SIBERIA. Siberia occupies a huge territory with a wide variety of climatic conditions and geographic landscapes. Apart from the Russian-speaking Siberians, about one-twentieth of the population consists of aboriginal groups. To better understand the food and meal traditions of the Siberian people, it is necessary to review the geography, climate, and the history of this region.
Geography and Climate
Siberia occupies about 5.2 million square miles, which roughly corresponds to about 9 percent of Earth's dry land mass. It is bounded by the Ural Mountains in the west and by the Pacific Ocean in the east. To the south lies central Asia, Mongolia, and China, and to the north the Arctic Ocean. For many people Siberia is synonymous with an intensely cold climate, but this image is only partially correct. The climate of most of Siberia is continental, which means there are large temperature differences between summer and winter. The Siberian winter is indeed long and cold, yet summers are fairly warm—warm enough to allow for the cultivation of watermelons in western and southern Siberia. Although there is relatively little precipitation in eastern Siberia, and the winter frost penetrates quite deep, the climate becomes milder and warmer towards the west and south. Due to heavy rainfall, the region is drained by numerous rivers and dotted with lakes filled with a variety of fish.
The Siberian northern coastal region along the Arctic Ocean is occupied by a wide strip of arctic tundra, which is inhabited by an enormous population of reindeer. South of this is a vast area of evergreen pine forest, which gradually changes to fertile chernozem (black earth) steppes. The far southeastern part of Siberia, near Manchuria and the Pacific Ocean, consists of subtropical forests.
Siberian People and History
Much of Siberia (excluding the far north) was united for the first time under the rule of the Mongolian leader Genghis Khan in the beginning of the thirteenth century. Since the Mongolian Empire included China, Persia, and central Asia and stretched as far as Europe, many new culinary ideas from far-off places were introduced. Pelmeni and chaj (tea) are perhaps the most long-lasting remnants of that period.
Siberian history of the past four centuries has many parallels with the colonization of the Americas. Colonization of Siberia by tsarist Russia began in the 1580s and ended in 1860 with the founding of Vladivostok on the coast of the Sea of Japan. Most of the population of present-day Siberia consists of a mixture of different immigrant ethnicities and people of various aboriginal backgrounds. Siberians of mixed race and ethnic background refer to themselves as Chaldons and view themselves as an ethnic identity separate from Russian.
Siberia was colonized and settled by a variety of European ethnic groups rather than just by the Russians. During the seventeenth century, settlers included Russians, Komi peoples, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, and Byelorussians, and small numbers of Germans, Greeks, and even a few baptized Tartars and Turks. Later on, there were waves of other immigrants, some of whom were exiled forcibly. These included Swedish prisoners of war, German and other European technical specialists, Polish, Lithuanian, Byelorussian, Ukrainian, and Jewish exiles from rebellious Polish territories, as well as settlers who came from the central regions of Russia, Ukraine, and Byelorussia after the abolishment of serfdom in 1861. Colonization was especially intensive during the construction of the Trans-Siberian railway (1891–1905). The population of Siberia reached almost ten million people by 1914.
Since the political exiles who came to Siberia in the nineteenth century were generally well educated, many of them became involved in the improvement of truck farming, grain growing, the cultivation of oil-yielding crops (such as hemp), and the introduction of new vegetables and modern methods of cultivation. Each of the immigrant groups brought something of their own cookery to the big Siberian stewpot, thus enriching what is now called Siberian cuisine. For example, Korean spicy carrot salads, stuffed fish baked in the oven, and stewed sour cabbage and pork became Siberian national dishes.
Prior to Russian colonization of Siberia, local ethnic groups of various origins populated the region, including Turkic, Finnic, Mongolic, and other tribes. Some of these peoples intermarried with Europeans and some ethnic groups remained discrete, but in any case, colonists adopted many local food traditions through mixed marriages or through daily contact.
Cookery of the Chaldony
Due to the huge size of the country, almost limitless natural resources, a surplus of free land, and the absence of serfdom, life in the wilderness of Siberia was always more free, happier, and more prosperous than life in European Russia. It was easy to protect one's freedom in Siberia—when faced with bureaucratic oppression, one could simply leave and settle in remote places or deeper forests. Because of this freedom and abundant local and foreign food products, Chaldon cuisine originated as a rich mixture of European and aboriginal traditions.
Before the Bolshevik Revolution, the Chaldon people produced basic food products on their own farms. These foods included dairy products, meat, vegetables, eggs, breads and other cereal products, vegetable oils, as well as mushrooms, wild berries, pine nuts, fish, and game. Although every family possessed hunting guns and traps, game was not central to the Siberian diet. Food was stewed, boiled, or baked in a Russian oven or fried in oil or drawn butter.
Breads and other cereal and legume products. Chaldon farmers grew rye, barley, oats, buckwheat, millet, peas, and beans. Wheat was raised in the southern regions, such as Altay. Wheat flour of very high quality, which was used for cookies and cakes, was usually bought at market fairs in large cities.
Every village family and many city households made their own rye, barley, and wheat breads in a round or kalatch (padlock-shaped) form; some families had wooden bread molds. Bread flour was mixed with milk and homemade hop yeast and was left standing over night. In the morning, when the bread dough was finished, eggs, post-noya maslo (Lenten oil), and milk were often added to the bread. Wealthy families might have used pine-nut oil instead—such bread had a unique flavor and could be kept longer than usual. During times of food shortages, some people baked a green emergency bread made from flour and a large proportion of ground dried nettle leaves.
Kasha. Kasha is the Russian word for gruel or porridge. It is used to describe any kind of boiled cereals, peas, beans, other seeds, or even potatoes and vegetables. Kasha can be made sweet or salty, and it can contain almost any kind of additions, like meat, milk, nuts, fresh or dry fruits, and even pumpkin. Kasha can be made from a mixture of different seeds and/or other components that are boiled or baked in an oven. It is eaten hot or cold, as a main dish or as a garnish, plain or with the addition of fruit jams, or diluted with fresh milk if buckwheat is used.
During the first part of the twentieth century, Siberians made many different kashas from barley, millet, or oats. Peas, string beans, and fava beans were also used. Rice was uncommon and used only on special occasions—unlike all other Orthodox Christians who use wheat for kut'ya (a funeral dish), the Chaldons make kut'ya from rice and raisins.
