siberia, where they were partly settled on the land and partly employed in the mines. Within Siberia, there was a great increase of colonizing movement in the nineteenth century; from the thirties on there were a great number of exiles. Numerous Lithuanians and Ruthenians (1), who had opposed the forcible union with the Orthodox Church, and Poles (2) who had joined in the revolt, were banished to Siberia.

  • (1) The denomination "Ruthenians" for these tribes living in the Carpathian mountains goes back to the Austrians (it also includes Slovaks, Poles and the actual Ukrainians, who had spoken a uniform dialect rather similar to today's Ukrainian). They called themselves Rusyn.
  • (2) Siberian Catholics belong to the Archdiocese of Mohileff. They are largely Poles or the descendants of Poles and Ruthenians who were banished to Siberia on account of their religion; this was especially the case when Zar Nicholaj I (1825-1855) in 1827-39 sought to convert the Uniat Ruthenians and Lithuanians by force to the Orthodox Church, and when thousands of Catholics and several hundreds of priests were deported to Siberia after the Polish revolt of 1863.

Every Russian emigrant who has received the permission of the Government to go is granted 15 dessiatines (40.5 ares) of farming land as his own property, besides three years without paying taxes and nine years being released from military duty. But the migrants were people who at home had been harassed by such diseases or sicknesses as typhus that had been introduced by Europeans, the additional harm done by brandy and the debits (debits that were made for goods that had been given in advance and difficut repayment due to bad harvests or being tied up to certain traders for credits granted – exchange of harvests).

Apart from traders, adventurers and Cossacks, there were also workmen coming to Siberia. The farmers who had migrated to Siberia began to cultivate this fertile land and brought with them western structures and administration to this wild land. These migrants also brought their working experiences and cultural traditions with them. This resulted in a change of and influence on the local and economic situation there. Also geographical and climatic conditions have brought about new-orientation. The migrants have developed certain local attitudes and characteristic features in common with the indigenous population.

- Settlements in the Southern Altai

Migrants, for the very first time, established settlements in the middle of the 18th century in the Southern Altai at the upper course of the river Irtysch and in valleys next to it (today's Eastern Kazakhstan). Upon edict of Tsar Peter I, the Great (1682-1725), forts were erected at the upper course of the river Irtysh, this representing the so-called Irtysh line (1716 - 1720). From the fort Ust-Kamenogorski to Lake Zaisan there were erected further forts; these were later called the Buchtarminski line. Additional colonization with farmers was further promoted by the administration. They hoped that together with farmers and Cossacks it would be possible to better defend and protect these frontier line. By establishing garrisons and forts at the upper course of the Irtysh and by guaranteeing that these settlers will be provided with food, the idea behind was that important conditions had been created therewith in order to attract new settlers who were to guarantee the protection of the frontier to the Chinese territories. The colonization at the expense of voluntary farmers, however, developed only rather slowly, and the administration had to make the decision that migrants transferred for disciplinary reasons and Raskolniks (Old Believers) were invited into here.

After a church reform in the 17th century the majority of the Old Believers (those being faithful to the old belief) (3) had fled to Podolija and into other Polish areas (Russian citizens). They had settled down, however, since then. In the year 1762 the Senate passed an edict on the basis of a manifest issued by Tsarina Catherin II, "the Great" (1762-1796), giving order to resettle these Old Believers into the Altai. The dissidents who had fled to Poland because of religious persecution now were granted amnesty, and they were offered return to Russian sovereign territory. Those who were coming home voluntarily were guaranteed absolute suspension of sentence, and they were given two possibilities: either return to their former home residences or move on to different villages. The aim was, especially in the Siberian area in the administration district of the Fort Ust-Kamenogorski along the rivers Ube, Ulbe, Berjosovka, Glubokaja or at other tributaries, to promote this type of settlements for people returning home. They were promised double salary, which had already been offered by Tsar Peter I. The former refugees, the Raskolniks who now got the name Poljaks were asked to return to Russia without fear of a sentence. A part of these Poljaks came voluntarily. A big part, however, was exiled to Wetka, Siberia, after having been smashed by General Mayomaslov. 20,000 people were forced to resettle, and many of these people moved to the Altai. Hence, first Poljak settlements were established in the Altai in the year 1764, (4) namely: Shemonaicha, Losikha, Staroalejskoje, Sekisovka, Ekaterinovka, Bobrovka.

