Dwelling and kitchenware

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Dwellings and Kitchenware

Based on Yukaghiry Source: “My homeland arctic”, Moscow, 2001

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The Yukaghirs (photo by V.I. Johelson)

Tundra camping ground usually consists of tree trunks without branches. Ancient dwellings were represented by frustrum-shaped half-dugouts (chandal) made of four tree trunks together with roots, four timber sleepers and a turf flat roof. Taiga Yukaghirs had tapering buildings suede covered in winter and larch rind covered in summer. Raw-hide tent carcass was made of four poles clenched together with osier-bed branches in five or six rows and a full-squared frame. Carcass poles supported from 20 to 30 lesser poles.

Floor was covered with shrouds and pelts; sleeping accommodation was sometimes cloth-canopied. Raw-hide tent was heated by means of a centrally located fireplace. Two transversal poles mounted above the fireplace were used for meat and fish fuming, for clothes drying, kettles and cauldrons placing. Some dwellings were made of framing logs with flat or conic roofs – yurts. Cylinder-conic dwellings were adopted from Even culture. Common outbuildings were pillar-based framed barns with ridge roofs and log ladder and tree stand rostrums.

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Dwellings and Outbuildings

The ancient Yukaghirs were settled habitants living in the basins of rivers. Before Tungus people immigration the Yukaghir population was quiet homogeneous in its way of life, and Yukaghir dwellings matched their needs. Contacts with other nations that took place in historical time caused the diversity of Yukaghir dwellings construction. Only the Chukchi’s ancient dwellings are similar to those of Yakaghirs because these two nations were in contact for quiet a long time. Still it is doubtful that Yukaghirs have adopted dwelling construction from Chukchis along with the nomadic lifestyle before Tunguss people appeared in tundra.


Nume dwelling covered with larch rind (Nelemnoe village, 2003)

A dwelling of the ancient Yukaghirs was called chandal. It is possible that Yukagihrs had disused this type of dwelling after Russian colonization. The chandal remains were found in tundra zone. One the one hand, according to Russian folklore, these remains belong to Yukaghir culture. But on the other hand, no iron objects were found in these remains, and the wood carcass of these dwellings was processed with stone instruments. Considering type of household of Yukaghirs as local autochthones, we assume that in the past they were a settled nation, engaged in fishing and hunting reindeers at river ferriages.


The fact that Russian colonists and settled Yukaghirs shared the same territory caused territory food potential decrease after colonization began, forcing Yukaghirs to change not only habitat, but the very householding style. They accepted Even pattern, and after many battles between them they settled in the river basins, and left mountainous regions to Evens. This fact is confirmed by the descendants of the long-standing Russian inhabitants: “There are no chandals in the mountains. People lived only alongside the valley braid” (Yukaghiry, 1975).


Chandal archeological excavation began during captain Billings’ expedition in 1730s. The dwellings made of fin could be classified as follows: the most ancient type of dwelling was a conic building with incomplete oval in basement. Carcass poles were fortified by tree trunks with roots upwards. These roots were suitable to form a smoke flap. Sometimes the chandal foundation had a shape of an incomplete long-square.


This type of chandal could have a flat roof that was fixed to the upper part of carcass poles. Chandal living space is represented by a frustum, usually with four carcass poles. The external surface was covered by turf. Chandal could be constructed as a half-dugout without full earthing though. The later type of chandal resembles golono – settled dwelling, used in the western territory of Taymyr. At the same time ancient oval chandal resembles traditional Nganasan and Enzs’ burial constructions – dwellings with no doorways, surrounded by sledges with dead bodies on them. Considering the ossification of funeral traditions we can assume that Taymyr ancestors of Nganasan and Enzs together with Yukaghirs used to represent a one unified autochthonic culture of fishermen and reindeer hunters. Another resemblance can be found if we analyze Enz oval raw-hide tent – its construction includes a fireplace placed near the wall. It is typical for conic dwellings with small living space.


This type of a raw-hide tent is described in Nenec language – nibyarakha – “needle-like”. It was inhabited by poor fishermen with no reindeers. A raw-hide tent is meant for one small family. Unlike Nganasan, Enz were mostly engaged in fishing and hunting even in 20th century and their household style was close to the one of the Yukaghirs. Archeological excavation proved chandals to be of a considerable area (e.g. 68.85 m2), and raw-hide tent – 38.5 m2 (Yukaghiry, 1975). Unfortunately the number of archeological reports on this topic is not enough to represent settled Yukaghirs life.


A barn

After the Yukaghirs changed their lifestyle from settled to nomadic, their dwellings described by Johelson (Johelson, 2005) allow us to distinguish the traditions dividing tundra and taiga peoples. Taiga Yukaghirs from upper Kolyma had cone-shaped raw-hide tents. It was covered with larch rind in summer and moose or reindeer suede in winter. Upper packing of the dwelling was made of 4 to 7 pelts, and the lower one was made of 5 to 10 pelts. Dwelling form and construction of taiga Yukaghirs resembled one of Evenks, as they were Yukaghirs’ closest nomadic neighbors.


