Ket people
Kets are a Siberia
Siberia is an extensive region constituting almost all of Northern Asia. Comprising the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, it was part of the Soviet Union from its beginning, as its predecessor states, the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, conquered it during the 16th...

n people who speak the Ket language
Ket language
The Ket language, formerly known as Yenisei Ostyak, is a Siberian language long thought to be an isolate, the sole surviving language of a Yeniseian language family...

. In Imperial Russia they were called Ostyaks, without differentiating them from several other Siberian peoples. Later they became known as Yenisey ostyaks, because they lived in the middle and lower basin
Drainage basin
A drainage basin is an extent or an area of land where surface water from rain and melting snow or ice converges to a single point, usually the exit of the basin, where the waters join another waterbody, such as a river, lake, reservoir, estuary, wetland, sea, or ocean...

 of the Yenisei River
Yenisei River
Yenisei , also written as Yenisey, is the largest river system flowing to the Arctic Ocean. It is the central of the three great Siberian rivers that flow into the Arctic Ocean...

 in the Krasnoyarsk Krai
Krasnoyarsk Krai
Krasnoyarsk Krai is a federal subject of Russia . It is the second largest federal subject after the Sakha Republic, and Russia's largest krai, occupying an area of , which is 13% of the country's total territory. The administrative center of the krai is the city of Krasnoyarsk...

 district of Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

. The modern Kets lived in the eastern middle areas of the river before being assimilated politically into the Russia or Siberia during the 17th through 19th centuries.


The Ket are thought to be the only survivors of an ancient nomad
Nomadic people , commonly known as itinerants in modern-day contexts, are communities of people who move from one place to another, rather than settling permanently in one location. There are an estimated 30-40 million nomads in the world. Many cultures have traditionally been nomadic, but...

ic people believed to have originally lived throughout central southern Siberia. In the 1960s the Yugh people
Yugh people
Yugh people were part of an indigenous group believed to be survivors of an ancient people who originally lived throughout central Siberia. The Yugh people lived along the Yenisei River from Yeniseisk to the mouth of the Dupches River.-Recent history:...

 were distinguished as a separate though similar group. Today's Kets are the descendants of the tribe
A tribe, viewed historically or developmentally, consists of a social group existing before the development of, or outside of, states.Many anthropologists use the term tribal society to refer to societies organized largely on the basis of kinship, especially corporate descent groups .Some theorists...

s of fishermen and hunters of the Yenisey taiga
Taiga , also known as the boreal forest, is a biome characterized by coniferous forests.Taiga is the world's largest terrestrial biome. In North America it covers most of inland Canada and Alaska as well as parts of the extreme northern continental United States and is known as the Northwoods...

, who adopted some of the cultural ways of those original Ket-speaking tribes of South Siberia. The earlier tribes engaged in hunting
Hunting is the practice of pursuing any living thing, usually wildlife, for food, recreation, or trade. In present-day use, the term refers to lawful hunting, as distinguished from poaching, which is the killing, trapping or capture of the hunted species contrary to applicable law...

, fishing, and even reindeer
The reindeer , also known as the caribou in North America, is a deer from the Arctic and Subarctic, including both resident and migratory populations. While overall widespread and numerous, some of its subspecies are rare and one has already gone extinct.Reindeer vary considerably in color and size...

Animal husbandry
Animal husbandry is the agricultural practice of breeding and raising livestock.- History :Animal husbandry has been practiced for thousands of years, since the first domestication of animals....

 in the northern areas.

The Ket were incorporated into the Russian state in the 17th century. Their efforts to resist were futile as the Russians deported them to different places to break up their resistance. This also broke up their strictly organized patriarchal
Patriarchy is a social system in which the role of the male as the primary authority figure is central to social organization, and where fathers hold authority over women, children, and property. It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and entails female subordination...

 social system and their way of life disintegrated. The Ket people ran up huge debts with the Russians. Some died of famine, other of diseases imported from Europe. By the 19th century the Kets could no longer survive without food support from the Russian state.

In the 20th century, the Soviets
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 forced collectivization
Collective farming
Collective farming and communal farming are types of agricultural production in which the holdings of several farmers are run as a joint enterprise...

 upon the Ket. They were officially recognized as Kets in 1930s when the Soviet Union started to implement the self-definition policy with respect to indigenous peoples. However, Ket traditions continued to be suppressed and self-initiative was discouraged. Collectivization was completed by the 1950s and the Russian lifestyle and language forced upon the Ket people.

