Multimedia documentation

of the endangered Vasyugan and Alexandrovo Khanty dialects

of Tomsk region in Siberia

(ELDP FTG 0135)


Alexandrovo Khanty














Alexandrovo area is the mid flows of the Ob river in the middle of the western Siberian Plain east of the Ural mountain range, in the Alexandrovo district of Tomsk region. Similarly to Vasyugan, local landscape consists of a multitude of rivers and lakes draining the vast Vasyugan swamp and dominated by the Ob river itself. With the general climate and ecosystem similar to that of Vasyugan basin, local fauna includes a similar range of typical taiga-forest fur-bearers and wildfowl. Typically for Alexandrovo Khanty, the stem of the local diet is the river fish, with large river species such as pike, bream, perch, starlet among others. Similarly to the Vasyugan Khanty, Alexandrovo Khanty did not have a local tradition of reindeer husbandry, but there are occasional accounts of small-scale private herds, but exclusively brought by migrating south Vakh Khanty, the immediately adjacent and closely related eastern Khanty community.

Traditionally the Alexandrovo Khanty were subsistence hunter-fishermen with more emphasis on fishing, however. Their low scale seasonal migrations were motivated primarily by the fishing, and secondarily by winter hunting. It consisted of trips from the permanent Ob’ riverside village out to the shallow fishing spots along the banks, or to the clan hunting territories. In summer fishing locations family makeshift tents would be used. The occupational routines find reflection in the traditional calendar terminology, with “seasons” (of uneven length) essentially marking traditional economy practices: wär-iki ‘fishing weir time’ (~May/June); urn-iki ‘time of crows’ (~April/May); lontwäsek-iki ‘time of geese and ducks’ (~May/June); jarmanka-iki ‘time of trade-fair’ (~December/January), etc (Filtchenko, 2000-2005; Tereskin, 1961; Gulya, 1965; Sirelius, 2001; Lukina 2005; ).


The prevailing majority of the traditional Vasyugan Khanty permanent settlements (yurt - Turkic term, puɣol - native term) are located along the Ob’ River, widely-spaced from each other. There are also occasional settlements on the shores of the local major lakes. Similarly to all Khnaty and Eastern Khanty in particular, the settlement pattern was based on extended family, patrilocal, patrilineal exogamous lineages.

The native reference term used for this social group is äs’ jaɣ 'Ob-river people'. Besides more localised clan and lineage identities (Sokolova, 1983), Alexandrovo Khanty clearly identify themselves with Vasyugan Khanty, and secondarily with Vakh Khanty as belonging to the larger unity of Eastern Khanty - qanteɣ jaɣ 'Khanty people' based on linguistic and cultural affinity (Kulemzin and Lukina 1976; Filchenko - forthcoming).

Similarly to Vasyugan Khanty, Ob’-river people’s folk history implies that their ancestors have long ago arrived to these territories, and were in frequent conflict for it with the neighbouring and incoming ethnic groups, Tatars and Nenets (Lukina, 1976).

Regardless of the “official Christianization” of the Alexandrovo Khanty (cf. torem qat puɣol ‘god house village = Alexandrovo village’ in reference to the first wooden orthodox church build in the village in the XVII century), they largely managed to preserve the rich traditional spiritual life until as late as the mid XX century (Sirelius 2001; Karjalainen 1921, 1922). The life of all Khanty and animals was created and predestined by torem, a chief deity. Another ultimately powerful deity is äs’ iki, the master of fish and a multitude of water spirits and demons; the female spirit puɣos äŋki, the giver of life, and judge of its length; the forest deity wont iki, the master of animals and birds and of the forest spirits, etc. (Karjalainen, 1927). Similarly to the Vasyugan Khanty, Ob’-river people, until recently were known to keep wooden figures of personal, home or family spirits (juŋk) which were linked to the welfare of hunters and their families. The knowledge of the sacred sites, “homes” of the spirits and the rituals regulating behaviour towards them is currently largely superfluous and bleached with the non-native mystique folklore. Similarly to Vasyugan Khanty, it was also typical for Alexandrovo Khanty to have anthroponymic group-names corresponding to the names of the clan progenitors, however, at the current stage this knowledge is basically lost. The shaman culture, although also clearly formerly present in Ob’-river communities is lost as well.

The first Russian contacts with Alexandrovo Khanty date to the late XV century, with much stronger and more frequent, compared to Vasyugan and even more so to Vakh, Christianization and cultural assimilation pressures due to the location on the biggest local river route. Before the Russian contact, local Khanty communities have been under administrative control of Siberian Tatar Khanat. The exposure and assimilative pressure of Russian grew radically in the 1930-1960s as a result of the soviet forced migration (exile) and collectivization policies, implying huge influx of non-native population and totalitarian ideological control. Since 1960s-1980s most of the area was heavily assimilated due to policies of social mandatory boarding schooling and particularly by the forestry exploration with another considerable increase of non-native population.

The language of the Alexandrovo Khanty was much basically undescribed based on the statement of its identity to the Vasyugan and Vakh varieties of Eastern Khanty. As for other Eastern Khanty dialects, Alexandrovo Khanty language was largely neglect and discriminated in the mainstream public and policy makers, children have not been taught in Khanty and often ridiculed for using it at schools and in public. All remaining Alexandrovo Khanty speakers are bilingual with Russian as the language of daily communication. Khanty undergoes a steady decrease of the functional sphere, reserved primarily for very rare family or peer communications by the oldest generation.

All Alexandrovo Khanty are currently assimilated Russian monolinguals numbering under 100 pers., with the number of speakers of the native language under 15 pers., all over the age of 50. The number of semi-fluent speakers, capable of maintaining restricted basic conversations in Khanty does not exceed 20, principally placing these dialects in the group of imminently endangered by extinction within the nearest 10-15 years.

© Andrey Filchenko. Tomsk State Pedagogical University, Department of Siberian Indigenous Languages. Komsomolsky pr. 75, k.246, Tomsk 634041 Russia.

E-mail: filtchenko [at]
Last updated: April 2008.