Tribes and Dialects
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The etymology of the designation Veps is obscure.
In the past, in Russian sources, the Veps, and also the Votes and Estonians, were called chud. In the 19th century, some Finnish linguists have referred to the Veps by the name of (northern) Chud. In the present spoken Russian language Veps are (disparagingly) called chukhars or chukhnas.
Habitat. The present-day habitat of the Veps is between the lakes of Ladoga, Äänisjärv (Онега) and Valgjärv (Белое озеро), where they live in three separate groups. The first, the Äänis- or Northern group is situated in Karelia, near Äänisjärv, to the south of Petroskoi. The Äänis-Veps call themselves lüdinik or lüdilainen. The Central Veps, the most numerous group. live in the St. Petersburg region of the Russian Federation, on the River Oyat. The Southern Veps live in the eastern part of the St. Petersburg region, on the northwestern edge of the Vologda province, on the River Leedjõgi. The Southern and Central Veps have infrequent contact, and the Northern Veps are separated from them by the River Süväri (Свир) and the interpolation of Russian settlements. The geographical and administrative division is the reason why only a few Veps (ca 0.7 % of rural Veps) have any distinct idea of the number and location of their compatriots. Since 1928, some Southern Veps, trying to escape from collectivization, have migrated to Siberia, where they live in a village in the Kemerovo region of the Russian Federation (85 families in all). There are other dispersed Veps in the Soviet Union. Recent immigrants have also reached towns in Estonia.
Although census data in the Soviet Union is extremely unreliable, the figures above clearly indicate the rapid and irrefutable diminishing of the Veps population. When the Finnish academics L. Kettunen, L. Posti and P. Siro visited the Veps settlements in the Soviet Union in 1934, they estimated the number of Veps at about 50,000. At that time, Veps families had many children and the Veps language was predominant in domestic life.
Anthropologically Veps belong to the White Sea-Baltic type. Occidental features are dominant although slight Mongoloid elements can occasionally present.
Language. Veps belongs to the Baltic-Finnic group of the Finno-Ugric languages. According to the location of the people, it is divided into three main dialects: Northern or Äänis-Veps, Central-Veps and Southern Veps. The Northern dialect is somewhat more distinct than the others, but nevertheless it is possible for the members of the different dialect groups to understand each other. The Slavonic invasion of Veps territories began with the Slovenians and continued through the supremacy of Novgorod. In 1485, Veps lands were annexed to the Grand Principality of Muscovy. The constant expansion north of Russian settlements has left the Veps settlements as a little island on their primeval lands. For example, the Russian colonists formed a wedge in the Süväri basin dividing the Northern, or Äänis-Veps, from the Central Veps. The intrusion of Russians on the tributaries of the Süväri and Jüvenjoe, divided the Northern Veps from their western kinsmen, the Ludic people. The Russian settlements reached the territories of the Äänis-Veps in approximately the 14th or 15th century. Other factors accelerating the extinction of the Veps were the considerable deterioration of the environment (e.g. the rapacious felling of timber by Russians in the Oyat river basin), the forcible indoctrination of the Orthodox religion, schooling in the Russian language and the close proximity of St. Petersburg, the centre of the Empire. However, the most devastating blow was dealt to the Veps people by the Soviet regime. The beginning of the 20th century had actually been quite promising for the Veps and even had the appearance of a national awakening of the people. This supported by the official Soviet national policy of the time: 24 administrative units with the status of national village soviets were formed, part of which were united into two national districts, Vidla (Винницы) in the Leningrad region and Shoutjärve (Шелтозеро) in the Karelian Autonomous Republic. [Before the intended Shimjärve (Шимозеро) district in the Leningrad region could be formed, those already in existence were liquidated.] Schools of Veps language were founded, and a Veps written language was created, on the basis of the Central-Veps dialect. A department of minorities established at the Leningrad District Council was engaged in the compiling of the Veps written language, and there was a so-called Committee of the New Alphabet attached to it. A system of spelling was worked out similar to the Latin-alphabet system created for the Karelians of Tver. The first book was a primer (1932). Altogether, more than 30 books in the Veps language were printed (mainly textbooks for primary schools). The principal compilers or translators of the textbooks were educationalists: M. Hämäläinen and F. Andreyev. An educational system for national staff was started. Sixty Veps began their studies at the Teachers' Training College of Lodeynoye Polye. By 1934 all the Veps schools had been supplied with textbooks in their native language. Finnish was appointed as a schooling language for the Äänisjärve Veps (in Karelia). As a result of a tenacious struggle on the part of intellectuals and parents, the Veps language was adopted also, but here it only lasted two months. This happy period was short-lived. The policy of violent oppression begun in 1937, aimed at all minorities in the Soviet Union, struck the Veps too. All national cultural activities were stopped. The assimilation of Veps by "accelerated methods" began. Veps schools were closed, textbooks were burned, teachers were put in prison, and some ethnic intellectuals even lost their lives as a result of their nationality (among them a Veps ethnographer, Stepan Makaryev). The national districts were abolished (in the Leningrad region in 1939, in the Karelian ASR, in 1956 or 1957) and parcelled out between the Karelian ASR, and the Leningrad and Vologda regions. Also in 1937, the Veps village soviets were deprived of their national status. The Veps of Shimjärve, in despair, abandoned their homes and settled in the villages and towns around Äänisjärve. This kind of malicious national policy forced many Veps villages toward extinction (the infrastructure disintegrated, like jobs, shops, medical services, roads etc). During World War II, in the "War of Continuation", the Finns occupied the area of the Äänis-Veps.The Finnish authorities established a Finnish educational system there. As volunteers, some Veps joined the Finnish army, forming the "Kindred Battallion". The retreat of the Finns from the Äänis-Veps territory caused the local Veps heavy suffering: the Soviet authorities severely punished the people who were accused of collaboration with the Finns. The Kindred Battallion was relinquished to the Soviet Union by the Finns.