In winter or in summer fishing period Yukaghirs put up raw-hide tents using tripod and covered it with suede. However, in raining period raw-hide tent was covered with larch rind. This dwelling had different construction: two poles cut in each other made tent carcass. Scaffold bearers held lesser poles together with 20 to 30 small poles, placed circle-wise. The doorway was left open. The smallest poles were knitted up with 5 or 6 osier-bed rings. The whole carcass was covered with larch rind pressed by poles from the outside (Yukaghiry, 1975).


Larch rind was also used as a winter roof covering for taiga small half-dugouts. These dwellings were built from larch trunks. The half-dugouts had small windows 15 х 20 cm covered with fish bladder or piece of ice. To the right from the doorway Yukaghirs placed open fireplace, a chimney or a wattle-and-daub heater with a funnel of clayed twigs. Unlike Russian half-dugouts, Yukaghir ones have open funnel, that’s why the air inside the dwelling is very fresh disregarding the amount of people inside, and the temperature remains unchanged till morning (Johelson, 2005). These dwellings are usually square-shaped, their area is 3 х 3 and height is about 2 meters. The roof is usually flat or pyramidical (Historic-ethnographic atlas (Johelson mention only flat roofs).


Nomadic dwelling of tundra Yukaghirs like Chukchi’s and Koryak’s dwellings, is a cylindrical-conic construction, though it has its own features typical for tundra Yukaghirs. These dwellings were used not only in lower Kolyma area, but also in Lower Indighirka area and belonged to a nation of south-yukaghirian origin.


Winter dwelling resembled stationary chandal and had four carcass poles (koryak-chukchi’s yaranga and raw-hide tent had only three poles as the basis). The poles were embedded in the ground. One of the poles had an enhancement with a hole in it so the other pole could be shoved into it and represented a support for the remaining two poles. The angle between two poles was always oblique as they were to support two doors. The doors were placed opposite one another – it was one of the features of a Yukaghir dwelling – both of summer and winter type.


The roof was placed in the same way as Yaranga roof was. The basis of the roof was made of thin poles. The upper part of the poles made a bifurcation; their wide lower part had an opening that connected the construction to the carcass poles. The other feature of Yukaghir raw-hide tent was the absence of T-shaped spreaders that arched the roof to the hemisphere shape. Spreadings might have been constructed to protect the dwelling from violent winds typical for Kamchatka and Chukotka peninsulas. The constructed hemisphere was more resistant to the winds than a cone-shaped dwelling. In Lower Kolyma winds were much milder, no spreadings were necessary; that’s why Yukaghir raw-hide tent was widely used. Moreover, tundra Yukaghirs spent winters in forest area.


Raw-hide tent walls were constructed using tripod. Its construction remained yaranga. However, there were two types of wall construction: at least, different researchers mention one or another variant. The first type of wall construction represents walls absolutely coinciding yaranga tripods (Kreinovich, 1972). This type is quite stable, but it reduces the inner space as tripods are installed inside the dwelling and have poles outside. The second type is of Yukaghir origin. Tripods are turned to form an apron: two legs are fixed on the ground; the third one is connected to the neighboring tripod (Historic-ethnographic atlas (these constructions here are defined as of Evenk origin, but we suppose that they were adopted from the Yukaghirs). This type of a dwelling is less stable as tripods are swept in a flat surface instead of cubic content.


Coverings of winter Yukaghir tent was roofed in 4 layers if possible. The bottom layer (the smallest one) was stitched from small pieces of leather in order to protect the upper layer from fire and sparks. The other coverings covered the whole roof hanging along the walls. The next covering was made of leather; it was covered by summer covering and then the upper covering that was made of fresh dressed smoked reindeer pelts. Monolayer walls were made of two paired coverings. They covered walls from one doorway to another from inside and outside. They were laid on the lower part of the roof and hang to the floor with extra 0.5 meter. The walls were supported from the outside with snow mounting of a half human-height.


The door was made of reindeer pelt with fur inside. It was fixed to the carcass piles under roof coverings with leather straps. A large tree stump was placed under the door to make a threshold. The interior of tundra Yukaghir nomadic dwelling resembled that of raw-hide tent, in spite of the fact that construction resembled yaranga. It had no fur canopies with separated systems of lighting and heating that were actually the very place of human living. Tree logs were placed on earthen floor in two or three meters from the wall in order to separate each family’s space. Logs were fixed with small wooden spills. Stove-benches were placed between the wall and the logs. First Yukaghirs put there knee-high sheaves of dry branches, then osier-bed branches and finally reindeer pelts.


Fireplace resembled open square batten box filled with earth. It was of the same height as stove-benches so that the fire warmth reached sleeping people. Two parallel poles were fixed above the fireplace at human-height level. Several crossbars were fixed upon the poles like railroad ties. This construction was used to hang kettles and cauldrons; it was more typical for raw-hide tent then for yaranga.


