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Comparative history of the Sioux and the Kazakhs. Part I

Comparative history of the Sioux and the Kazakhs. Part I - e-history.kz

Throughout the nineteenth century, as expansion and colonization accelerated, Russians often resorted to stereotypes and perceptions of the Kazakhs to justify their objectives in the steppe.  Russia embraced an epistemological understanding of nomads and they applied that knowledge to their understanding of the Kazakhs, which led them to overgeneralize and underestimate the strength of the indigenous populations’ social, cultural, political, and economic structures. On the other side of the world, Europeans—and, subsequently, Americans—dealt with Indians from the moment of first contact and developed relatively inflexible ideas and opinions about them over the course of three centuries. The Americans and Russians adopted policies designed to supervise peoples that they deemed capable of change only when administered by force and coercion. The Americans and Russians failed to understand or appreciate that Sioux and Kazakh society, culture, and economy were in constant flux, and that the Sioux and the Kazakhs adopted and adapted to suit their needs and their sensibilities, however alien that might seem to the colonizers. 

One facet of the stereotypical image held by the Americans and the Russians was that the image of nomadic culture and society was that they were static cultures and societies. But in a sense, neither the Sioux nor the Kazakhs were fully nomads; agriculture, hunting and gathering, and the trappings of sedentary life were not completely alien to them. The difference between nomadic or seminomadic peoples was that they did not live in fixed abodes or in a fixed place. Sioux and Kazakh economies were generally dependent upon mobility. The Sioux lived by the hunt; the Kazakhs raised large herds of sheep, goats, camels, and horses. The Sioux were migratory hunters and the Kazakhs were pastoral nomads.

“Qazaqstan Tarihy” editorial have read the Steve Sabol’s “The Touch of Civilization” and glad to introduce readers with the most interesting aspects of comparative history of two indigenous people of Eurasia and America – Kazakhs and Sioux.

One facet of the stereotypical image held by the Americans and the Russians was that the nomadic lifeways of Sioux and Kazakh societies made them and their economies clearly backward. But in a sense, neither the Sioux nor the Kazakhs were fully nomads; agriculture, hunting and gathering, and the trappings of sedentary life were not completely alien to them. The difference between nomadic or seminomadic peoples was that they did not live in fixed abodes or in a fixed place. Sioux and Kazakh economies were generally dependent upon mobility. The Sioux lived by the hunt; the Kazakhs raised large herds of sheep, goats, camels, and horses. The Sioux were migratory hunters and the Kazakhs were pastoral nomads. 

In the minds of Americans and Russians, nomadic culture and society were easily deciphered because of universal conceptions about nomads and traits and characteristics that they believed were common to all equestrian, nomadic, warrior societies. Yet modern scholars demonstrated the global diversity of nomadic societies and cultures.

The quintessential nomadic tribes—certainly in popular imagination—were Chingis (Genghis) Khan and his hordes. By the end of the thirteenth century, Europeans and Russians gradually transformed the Mongol appellation into Tatars (or Tartars). The simple reference to Tartar evoked stereotypical images, no explanation needed. When Europeans encountered Indians, they invariably compared them to the ancient world cultures that they understood, such as Scythians and Tartars or the peoples of Atlantis or biblical Hebrews. Early explorers and settlers in the New World, in their effort to explain the origins of Indians, noted linguistic similarities. John Joselyn, in 1673, wrote that the “Mohawks speech is a dialect of the Tartars.” In 1753 Spaniard Father Venegas thought Indians resembled “Moghul Tartars.” Similarly, the idea of the “red” Indian evoked a specific image based on race conceptions in the nineteenth century. John Foster Fraser simply described the Kazakhs as the “Red Indians of the West Siberian steppes,” an image that needed no explanation or elaboration to his audience. Americans employed both Tartar and red to describe Indians, such as referring to “northern plains Indians as ‘the American Tartars’” or the “ruthless red Tartars of the desert.” This simplistic type of linguistic reference point—equating Tartar to nomad—worked to give the nineteenth-century reader an immediate sense of understanding and imagery.

