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Ilya Yefimovich Repin (1844 - 1930)  Barge Haulers on the Volga  Oil on canvas, 1870-1873  131.5 × 281 cm  The State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
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Title: Barge Haulers on the Volga
Description:
Ilya Yefimovich Repin (1844 - 1930)
Barge Haulers on the Volga
Oil on canvas, 1870-1873
131.5 × 281 cm
The State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

A burlak (Russian: Áóðëàê) was a Russian epithet for a person who hauled barges and other vessels upstream the 17th to 20th centuries. The word burlak originated Tatar word bujdak, 'homeless'. According to another version the word originated old middle-German bûrlach (working team with fixed rules, artel).

Burlaks appeared in Russia at the end of sixteenth century and beginning of the seventeenth century. With the expansion of freight-hauling, the number of burlaks increased.

The chief of a burlak gang was called Vodoliv (Russian: Âîäîëèâ), next in line was the Dyadya (Russian: Äÿäÿ, captain), followed by the Shishka (Russian: Øèøêà, first in the line of haulers), while the last in line was called Kosny (Russian: Êîñíûé, last in the line of haulers).

There were seasonal burlaks, who worked spring to autumn, and temporary burlaks, who worked occasionally. Burlaks did not work in winter, when most Russian rivers were frozen over.

A typical symbol of a burlak was a spoon on a hat (Dahl).

The main areas of the burlaks' trade in the Russian Empire were the Volga river, Moscow to Astrakhan, the White Sea route (Belomor’e), Moscow to Arkhangelsk, and the Dnieper river, in Ukraine.

Most burlaks were landless or poor peasants Simbirsk, Saratov, Samara, Yaroslavl, Kostroma, Vladimir, Ryazan, Tambov and Penza areas.

Burlaks joined up in an artel (typically four to six, sometimes ten to forty, and occasionally up 150 people) mainly in winter, despite that at this time clients paid the lowest price, because in winter burlaks were often otherwise unemployed. The final payments were in autumn, after finishing work.

With the coming of the Industrial revolution, the number of burlaks declined: in the beginning of the nineteenth century about 600,000 burlaks worked on the Volga and Oka rivers; in the middle of nineteenth century, 150,000, and by the beginning of the twentieth burlaks had all but disappeared.


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Ilya Yefimovich Repin (1844 - 1930)  Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mehmed IV of Ottoman Empire  Oil on canvas, 1880-1891   358 × 203 cm (140.93 × 79.91 in)  State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, RussiaIlya Yefimovich Repin (1844 - 1930)  Barge Haulers on the Volga  Oil on canvas, 1870-1873  131.5 × 281 cm  The State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, RussiaIlya Yefimovich Repin (1844 - 1930)  Sadko in the Underwater Kingdom  Oil on canvas, 1876  323õ230 cm  State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg Russia
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