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ETHNONYMS: Abans, Blacksmith Tatars, Chysh Kizhi, Kondoma, Kuznets Tatars, Mountain Shors, Mrassa, Shortsy, Tom-Kuznets Tatars


Identification. The modern Shors are descendants of numerous Turkified Ugrian-, Samoyedic-, and Ketic-speaking groups and tribes, many of them unrelated to each other. The generic term "Shor" is actually the name of a single large group living in the Kondoma River valley; it was applied by the Soviet government to a large number of groups to simplify administration. Shor groups live separately and have their own names, often terms that reflect locality. Names like "Mrassa" (or "Mras Kizhi") and "Kondoma" refer to the specific sites of particular groups. "Chysh Kizhi" translates as "people of the taiga," a name by which many Shors sometimes refer to themselves. "Abans" is the name of a single seok (clan) studied in the eighteenth century; Shor people frequently identify themselves by their clan membership. "Blacksmith Tatar" refers to the Shors' earlier industrial specialization in smelting and forging iron goods.

Location. The Shors live in the Kuznets Alatau Mountains, in the middle reaches of the Tom River and its Kondoma and Mrassa tributaries (54° to 56° N, 87° to 90° E). The Kuznets Alatau is an irregular series of horsts and faults, rather than a single mountain range and, with peaks of 1,000 to 2,100 meters, is lower in elevation than the main Altai mountain system to the south. The Minusinsk Basin lies to the east, the Kuznets Basin to the west, and the Siberian taiga to the north. The territory of the Shors is in the center of the large Kuzbass industrial region, which gets much of its coal from the Kuznets Basin. The climate is continental, and winters are extremely cold. Higher elevations are covered with snow year-round. The rivers of the region flow north, which has long made communication with centers of civilization to the south difficult.

The Shor region is at the southern end of the large northern forest. Physically, it is intermediate between the natural zone of the Siberian taiga and the natural zone of the Central Asian Steppe; its vegetation and soils have characteristics of both zones. In the northern part of the Shor range, in higher elevations, the forest is primarily Siberian pine, fir, spruce, and birch, with some cedar; in lower elevations and along river valleys are found mosses, shrubs, and grasses. In the southern Shor region, the trees are fir and aspen, and there is little moss; in higher elevations are found lindens and herbaceous meadows in burned and deforested sites. Fauna include Siberian elks (marais ), roe deer, sables, squirrels, otters, weasels, foxes, ermines, goats, bears, badgers, wolverines, lynx, grouse, partridge, salmon-trout, grayling, pike, and burbot.

The entire area is rich in coal and iron deposits, which have been exploited since ancient times. The soils vary considerably. They are primarily loesslike clay loams, chernozems and degraded chernozems, and northern forest soils, which merge into podzols in the mountainous regions. Compared with the steppe areas, precipitation is heavy. The snow cover is deep and lasts many months.

Demography. The 1979 census put the Shor population at 16,033, up from 12,601 in 1926.

linguistic Affiliation. The Shor language belongs to the Old Uigur Subgroup of the Turkic Branch of the Altaic Family and is closely related to Chulym. It is the native language of 61 percent of the Shor people. There are two dialects, Mrassa and Kondoma; Mrassa is the basis of the literary language. The Shor literary language was first used in the 1920s, when it was written in Cyrillic script. The Latin script was used for nearly ten years, beginning in 1930, before Cyrillic was restored. Most of what the Shors publish today is written in Russian.

History and Cultural Relations

Partly because of difficulties imposed by the terrain, there has been relatively little archaeological exploration of the Kuznets Alatau as compared to the Minusinsk Basin and the Pazyryk cultures to the east and south. In the absence of systematic coverage of archaeological remains and of written records, it has been hypothesized that the peoples of the Kuznets Alatau were originally speakers of Samoyedic and Ketic languages, who, sometime in the last 2,000 years, began to speak Turkic languages following an infusion of Turkic speakers. The location of the Samoyedic and Kettic speakers lends support to this theory; as late as the eighteenth century these peoples lived to the west and east of the Altai and the Kuznets Alatau. Further, nineteenth-century Turkologist Wilhelm Radloff found that many local names of rivers and other geographic features were etymologically related to Samoyedic and Kettic terms; these place-names remained even though the local peoples themselves had assimilated to Turkic-speaking groups.

