Society and Social Structure

With the arrival of the Russians to Taymyr in the mid to late 17th century, the Tungus clan ancestors of the Dolgans began to separate into tribes. The tribes were structured patrilinearly by the man's line. There were, however, some vestiges of matriarchy. For example, in ancient times some families of Dolgans living together in one camp elected a woman chief, to whom every man submitted. Women maintained the sacred fire and fed it, and they controlled family relics and traditions. The patrilineal organization of Dolgan tribes collapsed in the 19th century.

The development of trade and the penetration of more modern technology into the Dolgans' basic business—hunting—led some people to accumulate fur as a trade good. The important factor of social differentiation in Dolgan society was the concentration of the majority of the reindeer herds, which were generally small, in the hands of a small group of rich families.

Nevertheless, as the Dolgans spread they still retained significant features of their early society. Although hunting and fishing equipment were individual property, the products of hunting were considered to be collective property, especially in summer, when several families traveled together. A hunter, having killed a wild deer, had to give the skin and meat to families in his nomadic group, keeping only the head and neck for himself. Similarly, geese caught collectively were shared between the families according to the number of members. Domesticated reindeer were private property, as were Arctic fox trapped for fur.

With Soviet collectivization in the 1930s, many Dolgans were forced to settle into semipermanent villages and farm reindeer collectively. Industrial pollution from the Noril'sk smelters has, however, devastated reindeer pastures, and threatened the traditional hunting and reindeer breeding way of life.

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