Yukagir - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religion. The Yukagir were Christianized in the eighteenth century, but some traditional beliefs have been preserved. Shamans were revered even after their death, when their corpses were dismembered, dried, and divided among related families; these relics were used as amulets in divination. The shaman's costume, tambourine, and other paraphernalia resembled those of the Tungus.

There was a cult of exchange or cooperation. Animals obtained through hunting were considered guests. One assumed that if they were honored they would return to this world and come again as guests.

Yukagir legends preserve their ancient world. Giant elk hunters, their true image hidden behind fantastic features, subdue the elk and fasten them to their coats, but eventually are conquered by the more clever Yukagir. In animal tales a major role is played by Raven, not as world maker, but invested with satiric traits. The real culture hero, the cunning hare, kills "the Ancient Old Man," the foe of the Yukagir. (Related to these myths was the so-called sun shield, a silver or bronze disk attached to the clothing over the shaman's chest and bearing a representation of a winged centaur against a background of conventional plant motifs).

Arts. Notwithstanding their small numbers, the Yukagir have given the world talented writers, such as the author and public figure Nikolay Spiridonov, who uses the pseudonym Teki Odulak. In 1935 he published his tale, The Life of the Older Imturfinga, in which he related the hard life, activities, and customs of his neighbors and fellow countrymen. To another generation belongs Semyon Kurilov, who published the novel Khaniso and Khaperkha. Two parts of this novel were issued in 1970 under the title New People. His younger brother, Gabriel Kurilov, is a linguist, a doctoral candidate in philology, and a researcher at the Institute of Language and History of the Yakut branch of the Siberian Department of the Academy of Sciences of the former USSR. He has written Complex Nouns in the Yukagir Language (1977). He is also a novelist, and his poetry has been published in Russian, Yakut, and Yukagir. The Yukagir have started to tell about themselves, to inform the world of their fate, and to express their national consciousness more forcefully.

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