Critical Thinking

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Yakut: The People of Sakha RepublicIn north eastern Russia, therein lies a little-known territory that is over four times the size of Texas, has the world’s coldest city, and has a Mammoth Museum and Laboratory! The Sakha Republic, also known as Yakutia, is a republic of Russia that is home to the largest amount of ethnic Yakuts and Russians. The Sakha Republic is mostly undiscovered but is beyond culturally rich; the demographics, history, language, religion, material culture, folklore, and more are all crucial to understanding the Yakut.The Sakha RepublicOriginsNearly 800-1,000 years ago, migrants from Lake Baikal in south Siberia settled in what is now known as the Sakha Republic. Most Yakutian ancestors are from Lake Baikal, but it is suggested that the Turkic-speaking tribes also came from the steppe and the Altai mountains. A lot of early history from this territory is unknown, but the Yakut have epics, olonkho, that describe the culture and history in poetic folk tales that date from the 10th century. In the 17th century, the migrants from Lake Baikal and the Altai mountains assimilated peacefully with surrounding nations and tribes that later created different clans in that portion of the land. History and GeographyThe republic is rich in gold, oil, diamonds, gas, salt, and silver so, naturally, China and Russia have plans to mine there. As a result of this desire to mine, Russia has given the republic some sort of autonomy. In 1922, the Sakha Republic was created as an “autonomous republic of the Soviet Union” and is now Russia’s largest republic. Mining and timber-working are the main industries of this republic.Yakutia is a 3,100,000-square kilometer territory and more than 40% of the region is contained within the Arctic Circle. According to the Britannica, “The republic occupies the basins of the great rivers flowing to the Arctic Ocean–the Lena, Yana, Indigirka, and Kolyma–and includes the New Siberian Islands between the Laptev and East Siberian seas”. There are two social groups in Yakutia based on geography and economics: the north and the south. The north are semi-nomadic hunters, fishermen, and reindeer breeders. The south focuses on animal husbandry with a focal point on horse and cattle. In the Sakha Republic, there are two dominant languages spoken: Russian and Yakut (or Sakha). According to the 2010 Russian Census, 90% of the population speaks Russian and 87% of the population speaks the native Yakut. Yakut is a Turkic language that has been influenced by Tungusic and Mongolian languages. It is important to mention that of all indigenous Siberian languages, Yakut is the only one that is not declining. An average Yakut may have a vocabulary of around 4,000 where a shaman speaking the same language would know an estimated 12,000 words. Religion.When people migrated to the Sakha Republic, the predominant religions were animism and shamanism. Due to Russian diaspora, a lot of those who previously believed in shamanism converted to Russian Orthodox Christianity. Despite a high amount of influential Christianity surrounding them, shamans are still highly respected and protected by the law in Yakutia. While there is no official religion of Yakutia stated, the Information Center under the president of Sakha Republic stated the following about the religious statistics: Orthodoxy: 44.9%, Shamanism: 26.2%, Non-religious: 23.0%, New religious movements: 2.4%, Islam: 1.2%, Buddhism: 1.0%, Protestantism: 0.9%, Catholicism: 0.4%”. While Christianity accounts for nearly half of the population, shamanism still claims over a fourth of the population in the Sakha Republic. The origins of shamanism take roots from a Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungusic “blend of belief in the supernatural” with emphasis on the abilities of the black versus white shamans. Yakut shamans believe in a pantheon of gods that reside in nine separate levels of heavens. This idea of a hierarchical heavens is an original and traditional cosmology that some shamans still believe in. “According to Yakut tradition,” Mircea Eliade states, “the ‘first shaman’ possessed extraordinary power and, in his pride, refused to recognize the Supreme God of the Yakut”. An important thread of shamanism is that idea and the claim that both black and white shamans are effective and important in their own abilities. White shamans negotiate “with eastern spirits for the sake of humans”through seances and prayers alike. On the other hand, Black shamans cause harm and help humans while communicating with the evil spirits of the underworld. The Yakut also believe that, at death, both good and bad souls go