Yukagir - History and Cultural Relations

The Yukagir, descendants of the aboriginal population of northeastern Siberia, evolved, in terms of culture, from a variant of the eastern Siberian Neolithic hunters and lake and river fishermen who used dugout canoes and ceramic Utensils. Until the arrival of the Russians they were scattered (subdivided by tribe and clan) across a huge territory from west of the lower Lena River in the west to the Anadyr Basin in the east. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in the Yana River Basin, lived the Yandagir, the Omolok, and the Khromov, and, on the Kolyma River, the Alay, the Omok, and the Kogyme. The basin of the Anadyr was subsequently taken over by the Chuvan, Khodyn, and Anaul. Some of the Tundra groups called themselves Odyl " (brave) and "Dektili" (strong). Until the arrival of the Russians there were still Yukagir west of the Lena River and in the southern regions of contemporary Yakutia, but they were forced out or assimilated by the forebears of the contemporary Tungus, Even, and Yakut. The Yukagir were first contacted by Siberian Cossacks: the Yakut Cossack Ivan Rebrov in 1633 and the Yenisei Cossack Ielisei Buza in 1639, both of whom reported fabulous wealth in game and fish. The Yukagir generally helped or guided the Russians during the colonization of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and they suffered terribly from reprisals by the Even and Chukchee, from epidemics of smallpox and measles (1669 and 1691-1694), from reindeer plagues, and from the partial cessation of the migrations of wild reindeer. By the early twentieth century conditions were terribly harsh, and, Soviet authorities claim, there was considerable exploitation by a Yukagir "upper class."

In the Soviet period the Yukagir progressed in many ways. Famines disappeared and wholesale buying of fur, which had exploited the hunters, was discontinued. In 1929, in response to the cessation of reindeer migrations, the government helped the Yukagir reorganize for reindeer breeding and fur hunting. In 1931 Yukagir attended school for the first time; adult illiteracy was eliminated by World War II. Paramedical stations and small hospitals have been established in Taiga and Tundra Yukagir settlements. Clubs have emerged in the encampments, and films are shown regularly. Traveling clubs now entertain reindeer breeders. Today most Yukagir live on collective farms in Russian-style log houses with attached vegetable gardens. Most Tundra Yukagir, together with Chukchee, Even, and Russians, belong to one of two "millionaire collectives" devoted to reindeer breeding, hunting, and fishing.

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