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The self-designations are maan's'i and maan's'i maahum, meaning 'people of the Mansi'. The eastern tribes also use män's. The language is called maan's'i latyng. The original meaning of the self-designation is a human being or a man. Previously the Mansi were better known by the name of Voguls, their name in the Komi (and Khant) language. The Zyryan Komis were once guides for the Russian troops in the area of the River Ob, and through the Russian the term of Voguls spread in other languages as well.

The Mansis were first mentioned in written records in 1396 in Russian chronicles as Voguls. Earlier records, starting with G. Rogovich from Novgorod (1096), did not differentiate between the Jugra people, i.e. the Khants and the Mansis. In Russian sources the term Mansi came into use in 1785, and from the 1920s it became common in the Soviet Union. The remainder of the world still knows the Mansis as Voguls.

Habitat. The Mansis live in the Khanty-Mansi National District belonging to the Tyumen region in north-western Siberia. The area is vast -- 523,100 square kilometres, -- but the population density is low. The Mansi villages are usually situated in the river valleys (Konda, Lozva, Pelym, Sosva, Tavda) which range from the Ural mountains to the lower reaches of the Ob. In former times the habitat of the Mansi reached the areas west of the Urals, and their onetime settlements have been discovered in the vicinity of Perm and in the neighbourhood of the Kama and Pechora rivers.

Population. The population of the Mansi taken from censuses is as follows:

native speakers
19055,304 (A. Kannisto)
19596,44959.2 %
19707,71052.4 %
19797,56349.5 %
19898,47437.1 %

From the statistics the population of the Mansi seems relatively stable, however a steady decrease in the number of native speakers gives cause for worry. In 1979 the number of people who considered Mansi their native language was 3742, in 1989 the number was 3140. The explosive increase in the population is also alarming. In 1938 about 98,300 people were living in the Khanty-Mansi District, in 1969 the number was 289,000, in 1979, 596,000, and in 1989, 1,268,000. In this fragile and vulnerable tundra area the population has increased over ten-fold in 50 years, and during the last 20 years as many as a million people have been added. As a proportion of the total population, the number of the Mansis has decreased: in 1938 the percentage of the Mansis in the population of their district was 6.2 %, in 1959 4.6 %, in 1970 2.5 %, in 1979 1.1 %, and in 1989 only 0.6 %.

Anthropologically the Mansi belong to the Uralic race. They are short, they have high cheekbones and slit eyes and their eyes and hair are dark. In comparison with the other Finno-Ugric peoples, the Mansi exhibit significantly more Mongoloid characteristics. These characteristics are more evident in the southern Mansi.

The Mansi language belongs to the family of Finno-Ugric languages. Together with the Khant and the Hungarian languages they form the Ugric group of the family; the Mansi and the Khant languages form the Ob-Ugric subgroup. Khant is the closest kindred language of Mansi. The Mansi and the Khant languages began branching off their common Ob-Ugric roots in about the 13th century.

Due to the large distribution area, the Mansi language has splintered into numerous dialects. The major ones are the northern, the eastern, the southern, and the western dialects. The differences are marked and hinder communication between speakers of different dialects.

Language contacts. The Ob-Ugric languages have about 30--40 % of common roots. As a result of language contacts there are numerous loan-words from the Komi (more than 500 in the southern dialect) and Russian languages. Since the 1930s Russian has begun to supplant Mansi. As the population is completely bilingual, the Mansi insert occasional Russian words or phrases into their speech (as a barbarism, a change of code).

History. The ancestors of the Ob-Ugric peoples inhabited the areas west of the Urals. During the first millennium BC they migrated to the middle reaches of the River Irtysh, and from there on to the lower reaches of the Ob, where they assimilated the local inhabitants (called Por in legends). The Ob-Ugric tribes which had moved to the northeast and the east separated from the Hungarians, and in about the 13th century, the Mansi and the Khant in their turn separated. The ancient Khant and Mansi society consisted of two phratries: mos and por. The mos families (they are associated with the name of Mansi) considered a hare to be their foremother, while the totem animal of the Por-Mansi was a male bear. In the southern areas the tribes reared cattle and cultivated land, but in the taiga and tundra areas they started to hunt, fish and rear reindeer. A local order and a hierarchical structure evolved.

