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Author(s) of the publication: Konstantin AVERIANOV, Tatiana DRONOVA

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by Konstantin AVERIANOV, Dr. Sc. (History), Institute of Russian History, Russian Academy of Sciences; Tatiana DRONOVA, Cand. Sc. (History), Institute of Language, Literature and History, Komi Research Center, Russian Academy of Sciences, Ural Branch

An enclave of Old Believers (Old Ritualists) is still there in Russia's Far North, in the Komi Republic. Their land is crossed by the majestic Pechora and its tributaries, the Tsilma and the Pizhma. Living in the dense taiga forestland, this tribe abides by the faith of its forefathers and traditional life styles harking in many ways back to Old Russian customs. The heart and soul of this sanctum is Ust-Tsilma, an old rural community.

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The name "Pechora" is first mentioned in The Tale of Bygone Years*. Its author, describing the world within his reach, applied this name to a tribe in "boreal lands" that was paying tribute to Rus. As far back as the 11th and 12th centuries, people of Novgorod the Great, the Novgorodians, trekked thither, to Europe's Far Northeast, in search of fur-skins and did a brisk barter trade with the aboriginal population. Each year the Novgorodian merchants brought home several hundred thousand pelts.

Those pelts, described as "soft gold", were an important item of Russian export-hence the attraction of Pechora fur-skins. As related by the Laurentius Chronicle of 1377, the Novgorodians once offered such pelts as a pay-off to the Kievan Prince Yaropolk Vladimirovich during his raid of 1133. Furs meant a handsome profit-so much so that merchants setting out for distant lands at the back of beyond would turn into real predators and grabbers. A modicum of order was established only around the mid-13th century when, in keeping with corresponding treaty deeds, the district nominally became known as a Novgorodian volost, or smallest administrative division. Hard-bitten fellows from other lands went there for a bag of furs. From the Tver Principality, too-as the chronicle of the 1320s says, the domains of the Tver Prince Alexander Mikhailovich stretched as far north as "the Sea of Pechora". But thereupon Muscovy gained the upper hand in its rivalry with Tver for primacy in Russia, and the "fur El Dorado" in Russia's north found itself among Muscovy's dependencies.

Here's what we learn from the records of the day: a certain Zhila procured falcons and gerfalcons on the Pechora, highly valued at princely courts of Western Europe and the Orient. Under the Moscow Prince Dmitry Donskoy (1359 - 1389), Andrei Friasin of Italian parentage ailed the roost in the Russian Far North. His very name comes from the friag-that's how ethnic Russians dubbed Italians, who had a deft touch with fur-skins and were expert in keeping, pricing and selling this merchandise; incidentally, the first bits of evidence about its money equivalent date from the 16th century, when the price of sable pelts varied as much as tenfold depending on their quality. Fur-dealers were needed by Moscow princes, for their coffers had many fur-skins on a par with coins and costly items.

Meanwhile Novgorod** was all set to get back the Pechora land. During the 14th century alone this northern republic made three attempts like that to succeed only in 1398. However, during the reign of Ivan III (1462 - 1505), the Grand Prince (Duke) of Moscow (yclept "the city of white stone"), Muscovy asserted its pre-eminence as the core of the Russian state, and it was strong enough to win back the northernmost lands-rich not only in precious fur-skins but also, as it was rumored, in silver-the metal that the state treasury stood much in need of (at that time silver deposits had not been explored yet, and so West European coins had to be reminted for domestic circulation).

Early in 1491 Ivan III dispatched a detachment to the Tsilma headed by a group of ore-mining engineers from Germany, the homeland of the famous Bohemian mines that supplied all of Western Europe with precious silver. The German ore explorers were quick to spot a large deposit of copper and shows of silver; yet their further search was hampered by the approaching winter, and so the scouts had to get back to Moscow.

Elated by a good beginning like that, Ivan III sent another, larger party the following spring with silversmiths in it. Ground was broken for the first copper mines then and there, on the Tsilma. Even today 10 km-long stretches on both banks of the river show traces of old mines, structures, cellars, heaps of coal, smelters and smitheries, with plenty of cinder all around. Likewise preserved are patches of ground where the ore was washed and crushed.

The envoys of the grand duke identified rocks containing as much as 50 percent of copper, but they did not discover any commercial deposits of silver. Copper mining was an unprofitable undertaking because of short summer seasons, natural hazards, lack of communications and supply snags.

