Начало изучения юкагирского фольклора вместе с языком связано с В.И. Иохельсоном и относится к концу XIX столетия. Среди нынешнего поколения носителей юкагирского языка до сих пор еще живы знатоки фольклора. Фольклор у юкагиров существует как в песенной, так и в прозаической форме. Обе формы имеют свои особенные жанры, которые, по большей части, не пересекаются. Однако в сказках встречаются песенные вставки, которые исполняются в манере, близкой к речитативу.
Интервью с директором издательства “Якутский край” К.А. Левиным ведет Н.Кудрина, редактор программы “Геван”

The Yukaghirs’ prose folklore as well as folklore of many indigenous peoples of Siberia, is represented by fairytales about animals, mythological legends, legends about strong people and shamans, fairytales borrowed from Russians, Evens and Sakha, as well as riddles. Prose folklore also includes memoirs from the recent past about shamans, strong people and various miracles. A separate prosaic genre is the heroic epic preserved by the Nizhnekolymsky Yukaghirs as a cycle of legends about Edilwe.

Its content differs from similar cultural heritages of other peoples of Siberia in its moral: the main character, having defeated and destroyed a lot of alien enemies, in the end turns out to be crippled by the Master of the Earth for shedding too much human blood (Yukaghirs’ folklore, 2005: 177, 179, 191 pp). In mythical narratives, many texts are devoted to the destruction of old man – giants. This theme is presented among many peoples of Siberia. However, some stories have a purely Yukaghir ending: as a result of his death, an old man-giant is reborn into a man – a beautiful young man (Jochelson, 2005: 343, 354 pp).

Song genres

Художники Мария и Иван Поповы. Обложка книги “Сказки,мифы и легенды лесных юкагиров”. Якутск: Якутский край, 2011

Song genres are distinguished by their improvised content and simple melodic form. The emotional side of human life is clearly and strongly expressed. Another feature may be a detailed descriptiveness of those events that prompted the author to compose and perform the song (Kreinovich, 1972: 82-83; 89-91 pp). Such songs belong to the genre of “personal” (many peoples of Siberia have “personal” songs with their different origins and, accordingly, musical culture), which was preserved among the tundra Yukaghirs. Often recitative is woven into such songs. The recitative forms in the songs seem to be more ancient and survived only among the tundra Yukaghirs. In the songwriting of the Yukaghirs, there are onomatopoeia of animals and birds, if they are discussed in the song. Such onomatopoeia (sounding more symbolic than naturalistic) is by no means connected with the commercial interest; they can be designated as a representation of a foreign language, although their origin is clearly magical (Ignatieva, 2005: 94). In some cases, they are ritualistic (for example, the raven’s note associated with the hunt for a bear, as among the Evenks or Sakha people), or really commercial and then naturalistically similar (for example, the mating call of a wood grouse).

The songs of the taiga Yukaghirs are more diverse in melody and scale than those of the tundra, and this can be explained by closer contacts with the Russian population. Thus, the musical language of the taiga Yukaghirs was enriched, and the most striking example of this is the emergence of a new song genre – the Andylshina, which was sung both in Russian (by the Russified population) and in Yukaghir. In terms of content, it is a lingering lyrical love song, a kind of Kolyma romance. At the same time, Vladimir Jochelson reflected a more ancient state of a love song, involving a dialogue-competition between singers and characterized by an allegorical metaphorical language. Something similar was noted only among the Nganasans.

In 1962, the Verkhnekolymsk Yukaghirs recorded a song with its melody reminiscent of the Russian one (In the CD attached to the Yukaghirs’ Folklore (2005) it is numbered 23). In its content, it really turned out to be associated with the appearance of Russians in these places.

The “polyethnic” genre includes what is called “dog songs” – shishi. They were sung for babies as a communication with them (from the word to nurture – “to dandle”). These are little rhythmic sayings that are sung in a manner close to recitations from fairy tales. They contain both Russian and Even words, although the manner of performance looks very archaic.


