The self-designation is Shor. Also common for the Shors was to call themselves by the name of a tribe or clan, e.g. Koby, Karga, Ky, Aba, Shor, etc. The clan of Shor in the Kondoma River basin was more familiar to the Russians because of a missionary station located there. The designation Shor was used by their neighbours, the Altaics and Khakass. Under the Soviet regime (1925) the Shors obtained the status of a separate national group and the clan name Shor was extended to the whole nation.
The Shors have also called themselves Tadar - 'the Tatar', like the Khakass, the northern Altaics, the Teleuts and all Siberian Tatars. This name evidently came into use through Russian officials in the 17th century and, as a political term, embraced all the Turkic peoples obliged to pay tribute to Russia.
The southern Shors live in Siberia, in the region of North Altai and Kuznetsk-Alatau, on the rivers Kondoma, Mrasu and Tom. It is a mountainous area (mountain taiga) in the heart of Kuzbas. Administratively, they belong to the Kemerovo region of the Russian Federation, Tashtagol. The habitat of the southern Shors borders on the autonomous provinces of Khakass and Mountain-Altai. The northern Shors work as miners in the Siberga coal mines in the Myshkovsk district of the Kemerovo region. Their central settlement is Chuvashka.
A part of the Shors emigrated (known earlier as Sagais in the Abakan basin) and became Khakass. A small group of Shors in the Solton district of the Altai region is gradually russifying and, in the area of Turochak of the Mountain-Altai autonomous region, they are turning Altaic.
Anthropologically the Shors belong to the Uralic race, but with certain Mongoloid features. They have a relatively light skin, light eyes and straight, soft hair. Beard growth is abundant. They are of short stature (male average 160 cm). Their faces are broad and flat. In appearance, the Shors resemble the Khants and the Mansis.
The Shor language belongs to the Turkish-Tatar languages -- East Hunnish branch, Uighur-Oguz group, Khakass subgroup. It differs from its kindred languages (Khakass, Kamas, Chylym Tatar) in several specific traits in phonetics and grammar. There are two dialects in Shor: Mrasu in the Tom and Mrasu basins, and Kondoma in the Lower-Tom and Kondoma basins. The Mrasu dialect, which was the basis of one-time literary language, is the most widespread. The differences between the dialects are not great (mainly phonological) and communication between speakers of different dialects presents no problems.
The Shor language has a rich native vocabulary in the areas of nature, weather, floraflora, faunafauna and, especially, hunting. There are numerous word-loans from Mongolian and more recently from Russian. The speakers of the Mras dialect have had frequent contacts with the Khakass, the Kondoma speakers with Altaics.
The origin of the Shors has yet to be indisputably explained. Based on anthropological, ethnological and folkloristic deductions the ancestors of the Shors are supposed to have been tribes of the Ob-Ugrians and the Kets. As nomads, they have roamed the taiga regions north of the Sayan Mountains and paid their tribute in furs and ironware. Between the 6th and 13th centuries the tribes, influenced by the ancient Altaics, the Uighurs and the Yenisey Kirgiz, adopted the Turkic language and took the name As. Later the Tatar and Mongol ethnic elements considerably increased.
Since the 6th century the ancestors of the Shors have paid tribute to the Turkish Kagans, the Uighur Khans, and the Mongol and Kalmyk landlords. In the 14th to 17th centuries they belonged to an ethno-social union called Hongoray ~ Hooray on the steppe area of the Middle Yenisey. In Russian sources of the 17th century, they are called the Kuznetsk, Mrasu or Kondoma Tatars, and are famed for their metalworking. The Russians appeared in the Shor region in 1618. Tribe by tribe, despite a tenacious defence, they conquered the Siberian peoples. The Russians were undeterred by hardship and even death, for new territories meant new riches. The Shors attracted the attention of the Russians, not only for their furs, but also for their ironware. In 1641, the Russians sought to destructure the Shors' existing commodity exchange and monopolize their entire production. They did not succeed. The Shors put up a fierce resistance. Their barter trade with the Kalmyks, Teleuts, Yeniseyan Kirgiz and others guaranteed their living and even a part of the furs for the tribute were obtained in exchange for ironware. In the early 18th century, the Russians succeeded in subordinating the economy of the Shors. By the end of the century this had brought about the demise of Shor metalworking. The border of the Russian Empire severed the Shors' contacts with the Kalmyks and Yenisey-Kirgiz, (the main buyers of their metalwork), Russian-manufactured goods began circulating in large quantities, and demand for furs increased. For the northern Shors this meant a drastic upheaval in their entire way of living.
As hunters and fishermen, the Shors were supremely knowledgeable concerning the environment; it is recorded that they could predict the extent of antler growth from the appearance of certain plants. Formally, the Shors belonged to the Russian Orthodox church (since the foundation of a mission station in Kuzdeyevka in 1858), but they jealously maintained their animism, worshipping mountains and wildlife. The shamans were their spiritual leaders.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Shors began to shift from being traditional hunters to being settled land-tillers. The entire Altai region was designated "state-owned land", and belonged to the Tsar. Between 1910 and 1913 this land was partly distributed amongst the Shors and partly leased to applicants (which led to some migration). The former clan system of the Shors had functioned well enough in the interests of the tax-collectors, but the distribution of the land and the establishment of a monetary rent begged a new territorial administrative system.
The industrialization processes that gained impetus in the 1930s eclipsed all else. Coal mining, which began in Kuzbas in 1851, was developed into a large-scale industry. The production of coal and construction work (factories, mines, a rail network, etc.), was accompanied by an explosion in population. In 1931, the Shors formed 38.8% of the local population, in 1938 this was down to 13.0%, and the number continued to diminish all the time. When the Shors began to impede the expanding industries, they were removed. Neverthless, and somewhat ironically, the Shors proved very helpful in discovering mineral deposits.
The Shors have failed to preserve their identity. With the new way of life came new ideologies. The new Russian-style settlements, buildings, furniture, ready-made clothes and food were adopted in the name of progress. Even personal hygiene and hairstyle have had to be considered in regard to Russian standards. The Shors and their traditions can only survive in remote backwater places and their language can only have a domestic use. The Shors have no national theatre, publications, radio or any such manifestations of culture. The new masters of the Shors' land are industry, aliens and the Russian language. Alcoholism and venereal diseases are rampant. Although their land is extremely rich (coal, ferrous metals and gold), the Shors have benefited very little from it. Even though the coal mines have annual production of 150 million tons (1985), not a single ruble of this profit is used to promote Shor culture.