Pirogi, pirozhki, and bliny. Leavened dough was widely used for pirogi (large pies) and pirozhki (small pies). Pirozhki could be fried or baked and stuffed with potatoes, carrots, green onion and eggs, liver, minced meat, fish, or fresh or dried berries (black currant, raspberry, bird cherry, haws) mixed with malt. The Siberian analogue of pizza was a round, flat pie called shangi, which was topped with cottage cheese and sour cream and then baked. Another round pie, called beliash, was stuffed with meat, closed up, and fried. Beliash can be traced to a Tartar heritage, since in Kazan tartar cookery there was a meat pie called belish. The traditional large holiday pie of Chaldons, often called kurnik, was made with fish or chicken.
There are also sweet holiday open-faced berry-pies (usually made with black currant).
Many different recipes exist for bliny (large thin pancakes) and oladyi (smaller pancakes of thicker dough usually oval in shape). These could be made of wheat or rye, leaven or unleavened, and some buckwheat flour, milk, and eggs. Oil and honey could also be added. Once they were made, bliny could be stuffed with caviar and eaten cold, or filled with cottage cheese or meat and then baked in the oven or fried. Usually people had a separate frying pan or two for pancakes, and only a pigeon wing was used to grease the pan.
Other types of baked pastries included pechen'ya (cookies), prianik (a type of honey-cake), sooshka (ringshaped pretzels, small kalatch dipped into boiling water before baking); smetannyya kalatchiki (baked pies of unleavened dough based on sour cream), and kulich (Easter cake with raisins or other dry fruits).
Oils and fats. Unlike that of European Russia, Siberian cookery involved many fried dishes. The reason for this is simple: Chaldons had a lot of vegetable oil. The most common oils were hemp-seed and linseed oils; rarer were sunflower and poppy-seed oils. The most expensive oil was pine-nut oil, produced only in forest areas. Since Siberians had many cows, they produced large quantities of butter, which was even exported to Europe. The Chaldony, however, preferred drawn butter for frying foods. The use of fish oil was adopted from local fishermen tribes. It was very rarely used in European Russia, but in the north of Siberia it served as a substitute for vegetable oils. For example, in northern Siberia, pies were fried in tench oil.
Meat. At the beginning of the twentieth century, meat was one of the main features of the Siberian menu. It was always on the table, excluding, of course, fasting days preceding the big Christian holidays, as well as Wednesday and Friday of every week.
The most important meats were beef, lamb, chicken, and goose. Meat-and-cabbage soup, called shchi, was usually cooked on a daily basis. Borscht, the red-beet meat soup, was popular among settlers from southern Russia. Due to the convenience of Russian ovens, boiling or stewing was the most common way of cooking meat.
According to the old custom only three-year-old bulls, "that had enough time to put on weight," were slaughtered for meat. Kolbasa (sausages) were traditionally made of beef; only at the end of the nineteenth century did Chaldon cooks learn recipes for pork kolbasa from newly arrived European immigrants. Horse meat was also used for sausages and was cooked in a variety of ways in the areas where Russian Siberians were in close contact with horse-breeding aboriginals. The Chaldony applied the same logic to reindeer venison in the areas of reindeer-raising tribes and to maral (Siberian deer) venison in the Altay Mountains of southern Siberia.
One of the most popular traditional foods in Siberia was aspic or meat jelly, called kholodets. It came from the legs and ears of cows and pigs that are boiled for a long time over a low heat. The meat was then cut off the bones, chopped into very fine pieces, and covered with its broth. Usually onion, garlic, and black pepper were added, as well as carrots and other root vegetables. Especially delicate was the kholodets made of duck, goose, or chicken feet, which required the most laborious preparation. Kholodets was usually served with very hot Russian mustard or horseradish sauce, often as a cold meal accompanied by vodka.
Kotlety, an oval-shaped rissole made from a mixture of minced beef and pork (with additions of onion, garlic, and white bread soaked in milk), was adopted from German settlers, as were rybny and kurinny kotlety, made from minced fish or chicken.
Pel'meni. Pel'meni was a very distinctive Siberian stuffed pasta dish traditionally cooked during winter. In form, pel'meni was a thin round (about 2–3 inches in diameter) of soft pasta dough folded over a minced meat filling to make a semicircle, with the two arms (the corners) twisted around and stuck together. One could find hundreds of pel'meni filling recipes involving chicken, game birds, elk, fish, reindeer, mushrooms, and many vegetarian variations; some restaurants even used meat from a brown bear as a local delicacy. However, the filling was made traditionally of two (beef and pork) or three (with the addition of lamb) types of meat, along with onion, salt, and ground black pepper.
In some villages, Chaldony made thousands of pel'meni during the first cold winter weeks, freezing them in the seni (unheated hallway) and storing them in sacks for consumption as fast-cooking food throughout the winter. Pel'meni were not cooked over steam, as many similar central Asian dishes were; rather they were boiled in water. In the past, pel'meni was the food normally given to travellers, especially to the yamschik (winter coachmen) who conveyed goods and passengers by sani (sleds) over huge distances of Siberia. The name pel'meni originates from the Komi language: pel', meaning 'ear', and nian', meaning 'bread'. In turn, the origin of Komi's pel'nian recipe can be traced to thirteenth-century China. When the Russian colonization of Siberia began at the end of the sixteenth century, Perm', the land of Komi, was used as the base for expansion. Not only did all Russian expeditions to Siberia go through Perm', where Russians learned about pel'meni, but also about 30 percent of the colonists were recruited from the Komi people. As a result, pel'meni spread throughout the huge colony and became a Siberian national dish.
Fish. Fish is a plentiful and favorite food of native Siberians. It is used for ouha (fish soup), pies, frying, and for pickling. Siberians love baked stuffed fish (usually pike); some scholars consider that it was adopted from Jewish cuisine, but differences in the recipe show that it is an indigenous local dish. Eekra (caviar) in Siberian cookery is not just a delicacy but also an everyday food. Siberians also make flat round caviar cakes—usually these cakes are just pure fried caviar, sometimes with the addition of chopped onion, black pepper, and a little flour. Fresh sterlet, sturgeon, salmon, or pike caviar is served slightly salted and mixed with fresh chopped onions.
