Dolgan People of Russia and Ukraine

  • March 13, 2019      Friendly Borders Staff

Krasnoyarsk – The Dolgan people live in the territory of the Taimyr Autonomous Okrug (“district”) under the region of Krasnoyarsk in the Russian Federation. Their communities are located in the Taimyr Peninsula and just across the town of Dudinka, which is on the left back of the lower Yenisei River.

Within their nearby territories as well as in history, the Dolgan people are closely related to the Yakuts. However, their ethnic identity is independent of those of the Yakuts. They have their own language, as well as a culture that distinguishes them from the rest of the other local ethnicities.

Language and History

In the past generation, there are some other terms used to identify the Dolgan, including Hakha, Sakha, and Tia. With those words in the language of others and being passed on from one generation to the next, it is not difficult to confuse the Dolgan with the Yakuts. However, this misunderstanding has gradually changed when the Dolgan language was introduced in the local people’s education.

However, how is it that one entire ethnicity is connected with another group simply because of a term? This shows how language represents a community and how powerfully it distinguishes one group of people from the others by reflecting their culture and tradition. Although there may be some difficulty in fully understanding this kind of separation from an age-old belief of having a close ethnic identity, it is worth knowing.

The Dolgans’ history of being an autonomous ethnographic group is quite complex. During the early 20th century, the many parts of the current Dolgan territory were also inhabited by various types of people: the Russians (from the tundra), the Tungus (Evenks), and the Yakuts. It may seem that even though the people of the Dolgans are already practicing their own culture, there are very few details about it. This became more evident when the Dolgan used the Yakut language as their local dialect. Nevertheless, in time, their ethnic identity on record gradually became more identified as their autonomous region turned to be the Dolgano-Nenentsky.

Lifestyle and Practices

In the local language, the Dolgan means “people who live near the water.” The people traditionally change their locations based on the season. In summer, they live in open tundra while in winter, they move and camp along the forest–tundra line. Moreover, their names came from the way the people live by searching for food sources for their reindeer, which plays a great part in their lives. They spend their days with the herds as they move along the lakes and rivers. Aside from the herds of reindeer, they also have arctic foxes, ducks, geese, and other game.

The Dolgan people are also known for their fishing skills and their craftsmanship. The rich embroidery as well as intricate beadwork on traditional clothes that they create are some of the things that keep their culture and traditions alive. Additionally, they have distinct folklore that passes on their ideas and ancestors’ history to the younger generation. The community comes alive with the artistic representations in their stories about animals and magic, the riddles they share, and the songs they sing for their people to hear. Through this continued passing on of their knowledge of the past, they bridge the present and future of the Dolgan people. Their identity may have started as a complex history retelling but their practices, language, and culture represent who they are as an independent ethnic community.

Image from Arctic Russia Travel, https://www.instagram.com/arctic_russia_travel/