Customs and beliefs

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"When in spring, on the snow crust, the Yukaghir go elk hunting… before roaming they make an arch from two trees with a crossbar. They suspend squirrel, hare or fox skin on this arch and adorn it with multicolored rags, ribbons, dyed reindeer hair and other sacrifices and, wearing road dresses, armed, with skis and staffs, the Yukaghir go through the ark in the following order: old men go ahead and then other industrialists, after them women with children, dogs and loaded sledges”. The elder in a clan delivered a prayer to pied’en moye – the spirit of elk:

"The master, father of elk, be pitiful,
Have a heart!
Don’t kill us,
Look at our torments!
How you fed us before –
Please don’t leave this."

“On the last encampment returning from the roaming the old women made an expurgatory, or thanksgiving ceremony. Between two trees they extended a rope (dal’bere) which they interlaced with flaps of colored cloth, bead strings and all the family members got under this”. The period of roaming depended on the hunting success, as a rule it ended before snow melting and the beginning of the preparation for floating to the place of collective summer festival.”


Nationwide holiday of the Yukaghir took place in June, when hunting season was over and the time for winter fish stocking up didn’t come yet. The place of such gatherings where clans from the different Kolyma tributaries came together was called shakhadyibe. The festival consisted of the all-tribal meeting, feasts, games, dances, and various competitions. It demonstrated to the main Yukaghir deity – the Sun – peace, love and harmony which all the earth inhabitants should seek. One of the orations to the Sun, recorded by V.I.


Yokhelson, say: “Pugud-emey, tet pugodyele mitul pugulbik, end’ebon tet pugod’ele mitin keyk! Shayhar-landet kieche erchebon yedugude yotnik. – Sun Mother, impart your warmth to us, give us food with you warmth! From elsewhere coming evil is, draw it aside”.

P.Ye. Prokopyeva, L.N. Zhukova.


Contents

Spiritual Culture. Rituals. Holidays. Folklore.

Illustrations to Oduls fairytales and legends (by L. Dyatchkova-Duskulova) (1-5)


Pyotr Berbekin

1. Pyotr Berbekin

Child birth. If there is a difficult child delivery, then Yukaghirs, like most of the other people are expected to untie the straps on their clothes and footwear, but not only the birthing mother’s straps, but also the straps of all those, who are present, as well as the strings of sacks and pouches; and lastly, they had to open all the boxes and trunks and most importantly, the chimney. In the traditions of the Russified population, if there was a church nearby, they would ask the priest to open the front door, when the birth pangs began (Yokhelson, 2005, p.303-304). V. I. Yokhelson found that the Taiga Yukaghirs didn’t have the tradition of celebrating a wedding, but they celebrated the birth of a first child. From that moment on the child’s parents lost their names and starting from that point, were called Father and Mother of such-and-such (Yokhelson, 1898, p. 259).


Yukaghirs strongly believe in the circulation of souls. This part of their worldview is a typical feature of the North-East Siberia native inhabitants. Therefore, they only give the born child a name after he starts to talk and they can find out which relative’s soul returned from the Spirit World and took the shape of their child. If they don’t manage to find anything out in the manner described above, than they enumerate the names of those relatives that passed away in front of the child. If the child suddenly smiles, then the soul of an ancestor with that name came back to the human world. The Yakut that have long lived in the Kolyma region next to Yukaghirs borrowed this belief, although the Yakut’s worldview about the dead strongly differ from the Yukaghir worldview. Thus, V. I. Yokhelson brings up a story about a Yakut boy, who was given the name Ivan, but everyone called him Pavel. It appeared that the boy’s first words were a phrase telling how he along with the other people died from smallpox in Dyargatakh region and how they all went to the Spirit World horseback on one horse. Then people recalled this epidemic in Dyargatakh region, where their relative Pavel was one of those, who died from smallpox and only one sacrificial horse was killed on their grave (Yokhelson, 1898, p. 234).


