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Samoyedes, a tribe of the Ural-Altaic group, are scattered in small groups over an immense area, from the Altai mountains down the basins of the Ob and Yenisei, and along the shores of the Arctic ocean from the mouth of the latter river to the White Sea. The tribe may be subdivided into three main groups:

(a) The Yuraks in the coast-region from the Yenisei to the White Sea; (b) the Tavghi Samoyedes, between the Yenisei and the Khatanga; (c) the Ostiak Samoyedes, intermingled with Ostiaks, to the S. of the others, in the forest regions of Tobolsk and Yeniseisk. Their whole number may be estimated at from 20,000 to 25,000. The so-called Samoyedes inhabiting the S of the governments of Tomsk and Yeniseisk[?] have been much under Tatar influence and appear to be of a different stock; their sub-groups are the Kamasin Tatars, the Kaibals, the Motors, the Beltirs, the Karagasses and the Samoyedes of the middle Ob.

The proper place of the Samoyedes among the Ural-Altaians is very difficult to determine. As to their present name, signifying in its present Russian spelling self-eaters, many ingenious theories have been advanced, but that proposed by Schrenk, who derived the name Samo-yedes from Syroyadtsy, or raw-eaters, leaves much to be desired. Perhaps the etymology ought to be sought in quite another direction, namely, in the likeness to Suomi. The names assumed by the Samoyedes themselves are Hazovo and Nyanyäz (Nenets). The Ostiaks know them under the names of Orghoy, or Workho, both of which recall the Ugrians; the name of Hui is also in use among the Ostiaks, and that of Yaron among the Syrgenians.

The language now spoken by the Samoyedes belongs to the Finno-Ugric group, and is allied to Finnish but has a more copious system of suffixes. It is a sonorous speech, pleasant to the ear. No fewer than three separate dialects and a dozen sub-dialects are known in it.

The conclusions deducible from their anthropological features - apart from the general difficulty of arriving at safe conclusions on this ground alone, on account of the variability of the ethnological type under various conditions of life - are also rather indefinite. The Samoyedes are recognized as having the face more flattened than undoubtedly Finnish stocks; their eyes are narrower, their complexion and hair darker. Zuyev describes them as like the Tunguses, with flattened nose, thick lips, little beard and black, hard hair. At first sight they may be mistaken for Ostiaks - especially on the Ob - but they are undoubtedly different. Castrbn considers them as a mixture of Ugrians with Mongolians, and Zograf as brachycephalic Mongolians. Quatrefages classes them, together with the Voguls, as two families of the Ugrian sub-branch, this last, together with the Saami (Lapps), forming part of the Ugrian or Boreal branch of the yellow or Mongolic race.

It is probable that formerly the Samoyedes occupied the Altai mountains, whence they were driven N by Turco-Tatars. Thus, the Kaibals left the Sayan mountains[?] and took possession of the Abakan steppe (Minusinsk region), abandoned by the Kirghizes[?], in the earlier years of last century, and in NE Russia the Zyrians are still driving the Samoyedes farther N., towards the Arctic coast. Since the researches of Schrenk it may be regarded as settled that in historical times the Samoyedes were inhabitants of the so-called Ugria in the northern Urals, while Radlov considers that the numberless graves containing remains of the Bronze Age which are scattered throughout W Siberia, on the Altai, and on the Yenisei in the Minusinsk region, are relics of Ugro-Samoyedes. According to his views this nation, very numerous at that epoch - which preceded the Iron Age civilization of the Turco-Tatars, - were pretty well acquainted with mining; the remains of their mines, sometimes 50 ft. deep, and of the furnaces where they melted copper, tin and gold, are very numerous; their weapoos of a hard bronze, their pots (one of which weighs 75 lb), and their melted and polished bronze and golden decorations testify to a high development of artistic feeling and industrial skill, strangely contrasting with the low level reached by their earthenware. They were not nomads, but husbandmen, and their irrigation canals are still to be seen. They kept horses (though in small numbers), sheep and goats, but no traces of their rearing horned cattle have yet been found. The Turkish invasion of S. Siberia, which took place in the 5th century, drove them farther N, and probably reduced most of them to slavery.

The Samoyedes, who now maintain themselves by hunting and fishing on the lower Ob, partly mixed in the S. with Ostiaks, recall the condition of the inhabitants of France and Germany at the epoch of the reindeer. Clothed in skins, like the troglodytes[?] of the Weser, they make use of the same implements in bone and stone, eat carnivorous animals - the wolf included - and cherish the same superstitions (of which those regarding the teeth of the bear are perhaps the most characteristic) as were current among the Stone Age inhabitants of W Europe. Their heaps of reindeer horns and skulls - memorials of religious ceremonies - are exactly similar to those dating from the similar period of civilization in N Germany. Their huts often resemble the well-known stone huts of the Eskimo; their graves are mere boxes left in the tundra. The religion is fetishism mixed with Shamanism, the shaman (tadji-bei) being a representative of the great divinity, the Num. The Yalmal peninsula, where they find great facilities for hunting, is especially venerated by the Ob Ostiak Samoyedes, and there they have one of their chief idols, Khese. They are more independent than the Ostiaks, less yielding in character, although as hospitable as their neighbours. They are said to be disappearing owing to the use of ardent spirits and the prevalence of smallpox. They still maintain the high standard of honesty mentioned by historical documents, and never will take anything left in the tundra or about the houses by their neighbours. The Yurak Samoyedes are courageous and warlike; they offered armed resistance to the Russian invaders, and it is only since the beginning of the century that they have paid tribute. The exact number of the Ostiak Samoyedes is not known; the Tavghi Samoyedes may number about 1000, and the Yuraks, mixed with the former, are estimated at 6000 in Obdorsk (about 150 settled), 5000 in European Russia in the tundras of the Mezefl, and about 350 in Yeniseisk.

Of the S Samoyedes, who are completely Tatarized, the Beltirs live by agriculture and cattle-breeding in the Abakan steppe. They profess Christianity, and speak a language closely resembling that of the Sagai Tatars. The Kaibals, or Koibals, can hardly be distinguished from the Minusinsk Tatars, and support themselves by rearing cattle. Castrén considers that three of their stems are of Ostiak origin, the remainder being Samoyedic. The Kamasins, in the Kansk district of Yeniseisk, are either herdsmen or agriculturists. They speak a language with an admixture of Tatar words, and some of their stems contain a large Tatar clement. The interesting nomadic tribe of Karagasses, in the Sayan mountains, is disappearing; the few representatives are rapidly losing their anthropological features, their Turkish language and their distinctive dress. The Motors are now little more than a memory. One portion of the tribe emigrated to China and was there exterminated; the remainder have disappeared among the Tuba Tatars and the Soyotes. The Samoyedes on the Ob in Tomsk may number about 1000; they have adopted the Russian manner of life, but have difficulty in carrying on agriculture, and are a poverty-stricken population with little prospect of holding their own.

The works of M A. Castrén are still the best authority on the Samoyedes. See Grammatik der samoyedischen Sprachen (1854); Dictionary (1855); Ethnologische Vorlesungen über die altaischen Völker (1857); Versuch der koibalischen und karagassischen Sprachlehre (1857). See also A. Middendorf, Reise in den düstersten Norden und Osten Sibiriens. (1875).

Based on an article from 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.

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