The culture of dance was preserved only among the taiga Yukaghirs. This is the longdol round dance, a circular dance performed in summer by young people during the Yukaghir convention to Verkhnekolymsk on Petrov’s Day. This dance inspired the Yukaghirs so much that it could go on all day long. Dance name, most likely, descriptive – “to rise”, according to the manner of the dancers’ movements: moving from right to left clockwise in a single rhythm, after each step they rise twice on toes and hit the ground with their heels. This dance is similar to the circular Even dance, and Vladimir Jochelson sees in it a certain borrowing from the Evens, especially since the words of the song that organize the beginning of the dance are of Even origin, while the Yukaghir grace significantly distinguishes it from the Even version (Jochelson, 2005, 191 pp). Another dance, “swan longdol”, is clearly of Yukaghir origin: in the center of the circle, pairs of a boy and a girl dance, replacing each other: they represent a pantomime, circling together with an external round dance and flapping alternately with their right and left hands, like wings. In this case, the young man circles around the girl, and she, turning to him, seeks to avoid his touches. The movements of the soloists resemble the mating dance of swans, as well as the choral performance during the dance, based on onomatopoeia.


At the beginning of the XXth century, the taiga Yukaghirs preserved pictographic writing. On the reverse side of the birch bark, they applied drawings with the tip of a knife or a bone awl. This tradition had two completely different functions and, accordingly, areas of use, along with its own special style. The first one was for men – regarding hunting and related migrations. Such pictographic messages were based on a basic principle of mutual assistance, which worked with the capricious behavior of hunting luck. In such letters, the number of people, the routes of their nomadism and the results of the hunt were reported. Letters were left in certain places – on a lonely tree. With their help, traders of Sakha people also found their Yukaghir consumers. The second kind of letters was exclusively feminine and at the same time had a certain style. In such letters the figures of people were drawn like folded umbrellas. In these silhouettes, one can find conventional images of arms and legs, and the head merged with the body.

Among the Yukaghirs, the girl is forbidden to be the first to declare her love with words. A man can do it. Therefore, love letters are a girl's occupation; married women did not engage in such letters. Since adult girls do not have much free time, this or that holiday served as an occasion, while the youth gathered. Usually one girl wrote, surrounded by spectators of her age, who tried to guess the meaning of the drawings. If someone was mistaken, this served as a reason for jokes and laughter, since among the Yukaghirs, love relationships were not a secret either for their peers or for their parents.

Despite the conventions of the designations, these letters show that the men’s and women’s clothing of the Yukaghirs differed little from each other. The figure of the young man was drawn narrower than the figure of the girl (which was anatomically correct), and the girl in these drawings is also distinguished by a small dotted line descending from above, which indicates a braid. (Among the Yukaghirs, men wore long hair too, but they did not braid.) Among the Yukaghir figurines in these drawings, there are images of Russian women (at whom the chosen ones could stay, having gone to Verkhnekolymsk to the fair). These images are identified by the shape of the skirt. Often, Yukaghir youths lingered strongly in the city, trying to collect as much news as possible, which later made them welcome guests in every home. Such long absences fueled sadness and jealousy in their darlings.

The figures may have been drawn in a rectangular stepped opening which represents a house. If the house is not completely drawn, then the figure in it will soon leave it or has already left it. Short straight lines between male and female figures represent their mutual feelings, when these lines intersect, it denotes a love affair. If, on the other hand, a winding thread went from the top of one figure towards the other, which ended in a cloud, then the thoughts and feelings of this person did not find reciprocity. Often an oblique cross was drawn over one of the figures, which signified her suffering.

N.V. Pluzhnikov (“Peoples of the North-East of Siberia”)

On the oral folk art of the Yukaghirs

4. Женщина и медведь. Юкагирская художница Л. Дьячкова-Дускулова
Женщина и медведь. Юкагирская художница Л. Дьячкова-Дускулова

The first comprehensive and the most ambitious in terms of data coverage research on the spiritual and material culture of the Yukaghirs of the Upper Kolyma was carried out in the late XIX - early XX centuries by the outstanding scientist in Northern studies Vladimir Yokhelson. More than a hundred folklore texts collected by him were included in his fundamental works “Materials on the study of the Yukaghir language and folklore, collected in the Kolyma district” [St. Petersburg, 1900] and “Yukaghirs and Yukagirized Tunguses” [New York-Leiden, 1926].