The last offices. Most of the Yukaghir traditional last offices among Yukaghirs that were Christianized earlier than their neighbors, disappeared before the times of V. I. Yokhelson. They started to put graves into the ground. However, due to larch-tree’s durability, the main local tree, by the end of the 19th century, there were still remains of ancient burial above the ground – with graves standing on dais. The daises were set on two or four pillars. In the past The Tungus people were also buried in such way.


A man’s grave was often made of his own twig-like canoe: Yukaghirs cut the boat aslant and joined planks using wooden nails (Yukaghirs, 1975, p.77). The Trans-Baikal Evenkis had a similar ritual that passed on to the west, to the peoples of the Ural group. It is likely, that it first referred to the Siberian and European settled autochthons, where fishing was a very important role in their life. Yet now it is difficult to prove this ritual’s common ancestry, moreover, in these mythological beliefs there has to be a river, representing a road that links the worlds of the dead and alive; Yukaghirs don’t have this, unlike the Evenks that are considered to be ecdemic people, and furthermore nomadic. A grave made of a cut boat could have another possible meaning –from the mythological pragmatics: to leave the departed the things necessary for his eternal life (similar to his life on Earth), but to ruin them, so that they would die too and go to the last home with the departed. Both Yukaghirs and Tungus people purposely break and ruin things left at the grave. They make recesses in the burial clothes.


However while the departed hasn’t gone to the last home yet, he lies in a plague on his bed with his feet facing the exit under the bed curtain. At the same time his relatives may finish making the essential parts of his burial clothes; when the family sits down for its usual meal, the family members also invite the departed to join the meal and “feed” him as well with pieces of food that they throw into the fireplace. Finally, they get him dressed and remove the some of the perches near his bedside in order to carry him out of the plague. After they take him out of the plague, they put three intercrossed poles on the spot where he lay, to close the pathway back home (Yokhelson, 2005, p.323-324). They put the things that the departed might need for his further journey and eternal life – a pipe, tobacco pouch, a small supply of tea brew, a bow, wooden models of three arrows, a knife and a hatchet for men and bag with sewing kit for women.


The Tundra Yukaghirs put the grave on sledges and harnessed a reindeer into them; then they killed this reindeer on the burial spot by piercing him in the heart with a knife in such a way, so that he would go through long convulsions before dying. At the same time, those, who are seeing the departed off take turns to hurry the reindeer with a trochee. It was considered, that the longer it takes him to die, the faster he “carries” the departed one. If the reindeer died too fast, it was considered to be a bad sign – some sort of an obstacle on the way. They hacked out the sacrificial reindeer’s frontal bone and antlers. They hanged the frontal bone on an imitation of four supporting perches of the plague raised above the grave together with a cross and an icon. The Tundra Yukaghirs cooked and ate the sacrificial reindeer’s meet right at the burial spot. They burned the reindeer’s bones, hide and the departed one’s clothes (Yukaghirs, 1975, p.77). The Taiga Yukaghirs placed a ridgelike tent with a cross as tomb emplacement.


Beliefs.

Like most peoples, whose life was closely connected with hunting, Yukaghirs believed that animals understand the human language. Thus, they made up an allegorical language, with the help of which they talked about hunting (Creynovich, 1972, p.64-65).


In connection with hunting, we must point out Yukaghirs’ idea of a woman as physiologically impure being, a view typical of all the peoples of Siberia. So common prohibitiobns for women were the following: to step over the blood of killed animals, to step on the fresh skins and hunting tools, to put her clothes on these tools and her husband’s clothes, and to step on bird feathers. Among the Yukaghir hunters’ beliefs that differ from the beliefs of the neighboring peoples is the prohibition for a woman to look into the eyes of killed elks and reindeer. This was especially uncomfortable, when the housewife had to remove the animal’s skin. Women were not allowed to eat meat from the elk’s head as well as his brain. Yukaghirs never passed across an elk’s trail; they could only pass along it. Hunters carefully saw to it that the dogs wouldn’t get a single piece from the elk’s heart and liver.


