Exile to Settlement



Late in Nicholas’s reign the government began settling members of the self-castrating Skoptsy sect in two of Siberia’s most remote regions. Laura Engelstein, in her study of the Skoptsy, notes that between 1849 and 1861 Iakutsk oblast’s population of Skoptsy grew from 24 to almost 600 people.1 Turukhansk krai, Eniseisk guberniia’s bitterly cold northern wilderness, saw its population grow similarly. It is difficult to imagine a more forbidding place than this, where summer lasts two months, grain cultivation is impossible, and the Turukhan River, a tributary of the mighty Enisei, remains ice-bound until early June. As of 1831 the city (gorod) of Turukhansk consisted of 52 houses sheltering 366 men and women. Post-horses were not stationed anywhere along the 1,000- verst road between Turukhansk and Eniseisk because they would have frozen to death. Dogsleds were the principal means of travel for most of the year. The krai’s rural population totaled 811 male and female Russian peasants and 5,336 indigenes, mostly Tungus who, like their ancestors, provided their imperial masters an annual fur tribute know as iasak.2 It is tragically poetic that Skoptsy, most of whom were barren of their sexual organs, were consigned to one of Siberia’s most barren regions, the utter bleakness of which matched their vision of the future. They embodied a scarred, flattened landscape within whose geographic reality they were swallowed whole, like Jonah in the whale. Yet both remained within the boundaries of the sovereign’s cartographically- iterated body-realm and therefore were necessarily to be used


Gold Miner Corporal Punishment Harsh Punishment State Settlement Barren Region 
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© Andrew A. Gentes 2010

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