ELABUGA - FROM THE PAST IN THE FUTURE...

Elabuga is a provincial Russian town. (Natalia Verderevskaya)

Articles catalog :: Myths of the Elabuga city

Myth and legends of name city.

The name Alabuga or Elabuga (in its Russian variant of pronunciation) refers us to pre–Mongol period of life, to the flourishing construction of cities in Middle Volga and Lower Kama regions.

The name Alabuga or Elabuga (in its Russian variant of pronunciation) refers us to pre–Mongol period of life

Not all the famous Bulgarian settlements (about 160) were cities. One of the differences of real cities from prevailing here military fortresses and “feudal castles” is that cities always had their own names. Fortresses usually related to some locality, most often to a river, while the “feudal castles” were known by the name of their holders.

Each of about 40 Bulgarian cities of pre–Mongol era had their original name. Not all the native names of cities are known to us, but even the smallest of them was 30 times bigger than Elabuga fort. Elabuga people are lucky that in that centuries the name Alabuga was not lost.

Ela and Buga.

We will never know how urgys or finns called their settlement (on a steep bank) before Bulgarians came. And there is no doubt that the name Alabuga was assigned to the city already in pre–Mongol period. In Tatar legends no other name of this settlement has been saved. But why exactly Alabuga and what actually means that name? There are many suppositions on that matter.


For example, there is a belief that city's name came of two rivers – Ela and Buga. Although, on the maps of XIX century there were no such rivers on city’s territory. And historians of XIX – beginning of XX centuries, when describing the river now called Buga, speak about it as of “unnamed river” or “unnamed stream”. Names Ela and Buga may be found only on Elabuga maps of the last century. And there is constant confusion of names affixment to definite channels. One thing is certain: the name Elabuga came of two streams – that is a myth created in the last century. Russian toponymy has influenced the appearance of this myth. In Russia cities’ names often derive from the names of rivers (for example, Moscow, Ustyug, Vyatka, etc.).

There have been attempts to make an explanation for the city’s name from the ancient Russian or even ancient Finnish “ela” (happy) and “buga” (floodplain). Attempts to explain the etymology of city’s name based on the characteristics of local topography, where on one side of the river Tatars lived (Ala, Alla), on the other – Russians (Buga, Bog (God)), just cause a smile.

The city got its modern name with the arrival of Bulgarians. Alabuga is a word of clearly Turkic origin. There are three main versions for the translation of the word.

Okun (perch) is Elabuga?

Okun (perch) is Elabuga?Most widespread among the people is the opinion that Alabuga got its name from the Tatar word “okun” (perch). In due time O. Kulyginsky and K.I. Nevostruev wrote about this. It is believed that in the old days nearby lakes and rivers had a lot of this fish. As the argument Lake Okunevo located across the river Toima which is called Alabuga by Tatar population is shown. This supposition has a base. On the east of Chelyabinsk region there are two very large lakes called Alabuga. Centres of population with similar names are placed along rivers. Currently only Russian Alabuga was saved (Tatar’s one was eliminated in connection with the accident at “Mayak”). But we think that it’s not worth linking the city’s name with the modern Tatar name of fish. Firstly, the Bulgarians and their descendants – the Kazan Tatars – never gave names to cities name in honour of fish or animals, except cases when they were totems. Secondly, fish Alabuga didn’t occur in Tatar mythology, and we do not know exactly how perch was called by ancestors of the Tatars in the X century.

Alabuga – stone.

Recalling V.N. Tatischev and P. F. Erdmann, historian A.H. Khalikov related the name “Alabuga” with the rock that at the beginning of the XIX century was known as “Bull” or “Big Bull” and created terrible rapids able to overturn crafts navigating on Kama River. This stone was destroyed in the first half of the XIX century as it impeded the development of Kama navigation, and the “Little Bull” is still placed facing the village Kotlovka. A.H. Khalikov wrote: “The Bulgarians and later their descendants called this place Ala–buga. Bull in Bulgarian means “Buga” (“bugai” in south-Turkic). In the ancient Turkic “boga” meant hero, strong. This word, joint with the object (in this case with the stone-threshold), could cause the images of the bull or the strong or the evil dragon (another meaning of buga), and even witch-demon (by V.V. Radlov). At the ancient Turkic people (including, obviously, the early Bulgarians), the word “ala” stands for “bad thoughts, plots, bad qualities”. In general, the common word Alabuga could mean a mad bull, bad hero or evil snake. The original cause of the name itself acted as such”.

