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The Tofalars

The TofalarsThe Tofalars live in Irkutskaya Oblast (731 people). The self-designation of the people is tubalar ~ tofalar. It is believed that the tribal name tuba ~ tuva refers to the Nenets clan of Tuba, and thus to the possible genetic origin of the Tofalars. At one time the Tofalars were widely known as the Karagas. It is assumed that their name (Kara-Kash), as well as their language, descends from the Kachins, i.e. Khakass.
Anthropologically, the Tofalars belong to the Mongoloid Central-Asian race. They are of small stature (men 160--164 cm), have dark a skin, dark narrow eyes and somewhat stiff hair. Beards are sometimes worn. Their faces are relatively high and flat, cheekbones are not very prominent, and lips are averagely thick (thin).

The Tofalar (or Tofa) language belongs to the Uighur-Oguz group of the Turkic languages, forming, together with the Tuvinian and ancient Uighur and Oguz languages, the subgroup of Uighur-Tki. Phonetical, grammatical and lexical characteristics show Tofalar as being most closely related to the Tuvinian language. Some academics believe that it is in fact a dialect of Tuvinian.

The origin and history of the Tofalars has been poorly investigated. They have lived for centuries as nomads of the taiga, north of the Sayan Mountains. In the 18th century, P. S. Pallas and J. G. Georgi regarded the Karagas as a Samoyed people and later it was believed that they had adopted the Turkish-Tartar language learnt from the Tuvans in the 19th century. However, V. Rassadin established (1969) that the ancestors of the Tofalars must have been a Ket-speaking tribe, who in the 6th--8th centuries took the ancient Turkish language and adapted it to their own phonological system. Later there were other influences and they were joined by other tribes (Samoyeds, among others).

For centuries Tofalars have lived as nomads. They have mostly had contacts with the eastern Tuvans. The two nations have much in common in their way of life and in their fate. However, the Tofalars were drawn into the Russian sphere of influence much earlier. In 1648, the Russians founded the fortified settlement of Udinsk and subsequently, the Tofalars became another people destined to appease the Russians' unquenchable appetite for furs. A fixed amount of sables was required as tribute per head of every gunbearer (aged 16--60), though often the quantities were arbitrarily increased. In 1889, for example, tribute was demanded for 248 gunners, although there were only 103 hunters.

The Soviet regime earned the Tofalars' gratitude by abolishing the tribute in 1926. In 1927, hunting regulations were altered and part of the former hunting grounds were declared reservations. This meant that Tofalars needed a permit to hunt in their native forests. Before the Soviet regime, there were five clans of Tofalars (Kash, Sarygh-Kash, Chogdu, Cheptei) and each had its own migration area and way of life. In 1927, however, a campaign was launched to force the Tofalars to settle permanently. Alygdzher, Utkum, Nerkha and Gutara were chosen as settlement sites and by 1932 all the Tofalars had been resettled. In 1929 the first co-operatives were formed and in 1930--1931, the Tofalars were collectivized into three kolkhozes: Krasnyi Okhotnik, Kirov and Kyzyl-Tofa (Red Tofalar). In 1930 a Tofalar national district, with Alygdzher as its centre, was formed in the Irkutsk region. The Tofalars' whole way of life had changed beyond recognition and they had been led into complete dependence on outside party. Shepherds moved with their herds as wage labourers, and so did hunters. Increased productivity meant many more furs for the state than did the old tax system. The new houses built by Russian carpenters, and the new furniture, were all unfamiliar to the Tofalars. New ready-made clothes and manufactured food appeared; it had to, as the moose the Tofalars used to eat now belonged to the state and was not allowed to be killed for food. Generally, the Tofalars had to copy everything the Russians did, from introducing cattle-breeding and horticulture to discrediting old shamanistic traditions.

In 1917 there were only two literate people among Tofalars, but in the 1930s Russian-language schools were founded. Besides becoming literate, schoolchildren had to show a zeal for reforms. For instance, a model vegetable garden was founded at the Alygdzher boarding school, the pupils had to go fishing and take care of the nanny-goats. School and the young were adroitly used to propagate the Russian language and ideology.

Nowadays, instead of following old traditions, people tend more to fuse into the urban Russian environment. Nevertheless, speaking Russian does not necessarily mean a total assimilation of the Tofalars: this is held at bay by their anthropological peculiarities.

The man's, female and children's traditional clothes had no essential distinctions. Winter clothes produced mainly from skins of the lamb, maral and deer.




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