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Smaller peoples and their traditional and ritual combat sports

Indigenous small-numbered peoples of the Russian North
Nganasans and Koryaks: Toruasa and Yennin-Gyynyn wrestling

Toruasa, traditional wrestling of the Nagasan people living in the Russain Far North
Illustration from "The World Encyclopedia of Wrstling" by A.C.Mandzyak and O.L.Artemenko

Русская версия

The Nganasans are an indigenous Samoyedic people inhabiting the Taymyr Peninsula in central Siberia. In the Russian Federation, they are recognized as being one of the Indigenous peoples of the Russian North. Its population is about 800. The Nganasans are thought to be the descendants of Paleo-Siberian peoples who were culturally assimilated by Samoyedic migrants from the south and went on to absorb various neighboring Tungusic peoples. The Nganasans were traditionally a semi-nomadic people whose main form of subsistence was wild reindeer hunting, in contrast to the related Nenets, who herded reindeer.

Being a small population group, Nganasans managed to keep their old traditions, including several form of traditional wrestling: Toruasa (standing style), belt wrestling (in which wrestlers must keep belt hold until the end) as well as a fighting style allowing limited punches and kicks. The latter style was always utilized by men to solve rivalry over a woman. However, Nganasan women are far from being meek; they prefer competing in Toruasa, in which legs are not used. Toruasa is a standing wrestling style without continuation on the ground. Toruasa wrestlers must hold each other by arms above elbows. Toruasa is based on strength and balance. Girl wrestling adorns Nganasan traditional festivals; the most of them are held in winter. Girls wrestle in colorful winter clothes in which Nganasans are proficient.

Yennin-Gyynyn wrestling Koryaks (or Koriak) are an indigenous people of Kamchatka Krai in the Russian Far East, who inhabit the coastlands of the Bering Sea to the south of the Anadyr basin and the country to the immediate north of the Kamchatka Peninsula. Their population is about 9 thousand. They are akin to the Chukchis, whom they closely resemble in physique and manner of life. Families usually gathered into groups of six or seven, forming bands, in which the nominal chief had no predominating authority, resembling common small group egalitarianism. Life revolved around Reindeer. It was the main source of food.

Anthropologists assume that a land bridge connected the Eurasian and North American continent during Late Pleistocene. It is thus possible that people crossed the modern-day Koryaks land en route to North America. It has further been suggested that people traveled back and forth between the two areas before the ice age receded, and that the ancestors of the Koryaks had returned to Siberian Asia from North America.

Yennin-Gyynyn wrestling Yennin-Gyynyn (or Chechen-Gyynyn) is Koryak’s traditional wrestling. It is a freestyle wrestling. Like Toruasa, it is a standing wrestling style without continuation on the ground. Wrestlers wear casual or special loose trousers; men wrestle topless. It is reflected in Koryak language lexicon, for instance, the word ichg’yyvytek equally means dressing down and wrestling.

To win a wrestling match the opponent must be thrown onto the ground by his back. Unlike Toruasa, legs are widely used in Yennin-Gyynyn; trips and throws are most important techniques. Fromerly, wrestlers slapped each other in order to warm up before a match. Also heavy punches and kicks were allowed during wrestling matches. However, in this wrestling style wrestlers should not cause pain to each other. In winter, wrestlers usually rub their bodies with snow.

Wrestling competitions (yavynchet-gyynyn) are events on annual seasonal festive occasions, such as reindeer-breeding festival “kilwey” or “lowering kayak festival” celebrating by seaside hunters. In the past, Koryaks made special training sites for perfecting wrestling techniques.

From of old, representatives of the fair sex participated in wrestling matches. “As men finished their competitions, women raced one another and wrestled” *. According to legends, a young man had to over wrestle a girl who he wanted to marry. It was not easy though. ”Let’s wrestle, if I win, I will marry you. The girl grasped his arm and began twisting and shaking it. She did that so strong that the arm was broken” *.


Wikipedia. Koryaks

Koryak Net

"World Encyclopedia of Wrestling" by A.C.Mandzyak and O.L.Artemenko

*) Koryak Festive events by I.S. Gurvich (in Russian), 1962.

December 2012

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