A Look into the Chuvash Ethnic History

  • July 21, 2020      Friendly Borders Staff

Moscow – There may be some conflicts within the Chuvash people’s ethnic origin. However, that does not give them less of the attention they need to fully live out their culture and tradition. Yet, how much do others know about this minority group of Russia?

At present, the Chuvash people are an ethnic minority who live in Chuvashia, Western Russia. The republic lies on the right bank of the middle Volga River. Here, one can witness the natural beauty of the forest and the forest steppe, which also marks the republic’s boundary. Within these beautiful landscapes are the communities that have shared a colorful culture, customs, traditions, and beliefs, and people who lived to preserve their language, music, art, and folklore throughout the years.

Ethnic Group Divisions

Before we delve into the details of the Chuvash people’s origin, note that they are divided into two main ethnic groups: (1) Virjal or Turi and (2) Anatri. The latter is also subdivided into Anat jenci and Hirti.

The communities are known as the upper Chuvash and the lower Chuvash, respectively. Such distinctions are based on their community’s location. The Virjal is in the northwestern part of the Chuvash republic, while the Anatri is in the northeastern and southern regions.

Understanding Both Sides of the Story

Now, it is best to hear about the origin of conflict dominant in the discussion of Chuvash ethnic history. It is a step in better understanding their people.

One school of thought follows that the Chuvash people are from the Turkic Sabir tribes of Volga Bulgaria. Historians noted that these earlier communities lived in the forest and steppe regions of the Volga River. Their people later mixed and intermarried with the local Finno–Ugric groups, which then brought about the Chuvash ethnicity. The other belief is that the Chuvash may have descended from pre-Volga Bulgars. This second idea finds the connection with the Chuvashes’ use of a Turkic language, which strongly indicates that they are a close ancestor of the Turkic Volga Bulgars.

More than a Language connection

Whichever origin story one follows, it is best to understand the communities by looking closely at their practices and present activities. The Chuvash people’s use of the Chuvash language is a crucial factor in their community’s preservation. Their people speak the only living language of the Bulgaro–Turkic branch of the Turkic group of the Altaic family. The importance of preserving their language is necessary as the closest language to it was the Volga–Bulgarian, which has been extinct before the 15th century. The older generations of the Chuvash must pass on to the younger members the regular use of the language in the villages. The two ethnic divisions have their respective dialects, with the Anatri as the basis of the literary language. However, nowadays, the younger ones prefer to use Russian as their primary medium of communication.

Culture and Beliefs

Aside from their crucial language preservation needs, the Chuvash also took care to preserve their culture and beliefs. Even with the inherited techniques and practices from invaders of the past, the people built on their traditional folk arts, which they showcase through their music, clothing, and other artistic handicrafts. The delicate embroidery and the national motif are all present in Chuvash clothes. Many of their people do not usually wear these national clothes, but these are still very much in use when celebrating important events.

In terms of beliefs, the majority of the Chuvash belong to the Russian Orthodox Church. Some have continued to practice their pre-Christian religion. One may note the Chuvashes’ strong belief in fire. They even organize fire-related ceremonies. However, people’s primary pagan practices truly lived until the middle of the 18th century. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there had been a national movement to revive the traditional Chuvash spirituality to identify the people’s distinct national roots and ideas.

Despite these efforts, there is still a long way to go when it comes to preservation. Learning more about one’s ethnic origin, culture, and beliefs may spark interest in the younger generations to look back to their roots. It may even lead to a deeper understanding of the present.

Image from chuvash_kalyuk, https://www.instagram.com/chuvash_kalyuk/

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