  • (3) Old Believers: Under Tsar Aleksej I, the Weak (1645-1676), the Patriarch Nikon (1605-1681) tried to clear the lithurgy from contradicts infiltrated and to go further back to the rites of the Byzantine Church, which was met by harsh resistance by many Old Believers, the "Raskolniks - Dissidents".
  • (4) Archive research studies by Professor Aleksenko N. W. on Russian settlements in the Southern Altai and by Pallas P.S. in the middle of the 18th century.

Professor N.W. Aleksenko and Professor P.S. Pallas visited a number of Russian settlements (villages) in the valleys of the rivers Ulba and Uba, which had been founded on the place of outposts by people fled from the Central Ukraine, these settlements including Shemonaicha, Sekisovka, Verch, Ubinsk, Bobrovka. Only Shemonaicha is a settlement that was established in modern history as a built (structured) settlement; others are seen as original settlements existing for a longer time. The village Staroalejskaja became the biggest Poljak centre. These settlements very soon resulted in new settlements: Bolskhaja Retshka, Bystrkcha, Malenkaja Ubinka. New settlements established by Poljaks at Uba and Ulba were driven farther back, nearer and nearer to the mountains. It could be seen that these settlements developed scattered about a huge territory, and also the Poljaks did not mix with the Siberian Raskolniks (Old Believer). Because of their isolation, Poljaks, for many decades, strongly maintained their specific way of living. In the last decade of the 18th century and with the beginning of the 19th century Poljak settlements expanded onto the territories of the Altai area such as Vladimirskaja, Ubinskaja, Ridderovskaja, Tsharykhskaja, Anujskaja, Altaiskaja, Aleiskaja. Proof for the firm isolation was the fact that they did not mix, even with the Poljaks, being closest to the Bukhtarminski (Old Believer).
In Bobrovka, Sekisovka, Werkhnjaja Uba the families from Poland united with the Russian soldiers withdrawn who also were Old Believers, with former Vetkovzy. This was the reason why there were developed two lines of Old Believers: at the beginning, these two lines united in the Western area of today's Ust-Kanski Rayon in the Gomo-Altiski Altai, an autonomous area (Poljaks and Jasashnye Bukhtarminski-Ujmonski). They were allowed free registration for double salary. The same was true for the Shemonaikha groups. Before the revolution, these settlements had been denominated Shemonaivo and Shemonaivskoje. In 1770 the scientist and explorer Professor Pallas P .S. visited Shemonaikha for the first time with an expedition. His reports remind of a "journey through different provinces of the Russian empire 1768 - 1774". At the river Shemonaikha he had found a village with 30 farms erected on the place of a former Cossack outpost. The inhabitants were people migrated from Poland with Russian ancestors.

In 1842 the Altai, the Tuva and Kazakhstan were visited and explored by further travellers. The geologist Peter Alexandrovitsh Tshikharjov examined settlements. Nikolaevskie Rudniki and Talovski Rudnik wrote reports. Tshicharjov also informed about other local populations. So he writes, after we had left the Shemonaikha valley, we found in another big valley many villages settled by settlers with confessions known in Russia who here sought freedom and independence to practise their belief. They are different because they are religious and faithful to the dogma, which they practise without any form of fanatism. These people are good people, and they know how to work. It was not unusual to cultivate land in this Uba area, although it was never easy to cultivate these mountainous territories. The people were happy and satisfied. Nature also promoted beekeeping, and the profession of beekeeper became a respected occupation.

In 1857 the scientist Semjonov-Kranyshanski P .P. and his escort travelled into the Altai and wrote a report on their journay. After visiting the Nikolaevski canyon, they travelled through the steppe until Uba and found opposite Shemonaikha, according to their words, a blooming, much bigger settlement. At the end of the 19th century, members of the West-Siberian Department Shvezova visited the Altai and wrote a report about the Poles (Poljaks) of the area of Smeinogorski. The village had grown into a typical settlement in Siberia, and it had turned, with the help of migrants, also migrants with German roots, into a real town. A presentation of the areas of Tomski and Biysk is given in documents dated 1884. In here, also the Ubinski Rayon with the respective Shemonaikha is included.

