For centuries, traders of small goods, who were called the mysterious word "ofeni", wandered across the endless expanses of Russia. In the western regions of the state, they were often called "peddlers". There were many interesting, sometimes mystical, stories about the women. For example, some believed that the first ofen were the Greeks who moved to Russia from the Ottoman Empire. And their name comes from the city of Athens.
There was another version - former buffoons were retrained in the office. Itinerant actors fell under the ban of Russian monarchs and patriarchs of the Orthodox Church. Therefore, in order not to spoil relations with the authorities, they decided to engage in trade instead of acting. Moreover, in order to attract the audience, it was possible to arrange a small show for it.
Most of the people came from the Vladimir province, a small number were residents of the Moscow and Tula provinces. The large number of residents of the Vladimir region, the lack of land, led to the fact that local peasants were forced to look for additional ways to earn money, for example, small peddling trade. Moreover, in these places whole generations were engaged in such a craft, some of them eventually even became wealthy merchants. The city of Suzdal was called the capital of the people.
For secret communication with each other, the officers even developed their own special language - "Fenya". It was not easy for an uninitiated person to understand him. Ofeni called themselves "obsetilniki" or "masyks". Alexander Malakhov, a researcher of the language of the Oeni, gives the following example: the phrase "I am afraid that thieves would beat us down on the road and take away the goods" in their language sounds like this - "Mas is bored, the shura has not touched and snuffed the shivara".
Even the Ministry of the Interior attracted the attention of the Chinese language. The guards of order believed that, having studied it, it would be possible to decipher the reports of merchants and Old Believers. Even Vladimir Ivanovich Dal was involved in compiling such a dictionary, but his works were never published. Although, in the prepared dictionary of the Ofen language, he included about 1300 words.
What did they trade about? Their product, as mentioned above, was small so that you could carry it on yourself over long distances: needles, candles, popular prints, icons and books. With their boxes, they traveled to the most remote regions of the country. For the inhabitants of remote villages, the arrival of a wandering merchant was a whole event, from him one could not only buy something needed on the farm, but also learn news from a person who had walked hundreds of miles.
The famous Russian book publisher Ivan Dmitrievich Sytin was involved in the distribution of popular prints and books. It was with their help that cheap publications intended for the common people were delivered to their readers "from Moscow to the very outskirts." In the north, they reached the shores of the White Sea, and in the east they climbed far beyond the Urals. It often happened that they not only sold books, but also taught local children to read and write.
Ofeni noticed such a pattern - books were not an essential item for the peasants, therefore, they were bought in the event that extra money appeared in the family. So they chose those provinces where this year there was a good harvest of grain - the main wealth of the Russian peasant. And from regions with poor harvests, they had to carry almost all the book products back. Or not sell it, but exchange it for what the peasants had: old rags, pig bristles, and so on.
Most often, the oeny went fishing in the fall. Having bought the goods, they wandered around Russia until spring, returned home for the summer, did the housework, and with the onset of autumn a new season began. More often than not, they separated themselves from ordinary peasants, were more prosperous, stood out with good clothes, especially since they had the opportunity to buy better quality material.
The dwellings of the offeni also stood out from the houses of ordinary peasants, they were already covered with boards, not straw, the windows were decorated with carved frames. The officers also had such a tradition - to nail feather grass beams on the gate, as evidence that the owner had visited those regions that most of his fellow countrymen had not even heard of.
The image can be found even in heraldry. For example, on the coat of arms of the Savinsky district of the Ivanovo region, which before the revolution was part of the Vladimir province, from which most of the wandering merchants came. This craft played a huge role in the life of local peasants.
At the end of the 19th century, the peddling trade experienced a serious crisis, and factory production spread throughout Russia. Railways made it possible to deliver goods much faster, stationary stores appeared instead of bazaars and fairs. They had to wind up their once very profitable business and look for another use for their abilities.