The elk’s skull was buried on the dais. They treated large hunting animals like distinguished guests. The prohibition system was aimed at the continuation of animal capture and, consequently, at the animal’s futher coming to the hunter’s home. Yukaghirs didn’t bring a killed bear into the house at all, thinking that human home can’t be to clean for such an honorable guest. Only men ate bear’s meat. Both Yukaghirs and the Tungus placed a bear’s skull at the human height level in fork of osier-bed twigs. Small fowl’s skulls – rabbits’ and ducks’ were also protected from violation. Yukaghirs threw them into the fire or drown them in water.


The hunter and the animals he caught had special trust relations due to constant performance of “respectful” rituals. Yukaghirs thought that, if the animal “doesn’t like” the hunter, then he will kill him (Yokhelson, 1898, p. 262).


The worshiping of the Mistress of Fire is one of the common ritually formed beliefs that V. I. Yokhleson pointed out and that still exist in the Yukaghir culture. This kind of worshipping still exists among the majority of the peoples of Siberia, but it has a more specific and brighter meaning in the Yukaghir culture. The Mistress of Fire lives in the family’s hearth and home and travels with the family. It’s impossible to light the fire without her. Yukaghirs see her as little naked girl in the burning fire. She is bald. When the fire goes out, she soars above the coals and blows on them, thus a blue flame occurs. One can ask her questions and then she gives an answer in the form of a crackling sound that is usually considered to be a negative answer (Yokhelson, 2005, p.220). Hunters always feed her with pieces of caught food and ask her for help in hunting.


This creature’s genetic viability is seen in the story written by the forest Yukaghirs in 1999 in the Nelemnoye village from Lyudmila Shadrina, born in 1957: “My niece, Olesya was first taken to the forest when she was eight”. There wasn’t that much fish that year. In the evening, when everyone was going to bed, she sprang out of the tent and ran out to the dying out fire, with something clutched in her fist. And everyone is sitting near the tents, watching her say something to the fire and throw something into it. She had finished the ritual, ran back inside the tent and everyone pretended to be fast asleep. She lay down and whispered to her father, my brother Kolya: “Dad, you’ll catch white salmon tomorrow”.


Early in the morning Kolya went to check the fishing-net and suddenly his cry was heard across the river: “White salmon! I caught it!” (PMA, 1999.) The preservation of the fire worshipping is can be explained by close ties to ancestors worshipping; with the help of fire the Yukaghirs sent them requests and oblations from the living descendants. This emphasizes the feeding of the fire ritual during hunting, because the ancestors’ good will is one of the explanations for successful hunting.


The “feeding” of the river after the ice drift was another ritual that the Taiga Yukaghirs still have today. The people would plea the river to save people’s lives and gave it beads as gift. Possibly improvised songs dedicated to the river are linked to this custom; the Tundra Yukaghirs also have this ritual. Back in the 1980’s old men had recorded these songs. They usually sang these songs during the first set-off after the ice-shift (PMA, 1999).


Shamanism.

Today we can clearly state that the last Yukaghir shamans lived back in the middle of the 20th century. At the turn of the 19-20th century V. I. Yokhelson managed to meet with a few shamans and to describe their clothes and their quacking. His works reflect the basic ideas of Yukaghir shamans (Yokhelson, 2005, p.235-302). Besides, there is a number of published memorates, recorded a while ago by Yukaghir elders (Jukova, Prokopyeva, 1991). The fact that Yukaghirs were close to the Russian cultural environment has long since sent shamanism into the back light, and didn’t allow it to expand to such huge forms that existed in the culture of the neighboring Tungus and Yakut cultures.

The Master of the Earth

Yohelson’s works state that the Yukaghir design of shamans’ clothes at the turn of the 19-20th century was influenced by the Evenks and Yakuts shaman culture. At the same time, old men told Yokhelson, that in the past the ritual shaman clothes didn’t differ much from everyday clothes, unless it was richly decorated tassels and embroidery, like the women’s clothes (Yokhelson, 2005, p.244). This assertion, on the one hand, proves that Yukaghirs belong to the North-East paleo-Asiatic culture complex along with Koryaks, Chuckchas and Itelmens.