From Siberian aborigines the Chaldony adopted such simple but extremely tasty food as fish stroganina or chush —thin chips cut from a large boneless piece of fresh frozen fish. Chush is a kind of simple but delicious accompaniment for vodka, usually eaten straight or with salt and black pepper, sometimes with chopped onion and vinegar.
Milk and egg dishes. Households of Siberian oldtimers usually had many milk cows. Tvorog (cottage cheese) and smetana (sour cream) were mixed together to make a popular breakfast dish (a kind of thick yogurt) that was often eaten with honey or berry jams. In the areas near Turkic tribes, dried cottage cheese cakes were popular, and in Altay, cottage cheese cakes were smoked. Tvorog is the base for the dough of the popular Siberian syrniki (thick flat cottage cheese pancakes); it is made by combining tvorog, flour, milk, and eggs. Paskha (literally Easter, or in this case, traditional Russian Easter cake) is also based on cottage cheese mixed with eggs, raisins, honey, and candied fruits. Sour cream is used as a base for sauces and almost always as a soup dressing for shchi, borsch, mushroom soup, okroshka, and other soups, as well as a base for sweet cake creams.
Mushrooms and other wild plants. Mushrooms are an important source of proteins and are an essential raw material in Siberian cuisine: they are used in Siberian cooking much more often than in Europe. Many a Siberian family can collect up to 700–1,100 pounds of various wild mushrooms over a typical season (June to the end of September) just for the family's use. Agaric mushrooms are used for pickling with such ingredients as brine, dill, horseradish, and garlic, and, sometimes, oriental spices like black pepper, bay leaf, and cloves are added. Only saffron milk cap, chanterelle, and sometimes Armillaria (honey mushrooms) are fried on their own or stewed with potatoes. Armillaria can also be dried together with all spongy mushrooms: cep, brown cap boletus, orange-cap boletus, mossiness mushroom, Boletus luteus. In addition to drying for later use for winter mushroom soup or frying, spongy mushrooms are fried or stewed with potatoes, added to kashas, baked with eggs, and used in various mushroom soups.
Festive food. Patron saints' days, the so-called guliaschi den' (idle day) when nobody works, were planned well in advance. People made vodka and beer days ahead of time. Lots of guests from the neighborhood were invited into homes, and groups of people went from place to place visiting different houses. Every house had to prepare ample food, as in every house people were eating, drinking, singing, and dancing. Such holidays were only meant for married couples; young people were not entitled to take part in the feast.
For such feasts people always made pancakes, honey-cakes, cookies, and various pastries. Meat-and fish-jelly and fish pie were some standards among a great number of other dishes. Before the guests approached the table, they would offer their good wishes to the hosts: "Bread on the table and salt on the table. Let it always be this way for you." After the meal and the merriment, parting guests would say: "Our Lord, save the hosts; give them good health, concord and ransom."
A Chaldon funeral repast consisted of a minimum of twelve dishes. The first items on the menu were the kut'ya (boiled-rice funereal dish), then bliny, boiled eggs sliced in half, and okroshka (cold soup) with meat. Chicken and meat soups, mushrooms, corned beef, aspic, meat and chicken, boiled meatballs, and kashas followed. The last dish was fruit compote or berry kissel along with small pies or a big sweet pie. Strong drinks were not served.
For the funeral repast usually all people who knew the deceased were invited. Then ninth day, fortieth day, and one year funeral repasts followed. For the ninth day repast, just relatives and those who were helping at the funeral and funeral party were in attendance; for the forty days meal, all who came for the ninth day and those who dug the grave attended. All who came to the funeral were invited to the one year repast.
The table at a wedding celebration was especially rich: the party was three days long and cost a lot of money. A tale from the Tomsk province tells of a wedding party where everything was ready and in place, but the bride's previous boyfriend stole her away. As much money and effort had been spent in preparation for the party; the empty-handed bridegroom decided to marry another girl, saying: "Since everything is ready why should I throw out so much food?"
Maslenitsa (Shrovetide) was the last week before Lent. Traditional foods for this time included bliny, fish, and caviar. The best food, including lots of meat, was prepared for Paskha (Easter). Traditionally painted eggs, kulich, and Paskha (the Easter cake) were also served. Christmas merrymaking took place over the course of three to four days. Pork gammons, chickens, and turkeys were cooked, as well as lots of pies with various fillings.
General Changes and Foreign Foods
In spite of political changes and the pressure of permanent shortages during the eighty years of Soviet rule, Siberians have preserved a large portion of their traditional culinary identity. A new, entrepreneurial approach is underway to market the foods of the region both for local consumption and for export. In the beginning of the twentieth century, European, especially French, influence was evident only in the cuisine of the upper classes and in restaurant cooking. It has now extended to the food customs of ordinary people, and some other influences have appeared as well. In cities, central Asian foods such as shurpa (meat and vegetable soup), bishbarmak (noodle and meat soup), shahslyk (small pieces of marinated meat grilled on sticks), manty (pasta stuffed with meat and onion, then steamed), and plov (rice pilaf and meat) are now quite popular. Many markets sell Korean prepared salads, and the basic Korean hot carrot salad is so popular that many Siberian families now own a special grater to cut carrots to make their own version of this salad at home. Young fern shoots that are salted, dried, or fresh became popular in the Altay region after locals started stocking it in the 1980s for orders from Japan. Perhaps of all the foreign influences now affecting the cuisine of Siberia, the foods of Japan and Korea are becoming the most widely accepted.
Siberia's Aboriginal Peoples
Historically all of the territory in Siberia can be divided into two large cultural (and economic) parts: the South—a region of ancient stockbreeding and agriculture, and the North—territories that have been populated by hunting, fishing, and reindeer-raising tribes. An overview of the cooking of the two major Siberian aboriginal ethnic groups, the Yakout (Saha) in eastern Siberia and the Khant of Finnic origin in western Siberia, may provide some idea of aboriginal Siberian cooking.
Yakout (Saha) People
Yakouts are of Turkish origin and number about 380,000 people. They follow the Christian Orthodox religion, but with some remnants of shamanism. Their country, Saha (Yakoutia), has one of the most severe climates in Siberia; it lies in the far northeastern part of Siberia and occupies an area of about 1.1 million square miles (which is about twelve times the size of Great Britain).
