Yukaghir traditional farming

The main traditional occupations of the Yukaghirs were hunting reindeer and elk, lake and river fishing, as well as reindeer herding among the tundra Yukaghirs. Deer and elk were hunted with crossbows, loops, and from the XVIIIth century – flintlock guns. In the spring, animal was hunted by rutting on the ice, chasing on skis. The tundra Yukaghirs roamed after the herds of wild deer from the forest-tundra to the sea, hunted them in batches on the water during seasonal crossings, or drove them into the lakes with the help of dogs. They also used paddocks and beckoning deer. In addition, they hunted fox, squirrel, sable, arctic fox, ermine, hare, using various types of traps: log cabins (shenil), grazing (shashil), loops (monol), crossbows (ene), as well as firearms.

The way to hunt

The tundra Yukaghirs hunted foxes and arctic foxes with a club (club), overtaking them on a reindeer sled. In autumn, waterfowl were shot on the lakes during their molt. They used darts and bolas – a bundle of stones on straps. They fished from late spring to autumn. Yukaghirs caught perch, nelma, chir, omul, muksun with hair nets (yodiye) or seines. On the spawning grounds, fish were caught with fish gaff and fish hooks. In the mountain streams, hedges (eoz) and wicker tops (morte) were set up. In October - November, the Yukaghir people fished in the ice hole with hair nets. An auxiliary activity was the gathering of berries, wild onions, pine nuts, saran roots, leaves, larch sapwood (a layer of young wood under the bark) and mushrooms. Mammoth tusks were mined for sale. Transport reindeer herding played an important role among the tundra Yukaghirs. The farm had from 2-3 to 19 - 20 reindeer, wealthy families had 100 - 150 cattles. In the summer, they united in groups and grazed animals together. They rode reindeer, carried things in a pack (ordered), in winter they used sled teams. Riding sleds are arc-dusty, cargo sleds are shorter and single-dust. As a rule, one deer was harnessed to the sled. Taiga harnessed to sleds for 4-5 dogs. Dog sled (midi, miedie) – knitted rectum-dust, up to 2,5 m long with a front "ram" arc. In winter, Yukaghirs walked in the snow on wide ceilings, lined with camus skis, on the crust - on golits (kokis). In summer, they moved on the water on dugout boats, rafts, birch bark boats.

Reindeer husbandry

The Lower Kolyma Yukaghirs were engaged in reindeer husbandry, having learned it from the Evens. It also, like the Evens, played a transport role. The number of reindeer was usually minimal: from 2-3 to 10-20. Therefore, during migrations, property was transported from an old place to a new one in several stages. However, among the Yukaghirs there were also farms rich in reindeer, which numbered 100-150 heads.

Sled hunter

The richest among them at the beginning of the XXth century was Nikolay Kurilov: he had about a thousand reindeer in the herd. He gathered this herd after a smallpox epidemic from the extinct neighboring Chukchi camps (“Yukagiry”, 1975, 58p). Vladimir Yokhelson mentions the large herders of the Indigirka – the Yukagirs, assimilated by the Evens. One of them owned a herd of 800 heads, while the other had about two thousand reindeer (Yokhelson, 2005, 512p). A typical example of archaic Yukaghir collectivism was their struggle with a gadfly, from whose larvae reindeer were sick. By the beginning of July, when the gadflies begin to lay eggs, several nomadic groups of Yukaghirs agreed to meet together and united reindeer into a common herd. White reindeer skins were spread around the herd, attracting gadflies with their bright color, and the entire population was armed with special planks that killed gadflies that sat on the skin (Kreinovich, 1972, 79-80pp). A similar tool was used by the tundra Nenets.

At the beginning of the XXth century, there was almost no wild deer left in the area of settlement of the Lower Kolyma Yukaghirs. The Yukaghirs associate this disaster with the emergence of numerous Chukchi herds of domestic deer, which pitted pastures where wild reindeer inhabited. As a result of the beginning of the lack of food, the mass of Yukaghirs and Evens (who also existed by hunting) went to the Chukchi as shepherds. On this basis, the last center of powerful assimilation arose, which led to the loss of many features of ethnic culture (Yokhelson, 1910).