Leather screen placed at both sides of the doorway was one more feature of Yukaghir raw-hide tent. A thick pole of human height was earthened near the carcass pole, but it was placed perpendicularly. Its upper end was tied to the carcass pile. One list of the leather screen was fixed to this pole, and the other one was fixed to the closest tripod.


Yukaghir raw-hide tent had two doorways dividing this dwelling into equal parts. That allowed three or even four families to be housed in. These families used the fireplace in turns. Each of them used their own part of the dwelling to dine and every family had its own cauldron.


This interior organization led to the absence of a sacred place inside the dwelling, typical for raw-hide tent. However, there was a taboo preventing women from passing between fireplace and housefather (Yukaghiry, 1975). Women were to construct the raw-hide tent. It was assumed that only women knew the suitable height of the raw-hide tent. Men were to provide building material, put logs for stove-benches and (oddly to say) construct the fireplace. Usual raw-hide tent provided sacred places for women (fireplace) and men (behind the fireplace). Yukaghir dwelling provided only one sacred place for both sexes. That may explain the fire-feeding ritual performed by both women and men.


That also explains why in Yukaghir tradition the fireplace is built by men. In spite of the multiple differences between Yukaghir raw-hide tent and Koryak-Tchukchi’s yaranga that has a long history, the Yukagihr consider conic raw-hide tent with four carcass poles their ancient dwelling (Yukaghiry, 1975). Probably, the forced change from settled life to nomadic life prompted Yukaghirs to build first chandal, and then the chukchi dwelling.


After the spring movement northwards Yukaghir left carcass poles, bench logs and fireplace. If no family member died at this site, family would return here again.

At forest border families that overwintered together dispersed. During the southward movement to summer encampment, Yukaghirs used to erect conic raw-hide dwelling with one doorway and four carcass poles (the Yakuts call it urasa). Unlike winter dwelling, urasa had osier-bed matting that as made as they left the forest. During the long-term encampment, urasa was used as fumitory for pelts and fish: all the belongings were taken out, doorway and funnel was closed and people kept the weak fire alive. Differences between Even and Yukaghir traditional dwellings can be clearly seen in the way tombstone symbolizing the deceased house were erected. Even used to leave a carcass tripod while the Yukaghirs left four carcass poles (Yukaghiry, 1975).


leftTundra camping ground

Summer raw-hide tent had a special construction that preserved until the 1950s among Lower Indigirka Evens (Gurvigh, 1963). Raw-hide tent – boii – is not of Yukaghir origin, in Even is means “tent’s upper coverings” (Yukaghiry, 1975). However, the same type of a dwelling was described by old men in Lower Kolyma at the same time (Kreinovich, 1972). The main features of the summer tent and the described winter dwelling coincide; the summer tent may be called “Yukaghir half-dismantled” winter tent.


It was built using only two poles instead of four. Poles were placed under slight angle, but they were not fixed to each other as they were placed 1.5 meter away from each other. Fireplace was put between poles, that’s why poles were connected with horizontal bars: one for fireplace and one as a roof gable. The upper bar had two crossbars that were fixed to tripods. The tripods made yaranga’s walls. Both summer and winter yarangas had two doorways. Yaranga had an elliptic plan and was covered by two large coverings tied together with straps and fixed to the carcass poles. Lower parts of coverings had stitches for small sticks.


On the ways of seasonal movement the Yukaghirs left temporary encampments. Lack of reindeers becomes evident as we see problems of belongings transportation. Provision and belongings not necessary in the current season were left at such encampments. As the system of temporary encampments turns out to be well planned we assume that Yukaghirs had only a necessary minimum of reindeers. Only children and old men lived in temporary encampments in summer. They were occupied in fishing. The constant buildings in such encampments were the granaries. The granary was represented by a rostrum upon four poles with pore flooring. Here Yukaghirs kept clothes unnecessary in the current season. The clothes was dried up and rolled into smoked pelt. The same type of a granary was built in winter in order to preserve pelts and meat from animals and birds.


The granary had to be of a considerable height. It was built on foul close growing trees. The tree top was removed. Two crossbars were placed upon the tops of trees. Tree trunks and crossbars were tied together and then flooring was put on. A large log with hacks was used as a ladder. Board flooring was used as a roof; the trees around the granary were hacked out so no one could jump on the roof from the trees.


The temporary encampments were also had seasonal ice-rooms for fish and meat storage. Ice rooms were built on a frozen pool surface. Ice plates that were cut out from the nearest water body were put together (sometimes the ice wall reached 10 m length). When ice room was filled with meat and fish, it was overlaid with ice plates with ventilation holes. Joints were stuffed with snow and poured with water. These ice-rooms could preserve food till spring. In spring, a special expedition would be sent to get the supplies and bring firewood to the encampment. If any supplies left till summer, it was taken in summer frost-cellars situated at the same sites. Frost-cellars were not suitable for winter storage, so Yukaghirs had to build ice-rooms.


Pluzhnikov N.V.
(Russia North-East Peoples)

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