We know less about the subsequent attempts of mastering the Pechora wealth. Be that as it may, silver-the elusive, tantalizing silver-lured prospectors in their untiring searchings. Yet the results of their labors proved all in vain: although the samples they brought were silver-rich, the final verdict was bad: silver mining was not a paying proposition. The situation changed at the turn of the 20th century when Alexander Chernov*** took charge. Apart from copper and silver, he discovered gold in the Tsilma area. Decades after, in the 1930s, the presence of lead, zinc, tin, molybdenum, vanadium, cobalt and arsenic was detected with the use of chemical assay methods. Today the Komi Republic is a major treasure-house of this country's mineral wealth, a land where the ore-mining industry was born five centuries ago.****

It was in that distant day and age that a "town was cut up for the grand prince" (Ivan III), the town of Pustozersk, now Naryan-Mar of the Archangel administrative region. It took decades and decades to have the desolate Pechora banks settled. In 1542 (under Ivan IV the Terrible) the local chronicles first mentioned a "township at the mouth of


The Tale of Bygone Years-й Russian code of chronicles recorded in the 1120s in Kiev by Nestor, a monk of the Kievan-Pechera (Kiev-Pechery) Monastery, or Lavra. - Ed.

** See: V. Darkevich, "Republic on the Volkhov". Science in Russia, No. 5, 1998. - Ed.

**Alexander A. Chernov (1877 - 1963), Dr. Sc. (Geol. & Mineral.), has conceptualized the present notions on the structure, history and prospects of the mineral and raw-material base of European Russia's northeast. He was among the pioneers of the Pechora Coal Basin and the founder of a research corps that grew into the Institute of Geology (Komi Research Center, Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences) based in Syktyvkar, the capital of the Komi Republic. - Ed.

**** See: D. Rundqvist, N. Yushkin, "Treasures of Timan and Urals", Science in Russia. No. 4, 2002. - Ed.

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the Tsilma", and this is the foundation date of the Ust-Tsilma community.

Conquering new territories, Moscow rulers offered certain tax rebates to settlers. But such privileges proved short-lived for the first new settlers of Ust-Tsilma. This community saddled a busy trading trail which Russian pathfinders had blazed along rivers south and southeast into Siberia from the Northern Dvina along the Pinega to the Kuloi, Mezen, Peza, Tsilma, Pechora, Usa and thence down to the Ob by reindeer (as testified by English travelers who were to these parts in the mid-16th century, the journey took six days by land and as much by water). Needless to say, quit-rents exacted from the denizens of this humming place were a good addition to the coffers, and government officials would raise the tax rates now and again.

Documents of those days give a detailed description of the local industries: "... Along the river Pechora... there are only fourteen tonyas* and six streams, with the red salmon fish caught in all those tonyas, and the white salmon fish caught in streams, and beavers beaten by all of the volost... In the selfsame Tsilma township there are patches of grain crops at the back of the yards and cabbage kitchen gardens... and the folks plough up those patches of land on and off-they do not do that in some years because of the frostkill in winter..."

In 1627, however, the waterway into Siberia's inland was closed to traffic for fear lest aliens would infiltrate into Siberia, and the busy commodity turnover up and down the Pechora came to a standstill. Little by little this land retired into itself and stuck to its patriarchal ways. The woodlanders did not accept the big church reform of the mid- 17th century and adhered to the Old Faith in all its orthodoxy. This land became a cradle of the Old Believers' opposition to new church canons. It was to Pustozersk that Protopope (Arch-priest) Avvakum, the leader of the Old Believers' movement, and his fellow martyrs were exiled, and they were burnt alive there. Old Ritualists from all over Russia would flee and make pilgrimages to these holy places, and many of the pilgrims stayed on. The community of Ust-Tsilma became one of the asylums for the "flock of the piety of old".

An Old Believers' skete (skit), a monastic type community, grew up near Ust-Tsilma ca. anno 1720; known as Velikopozhen, it survived, ofTand on, up until 1854. Another skete, the Omelin one, rose in the mid 18th-century. Such places became focal points of villages where Old Faith tradi-


Tonya - here part of a water body set aside to fish catching with large nets. - Ed.

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tionalists combined their religious credo with occupational pursuits, such as clearing the ground for pastures and ploughland. Old Believers showed themselves good at husbandry. Used to fend for themselves, they were able to brave the rigors of the subpolar north, the northernmost boundary for land crops cultivation.

