Working Paper 38

"Hey, You! Get offa my Taiga!": comparing the sense of property rights among the Tofa and Tozhu-Tyva

Brian Donahoe

Abteilung ‚Resilienz und Transformation in Eurasien’

Year of publication

Number of pages

Working Paper 38

The Tozhu-Tyva and Tofa peoples of southern Siberia are closely related ethnically, linguistically, historically, geographically, and in their "traditional" economic activities (reindeer herding and hunting and gathering). However, they have long been divided by administrative boundaries and by a superimposed system of ethnic categorization, which have led to drastic differences in their senses of property rights.
The Tofa have a much longer history of interaction with Russians than the Tozhu-Tyva, beginning in 1648. Centuries of encroachment pushed the Tofa higher and deeper into the Eastern Sayan mountains, forcing them to redraw the boundaries of their ever-shrinking rodovye taigi (clan hunting grounds). Then in 1927, when the Tofa first received special attention as one of the USSR's "Small Numbered Minorities of the North," the federal government set aside a territory of 27,000 km² for the Tofa. As part of the collectivization and sedentarization campaigns, all clan hunting grounds were declared state property and divided up into small hunting tracts. Many of the newly settled Tofa abandoned reindeer herding. Reindeer lost their cultural significance, and reindeer herding as a way of life lost its prestige. With the collapse of the USSR and the dissolution of the collective institutions, these hunting tracts have been reassigned, in many cases to non-Tofa families who came in with the establishment of the collective farms. Many Tofa now find themselves without taigas on which to make a living. This is leading to a tense situation characterized by undercurrents of ethnic resentment, as ever more people try to get a piece of a limited taiga.
This situation is striking in contrast to the sense of property just across the border in the Tozhu province of the Republic of Tyva. Prior to being incorporated into the USSR in 1944, the Tozhu-Tyva people had minimal contact with and influence from Russians. Nonexclusivity is still the salient feature of Tozhu-Tyvas' sense of property today.
In this paper I will discuss the institution of rodovye taigi (clan hunting grounds) among the Tofa. I will draw comparisons between the Tofa people and the Tozhu-Tyva people regarding senses of property rights, suggesting that one of the principal reasons for the differences is degree of contact with and influence from Russia and Russians. I also suggest that these differences have in part been responsible for the Tozhu-Tyva people's retaining their native language and traditional way of life, while the Tofa have lost theirs.

Go to Editor View