In 1797 these Poljaks were called to work in the mines. Hence Kolyvano-Voskresenski were given the opportunity to fulfill a wish uttered by the Tsar himself and to attract workers to the surrounding of the Syrjanovski shaft. There were established the new settlements and villages Kondratyevo, Turgusun, Porygino, Snegirjovo, Bogatyrjovo, Solovjovo, Solonovka. The village Turgusun was founded in the year 1798. Several hundreds of kilometres away from the centre of this area, there is given evidence of the paradise-like mountain Belovodje. The word turgusun-altayski means "the blue water". The source of the river Turgusun lies at the massif Maralukha where the village had been founded at its foot; the first settlers were Old Believers. In Mai 1791 the geologist and ore expert Gesim Syrjanov discovered polymetallic ore. This was the beginning of a new era, namely the era of mining. Mining, at this time, was a sideline for the farmers. In 1894 the operation of the Syrjanovski shaft was closed by the heads of cabinet. In 1895 the French founded it a new under the name Syrjanovski, and thus promoted a new upswing. After the strike of the miners in the year 1903 the cabinet handed the operation of the shaft over to an Austrian company, and later, in the year 1914, an English public limited company took over. In the year 1918 the Sovjet government declared nationalisation of land and factories. This is how the shaft became Russian property again.

At the upper course of the river Bukhtarma settlements were established by farmers who had fled persecution, soldiers and miners. Here they had looked for a new home. They had fled too high taxes or debits, others were migrated because they had refused to perform their military service; also statute labourers had fled to this area. Many fled because they had been persecuted due to their confession. They had sought new asylum here, far away from any kind of civilization, high up where there are only stones to be found. This was the basis for a rather unique mixture of community and cohabitation. The farmer Afanasi Selesnjov from the settlement Malyschevski created a new existence, together with his brothers and his father, here in the upper Bukhtarma valley. For them it was a new beginning in the rugged hills and pits where there had been exploited copper and tin some time before. Also soldiers found a refuge in the woods. The soldier Vasili Semjonov, for example, built a cottage at the river Turgusun, which later had been burnt down by government soldiers several times. Thus the people moved higher up the mountains and into the dense woods, high up into the Bukhtarminski valley; here they had sought protection against persecution. These Bukhtarminski (stone people) definitely led a rather strange life, without any state power, without taxes, without call-up orders for the military, and without any pressure by the church; hence they became the symbol of freedom. Legends of the wide lands, of the justice and the freedom to live the life one wanted to live, these ideas spread. The people searched for these nearly inconquerable places in canyons at Listvjashei Cholsun Kam and at tributaries to the river Katun that were hard to pass through. Here they wanted to enjoy free life.

In the year 1791 Catherin II gave order to re-integrate these "stone people" again into the Russian society and make them Russian citizens. About 30 settlements then were registered: Osatshikha, Bykovo, Senna-Korabishenskaja, Verkhnjaja Bukhtarma, Malyi Narymsk (Ognevo), Yasovaja, Belaja, Fykalka, and others more. The reports on this freedom in Bukhtarminskaja had made St. Petersburg worry, and so order was given to prevent such flights. In the Tsarist state, from then on, there existed a new form of citizens, the "Russian yasatshnye foreigners" (Russians from Siberia). These were released from taxes for a very long time; they were, however, forced to render their taxes in the form of natural contributions, such as animal furs for the "yassak". They were promised that they would not be called up for mining (statute labour) or military service. In 1924 these "yasatshnye stone people" were classified into the new category "settled foreigners", and from then on they had to pay a duty of 8 rubel per person. The administration of strangers in Bukhtarminskaja and Ujmonskaja was only abolished in the year 1878 and re-named an ordinary regional administration, "farmers administration".

In 1826 the well-known botanist Prof. Ledebur visited the village Petsh. This journey resulted in a detailled discription of the Bukhtarma valleys with a numer of works on the animal and plant world in this region of the Southern Altai. The village then was populated by two dozens families (stone people). 200 years ago it was still habit to punish renegades by firmly bonding them and setting them into the water. This death sentence was ordered by the local council according to the laws of the stone people. This is a sentence that survived on the basis of the old Cossack tradition "setting into the water".

