The Pomors

What is Pomorye? By reading books and listening to my history and geography teachers I have learned much about Pomors. The land of the Pomors is the European part of the Russian North, washed by cold seas. Scientists believe that the term “Pomory” used towards those who lived near the sea. The Pomors or Pomory are Russian settlers and their descendants on the White Sea coast. Pomory (coast-dwellers) – is the native name of an ethnic group of an indigenous population of Pomorye. According to the general opinion of Russian researchers, the term can be dated back to the 12-th century. In the 12th century, explorers from Novgorod came by the White Sea through the Northern Dvina and Onega estuaries, settling along the sea coasts. Kholmogory was their chief town. They explored the Barents Region and the Kola Peninsula, Spitsbergen, and Novaya Zemlya. Russian settlers were opening up the Kola Peninsula during the 12th century because they needed fishing and hunting areas.

In the 12-15th centuries Pomorye formed an extensive colony of Great (Veliki) Novgorod - the then possessor of the lands. In the 12th century, the Novgorodians established the Archangel Michael Monastery in the estuary of the Northern Dvina. In 13th century on the establishment of better government in Moscow, the struggle for predominance over the Dvina lands started between (Veliki) Novgorod and the Moscow princes. It was a hard-won victory of the Moscow princes and ended the joining of Northern lands of the centralized Russian state in the late 15th century.

In 1584 Arkhangelsk settlement was founded on cape Purnavolok. Till the end of 17th century Arkhangelsk remained the main port of Moscow state. About 80 per cent of foreign trade turnover was made via Arkhangelsk, bread, hemp, timber, resin, furs and other products were exported from here.

In the 16th century the Pomors discovered the Northern Sea Route between Arkhangelsk and Siberia. With their ships (koches), the Pomors penetrated to the trans-Ural areas of Northern Siberia, where they founded the settlement of Mangazeya east of the Yamal Peninsula.

Pomor culture gradually resulted from the assimilation of the local Ugrian-Finn culture with that of the first Old-Russian (not the Great Russian) population. In ancient times the land had been inhabited by Finno-Ugric tribes.

The 2010 population census in Russia gave renewed impetus to acquisition the official status of indigenous people by the Pomors. According to the opinion of eminent encyclopedists, the Pomors were classified as Great Russians (I mean former term for Russian people as distinguished from other peoples of the Russian Empire) or referred to them as Russian traders and trappers of the North.

Nowadays encyclopedias or encyclopedic dictionaries consider the Pomors as an independent ethnic group with their ethnic self-identity. And a lot of people now identify themselves as "Pomor" or of "Pomor origin". I know from newspapers that having official status of indigenous people they are provided for certain economic advantages within natural resources exploitation.

The Russian Far North is known for its extremely severe climate. The traditional occupations of the Pomors included animal hunting, whaling and fishing. They were fishermen and ship builders. They went to sea in huge rowing boats. The Pomors used to build one-mast boats and two-masters. The population of Pomorye was engaged in mica and salt production. They construct their houses using logs, in a style unique to them. Sea corn trade and fish trade with Northern Norway became very intensive.

I’d like to say a few words about a Northern village. There was usually a church in the centre of the village. Like most other Great Russians, the Pomors are traditionally Orthodox Christians but a large percentage of the Pomors were Old Believers. The Pomors should not be confused with the Pomortsy - members of an Old Believer group which arose in the late 17th century in the northern Russia, and have since been represented by small communities throughout Russia and adjacent countries.

Not far from Arkhangelsk there is a picturesque place of Malye Karely. An outdoor museum of wooden architecture was opened at the beginning of the ‘70s. More than 100 monuments have been brought here from the banks of the Pinega, Mezen, Dvina and Onega rivers. Valuable remnants of folk culture have been collected and arranged into an original open-air exhibition. The museum gives us an idea of what a regular Northern village looked like.

All the area of the museum is divided into several zones representing different parts of the Region. A collection of farm yards with wells, bath-houses, barns, haylofts and threshing floor shows us the authentic lifestyle of Pomors.