Applied and Decorative Arts and Music

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Applied and Decorative Arts and Music

Yukaghirs – are one of the ancient peoples that were widely spread all over North-East Asia. There are many evidences of artwork that remained from the ancient times to the modern days. First of all, these are cave drawings painted in red ochre, decorated Neolithic earthenware, ornamented works made of bone, beads, necklaces, etc.

Monumental cave paintings along northern rivers show a realistic image of animals used for trading. The majority of these pictures show elks.

Pictures of elks on the caves of Yakutia

Illustrations of people appeared on the regional petroglyphs in the Neolithic age. These are sharp-, round- and horn-headed anthropomorphous fantastic figures; some of them have a pair of three fingers and toes. The drawings are single or grouped together; some are illustrated with animals or other creatures.

Anthropomorphous figures – scale drawings of Yakutia

In the Neolithic, Bronze and early Iron ages household goods were decorated with a geometrical decorative pattern. Thus, on the upturn and body of clay jars there were rows of carved and ridged ornaments, through holes, glued on nosing, etc. The ornament was placed on the top part of the jars. The bottom part was well-rounded so that it would be easier to put it on the fire.

The shape and ornament of the late Neolithic age jars Mason jar from the in Yakutia
Ulakhan Segelyannakh encampment (restored model)

In early Iron Age the Aboriginal tribes lose their tradition of drawing cave paintings and producing ceramics. Scientists still haven’t figured out why this happened. At this point it’s difficult to characterize this period of development in the Yukaghir arts and crafts.

V. Yokhelson

At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, the founder of Russian Yukaghir studies, politically exiled Vladimir Yokhelson (1855–1937) had done some research in the Kolyma region. He gathered a significant collection of items, characterizing the arts and crafts of forest Yukaghir hunters of the Upper Kolyma region. Below is an abstract from a chapter of his huge monograph “Yukaghirs and Yukaghir assimilated Tungus”. The book was first published in English in 1926 in New York. The author mostly focuses on the description of the unique pictographic writing on birch bark.

V. Yokhelson. Arts and pictographic writing (from “Yukaghirs and Yukaghir assimilated Tungus”)

The pictographic writing of the Upper Kolyma Yukaghirs disappeared at the beginning of the 20th century for the following objective reasons: when the Soviet government came to power the population of North Asia became educated, there appeared new office supplies, and the need to use such a writing utensil as birch bark disappeared.

In the half-nomad lifestyle conditions the Aboriginal tribes carried only the most important and necessary things with them. The Yukaghir women are very handy in making large and small pouches, bags for transporting food products, clothes, household goods, arrow quivers. They stitched blankets made of rabbit fur, coverings for portable homes made of leather.

However by the end of the 20th century Yukaghirs faced a crisis in the art and crafts: the arts of stitching from natural material – fur, hide, animal skin, birds and fish that was passed on through generations was on the verge of extinction.

Nowadays there are several handy women among the forest Yukaghirs of Upper Kolyma that sew clothes, pouches, small rugs and souvenirs. Akulina Sleptsova (1930–2010) is the most famous among them.

A. Sleptsova and etnographer L. Djukova, the Nelemnoye village, 2007

The works of A. Sleptsova

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Maryana’s (A. Sleptsova’s granddaughter) jupe and apron

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Women’s apron and men’s pants made of chamois leather

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Bonnets with horns and open top

Women’s holiday koliberki (winter boot made of fur )
Men’s shoes made of fish skin
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Men’s winter hunting mittens and gloves made of chamois leather

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A pouch made of goose feet (front and rear view)

A pouch made of swan feet
A pouch made of fish skin
A pouch made of deer skin with amulets made of deer teeth

Her oar clothing masterpieces are preserved in the museums of St.- Petersburg, Vladivostok, Magadan and Yakutsk cities; Many of her masterpieces are used to illustrate scientific literature and textbooks. A. Sleptsova learned how to sew from her mother, a Yukaghir woman, M. Dyachkovskaya. A. Sleptsova was a permanent counselor of the Nelemninskaya high school in the sphere of language, folklore and material culture. Lyubov’ Dyemina is a participant of many expositions of North peoples craft in Moscow, St.-Petersburg, Yakutsk cities and the district center of Ziryanka village in the Verhnekolymsky region of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia).

L. Dyemina’s masterpieces

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L. Dyemina
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Pectoral jewelry (skin and fish fins, beads, spangles)

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Pouches made of bird feet (chamois leather, beads, fish fins)

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Indirgiya pouches and rugs made of bird skin (chamois leather, fur, beads, leather)

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Collage “Fish” (chamois leather, fish bones, fins and bird skin). Rattle ball made of fish skin. Collage “Owl” (chamois leather, bird skin)


The masterpieces of the Upper Kolyma handy women perfectly show the modern period of traditional arts and crafts. The handy women make different items of winter and summer women’s, men’s and children’s everyday and hunting clothes, headdresses from chamois leather and fur, shoes, mittens and gloves, skillfully sew women’ s pouches for handicraft and small pouches indiyirgy made of fish and bird skin (swan, goose) as well as pectoral jewelry.

A wood carving

The modern arts and crafts of forest Yikaghirs includes wood carving. In 1990–1991 V. Shalugin, who lives in the Nelemnoye village and knows the language and national culture, made 6 hieratical anthropomorphic sculptures (made of poplar and osier-bed), they are 15–20cm high.


According to the type of head contour they are divided into 3 groups: sharp-headed (б), round-headed (а,в,д,е), horned (г). According to the shape of the foundation they are divided in the same way: with a flat, sharp and divided end. The guards of home (а, б) have distinctive archaic features. The guard of children (в) was to be placed with the sharp end into the earth near the facture. The woodcarvers would make him round-headed and smiling.

The guard of hunting (г) has an anthropomorphic mask topped with elk horns. The entire low surface carved in an amorphic style is covered with carved pictures of animals, birds and hunting tools.

The containers of spirits that help women (д,е) had utilitarian purpose. They were used to hold hot pans. For this purpose the legs at the bottom are carved in the shape of a holder bat. The collection of masterpieces created by V. Shalugin show diversity of forms in the small hieratical plastic arts of the oduls at the end of the 20th century.

Article by Jukova L. N.

List of references

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  13. Сельскому учителю о народных художественных ремеслах Сибири и Дальнего Востока. – М., 1983. – С. 143–146.
  14. Симченко Ю.Б. Культура охотников на оленей Северной Евразии. – М.: Наука, 1976. – 311 с.
  15. Спиридонов Н.И. (Тэки Одулок). Одулы (юкагиры) Колымского округа. – Якутск: Северовед, 1996. – 80 с.
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Maxim Dutkin
A handy woman
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