up to the sky and the soul, kut, turn into a bird and then on the other hand, they also believe that evil spirits and dead souls reside underground. This two-fold religious believe demonstrates the spread of the Russian Orthodox Christianity and the theory of heaven and hell. Despite the spread of Christianity, shamanism is still evident in the culture of this society. Yhyakh Festival. While most of the territory has begun to adapt to modern technology and culture, there are still shamanistic traditions upheld. For example, Yakutia has a festival called Yhyakh that is in celebration of the summer solstice. This event is held on June 21-22 and has relation to the sun deity believed in. It is the most important festival and event for the entire nation. People from even the smallest, most isolated communities come together. There are plenty of games and events but the most important by far is horse racing. The even begins with ancient ritual and prayers, algys, by the shamans made for the wellbeing of the people in attendance. The shamans sprinkle horse hair and kumys into the fire. When the ritual is finished, people drink the kumys from a special sacred vessel, choron. After drinking, they all gather for a dance, ohuokhai, and sing improvised chants for the rest of the night. The entire festival is a large ceremony between the people and the sun to celebrate the meeting. Material Culture in Sakha Republic. In the earlier days of this society, clothes were made with what was available, and in this case, that was reindeer and horse furs. Those hides were sewn together with dried intestine threads or yarn made of horse hides and rabbit furs were often used to make small items like gloves, scarves, hats, etc. Lots of artists in Yakutia work with several different media but blacksmith is the most popular and most ancient form of this art. Ivory, wood, ice carving, and jewelry making were the most popular forms of art that continued on into this century. Jewelry making was popular due to Yakut women and their love for gold and silver Yakut ornamented adornments. These tangible items are held as near and dear to the Yakuts as their intangible folk tales and spoken history.  Epics and Folktales of Sakha Republic. Olonkho, as mentioned earlier, are as defined by UNESCO as a “masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity”. They are poetic folk tales or epics that describe the culture and history of the Yakut people and they “reflect Yakut believes, and bear witness to the way of life of a small nation struggling for survival at times of political unrest and under difficult climatic and geographical conditions”. Olonkho can be anywhere from 10 verses to 15,000 and used to be performed in front of crowds, but in recent culture, they are restricted to small theater performances by the shamans. “The epic consists of numerous legends about ancient warriors, deities, spirits, and animals, but also addresses contemporary events, such as the disintegration of nomadic society”. While the Yakut did not alway keep written history and archives, they retained their past with these epics and tales. Museum of Mammoths. An interesting attraction in Yakutsk is the Museum of the Mammoth, formally known as the P.A. Lazarev Mammoth Museum Laboratory. This institution was created after archaeologists unearthed and discovered numerous mammoth and dinosaur artifacts and bones and then transported them to Moscow due to a lack of a laboratory in Yakutia. The laboratory “is a specialized scientific and cultural institution, which conducts the study of mammoth, mammoth faunce, its natural environment in the ice age and spreads the scientific knowledge among people”. The museum was named after the very first Yakut paleontologist in recorded history: Petr Alekseyevich Lazarev. Lena Pillars Nature Park. Most of the Sakha Republic remains undiscovered to this day but, if one travels along the Lena River, they will find the Lena Pillars Nature Park. Along the river stands beautiful, unaltered stones and cliffs that stand around 100m above ground level. Additionally, this site contains huge amounts of “Cambrian fossil remains of numerous species, some of them unique”. Yakutia is a territory with great treasures and history.Conclusion In conclusion, the history of the Yakut in the Sakha Republic is immensely interesting and extensive. Despite not being very well known, the Yakut have slowly but surely made their mark on this planet.  The Sakha Republic is mostly undiscovered but is beyond culturally rich; the demographics, history, language, religion, material culture, folklore, and more are all crucial to understanding the Yakut.

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