In the postwar period the young Veps began a mass migration to the towns, moving into a Russian linguistic and cultural environment. It should be noted that the data of the 1970 and 1979 censuses are not objective, but rather reflect the arbitrary power and choice of the officials in recording people's nationality. In identification documents and house registers of the village soviets, the nationality of the Veps was faked whenever possible. The motivation had to do with the wishes of higher authority, but it was also partly the Veps' fear or false shame, at admitting themselves to be Veps. In 1983, on the initiative of national academics, an inquiry was carried out which showed that actually there were nearly 13,000 Veps in the Soviet Union, 5,600 of whom lived in Karelia, 4,000 in the Leningrad region and just under a 1,000 in the Vologda region.
This, however, was no occasion for delight. Within the Veps villages there were few young people. Most of the Veps-speaking population of the Leningrad and Vologda regions were over 40 years old. Since the 1930s resettlers from other parts of Russia have been systematically directed to the area of the Äänis-Veps, which has reduced the percentage of Veps locally to an average of 50 %; in the two village soviets in the Shoutjärve district, the Veps were already a minority. The young Veps and their children who migrated to towns were lost to the nation. The feeling of national identity ran low and hopes for the future were nil. In 1983 the backbone of the Veps nation was breaking. The national policy of the present epoch of reforms has not yet had a tangible effect upon the Veps. The national district was reestablished in the Äänisjärv area (in the Karelian ASR) but any aspirations for forming an administrative unit comprising all the present Veps settlements have so far met with powerful resistance from the Russians.
In 1989, a Veps Cultural Society was formed, with the aim of rekindling a Veps' sense of identity, and increasing the Veps' respect for their language, history and culture. The authorities of the Leningrad and Vologda regions at this point still did not understood the necessity of maintaining the Veps people and culture. The Veps language is taught only, and optionally, in the Shoutjärve school in the Karelian ASR.
The preservation of the Veps people and the restoration of their culture is feasible only if a great many Veps reassess their priorities and strengthen their national identity.
Research of the Veps language. Research has been going on for over 160 years. The Veps were discovered for academia by A. J. Sjögren in 1824, but it took decades before a distinct picture could be formed of the habitation and population of the Veps. Since there was no information about the population, the Russian ethnologists working in the Veps area in the late 19th century were of the opinion that the people would be shortly extinct. Among the Finnish linguists who have studied the Veps language are E. A. Tunkelo and L. Kettunen and among the Estonians, T.-R. Viitso and A. Kährik. The Veps people themselves have produced such linguists as N. Bogdanov, M. Zaitseva and N. Zaitseva. In 1972, M. Zaitseva's and M. Mullonen's Veps-Russian Dictionary was published in Leningrad.
Ethnic culture. Veps have always been engaged in agriculture. Slash-and-burn agriculture was widespread. Hunting and fishing were essential, as the bodies of water in Veps lands were abundant in fish and the forests were full of game. In 1703, Peter the Great founded a metalworking and munition factory near Äänisjärv. From then on, work in the factory became a source of income for many Veps of the Aunus province. Formerly, many Veps had taken migrant work, in search of which they travelled in northern Russia, Finland and Estonia. Lots of Veps men went to work in the quarries of the famous Shoksha purple rock (porphyry) in summer.
Pottery, alone of the ancient Veps crafts, has survived to the present day. The rest of the Veps traditional occupations live only in memory.