Professor Laedebur also wrote reports on life in the village Korobikha at the foot of the mountain wood grass. Only criminals who had been pardoned were allowed to live in this village. In the village there were about 20 huts in which a certain kind of higher society developed in spite of the great distance to the towns and bigger settlement areas. The farmers of Korovikha (old name of Korobikha) were very talented in handicrafts. In the Bukhtarma valley the life of the Old Believers (according to G. Spasski's opinion) was massively interrupted by a settlement of workmen who had fled persecution, soldiers and also criminals. There were prayer houses for Old Believers of Bukhtarmins where there were held church services; these were performed by people chosen from their own ranks. The stone people only celebrated the wedding ceremony at the fort Bukhtarminskaja. Also the Siberia researcher S.I. Guljaev collected sufficient material on the Old Believers. He wrote that the first settlers who had come to the mountain valleys had been fur traders (trappers) who had come here to hunt in the wilderness. Only afterwards Raskolniks (Old Believers - dissidents) had come who then became settled inhabitants of this mountain valley. They belonged to different groups: mainly Momorski, rarely Kreshenski or Konoborski. In a letter addressed to I.I. Sresnevski Guljaev wrote that at the beginning of the 18th century whole village communities from the areas Novgorodskaja, Olonetskaja, Arkhangelskaja, Vologodskaja and Permskaja moved to these southern regions of the Altai. Among the settlers of the Bukhtarminski valley, Guljaev emphasized the Skitniki who had built houses, so-called "Skiti", in the mountains, huts in which several persons, men and women together, lived together. The Skitniki wore clothes in the form of church schools, and they were well educated. They were highly appreciated by the stone people who came to their readings. These immigrated Old Believers in the Bukhtarma valley and also at other place in the Southern Altai, such as farmers, craftsmen, miners and also people from other classes here took over the Orthodox belief. Further reports on Russian settlements were collected by the Geographical Society Semjonov-Shranskhanski. Their author writes comprehensively on embroidered women's blouses and strange headgear in the form of turbans for women. This folk tradition was spared all kind of urban influences. Here in the far away villages in the Altai this tradition stayed alive until modern times. Research showed that this folk tradition had been handed from one generation to the next generation and stayed alive until modern times. It was possible to somehow experience a live museum with historical past. Handicraft talent and every day routines were rather present in the tradition. A number of research studies and documentation thereof provide the youth of today with insight knowledge on the history of settlements of their ancestors.

Such religious characteristics and the form of the cohabitation in the Altai could be considered an example of the diversity of manifestations, which developed into a new cultural form. Relations of such isolated places and within a small community that have maintained their traditions up to modern times, have succeeded in keeping their originality. They were less prone to exterior changes, which made such expeditions to these place important issues. For the Altai region local tradition is very typical. These defined traditions had been established later and exerted new influence. Such tradition-oriented communities can also be found in other regions like Tomsk, Omsk, Irkutsk, Nishnjaja Tunguska and Krasnojarsk. Their main characteristics were strict and hierarchical family structures; they were highly religious people who were able to stand up against nature because of their hardness and their willingness to survive.

In their songs they use a low voice register, and the songs are sung in a slow tempo. Typical characteristics of their style are further dominating parallels in thirds. The accompanying trebles follow in a third interval the lower register of the lead singer. There are used mixolydical and dorical scales. This also exerts influence on the text as individual words or phrases are lengthened by means of vocalisation or additional tones.
The ritual songs are in close relationship with the old home country, from which the settlers had brought their musical treasure. They maintained the dialects and linguistic forms of their ancestors. It is to notice that the result of Ukrainians, people from Belarus and members of the Turk peoples living together is the development of a new dialect.

- more information on -
Traditional Music and Instruments of the Russian and Siberian people

Olga Abramovas' collection also includes the songs of the settlers from the Southern Altai. In the village Kamyshenka of the Petropavlovski Rayon, for example, the song "Three drakes swim along the brook" (see song no. 1 - Ensemble Pesnokhorki vol. IV) was recorded. At whitsun, girls climbed up the mountain singing in order to bind wreaths. Subsequently, these were hidden in the grass. On the following day, the wreaths were taken down to the river and the people threw them into the water, simultaneously silently uttering a wish. If the wreath sank, the wish would not be fullfilled. The song "Apodkoshjuna travka" goes back to migrants from Voronezh who were bound to Southern tradition (today's area of the Black Sea). Many songs of Olga's collection got instrumental accompanyment, which was not really typical for the original singing. But as the songs had been brought together from all over Russia, later on there were used also instruments which were only typical for the regions and which were used for singing.

- more information on: Clothes, headscarves, embroideries, etc. of the settlers in the Southern Altai

© 2007 - Revised by Albi and Hermelinde Steiner