I received a request to research the costume and embroidery of the Nanai, a people who live on the lower Amur River in the Russian Far East.
After taking a look at the materials available to me, i decided to include in this posting the peoples of the lower Amur, in the Russian Far East and Manchuria; the Nanai, the Udege, the Oroch, the Ulcha, the Orok, and the Nivkh. Here is a map showing the distribution of these peoples on the Russian side of the border. They are found on the left edge of the map.
Most of these peoples speak languages which belong to the Southeastern Tungusic Language Family, and are closely related to each other, except for Nivkh, which is an isolate, not related to any other known language. This group of peoples share a large part of their material culture, including costume and costume ornament. The Nanai, the Oroch, and the Orok all refer to themselves as 'Nani'. They are most closely related to the Manchu people, who historically were referred to as the 'Jurchen'. In the writings of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, these peoples were referred to as the 'Gold', and the Nivkh were referred to as the 'Gilyak'. You can read these articles for more material on these peoples.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tungusic_peoples You can click on the name of each of these peoples to read more about them.
These peoples together were sometimes referred to as the 'Fishskin Tatars'. They are not Tatars, The term was often used by Europeans to refer to any indigenous non-Russian people of the Russian Empire. However, one unique feature of the textile tradition of these people is that they made wide use of a very unusual material, fish leather. This material is light, durable and waterproof. It was made from large fish such as Salmon and Carp, and sewn together to make clothing, footwear and tents. The fish skin was dried, treated and then worked to make it supple, and sewn together. A modern company has recently sent researchers to these people to find out how they did it, and are now producing fish leather under the name of Nanai, named after these indigenous people.
The Nanai, at something like 12,000 members, are the largest of these groups. Some of them live on the Manchurian side of the border, where they are known as the Hezhe. Here is an old photograph of a Nanai family group.
Here is an example of an elaborate set of fish leather clothing for a Nanai woman. The robe is shown in back view.
Alternatively, the motifs are sometimes drawn directly on the fishskin with inked lines which are then painted in various colors. The motifs remain recognisably of the same family of ornament. Here is a detail of the back of a Nanai woman's robe. You can see the appliqued piece of painted leather on the right side which corresponds to the side seam of a cloth robe.
Here is a festive robe of an Oroch woman. You will notice the same type of painted ornament. You will also notice that the arrangement of the painted ornament is substantially the same as the robes we looked at above. There follows a closeup of the rich painted ornament on the back of the robe. Note the strips of fur used as trim.
Here is another example of a Nanai woman's robe which is painted in a somewhat different manner. The front resembles this Oroch robe, but the back has ornamental painted scales.
Note the row of metal medallions hanging above the hem of the robe, this is common in this area, especially among the Nivkh. These of course last much longer than the robes themselves and are passed down from generation to generation.
Here are two photos taken of Nivkh families. In this first one, most of the women are wearing cloth robes, but the woman sitting in the center seems to be wearing a fish leather robe such as the ones described above. It is possible that the Nivkh bought them from the people further inland. Her robe clearly has the row of small metal medallions. All three of the women in the second photo have the medallions clearly visible on their robes. You can see that the men wear substantially the same robe, only shorter and less ornamented.
The fish leather clothing has mostly been replaced by cloth imported from the Chinese or the Russians. The cut remains the same, however. The body and upper sleeves are cut from once piece of cloth, the underlap also. The lower sleeves and cuff are usually made of a contrasting material. Here is one version of the cut of the robe. This one is unusual in that the bottom edges of the front and back are added. Most of the time, the cloth is wide enough to cut them in one piece. Then the same material extends farther down the sleeve. The lower sleeve in this case has been pieced out of four contrasting bands This varies.
Note that is this example the width of the bottom edge matches the light colored portion of the upper sleeve.
These robes were worn with leggings underneath, presumeably accompanied by some type of short pants which covered the pelvis, as is known among the Eskimo and other northern people. The leggings were tied to a waistband, and were tucked into boots, often a soft pair inside a more durable pair when necessary. These garments were originally made of fish leather, like this pair of leggings.
Using embroidery enabled the ornament to develop more color. Here is an example of a wedding outfit of an Ulcha woman. Note the piecework fur collar. If you look at the first photo of the Nanai family above, you will see one of the women wearing a similar collar. The cut of the robe remains the same.
Here are a couple of photos of contemporary Nanai wearing the national costume.
A closeup of the embroidery on a modern Nanai cloth robe.
I will finish with two photos showing how the traditional costume of this region is being used and interpreted today. Here is a youth group wearing a stage costume based on the traditional clothing of the Amur. You can see that while this is not authentic, especially in the girls robes having no overlap or leggings, some attempt has been made to make them recognizeable as being from the region.
Here is an illustration from a book of folk tales of Siberia, illustrating one story from the Amur, 'Vixen and the Seals'. This is a story of the Oroch people.
Thank you for reading. I hope that you have found this overview to be of interest, and perhaps the unique ornament of this region will inspire some project of your own.
Vladimir Medvedev, 'The Land of Siberia', Moscow, 1993
L. N. Molotova, Folk Art of the Russian Federation, Leningrad 1981
Tatyana Razina et al., 'Folk Art in the Soviet Union', Leningrad, 1990
N. Kalashnikova et al., 'National Costumes of the Soviet Peoples', Moscow, 1990
Max Tilke, 'Costume Patterns and Designs', New York, 1990 [reprint]
William Fitzhugh & Aron Crowell, 'Crossroads of Continents', Baltimore, 1988
Wim Crouwel et al., 'The Forbidden City', Rotterdam, 1990
Y. Rachov, 'Kutkha the Raven, Animal Stories of the North', Malysh, 1981
Alexei Okladnikov, 'Art of the Amur', Leningrad, 1981
Zang Yingchun, 'Chinese Minority Costumes', NSR, 2004
James VanStone, 'An Ethnographic Collection from Sakhalin Island' Fieldiana, Anthropology, Publication 1361, Field Museum of Natural History, August 30th, 1985