The Master of the World

2.The Master of the World

On the other hand, the national memory shows a comparatively young Evenks and Yakut shaman culture complex occurrence among Yukaghirs. First of all, this complex includes iron pendents on the ritual clothes, tambourine with a cross-shaped handle inside, as well as iron antlers on the ritual hat. Yikaghir shamans didn’t have that much iron pendents in comparison with the Evenk and Yakut shamans. Sun and moon discs were the compulsory elements; they were fastened to shaman’s back and were necessary as a source of light in journeys to other worlds. A lot of fringe in the costume was another compulsory element of shaman’s clothes.


Yokhelson’s materials show that the Evens, Yuakaghirs closest neighbors had a different tradition in decorating shaman costumes – the clothes were richly decorated with ornamental appliqué work and not metal pendents. Yukaghir shaman clothes that Yokhelson bought from two shamans doesn’t have the features above mentioned. However, it is pointless to search for any regularities in the times of Yokhelson and after that from the point of view of the ethnic tradition, because back then, Yukaghirs already lived next to the Evens and the Yakut. Yokhelson mentioned one shaman, who helped one Koryak to quack. This Koryak marrieda woman from the shaman’s tribe and after the Koryak shaman’s death, that Yukaghir married the widow and received the Koryak shaman’s spirits.

In addition, the Yukaghir’s main spirit was Yakut (because his mother was Yakut) and he spole through the shaman in the Yakut language. Yakut shamanism is popular among Yukaghirs, because in they mention Yakut gods in their prayers (Ayii – the God of the Upper World), which in the Yulaghir version looks like (Ayi); there is also a great number of Yakut spirits. Also this text along with Ayi mentions 8 cardinal points of the world (winds) that are relative to the 8 corners of the Master of the World’s nomad tent. These features are typical of Yakut incantations. The Yukaghir nomad tent has no corners, unlike the immovable chipped Yakut one.


Despite the fact, that the Yukaghir shaman tambourines seen by Yokhelson refer to the Yakut and the Evenks complex along with the clothes, or that they are of the Even type, their metaphysical function is totally different. If their neighbors, like the majority of Siberian peoples regard the shaman tambourine as a transport source, than tYukaghirs regard it as a lake, into which the shaman dives in order to reach the Underworld. Yukaghir terminology proves that fact: “lake”, “tambourine”, and “to shaman” – all these words have the same root. Thus, in order to use a tambourine, a shaman has to concentrate his gaze on its surface. It’s very difficult to dance with the tambourine, like the Tungus and Yakut do in this position.


In his comments to the instrumentation Yokhelson writes that Yukaghir technique differs a lot from the Tungus technique: the first one is smooth, rhythmic, and dreamy; the second one is frantic and disorderly. To this we can add that, probably, the forest Nents used the shaman technique, similar to Yukaghir, where the shaman beat the tambourine, turning its tympanum towards him. Then we can get another proof of related closeness of the Ural (or to be more exact, the understratum) and Yukaghir peoples, that a certain number of linguists and anthropologists are trying to specify.


The Russian old-timers thought of Yukaghirs as sorcerers, because there was a tambourine almost in every house, where the extinct Yukaghirs lived before. Thus, Yokhelson draws a conclusion that in the past the tambourine was a mundane musical instrument among Yukaghirs, Koryaks, Chuckchas and Eskimos (Yokhelson, 2005, p. 272). However, this is a controversial fact, because none of the people of Siberia use the tambourine in such a way, with the exception of Eskimos, with their specific culture of sea animal hunters and a different origin from the other peoples,


Koryaks and Chuckchas, who are also sea-hunters, borrowed the idea of using a tambourine from the Eskimos; but Yukaghirs never had such forms and they never hunted on sea animals. They were probably family status tambourines, used to solve simple shaman problems. This could have been done during seasonal hunting periods, where Yukaghirs went in small group and lived separately from each other for a certain period of time. One didn’t necessarily have to be a shaman to solve such problems as, for example, predicting which path to choose in order to find animals. Moreover, the paleo-Asiatic peoples didn’t make a clear distinction between the concepts shaman and not a shaman; it mostly depended on the circumstances and the mood.