Between the tenth and fifteenth centuries c.e., the Mongols forced Yakout tribes out of their homeland in the steppes of south Siberia. There is clear linguistic proof of the Yakouts' southern origin: their language has such words as khoy (ram) and khakhay (tiger), even though in their country both do not exist. The environment of Yakoutia is forest, steppes on the sandy frozen meadows, and thermokarst lakes (arctic lakes formed when water holds heat that thaws the permafrost below). People live mainly in the areas of river meadows.
Yakouts are surrounded by various fishing, hunting, and reindeer-raising tribes. While the Yakout people have lived in this inclement climate over the centuries, they have not changed their traditional lifestyle of southern horse-and cattle-breeding nomads. Yakout horse, an extremely hearty breed, is the base of the traditional Yakout economy and their traditional cuisine. Yakout food is very rich in fats, including many milk, cream, and sour-milk products, and meat. Yakout people do not eat mushrooms.
Milk products. The traditional Yakout breakfast is kuerchah —a kind of sweet Western-style yogurt that is made of fresh cream and red whortleberries (very sour fruit) whipped into a homogeneous paste. Kuerchah is also frozen to make little round cakes, which in some cases include sugar. Another Yakout breakfast dish is a cake of dried cottage cheese.
Meat. The main meat for Yakouts is horseflesh, or more specifically, the meat of one-year-old colts. The horses graze all year on open pasture, in winter digging the food from under the snow, but the ones that are raised for meat are given extra food.
Thus for a year, a Yakout family of six people eats one and a half carcasses of horseflesh, a half carcass of beef, and three to four pigs. Reindeer venison is not eaten as it is considered unfit for consumption. Soviet collective farms bred reindeer, sheep, and even camels; but these meats were never popular.
The best khan (blood and milk pudding or sausage) is made from cow's milk and horseflesh (beef can be used but it is not as good). For spices, wild onion, garlic, and black pepper are added. These sausages are kept fresh-frozen, and boiled just before consumption.
Soups and bread. The most characteristic and popular is the beef intestines and flour soup. A fish soup is made with crucian (a kind of carp). From the beginning of Russian colonization in the seventeenth century, wheat and rye were introduced to Yakoutia and have been grown successfully ever since. Traditional Yakout bread is an unleavened flat cake. Modern Yakouts eat also "Russian" yeast-raised bread and make thick pancakes rather than the wide variety of pies known to the other Siberians. As a dainty treat, traditional bread is cut into squares and mixed with cream made of milk and butter, then it is frozen.
Vegetables. In modern times, Yakouts plant vegetables in greenhouses, but traditionally the Yakout people collected and preserved wild vegetables. Every spring they collected a lot of wild green onions that grew along the river Lena; these fresh onions were added to all dishes and were kept salted for year-round use. Wild garlic and some other plants were also collected. In springtime children eat the soft cones of larch trees, as these cones have a pleasant tart taste and contain a high quantity of vitamin C.
Beverages. The Yakouts drink Chay (tea) with cream or milk all day long. Mors, a fruit drink made of red whortleberries, is consumed instead of water. There are also many sour-milk drinks, like milk whey and herbs (tansy, thyme, wormwood), which is drunk on hot summer days as a cooling and tonic drink. For an alcoholic drink, fermented mare's milk is preferred: it provides the basis of such drinks as koumiss (which includes herbs such as wormwood) and araghy.
Festive food. Salamat, a ritual dish, is a type of rich buttery flour porridge. Salamat is served at weddings, house-warmings, funerals, and at many other important events. Since Yakouts are Russian Orthodox, funerals and funeral repasts are performed according to Russian Orthodox traditions. However, there is one important difference: all the personal possessions of the deceased have to be burned, only the most intimate belongings are put on top of the coffin, and what can not be burned is disposed of in the garbage.
Until the 1930s, the Khant people were called Ostiak. Their dietary laws are very much influenced by their religion and taboos, and mystery and legend govern many of the Khant people's actions, including eating habits. For example, people of the beaver clan cannot eat beaver, and people of the elk clan cannot eat elk. Elk meat cannot be cut with a knife or even salted.
The bear is a relative to all Khants and is considered the guardian of world order, arbitrator, and the judge. Especially sacred is the front part of the bear: no woman is allowed to touch it. Dogs must not have any access to a bear's bones, and bear bones are not cut or broken. The Khant people believe that if they follow all of these rules, then a consumed bear will regain his flesh and walk again in the forest. Boiling crucian in the same cauldron as other fish is also prohibited, because crucian is fish for the dead who live in the underworld. All things white are holy and belong to their god, and therefore cannot be eaten, such as swans, ermine, and albino deer.
The cooking custom involving the burbot (a freshwater fish of the cod family) is also illustrative of the Khant people's reliance on tradition and mystery. Once burbot is caught, a Khant fisherman takes the fish's liver out through its mouth. If he succeeds in getting out all the liver, the rest of the flesh is eaten as well. But if the liver is cut and only a part of it is removed, the fish has to be released to the two sides of the world: the lower side (North) and upper side (South). The extracted liver is grilled on wooden sticks at the side of a bonfire. But the wood of the bonfire must be of the kind that is pleasing to the god. Willow wood is used for burbot liver cooking.
The whole cuisine of the Khant people is based on the products of fishing and hunting. Fish are so important that even the bread of the Khants is made with the addition of fish powder, and the main source of fat in their cooking is fish oil. Khants drink chai (tea) and eat dry wild berries for sweets.
See also Asia, Central ; Central Europe ; China ; Horse ; Japan ; Russia .
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SIBERIA (Rus. Sibir ), Asiatic part of the Russian Federation, extending from the Urals in the west to the Pacific in the east. The first Jews went to Siberia from Lithuanian towns captured by the Russians in the Russo-Polish war (1632–34); they were exiled there together with other prisoners. In 1659 a number of Jewish residents in the "German quarter" of Moscow were exiled to Siberia. At the beginning of the 19th century Jews were among the convicts sent to Siberia for settlement or hard labor. The latter founded the first Jewish communities there, e.g., in *Omsk, *Tomsk, Tobolsk, Kuibyshev (Kainsk) in western Siberia, and Kansk and Nizhneudinsk in eastern Siberia.