Hunting

Vasily Gavrilovich Shalugin (left) and Dmitry Grigorievich Dyachkov at their summer camp, Yasachnaya River. Photo credits L. Zhukova

Despite the fact that in the last century fish was the main food Yukaghir people, they continued to perceive themselves as wild reindeer hunters. Having a permanent nomadic and hunting area, the Lower Kolyma Yukaghirs grazed their domesticated reindeer in certain places in order to preserve pastures for the wild. Before the beginning of hunting season, people did not go to these pastures unnecessarily, so that the wild reindeer would not smell a human (Kreinovich, 1972, 84p). There was a clear prohibition on hunting wild reindeer: no reindeer was hunted from calving until early August (Kreinovich, 1972, 77 p).

The most archaic methods of fishing were preserved in the tundra at the beginning of the XXth century. These methods involved broad collective participation. Since they were conducted in the tundra, they belonged to the summer half of the year. Their principle was to drive the reindeer herd into a reservoir, near which the reindeer fled from the heat and insects. In the water, a reindeer was much less maneuverable than the hunter in the canoe; moreover, when killed, he did not drown. At this time of the year, a reindeer were already gathering in large herds. It was a very important time to harvest meat for the winter, as well as hides for clothing. Therefore, the assembly of elders distributed the hunters in the most optimal way among the nomadic families.

The hunter puts a trap on the sable. Filmed by Pavel V. Sofronov

Such a hunt involved tracking down herds. The easiest way was to catch a group of deer that wandered into the lake promontory. Then at its base gathered women and children who did not allow the reindeer to return overland, and from the opposite bank to meet the reindeer a hunter with a gun or a spear swam out on a canoe. It was allowed to stab a deer in the kidney so as not to spoil the skin. In August-September, with the onset of dark nights, the Yukaghirs built long chains of pyramidal figures made of bumps and earth near large lakes. Those figures were a human's length, which represented a corridor like a funnel. With its narrow part, the corridor opened onto the shore of the lake. During the day, construction was interrupted, and the reindeer did not pay attention to these structures. When such an alley was built, the Yukaghirs tracked down the herd in the morning and drove it towards the alley. In the fog and semi-darkness, the reindeer took the earthen figures for living people and rushed past them to find themselves in the lake. Hunters with spears sailed out to meet them in canoes.

Hunting trophy

The old people watched the slaughter, and when they decided that enough reindeer had been hunted, the slaughter was stopped (Kreinovich, 1972, 85 p). In Eurasia, the Nganasan people practiced the same hunting method at the beginning of the XXth century (Popov, 1948: 31-34 pp). The antiquity of driven hunting in the tundra, or rather a certain indigenousness of the Yukaghir population is indicated by the fact that both the closest neighbors of the Yukaghirs – the Evens, who came to the tundra from the forest zone, and the neighbors of the Nganasans, the Dolgans, do not use this method. Such hunting involves the participation of specially trained hunting dogs, and the Evens of the Lower Kolyma considered it sinful to keep dogs on the farm, believing that the dogs would exhaust reindeer (The Yukagirs, 1975, 59 p).

Other types of hunting for wild deer among the tundra Yukaghirs were also characteristic of the surrounding population. This, first of all, concerns the "floating" – the slaughter of reindeer herds at the crossings across large rivers during seasonal migrations. Here the Yukaghirs united with their Russified brethren, Russian old residents, Evens, especially since some of these hunting places were located near settled settlements. The Yukaghirs call the Even method of hunting wild deer with the help of domestic ones as a means of transport – riding in the summer, and in the winter – on sledges (Yukaghirs, 1975, 60 p), although it also had a Yukaghir name (Kreinovich, 1972, 91p). The principle of pursuit was that the deer escape from the hunter along a curved trajectory representing a circle with a large radius. The hunter catches up with them, moving across them, proceeding from his geometric imagination. This gambling type of hunting probably came to the Yukaghirs from the Evens, who had more riding reindeer.

