The Altaians call themselves the Altai-Kizhy - " the person of Altai ". The enthonim the Oirots was applied to the Altaians in 1922-1948. The Altaians live in the Republic of Altai (59,1 thousands persons in 1989), in the Altai territory of the Kemerovo area (5,4 thousands), Kazakhstan (689 persons), Uzbekistan (191 persons) etc. The number of Altaians totals 70,8 thousands persons (in 1989).
There are ethnographic groups of the Northern Altaians (they were called the Black Tatars in the pre-revolutionary literature) and the Southern Altaians (they were called the White, the Altai, the Mountain, the Frontier and the Biysk Kalmyks in the pre-revolutionary literature). The Altaians as the main belong to the South Siberian race (with the Central Asian mixture in the Telengits and the Ural race in the Tubalars).
The Altaian language belongs to the Kipchak branches of the Turkic language group of the Altaian language family (it is close to the Kirghiz language). It is subdivided into actually the Altaian dialect, the Telengit (it is considered a dialect nowadays), the Teleut (independent language in the Kemerovo area), the Tubular (a dialect in the Chojsky area), the Kumandin (independent language in the Altai territory). The literary language was formed on a basis of actually the Altaian dialect. 85,1% of the Altaians considers the Altaian language to be their native language (in 1989). The writing was created on the basis of the Russian writing in 1830. The Altaians practice the Christianity (34,5% of the Altaians were the Orthodox Christians) and the Shamanism.
The nomadic and semi-nomadic cattle breeding prevailed in the mountain-steppe and steppe areas (the Southern Altaians). The hunt and other forest crafts were the basic kinds of economic activities in the mountain - taiga (the Northern Altaians). In both areas the population was engaged in agriculture and was growing constantly. The Altaians has practiced the Winter foraging of the store-cattle alongside with the pasturable cattle breeding in the beginning of the XX century. For that purpose they were haying in the large quantities. In the hunting prevailed the gun hunt for a fur animal, basically squirrels. The various traps were used for the hunt as well. In the winter the Altaians moved on a ski in the taiga. The hunting equipment and the prey were transported by the hand sledge or dragged, wrapped up in a piece of the horse skin. Furs were traded for the cattle and a grain.
The Altaians traditional instruments of the tilth were: in the steppe a primitive plough - the Andazyn, in the mountains a mattock - the Abyl. The harrowing was made by bunches of the dry branches with imposed stones. Horses were used as draft-cattle. The Altaians sowed basically the barley. The harvest was cut by means of a knife and threshed with a short stick. A grain was grinded in a wooden mortar or by the hand stone grater.The Altaian settlements were the small-scattered settlements with a few residential constructions on significant distance from each other. Such settlements were situated, as a rule, in valleys of the rivers.
Different groups of the population had different dwellings. The type of dwelling depended on a certain environmental conditions in which the group lived, the settled life degree, an economic situation of the family.There were a number of regional differences in the clothes of the Altaians. In the beginning of the XX century a certain elements of the Russian country and city clothes were introduced into a costume of the Altaians. The prosperous population began to adopt Russian country costume completely in the regions close to the Russians. The dairy food is the most common and traditional food for the Altaians. It is presented in various stages of processed sour milk and curds. The dairy food was used with the barley oatmeal or the groats and edible roots. The most common kinds of dairy food were cheeses: sour - the Kurut (Khurut) and unleavened - the Pyshtak (Pyzlakh) and sour milk - the Chegen (Airan). The Altaians were preparing the Koumiss from mare's milk. Meat was used a little and, as a rule, in the winter.
In the beginning of the XX century the Altaian society had a class stratification features. Formally the land, the cropland and hayland belongs to the community (of the Ail, the Ulus), however, the ordinary Altaians who has a small amount of cattle, actually owned only smaller and worse part of the Ail land, when the large and best part of the land were seized by the large-scale drovers, patriarchal - feudal aristocracy (the Zaisans, the Bashlyks) and the kulaks. The ordinary Altaians were assigned to the certain families the Zaisans who represented a community before the imperial administration. A part of the Altaians did not have cattle and land, and were in the position of domestic slaves - (the Aibachy) in the rich families.
he Altaians idea of the world was that the kind and the malicious spirits ruled the world. The kind founder of world Ulgen and malicious underground lord Erlik were their masters. The sacrifices were made to both of them in the form of horses. Participants of the ceremony ate the horsemeat, and the skin was stretched on the pole and left on the place of sacrifice. The Altaians attached a great importance to the public prayers. They prayed to the sky, the mountains, and the water, to the sacred tree - birch.The Altaians had the Tesey cult, the cult of family and patrimonial patrons. Their images were considered to be their incarnations. The Altaians prayed to these images and simulated their feeding to cajole the Tesey. The majority of ceremonial actions were made with participation of the shaman. Ceremonies were made with the sacred tambourine, which the shaman beat a special beater.
There was the rise of national consciousness of the Altaians in 1980 and 1990. The movement for the revival of national culture and language is developed.The sovereignty of the Republic of Altai is proclaimed in the territorial borders of the Mountain Altai autonomous region in 1991. The Altaian language together with the Russian is proclaimed the state language of the Republic of Altai.From the end of 1980th there was a movement for the revival of traditional patrimonial divisions and the strengthening of their role among the Altaians. The Seoka Maiman celebration was carried out by the elders' initiative in one of the natural boundaries of the Ongudajsky region in the summer of 1989. After that the congresses of the Seoki Mundus, the Kypchak, the Tolos, the Ircit, the Todosh, the Sagal have followed. Legitimation of the patrimonial structures is accompanied by the restoration of the institute of the Zaisans - the patrimonial elders. This alternative authority is apprehended by the public consciousness as the stabilizing basis.