Introduction / History The Chulym have lived in the Chulym River Valley in South Central Asia since the late 1500s when their ancestors were forced out of Western Siberian Tatar territory. Once settled in the Chulym River Valley, they intermingled with other Turkic peoples and eventually become the group known as the Chulym or Chulym Tatar.
Because 1,200 miles of waterway separates the Chulym from other Siberian Tatar and they are now part of the Khakass tribal system, they have developed a distinct dialect of the Tatar language. Unlike some other groups, the Chulym population cannot be identified as a cohesive group either by their language or ethnic background. Some have been so completely assimilated into the surrounding Russian or Khakass populations that they no longer speak their own language. Many now speak Khakass or Russian. Although this may be tragic to their culture, it would allow them to understand Russian Scriptures.
What are their lives like? Vast forests originally provided the Chulym with all they needed to live - animals for meat, furs, and hides, fish and cedar-pine nuts for other foods. However, in the 1760s, the Russian government began construction of the Moscow-Siberian highroad, which cut across the Chulym steppe. The new road opened the way for hundreds of thousands of Russians to pour into Chulym territory and establish their own claims on the land. The Russian settlers slashed and burned huge tracts of forest to create land for agriculture and villages.
The loss of the forests destroyed the Chulym's traditional way of life. Some retreated north into marshy woods, some hired out as laborers to the Russians, and others were forced to harvest the trees that had sustained them - trees that were now used as fuel for Russian steamships.
What are their beliefs? Although most Russian Tatar are classified as Sunni Muslim, the Chulym seem to be shamanists (they believe in an unseen world of gods and demons), a belief probably influenced by their close association with the Khakass people. At one time the shaman (priest or medicine man) was considered a healer, religious leader, and philosopher. Because the Chulym believed evil spirits captured sick people, the shaman performed elaborate rituals that included shaking a rattle to make noise and waving a kerchief to scare away the evil spirits. He (or she) also offered a propitiatory sacrifice of soup and a sheep as part of the belief that the shaman descended to the "underworld" to talk the evil spirits into letting the soul go. The shamanistic practices were always accompanied by a blood sacrifice. While neither Christianity nor Islam succeeded in ousting shamanism entirely, the practice seems to have disappeared in recent decades.
The Chulym were forcibly Christianized in about 1720 by Philophey, Metropolitan of Tobolsk, but this did not totally wipe out their traditional beliefs.
What are their needs? Russia has repeatedly exploited both the land and the people in this area. They have stripped the land of natural resources, trampled and misused the environment, and forcibly relocated the people. The government encourages parents to put their children in distant boarding schools, and many that leave do not return.
Conditions among the minority peoples in northern Russia are below the rest of the Russian population. Nuclear testing in this area has caused infant mortality to skyrocket. In some areas life expectancy is only 45 years. The Chulym do not have adequate health care, shelter, or transportation. They live on a subsistence diet of potatoes and bread, and lack safe drinking water. Telephones and electricity are scarce. Additional Christian tools and workers are needed.
Prayer Points * Pray that Lord will send forth Christian medical teams and health care workers to live among the Chulym of Russia.
* Ask God to grant wisdom and favor to missions agencies ministering to the Chulym.
* Pray that Russian Bibles will be placed in the hands of the Chulym who understand the Russian language.
* Ask the Lord to bring forth a strong and growing Chulym church for the glory of His name!