Yakut - Settlements



As horse and cattle breeders, the Yakut had a transhumant pattern of summer and winter settlements. Winter settlements comprised as few as twenty people, involving several closely related families who shared pastureland and lived in nearby yurts ( balagan ) with surrounding storehouses and corrals. The yurts were oblong huts with slanted earthen walls, low ceilings, sod roofs, and dirt floors. Most had an adjoining room for cattle. They had substantial hearths, and fur-covered benches lining the walls demarcated sleeping arrangements according to social protocol. Yurts faced east, toward benevolent deities. In summer families and their animals moved to larger encampments. The most ancient summer homes, urasy, were elegant birch-bark conical tents. Some could hold 100 people. Their ceilings soared at the center point, above a circular hearth. Around the sides were wide benches placed in compartments that served as ranked seating and sleeping areas. Every pole or eave was carved with symbolic designs, the motifs of which included animals, fertility, and lineage identities. By 1900 urasy were rare; summer homes were yurts or combination yurt-log cabins. By 1950 yurts were also obsolete, found only in a few museums. Yet collectives still send workers to summer sites to graze cattle away from large villages. Housing is Russian style, often rough-hewn log huts with broad, raised stoves. Many families, even in large towns, rely on outhouses and outdoor water pumps. Some collectives, however, are gradually letting workers build more substantial individual family homes with modern amenities. Another style is the "village of the urban type," with low, concrete apartment buildings and indoor plumbing. The largest city is Yakutsk (with a population of 187,000 people in 1989). The towns of Viliusk, Olekminsk, Neriungri, and Mirny grew rapidly in the 1980s.


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