Indigenous peoples of the Urals: history and interesting facts

Indigenous peoples of the Urals.
Indigenous peoples of the Urals.

Indigenous peoples are a separate page in the history of the Urals, which reflects the diversity of ancient traditions, languages and crafts of our region.

The Urals is the junction of Europe and Asia. Mountains, rivers, forests and steppes meet here. All this natural diversity directly influenced the life, culture and habits of the ancient people who inhabited its lands.

This is how religion, beliefs and traditions were born. Passed down from generation to generation, many of them have survived to this day. Now the Urals is a multinational region with its own unique social, economic and industrial history. The Urals breaks the perception of Russia, pushes the boundaries of the imagination, is truly impressive and makes one wonder: how does such a diversity of cultures combine in one region?

A Brief History of the Peoples of the Urals

The first tribes settled in the Urals about 10 thousand years ago. By the middle of the 1st millennium, the European and Asian Urals had reached the Ugrians. They are the ancestors of the modern peoples of the Khanty and Mansi. Soon the Ugric tribe became the only ethnic entity in the Ural lands.

From the XII century, the first Russians came to the Urals. These were people from the Novgorod principality who collected tribute from the local population.

In the XIII-XIV century, the Mongol-Tatars set foot on Russian soil. The troops began to actively seize the lands of the Polovtsy: so a stream of nomads poured into the Volga region and the Southern Urals.

Peoples of the Urals.
Peoples of the Urals.

In the 15th century, the territory of the Kama region, where the Komi-Permyaks lived, became part of the Russian state. By the end of the 15th century, the lands of the Urals were already inhabited by Ugrians, Udmurts, Mari, Bashkirs, Khanty and Mansi peoples. In the 16th century, as a result of Yermak’s campaigns, advancement in the Trans-Urals turned into an irreversible process: Russians became the predominant population in the region.

In the future, the boundaries of the settlement of peoples began to approach modern ones. The movement of Tatars, Mordovians, Chuvashs and Maris to the South Urals intensified, the non-Russian population increased.

The more actively the industry developed, the more Russian people came to the Ural lands. Indigenous peoples became less and less, and traditions were forgotten. Much has been preserved only on the shelves of museums and on the pages of library books. But there are peoples of the Urals, and their culture is still alive, you just have to look around a little more carefully.

Indigenous peoples of the Urals:

  • Khanty (Ostyaks)
  • Mansi (Voguls)
  • Komi-Zyrians
  • Komi-Permyaks
  • Udmurts
  • Mari
  • Mordva
  • Bashkirs
  • Nenets
  • Tatars

Khanty and Mansi

Why are the Khanty and Mansi peoples often mentioned together? The thing is that both tribes had the closest relatives of the Hungarians (Magyars), and their language belongs to the same language group Finno-Ugric.

Despite the common history, the two peoples have one important difference: the Mansi were nomads by nature and were mainly engaged in reindeer herding, while the Khanty lived in the taiga, and their main occupation was fishing.

The main occupations and traditions of the peoples of the Khanty and Mansi

Mansi are the indigenous people of the Northern Urals and the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Okrug, the closest relatives of the Khanty people. About 60% use Russian in everyday life, Mansi is their native language.

The main occupations of the Mansi are hunting and reindeer herding. Also, people were engaged in collecting nuts, berries, herbs and roots.

Khanty family near the chum.
Khanty family near the chum.

Mansi clothes were made from skins and decorated with beads and various ornaments. They mostly ate game, fish and gifts from the northern forests: nuts and berries. Kitchen utensils were made of wood or birch bark.

The main food of the Khanty and Mansi peoples was fresh deer blood and bone marrow. According to the indigenous inhabitants of Yugra, the blood of the animal, along with raw meat, helped against diseases, warmed in frosts and strengthened the immune system.

Khanty hunters before leaving.
Khanty hunters before leaving.

More interesting:

An interesting exposition dedicated to the traditions of the Mansi peoples is presented in the Severouralsk Museum of Local Lore.

In the Sverdlovsk region, the place of traditional residence is the Ivdel city district, namely: the village. Bakhtiyarova Yurta, Yurta Kurikova, Suevatpaul and others.

According to the administration of the Ivdelsky District, at the time of 2017, the number of Mansi was 108 people. In total, according to the 2010 census, 12,269 people live on the territory of the Russian Federation.

The Khanty are an indigenous people living on the territory of the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Okrug-Yugra, YaNAO and the Tyumen Region. The historical language of the people is Khanty (Ostyak).

The main occupations are hunting, gathering, cattle breeding and fishing. Northern groups are also involved in reindeer herding. Traditional crafts are wood carving, blacksmithing, birch bark making, weaving. Like the Mansi relatives, the main food of the Khanty people was game meat, fish, berries and nuts.

The population of the Khanty people in Russia is about 30.9 thousand people.

Komi peoples

Komi are the people of the Finno-Ugric branch. Depending on the territory in which people lived, 2 groups of tribes were distinguished: Komi-Permyaks and Komi-Zyryans.

What is the difference between Komi-Zyryans and Komi-Permyaks?

Komi-Zyryans (translated as “people living on the border”) are the indigenous population of the Komi Republic, and Komi-Permyaks are a people who mostly live in the Perm Territory.

According to the latest census, the population of the Komi-Zyryans is about 350 thousand people. There are much fewer Komi-Permyaks 95 thousand people.

Komi hunter.
Komi hunter.

The oldest occupations of the Komi-Zyrians were hunting and fishing. The Southern Komi were more engaged in agriculture (rye, barley) and animal husbandry.

Komi-Permyaks from the XII century were engaged in active trade with Novgorodians, agriculture and animal husbandry. Traditional women’s crafts were weaving and spinning. Previously, pottery was widespread, and later weaving products from birch bark.

In the culture of the Komi-Permyaks, dumplings were considered a ritual dish. They symbolized the sacrifice of domestic animals: pigs, rams and cows. In Kudymkar, a monument was erected in honor of the dumpling.


The Udmurts (Votiaks) are one of the most ancient peoples of the Urals. The main part lives in the Republic of Udmurtia and in adjacent territories: Bashkortostan, Perm Territory.

Indigenous peoples of the Urals, Udmurts, 16th century.
Indigenous peoples of the Urals, Udmurts, 16th century.

The main occupations were agriculture and cattle breeding. Beekeeping and fishing also predominated.

According to the 2010 census, the population of Udmurts in Russia is about 552 thousand people.


Bashkirs are the Turkic people of the Southern Urals, living in the territories of the Republic of Bashkortostan and the Chelyabinsk region.

For a long time, the Bashkirs were nomads, and only by the 19th century did they begin to settle. The main occupations were agriculture, animal husbandry and beekeeping.

Indigenous peoples of the Urals, Bashkirs.
Indigenous peoples of the Urals, Bashkirs.

Here they love koumiss, ayran, horse sausage and everyone’s favorite chak-chak with fragrant Bashkir honey. They eat a lot here, treat generously, welcome guests cordially, and celebrate holidays pompously and loudly.

About 1.5 million Bashkirs live in Russia, of which 1.2 million live in the Republic of Bashkortostan.