In the 13--18th centuries the Khant-Mansi tribes fought fiercely, under the leadership of their local chiefs, against the Tatars and the Russians, but finally they were defeated. In 1265 it was recorded that the Ugric tribes had to pay tribute to Novgorod, in the 14--16th centuries they also paid tribute to the Tatars. The Tatars did not interfere with the structure of Mansi society, but the Russian military campaigns were conquests for new lands (for example Novgorod in 1364, Moscow in 1483, 1499, Yermak in 1581 etc.). The Mansi attacked the Russians for instance in 1581 on the lands of Stoganoff and in 1582 at Cheryn. Uprisings of Mansis took place even up until this century. In all of this continuous warring it was the Mansi who suffered most, for the Khants had moved to the east, farther away from the Ob.

The Bishop of Perm Gerasim tried to christianize the Mansi in the 15th century, but in a Mansi raid in 1455, the Bishop was killed in the Muscovite stronghold Vychegda. The Mansi were baptized on a mass scale in 1714--22 by the monk Fyodor. The conversion was a formality only, the old cults of animism and shamanism were preserved. Russian orthodoxy and Russian names marked the incorporation of new territories into Russia. The baptism itself was real enough and those resisting the edict of Peter I were executed. From the 18th century on larger and larger numbers of Russian merchants and officials came to western Siberia. In addition to the tributes demanded by them (10 sable furs per person) unfair commercial deals were made and the local people became economically dependent on the newcomers. The Russian colonizers employed vodka to give them the upper hand in their dealings with the Mansi.

Soviet power was introduced to the Mansi during the course of collectivization. In 1930 the Ostyak-Vogul Autonomous National District was formed (in 1940 it became the Khanty-Mansi National District). The new ideology claimed its victims and demanded unconditional recognition. When the best fishermen and reindeer herders (the so-called kulaks) had been exterminated, it was the turn of the shamans and folk customs to be persecuted.

In the 1960s the exploitation of oil and gas deposits in the western Siberia began, and that brought about the growth of industry, new settlements and towns, and an unchecked flow of immigrants. The local people, including the Mansi, experienced only negative effects. The environment has been polluted; in accidents alone 20,000--25,000 tons of oil per year is spilled and soaked into the ground. In 1960 alone, six million hectares of grazing land was destroyed, 200,000 hectares of water, rich in fish, were polluted. As a consequence the herds of reindeer have decreased, the yearly catch of sturgeon (50 tons per family) is now only a tenth of years past. At the same time the population of the Khanty-Mansi National District experienced an explosive increase. Geologists, oil industry workers, road builders and others were the new occupants in the Mansi lands. The majority of these newcomers were only interested in money, as much of it and as quickly as possible. Working in the Far North was profitable, and as compensation the workers were granted various privileges. By 1990 the state had exported over US $ 20 billion of oil and gas not a cent of which was seen by the native inhabitants of West Siberia. The onslaught of industry has resulted in the forced evacuation of the Mansi and great difficulties in adaptating to the changed environment. As a result of these factors to which russification (especially felt in boarding schools) should be added, the preservation of the Mansi as a nation has been cast in grave doubt. By 1979 only about 43 % of the Mansi were still engaged in traditional employment, the remainder did odd jobs or worked part-time, or were unemployed. Alcoholism is a common phenomenon. The average life expectancy is only 40--45 years and the percentage of suicides is high.