Vasily Gavrilovich Shalugin, a connoisseur of the Yukaghir language and culture, the village of Nelemnoe. Photo credit L. Zhukova

Other types of hunting for wild deer among the tundra Yukaghirs were also characteristic of the surrounding population. This, first of all, concerns the "floating" – the slaughter of reindeer herds at the crossings across large rivers during seasonal migrations. Here the Yukaghirs united with their Russified brethren, Russian old residents, Evens, especially since some of these hunting places were located near settled settlements. The Yukaghirs call the Even method of hunting wild deer with the help of domestic ones as a means of transport – riding in the summer, and in the winter – on sledges (Yukaghirs, 1975, 60 p), although it also had a Yukaghir name (Kreinovich, 1972, 91p). The principle of pursuit was that the deer escape from the hunter along a curved trajectory representing a circle with a large radius. The hunter catches up with them, moving across them, proceeding from his geometric imagination. This gambling type of hunting probably came to the Yukaghirs from the Evens, who had more riding reindeer.

In late autumn, during the period of wild reindeer rutting and their reindeer "tournaments" on the entire tundra strip of wild reindeer distribution, wild reindeer were hunted with the help of a beckoning reindeer who allowed the hunter to get close to the herd, slaughter its leader and, taking advantage of the confusion of the herd, to get more several. It was a winter type of hunting. For the role of beckoner, the Yukaghirs chose a domestic gray reindeer, which was more similar in color to wild deer, and with large branched antlers. A long lasso was attached to his neck, the end of which had a bone crest on the reindeer's forehead. The other end was in the hands of a hunter, who sneaked up to the herd, shielding himself with a decoy. The hunter controlled the deer, pulling the lasso, and then the bone comb crashed into the reindeer's forehead. Or the hunter would send a “wave” with a lasso. A beckoner reindeer was taught not to step on the lasso, lie down and get up when pulling the lasso, obediently turn his head to the right and left, etc. After six or seven years of training, the hunter dared to release the beckoner without a belt.

Sometimes the Yukhagirs hunted with two beckons – a male and a female. Sometimes together with a riding reindeer (with the saddle removed), which was also specially trained. The hunter followed them, imitating the movements of the fawn.

When the snow became deep and remained loose, the hunter's ability to track and capture the beast was reduced. Then the crossbows were alarmed, having discovered the trail of wild reindeer. Crossbows were marked with well-distinguishable signs, so that they could be easily found without being killed yourself. Such work in deep snow was dangerous, so the best hunters did it. The crossbows were placed as close as possible to the chum, since the hunted reindeer began to rot from the long lying in deep snow, its meat and skin deteriorated. In the forest zone, wild reindeer and elk were hunted in the spring by skiing on the ice. This type of hunting was practiced by both the Lower and Upper Kolyma Yukaghirs. It was convenient at this time, as the hunter had an advantage of speed thanks to the skis, which did not allow him to sink in deep snow.

Охота на уток

Vladimir Yokhelson writes that some archaic tools for birds hunting were preserved, oddly enough, among the Russified Yukaghirs of the Lower Kolyma. These are sling and darts (Yokhelson, 2005, 550 p). Vladimir Bogoraz also mentions this, at the Anadyr River creek (Bogoraz, 1991, 82-83 pp). Further to the west, these bird hunting tools do not spread, but only to the east – to the American continent.

V.G. Shalugin with manufactured items of traditional culture. Photo credit L. Zhukova

Another type of driven hunting among the Yukaghirs concerned molting geese and was widespread throughout the whole Russian Arctic. Its essence is that such a large waterfowl like a goose, being nutritious and fat, is unable to fly during the molting period. Unlike a reindeer, she feels insecure on land. Therefore, it is carefully collected from the upper reaches of the rivers into a large flock. On one of the sloping banks, they enclose a large rectangular space and block the river below, so that the bird is easily driven inside this enclosure, where the necks of the geese are folded with their bare hands.