Since Siberia was outside the *Pale of Settlement, convicts continued to constitute the main Jewish element settling there throughout the 19th century. Due to the scarcity of Jewish women in Siberia at the beginning of the 19th century, Jews were allowed in 1817 to buy Kalmyk women, to make proselytes of them and marry them. In 1826 Jews were forbidden to settle in the border district of Siberia between the area of Russian settlement and that of the natives; in 1827 the husbands of Jewish women exiled to Siberia were forbidden to join them; and in 1836 Jewish women joining their exiled husbands were forbidden to take their male children with them. In 1834 Jews whose sentences had expired, as well as members of their families, were obliged to apply for special permission from the minister of finance to join local merchant guilds, in order to prevent "an undue multiplication of Jews among the merchant class, and consequent damage to the native population."
In 1836 the Russian government, within the framework of its program to increase the number of Jews engaged in agricultural work, set aside 15,154 desyatins (409,138 acres) of land in western Siberia for Jewish agricultural settlement. In January 1837 *Nicholas i ordered the curtailment of Jewish settlement in Siberia: by this time, however, several hundred Jews had already arrived to participate in the project. On May 15, 1837, ordinances were issued "to prevent the immigration of Jews to Siberia, and to decrease the number of Jews settled there"; these decrees specified, inter alia, that only Jewish convicts aged 40 and over could be exiled to Siberia, and that even such settlers should be allowed in the outlying districts of the country only (in the Yakutsk district and on the further side of the Baikal). The ordinances further required that the sons of exiles (i.e., those under 18) be handed over as *Cantonists, as well as sons of exiles who had completed their terms of sentence; their descendants were also to be handed over as Cantonists, or to be removed to the Pale of Settlement before reaching the age of 16.
In 1857, under Czar Alexander ii, Jews in Siberia were permitted to join merchant guilds on the basis of the existing general instructions regarding this matter, and in 1860 the Siberian Jewish children were permitted to remain with their parents. The same proclamation, however, forbade them to settle within 100 versts of the borders with neighboring countries. When after 1859 certain classes of Russian Jews were permitted to settle outside the Pale of Settlement, some of them found their way to Siberia. During this period the Jewish communities of Siberia consolidated and the characteristics of the typical "Siberian Jew" emerged: similar in dress and language to his Russian neighbor, ignorant in Jewish learning, and negligent of the mitzvot; he nevertheless possessed warm Jewish sentiments and was attached to the Jewish people and religion. The last quarter of the 19th century saw the emergence of an intelligentsia among Siberian Jewry, a few of whose members were political exiles. Some of the latter devoted themselves to investigating the customs and languages of the indigenous peoples, e.g., V.G. *Bogoraz, V. *Jochelson, L. Sternberg, M. Krol, S. Chudnovsky, N. Geker, and I. *Shklovski.
Jews of Siberia played a prominent role in the economic development of the area, especially in the fur trade. Some Jews, like the *Guenzburg family of St. Petersburg, participated in the development of Siberian gold mining. In 1897 there were 34,477 Jews in Siberia (0.6% of the total population): 8,239 in the region of *Irkutsk, 7,696 in the region of Tomsk, 7,550 in the Trans-Baikal region, 5,730 in the Yenisei region, and 2,453 in the region of Tobolsk. Some 2,689 Siberian Jews (8.25%) were then engaged in agriculture, 9,161 (28.10%) in crafts and industry, 12,362 (37.92%) in trade, 1,906 (5.85%) in transport, and 1,051 (3.22%) in private and public clerical work and the liberal professions. In the 1890s the entry of Jews into Siberia and the rights of the Jews living there were further restricted. The revised edition of the passport rules published in 1890 proclaimed a total ban on Jewish immigration to Siberia, save for those who were sentenced to exile or hard labor there. This ban became the fundamental rule regarding Jewish entry into Siberia and served as a basis for further prohibitions. In 1891 it was interpreted as including also those Jews who had the right to settle outside the Pale, and this interpretation was finally authorized in 1899; at the same time, however, it was established that the prohibition did not extend to Jews who were already living in Siberia.
From this time Siberia was closed to all Jews, except those sentenced to hard labor or exile. In 1897 the same ban served as a basis for a new law prohibiting Siberian Jews (except for the descendants of soldiers who had served in the army during the reign of Nicholas i) from residing in any other place but that of their registration as permanent residents. This order spelled deportation for thousands of Jewish families who were not living in the place where they were registered; the practical difficulties involved in the transfer of thousands of families from place to place prevented its being carried out. Thousands of Siberian Jews, however, were then left completely at the mercy of the markedly hostile local administration, with the threat of deportation constantly hanging over their heads.
On the other hand, the attitude of the Christian population in general toward the Jews was sympathetic, as may be gauged, among other things, from the election of the Jewish exile Avigdor (Victor) *Mandelberg to the second *Duma (1907). During World War i thousands of Jewish refugees from the front lines reached Siberia and exercised a considerable influence on Jewish community life there: The number of Jewish educational institutions grew, and political parties (e.g., the *Bund, *Zionist Socialists, *Po'alei Zion) were established. After the 1917 Revolution a congress of Jewish community representatives from all Siberia and the Urals was held in Irkutsk (January 1919) and a national council of Siberian Jews was elected. Representatives of the Zionist movement, which had spread widely in Siberia in the first years of the 20th century and greatly intensified its activities after the revolution, exercised a decisive influence at the congress. Thus, the congress resolved, inter alia, "that the work of building Ereẓ Israel will be included among the activities of the Jewish communities in Siberia and the Urals." The national council was headed by M. *Novomeyski, then officiating as the chairman of the Zionist Federation.