Unfortunately, the folklore material of the Yukaghirs, collected by Vladimir Yokhelson, represented mainly by the work of the Upper Kolyma Yukaghirs. The folklore texts of the Lower Kolyma Yukaghirs were recorded much later, in 1959, by a scientific expedition organized by the Institute of Language, Literature and History of the Yakut branch of the USSR’s Academy of Sciences. The first major publication of the folklore heritage of the tundra Yukaghirs is the volume “Folklore of the Yukaghirs” from the 60-volume series “Monuments of folklore of the peoples of Siberia and the Far East”, published by the publishing house “Nauka” in Novosibirsk in 2005.

После В.И. Иохельсона в разное время сбором фольклора юкагиров занимались Н.И. Спиридонов – Тэки Одулок, Е.А. Крейнович, А.П. Лаптев, Г.Н. Курилов, А.Ф. Маликова, Л.Н. Жукова, И.А. Николаева, Л.Н. Демина, П.Е. Прокопьева и др. В количественном отношении фольклорных текстов лесных юкагиров зафиксировано намного больше, чем тундренных.

The folk tradition of the Yukaghirs divides folklore narratives into two large sections – nyiedyil and chuuldiyi among the Upper Kolyma Yukaghirs and nyiedyil and caraval among the lower Kolyma Yukagirs, denoting a story and a fairy tale. It is rather difficult to characterize the content of the two groups using the classification of genres accepted in literary criticism, since its own peculiarities. Many researchers of folklore point to the difficulty of defining national genres. V.E. Gusev writes that even names common to many peoples, such a fairy tale or a round dance song, “do not reflect a specific genre form, which is different for each nation or among certain ethnic groups” [1, p.108]. The mythological perception of the world, characteristic of the folklore of peoples of the traditional type of culture, prevails in all genres of Yukaghir folklore.

The study of the folklore of the Upper Kolyma Yukaghirs from the point of view of its genre characteristics makes it possible to conventionally refer to the first group of nyedyil myths about the origin of objects of nature and culture, stories about meetings with the masters of nature, historical traditions, legends and legends about shamans, everyday stories; to chuuldiyi – etiological tales explaining the peculiarities of the color and appearance of animals, tales about animals and Mythical Old Men-cannibals. These are the most common folklore genres, and the lists can be supplemented by individual works.

In addition to the aforementioned genres in the folklore of the forest Yukaghirs, there are also good wishes, ritual appeals to the owners of nature, riddles, proverbs, sayings.

As for the distribution by genre of narrative folklore of the tundra Yukaghirs, according to G.N. Kurilov, the caraval can be ungrouped into works with elements of fairy tales about animals, magic, mythological and household; nyiedyil is divided into nyedyil itslef – “a story” and chuolledii nyiedyil – “a story about ancient people”, which is close to legends, being between the caraval and nyiedyil” [2, p. 27]. In the folklore of the Lower Kolyma Yukaghirs, on the basis of the existence of a stable formula about the content of the story idye chuol'edyiileң pundutmeң “now I will tell about ancient people” by G.N. Kurilov also isolates the chuolledii pundulpe "legends about ancient people", which tell “about outstanding people endowed with exceptional physical or mental qualities”. As in the creativity of the forest Yukaghirs, genre syncretism is extremely developed in the folklore of the tundra Yukaghirs.

The people of lower Kolyma also have preserved examples of ritual poetry, proverbs, sayings and riddles [2, p. 27-28].

Song creativity, represented by songs of various themes, deserves special attention in the folklore of the two Yukaghir groups.

There are significant differences between the folklore of the Upper Kolyma and lower Kolyma Yukaghirs, which are explained by the specifics of their social life, living in different natural and geographical zones (taiga and tundra), and the influence of the folklore of neighboring peoples.

The folklore of the tundra Yukaghirs reflects the life of the reindeer herding people. As a result of the prevailing patriarchal-clan relations, family and everyday life comes to the fore, in fairy tales there is a noticeable division into rich and poor, there is a tendency towards personification of heroes, and people often have names. In the folklore texts of tundra Yukaghirs “some aspects of the material and spiritual culture have not been fully reflected” [5, p.112]. The oral work of the гpper Kolyma Yukaghirs, hunter-fishermen, in comparison with the lower Kolyma Yukaghirs, reveals closer ties with mythology.