The Abas, or Abans, were themselves Turks in earlier times, rather than Samoyeds or Kets, and were probably descended from the Teleuts of the Altai region. Seventeenth-century Russian visitors described them as hunters, trappers, and metalworkers, but J. G. Georgi, who visited in the eighteenth century, reported they were cattle breeders whose practices resembled those of the Teleuts.

The Shor peoples were at various times subjects of Mongol and Turkic empires or were forced to pay tribute to them. Later the Shor region was incorporated into the Russian and then into the Soviet empire. Imperial control has subjected them to considerable acculturative pressure with respect to their ethnic identity, economy, social organization, politics, and religion. Presently, the Shors are mostly settled peasants and wage laborers who also hunt and gather nuts and honey for sale. Half of them work on collective farms and others work as miners or in factories.


The Shors live in permanent settlements, although in the past these settlements were moved from time to time to find new cropland or following the death of a member of the village community. In traditional times villages were inhabited solely by the members of one exogamous patrilineal clan (seok) and the in-marrying wives. Today the term "village" is synonymous with the term ulus, a Turkic/Mongol word that may be translated as "local district"; the makeup of the village population now resembles only superficially the seok of the past.

At the turn of the century the Shors lived in low four-cornered log cabins roofed with birch bark. Some also lived in yurts, although by this time Russian-style houses had largely replaced them. Hearths were made of clay, and chimneys of woven branches. In the southern part of Shor territory log barns and log storage buildings that sat on posts were used. Wealthier Shors built two-and three-story houses and farm buildings, some of which were covered with iron. Today wooden houses and huts are used. Both in the past and today, families move to the fields for planting and for harvest, during which time they live in tents (odaq ) made of vertical beams covered with birch bark. Men hunting in the forests make use of these tents as well.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. When first contacted by Russians, the Shors were found mining local coal and iron deposits and smelting and forging iron implements. The implements, made for their own use and to barter or sell to the nomadic pastoral peoples to the south, consisted of hoes, armor (helmets and breastplates), swords, pikes, and spears. Some Shors also practiced pastoralism, although at that early time only the southern Shors practiced agricultureraising wheat, barley, and, for cloth and edible seeds, hemp.

The imposition of the czarist government in the eighteenth century eventually caused the manufacture of iron goods to cease because technologically superior Russian spades, plows, and axes replaced the indigenous tools. As the iron trade waned in the period of the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, the Shors increased their fur-hunting activities, which later became their chief occupation. They were also subject to a tax, which they were forced to pay in furs. The animals most sought were the sable, squirrel, weasel, otter, fox, ermine, and lynx. The Shors hunted with the bow and arrow until the eighteenth century, when they adopted the gun (for which they made their own bullets). Sables were caught with special nets placed near the exits of their burrows or were smoked out. Otters were caught with nets in rivers or shot when coming to an air hole in the ice in the winter. Ermines, weasels, foxes, hare, and other animals were snared. In time the most valuable furbearers were overhunted, and the sable disappeared altogether from the region; the Shors turned to hunting squirrels. For meat they hunted reindeer, marais, wild goats, bears, badgers, wolverines, black grouse, partridge, and musk deer. They used bows and arrows, guns, dogs, wooden traps, pitfalls, enclosures, and automatic arrow-firing traps (aya ). Marals were sometimes lured with special cedar-wood musical pipes (pyrgy ).

Fish were taken with weir, hook, cast seine, spear, bow and arrow, noose, and net. One type of net had holes of various sizes so that several different types of fish might be caught at one time. Women and children sometimes caught fish with their hands or with sacks.