The population of Kets has been relatively stable since 1923. According to the 2002 census, there were 1494 Kets in Russia. This compares with 1200 in the 1970 census. Today the Ket live in small villages along riversides and are no longer nomadic.


The Ket language
Ket language
The Ket language, formerly known as Yenisei Ostyak, is a Siberian language long thought to be an isolate, the sole surviving language of a Yeniseian language family...

 has been linked to the Na-Dené languages
Na-Dené languages
Na-Dene is a Native American language family which includes at least the Athabaskan languages, Eyak, and Tlingit languages. An inclusion of Haida is controversial....

 of North America in the Dené–Yeniseian language family. Ket means "man" (plural deng "men, people"). The Kets of the Kas, Sym and Dubches rivers use jugun as a self-designation. In 1788 P.S. Pallas published the earliest observations about the Ket language in a travel diary.

The languages spoken by the Ket
Ket can also refer to:*Ket people, a people of Siberia*Ket language, the language of the Ket people*Ket River, a river in Siberia*Keť, a village in south-west Slovakia...

 and Athabaskan peoples share striking similarities. Linguists are currently researching the possibility that the languages are related.

In 1926, there were 1,428 Kets, of which 1225 (85.8%) were native speakers of the Ket language. The 1989 census counted 1,113 ethnic Kets with only 537 (48.3%) native speakers left.
Today the Ket language is still spoken by about 600 of the Ket. It is entirely different from any other language in Siberia.


The Ket traditional culture was researched by Matthias Castrén
Matthias Castrén
Matthias Alexander Castrén was a Finnish ethnologist and philologist.Castrén was born at Tervola, in Northern Finland, on the 20th of November...

, Vasiliy Ivanovich Anuchin, Kai Donner
Kai Donner
Kai Reinhold Donner was a Finnish linguist, ethnographer and politician. He carried out expeditions to the Nenets people in Siberia 1911–1914 and was docent of Uralic languages at the University of Helsinki from 1924...

, Hans Findeisen, and Yevgeniya Alekseyevna Alekseyenko. Shamanism was a living practice into the 1930s, but by the 1960s almost no authentic shamans could be found. Shamanism is not a homogeneous phenomenon, nor is shamanism in Siberia. As for shamanism among Kets, it shared characteristics with those of Turkic
Turkic peoples
The Turkic peoples are peoples residing in northern, central and western Asia, southern Siberia and northwestern China and parts of eastern Europe. They speak languages belonging to the Turkic language family. They share, to varying degrees, certain cultural traits and historical backgrounds...

 and Mongolic
Mongols ) are a Central-East Asian ethnic group that lives mainly in the countries of Mongolia, China, and Russia. In China, ethnic Mongols can be found mainly in the central north region of China such as Inner Mongolia...

 peoples. Additionally, there were several types of Ket shamans, differing in function (sacral rites, curing), power and associated animals (deer, bear). Also, among Kets (as with several other Siberian peoples such as the Karagas,) there are examples of the use of skeleton symbolics. Hoppál interprets this as a symbol of shamanic rebirth, although it may symbolize also the bones of the loon
The loons or divers are a group of aquatic birds found in many parts of North America and northern Eurasia...

 (the helper animal of the shaman, joining air and underwater world, just like the shaman who travelled both to the sky and the underworld as well). The skeleton-like overlay represented shamanic rebirth also among some other Siberian cultures.
Some authors hypothesize that the Kets may descend from the ancient Dingling
The Dingling were an ancient Siberian people. They originally lived on the bank of the Lena River in the area west of Lake Baikal, gradually moving southward to Mongolia and northern China...

 of the Tashtyk culture
Tashtyk culture
Tashtyk culture was an archaeological culture that flourished in the Yenisei valley from the first to the fourth century CE, perhaps equivalent to the Yenisei Kirghiz...

. According to Leonid Kyzlasov, the Kets were described by Chinese imperial historians as blue-eyed and fair-haired people of Siberia, but Kyzlasov does not mention to which particular Chinese source he was referring. Western Washington University
Western Washington University
Western Washington University is one of six state-funded, four-year universities of higher education in the U.S. state of Washington. It is located in Bellingham and offers bachelor's and master's degrees.-History:...

 historical linguist Edward Vajda
Edward Vajda
Edward Vajda is a historical linguist at Western Washington University. He has become known for his work on the proposed Dené–Yeniseian language family, seeking to establish that the Ket language of Siberia has a common linguistic ancestor with the Na-Dené languages of North America...

