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Yukaghir Clothing

Traditional Yukaghir clothing resembles that of the Evens. Unlike Evenk jupe with wide back pleat on the back, Yukaghir jupe had two gores on the back lower part. These gores made an inner pleat, so the Yukaghirs’ neighbors called the Yukaghirs “people with partridge tails” and the Evens were called “people with loon tails”.

Fur jupes (mahil) were treacle-brown or grey, decorated with red-dyed fur of a white-coat seal. Summer suede jupes (naimeke) had hem and flap trimmed with reindeer hairs embroidery of white, red and black colors. Male jupes had seal fur “tail”, doubling by the end. It was dyed red with alder or osier-bed extract. Female jupe had two tails that were sewed down on both sides just above the gores.

A plastron was worn under the jupe. The summer plastron was called ngeun and the winter one was called niniebadun and was made of fur. Sometimes a hair pelt was put under the plastron. A neckpiece of women clothing was made of squirrel tails; men wore scarves made of fox tails. In cold tundra conditions women wore short pants with a plastron and men wore fur pants (kharo). Suede coat (kamleya) worn over hooded fur undercoat could protect the Yukaghirs from severe cold. Fur thigh boots made of reindeer or moose skin were worn over the fur hose. Summer suede boots were knee-high and of a shoe-like construction. Headgear was represented by hood-like fur cap. It was decorated with red piping, fabric or fur. Suede mittens were decorated with red and black stripes and red or white reindeer hairs embroidery.

Suit of clothes (front)
Suit of clothes (behind)
Tundra Yukaghir women in national costumes

Festival clothes was trimmed with colored fur, cloth welt, reindeer hairs embroidery, beads, metal pendants. Descendible silver buttons (“chest sun”) were costly decorations on women’s plastrons. Men used to belt their jupes with leather belts equipped with tobacco bags and sheath. Hunters’ belt (kahlbu) was also tooled up with bags for gunpowder, dried meat and tobacco. In winter, the Yukaghirs wore snow glasses.

Men wore their hair queued. Plait was decorated with iron button or bead strings. Women made several plaits decorated with beads and pearl strings or brazen rings. The cerement clothing was represented by jupe with three fur tails and a steeple-roofed fur headgear. A steeple - roofed headdress reflected Yukaghirs’ belief in mythic ancestor with pointed head. The Yukaghirs began wearing summer fabric clothes (dresses and shirts with a turnover collar) only in the 19th century.

Yukaghir Clothing and Ornament

By the end of 20th century the Upper Kolyma Yukaghirs had faced crisis of ornamental art. The descending art of clothing and household belongings tailoring with the usage of natural materials (fur, pelts, animal, fish and bird leather) is now on the verge of vanishing.

For thousand years the Yukaghirs have hunted forest and tundra ungulate animals (wild reindeer, moose), migrant and resident birds and fish. The raw material was used to make bags, clothing, dwelling coverings and other production of leather and pelts.

People of the North (the beginning of 20th century)
Forest Yukaghirs summer clothing (photo by V.I. Johelson. End of 19th - 20th century)

Male summer clothing (photo by V.I. Johelson. End of 19th -20th century)
Female summer clothing (photo by V.I. Johelson. End of 19th -20th century)
Female summer clothing (photo by V.I. Johelson. End of 19th -20th century)

In 19 – 20th centuries the neighboring reindeer herding tribes provided seminomadic hunters and fishermen with deer farming products. Clothing, reindeer pelts and suede products were gifted or exchanged by the Evens that used to migrate in Kolymsk region with reindeer herds.

Hunting and barter with Evens provided Kolymsk needlewomen with reindeer pelts and leather, kamus, tendon threads and reindeer hairs. In the 1950s the economic relationship between the Evens and the Yukaghirs began to disappear. The European clothing style expansion resulted from lack of raw material. Ready-made clothes replaced all national costumes types except the festival one. Some elements of national clothing are still used as traveling clothes.