Agriculture continued in the nineteenth century, with the Russian wood-and-iron plow replacing the hoe. Farm land was cleared by fire and ax, although 33.7 percent of all Shor households in 1900 farmed no land at all, and 20.3 percent farmed only a tiny amount of land. The principal crops in the north were wheat and oats, in the south barley. Animal husbandry was also little practiced; in the late nineteenth century many villages had no cattle and their inhabitants had never tasted milk. In 1899, 10 percent of all Shor households had no horses, and 19 percent had no cattle.

During the period of Russian domination, the Shors supplemented their income by selling some of their fish, dairy products, and cedar nuts in the market town of Kuznetsk. Cedar nuts were collected by knocking down the cones with long poles or by using boys to climb the trees. Some cones were gathered from the ground, but rodents often got the nuts first. The cones were then grated, sieved, and winnowed for their nuts. The Shors built upon their knowledge of gathering wild honey when they adopted the practice of beekeeping from the Russians; they are reportedly excellent beekeepers who sell much of the honey they produce. By the middle of the nineteenth century some apiaries had 1,000 hives.

At the turn of the twentieth century the wealthier northern Shors generally wore clothing of homespun and factory-made cloth and sheepskin. The poorer southern Shors wore homespun hemp clothing because they kept few livestock and there were not many wild animals left to hunt. With the exception of the women's shirt-dress, men and women wore virtually identical clothing: trousers, shirt, and coat.

Transportation was usually by foot except in the deep snow, when Shors used skis of cherry, willow, or birch backed with animal hide. Snow with a crust called for the use of unbacked pine skis. Sleds were also used for hunting.

There are two basic Shor staple foods: buckwheat groats, which are eaten boiled with milk, fish, or meat, and wheat-flour porridge, which is accompanied by tea, milk, honey, butter, or sour cream.

Soviet influence has emphasized the creation of large (collective) farms, and on those farms the raising of livestock. Although most of the farmland produces wheat, oats, and barley, much is now devoted to raising hay for fodder. In the factories workers produce machinery and process gold, and aluminum. Many of the Shors work in the coal mines. Only a small number work hunting furs.

Industrial Arts. Until the nineteenth century Shors smelted powdered ore in covered cavities in the clay floors of their houses, using small coals and hand bellows. Wood was used to make skis, benches, dugout boats, and utensils. Birch bark was made into containers and utensils. Some Shors made pottery. Nets were made from wild nettle and hemp. Animal hides were processed but not tanned. Hemp was woven into clothing using a crude loom that was stretched between two stakes pounded into the ground; the loom included a thread board, a warp divider, a beater, and a wooden stick that served as a shuttle. Horn was made into handles, gunpowder measures, knives, harness rings, and cartridge cases.

Trade. Trade and communication were extremely difficult until recent decades. The mountainous terrain and rocky rivers made travel by path or water difficult; paths could accommodate horses but were entirely unimproved, and boats had to be towed from the shore.

Before the Russians contacted them, the Shors traded iron goods with pastoral peoples to the south for horses, felt, wool, and other pastoral products. In ancient times some of their iron wares, particularly weapons and armor, were taken in tribute by the Mongol and Turkic empires, for whom the Shors were a major supplier. The czarist government, imposed on the Shors in the eighteenth century, forbade contact between Shors and the pastoral nomads, and that trade ceased. On the other hand, the increased trade with the Russians in the nineteenth century led to the creation of a group of middlementrading partners known as tanysh (lit., "friend" or "acquaintance"). These men advanced hunting supplies and other kinds of goods to hunters on credit against their future production of furs, transported their fur taxes (at a profit), and sold the hunters' furs to outside buyers (also at a profit).

Division of Labor. Traditionally, men hunted and fished, and women wove cloth and engaged in domestic work.

Land Tenure. Every seok, and later every töl (extended family), had exclusive possessory rights to an area of taiga that had well-known boundaries. If caught, trespassers would lose their catch, their hunting camp would be destroyed, and there was the possibility of further punishment, including beatings. The seok could, however, extend rights to members of other seoks to hunt on their lands, though they did this mostly on behalf of seoks with whom they had intermarried.

