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Komi(kō`mē, kô`–), Finnic people of the northeastern part of European Russia. There are two traditional branches of the Komi—Zyrians and Permyaks. The Zyrians are now officially called Komi and make up over half of the population. The Permyaks are now called Komi-Permyaks. Both speak a Finno-Permian language. The Komi live in the Komi Republic; the Komi-Permyaks live in Perm Territory (into which the former Komi-Permyak Autonomous Area was incorporated in 2005). There are about 400,000 Komi (both groups). Traditionally they have been Orthodox Christians since the 14th cent. The enlightener of the Komi and a saint of the Orthodox Eastern Church was Stephen of Perm (1340–96). He constructed an alphabet for the Komi and translated some parts of the Bible into their language.
(1) The self-designation of two closely related peoples that have a common origin—the Komi (formerly called Zyrians) and the Komi-Permiaks.
(2) The native population of the Komi ASSR. Outside of the Komi ASSR considerable groups of Komi live beyond the Urals in Tiumen’ Oblast, in the Yamal-Nenets and Khanty-Mansi national okrugs, and on the Kola Peninsula in Murmansk Oblast of the RSFSR. According to a census taken in 1970, there were 322,000 Komi. They speak Zyrian, which includes several dialects. The literary language, in which literature is published and teaching is conducted, took shape during the Soviet period. Most Komi believers belong to the Orthodox Church. Some of them are Old Believers.
The ancestors of the Komi and Komi-Permiaks inhabited the middle and upper Kama Basin. Nearby in the Viatka Basin lived the ancestors of the Udmurts. Like the Komi, they belonged to the Permian linguistic community, which had existed as far back as the first millennium B.C. After this community broke up and the Udmurts became a separate group, the ancestors of the Komi and Komi-Permiaks continued to live for some time as one people in the Kama River region. In the second half of the first millennium A.D., some of them migrated from the upper Kama River region to the Vychegda Basin, where a number of them intermingled with the local population, forming a new tribal alliance. Thus, by the early second millennium A.D. two tribal alliances had taken shape—one in the middle Vychegda Basin and the other in the Kama Basin. The former (ancestors of the Komi) was known in Russian sources as the Vychegda Perm’, and the latter (the ancestors of the Komi-Permiaks) was called the Velikaia Perm’. The people of both tribal alliances were called Permians.
Between the 16th and 18th centuries the Komi resettled in the basin of the upper Vychegda and Pechora (including the Izhma). Their chief occupations were farming and livestock breeding, but hunting and fishing were also important. Reindeer breeding began to develop in the northern regions in the mid-19th century. After the victory of Soviet power the Komi achieved autonomy. (The Komi Autonomous Oblast was created in 1921, and the Komi ASSR, in 1936.) As a result of socialist transformations, industries and mechanized agriculture developed in the republic, and a national intelligentsia emerged. The distinctive culture of the Komi finds especially strong expression in folk art (carving, fur appliqué, and knitting), folklore, national literature, and theater.
REFERENCESNarody Evropeiskoi chasti SSSR, vol. 2. Moscow, 1964.
Lashuk, L. P. Proiskhozhdenie narodov Komi. Syktyvkar, 1961.
Belitser, V. N. Ocherki po etnografii narodov komi, XIX-nachalo XX vv. Moscow, 1958.
Ocherki po istorii Komi ASSR, vols. 1–2. Syktyvkar, 1955–62.
Gagarin, Iu. V., and L. N. Zherebtsov. Byt i kul’tura sela. Syktyvkar, 1968.
V. N. BELITSER