7 Fact about the Dolgans – the Youngest Ethnic Group of Taymyr
- The Dolgans are the youngest ethnic group of the Taymyr Peninsula: their identity began to emerge as late as the 18th – early 19th cc. They descended from the mixing of the migrated Yakuts, indigenous Tungusic peoples, and so-called “tundra peasants” – Russian old-timers of Taymyr. According to the Russian Census 2010, there are 7885 Dolgans in Russia.
- Travelers and naturalists who explored the Taymyr Peninsula called the Dolgans “the aristocrats of tundra” because of their colourful and beautiful clothes.
- For a long time, the Dolgans did not have any common autonym; they referred to themselves by names of their clans. The autonym “Dolgans” originates from the name of one of the Evenk clans “dolgan” / “dulgaan,” which means “medium,” “medial,” “inner.”
- The Dolgan language is one of the Altaic languages: it belongs to the Yakut subgroup of the Turkic family. It originated from the Yakut language and was influenced by Evenki.
- The main subsistence of the Dolgans came from the fur trade, reindeer herding, wild deer hunting, and fishing. The basic diet of the Dolgans includes raw, boiled, smoked, or frozen venison. Fresh fish is eaten raw with some salt, or boiled. The Dolgans also eat stroganina (raw, thin, long-sliced frozen fish).
- There are many types of Dolgan dwellings. In the past, the Dolgans used to live in chums, half dug-outs called golomo, or in balagans – a type of wooden house. Nowadays settled Dolgans live in villages, while nomads use baloks (balki). A balok is a wood-framed dwelling moved with the help of runners.
- Religious beliefs of the Dolgans include elements of Orthodox traditions and animism. On the one hand, people would place Orthodox icons in plain view in their chums. On the other hand, animism manifested itself in the veneration of sajtans – stones, trees, and other things of unusual shape that could bring good luck in hunting and fishing.
Traditional Clothes of the Dolgans
Leather currying and tailoring were female chores. Women made clothes without any templates: they checked sizes with the help of their fingers and sewed details together with sinew.
Female parkas (a type of outerwear) were fitted and had slightly elongated backs. When women sat on bare ground, such backs protected them from the cold and served as an extra cover. Frontal hems of Dolgan clothes are tightly buttoned and fastened with suede laces. Garments’ edges flare due to extra gores sewed in on each side of an article.
There are several types of Dolgan male clothing, but all of them are adjusted to harsh climate and traditional activities. Male garments can be short (knee-long) or long (in this case, an article usually has gathers). In summer, men would wear a robe known as “hontap.” It was made of black cloth or cotton velvet and had a straight front slit, converging edges, and a wide turndown collar. In winter, Dolgan men could put such robes over coats made of polar fox or hare fur and lined with thin cotton fabric.
Both women and men wore hats called “bergehe” lined with the fur of polar foxes or hares. Such headgear tightly covered a head and protected ears from cold. The “bergehe” hats were fastened with narrow suede laces in the front.
The Dolgans produced footwear from skin from deer shins. There is a rich variety of Dolgan footwear: it can be with short or long uppers, designed for indoor and outdoor activities, for everyday life or for special occasions. Male and female unty (a type of footwear made of hide) are adorned with vertical elements made of coloured beads.
The upper part of unty is made of red cloth, it is 12-13 cm wide and is also decorated with sophisticated bead embroidery.
The Ornamentation of Clothes
An ornament made of beads is a distinctive feature of the Dolgan traditional costume. Russian merchants brought beads to Taymyr and traded them for furs. Even skilful craftswomen spent months and sometimes years to make beaded edging. It was a laborious creative task that demanded much effort, patience, and experience from a woman.
The Dolgans highly valued such work, as well as materials needed to produce ornaments. When parkas got threadbare, people cut their ornaments down and sewed them to a new article. Thanks to this practice, we still can enjoy ancient patterns of the Dolgans even on modern clothes.
Ornaments on Female Clothes
Let us examine this pattern, “ardajdaak hańyjak,” on the female parka. The jagged line, the main part of the ornament, is called “ardaj,” which means “fissure.” This wide zigzag pattern consists of 3-5 coloured stripes made of pink, black, and yellow beads.
The “ardaj” pattern is usually supplemented with various figures, such as rectangles, angles, circles, or triangles.
A wavy line “tyńyrak” (“nail”) decorated an area around a thumb on the left hand.