Kinship. Much of Shor social organization and the political and legal systems can be understood through a description of their clan and family structure. The clan, or seok (also written, söök, a Turkic word meaning "bone"), was patrilineal, exogamous, independent, and situated at some distance from other clans; the inhabitants of a village consisted of the members of a clan and their wives. Each clan furthermore held its own territory, which it defended from trespassers. Hunting lands were held in common by the members of the clan, as were agricultural lands. Families were able to cultivate any lands that were unoccupied, and the products of the land went to the individual family, whether extended or nuclear, that raised the crops. Each clan had its own political structure and many had their own courts. During times of czarist control, the village was led by a pashtyk, or headman, who was an intermediary with the federal government. He helped control the fur-hunting practices, since it was the seok as a whole that was responsible for paying the fur tax.

In some areas the clan appears to have been replaced as an organizing unit by the patrilineal extended family of two or three generations, perhaps as a result of increased reliance on trade, which may have favored private rather than group ownership. This family, known as a töl, was especially common among the southern Shors. The members of the töl also held hunting and agricultural property in common, in much the same manner as did the seok.

By the end of the nineteenth century, seoks and töls had begun to break up, probably as a result of the cash market system, into economically independent nuclear families; married sons, rather than contributing what they made to the clan or extended family, kept it for the benefit of their own wives and children. The Soviet government, however, maintained the töl as an administrative and census unit.

Marriage and Family

Marriage was traditionally accompanied by a series of feasts, most of which took place in the bride's house. Following the wedding ceremony, the groom took presents from his wife's father to his own father, and then the couple lived with the groom's family. It was once the custom for a man to supply his wife's family with parsnips and a share of the meat that he got by hunting. There was a strict rule of brother-in-law avoidance, and a wife was not allowed to call her husband's elder brothers by name, be left alone with them, sit near them, shake hands with them, or even be in their presence with uncovered feet or head. The Shors are monogamous.

Until the Russian Revolution most Shors were illiterate and passed accumulated knowledge to younger generations orally. Compulsory education under the Soviet government has since made most Shors literate.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Among Siberian peoples, Shamanism is an ancient system of belief that encompassed religion, medical practice, folklore, philosophy, and worldview. In addition to shamanism, the Shors had a cult of mountains, associated with individual clans, and a bear cult. They also propitiated the game animals that they killed. All of these beliefs were once widespread in Siberia but have fallen into disuse. The Shors were converted to Christianity in the nineteenth century, and this contributed heavily to the decline of shamanism and other aboriginal beliefs.

Religious Practitioners. The shamans believe that animate beings and inanimate objects have spirits, which they seek to know, understand, and, if possible, control or manipulate through song and by using special paraphernalia. The Shor shaman's most important piece of paraphernalia was the drum, which was inscribed with special designs of supernatural significance. He also used a birch-bark mask. In earlier times the Shor shaman was connected to a seok, and the spirits he sought to control were considered hereditary within a particular seok.

Arts. The Shors once sang epics, which were similar to those sung by the Teleut (among whom they are still sung). The singer was accompanied by a two-stringed musical instrument known as the komys.

Death and Afterlife. The dead were traditionally wrapped in birch bark and, in a shamanic ritual, placed in a tree. This practice lasted until sometime in the nineteenth century, although the practice of placing dead children in trees survived into the twentieth. The shaman's drum was also placed in a tree at its owner's death.


Durenkova, N. P. (1940). Shorskii fol'klor (Shor folklore). Moscow and Leningrad.

Potapov, L. P. (1936). Ocherki po istorii Shorii (Outline of Shor history). Moscow and Leningrad.

Potapov, L. P. (1950). "Shortsy na puti sotsialisticheskovo razvitiya" (Shors on the path of Socialist development). Sovetskaia Etnografia 3:123-135.

Potapov, L. P. (1964) "The Shors." In The Peoples of Siberia, edited by M. G. Levin and L. P. Potapov, 440-473. Translated by Stephen P. Dunn and Ethel Dunn. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Originally published in Russian in 1956.