Self-designation: the name for themselves, baraba -- paraba, originates in the name of their territory, the Steppe of Baraba. The name of the steppe as well as the tribe has been explained by the Turkish verb par-, the negative form of which is parma -- meaning 'not to go forward'. This is an explanation the Tatars themselves offer.
Family names, marking their descent, have been of great importance for the Tatars, e.g. Terena, Tara, Barama, Kelebe, Longa, Lovei. Since the 18th century the name shop-ierly-halk (i.e. indigenous) has been in use, in order to distinguish the Barabas from the resettled Volga Tatars.
The name of the Baraba Tatars has become common through its use by the Russians since the end of the 16th century. It is possible that there might be earlier records of them by Arab merchants and travellers.
The Baraba Tatars live in the district of the Chany lakes in western Siberia and on the Steppe of Baraba between the Rivers Irtysh and Om. Administratively they belong to Russia, to the Novosibirsk region (the districts of Baraba, Chany, Kuybyshev, Kargat, Kyshtov etc.), but to some extent also to the district of Tevriz in the Omsk region. The former compact settlement has been broken and the Tatar villages are jumbled up with Russian, Ukrainian, Komi and other villages.
Anthropologically the Baraba Tatars represent a mixture of two races -- Uralic and Mongolian. As the Baraba Tatars have many tribes (Talangot, Pimai, Yryspai, Polmak, Misheri, Karga etc.), their appearance depends greatly on their descent and tribal mix. The majority are related to the Mongols judging by their appearance; they are of short stature, with a dark complexion. Other Tatars, however, are of tall stature, with comparatively light skin and hair.
The language of the Baraba Tatars belongs to the group of Turkic languages and dialects spoken in Siberia, which have the characteristic traits of the Volga-Tatar and Kazakh-Altaic (Kipchak) language group. Earlier records indicate that the Baraba language used to have dialects. P. S. Pallas, V. F. Miller and J. G. Georgi considered Baraba to be a separate language, but since V. Radlov it has been treated as a dialect. The present-day Baraba language has evolved to a common tongue and it is difficult to distinguish different subdialects. Among the dialects of Siberian Tatars the Baraba dialect is the transition form between the dialects of Tom and Tobol-Irtysh, with a tendency towards the latter due to its Kipchak features.
The Kipchak tribes, who lived in western Siberia in the 12th and 13th centuries and partly also west of the Ural mountains, are considered to be the historical ancestors of the Baraba Tatars. In the 13th century Genghis Khan conquered all the Kipchak tribes and in his khanate, later the White Horde, the ethnic Turkic features became mixed with Mongolian ones. In the 15th century the khanate of Siberia was founded, with a centre in Chingi-tura (later Tyumen) and after that in Isker (near the present-day Tobolsk). The 15th and 16th centuries were a comparatively good times for the Tatars. They had good trade relations with China, Mongolia, Moscow and Bukhara and they received taxes from the Ugrians and Samoyeds. The Tatar epic that relates tales of the Khans Yedigey and Tokhtamysh dates from this period. The ancestors of the Baraba Tatars lived in the eastern part of the khanate and formed a somewhat marginal ethnic group. As they belonged to the khanate of Siberia they had to pay taxes to the Kalmyks. When the Russian troops, led by Domozhirov, came in 1595, the Baraba Tatars sided with them in order to attack the Kalmyks. When the Russians left, Kuchum took its revenge for the Baraba alliance with the Russians. In the 17th century they were under Kazakh rule, then in the 18th century the Russians came again. The Kazakhs, as well as the Barabas, were subdued and united with the Russian empire as tax-paying foreigners. This also marked the beginning of Russian deportations to Baraba.
The first Russian settlements were founded as military strongholds (1722 Ust-Tara, Kainsk, Kargat) or by deported peasants. At the beginning of the 18th century the Old Believers, who had escaped from Russia, came to the region of Baraba, in the 1840--1850s there was a mass deportation of peasants from the regions of Voronezh, Tambov, Pensa, Ryazan and others; and at the end of the century some voluntary resettlers arrived. Kainsk became the centre for political exiles in western Siberia and the Tatars became an ethnic minority.
In 1822 an act by M. Speransky, regarding the non-Russian population, was passed. In this act the Baraba Tatars were marked as locals. The act also fixed taxes and tributes, which were too high and often resulted in the sons inheriting their fathers' debts. In the 19th century the autonomy of the Baraba Tatars was eroded by numerous new settlers and the pressure of the Russian administrative system with its high taxes.
One source of consolidation for the Tatars remained Islam. Islam had begun to spread in western Siberia as early as the 10th century. Islam united the Tatar tribes and principalities. Islam symbolized literacy and culture. The biggest religious centres were Tobolsk and Tara with their madrasas and libraries. There was also a mosque school in every village, where a mullah taught boys in a primary school (4--5 years) at the expense of some wealthy man or the village community. The Baraba Tatars had connections with cultural centres in the European part of Russia and Asia and there were several intellectuals among them too (Nijat-Bakyi Atnometev, Rashid Ibragimov etc.).
Soviet rule was introduced in 1919 and it brought with it radical changes. In 1928 the first co-operatives were founded and during the years of 1930 and 1931 mass collectivization took place. In 1930 the cultural scene became more active (the founding of secondary schools and a teacher training school in Tobolsk and Tomsk, a Tatar newspaper in Omsk, amateur art groups etc.) though it did not take place in the spirit of their own ideology.
Baraba Tatars have shared a common written language with the other Tatars. The old literary Tatar, dating from the 16th century, was replaced by a new Tatar in the middle of the 19th century, but one that still retained use of the Arabic alphabet. Literacy and denominational schools (maktab, madrasa) had been introduced together with Islam and thanks to the Islamic or Arabic culture the Tatars were the most educated people in Siberia in the 19th century. In the big libraries (Tara, Vembayevo etc.) there were a great number of publications and rare manuscripts in many languages. Arabic script was used up to the year 1928, after which there was a transition to the Latin alphabet and in 1939 to the Russian. Until the 1980s Tatar could still have been used for teaching, whereas all the textbooks, novels, newspapers etc. came from the Tatar Autonomous Republic. Unlike Tatars living in other regions, who have re-established education in their mother tongue, the Baraba Tatars have yet to do this.