Tribes and Dialects
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Habitat. The Tofalars live north of the East-Sayan Mountains, on a boundless taiga area, on the upper reaches of tributaries of the River Ob, the Uda, the Biryuza, the Kan, the Gutar and the Ia. Administratively, they belong to the Lower-Uda (Nizhne-Udsk) district of the Irkutsk region of the Russian Federation. They are eastern neighbours of the Tuvans.
Population. Data on the Tofalars comes from population censuses:
The decline in the number of native speakers is obviously caused by the corroding influence of the Russian-speaking environment.
Anthropologically, the Tofalars belong to the Mongoloid Central-Asian race. They are of small stature (men 160--164 cm), have dark a skin, dark narrow eyes and somewhat stiff hair. Beards are sometimes worn. Their faces are relatively high and flat, cheekbones are not very prominent, and lips are averagely thick (thin).
The Tofalar (or Tofa) language belongs to the Uighur-Oguz group of the Turkic languages, forming, together with the Tuvinian and ancient Uighur and Oguz languages, the subgroup of Uighur-Tüküi. Phonetical, grammatical and lexical characteristics show Tofalar as being most closely related to the Tuvinian language. Some academics believe that it is in fact a dialect of Tuvinian.
Tofalars have no written language of their own and use Russian. There are two dialects in the Tofalar language: Alygdzher and Gutar.
Research into the vocabulary has highlighted different linguistic influences. For instance, there are features of ancient Turkic in the Tofalar language, as well as loan-words and phonetic elements from the Ket language, several hundred loans from medieval Mongolian, some dozens of loans from Buryat, and at least a couple of hundred older loans from Russian. There are also words of unknown origin.
Ethnic origin. The origin and history of the Tofalars has been poorly investigated. They have lived for centuries as nomads of the taiga, north of the Sayan Mountains. In the 18th century, P. S. Pallas and J. G. Georgi regarded the Karagas as a Samoyed people and later it was believed that they had adopted the Turkish-Tartar language learnt from the Tuvans in the 19th century. However, V. Rassadin established (1969) that the ancestors of the Tofalars must have been a Ket-speaking tribe, who in the 6th--8th centuries took the ancient Turkish language and adapted it to their own phonological system. Later there were other influences and they were joined by other tribes (Samoyeds, among others).
History. For centuries Tofalars have lived as nomads. They have mostly had contacts with the eastern Tuvans. The two nations have much in common in their way of life and in their fate. However, the Tofalars were drawn into the Russian sphere of influence much earlier. In 1648, the Russians founded the fortified settlement of Udinsk and subsequently, the Tofalars became another people destined to appease the Russians' unquenchable appetite for furs. A fixed amount of sables was required as tribute per head of every gunbearer (aged 16--60), though often the quantities were arbitrarily increased. In 1889, for example, tribute was demanded for 248 gunners, although there were only 103 hunters.
The Soviet regime earned the Tofalars' gratitude by abolishing the tribute in 1926. In 1927, hunting regulations were altered and part of the former hunting grounds were declared reservations. This meant that Tofalars needed a permit to hunt in their native forests. Before the Soviet regime, there were five clans of Tofalars (Kash, Sarygh-Kash, Chogdu, Cheptei) and each had its own migration area and way of life. In 1927, however, a campaign was launched to force the Tofalars to settle permanently. Alygdzher, Utkum, Nerkha and Gutara were chosen as settlement sites and by 1932 all the Tofalars had been resettled. In 1929 the first co-operatives were formed and in 1930--1931, the Tofalars were collectivized into three kolkhozes: Krasnyi Okhotnik, Kirov and Kyzyl-Tofa (Red Tofalar). In 1930 a Tofalar national district, with Alygdzher as its centre, was formed in the Irkutsk region. The Tofalars' whole way of life had changed beyond recognition and they had been led into complete dependence on outside party. Shepherds moved with their herds as wage labourers, and so did hunters. Increased productivity meant many more furs for the state than did the old tax system. The new houses built by Russian carpenters, and the new furniture, were all unfamiliar to the Tofalars. New ready-made clothes and manufactured food appeared; it had to, as the moose the Tofalars used to eat now belonged to the state and was not allowed to be killed for food. Generally, the Tofalars had to copy everything the Russians did, from introducing cattle-breeding and horticulture to discrediting old shamanistic traditions.
In 1917 there were only two literate people among Tofalars, but in the 1930s Russian-language schools were founded. Besides becoming literate, schoolchildren had to show a zeal for reforms. For instance, a model vegetable garden was founded at the Alygdzher boarding school, the pupils had to go fishing and take care of the nanny-goats. School and the young were adroitly used to propagate the Russian language and ideology.
Nowadays, instead of following old traditions, people tend more to fuse into the urban Russian environment. Nevertheless, speaking Russian does not necessarily mean a total assimilation of the Tofalars: this is held at bay by their anthropological peculiarities.
Research. Not much study has been made of the language, history and culture of the Tofalars. Under the name of Karagas, some examples of their language were recorded in a comparative dictionary by P. S. Pallas (Linguarum totius orbis vocabularia comaparativa, 1787--89) and in a description of the peoples of the Russian Empire by J. G. Georgi (Beschreibung aller Nationen des Russischen Reichs, 1776--80). Both of them treat the Karagas as a Samoyed-speaking people. In the 19th century M. A. Castrén wrote, however, that they were a Turkic-speaking people (Versuch einer koibalischen und karagassischen Sprachlehre, 1857), at the same time giving the first survey of their grammar. In 1959 M. Sergeyev presented a more profound treatment of Tofalar society and folk culture and in 1969 V. Rasadin followed it up with an outline of their origin and ethnic history.