With the establishment of Soviet rule in Siberia, however, Jewish communal, cultural, and national institutions were gradually destroyed. Many wealthy and middle-class Jews left, most of them for China and a few for Palestine. The majority of the Jewish refugees living in Siberia returned to their homes in Poland and Lithuania. In 1926 there were only 32,750 Jews: 9,083 in the region of Irkutsk, 5,505 in the region of Tomsk, 4,389 in the region of Omsk, 3,040 in the region of Krasnoyarsk, and 2,301 in the region of Novosibirsk. Some 28,972 Siberian Jews lived in towns and 3,778 in rural districts. In 1939 the number of Jews rose to 63,844 persons, most of them in Khabarovsk Krai (district) – 22,473, including 13,291 of the Jewish Autonomic region – Birobidzhan; Novosibirsk district (11,191); and Irkutsk district (8,504). Except in the Jewish Autonomous Region where the Jews constituted 18.57% of the population, the Jews were a small percentage of the total population, only 0.6% and 2%. Most Jews lived in the capitals of the districts. The Soviet rulers exiled thousands of Zionists from European Russia to the most outlying parts of Siberia. Among the exiles was the poet Ḥayyim *Lenski, who described life in the concentration camps and the scenery of Siberia in his poetry. In 1928 the Soviet government assigned an area in eastern Siberia to Jewish settlement, and in 1934 it was declared an Autonomous Jewish Region (see *Birobidzhan). During World War ii large numbers of Jewish refugees from the areas occupied by the Germans reached Siberia, and some of them remained there after the war ended. According to the 1959 census there were 12,429 Jews in the Novosibirsk oblast, 9,458 in the Omsk oblast, 10,313 in the Irkutsk oblast, 2,691 in the Buryat-Mongol republic, 8,494 in the territory of Khabarovsk, and 14,269 in Birobidzhan. The census, which did not cover the whole of Siberia, registered a total of 57,654 Jews (i.e., those declaring themselves as Jews). Some 53,266 (92.4%) lived in towns; 9,970 (17.3%) declared Yiddish as their mother tongue (excluding Birobidzhan – only 4,373, or 10%). In Novosibirsk, which became the capital of Siberia, the Jewish population (with a synagogue and an old Jewish cemetery) numbered in the late 1960s about 25–30,000, consisting of a small nucleus of Siberian Jews who had been there from czarist times – and their descendants – and mostly of Jews who had been evacuated from the western Soviet Union during World War ii. In 2002, 3,330 Jews remained in the Novosibirsk oblast and 14,579 in the entire Siberian district.
M.A. Novomeysky, My Siberian Life (1956); Ben-Ami (A.L. Eliav), Between Hammer and Sickle (1965); A. Druyanow (ed.), in: Reshummot, 3 (1923), 549–51; Ẓ. Shimshi, Zikhronot (1938), 92–102; A. Mandelberg, Me-Ḥayyai (1942), 21–25, 45–82; A. Zenziper (Rafaeli), Pa'amei ha Ge'ullah (1951), 143; idem, Be-Ma'avak li-Ge'ullah (1956), 57–60, 189–98, 213–8; S. Kushnir, Sadot va-Lev (1962), 47–71; M. Elkin, Kaybaler stepes (1934); M. Mysh, in: Voskhod, 9:7 (1889), 1–18; 9:8 (1889), 1–21; idem, Rukovodstvo k russkomu zakonodatelstvu o yevreyakh (1890), 243–51; Halpern, in: Voskhod, 20:3 (1900), 3–17; M.A. Lozina-Lozinski, Sistematicheskiy sbornik razyasneniy pravitelstvuyushchogo senata po delam o zhitelstve yevreyev (1902), 545–78; G. Belkovski, Russkoye zakonodatelstvo o yevreyakh v Sibiri (1905); B.D. Brutzkus, Professionalny sostav yevreyskago naseleniya Rossii (1908), table no. 8; Yu. Ostrovski, Sibirskiye yevrei (1911); V. Voytinski and A. Gornstein, Yevrei v Irkutske (1915); N.N. (I. Syrkin), in: Yevreyskaya Starina, 8 (1915), 85–99; Neiman, ibid., 381–5; Kleinman, in: Yevreyskaya Letopis, 3 (1924), 124–34; Kirzhnitz, in: Sibirskaya Sovetskaya Entsiklopediya, 1 (1929), 869–73.
SIBERIAconquest and settlement
the trans-siberian railroad and tsarist attempts to assert control
Siberia is Russia's subcontinent of northern Asia. Its 13.5 million square kilometers (5.2 million square miles) comprise one-eleventh of the global landmass, and its forests make up one-fifth of the world's total. Although two-thirds of Siberian soil is locked in permafrost, the Black Earth Zone of the southwestern Siberian steppe is well suited for agriculture.
Siberia was Russia's late-nineteenth-century frontier. Intellectuals of the period idealized it as a land of freedom and individualism comparable to the American West, an interpretation echoed by American scholars of the late twentieth century. But in contrast to the U.S. frontier, Siberia's was conditioned by the overgovernment and undergovernment that typified tsarist Russia as a whole. Russia's East was both far wilder and far tamer than the Wild West. The regional folk saying "God is high above and the tsar is far away" expressed one aspect of the Siberian experience, but in response the central government made efforts to ensure that its presence was felt.
The Russian conquest of Siberia began in 1582 and continued for the next century. It was propelled by the demand for furs, the largest revenue source of the Muscovite tsardom, which closely regulated trade in the valuable commodity. The last sizable portions of territory, forming the Russian Far East, were annexed from China in the late 1850s in a new era of imperialism.
Siberia's original inhabitants were two hundred thousand hunter-gatherers and pastoral nomads. They spoke Finno-Ugric, Samoyedic, Turkic, Manchu-Tungus, Mongolian, Eskimo, or Paleosiberian languages and adhered to Islam, Buddhism, or—in the main—shamanism. Russian conquest succeeded for the same reasons Europeans prevailed over indigenous societies elsewhere: disease, guns, and exploitation. Reforms written by Governor-General Mikhail Speransky and enacted in 1822 curtailed the worst abuses by replacing forcible collection of tribute with taxation, but this proved equally burdensome. He also granted the various ethnicities internal autonomy, religious toleration, and statutory protection of their territories—although the latter could be circumvented by the central government, which retained ownership of the land.
In 1800 a mere 560,000 Russians inhabited Siberia, and by 1860 natural increase brought that to 2.3 million (alongside 648,000 natives). The Russians were the descendants of fugitive serfs, Old Believers fleeing religious persecution, merchants seeking opportunity, or the Cossacks, priests, and peasants who had been ordered there by the state to man and supply fortresses. Most Siberian towns evolved from these garrisons.
The slowness of settlement was a result of serfdom, which limited peasant mobility, and the early imperial government's view of Siberia less as a frontier extension of Russia proper than as a colony subject to exploitation for its resource wealth: originally furs, then the gold, silver, copper, coal, and iron discovered in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Siberia was also a dumping ground for criminals, vagrants, and dissidents. By the mid-nineteenth century, seventeen to nineteen thousand exiles were being shipped there annually, and convicts made up at least 10 percent of the population before the peasant influx of the 1890s, when it dropped to 5 percent. Some exiles were aristocratic political prisoners such as the participants in the 1825 Decembrist revolt and their families, who brought the first breath of European culture to Siberian towns, just as later generations of exiled radicals contributed to intellectual life. But most were criminals, and because exile was unsupervised and escape from penal convoys common, Siberian communities were plagued by violent outlaw gangs.
