Mari is one of the Russia’s medium abundance peoples. According to the 2010 Population Census there are about 550 000 Mari in the Russian Federation.
Mari have their own federal subject – the Mari El Republic. However, a considerable group of Mari – about 24 000 people, the so-called Ural Mari – live far away from their capital city of Yoshkar-Ola, in the southern part of Sverdlovsk Region. Their forefathers migrated to the Urals back in the 16th century fleeing from the forced Christianization.
For centuries the Ural Mari managed to preserve their unique culture and religion in hostile environment. In spite of the persecution by the Tsarist and Soviet authorities and the powerful influence of the Russian Orthodox Christians, Muslims and atheists, Mari continued practicing secret spiritual rituals in their sacred groves.
But with the fall of the Soviet Union Mari faced a new problem – the decline of farming and rural lifestyle. The century-old corner stone of the whole Mari culture – connection to nature – began to destroy.
Today the Ural Mari are entering upon a new phase in search of their origin exacerbated by the highly intense urbanization of the young population. It is hard to tell what this processes will lead to. Given that most of the sacred groves have been long abandoned, the Mari language is mixed with the Russian language, spiritual rituals are scarcely ever practiced, the art of making traditional garments is lost, the rural economy is in decline.
Today the main attribute of the Mari identity – namely the Ural Mari – is the traditional garment. Most shirts and dresses are passed down from generation to generation, some pieces of clothing being as old as a hundred years and more. Garments are being sewn over and mended many times but due to the traditional crafts loss new pieces are almost never made.