The Nanai people (self name нани; tr. "nani"; Russian: нанайцы, tr. "nanaitsy"; Chinese: 赫哲族, tr. "Hèzhézú"; formerly also known as Golds and Samagir) are a Tungusic people of the Far East, who have traditionally lived along Heilongjiang (Amur), Songhuajiang (Sunggari) and Ussuri rivers on the Middle Amur Basin. The ancestors of the Nanais were the Jurchens of northernmost Manchuria.

The Nanai/Hezhe language belongs to the Manchu-Tungusic branch of the Altai languages.


The traditional clothing was made out of fish skins. These skins were left to dry. Once dry, they were struck repeatedly with a mallet to leave them completely smooth. Finally they were sewn together. The fish chosen to be used were those weighing more than 50 kilograms.

Nanais in Russia

In Russia the Nanais live on the Sea of Okhotsk, on the Amur River, downstream from Khabarovsk, on both sides of Komsomolsk-on-Amur, as well as on the banks of the Ussuri and the Girin rivers (the Samagirs). The Russians formerly called them Goldi, after a Nanai clan name. According to the 2002 census, there were 12,160 Nanais in Russia.

In the Soviet Union, a written standard of the Nanai language (based on Cyrillic alphabet) was created by Valentin Avrorin and others. It is still taught today in 13 schools in Khabarovsk.

Nanais in China

The Nanais are one of the 56 ethnic groups officially recognized by the People's Republic of China where they are known as "Hezhe" (赫哲族 Hèzhé-zú). During the Manchukuo period, the Nanais were practically wiped out in China by the Japanese. They had been confined to prisoner camps and in 1949 they numbered about 300 in China. According to the last census of 2004, they numbered 4,640 in China (mostly in Heilongjiang province). Chinese Nanais speak the Hezhen dialect of Nanai. They also have a rich oral literature known as the Yimakan. The dialect does not have a written system in China and Nanais usually write in Chinese. (Second language literacy is 84%.) However as of 2005 teachers have recently finished compiling probably the first Hezhe language textbook.


The Nanais are mainly Shamanist, with a great reverence for the bear (Doonta) and the tiger (Amba). They consider that the shamans have the power to expel bad spirits by means of prayers to the gods. During the centuries they have been worshipers of the spirits of the sun, the moon, the mountains, the water and the trees. According to their beliefs, the land was once flat until great serpents gouged out the river valleys. They consider that all the things of the universe possess their own spirit and that these spirits wander independently throughout the world. In the Nanai religion, inanimate objects were often personified. Fire, for example, was personified as an elderly woman whom the Nanai referred to as Fadzya Mama. Young children were not allowed to run up to the fire, since they might startle Fadzya Mama, and men always were courteous in the presence of a fire.

Nanai shamans, like other Tungusic peoples of the region, had characteristic clothing, consisting of a skirt and jacket; a leather belt with conical metal pendants; mittens with figures of serpents, lizards or frogs; and hats with branching horns or bear, wolf, or fox fur attached to it. Bits of Chinese mirrors were also sometimes incorporated into the costume.

The deceased were normally buried in the ground with the exception of children who died prior to the first birthday; in this case the child's body was wrapped in a cloth or birchbark covering and buried in the tree branches as a "wind burial". Many Nanai are also Tibetan Buddhist.

Famous Nanais


Own names in the xədʑən, [nanio], and [kilən]. (An 1986, p1)

Autonomous Areas designated for Nanai

(or equivalent)
Prefecture level County level Township level
Heilongjiang Shuangyashan
Sipai Hezhe Autonomous Township
Jiejinkou Hezhe Autonomous Township
Bacha Hezhe Autonomous Township
Khabarovsk Krai Nanaysky district
Нанайский Район


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