Scholarship and kinship

Early Finno-Ugric ethnography in the context of scientific colonialism


Keywords: ethnography, colonialism, Finno-Ugric peoples, Khanty, scull, artefacts

The idea of Finno-Ugric kinship is based on the linguistic affinity of the languages spoken by these peoples. The fact of Finno-Ugric linguistic affinity was academically established in the 18th century, and this inspired further scholarly searches for historical links between these peoples. Not only material and spiritual culture, but also the study of physical anthropology was regarded as potential sources for demonstrating the Finno-Ugric kinship and its historical developments. The focus of this article is on the darker side of tracing Finno-Ugric connections through material evidence. The quest for knowledge included search for material proof and thus, ritual and holy objects as well as human remains were conceptualised above all as scientific data that was to be acquired by any means and regardless of the sentiments and ideas that the local people might have had about it. The occasionally gruesome methods used to gather evidence for the development of Finno-Ugric kinship demonstrate the power of scholarly constructions and ideas. In this, the early ethnography of Finno-Ugric peoples echoes the attitude and strategies of the budding discipline of cultural anthropology more generally. The idea of kinship did not have effect on the fieldwork methods – the attitude of Finnish and Hungarian scholars towards their Eastern kin remained colonial. Moreover, operating in the framework of imperial Russia and benefitting from this, the scholars can be considered as agents of colonial power.


Art Leete (b. 1969), PhD, University of Tartu, Institute of Cultural Research, Professor of Ethnology (Ülikooli 16, 51003 Tartu), art.leete@ut.ee

Svetlana Karm (b. 1967), PhD, Estonian National Museum, Researcher (Muuseumi tee 2, 60532 Tartu), svetlana.karm@erm.ee

Piret Koosa (b. 1984), PhD, Estonian National Museum, Researcher (Muuseumi tee 2, 60532 Tartu), piret.koosa@erm.ee

Kaur Mägi (b. 1973), MA, Researcher of Samoyed languages, kaur.magi@gmail.com