Siberia was remote from the concerns of St. Petersburg until the reigns of Alexander III (r. 1881–1894) and Nicholas II (r. 1894–1917), who sensed risks to Russian dominion in northern Asia. Great Britain was Russia's colonial rival, and its navy posed a threat to the weakly defended Siberian coastline. Agitated by notions of the "Yellow Peril," policymakers feared the Chinese would flood into underpopulated Siberia. The autocracy doubted the loyalty of indigenous peoples, including the large numbers of Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese already resident in the Russian Far East, and suspected Siberia's regionalist intelligentsia, which envied the republican institutions of the American West. And, from 1861 to 1894, nine hundred thousand peasants, now emancipated but seeking to escape land hunger, illegally migrated to Siberia; the tsarist regime could not abide the spontaneity or afford the loss of tax revenues.
To assert control over this vast territory the tsarist state built the Trans-Siberian Railroad (1892–1905, with extensions 1907–1916), took charge of the peasant resettlement movement, and stimulated regional economic development. The 4,800-kilometer-long (3,000-mile-long) railroad, construction of which was orchestrated by Sergei Witte, minister of finance from 1892 to 1903, ran through the most habitable zones of southern Siberia. Under the leadership of the imperial minister, Anatoly Kulomzin, government surveyors divided 21 million acres of land along the route into 40-acre plots in communal villages and distributed them to peasant migrants who were also given travel aid and loans for supplies. The state built schools, churches, and silos, and provided medical and veterinary care. Infrastructure and scientific projects were also undertaken, from irrigation works and construction of river ports to geological exploration and subsidization of local industry.
In this epoch of transcontinental railroad construction, the autocracy strove to prevent the Siberian frontier from becoming like the American West. The government outlawed real estate speculation; capped the size of landholdings; retained ownership of forests and railroads; restricted individual, noncommunal peasant farming; and refused calls for elective forms of local government. In one significant respect the two nations were similar: the Russian state confiscated millions of acres of land used by the Kazakhs and other indigenous peoples who stood in the way of white settlement.
The results were mixed. Five million peasants migrated to Siberia, nearly doubling the population by 1914. Despite tensions between old and new settlers, the rural economy boomed, and peasants enjoyed a living standard higher than the Russian norm. Cities along the railroad line also grew rapidly, and the foundations were laid for Siberian industrialization. On the other hand, the projection of Russian military power via the Trans-Siberian threatened Japanese interests and helped precipitate the disastrous Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905). The newly arrived railroad workers, miners, and factory laborers, often employed in miserable conditions, were susceptible to the political agitation carried out by exiled radicals. In the Revolution of 1905 and at the Lena goldfields in 1912, their working-class discontents exploded in strikes and rebellions that called into question the strength of the tsarist regime's hold over Siberia.
Aust, Martin. "Rossia Siberica: Russian-Siberian History Compared to Medieval Conquest and Modern Colonialism." Review (Fernand Braudel Center) 27, no. 3 (2004): 181–205.
Bassin, Mark. "Inventing Siberia: Visions of the Russian East in the Early Nineteenth Century." American Historical Review 96, no. 3 (1991): 763–794.
Forsyth, James. A History of the Peoples of Siberia: Russia's North Asian Colony, 1581–1990. Cambridge, U.K., 1992.
Lincoln, W. Bruce. The Conquest of a Continent: Siberia and the Russians. New York, 1994.
Marks, Steven G. Road to Power: The Trans-Siberian Railroad and the Colonization of Asian Russia, 1850–1917. Ithaca, N.Y., 1991.
——. "Conquering the Great East: Kulomzin, Peasant Resettlement, and the Creation of Modern Siberia." In Rediscovering Russia in Asia, edited by Stephen Kotkin and David Wolff, 23–39. Armonk, N.Y., 1995.
Stephan, John J. The Russian Far East: A History. Stanford, Calif., 1994.
Wood, Alan, ed. The History of Siberia: From Russian Conquest to Revolution. London, 1991.
Steven G. Marks
Often called the "Wild East," beautiful but austere, Siberia is one of the least populated places on earth. Western Siberia is the world's largest and flattest plain, across which tributaries of the Ob and Irtysh rivers wend their way north to the Arctic Ocean. This orientation means that in spring the mouths of the rivers are yet frozen while their upper reaches thaw, creating the world's largest peat bog in the middle of the plain; thus, the lowland is arable only in the extreme south. Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East tend to be rugged and mountainous, with thin soils at best. Beneath this chiefly soil-less veneer lies some of the world's oldest rock. Higher mountains and active volcanoes rise along the easternmost edge, where the Pacific Ocean plate subducts beneath Asia. Here also the majority of the rivers drain northward, perpendicular to the main east-west axis of settlement. Only along the Pacific seaboard do the rivers flow east, the longest of which is the Amur, which, together with its tributaries, forms the boundary between China and Russia. On the border between Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East, the region boasts the world's oldest and deepest lake, Baikal. Including some of the purest water on earth, Lake Baikal holds more than twenty percent of the globe's freshwater resources.
Human settlement resembles a mostly urban, beaded archipelago strung along the Trans-Siberian Railroad from the Urals cities of Chelyabinsk and Yekaterinburg to Vladivostok, 4,000 miles away in the east. In between, rest the large cities of Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk, and Khabarovsk. Novosibirsk, which means "New Siberia," is largest of all with 1.5 million people.
The densest settlement pattern conforms to Siberia's least severe climates, which align themselves in parallel belts from harsh to harshest at right angles to a southwest-northeast trend line. Deep within the interior of Asia and surrounded by mostly frozen seas, Siberia experiences the most continental climates on the planet. One-time maxima of more than ninety degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) are possible in the relatively short Siberian summers except along the coasts, whereas one-time minima of minus-ninety degrees Fahrenheit (–68 degrees Celsius) have been recorded in the long winters of Sakha (Yakutia). This broad range of temperatures is not recorded anywhere else. Fortunately, the winter frost is typically dry and windless, affording some relief to the isolated towns and hamlets located in the sparsely populated northeast.
