Circumpolar Civilization in the Museums of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia)

The Sakha Republic (Yakutia) – the largest region of the Russian Federation – is situated in the north-east Asia. Over 40% of its territory (3103,2 thousand km²) is located beyond the Arctic Circle. In spite of this, as early as at the end of the Ice Age primitive peoples settled in the basins of the mighty abundant rivers – Lena, Yana, Indigirka, Kolyma, Anabar and Olenyok, and their tributaries – Aldan, Amga, Vilyui, Olyokma and others, laying down the foundation for the development of civilization in the endless expanse of the north-east Asia, Alaska and Canada, Central and South America. Archeologists have determined the presence of all archeological cultures in this vast territory, the carriers of which had created a unique culture adjusted to the extreme living conditions.

The aboriginal peoples of Yakutia – the Sakha (Yakuts), the Evenki (Tungus), the Evens (Lamut), the Yukagir (Odul), the Chukchi and the Dolgan – have made a great contribution to the cultural and economic development of this vast area; by their efforts the hunting, reindeer herding and cattle breeding colonization of the most severe part of the Northern Hemisphere was conducted. Researchers called them “the selfless squad of the humankind”, the active participants of the world historic process and collective cultural creation of the mankind.

By the moment of Lensky Krai entering the Russian state in the XVII century, its main indigenous population was constituted by the world’s northernmost cattle breeders – the Turkic-speaking Yakuts, who bred cattle and horses and were engaged in hunting, fishing and blacksmithing and created the original material and spiritual culture and a prodigious epos Olonkho, which has been proclaimed by UNESCO a masterpiece of intangible and spiritual culture of humanity. The First President of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) Mikhail Nikolaev proudly named the culture of the Sakha people “the immanent component of the circumpolar civilization” of the world Arctic.

The culture of other indigenous peoples – Evenki, Evens, Yukagir, Dolgan and Chukchi – is also rich and diverse. As for their religious views, they adhered to shamanism and traditional beliefs, inspiring the forces of nature and environment. Living in the extreme natural and climatic conditions in the permafrost area, the aboriginals ran the relevant extensive farming; their political organization was poor, they lived in clans, and only the Sakha (Yakuts) were partially joined in larger tribal communities. 

К XVII в. коренные народы Якутии втянулись в общероссийский социально-экономический, общественно-политический процесс, началось их приобщение к русской православной культуре, через нее – к европейской христианской цивилизации. Все это привело к постепенной модернизации многовекового уклада жизни северных народов, к утрате навыков ведения традиционных отраслей хозяйства, части материальной и духовной культуры. В XX в. в связи с установлением советской власти, началом социалистического преобразования всех сторон жизни северян, еще более углубился процесс деградации самобытной арктической культуры, реальной стала угроза ее исчезновения и разрушения под натиском глобализации и техногенной цивилизации.

In such situation there emerged an acute need to preserve a historic and cultural heritage of northern peoples, who had created a unique Arctic “circumpolar” civilization. The implementation of this complicated but honorable mission was entrusted to the museums destined to not only preserve the historic memory of the humankind, national traditions, original cultural values and unique collections of material and spiritual culture but also to comprehensively study, promote and use them in the modern geo-ecological conditions of a human living environment in the North.

One of the oldest museums of Siberia and the Far East – Yakutsk State United Museum of Northern Peoples History and Culture named after Ye. Yaroslavsky – was established in 1891; from the very beginning of its work it has been consistently working on creating the collections of material and spiritual culture of the indigenous peoples of the North. At present about 80 thousands of stock units are kept in the museum holdings. The collections of the Arctic peoples are also kept in other museums located in the regions of the Republic.

Besides our museum, this catalogue features Olenyok Northern Peoples History and Ethnography Museum, Olyokma Farming History Museum, Allaikha Tundra Nature and Hunting Museum, Nizhnekolymsky Northern Peoples History and Culture Museum, Zhigansk History Museum, Ulakhan-Chistai Northern Peoples History and Culture Museum, Verkhoyansk Regional Studies Museum “The Pole of Cold”, Moma Regional Studies Museum, Iengra Regional Studies Museum (Aldansky region), Andryushkino Ethnographic Museum, Anabar Regional Studies Museum, Srednekolymsk Regional Studies Museum.

The present catalogue includes descriptions of over 300 objects from 14 museums of the republic. The objects have been selected by the principle of their uniqueness, rareness, integrity and museum and historic significance. The descriptions are set in the following sections: traditional knowledge (cattle breeding, hunting, fishing), household activities and occupations; housings and household utensils; religion and beliefs; childhood, games, toys; clothes, shoes, ornaments; transport and modes of transportation; popular knowledge and concepts; social system. Within the sections the museum objects are ranged by their ethnicity: Sakha, Evens, Evenki, Yukagir, Chukchi, Dolgan, Russian old-timers. The description of each object includes: Russian and local name of the object, measurements, data on the material and method of manufacturing, description of the object itself, characteristic of the object’s state, concrete data on damages and defects, data on the place and date of collection, inventory number and name of the museum to which collection the object belongs.

Принятые сокращения – ЯГМ – Якутский государственный музей, КП – Книга поступления, инв. № – инвентарный №, ст. № – старый №, кол. № – коллекционный №; сведения о размерах: выс. – высота, шир. – ширина, дл. – длина, Д – диаметр.

Yegor SHISHIGIN,
Museum Director,
Presidium Member of the Russian Union of Museums,
Honorary Figure of Culture of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia)

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