Keto or Kety is one of the smallest of all Indigenous peoples of the Siberian North. Approximate number of Keto left is 900 people total. They live on their traditional lands in Krasnoyarsk region. Mostly in Turukhansk district. Their villages are situated by the rivers Yeloguy (village of Kellog), Surgutikha (Surgutikha), Pakulikha and Kureyka (Baklanikha). A few Keto families live among Russians in bigger villages in Yenisey district.

Self-name “Keto” is from “Ket” which means “a human”. Russians called them “Ostiaki” and “Yeniseytzy”.

Traditional activities are fishing, moos and deer hunting. With coming of Russians and imperial taxation the sable hunting became more and more developed. Keto communities migrated in the Spring to the summer fishing grounds, and in the Fall to the winter hunting grounds.

Traditional dwellings are a conic structure covered with tree bark (“Tchoom”) and a semi-underground log houses. Only in the beginning of the 20 century there appeared first true houses in Keto villages.

Keto religion is Shamanism. The Highest god is Yes’ (translated like a combination of “Sky” and “God”). He is embodiment of the sky and everything good. His counterpart and a mortal enemy is goddess Khosedem - the Mistress of the North. She sends to people evil, diseases, death etc. The third major figure is goddess Tomem - the Mistress of the South and the beautiful birds. A multitude of minor spirits, such as spirits of fire, of families etc., complemented the three main spirits.

A bear hunt was always preceded by a long ceremony - “Bear Celebration”. Shamans predicted the future through songs and charades. These songs always were improvised.

During the Soviet rule the traditional way of life for Keto was always totally destroyed. Forcible distraction of the migrating way of life and settlement of Keto into stationary large villages led to diminishment of hunting and fishing in Keto lives. At present 17.8% of all Keto live in towns.

The disappearance of the traditional economic activities, distraction of the traditional family structure, assimilation to the Russian culture - led to the lose of a view of themselves as a nation by many Keto.

It is changing in last few years. More and more people are looking for their roots. There is a teaching Keto language in schools. Books in Keto are published. More and more people are looking into the past of their nation to find the road to the future.

Oksana Sinnikova,
Keto, IIC

Photo by V. Zagumennov