Barymta – vendetta of nomads

Autor of text: 

Russian colonial administration often characterized Kazakh dzigits, especially the most glorious ones, as cattle-stealers and robbers.  These popular specialties are considered be equal by majority of those who study history.

But it is not exactly true. Just few of them were earning their living by robbery in the steppe. Unless it was a legal extortion from transit caravans, which, however, was not considered a robbery, but a legal and primordial income item. Inhabitants of the steppe considered it almost as a charity towards protected merchants.

Almost all self-respected dzhigits were involved in Barymta, which was, on the one hand, the epitome of male prowess and valiant fun, and on the other hand, way to restore the trampled justice. Barymta (baranta) ontologically is a legal act, not criminal. It is something like an economic vendetta, nomad’s peculiar version of "vendetta" - without shedding of blood (at least - a lot of blood).

Dahl’s dictionary says: “Barant differs from military attacks, because the attackers, afraid of vendetta, go without firearms and even without sharp weapons, but take wooden pokers instead of spears, butt and whip.”

The main purpose of these actions was theft of horses, first of all. Sheep were taken, if taken, only to do harm, because they were lost anyway during the inevitable chase or difficult road.

I see in this not only a practical sense, but also deep historical roots. Not for nothing, the steppe nomads were turned into strange hybrids of horses and people - centaurs by the imagination of ancient Mediterranean peoples. Because that kind of symbiosis allowed nomads to survive, open the boundless space of the Great Steppe up and create great nomadic civilization that periodically shook the world order.

If "horse-breading" component was not there, then steppe nomads would not have had any chance of winning at least one victory over the armies of their settled neighbors. That is why barymta has such an antiquity scent and logically, all adversaries had the desire to deprive each other of the main and only advantage in the steppe war - Wings...

However, times have changed and values changed with them, erstwhile prowess was weakening and became an anachronism. Alexei Levshin, first researcher of Kazakh life, wrote in 1832: "In the past barants were carried out only after decision of judges or elders, and only if the guilty one refused to satisfy the plaintiff. Nowadays, everyone who feels resentful, robbed or discontented gathers riders and comes to the enemy, attacking his home and stealing his herds and flocks".

But for nomads, who are not tied to the monuments of history, their heroic past has always been more tangible and alive matter than for settled people living permanently on the ruins of its former self. The figure of cattle-stealer remained a visible manifestation of the glorious history. The famous explorer Nikolai Severtsev wrote: "Here are hearts of oak for whom not a looted cattle but process of Baranta itself is a pleasure; they migrate generation after generation, seeking for Barants as a soldiers of fortune, and since they are already virtuosos in the raids, everybody accepts and appreciates them...".

These steppe hearts of oak retained their "status quo" even when the line between robbery and barymta disappeared completely, and "cattle- stealers" become a real scourge in the nomad’s corner of the world. The glory of some "professionals", who earned their living by romantic barymta or banal robbery, depending on circumstances, thundered in the middle of the XIX century.

But people, mechanically, continued to treat the cattle-stealers with undisguised sympathy and even with delight. People remembered the idea of social justice, which was once at the basis of this phenomenon, and effusively retold from lip to lip exciting stories about their exploits.

However, representatives of the Russian government, who more and more took control over the life of their new subjects, thought differently. For officials of the tsar and apologists of the western jurisprudence was nonsense the fact that gypsies, who stole the mare from a farmer, were considered horse thieves, and dzhigit, who carry off the whole herd from another village, became a hero. Formally, both were citizens of one state, subservient to the same laws. And when some citizens harmed others - it was a disorder, and the state could not stay on the sidelines.

Despite the fact that the Russian colonial policy tried to save local legal institutions and even supported the existing for centuries "customary law", a real war was declared against Barant. In order to fully realize the roots of the determination of the Empire to put the end of the barymta, you need to understand what Russian officials are understood well - barymta carried in itself not only devastating economic consequences, but also could instantly turn into political platform from being only social (or criminal) action.

The fact is that cattle-stealers, due to their broad expertise and hyper high mobility, could easily become a weapon in the tactical plans of political antagonists of the Empire - the force that is capable of fast reprogramming against any authority. Especially in places, where nations were still separated by ever-changing boundaries and many people became the new citizens not by their choice, but because of the circumstances. That's when the need of the steppe hearts oak appeared! Thieves had a chance to turn into heroes once again. And they use it.

Thus, war was not declared against barymta as an art, but against cattle-stealers as a class. Hence an interesting legal case of that era became clear: why stealing the bride was not considered a crime, but stealing the cattle was a matter of jurisdiction. But the subtleties were there. Authorities looked through shut eyes on those who did not stick out from their patriarchal world, did not encroach on Russian peasants cattle and did not touch military herds. Also direct patronage was provided to those "hearts oak" which robbed neighboring territories, simultaneously running spying function.

For truth’s sake should be noted that during Turkestan and steppe wars barant was actually widespread and peculiar way of conducting positional and partisan war for both sides. And not only Kazakh dzhigits succeed in this business. Russian Cossacks willingly participated in cattle stealing actions for tactical and punishing purposes.

No votes yet

Overs articles

Ask the author