Customs & Beliefs

The Khanty live in big families. Each family, or rather a community of several dozen people, has its own settlement. The settlements are called by the name of the family residing there: Milyasov, Rymov, Staromirskiy, etc. Prominent researcher of northern West Siberia Alexander Dunin–Gorkavich, who visited Salym in the late 19th–early 20th century, found the Khanty to be peaceful and friendly people. He wrote: “The Ostiaks (the name used to call the Khanty until the 1930s) are for the most part amiable people, they are ready to help anybody and are distinguished by their high standards of honesty. There is no hostility whatever between them. They don't know beggary: the poor feel it their right to visit the well-to-do and share in their food, especially after a good hunt or catch. An Ostiak who is old and incapable of providing for oneself takes food from the immediate family, and if there is no immediate kin, from a larger family”.

The Khanty have equal respect for men and women, but clearly distinguish between their capabilities and duties. This is expressed in rites, too. For example, at the Bear Festivities men would be allowed to eat the right part of the bear, and women only the left part. A woman may go hunting or bring the meat on the sledge from the forest, but she is not allowed to step over the personal belongings of the man; she may build a cradle, but it would be a different one from what the father is allowed and must make. On their part, men do not hesitate to perform 'womanly' chores when on a far-away hunting expedition, but the woman remains the keeper of the hearth, peace and wellbeing.

The Khanty have many ancient rites surrounding the birth, marriage and death, the main events in a human life. In their beliefs, children come to their parents from the other world, and Salym's Khanty would make offerings to the God Torum and spirits of fire asking for offspring. The place of birth, outside the house, represented a borderline between two worlds and was protected against intrusion by a special birth hut.