The shamanism that Yokhelson saw and thoroughly described referred to typical of Siberia rituals of healing the ill. It was considered that the evil spirits were responsible for the people’s illnesses and death. These spirits push the soul of the human body and then it goes to the spirit world. Yukaghirs believed that the person couldn’t just die because of the old age. The shaman’s goal was not only to retrieve the evil spirit out of the ill person’s body, but also to return the soul of the ill person back from the world of his passed away relatives. During these group rituals it was typical to turn the icons face side to the wall. The shaman took off his cross during quacking and passed it to his assistant. Young women and grownup women with mensal were not allowed to participate in the ritual. All this was done in order not to scare away the shaman spirit-assistants. The shaman couldn’t heal illnesses of “Russian origin”, i.e., illnesses brought to this area by the Russian population – influenza, measles, and syphilis. However, smallpox, the source of many deaths among the Yukaghir population went into the shaman pantheon as “the Mother who was brought and settled here from the Russian land”. In their prayer books shamans refer to it as a deity that can only be beseeched.


Unlike the majority of the peoples of Siberia with their Tungus shaman “school”, in the Yukaghir traditions the shaman’s assistant and the audience don’t help the shaman sing. However in some part of quacking they have their words for the shaman and his spirits, according to the established scenario. In the times when Yokhelson lived, shamans also brought good luck during the beginning of the hunting season. To do so, the shaman “went” to the Master of the World. He would persuade him to give him something to eat, without walking into his home, standing outside the doorway. The Master of the World usually gave him a spirit soul of a male or female reindeer. The Master of the World usually gave the spirit of male reindeer, if, for some reason, he didn’t like the shaman or his people. The shaman would “return” with an invisible gift and tied it to the hunter’s head with an invisible rope. Meanwhile, he sang, giving the hunter hints, where he could come across the given animal.


The prediction had to be completely approved. However, a killed male reindeer didn’t presignify further luck in hunting; meanwhile, a female reindeer promised further luck in the given hunting season. There were shamans, who would steal the soul spirits of the animals from the Master of the World and this didn’t bid anything good nor for the shaman, nor for the people in his custody. Shamans cured women’s sterility the same way: he had to take a soul of the patient’s relative from the spirit world. The sterility and miscarriages were considered to be the outcome of the departed relative souls’ anger from the spirit world for not honoring and commemorating them. The shaman had to persuade them to give him a soul; otherwise, he took the soul by force. In this case, a baby was born, but didn’t live long. For this reason, the people pleaded the shaman not to do so, and to arrange the matter with the departed relatives, so that they would send the spirit soul to the middle world with the shaman of their own free will.


Like most of the peoples of Siberia, Yukaghir shamans made amulets: they would infuse different spirits into the miniature wooden people. Some of them protected from different misfortunes and were made for children, women and travelers, others brought luck in different hunting – there were images of animals, birds and fish on them.


Powerful shaman could fight against natural disasters. One old Yukaghir man from the Nelemnoye village, Spiridon Spiridonov, born in 1923 told a story about this. It happened in his childhood, i.e., at the end of the 1920’s. There was a huge fire in the taiga and the wind carried fire towards the nomad camp, as ill luck would have it, the sky was clear, not a rain could to be seen. A shaman Semyen, N. Likhachev’s grandfather, lived with them back then and the people asked him to prevent the natural disaster. “The shaman told my father: “Give me some tobacco!” Father had American tobacco, the shaman had a big smoking pipe, he stuffed the tobacco into it, sat down to smoke by his Urasa (an old type of Yakut summer dwelling) and he kept looking to the north.