Berezovsk Even wearing tight jupe and spread caftan

In the 20th century the Yukaghirs found themselves in economic and cultural isolation form reindeer herding Even household. Forest inhabiting Yukaghirs, moose and fur animal hunters faced a lack of raw material for clothing tailoring. At present, making clothes from store-bought materials is explained as follows:

-there are no wild reindeers in places inhabited by the modern Oduls

-suede and moose pelts are sound enough to sew up a whole costume

-pelts of valuable fur animals are necessary for trading

-reindeer farming material is acquired via administrative, economic and sib relations with the Verkhnekolymsk Evens

- the assortment of goods allows the Yukaghirs to choose the suitable fabric handle and color

These are the reasons for usage of fabric clothing. Tungus influence minimization was simultaneous with Russian influence strengthening. Tungus spread clothing was tailored from 5 pieces: back, two flaps and two sleeves. There were no gores in this type of clothing. Clothing widening is made via sewing fabric overage into pleats on the sides; two small fabric onlays (urdenge) are moved from back to outsteam.

Caftan tailoring

Tungus caftan of 2 pelts
Tungus caftan of 2 pelts
Modern Yukaghir coat. Front elevation (a), back elevation (б), back (в)

In spite of clothing material and construction change decoration semantics remained unchanged. There are only two aspects of decoration change:

  1. Usage of imported materials (fabric, ribbons, braids, beads and imitation jewelry)
  2. Influence of two contradicting ideologies (Christianity and atheism) has annihilated the semantics of decoration and clothing in context of Yukaghir ideology.

The most studied element of Odul clothing is a jupe with plastron. It is considered to be adopter form Tingus culture. V.I. Johelson wrote “..Tungus clothing is less suitable for polar weather conditions than Yukaghir clothing of Chukchi’s type (accentuated by me.-L.Z.). Tight-fitting trousers, chest and belly covering plastron, tight fitting jupe with lower part widening construction make Yukaghir clothing well suited for polar weather.

This type of clothing first appeared in Amur River valley; it was used by nomadic Tungus reindeer herders. A tight-fitting clothes is suitable for skiing and riding in moderate climate conditions. The Yukaghirs used this type of clothing due to style preferences and not its utility.

Mahil jupe

Yukaghir women in national clothing. Nelemnoe village, 1992
Jupe for a 7-8 years old girl. Author: A.V. Sleptsova

Male summer jupe made of a fumed reindeer pelt
Back part of male jupe of Kolyma tundra Yukaghirs

Ningiemun Plastron

Forest Yukaghirs female plastron made of suede. Author-A.V. Sleptsova
Infant fabric plastron Детский передник из ткани. Author-A.V. Sleptsova
Vaduhl female plastron. E.I. Tymkyl
Male plastron of tundra Yukaghirs

Moho headdress

Suede bonnet (E.I. Tymkyl, tudra Yukaghir)
Male bonnet of tundra Yukaghir
Bonnet with head top open. A.V. Sleptsova
Bonnet with “horns” A.V. Sleptsova

The Oo trousers, igidiene belt

Male suede trousers A.V. Sleptsova
Suede and fabric cartridge belt (closed) A.V. Sleptsova
Suede and fabric cartridge belt (open) A.V. Sleptsova

Mureh shoes

Altay type. Female summer shoes (suede) A.V. Sleptsova
Male shoes of fish skin A.V. Sleptsova
West-Siberian type. Female summer shoes (suede)

Molodyo mittens, sharkhul molodyo gloves

Fur mittens. F.A. Shalugina
Male fur gloves. A.V. Sleptsova
Male gloves (suede) D.I. Egorova

The pre-tungus odul originating clothing type in still poorly studied. It might resemble arctic peoples’ jackets. The Tungus and the Yakuts migrated north might have adopted one-piece jacket from the Yukaghir or the Samoyeds (or neighboting peoples – the Koryaks and the Chukchis) clothing. The Tungus adopted one-piece clothing like Yakut khaladay dress; accordingly, their clothing style contains foreign elements, including Yukaghir clothing style. Aboriginal features are poorly studied.

Beauty perception of the forest Yukaghirs.

Yukaghir beauty standard is a slim, light woman with a pretty round face. Dark-colored face was considered ugly, slovenly. A slovenly girl was compared to a wolverine with casting coat. In oral tradition human beauty is compared to that of a tree:

«... when I saw her height,
Like a slim larch she was,
When I saw her face–
Like yellow fir needles it was...».