As Mansi young women are leaving the area (for jobs in Moscow,for example) the balance between the sexes in Mansi community could not be maintained. Due to the intensive russification that began in the 1970s, 2/3 of the children do not speak their native language. Discriminating attitude towards the Mansi predominates. The exploitation and derision of the "blacks" -- the Mansi and other Northern people -- goes unpunished. Thus a part of the Mansi have chosen a closed circle of their environment with their customs, language, and traditions. Another part have transformed the deriding attitude of the Russians into self-negation, leaving their homeland and trying to live as Russians, or committing suicide. (cf. the Khantis)

Writing. There were attempts to create the Mansi literary language in the 19th century already. "The Gospel According to Matthew" was translated into the Mansi language by G. Popov and published by the British Bible Society in London, in 1868; Bishop Nikonor published a primer in 1903, but the efforts of the missionaries were not enough. The Mansi received their literary language in 1931. On the basis of the material collected by V. Chernetsov and I. Chernetsova on their expeditions to the dialect areas of the Mansi in 1930--31, the phonemes of the Mansi language were fixed in the Research Association of the Institute of the Nordic Peoples in Leningrad, the alphabet was formed on the basis for the literary language and the orthographic rules were fixed. The Mansi literary language is based on the Sosva dialect. The whole thing was started from the outside, and its main purpose was to influence the Mansi ideologically. In 1932 V. Chernetsov published a new primer (A new way. Elementary instruction in the Mansi language.). Several textbooks on the elementary level and children's books have also been published (there was a complete gap in publishing in 1957--71). Fiction has also been published in the Mansi language and a Mansi poet Yuvan Shestalov (b. 1937, lives in Leningrad) is known not only in his national territory.

In 1937 the Latin alphabet was replaced with the Cyrillic one. Considering the adequate expression of the sounds in the Mansi language, it was a mistake. The Latin alphabet makes it possible to convey different quantities of sounds, the cases of palatalization etc.; the Cyrillic is unsuitable for that.

Research. Hungarian A. Reguly started research work in the Mansi language, and collected a lot of language material in 1843--44. His texts were used by P. Hunfalvy in his book "A vogyl föld es nep" (The Land and People of Vogul). On the basis of the Gospel translation by G. Popov, P. Hunfalvy also compiled a grammar of the Konda dialect (A konda vogul nyelv, 1872). A Finn, A. Ahlquist stayed with the Mansi in 1858--59 and in 1877, on the basis of his collection a dictionary of the Mansi language (Wogulisches Wörterverzeichnis, 1891), a grammar and texts (Wogulische sprachtexte nebst entwurf einer wogulischen grammatik, 1894) were published. B. Munkacsi has published a comprehensive collection of the Mansi folk poetry in 1892--1902 and in 1910--21.

During the Soviet years there have been published surveys of the Mansi language and its dialects (V. Chernetsov 1937, A. Balandin and M. Vakhrusheva 1957, Y. Rombandeyeva 1973), a Mansi-Russian dictionary (V. Chernetsov and I Chernetsova 1936), a Russian-Mansi dictionary (Y. Rombandeyeva 1954). In post-war period a Mansi Yevdokiya Rombandeyeva has been the most prominent researcher in this field.


  1. I. Manninen, Soome sugu rahvaste etnograafia, Tartu 1929
  2. K. Põllu, Mansid. -- Tallinna Kunstiülikooli kümme soome-ugri uurimisreisi, Tallinn 1990
  3. J. Rombandejeva, Mansi keelest ja selle uurimisest. -- Keel ja Kirjandus 2, 1959
  4. J. Šestalov, Kui mind hällitas päike, Tallinn 1984
  5. V. Uibopuu, Meie ja meie hõimud. Peatükke soomeugrilaste minevikust ja olevikust, Lund 1984
  6. Е. М. Ромбандеева, Мансийский (вогульский) язык, Москва 1973
  7. З. П. Соколова, Народы Севера СССР: прошлое, настоящее и будущее. -- Советская этнография 6, 1990
  8. Ю. Шесталов, Почему "плачут предки". -- Народов малых не бывает, Москва 1991
  9. Ханты и манси. -- Народы Сибири, Москва -- Ленинград 1956


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