He only drew the pipe once, took it out and held it near the right ear, as if someone invisible was smoking at his right side. He finished smoking the tobacco. He tells us kids: “Go into the urasa”. Then we saw a small cloud appear from the north beyond the horizon and began to grow quickly. We hid inside the urasa, but the shaman stayed outside. The next moment there was a huge rainfall! We were drenched inside the urasa. It lasted 15 minutes, then it all stopped. We came out and everything was wet. The fire was extinguished, but the shaman was all dry. As if there was no rain. “How come you didn’t get soaked? I asked him. “Why do I have to get soaked?” Then he drank tea with us and told us that he has two young men among his shaman spirits (they never leave his side, they were the one’s smoking) and there is the strongest spirit – a young woman. He send her to get water from the Arctic ocean. She brought it holding it in her mouth and spilled it the moment she came back. There was no shaman stronger than him in that region and all the way to Chuckotka back then. People were afraid of him, but he was a nice shaman, he defended his people. In 1936 he died of measles – there was an epidemic in our region”.


Yukaghir shamans also had the ability to summon a person or a domestic deer. Irina Kuriliva had this ability. Her great-grandfather, a shaman of the Alazay Yukaghirs, Samon Yeguor (Shamanov Yegor) passed on his shaman things to V. I. Yokhelson at the Tundra Yukaghir leader’s request. Deer were summoned in the 40’s, when one summer riding deer were so reduced that people couldn’t travel from place to place. Then they asked Irina to summon riding deer from the nearby herd. The next morning, after the ritual, a deer, who’s nickname they didn’t know, brought five riding deer. In terms of summoning people, these rituals were very rare, because a person could die on the way (Yukaghir Folklore, 2005, p.42-43, 456-459).


A stone woman

3. A stone woman

The dissection of the dead ancestral shaman body in order to make fetish out of him that were given out to his relatives, was one of the most impressive and ancient complexes of Yukaghir shamanism that the other peoples of Siberia didn’t have. They put on special gloves and masks for this purpose and used iron tilting dogs as an instrument. The skin and meat were separated from bones and the inner body organs were sun-dried. If there were many relatives, then a piece of clothes soaked with the dead shaman’s blood served as a fetish. The skull was considered to be the main sacrament. They made a wooden body and mask for him with slits for eyes and mouth, that also reflected the features of his face. They also sew clothes for the idol, placed it in the front corner of the house and “fed” it before each meal and funked him with the smoke from the pieces of food that burned down in the fireplace.


They also fed it before asking for a piece of advice on some important matter. Supposedly, there were 3 answer variants: positive, negative and indifferent. They put the idol on the ground and, having asked the question, raised it. If the ancestor agreed, then he became light; if he disagreed, then it was impossible to lift him off the ground, and then people abandoned their ideas. If the idol’s weight remained the same, then the people solved the problem on their own. Thus, there had to be one living and one dead shaman in Yukaghir generation. The dead shaman connected the living relative with their passed away ancestors, the living relatives’ prosperity depended on them. So, Yukaghir thought that the living shaman often worked together with the dead one, and this, it seems, has a greater effect, than working alone.

Today we have no examples of Yukaghir masks made of shaman skulls, but in the times of Yokhelson, there were some living witnesses of shaman meat storages. These storages looked like tents covered with soil and lined with turf. Hunters brought the antlers of a killed elk or deer here, after a fortunate hunting journey. They took out shaman’s meat when it was necessary – they carried them on their chest in stitched bags as a guard. If a Yukaghir had a sun-dried shaman organ, then he made a wooden figure out and tied it to the organ, thus it became a charm. The heart and liver were exceptionally valuable. The Omoloy Yukaghirs used this type of a tent before the times of Yokhelson. By that time they had already changed two languages and spoke in the Yakut language.


The Siberian peoples’ masks are used locally. Thus, it was discovered that wooden masks with slits for the eyes and mouth and a particular portrayed similarity were one of the most cherished items among the Nganasans and Ents. It is unclear for what purpose they were used. Besides the big masks, there were small ones; the can be defined as reduced copies of the big ones. They were fastened to a wooden figure that had human clothes. This being was called an idol-shaman. The communicative ability in the spirit world, i.e., what made him different from a regular person, was the unique feature that made him stand out among other idols. There are no such idol-shamans anywhere in Siberia, but there are obviously of Yukaghir origin (Gratcheva, 1980, p.91-93), ,moreover, the Nganasy have a legeng telling that a part of their ancestors came from somewhere in the east, and those weren’t the Tungus or Yakut, that the Nganasy knew, because they were their neighbors.