Scholars provide as many portraits of nomadic societies as they do definitions of what exactly constituted a nomadic people. Elizabeth E. Bacon, analyzing nomads in central and southwestern Asia, argued that “true” nomads are people that “dwell the year round in portable dwellings and who practice no agriculture.” Paul Bohannan noted that nomadism is “movement in response to the demands of animals for pasture and water.” Raphael Patai defined nomads as the “mode of existence of peoples who derive their livelihood from tending herds of one or more species of domesticated quadrupeds and who wander to find grazing for their cattle.” Nomadism, as identified by these scholars, required a symbiotic relationship between man and domesticated animals. It required movement—either seasonally or annually. But Europeans easily applied these brief definitions of nomads not just to the peoples of the Middle East, central Asia, or Africa but to the Sioux, Cheyenne, Crow, or other plains’ nomads of the nineteenth century. The one major difference, of course, was between pastoral nomadism (livestock herders) and the equestrian buffalo hunters of the northern plains. Douglas L. Johnson recognized four nomadic types based upon ecological considerations: full nomads living in steppe regions with definite changes in habitation; seminomads who bordered cultivated regions and engaged in sporadic agriculture; desert nomads who migrated between fixed water sources; and mountain nomads who used vertical, seasonal variation to pasture their herds. The Sioux and the Kazakhs were a mix of the first two types. The nomadic society and economy was relatively self-sufficient; it produced almost all of the necessities to survive in the harsh plains or steppe environment, such as food, clothing, fuel, and shelter. Sioux and Kazakh nomadism provided access to resources possibly depleted in other regions, such as wood, water, and salt.

Of course, nomads both raided sedentary communities and traded with them, but that should not make nomads seem more violent or prone to war. History abounds with sedentary people who found time to set aside their hoe and plow to raid other settled people or go to war, and generally engage in plunder and rapine. Scholars long recognized that a symbiotic relationship existed between nomadic and sedentary peoples, and that nomads eagerly traded, attended markets, and coexisted with sedentary communities. Trade benefited both the nomad and the sedentary. Both the Sioux and the Kazakhs participated in trading networks; they understood that they existed within a larger, complex interacting system of exchange. 

The Sioux and the Kazakhs are not exact replicas of nomadic peoples found in other places or other times, such as in Asia, the Middle East, or Africa. Most scholars agree that the adoption of equestrian hunting is what compelled the Sioux to begin their migrations, but the etiological debate about pastoral nomadism remains unresolved and likely will never be completely understood. In the simplest terms, Kazakhs inherited some 2,500 years of Eurasian pastoral, equestrian nomadism; the Sioux were, in comparison, relative newcomers to equestrian nomadism. Sioux and Kazakh societies were not stagnant; they were always in transition, adopting new technologies and strategies to cope with internal and external pressures to their way of life. Many early observers considered the Sioux and the Kazakhs to be extraordinarily fine horsemen and skilled archers, but that did not stop them from adopting guns or other technology to suit their needs. The Sioux and the Kazakhs were willing traders, often enthusiastically embracing new materials and technologies. But Sioux and Kazakh nomadism differed from each other, although they shared some common elements; their social, economic, and political structures were not identical simply because they were nomads. 

Sioux and Kazakh 

The Sioux were hunting nomads whose social, economic, political, and cultural structures were in the process of changing in the eighteenth century as various bands moved west from the Minnesota and Wisconsin lakes and woodlands into the northern plains. Their language is a part of the Siouan family, which comprises fourteen “mutually unintelligible languages.” For this study, it is important to consider only part of that larger family order, distinguished by three dialects but two groupings, Dakota and Lakota. The Santee and Yankton/ Yanktonai called themselves Dakota and the Teton used the variant Lakota. The name “Sioux,” a French and English name for the Lakota and Dakota, is not theself-designation but the transliteration of an Ojibwa (Chippewa) word—natowessiwak—which the French shortened to Sioux. Scholars still debate its meaning, most often translated as “snake” or “enemy.” What was more important was what they called themselves, which was Dakota or Lakota, meaning “leagued” or “allied,” according to nineteenth-century American missionary Stephen R. Riggs, but perhaps intended to mean someone in union or who shared the same language, maybe a friend. 

Scholars are uncertain about the origins of the Sioux, but Guy Gibbon suggests that their ancestors can be located in the northern woodland regions of Minnesota and Wisconsin around AD 800. There is no doubt that the Sioux were there by the midseventeenth century, so it is fair to assume that they had occupied the region for some time before the first encounter with French Jesuits in 1659 or 1660. Pierre Esprit Radisson learned about a people that he transcribed as “Nadoueceronon,” who his hosts claimed were “very strong, with whome they weare in warres with, and another wandering nation, living only upon what they could come by.” At the time of Radisson’s visit, however, the Sioux were clearly not the stereotypical people Americans think of whenever a popular image is conjured. The Sioux society, economy, and way of life were changing, but scholars identify elements that remain vitally important to understand American-Sioux relations and the development of the powerful “Sioux Nation” of the northern plains. The Sioux embraced their own magnificent origin stories that supplied the necessary elements for Sioux society, culture, and traditions.

