In the 5th century BC, the ancestors of the Enets lived in the middle reaches of the Ob' River in western Siberia. This explains similar ethnonyms in the tribal names of Enets and southern groups of Samodian peoples, such as the Sel'kups, Karasintsy, and Karagasses. Forced out to the north, the Enets ancestors encountered local peoples—wild reindeer hunters. The image of such a hunter ("Morrede") is richly represented in Enets folklore. The tribal structure of the northern Enets permits us to suppose that they are related to the aboriginal Pre-Samodian population of northern Yenisey. The Samodian ancestors of the Enets, who were more numerous than the aboriginal peoples, with a more developed culture, completely assimilated the aboriginals in a relatively short time.

Russians met with Enets for the first time in the 17th century, although there are some records of Enets in ancient Russian manuscripts from the end of the 15th century. These records of the aboriginal people "Molgonzei" inhabiting the Taz River basin (West Siberia) afterwards gave name to the Russian settlement of Mangazeya founded on the Taz River in 1601, which during the whole of the 17th century was the main base for Russian expansion in North Siberia.

In the 17th century, the Enets were part of the Siberian population who paid the yasak (fur) tribute to Mangazeya District. At that time, the tribute records mention northern and southern Enets who migrated between the Taz and Yenisey Rivers and Yenisey Bay. In more southern regions, Enets tribes are recorded as migrating in the upper and middle reaches of Taz River, between the Taz and Yenisey rivers and on the right bank of Yenisey, and in the basins of its tributaries Khantayka, Kureyka, and Nizhnyaya Tunguska lower reaches.

The range of the Enets in former times was thus very wide. It included the Yenisey along both banks of the river, from Turukhansk settlement in the south to the middle part of Yenisey Bay in the north and also the Taz River basin.

Beginning from the second part of the 17th century, under pressure of Nenets from the west, and Sel'kups, Kets, and Evenki from the south and east, the Enets began to lose their territories in the basins of Taz and Turukhan rivers and retreat to the northeast, to the right bank of the Yenisey.

Destruction of the system of tribal land use during Russian rule resulted in disintegration of originally large tribes into separate groups of families. Some of the Enets were counted at that time as belonging to the Nenets and Sel'kup ethnic groups.

Ousting of the Enets continued gradually up to the 20th century. By this time, the landscapes that the Enets inhabited were mostly forest tundra, partly sparse northern taiga, and shrub tundra.

Enets who herded domestic reindeer could migrate for long distances. In summer, northern Enets lived in the Gol'chikha River basin on the coast of the Yenisey Bay and in the lower reaches of the Pura River. At the beginning of winter, they also began to move to the south to forest tundra, crossing the Yenisey after it froze over.

In the Lower Yenisey area, Enets encountered Nenets during their continuous movement from the west searching for pastures for their numerous reindeer herds. In winter 1849—1850, the last armed conflict between Nenets and Enets took place on the right bank of Yenisey, in forest tundra near Turuchedo Lake. In this battle, Enets united against Nenets with other peoples who lived on the right Yenisey bank (Evenki and Dolgans). They succeeded in defeating the Nenets. As a result, the two sides agreed to have a final boundary for territory division along the Yenisey. From that time, the right, "stone side" became the Enets one, and the left, "plain side" the Nenets one.

At the beginning of the 17th century, the total Enets population was about 3000, that is, much greater than the Nganasan population and approximately equal to the total population of all Nenets in Siberia. However, a number of epidemics, armed conflicts with other northern aboriginals over reindeer ranges and hunting territories, as well as assimilation of Enets by Nenets and Sel'kups and also by Dolgans at the end of the 19th century greatly diminished the Enets population. According to the Russian population census in

1926—1927, the total Enets population was determined as 378. Unfortunately, during later censuses Enets were sometimes counted together with Nenets, without distinguishing them as a separate people. This also contributed to the disappearance of a people which continue to be assimilated by its neighbors.

The rapid and steady decline of the Enets population, from 3000 in the 17th century to 121 now, could be explained by a number of causes. Gradual migration of the Enets to the north in ancient times passed mostly along large rivers, through rich lands populated by other peoples who were also, like the Enets, mostly hunters and fishermen, and competition among them was strong. When they first met Nenets, this competition was rather weak because Nenets were mostly reindeer herders. Nenets — also Samodians — brought a reindeer husbandry culture to the north from their area of origin (Altay-Sayan Mountains). Hunting and fishing were much less important to them, which is why they met lesser resistance from the hunters and fishers they met during migration. Their migration took place mostly along the watersheds of the Ob' and Yenisey rivers. Having reached the tundra zone Nenets encountered tundra aboriginals — hunters and fishermen — and flooded the Siberian and European tundra with their reindeer herds. In contrast to the Nenets, the Enets did not have their own important reindeer husbandry, which is why their competition with aboriginals in the tundra was much more vigorous.

In the Yenisey area, Enets met Kets and Sel'kups in the taiga and Dolgans in the tundra. All of these were hunters and fishermen and also bellicose peoples. For example, Ket bows were considered to be the best in the whole Yenisey area and in adjacent regions of Siberia, and were an object of trade. Permanent armed conflicts with their neighbors during long migrations as well as mass epidemics exhausted the Enets people and brought them to the present tragic state where their population is in rapid and steady decline.

The Enets language is disappearing even more rapidly. At present, only half of the Enets consider it as their native tongue. The others speak only Nenets and Russian. About 20—30 people now speak only Enets. They are mostly old people from remote areas. According to one forecast, the Enets language will be totally lost in 20—30 years. At the same time the rest of Enets traditional culture, including traditional forms of land use, will also disappear.

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