Yukaghir girls and young women used to queue their hair in one, two or more plaits that were decorated with beads or brazen rings. Modern girls fillet their hair with red ribbon. Tendon string with beads, metal buttons or coins was used as earrings. Tendon string was fixed to the ear with a small knot. Wooden or bone combs (angiyeh/yongiyeh) were used for hair combing. Men did not cut their hair. They usually wore their hair covering ears or queued in plaits decorated with metal buttons or bead strings. In oral folklore a girl compares her beloved’s hair with squirrel tails:

«... I see Egor; he has grown up
Like a young ashberry.
I saw his hair on his shoulders
Were like squirrel tails.
In another song a girl poetically describes a young man’s appearance:

«... His bones are like
Young larch tree.
His clothes are red as larch needles.
So handsome he is! Just like the sun».
(according to V.I. Johelson). Young man’s beauty was compared to moonlight.

Clothing markings-yomdyileh

Sometimes a needlewoman marks clothing she made with a special marking. It is a “targeted” sign for the one who receives this clothing. There markings differed and reflected the feeling of an author towards a future owner. Yomdyileh can be compared to the individual nickname reflecting owner’s features and qualities or to personal ditties - shiishii that gave a rhythmical characteristic to a person.

A mother making her son’s clothing “writes” on it: “Come back in one piece”. A wife marks her husband’s traveling clothes: “Don’t forget me in your long journey”. A needlewoman’s message for a hunter: “Let this clothing give you warmth”. For example, on the clothing of a Nelemnoe village hunter, V.G. Shalugin, his mother, F.A. Shalugina had embroidered a loop on his traveling clothes. On his headdress, mittens and a bag she made a leather loop so he could not loose his possessions and could hand these things to dry them. Evenk needlewoman had made clothes for him and every element was decorated with leather tinderbox made of leather string.

Another needlewoman from Arga-Tasa has sewn clothing with yomdileh in the shape of a noose. There were also markings in the shape of flowers, brushes of leather strings, fabric and leather.


L.N. Dyomina in suede jupe decorated with solar symbols

Decoration and ornament

Larch arc with 7 rays (built in 1992 in Nelemnoe village).

The handiwork of Yukaghir needlewomen was famous for its nicety and elegance. Clothing was decorated with reindeer hairs (enshidaayem), tendons, leather strings (moshodyaya), colored suede, splint, fish skin, fabric, beads, colored strings. It was also decorated with piping (abudyeh), fur welt, bells (yongsyo), jingles, brazen and silver buttons, pendants and rings.

Strings of light and colored suede were fringed. The collar and shoes were decorated with fabric horse-shoe galloons. These galloons symbolized sun and had from 3 to 7 “rays”. These sun-like pictures can be found on petroglyphic drawings in Middle Lena, Aldan, Amur rivers regions. They are age-dated at late Neolithic-Bronze Age (from Second to the First Thousand years B.C.). Sun rays are drawn with red sienna and have different shape of square and polygonal figures, starry ovals. These drawings symbolize sun or sky god.

It is possible that these drawings were left by the pre-yukaghir tribes inhabiting the territory of modern Yakutia in late Neolithic-Bronze age. These galloons may be the traces of sun-worship cult that has been preserved till present time. It represents bonds between Yukaghir culture and aboriginal ancient natural philosophy.

In June 1992, a larch arc with 7 rays was erected for the First Yukaghir Conference in Nelemnoe village. The same ornament decorates the school gate in Nelemnoe village.

Gate ornament. School n.a. Teki Odulok

Solar symbols are complemented by two vertical galloons on the flaps (false pockets-yuukon urdengi/ordyoonghi – small center of a jupe). Female summer jupes always had false pockets, but sun symbol around the collar was not necessary present. False pockets were made of the same fabric as the rest of the clothing; they were often colored black and red with no additional ornament. Vertical galloons were of only symbolical meaning. They symbolized sky (solar) rain that gives universal strength to every living creature just like the petroglyphic sun does. Yuukon ordyoonghi is considered to be a symbol of wealth.

Suede bag with yelyoodyo ornament

The principle of contrast is widely applied in national clothing tradition: contrast colors of suede, cloth, kamus, leather and beads. Contrast along with geometric basis of the ornament is the cultural heritage of the Yukaghirs. The main semantic colors and contrasts are: light and dark fur and kamus; yellow and brown suede; white and colored reindeer hairs; black and red fabric. Red palette of plastrons with bright stripes differed Even blue palette.