New settlers, who came here in the middle of the 16th century, began with hunting and fishing, and then proceeded to animal husbandry and land tilling. They kept their livestock in stalls for as long as 8 or 9 months, and out at grass in short summer seasons without any herdsmen. Large supplies of hay were needed what with overlong winters-no less than three tons (or nine cartloads) per cow. That is why haymaking was the chief occupation of local peasants during the short summer months-their very welfare depended on that. Since lush meadowlands were often too far from residential communities, many of the villagers had to camp out till the onset of winter and make hay (or, in the Pechora parlance, they stayed out to hay-to mow, dry and store hay).

Land cultivation was another industry, for the land lay far from grain-growing regions, and the roads were poor, if any (river shipping helped out, though). Barley was an only staple, but it did not grow to ripeness year in and year out. "It is not cropped always before frosts and, if injured by frostkill, it may hardly be eatable at all", says an 18th century document.

Fishing evolved as the most profitable trade. Teams of 6 to 12 set out for red and white salmon, sold or else bartered for bread. The hunting season was on from September up until March, with huntsmen roaming in the wide taiga woods expanses as far as 200 km away. Vast tracts of woodland were divided among the huntsmen, and inherited from father to son. In wintertime many plied the carrying trade-groups of 20 to 100 horse-drawn carts or sledges hauled produce to Archangel, Pinega and Mezen.

Sergei Bakhrushin (a historian, elected to the USSR Academy of Sciences in 1939 as corresponding member) went to these northerly sticks in the beginning of the 20th century. He was amazed at the "out-of-the-way conservatism of the life of the Pechora peasants... Their tools are likewise antique: the wooden plough and harrow, and the makeshift blade of a scythe; no windmills, and few water-mills; the grist is ground by wenches with the use of manual millstones; men go out to sea on karbas* sailboats." Their trade is just as antique, it is barter for the most part. This is quite natural: the Old Believers kept the customs, the tongue and the spirit of ancient Russian life and patristic faith. They have been living secluded from a different ethnic milieu adhering to the Church Orthodoxy, and in time have formed a confessional type community, and a surprising cultural phenomenon simultaneously."

This land, off-limits to the rest of Russia, ceased to be a terra incognita only in the 20th century. Andrei Zhuravsky (1882 - 1914), a student of St. Petersburg University, first came there in 1902. In years after, he with a cohort of fellows organized almost 30 field parties for studying the geography, geology, and the plant and animal kingdoms of these desolate expanses. The young scientist set up the first research institution in the Far North-a zoological station at Ust-Tsilma (Pechora Agricultural Station of the Academy of Sciences in 1911 to 1956), and he established three other stations like that at Izhma, Ust-Ukhta and Ust-Kozhva.

Pechora folklore came as a surprising discovery to many. Making a tour of this area in 1901, 1902 and 1907, Nikolai Onchukov (student of the folklore and culture of the Russian North) collected quite a few heroic poems, lays, fairytales and hymns. His work was carried on in the 1920s to 1960s by folklore students of Moscow and Leningrad, who collected a precious heritage, more than 200 epic poems. Local people still remember their folklore narrators and bards, vocal in story-telling and singing; their chanting was inimitable in its delivery. Moscow scholars helped in reviving this song style by recording the voices of the best songsters and old denizens of the area.

Folklore field parties have also put down as many as 140 plots of ritual and ceremonial poems as well lyrical and situational songs and ditties akin to limericks; some songs dealt with historic events and army recruitments. Ust-Tsilma folks recall that their old men and women used to be in command of an immense repertory that could last for week-long outdoor parties at Christmas and Shrove -


Karbas - the first arctic sailboat (without decks) invented by the Pomors, the coast-dwellers of the White Sea, and used for hunting and transportation. On both sides it was fitted out with wooden sledge runners; thus, if need be, the karbas could move on ice like a regular sledge. - Ed.

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tide carnivals. Even today some oldsters can chant a hundred-odd songs.