Although western geographers accept the entire northeastern quadrant of Eurasia as the region known as Siberia, Russian geographers officially accept only Western and Eastern Siberia as such, excluding the Russian Far East, or Russia's Pacific Rim. Including the Russian Far East, Siberia spans 5,207,900 square miles (13,488,400 square kilometers) and makes up more than three-fourths of the Russian land mass. By this definition, Siberia is a fourth bigger than Canada, the world's second largest country. It extends from the Ural Mountains on the west to the Pacific Ocean on the east. North to south it spans an empty realm from the Arctic Ocean to the borders of Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and China. It is empty because, although it occupies 23 percent of Eurasia, it environs less than 1 percent of the continent's population. Siberia is so massive that citizens of the U.S. state of Maine are closer to Moscow than are residents of Siberia's Pacific Coast.
The Russian word Sibir has at least six controversial origins, ranging from Hunnic to Mongolic to Russian. The Mongol definition is "marshy forest," which certainly typifies much of the Siberian landscape.
To many Westerners, the name evokes a popular misconception that people who live in Siberia are exiles or forced laborers. Although it is accurate
to suggest that the region became a place of exile as early as the 1600s and remained that way long after, most Siberians freely migrated there. The Great Siberian Migration, which occurred between 1885 and 1914, witnessed the voluntary movement of 4 million Slavic peasants into the southern tier of the area, facilitated by the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway (1891–1916). In fact, the tributary area of that railway became, and remains, the primary area of Siberian settlement. The rest of Siberia represents a vast underdeveloped backwater, containing fewer than one person per square mile.
Soviet dictator Josef Stalin successfully endeavored to force the development of the "backwater" by creating a vast system of labor camps, further tarnishing Siberia's image. At least 1.5 million forced laborers and convicts occupied the region's north and east between 1936 and 1953. Some of the camps remained in use until the collapse of the Soviet Union (1991). Between 1953 and 1991, extraordinary financial and material incentives lured the vast majority of migrants to the harshest regions. After 1991, when the incentives were terminated, hundreds of thousands of residents departed for more hospitable and economically stable destinations.
Although Siberia's future is unpredictable, the region remains rich in resources. Most lie in austere, largely unexplored areas far from potential consumers. Thus, like their relatives of the past, modern Russians continue to refer to Siberia as the future or cupboard of the nation. Unfortunately, although teeming with natural wealth, the cupboard remains locked.
See also: china, relations with; far eastern region; northern peoples; pacific fleet; trans-siberian railway
Hudgins, Sharon W. (2003). The Other Side of Russia: A Slice of Life in Siberia and the Russian Far East. College Station: Texas A&M University Press.
Lincoln, W. Bruce. (1994). The Conquest of a Continent: Siberia and the Russians. New York: Random House.
Marx, Steven G. (1991). Road to Power. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Mote, Victor L. (1998). Siberia Worlds Apart. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Thubron, Colin. (1999). In Siberia. New York: Harper Collins.
Treadgold, Donald W. (1957). The Great Siberian Migration. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Tupper, Harmon. (1965). To the Great Ocean. Boston, MA: Little, Brown.
Victor L. Mote
Siberia is a vast territory of northern Asia, part of the Commonwealth of Independent States (formerly the U.S.S.R.). It is bounded by the Urals on the west, by Kazakhstan, China, and North Korea on the south, by the Pacific on the east, and by the Arctic on the north.
In former times, most of the tribal cultures of Siberia practiced the art of sorcery through the expertise of the shaman. The definitive characteristic of the shaman, as opposed to other tribal ritual leaders, was the ability to go into trance and travel in the spirit world.
The Samoyeds of Siberia believed in the existence of an order of invisible spirits called tadebtsois. These were ever circling through the atmosphere and were a constant menace to the people, who were anxious to propitiate them. This propitiation could only be effected through the intervention of a tadibe, or necromancer, who, when his services were requisitioned, attired himself in a magic costume of reindeer leather trimmed with red cloth, a mask of red cloth, and a breastplate of polished metal. He then took a drum of reindeer skin ornamented with brass rings and, attended by an assistant, walked in a circle and invoked the spirits while shaking a large rattle. The practice was very similar to that found among the Lapps in Lapland.
As the noise grew louder the spirits were supposed to draw near the sorcerer, who addressed them, beating his drum more gently and pausing in his chant to listen to their answers. Gradually he worked himself into a condition of frenzy, beat the drum with great violence, and appeared to be possessed by the spirit's influence, writhing and foaming at the mouth. All at once he stopped and oracularly pronounced the will of the spirits.
The tadibe's office was a hereditary one, but a member of the tribe exhibiting special qualifications was adopted into the priesthood, and through fasts, vigils, and the use of narcotics and stimulants—in the same manner as employed by some Native Americans—came to believe that he or she was visited by the spirits. The initiate was then adopted as a tadibe in a midnight ceremony and invested with a magic drum.
Many of the tricks of the priesthood were merely those of ordinary conjuring, such as the rope trick, but some of the illusions were exceedingly striking. With their hands and feet tied together, the tadibe sat on a carpet of reindeer skin and, putting out the light, summoned the assistance of the spirits. Peculiar noises heralded the spirits' approach, snakes hissed and bears growled, the lights were rekindled, and the tadibe's hands and feet were untied.
The Samoyeds sacrificed often to the dead and performed various ceremonies in their honor, but they believed that only the souls of the tadibes enjoyed immortality, hovering in the air and demanding frequent sacrifices.
Further to the east, inhabiting the more northerly part of Siberia, lived the Ostiaks, who nominally adopted the rites of the Greek church, but magic was also common among them. Many Ostiaks carried a kind of fetish they called schaitan.
Larger images of this kind were part of the furnishings of an Ostiak lodge, but they were attired in seven pearlembroidered garments and suspended from the neck by a string of silver coins. In a strange sort of dualism they were placed in many of the huts cheek by jowl with the image of the Virgin Mary, and at mealtimes their lips were smeared with the blood of raw game or fish.
The Mongols, who inhabited the more southern parts of the vast expense of Siberia, were also ancient practitioners of magic and relied greatly on divination. To prognosticate the weather they employed a stone endowed with magic virtues, called yadeh-tash, which was suspended over or laid in a basin of water with sundry ceremonies.
Many of the old beliefs and practices in Siberia died out following the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent development of the area.
(See also Fetishism )