On the other hand, the pastoral, nomadic Kazakhs remained deeply connected to centuries of central Asian nomadic social, economic, and cultural structures and heritage. Their origins are still somewhat uncertain, but most sources agree that the name “Kazakh” was in use by the sixteenth century. Writing in the 1930s, Kazakh historian Sandzhar D. Asfendiarov concluded that the Kazakhs appeared as a distinct group in the steppe by the late fifteenth or early sixteenth centuries, after the Nogai-Uzbek-Kazak confederation collapsed. Alfred E. Hudson suggested it designated nomadic groups in the steppe who independently established themselves or “transferred their allegiance from one to another of the numerous khans then reigning in the steppe.” French historian René Grousset agreed with Asfendiarov and Hudson. He referred to the Kazakhs at this time as “dissident Uzbeks.”

The Kazakhs emerged, by most accounts, when the “dissident” Uzbeks-Kazakhs migrated north of the Syr Darya (Darya means “river”; the Amu and Syr are the Oxus and Jaxartes Rivers of ancient times) and followed two brothers named Kirei and Zhanibek (who identified themselves as the “rulers” of the Kazakhs) to become the nomadic pastoralists. Others attached themselves to the Kazakhs in the steppe regions and, in time, the ethnonym “Kazakh” became the dominant identity for all of these peoples. Lawrence Krader described this process of early identity formation that went from being a sort of social estate—dissidents from a ruling class—to a rudimentary political confederation inhabiting the steppe, to a people who self-identified as “Kazakh.”

In both the Sioux and the Kazakh case, each migrated from one place of origin—the woodlands of Wisconsin and Minnesota for the Sioux and Turkestan for the Kazakhs—into the northern plains or the Eurasian steppe to become the dominant power, displacing others or defending the newly won region against the incursions of others.

Oceti Sakowin and Ush Zhuz 

Kinship relations, consanguineal units, and adoption influenced and determined Sioux social structures. The Sioux also called themselves the Oceti Sakowin, the “Seven Council Fires,” which was a mechanism to unite through language, kinship, and culture. Scholars doubt that any sort of institution or confederacy based on the Oceti Sakowin materially existed or ever met in council or came together as the name suggests. Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century visitors to various Sioux camps do not mention it, but Raymond J. DeMallie believes that the first description of it was by William Keating in 1825. Nonetheless, that concept or bond held the Sioux together to reaffirm the shared language, history, culture, and traditions. 

Among the Sioux, the Seven Council Fires provided that covenant to explain their commonalities, shared language and customs, history, and traditions that, according to James R. Walker, maintained peaceful relations and prevented raids and reprisals against one another. Walker and other scholars were unable to find any legend or historical episode to explain the origins of the seven divisions. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, visitors to Sioux camps and other observers often divided the Sioux into three branches: Santee, Yankton/ Yanktonai, and Teton—with the former often referred to as the eastern branch and the Teton as the western branch. Moreover, the Santee and Yankton/Yanktonai referred to themselves as Dakota and the Teton called themselves Lakota. After the Sioux western migrations began, sometime in the early to mid-eighteenth century, the Santee remained in Minnesota; the Yankton/Yanktonai occupied much of the Dakotas and northern Nebraska and Iowa; and the Teton situated in the western parts of the Dakotas, northern Nebraska, and eastern Montana and Wyoming. The Teton were the largest in population and ranged over the greater expanse of territory. The Teton also produced some of the staunchest resistance to American expansion in the nineteenth century. 

The Sioux, however, existed within the oyate subdivision, often translated as “people,” but which also corresponds somewhat to tribe or nation. The names attached to the council fires and the various bands represented the links to one’s Sioux-ness—to the people’s history—and situated a person in the present. These oyate are grouped to make up the Santee division: Mdewakantonwan (Spirit Lake Village), Wahpekute (Shooters Among the Leaves), Sisitonwan or Sisseton (Fish Scale Village), and Wahpetonwan or Wahpeton (Dwellers Among the Leaves). Another name for the Yankton (End Village) and Yanktonai (Little End Village) was the Middle, or Wiciyela, division; and the Teton, or Titonwan (Dwellers on the Plains), were the western division. Among the Teton, there were seven sub-bands—Oglala, Brulé, Sans Arc, Hunkpapa, Miniconjou, Two Kettle, and Blackfeet. According to Anthony R. McGinnis, the Oglala and Brulé were larger in population, but all were noted for their “warlike behavior” and often camped together and migrated among the Moreau, Grand, Cannonball, and Heart Rivers. Geographer Joseph N. Nicollet gathered some valuable information about the various branches in 1838–1839, although he does not explain any connection to the Seven Council Fires or why the divisions occurred. There was frequent contact and interaction among the various Sioux bands—linked as they were by shared language, culture, traditions, history, and intermarriage—but there is little evidence to suggest that large multiband councils or gatherings occurred before the 1850s or that the Sioux ever amalgamated into something that might resemble a unified nation before internal colonization. 