The folklore of the Yukaghirs of Upper Kolyma contains myths and mythological tales about the formation of the Earth and the arrangement of the world, which were greatly influenced by the Christian religion. In these tales the biblical stories are reworked in accordance with the Yukaghir worldview. So, Christ appears to be the father of the masters of the Earth, arranging the Middle Earth, he travels through the three worlds of the Universe – Upper, Middle and Lower. Christ closes the hole in the Lower World in Middle Earth. The antagonist of God, besides Satan, is the Yukaghir mythological character – the devil Kozhe. When God divided Middle Earth between its inhabitants, Kozhe took bad land, and where he stepped, pits and bumps appeared. Actually Yukaghir mythical works say that the Kolyma River is a road of giants, hills, rocks, mountain peaks – people petrified under various circumstances, lakes - the creations of shamans. The first people, according to myths, were as small as squirrels.

In hunting societies, the natural environment plays an exclusive role; therefore, it is natural that the folklore of the forest Yukaghirs will appear in the folklore of the works related to the hunting cult. In their genre characteristics, they are close to legends, fables and tales. Such works tell about the reasons for the establishment of certain hunting rules, the consequences for their violation, and meetings of hunters with the Masters of Nature. The legend of the six-legged elk dates back to the Yukaghir trade cult, which tells about the origin of the ritual of burying the bones of an elk on the platform. The disrespectful attitude towards the remains of elk, the legend says, caused a decrease in the number of elk, and only with the help of a special rite the lost harmony with nature can be restored.

A large place in Yukaghir folklore is occupied by all sorts of etiological fairy tales that interpret the habits of animals and birds, the peculiarities of their color and appearance. The Upper Kolyma Yukaghirs like all hunting peoples of the North, were excellent connoisseurs of nature in all its manifestations. The creative imagination of hunter-gatherers in its own way explained the amazing and diverse natural world. Their etiological works, in comparison with other Yukaghir fairy tales about animals, are usually one-plot, the composition traces the plot, culmination and denouement.

The forest Yukaghirs have a hare, bear, elk, and wolf, fox in fairy tales about animals, Arctic fox, deer, and wolf are frequent characters in the tales of tundra Yukaghirs. The choice of a particular animal depends not only on the place where the people live, but is also conditioned by special attitude to it that has developed historically. Thus, the popularity of the hare among the Odules and the bear among the Vaduls in folklore is generally explained by their probable totemic origin.

In addition to the tales about the Hare, the Upper Kolyma Yukaghirs have a cycle of tales about the giant cannibal, the Mythical Old Man, whose image is undoubtedly one of the oldest in folklore.

Folklore materials confirm that in the past, wars were a frequent occurrence in the life of the Yukaghirs. Among the Upper Kolyma and Lower Kolyma Yukaghirs, there are many historical and heroic legends dedicated to inter-clan and inter-tribal clashes that took place over hunting territories and according to the laws of blood feud. In legends, Yukaghir warriors possess incredible, supernatural agility, strength and fearlessness.

Such narratives more and more often put forward not nameless, but specific heroes-heroes: Edilvey, Khalajil ~ Khalandin ~ Alantina, etc. These ancient legends are not alien to moral attitudes. Excessive cruelty is not characteristic of the Yukagirs: they spare their enemies at their request, voluntarily accept death, seeing that they have killed too many opponents. The behavior of the Yukaghir warriors is also determined by the religious beliefs of the people: in the folklore of the Upper Kolyma Yukaghirs, atrocities and murders are not approved by the supreme deity, the Sun, and in the legend of the Yukaghirs of Lower Kolyma, the Spirit of the Earth punishes the brave warrior Edilvey for showing rudeness and aggression.

In the folklore of the Upper Kolyma Yukaghirs, stories and legends about shamans are widespread. Yukaghir legends say that earlier the Yukaghirs had very strong shamans. In some of the stories there are traces of the past cult of ancestor shamans: they tell about the origin of the sacred shamanic trees associated with the name of a particular shaman. Recorded by V.I. Yokhelson, such stories still live in folklore. So, according to one legend, a young hunter shot a damn girl sitting in a tree, and she, out of fright, threw his soul into the Lower World. To return the young man's shadow to the ground, the shaman ordered to make a wooden girl and plant her on a tree. In memory of those events, the tree is called "Old", as the shaman was called, and offerings are made to him.