 cites that some DNA studies have shown genetic affinities with that of Tibetan, Burmese, and others Edward Vajda spent a year in Siberia studying the Ket people, and finds a relationship of Ket language to that of Native American
Indigenous peoples of the Americas
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North and South America, their descendants and other ethnic groups who are identified with those peoples. Indigenous peoples are known in Canada as Aboriginal peoples, and in the United States as Native Americans...

 languages, and also suggests the tonal system of the Ket language is closer that that of Vietnamese
Vietnamese language
Vietnamese is the national and official language of Vietnam. It is the mother tongue of 86% of Vietnam's population, and of about three million overseas Vietnamese. It is also spoken as a second language by many ethnic minorities of Vietnam...

 than any of the native Siberian languages

Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov
Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov
Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov is a prominent Soviet/Russian philologist and Indo-Europeanist probably best known for his glottalic theory of Indo-European consonantism and for placing the Indo-European urheimat in the area of the Armenian Highlands and Lake Urmia.-Early life:Vyacheslav Ivanov's...

 and Vladimir Toporov
Vladimir Toporov
Vladimir Nikolayevich Toporov was a leading Russian philologist associated with the Tartu-Moscow semiotic school. His wife was Tatyana Elizarenkova....

 compared the mythology
The term mythology can refer either to the study of myths, or to a body or collection of myths. As examples, comparative mythology is the study of connections between myths from different cultures, whereas Greek mythology is the body of myths from ancient Greece...

 of Kets with that of Uralic peoples, assuming in the studies that they are modelling semiotic
Semiotics, also called semiotic studies or semiology, is the study of signs and sign processes , indication, designation, likeness, analogy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, and communication...

 systems in the compared mythologies. They have made also typological comparisons. Among other comparisons, possibly from Uralic mythological analogies, the mythologies of Ob-Ugric
Ob-Ugric languages
The Ob-Ugric languages are a hypothetical branch of the Uralic languages, specifically referring to the Khanty and Mansi languages. Both are split in numerous and highly divergent dialects...

 peoples and Samoyedic peoples
Samoyedic peoples
The term Samoyedic peoples is used to describe peoples speaking Samoyedic languages, which are part of the Uralic family. They are a linguistic grouping, not an ethnic or cultural one. The name derives from the obsolete term Samoyed used in Russia for some indigenous peoples of Siberia...

 are mentioned. Other authors have discussed analogies (similar folklore motif
Motif (narrative)
In narrative, a motif is any recurring element that has symbolic significance in a story. Through its repetition, a motif can help produce other narrative aspects such as theme or mood....

s, purely typological considerations, and certain binary pairs in symbolics) may be related to a dualistic organization of society—some dualistic
Dualism denotes a state of two parts. The term 'dualism' was originally coined to denote co-eternal binary opposition, a meaning that is preserved in metaphysical and philosophical duality discourse but has been diluted in general or common usages. Dualism can refer to moral dualism, Dualism (from...

 features can be found in comparisons with these peoples. However, for Kets, neither dualistic organization of society nor cosmological dualism
Dualistic cosmology
Dualistic cosmology is a collective term. Many variant myths and creation motifs are so described in ethnographic and anthropological literature...

 has been researched thoroughly. If such features existed at all, they have either weakened or remained largely undiscovered. There are some reports on a division into two exogamous patrilinear moieties, folklore on conflicts of mythological figures, and also on cooperation of two beings in the creation of the land, the motif of earth-diver. This motif is present in several cultures in different variants. In one example, the creator of the world is helped by a water fowl as the bird dives under the water and fetches earth so that the creator can make land out of it. In some cultures, the creator and the earth-fetching being (sometimes named as devil
The Devil is believed in many religions and cultures to be a powerful, supernatural entity that is the personification of evil and the enemy of God and humankind. The nature of the role varies greatly...

, or taking shape of a loon) compete with one another; in other cultures (including the Ket variant), they do not compete at all but rather collaborate.

However, if dualistic cosmologies are defined in broad sense, and not restricted to certain concrete motifs, then their existence is more widespread; they exist not only among some Uralic peoples, but there are examples in each inhabited continent.

See also

  • Yeniseian languages
    Yeniseian languages
    The Yeniseian language family is spoken in central Siberia.-Family division:0. Proto-Yeniseian...

  • List of indigenous peoples of Siberia
    Indigenous peoples of Siberia
    Including the Russian Far East, the population of Siberia numbers just above 40 million people.As a result of the 17th to 19th century Russian conquest of Siberia and the subsequent population movements during the Soviet era, the demographics of Siberia today is dominated by native speakers of...

External links

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