The division into branches existed among the Kazakhs as well: the Ush Zhuz or “Three Hordes.” There is little debate among scholars that shortly after Kerei and Zhanibek separated from the Uzbek confederation further fission occurred, so that by the late-sixteenth century, the Kazakhs divided into the Ush Zhuz. Each horde consisted of various clans. For the kinship relationship to operate in both social and political contexts, Kazakhs did not trace descent back to Kerei and Zhanibek but instead to the mythical Alash or Alash Khan. Scholars attempted to identify Alash to no avail. More important was that Kazakhs believed it and used it to reinforce kinship, which was a link or covenant to explain what united Kazakhs as a people. Kazakhs endowed social and political configurations with a patrilineal scheme underscored by belief in a common ancestry to create consanguineal nomadic units. Kinship idioms and genealogies supplied the necessary and common principles to affirm perceptions of shared cultural heritage, confirm common territory, and establish the mutual responsibilities and rights of each member. Kazakhs, according to Krader, applied the principle of patrilineal descent that possessed rather limited political authority and was quite fluid and adaptable.

The horde located geographically the furthest from the Russian line of advance was the Uly Zhuz, or “Great Horde.” It was situated in the southeastern part of the Kazakh Steppe, close to the Turkestan khanates of Bukhara and Kokand, bordering China to the east, and in the Semirechie (Seven Rivers, in Kazakh Zhetisu) region, north of the Tien Shan Mountains and west along the north banks of the Syr Darya. To the north and west of the Great Horde was the Orta Zhuz, or “Middle Horde,” which was the largest horde in population and considered by many to be the most powerful economically and militarily. It certainly had some of the most prominent leaders in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and resisted Russian expansion and colonization. Its territory contained some of the best pasturage and waterways in the steppe. The last horde, Kishi Zhuz, or “Little Horde,” was second to the Middle Horde in population and geography, but it was also the closest to Russia, located in the northwest steppe above the Aral and Caspian Seas. The territory of the Little Horde was the first annexed by the Russian Empire. 

Among the Kazakhs, each of the three hordes had clans, but these divisions were extremely fluid. Each clan within the horde had what Nurbulat Masanov called “traditional genealogies,” from the Kazakh word shezhere (genealogy), used to group peoples; and each clan was apparently not rigidly bound to its own genealogy, history, or traditions. In the Great Horde, there were eleven shezhere; in the Middle Horde seven; and in the Little Horde, there were three large “unions” that formed differently than in the Middle or Great Hordes. The Alimuly union had six groups, the Baiuly union had fourteen, and the Zhetyruunion had seven. Allegiance could and often did change. Krader cited an example that illustrates this fission: when some Kazakhs of the Kangly, Chaichkly, and Kereit clans separated from the Great Horde and affiliated with the Kongrad clan of the Middle Horde. In order to assert this new genealogical right, they adopted the lineage necessary to claim membership. According to Alikhan Bokeikhanov, Kazakhs rarely asserted the largest form of identity (i.e., Kazakh) unless asked by a stranger; in that case, they might also reply that they are the “children of Alash” or the “children of the three hordes.” When two Kazakhs met, however, they identified the clan rather than zhuz, which they employed as expressions of their mutual relatedness and potential kinship.

As with the Sioux, there is little evidence to show that the Kazakhs ever united to form a single unit, although various leaders attempted to unite all Kazakhs under a single khan. Rudi Paul Lindner argued that the distance and movement between nomadic units rendered a conical clan impossible and unable to maintain rigid, segmented lineage. It might be a useful concept to study, for example, “well-defined territorial groups,” but he noted that to study nomads “is to study flux and movement.” Consequently, there was simply no way that all Sioux or all Kazakhs could ever migrate together. Nonetheless, the Sioux and the Kazakhs affixed durable bonds to kinship, language, culture, social structure, beliefs, and traditions.