“Olorduu harbanńak” is a pattern that consists of rhomboid and cruciate figures connected by circular or straight lines. This pattern is made of white beads and decorates not only clothes, but also bags and footwear. Another name of the ornament is “tumus” or “tumsu,” which means “beak.”
As can be seen on the photo above, the attached edging was always adorned with striped patterns that consisted of several lines of coloured beads: black and white, pink, blue, and yellow. The classic scheme of the pattern is based on the alternation of black and white beads that make a dotted line.
The Dolgan craftswomen also decorated parkas with fur mosaics and located them in the same areas as beaded ornaments. The scheme of such patterns consists of alternating black and white rectangles of fur.
“Tolbon,” or “haakymat” is an ornament based on fur mosaics. It consists of alternating black and white pieces of fur organised chequerwise, and figures of rectangular shape.
Backs of female parkas are decorated with dangling charms called “höölbüür” (“pendulous,” “dangling”). This adornment consists of two charms placed parallel to each other. Each charm is made of metal stripes, big colourful beads, and small rings. These charms are not produced anymore, yet they still can be seen on traditional female parkas.
Ornaments on Male Clothes
Ornaments with three-pronged figures, coloured threads, and pieces of fabric decorate male parkas and robes.
A “tarbak” (“paw”) ornament adorns pockets of this robe. It is a variation of a three-pronged pattern.
A rectangular half-belt with striped ornament decorates backs of male parkas. The narrow ribbed stripe of a pattern known as “d’irbii” (“dappled stripe,” “backbone”) is a dotted line. An “yt tiihe” (dog’s teeth) ornament consists of small rectangles.
The Meaning of Some Ornamental Motifs
Ornaments conveyed particular information about a person. For example, female and male textile hats “oguruolaak bergehe” differ in their beaded patterns. Male hats have a circular ornament called “muos tördüte” (“the base of deer horns”) and “külgaak” (“deer ears”). People believed that hunters who wore these ornaments became stronger than animals and had sharp hearing and a keen eye.
Beaded ornaments with rosettes decorated backs of hats. Rosettes are a characteristic element of Dolgan patterns and have many variations. Such ornaments adorn Dolgan footwear, hats, and chest aprons.
Ornaments in the form of a chum adorn female hats. A chum-like pattern was also known as “female ear with an earring,” “partridge foot,” or “goose foot.”
Footwear was also decorated with beads. A beaded pattern “tańalaj” (“palate”) – colourful “chevrons” directed upwards – adorned the front part of a shaft. The same ornament was repeated on a red textile stripe that decorated the upper edge of a shaft.
There are ornaments “tumus” and “tynyral” in the ornamentation of this sewn-in stripe, too.
The Dolgans artfully decorated houseware items, instruments for deer herding and other activities. They used different techniques: engraving, carving, and even stitching with deer neck hairs. We will continue collecting information about ornaments of the Dolgans and other peoples of the North, and plan to tell you more in the following articles.
This article about the ornamentation of Dolgan traditional clothes is the second one from the series of publications dedicated to the patterns of indigenous peoples of Taymyr. Ornamika works on these materials in collaboration with the Regional State Budgetary Institution of Culture “The Taymyr Museum of Local History” (Dudinka).In the first material of the series, we explored the meaning of Nganasan patterns and the technique of their making.
This text was written with the help of Bella Chuprina, the chief curator of the Taymyr Museum of Local History.
The photos of the traditional Dolgan clothing used in this article are the property of the Taymyr Museum of Local History and cannot be published on other sources without the permission from the Museum board.
- Chuprina B. T. “Dolgan Ornaments” [article, in Russian] and descriptions of ornaments in Dolgan traditional clothing (materials were provided by the Taymyr Museum of Local History).
- Dolgikh B. O. The Origins of the Dolgans (in Russian) // The Siberian Ethnographic Collection. Moscow, 1963. Vol. 5.
- Ornaments of Peoples of Taymyr. The Dolgans. The Nganasans. The Nenets [album] / ed. and ill. by V. Randin; foreword of Yu. Tradinarov. Norilsk: Taymyrpressfoto, 1994.
- Savvinov A. I. Ethnocultural Peculiarities in Ornamental Traditions of the Dolgans (in Russian) // Vestnik of Far Eastern Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences. 2010. № 2.
- Savvinov A. I. Traditional Clothes in the Dolgan Rituals and Perceptions(in Russian) // The Bulletin of the Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia. St. Petersburg. 2011. № 3.
- The Dolgans (in Russian). Article from the Encyclopaedia of Krasnoyarsk Krai.