1. Speak on the Mordvin nationality.

The Mordvins


The Mordvin people form the largest group of Finno-Ugric peoples living in the Russian Federation. Mordvin speakers today occupy the third place in the Uralic family, after Hungarian and Finnish. Their nation comprises two ethnic groups: the Erzya and the Moksha which have both preserved their ethnic identity and speak distinct dialects of the Mordvin language. Morphologically and lexically the two dialects differ greatly and are therefore usually regarded as two distinct languages. The Erzya, constituting two-thirds of the Mordvin population, live along the river Sura. The Moksha, representing the remaining one-third, live in the valley of the river Moksha.

The material and intellectual culture of the Mordvins has been deeply marked by Bulgar-Turkish rule, Tatar domination, and perhaps most of all by Russian rule since 1552. Changing over from a hunting economy to agriculture and farming early on, crop-rotation was introduced in their lands in the 17th century. They grew rye, wheat, buckwheat, millet, and flax. The Mordvins also kept horses, cattle, sheep, and pigs.

Although small families were in a majority, families of 25–40 members could be found at the end of the 19th century, especially among the Moksha. Their relations, rights, and duties were dependent on age and gender. The head of the family was the oldest man, his wife carried out women’s tasks, and the young had to obey their elders.

Mordvin settlements were built along rivers and streams. The first dwellings were ground huts, then huts dug half into the ground, followed by wooden log houses. The simplest of these consisted of only one room, to which an unheated porch might be attached. By the end of the 19th century these were replaced by three-room buildings. The furniture of the Mordvin houses consisted of wide benches fixed to the wall.

Hardly anything remains today of the ancient Mordvin beliefs. The Mordvins used to be pagans. Their polytheism was characterised by the predominance of female deities in their pantheon. The welfare of both the individual and the community depended on these deities and the Mordvins offered two kinds of sacrifice to appease them. The communal sacrificial rituals took place in a forest clearing outside the village. Each god had its own tree where it was believed the god or goddess invoked was present for the duration of the ritual. At communal sacrifices, the rituals were celebrated by chosen elders. The supreme god was called Shkaj in Moksha and Nishke in Erzya. The family offering generally took place at home, being celebrated by an elderly head of the household. The pagan population of the region was forced to convert to Orthodoxy after 1552 when Ivan the Terrible captured the town of Kazan and began to integrate the Volga region into the Russian Empire.