By the way, the author “the history of Kazan” mentions of the stone-bull, attributing to the local “demon” pilotage duties. In the same work is mentioned the “great fiery serpent”, which flew out of a mosque. If we remember that dragons (Baradj) and snakes (Djilany, Zilanty) were patrons-totems of the capital and most important cities in Bulgaria, the origin of the name of city Alabuga from a terrible snake-protector won’t be groundless.

stone-bull in the Kama river

Honestly, there is a “but”. It is doubtful that ever local Bulgarian-Tatar people pronounced the name of their city as “Alabuga” or “Alabuka”. Written sources and the historical memory of the people brought it to us in the pronunciation “Alabuga”. Among the Altaic peoples two-part names with using the word “buga” were very popular: Kit–Buga, Te–lyabuga, Bukatimer, Akbuga, Arbuga, Isenbuga etc. Among those names in different sources, including the Russian chronicles, name Alabuga (Albuga, Olbu–ga, etc.) is often met. Thus, in Russian sources we meet Olabuga nicknamed the Brave, who commanded the right wing of “the host” in 1252 or Horde Olabuga ambassador. If to consider that the Bulgarians often gave the names of their towns and castles after their founder’s name or the most famous ruler, then the point of view connecting city's name with personal name looks quite convincing. And here the name Albuga can be translated as “hero standing or walking in front”, and Alabuga – “scary or menacing warrior”.

This name is also met in “Djagfar tarihy”. Judging from this work, Alabuga-biy was one of the most influential princes of the Bulgarian state at the end of IX – beginning of X century. Being an esengel foreman from Sabansky family of aristocrats, Alabuga in 865 participated in raising Gabdulla Shilka to royal throne – father of the famous by ibn–Fadlan king Almush.

Later absolutely fantastic acts are attributed to Alabuga-foreman. “Pleased with the outcome of the case (victory in the war of 882) Almysh returned to Horysdan, and Alabuga – to Bulgar. Here biy asked Mikail about the better way to spend his part of the booty, and on the advice of mullah built a wooden caravan-shed in the town Bulyar. And in this place located on the border of three regions: Bulgara – Bulgarian, Bershudskaya and Esegelskaya – their foremen usually assembled for negotiations, that’s why it got the name Bulyar or Bilyar”. This foreman played an important role in Almusha’s rise to power in 895. So, if to believe to “Djagfar's tarihy”, Alabuga biy was the authority for his fellow tribesmen”.

And maybe – Ghelon?

In the regional literature of XIX century other city’s names are met. There were and there are attempts to relate Elabuga with Herodotus Elabuga Ghelon and annalistic Bryagov (Bryahimov). The fallacy of these views that were often met in the writings of local ethnographers in the late XIX century was scientifically proved by the famous Russian archaeologist S.M. Shpilevsky.

Though its allure and attractiveness, Ghelon can not be the progenitor of Elabuga. Mentioned by Herodotus in connection with the march of Persian king Darius I to the Scythians in 512 BC, the city Ghelon is connected with the Dnieper area, but not with the Kama area, because Scythian nomads have never reached Kama. Long-term archaeological researches established a direct link between the legendary Ghelon and the largest monument of Early Iron Age of the Dnieper-Donets region – Belsky mound (Ukraine).

Mysterious city Bryagov

A similar situation exists with the name Bryagov. Known Elabuga historians of XIX – early XX centuries wrote their papers at a time when the main sources of information – annals – were poorly worked out from a scientific point of view. Often referred to in these written sources “Bryagov on Kama” was transferred to Elabuga, more precisely to Elabuga fort, where there were remnants of the Bulgarian white-stone building. Now in historical science there is no doubt that Bryagov or Bryahimov is the Great Bolgar on the Volga. Describing the events of pre-Mongol era, Russian sources often call External Bolgar as Bryagov (Bryahimov, after the name of King Ibrahim. This tradition is sometimes seen at later periods. “And Kazan was capital city instead of Bryagov Bulgarian city” – says a chronicler of XVI century. But Alabuga, in contrast to Bolgar, was never the capital city.

What kind of explanation to choose as the only right – is still unclear, so you can safely take almost all the myths about the origin of the name Elabuga, except totally groundless. Whatever it was, people who lived here many centuries ago have managed to carry the name of their settlement till this day through their descendants – Alabuga (in Tatar) or Elabuga (in Russian).

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