Dilemma of Distinction : Making Inorodets an Inseparable ‘Us’

, par Ming-Hui HUANG

The definition of inorodtsy(1) evolved over the course of the nineteenth century along with Russia’s eastward expansion and encounter with native peoples including Finno-Ugric, Samoedic, Turkic, Tungusic, Mongolian and Palosiberian language groups. As far as the Russian state was concerned, an inorodets, a person ‘of other origin’ (ino = other, rod = birth, origin), was generally supposed to become more like a Russian who in fact, associated inorodets with a referent who is a ‘congenital and apparently perennial outsider.’ The ‘way of life’ (sedentary or nomadic) was insufficient to function as the essential criterion of differentiation between Russians
and non-Russians on the eastern frontier. For the sake of creating a new mode of categorisation for the population, the administration demanded a more discriminating classification.

My interest lies in looking at the closing metaphor which serves to shed light on the perception of the holy fool, the most ‘alien’ (inorodets) and/or ‘alien body’ (inorodcheskie tely) of the Orthodox tradition, together with ‘all the permutation of meaning and role’ attached to the newly invented term inorodtsy. Regardless of linguistic identity, the changing conceptions of ‘otherness’ which are applied to the understanding of inorodtsy as ‘natural subjects’ under the juridical sense and/or allegorically medical fables, became an alternative reference to the holy fool (and/or shaman) whose murky utterances, incoherent phrases and seemly provocative acts may not be considered as the most ‘foreign elements in the “body politic” of the
Russian Empire.’

1 Inorodtsy is the plural of inorodets which can be translated as a non-Russian alien.

Ming-Hui HUANG is currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies at the University of Sheffield (the UK).