We owe much to Vladimir Malyshev, an eminent archeographer, philologist and local history scholar for the discovery of the Pechora village as a treasure-trove of book learning. In 1949 to 1976 Dr. Malyshev was the founder and chief custodian of the repository of ancient manuscripts at the Institute of Russian Literature of the USSR Academy of Sciences (Pushkin House)*. He devoted more than 30 years to the search and study of like rarities. Delving into the life and work of Protopope Awakum, Dr. Malyshev visited Pustozersk, the place of the archpriest's tragic death (a bold act per se, if we recall the persecutions mounted in those days on faith). Making a stopover at Ust-Tsilma, the scholar was amazed to hear local people speaking of the martyr Old Ritualist as if he were their contemporary, though 250 years had passed from the day of his burning. Hand-written books of the 17th century, including his writings on moral and ethic matters, were still cherished and discussed.

The Land of Pechora became an obsession with Malyshev, and he sent several expeditions there for collecting unique monuments of culture. Ust-Tsilma villagers copied many historical, literary and situational accounts, stories, tales, homilies, apocrypha, hymns, supplications and passages from old Russian collections. Some texts were translated from foreign languages. A few manuscripts were known to experts in one or two MS copies, but many were a revelation indeed. A great number of manuscripts were real works of art that involved talented calligraphists, binders and artists. A peculiar handwriting style, the Pechora semi-uncial, was developed at Ust-Tsilma in the 19th century after the model of the 18th-century Pomor script.

The books, manuscripts and local history materials (peasants' letters, business documents and the like) collected by Malyshev and his pupils were set aside in a special stock of the RAS Institute of Russian Literature, and today it comprises 787 unique items, most of them coming from the rural communities of Ust-Tsilma and Pizhma. Since the late 1970s researchers of Syktyvkar State University have been at archeographic studies there, and today its scientific library can be proud of 267 old manuscripts and 109 old-printed books.

The owners of these priceless relics were ready to donate them to scholars who had won their trust. Seeing that their children (not capable of perusing the old cursive hand and semi-uncials) could not be faithful servants of Christ, the gift-givers hoped their treasures would get into good hands for the edification of generations to come, man and women fond of "the old letters".

The turn of the 21st century has seen a fresh discovery of Ust-Tsilma. Namely that elements of the original local dialect are still alive, a dialect rich in so many archaic words, and those borrowed from the tongues of neighbor peoples (Komi, Nentsi). This parlance is summed up in the Dictionary of the Russian Dialects of the Pechora's Lower Reaches, off the press in 2003, 2004 and 2005 thanks to a good job done by philologists of St. Petersburg and Syktyvkar.

Ethnographers were in for surprises, too: the villagers happened to keep a complete set of female sarafan (tunic-dress) apparel-festive attire, that for church services, for casual, everyday wear, and work. Most amazing of all, local people still celebrate fetes with rituals and ceremonies proper to Old Rus. From the 12th century on the chronicles have mentioned feasts confined to particular church holidays (clubbing brotherly feasts involving all or a part of parishioners)-for instance, on the occasion of St. Nicholas' Day (May 22) or St. Peter's Day (July 12).

Ust-Tsilma is the only place in Russia's North where they still celebrate St. Peter's Day. In the wee hours of July 12 the


See: Ye. Bogatyrev, "Literary Pantheon", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2005. - Ed.

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folks get to the other bank of the Pechora bank or just assemble in families to build bonfires and cook the ritual mash, or meal-Peter's kasha; they sing, dance and have a lot of fun in their merry-making. Gorka is another carnival staged in the open. Late in the 19th and early in the 20th centuries this festivity was arranged on St. Nicholas' Day, on Trinity (Whitsunday) and St. John's (Midsummer) Day on 24 June Old Style. There were three obligatory round dances each day, when merry-makers changed both dress and song repertories: young maids would sing morning songs and draw adolescents into their circle; day songs were performed by destined brides and young married wenches. And evenings came the climax, the evensong which brought together all villagers-man, woman and child.

The Gorka village carnival is still alive, though with certain transmutations. Putting on their festive attire, the country folks get together for a bit of fun. The very name of this fete - Gorka (Hill, Hillside)-goes back to the dim and distant past. Devoted to Yarilla, the god of fertility, it was celebrated on Yarilla's hillocks as the crowning achievement of the working year and the climactic point of hilarity, as the day of initiation of the younger set.

Wintertime rituals are still much around-carol-singing on Christmas, dressed-up parties (masquerades); and on Shrovetide, which goes on for a week here in Russia (not only on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday), the village folks make visits and eat and drink their fill.

It's a pleasure to see the good old traditions alive in our fitful age, with their lofty spirituality, rites and vivid, colorful dresses, and songs and lays calling up the memory of reverend forefathers.


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