TUNGUSES, a widespread Asiatic people, forming a main branch of the Mongol division of the Mongol-Tatar family. They are the Tung-hu of the Chinese, probably a corrupt form of tonki or donki, that is, " men " or " people." The Russian form Tungus, wrongly supposed to mean " lake people," appears to occur first in the Dutch writer Massa (1612); but the race has been known to the Russians ever since they reached the Yenisei. The Tungus domain, covering many hundred thousand square miles in central and east Siberia and in the Amur basin, stretches from the Yenisei eastwards to the Pacific, where it occupies most of the seaboard between Korea and Kamchatka. It also reaches the Arctic Ocean at two points, in the Nisovaya tundra, west of the Khatanga River, and in a comparatively small enclosure in the Yana basin over against the Lyakhov (New Siberia) Archipelago. But the Tunguses proper are chiefly centred in the region watered by the three large eastern tributaries of the Yenisei, which from them take their names of the Upper, Middle or Stony, and Lower Tunguska. Here the Tunguses are known to the Samoyedes by the name of Aiya or " younger brothers," implying a comparatively recent immigration (confirmed by other indications) from the Amur basin, which appears to be the original home both of the Tunguses and of the closely allied Manchus. The Amur is still mainly a Tungus river almost from its source to its mouth : the Oroches (Orochus), Daurians, Birars, Golds, Manegrs, Sanagirs, Ngatkons, Nigidals, and some other aboriginal tribes scattered along the main stream and its affluents the Shilka, Sungari and Usuri are all of Tungus stock and speech. On the Pacific the chief subdivisions of the race are the Lamuts, or " sea people," grouped in small isolated hunting communities round the west coast of the Sea of Okhotsk, and farther south the Tazi between the Amur delta and Korea. The whole race, exclusive of Manchus, numbers probably little more than 50,000, of whom some 10,000 are in the Amur basin, the rest in Siberia.
The Tungus type is essentially Mongolic, being characterized by broad flat features, small nose, wide mouth, thin lips, small black and somewhat oblique eyes, black lank hair, dark olive or bronze complexion, low stature, averaging not more than 5 ft. 4 in.; they are distinguished from other Mongolic peoples by the square shape of the skull and the slim, wiry, well-proportioned figure. This description applies more especially to the Tunguska tribes, who may be regarded as typical Tunguses, and who, unlike most other Mongols, betray no tendency to obesity. They are classed by the Russians, according to their various pursuits, as Reindeer, Horse, Cattle, Dog, Steppe and Forest Tunguses. A few have become settled agriculturists; but the great bulk of the race are still essentially forest hunters, using the reindeer both as mounts and as pack animals. Nearly all lead nomad lives in pursuit of fur-bearing animals, whose skins they supply to Russian and Yakut traders in exchange for provisions, clothing and other necessaries of life. The picturesque and even elegant national costume shows in its ornamentation and general style decided Japanese influence, due no doubt to long-continued intercourse with that nation at some period previous to the spread of the race from the Amur valley to Siberia. Many of the Tungus tribes have been baptized, and are, therefore, reckoned as " Greek Christians "; but Russian orthodoxy has not penetrated far below the surface, and most of them are still at heart Shamanists and nature-worshippers, secretly keeping the teeth and claws of wild animals as idols or amulets, and observing Christian rites only under compulsion. But, whether Christians or pagans, all alike are distinguished above other Asiatics, perhaps above all other peoples, for their truly noble moral qualities. All observers describe them as "cheerful under the most depressing circumstances, persevering, open-hearted, trustworthy, modest yet self-reliant, a fearless race of hunters, born amidst the gloom of their dense pine forests, exposed from the cradle to every danger from wild beasts, cold and hunger. Want and hardships of every kind they endure with surprising fortitude, and nothing can induce them to take service under the Russians or quit their solitary woodlands " (Keane's Asia, p. 479). Their numbers are steadily decreasing owing to the ravages of small-pox, scarlet fever, and especially famine, their most dreaded enemy. Their domain is also being continually encroached upon by the aggressive Yakuts from the north and east, and from the south by the Slavs, now settled in compact bodies in the province of Irkutsk about the upper course of the Yenisei. It is remarkable that, while the Russians often show a tendency to become assimilated to the Yakuts, the most vigorous and expansive of all the Siberian peoples, the Tunguses everywhere yield before the advance of their more civilized neighbours or become absorbed in the surrounding Slav communities. In the Amur valley the same fate is overtaking the kindred tribes, who are disappearing before the great waves of Chinese migration from the south and Russian encroachments both from the east and west.
See L. Adam, Grammaire de la langue toungouse (Paris, 1874); C. Hickisch, Die Tungusen (St Petersburg, 1879); L. Schrenck, Reisen und Forschungen im Amurlande (St Petersburg, 1881-1891); Mainov, Niekolorya dannyia (Irkutsk, 1898).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)