According to the data of 2010 only 550 thousand Mari remained in the world. They are simple and humble people, they do what the authorities want them to do.
They have their own republic – Mari El. However a big Mari group (about twenty four thousand people) lives far from their capital Yoshkar-Ola, they live in the south of the Sverdlovsk region and are called “Ural Mari”. Their ancestors migrated to the Urals back in the XVI century trying to avoid forced Christianization.
Few peoples of the world managed to preserve their unique culture and religion. Despite the persecution of the tsar and Soviet governments, enormous power of orthodoxy, Islam, atheism, the Mari kept praying in their sacred groves.
A sheep is a sacrafice during praying. It should be healthy and have no defects. They separate the main organs of the animal and string them on a rope to be cooked with other food. This ritual is a prayer for health for people.
The sacrafiers are asking Gods for happy life, health, welfare of the Mari people, rich harvest, to protect people from drugs and alcohol, to make the authorities take right decisions.
The Mari religon is based on the power of the nature.
Costumes are a pride of Mari women. They are manually made and worn on holidays. The breast part is considered to be the most chic, it is decorated with pre-revolutionary coins. Some dresses are more than 100 years, they are passed on from generation to generation.
In fact only very old grannies can properly make traditional Mari costumes today. Intricate embroidery, homespun cloths, silver coins are replaced today with beads, rhinestones, fabric with finished patterns and aluminium circles.
The women are having a holiday after the performance of the local band. On the table are home brew, tea and pastry. They talk and sing songs.
Back in the times of Rus Mari witches were considered to be the most powerful. Today they still widely practice witchcraft. Sometimes they even apply it to settle quarrels between neighbours.
The holiday is held after planting works.
Mari families are big. Sometimes they are as big as 200 people. Family connections are strong.
The Mari ensemble is getting ready for the performance.
When children graduate from school they seldom come back to their native land. This process is the biggest threat for such cultures – city life is based on absolutely different values.
It’s the school in Verkhny Potam village. This boy was the last first grader, the school was about to close (the photo was taken in 2010).
Mari hunters have rest.
Each spring they start fighting for a good harvest, because ground is the main source of life for the Mari.
In the period of planting mechanics have a lot of work to do in garages. Many machines need to be repaired.
It’s the office of the director of the local farm “Success”. He’s probably the only wealthy Mari person in the region.
Citizens of Sarsy village are cleaning the potatoes which remained after the planting.
One of the main incentives for farm workers is the fall distribution of potatoes and grains. Their amount depends on how well a person worked during the season.
Artimeikovo village has 52 houses. It used to be rich: there were a farm, a school, a lot of agricultural equipment there but today it is slowly dying. The average age of the villagers is 60 years old. Men try to turn a penny in neighbouring bigger villages or cities, women keep houses and do needlework (some of them make and sell national costumes), children go to school two kilometres away to the neighbouring village.
Their hope is local farmers who are trying to improve the agriculture abandoned after the perestroika. If they succeed they will have jobs, people will cultivate the land, the culture and traditions will get a chance to survive.
The vllagers say that after the perestroika their village almost died, people got angry and didn’t meet even to celebrate New Year. Twenty years later something starts to be reviving.
Today the situation in the village is rather difficult, they lack jobs and the school is about to close because it has no enough pupils.
People are celebrating Christmas carol.
It’s the time for divination.
It’s the village Mari Karshi.
The women are going to rehearse their dancing perfomance to the only place in Yekaterinburg where the Mari can meet and communicate.
The Ural Mari are trying to open a new page in their history, to go back to basics while young people keep moving to big cities. It’s hard to predict what these processes will lead to.