In folklore, there are stories that tell about the deeds of shamans as intermediaries between people and the Master of the Earth. The participation of a shaman is especially necessary when it comes to fishing for a large taiga animal – the elk.

The Yukaghir shamans were also engaged in the treatment of people – the records of V.I. Yokhelson shamanic rituals of healing. There is a legend about how the Old shaman saved his relatives from the Great Disease by sacrificing dogs and putting them at the entrance to the house into which the Disease entered. This narration reflected the peculiarities of Yukaghir shamanism and life realities. The dog was usually sacrificed in shamanic rites. Under the Big Disease, in the guise of a terrible old woman, the memory of a terrible disease – smallpox, which decimated entire Yukaghir tribes – remained in folklore.

There are interesting stories about the rivalry of shamans among themselves. In them, good and evil, insidious shamans appear in all the variety of their zoomorphic spirits-assistants, their extraordinary abilities and capabilities amaze the imagination.

Юкагирских пословиц и поговорок сохранилось не очень много. Часто они входят в ткань фольклорных повествований, придавая им поучительность и философичность. В фольклоре эти мудрые народные выражения учат «никогда не оглядываться назад», «не терять надежду, всегда думать только о жизни», напоминают о том, что «двуногий человек всякие дни видит – счастливые и несчастливые», остроумно подмечают, что «женскую хитрость даже чёрт не опередит».

Separately, one can single out sayings, the meaning of which is associated with certain folklore works. For example, when they talk about a person “ran away like a hare” [AM – Author's materials], they associate it with an ungrateful hare from the fairy tale “Cholgoraadie”, the words “sing a perch song” [AM] allude to the art of singing Perch in mythical tales and are meant for a chatty person.

Possessing national originality, the proverbs and sayings of the Yukaghirs, like those of other peoples, are actualized on universal values. They reflect on the value of friendship – “A dog is better than a bad friend”; warn against bad influence – “do not follow the word of every person”; ridicule human vices – “a cowardly person, like a hare, tries to be beautiful”, "squeezes his juice out of stinginess”; they talk about love in lyrical tones – “where you fall in love, your eyes are and where it hurts, your hand is there”.

From sayings one can learn about the traditions of folk education: “if you beat, and the deer's character will deteriorate”, “instead of scolding, you better tell me”. The Yukaghirs believed that a small person should grow up confident in their strengths and capabilities, therefore they said: “as a walking child helps, so a dog will not help”.

The mysteries of the Yukaghirs mainly reflect the everyday environment. If we are talking about natural objects, then they are compared with household items. Here are some examples: “three people constantly support one person” (sticks supporting the canopy), “two people compete, no one will overtake each other” (skis), “sand is scattered on the uras” (stars), “two people want to kiss - they cannot reach ”(hunting trap)”, “one person eats and eats – does not gorge himself ”(fire),“one person only eats fat ”(lamp). It can be noted that the enigmatic object is often identified with a person; this custom is based on anthropomorphic representations of the mythological era.

Song creativity became widespread among the Yukaghirs. In their musical heritage, experts distinguish several ethnic traditions, which include the music of not only local Yukaghir-speaking groups, but also of old Russian settlers who have preserved the unique genres of Yukaghir folklore [4, p.77-78]. In the song tradition of the forest Yukaghirs, love songs, lullabies, songs-memories of past years, youth, the beauties of the native land, songs-pestushki stand out.

Among the songs of the tundra Yukaghirs-Vaduls, the central position is occupied by the praises of people and animals, blessings, imitation songs (repetition of someone else's song) and others [4, p.78].

At present, experts and keepers of oral folk art are mainly elders, speakers of the Yukaghir language and culture. It is from them that the largest numbers of folklore materials were recorded.

  1. Gusev V.E. Folklore aesthetics. – L., 1967. – 320 p.
  2. Folklore of the Yukagirs // Comp. G.N. Kurilov. – M .; Novosibirsk: Nauka, 2005 . – 594 p.
  3. Shavrov K.B. IN AND. Yokhelson. / Soviet ethnography, no. 2. - M., 1935 .– p. 3-13.
  4. Шейкин Ю.И. Музыкальная культура народов Северной Азии. – Якутск: РДНТ, 1996.-123 с.
  5. Yukaghirs. Historical and ethnographic sketch. – Novosibirsk, 1975. – 244 p.

