A newborn for the Khanty is still a fetus susceptible to the mysterious forces of the other world, not yet a human being. It is carefully guarded against the evil spirits: until the baby produces the first sensible smile when it is 3 months old, it is kept in a special birch–bark cradle made by the mother (the birch according to their beliefs has the magic quality of dividing the worlds). The next cradle is made by the father, from pine or cedar wood cut off a growing tree. The tree would continue to grow with the child.
The baby became a human after the 'resurrection of the soul' rite that took place before the appearance of first teeth. Based on the looks of the baby, the parents decided who of their deceased relatives had been reincarnated in it. At that point the baby acquired a soul and, of course, a name. Later on, the parents would be guided by their dreams to determine the personal guardian spirit for the son or daughter. In this process, the child gradually becomes a member of the family and bearer of the family name. The baby was weaned at three to four years: that marked the end of the cradle period and the start of childhood. The small members of the family did their part of household duties and even in games imitated the activities of their parents. The boys competed in archery, and the girls sewed clothes for their dolls. By 14 to 15 years, boys must become accomplished fishermen and hunters, and girls must become good housewives.
A future hunter must be brave, resourceful and tenacious. His future life companion should be hard–working, diligent and modest. And all must be obedient and respect adults. From early childhood, kids are taught to never raise hand against adults, even in play, otherwise when they grow up, their hands will be shaky and they will never make good hunters. Diligent and obedient children are given pet names like 'little bear' or 'wolverine' and are allowed to use the things and tools of grownups, which make them feel really important; lazy and careless ones would be compared with frightening characters from fairy tales and myths.
When they marry, the boy and girl – pakh and evi in Khanty – become real adults and equal members of the family, they become man and woman – iki and imi. The groom and bride should belong to different families. For taking the girl from the village, the matchmakers pay a 'bride price' to the parents and guardian spirits.
When a girl turned 16–17 years, she would be tested: she may marry only if she can bake good bread, without cracks, otherwise she had to wait next year. A bride was considered beautiful, if she made nice-looking and durable clothes.
Matchmaking was not an easy business: sometimes the matchmakers had to visit the parents of the bride seven times before the parents finally accepted and invited the guests to a ceremonial party. However, if they were turned down on the seventh time, the parents of the groom could go to the shaman to inflict an illness onto the girl – until she agrees to marry their son.
The marriage celebrations lasted for many days: after a feast at the bride's house the groom would stay there for several more days to help around the house like a family member. Then the bride would be taken by sledge or boat to the yurt of the groom, and the festivities would continue there. These traditional rites and festivities helped break the ice of isolation between the families.
Sometimes the betrothed would act on their own: the bride would leave the house taking only her sewing bag. That was a sign for the parents that the daughter had left to get married. Later the newlywed came to the parents' house with repentance, and would be forgiven.