The specialists emphasize delicate and sophisticated of plastron ornament. Full-decorated Yukaghir clothing in traditional palette doesn’t look pretentious. It symbolizes people’s health and stability. Modern Yukaghir clothing decoration is not as wealthy as Dolgan and Even clothing that was always full-decorated.

Yukaghir ornament is represented by geometrical lines: lines, dotted lines, zigzag, angles, stripes, triangles, squares, rounds and semicircles.

Sometimes ornaments depict human beings or plants.

Upper Kolyma Yukaghirs: Spiridon K. Spiridonov, Asanasy E. Solntsev and a Lower Kolyma Yukaghir woman Matryona N. Tohktosova. 1994

Solar ornament (yelyoodyo) was the most popular depiction. The Sun God was the leader of Yukaghir pantheon. The main Yukaghir festival (shakhadyiibeh) was devoted to the Sun. Large solar-shaped pendant (meluth-podyorkho – the light of the chest) was sown down on the female plastron.

There is a story in Yukaghir folklore that says about the “chest light” that was thrown by the kids and turned into sea to save kids from the ogre. The Odul clothing was decorated with solar symbolic. In modern culture the solar symbol is embroidered with red beads with several colored circles inside the main symbol. In the end of the 20th century solar symbol became popular as decoration for summer shirts, bags, headdress, shoes and plastrons. The center of solar circle is of then marked by a bead.

Shoes with yonmiedyeh decoration

Yelyoodyo is embroidered with reindeer or moose hairs; red hairs interchange with white hairs. Sun symbolizes sacred innocence; it is an averter used to impress sense of invincibility, confidence, strength and bravery. Inscribed circles with dots are called kuzhuun sherile (rainbow - sky ornament), odun lochipegy (northern lights-Yukaghir lights), andyeh (an eye, superior). Eye-circle is regarded as averter against evil spirits and disease demons. To embroider the eye in the center of clothing means to protect a person from evil.

The yonmiedyeh (young larch tree, young man) is another important symbol in Yukaghir culture. Yonmiedyeh was embroidered on plastrons (it was placed above ornamental stripes); it was used to decorate bags and shoes. It was found among petroglyphic drawings in ancient Yakutia, on shaman plastrons of Evens, on Tundra Yukaghir clothing.

Yukaghir ornament patterns


Yonmiedyeh has two main motives: a man and a tree. Unity of these motives is explained by unity of ancestor cult and a tree cult in Yukaghir culture. This ornament was drawn in natural coloring: sienna, colored clay. Oogii nodo noil ornament is embroidered only on male clothing. It is considered to be a godspeed for a hunter. It is sewn with reindeer hairs with colored strings or beads.

The Same Culture

There are no important and unimportant aspects in studying Siberia traditional cultures. A child’s rhyme, an ornament element or a clothing element can lead us to a discovery. Yukaghir clothing is an important study material. Odul clothing had several functions:

  1. The main function is to protect people from cold and wind
  2. Protective function. “Horns” on the headdress, round flat pendants on jupe’s back, bells, yomdyileh markings were to protect their owner. Sun ornament was to protect the owner from evil spirits.
  3. Informative function. Male belts ornament was used as identification marking. Female clothing had a special marking showing woman’s social position. Married women wore leather belt (10 cm length) on jupe’s sleeve. Women used to hang a headdress on it when they visited neighbors. Then a woman could put a headdress somewhere she liked. These jupes were called “jupes with bonnets”. Single women had no such belt. Old married women wore this belt near the waist. A widow’s jupe had no belt. If she was to remarry, a belt was fixed to her jupe again. So, this belt was to convey information about a woman without any words.
  4. national-cultural aspect. It was a part of material culture. It carried symbolic expression of national cosmology. These are mythological models of Universe depicted on clothing (solar cult etc.).

The second and the fourth functions may be considered as Yukaghir culture markings. By the end of the 20th century clothing had lost its informative functions. Protective meaning of closes has lost its importance too. Clothing ornament now depicts only religious or mythological aspects of Yukaghir culture as the most archaic elements. Personal identification functions were lost.

The pre-shamanic ideology has preserved in hunting cults. Oral culture gives us enough material to study basis of Yukaghirs ideology.

Source: L.N. Zhukova. Yukaghir clothing. Origin and semantics, 2009
V.I. Johelson. The Yukaghirs and the Yukaghir-like Tungus, 2005


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