Dr. P. E. Prokopyeva
The Institute for Humanities Research and Indigenous Studies of the North, Russian Academy of Sciences Siberian Branch

Fairy tales

“Большая болезнь”. Юкагирская художница Л. Дьячкова-Дускулова

Since the XVIIth century. Christianity spread in the northeast of Russia, which influenced traditional mythology: Jesus Christ (sometimes King Solomon, Noah, Adam) as the organizer of the Earth, divided it between the Masters of animals, birds, and fish. The head of the evil spirits of the Lower World was Satan, or the Sharp Head. Two brothers – the heroes of traditional myth about the creation of the world – bore the names of Christ and Satan: Christ, the elder brother, sent Satan in the form of a loon to get the earth by diving into the pristine ocean. Orthodox saints were identified with the Masters of Nature: St. Nicholas was the keeper of animals, St. George – birds, St. Peter – fish. These saints were addressed on the hunt.

Folklore is represented by myths, magic and heroic tales (legends, historical traditions, hunting stories). There are some kind of "historical maps" – fairy tales, which tell about the origin of the islands in Kolyma and some riverside mountains between the spurs of the Chersky ridge (Argatas) and the Kolyma Upland. The narrator imagined that the mountains are people who have been petrified under some circumstances. Plots of fairy tales are associated with myths about the origin of celestial bodies and their systems. The characters of some fairy tales are old women, ice old people, Debegey. In fairy tales about animals, the inhabitants of the taiga and tundra act: bear, wolverine, elk, reindeer, lynx, fox, wolf. Particularly noted is the image of a hare, a totem animal, intelligent, insidious, all-conquering.

A curious feature of animal tales, and possibly of Yukaghir folklore in general, is the ability of people to turn into animals and vice versa. Mostly, shamans turn into an animal or a bird. The music includes several different ethnic traditions associated with their division into tribal groups.

The central place is occupied by song praises of people, animals, or individual household items; song blessing; lullaby melody; short song “memories”, imitation songs (repetition of someone else's song). Myth, fairy tale, story, legend, can also contain song inserts. Sometimes these tunes are close to ritual singing. During the ritual, the shaman sang with the drum on behalf of the helper spirits both the song of the harmful spirit and the song of the spirit of the “light path”.

Among the ritual instruments, in addition to the tambourine, personifying a deer and being a family shrine, include tubular conical vertebrae and bells on festive and shamanic clothes; botala rattles on deer antlers, hooves, wooden bars and bones; rattles-amulets on a baby cradle, made from a fish bubble. A planed stick was inserted into a dry deer shoulder with a hole in the center. By rotating it, they produced “tunes”: “barking of a dog”, sounds imitating the sound of a tambourine and even song melodies. The musical instrument was a “playing bow”, on the bow-string of which a smoothly carved stick-arrow was played. Also known are a spinner-buzzer on a thread, a talnik whistle, a reed squeaker from a bird's feather, a reed tape squeaker from a leaf of grass or a reed wind instrument from a tubular trunk of grass, a thin cylindrical whistle made from hollow grass, a knotty stick or deer horn, which was carried along the trunk. Throat rhonchus on inhalation and exhalation accompanies a circular dance and consists of several signal exclamations: “he-ye”, “hm-lio”, “hi-la”, “he-ha”, “hm-ho”, “hii-ha”, “Hee-ham”, etc.

The music of Russian long-standing inhabitants is genetically related to the music of the Yukaghirs: a love song-dialogue of a young man and a girl. Due to contacts with Russians, homemade three-stringed lute instruments with a hollowed out oval and box-shaped triangular body (like a balalaika) with a bowed and plucked method of playing have survived.

Modern Lower Kolyma Yukaghirs are engaged in fur trade, fishing, reindeer husbandry and horse breeding, while the Upper Kolyma Yukaghirs are engaged in horticulture and cage farming. Crafts are preserved. Territories of traditional nature management are allocated for national economies.

Materials of the “The Arctic is my home: the peoples of the North” encyclopedia,
Moscow, 2001