Tsakxa people

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The Tsakxa people (Russian: Вонкие, Voniye, Tsakxa: Memama, 'the real people') are an indigenous ethnic group of western Siberia traditionally characterised by their use of the Tsakxa language.

Endonym and exonym

The name 'Tsakxa' is used predominantly in English texts thanks to a misinterpretation of the word as the Tsakxa's endonym by Harold Vonsburg, the first American scholar to study the Tsakxa (1901). The word Tsakxa actually means 'to hunt' and may have been an exonym applied by other local groups through their own misinterpretations. The Tsakxa themselves refer to themselves as Memama, 'people-people' or 'the real people'. In Russian, they are called Voniye, which probably derives from an exonym applied to them by the Sakha.


Tribal life

Traditionally, the Tsakxa led a semi-nomadic tribal hunter-gatherer life within eastern Siberia, trading with various other peoples. The Tsakxa lived in small familial groups, usually consisting of two to five brothers, their parents, their wives and their children. These groups did not marry within themselves. Daughters married sons from other families and the daughter joined her husband's tribe. The Tsakxa were generally monogamous. With the arrival of Russian explorers and missionaries, many of the Tsakxa converted to Russian orthodoxy, although probably only to ensure trading contacts.

Modern Tsakxa

During Stalin's rule, large numbers of the Tsakxa were forcibly transferred to central Asia, and the rest were forced to settle and become agricultural workers. The Tsakxa population was disseminated at random in order to break up familial units. Although after Stalin's death many were allowed to return, many ethnic Tsakxa were orphans with no knowledge of their background, and many others had been raised speaking Russian. The Tsakxa people today are mostly agricultural or live in the city. The language has only a few hundred speakers remaining, almost all of them over the age of 40.