Tripods and fishing nets were used to set up such enclosures, but since the Yukaghirs had few of them, only the side facing the river was covered with a net, and chum covers and clothes were hung on the other two sides. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the difference between the Yukaghir moulting geese fishery and other northern peoples was in a heartfelt ritual performed by old people before the start of slaughtering a defenseless bird. It was a song sung by an old man or an old woman in which they told the geese that death is like a dream, and after death there is rebirth. After the song, each person took a goose from the collected flock and released it into the wild. This gesture was required for everyone, including babies for whom the bird was released by their parents. Then they proceeded to slaughter. The last goose was also released (Kreinovich, 1972, 80-81 pp). Ice cellars were built for the caught bird in the permafrost. The bird was gutted, but the feathers were not removed.

When the geese were just beginning to lay and incubate their eggs, they were caught in the nests either with a loop or by hand. In the first case, a loop was placed around the eggs and carefully camouflaged, and the hunter hid near the end of the rope in order to tighten the loop in time when the goose sits on the eggs. Catching with hands involved disguising and burying the hunter himself with outstretched arms almost under the nest. When a pair of goose flew in, the hunter first caught a goose, and since the goose did not fly away without it, then it was also caught (Kreinovich, 1972, 78 p). This method of catching has a beginning from ancient times, but it causes mistrust, since with such a thorough preparation it is very difficult to mask all its traces, and besides, much more human smell remains in place than when setting a loop, and a wild bird must smell it.

With the arrival of the Russians, hunting for fur animal took an important part of the Yukaghir hunting, which was a means of paying for yasak, as well as a monetary equivalent in local market relations. Sable, as the most common of the valuable fur animals, disappeared already in the second half of the 19th century. For the tundra Yukaghirs, the main fur-bearing animals were the arctic fox and the fox, for the taiga - the fox and the squirrel. Already under Jochelson, traps were set on arctic fox and fox, which the hunter checked several times during the winter. The tundra Yukaghirs went hunting on sleds pulled by a deer. The hunter's task was to find the trail, then he chased the animal and killed it with a club. The taiga Yukaghirs hunted a fox with a dog, shot a squirrel with a special small shot, sometimes they took a bow with blunt arrows to hunt with a gun. Crossbows, unlike the Yakuts, were rarely placed. The tundra Yukaghirs also hunted the wolf, this hunt took place together, on two reindeer sleds. Having caught up with the wolf, they threw a lasso on it (Yokhelson, 2005, 551-553 pp).

Fishing

Video – Winter fishing. Filmed by Pavel V. Sofronov

Ice fishing

Despite the fact that the Yukaghirs were originally sedentary hunters and fishermen, their fishing, apparently, was devoid of sacred piety, expressed in the ritual side of fishing and the use of dummy words (Kreinovich, 1972, 65 p.). At the same time, in the XXth century (if not earlier) it was the fish that saved them from starvation, and in comparison with the hunting one it was a more stable fishery.

The Upper Kolyma Yukaghirs started fishing in the spring. The fish was caught with rods with a lead sinker and an iron hook. For bait, the hooks were wrapped with red thread. An older tool was a bone spoke with sharply sharpened ends. Its length did not exceed 8 cm.

The vein line was tied closer to one of its ends. The needle was stuck into a small freshly caught fish so that one end of it protruded slightly outward. When a pike or nelma swallowed a fish, the end of the needle, when pulled, became across the esophagus, and the prey was caught. In this way, fish was caught only "for the boiler", that is, for everyday needs. In summer, thread and hair nets were set up along rivers and lakes.

In the past, bone needles were used. Part of the summer fish was dried, but most of it went into the cauldron, since the main course of fish began only in autumn – in August and September. Then large accumulations of chir and omul appeared, which had to be found and surrounded by a seine. This method was called "scooping". In the past, the Yukaghirs made a fence of willow twigs in the manner of a seine. One end of it was fixed on the shore, and the free end was pulled up to the shore when fish accumulated inside.

The harvested fish was dried and dried if it was large, and the small one was fermented in pits for dog food. However, in times of famine, fermented fish helped out people. The caviar was dried separately. In late autumn, before the freezing of the rivers, the Yukaghirs set up rides with willow snouts or thread heels on the rivers. In October-November, fish were caught under the ice with hair nets, dragging them through the ice holes. The catch was frozen.

Pluzhnikov N.V. (The book Peoples of the North-East of Russia) based on the materials of the Encyclopedia "The Arctic is my home: the peoples of the North", 2001

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