Subsistence Activities and Trade. Traditional pastoralism in central Yakutia required homestead self-reliance, with intense dependence on calves and foals in a harsh climate. Stables, corrals, and haying developed in conjunction with hardy breeds of cattle and short, fat, furry horses. Richer families owned hundreds of horses and cattle; poorer ones raised a few cattle or herded for others. A huge variety of dairy products, including fermented mare's milk (Russian: kumys ), was the staple food; meat was reserved for special occasions. The diet was augmented by hunting (bears, elk, squirrels, hare, ferrets, fowl), fishing (salmon, carp, muksun, mundu ), and, under Russian influence, agriculture (cereals). Wealthy Yakut hunted on horseback, using dogs. The poorest Yakut, those without cattle, relied on fishing with horsehair nets and, in the north, herded reindeer like their Evenk and Yukagir neighbors. Yakut also engaged in the fur trade; by the twentieth century hunters for luxury furs had depleted the ermines, sables, and foxes, and they were relying on squirrels. Yakut merchants and transporters spread throughout the entire northeast, easing communications and trade for natives and Russians. They sold luxuries like silver and gold jewelry and carved bone, ivory, and wood crafts in addition to staples such as butter, meat, and hay. Barter, Russian money, and furs formed the media of exchange. Guns were imported, as was iron for local blacksmiths.
Industrial Arts. Before iron was imported, ironworkers used ore from local marshes. Similarly, ceramics made from local clay preceded Russian pottery. Most homemade crafts were for household use: decorated birch-bark containers, leather bags, dairy-processing equipment, horsehair blankets, fur clothing, benches, hitching posts, and elaborately carved wooden containers (including chorons for kumys).
Division of Labor. Although occupations within a household were divided by gender and status, the atmosphere was usually one of productive group activity. All participated in hay making, cattle herding, and milking, but, in general, horses were a male preserve and cattle a female responsibility. Women tended children and fires, prepared food, carried water, and made clothing and pottery. Men handled more strenuous firewood preparation, house building, sled making, hunting, fishing, and mowing. Ivory carving and wood-and metalworking were male tasks. These divisions have held through the twentieth century in households of rural collectives, although possibilities have also expanded. Women now hunt, fish, and engage in crafts once associated with men. They have become doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, bookkeepers, and politicians. Some women work in the growing industrial sector. Men are engineers, tractor drivers, geologists, teachers, doctors, managers, and workers in the lucrative energy, metallurgy, gold, diamond, and building industries. In the 1980s a Yakut man was director of the Yakutia gold ministry and a Yakut woman was head of the republic legislature. The intelligentsia of Yakutia is dominated by Yakut men and women in prestigeous cultural, scientific, and political jobs.