Other masks linked with shamanism can be found among the South Evenks. These masks are made of iron and have no portrayal features. They are called “ancestor shaman”. A shaman put on this mask during quacking, when an ancestor shaman starts talking through him. Here we can assume that there was Yukaghir influence, assuming that the iron masks habitat belongs to the former Yukaghir territory; and the Evenks shamans prefer iron out of other materials. Although, the Evenks shamans had their own ancestor shamans that helped them, and from which the person gained the shaman powers in the first place. They lived separately from other passed away people on special “shaman land”.


In one of the earliest collections of facts about Yukaghirs recorded by Y. I. Lindenow in the first half of the 18th century, it says that apart from cherishing shaman bones, Yukaghirs were different from the other peoples of Siberia by the fact that they didn’t cover their tambourines with the skin of a dead shaman (Lindenow, 1983, p.155). This fact can’t be fully trusted, because human skin is considered to be perishable material for making a tympanum. On the other hand, only the Nganasans have folklore facts about tambourines, covered with human skin. But it wasn’t shaman’s skin, it was the skin of an orphan girl, who was eaten by her starving tribesmen killed on the shaman’s order, so that the people on the other side, would hear the sound of the tambourine covered with her skin across the flooded river and they could rescue the people in trouble. However, this incident brought a curse on the entire generation, because, according to the Nganasans beliefs, it is deep sin to sacrifice human beings (Jean-Luc Lambert, Paris, 2002-2003, pp. 252-254).


In the past, there were cases of the Yukaghirs’ human sacrifices, but it was in exceptional cases: sacrifice as a punishment for violating a prohibition, in the result of which a group of Yukaghirs ended up on the verge of starvation (Yokhelson, 2005, p.215).


Another unexpected backwash of the Yukaghir tradition to worship shaman bones is found in a painter’s, Alexander Borisov’s diary, who travelled along the Vaygatch Island. This painter had a Nentsy guide from the Vilka tribe, who carried a skull of his father, a shaman and, who put it under his pillow in order to get advice, when he went to sleep (Borisov, p.74). In the Samoyed culture the world of the dead is opposed to the world of the living, and any contact with an object, that belonged to the departed, not to mention a skull, could have lethal risk. However, Yukaghirs, being the autochthons of north Siberia, along with the Koryaks, Chuckchas, and Nivkhas have an absolutely opposite relation to the dead – the two words complete each other. Borisov’s guide must have had local autochthons among his ancestors that are close Yukaghir relatives in terms of culture, the territory of which was occupied by the Nents, who came from the south. Remarkably, Nganasans and Ents, whose territory separates the Nentsy and Yukaghirs, don’t have the following features.


In 1951 ethnographers met people, who saw amulets made of the dead shamans’ finger phalanges in the Nizhnekolymsk region (Yukaghirs, 1975, p.78). In his essay on different materials in Selkup shamanism, G. I. Pelikh describes an amulet made of a shaman’s thumb, that his relative gave him in his last will (Pelikh, 1980, p.22). These materials were different from those that G. N. Prokopyev and E. D. Prokopyeva collected in the 30’s. When reading both of these works, one gets the impression that they refer to completely different people. But this can be explained by different shaman “schools” or traditions, and if the Prokopyev family described a Tungus “school”, then after a fierce struggle against shamanism in 1930-1960’s there were Selkup representatives of the paleo-Asiatic understratum shaman school. This school existed and or was pushed out onto the outskirts of traditional culture.


Thus, shaman bones for Yukaghirs and other paleo-Asiatic peoples were a peculiar bridge, bringing two worlds together and allowing to find the necessary prosperity with the help of ancestors, if it left the world of the alive.

Pluzhnikov N. V.
(from the Peoples of North-East Russia)

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