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The Yikaghir Transport

The article was written by Pluzhnikov N. V.
(From “The Peoples of North-East Russia”)


The nomad season for the Upper Kolyma Yukaghirs began in the winter, with deep snow. Having very little transport means, that is, a small number of horses, all of them: women, old men and women, and children used skies. The Yukaghir skies looked exactly like those of the Evens. Two leather straps served to secure the leg in the binding. There were two types of skies: for hunting and for everyday use. Hunting skies were furred up by camus (a special coarse-haired part of reindeer skin set on the slippery side of the skies to prevent the skies from slipping on the snow). Camus allowed to walk silently without slipping backwards. Skies for everyday use (Golitsy) were comfortable for walking in wet and sticky snow. A full set of skies included a stick with a ring. There were women’s and men’s skiing sticks. Men’s sticks would have a hook at the upper end allowing the hunter to cling onto bushes when he was descending a mountain. Women’s sticks would have a small spade with carved ornaments at the top.

Racket skies were used for walking in deep wet snow (Yukaghirs, 1975, p.63). The idea of using them was clearly borrowed from the Chuckchas. At the same time, this type of skies may be regarded as a feature of paleo-Asiatic culture of the Yukaghirs that has some common roots with the Indian and Eskimo cultures of North America. The Yukaghirs living in the far western geographic range widely used these types of skies.

Natatorial transport. The taiga Yukaghirs used canoes made of poplar to set and examine fishing nets. They were up to 6m long. They also used canoes made of wood planks similar to the Yakut “branches”. But the Yukaghir canoes had a half-caved bottom and they were bent out in shape, while the Yakut canoes had a flat bottom. The nose of these canoes was oval-shaped and the aft was flat. They used double-spade oars of about 3m long to move down the stream and two poles to move up the stream. At the beginning of the 20th century the Upper Kolyma Yulaghirs were considered to be acknowledged craftsmen in making canoes. That’s why they made canoes to sell them to their neighbors – the Yakut, Chuckchas, and even Koryaks (Historical and ethnographic atlas, p. 110).

According to the old men’s stories, the Yukaghirs made boat out of birch bark. The folks also remember triangular rafts with one or two pairs of oars in the oarlock. Yukaghirs used these to get to fishing areas in the summer from their hunting areas. There is an opinion that the idea of using these rafts was borrowed from the Russians, who used them to transport goods across the Kolyma River, at the same time, it’s would have been quite difficult to transport goods across such a large river using a triangular raft, moreover, the name of the raft – “mino” is Yukaghir. On the other hand, the idea of oars in oarlocks was obviously borrowed from the Russians. These rafts were quickly replaced by large boats that Yukaghirs called “karbatch” (from Russian “karbas” – a large rowing boat with sails). These boats had a caved bottom made of poplar and boards in the form of two pairs of stuffed planks.

The lower pair of planks was also made of poplar and the upper was made of larch. The component parts of the “karbas” were stitched together with birch twigs, and the joints were caulked with moss. The whole construction was fixed on 4-6 curved edges of the boat. The Yukaghirs would use one-spade oars and an extra oar on the aft of the boat was used for steering the boat. They would also put a dog onboard if the lay of the land was suitable for that.

The Lower Kolyma Yukaghirs used a very practical canoe for fishing and hunting; the canoe had some significant features. This type of canoe was made of a sea shore fin. Like the canoe of the Upper Kolyma Yukaghirs, it consisted of three planks and the bottom plank was caved in half way. The unique distinction was in the bone runners made wild reindeer antlers that were fastened to the bottom’s edge with glue and wooden nails. The glue was made of boiled reindeer antlers. Reindeer could carry this type of canoe across the tundra without any damage. The only problem was with its storage during the summer in the tundra zone: the canoe had to be protected from the direct sun, so that the tar, covering the canoe’s joints, would not melt down.


The Upper and the Lower Kolyma Yukaghirs used sledges of different kinds and forms; the first ones used them for dogs and the second ones used them for reindeer. Both used them only in the snow.

The Yukaghir dog sledges made of birches are shorter, narrower and simpler than those of the other peoples of East Siberia. They have three or four pairs of legs set into the runners with the help of a rough thorn. The runners are 3meters long, about 10 meters wide and about 3cm thick. They have a sharp curve at the front, where a horizontal curve (drum) is placed. The first pair of runners serves as an extra attachment point. Each pair of runners has a horizontal crossbeam (at the middle point of the runner’s height); three hammered together planks are placed on these crossbeams. A pair of perches of the same length as the planks is fixed on the top ends of the runners. A rope binding that serves as the sledge’s edges goes between the perches and the ends of the planks. There is no backrest, nor the front vertical curve for the rider to hold on to, so that the rider would not tumble over because of the fast running dogs. We find an explanation to this in the fact that Yukaghirs didn’t have the required amount of dogs for this type of a sledge, so, this way, these largely spread parts of the sledge were not significant.

The Lower Kolyma Yukaghirs would normally harness one reindeer into the sledge. The look similar to the Koryak and Chukot sledge design, but they look cruder. All their parts are tightly linked together with straps. They also have curved half-round runners made of reindeer antlers onto which crossbeams are tied on top along the body of the sledge forming a seat. The front ends of the runners bent in form a knot and the horizontal curve with its bent part are secured to the crossbeams. The foundation of the curve has a crossbeam and is attached to the ends of the runners. The runners are made of birches that are brought from Omolon since such trees don’t grow in the tundra. A pair of such runners can be exchanged for the skin of one reindeer (Yokhelson, 2005, p.513). The rest of the sledge’s wooden parts are made of larch trees that grow on the border of the forest. Cargo sledges are wider and cruder than the ones for riding. They may be different in shape and form for transporting household belongings. The simplest and shortest type of sledges is used for perches. They only have two pairs of legs and the front part of the runners has a curve upward starting from the middle part of the runner.

The entire look of the reindeer sledges and some of their distinctive features suggest that either Yukaghirs borrowed the idea from Chuckchas or Chuckchas borrowed the idea from Yukaghirs. Despite the crude design the Yukaghir sledges are much more durable than those of the Chuckchas. Furthermore, their durability shows in the structure – they have a crossbeam and a horizontal curve and only on light sledges. This proves that Yukaghirs borrowed the idea. Especially because on their tundra dialect they bid someone farewell by saying “Walk well” (Yukaghirs, 1975, p.114). An unexpected difference found in the Yukaghir and Chuckot transport reindeer farming is the use of pole that they rider uses to hurry the reindeer. It looks similar to the North Samoyed choree with a bone ring at the end or a blunt fork at the tip. (Chuckchas and Koryaks use a cane with a bone pike in the form of a beak for this purpose).

Other than the sledges that look similar to those of the Chuckchas, the Yukaghirs have their own unique type of sledges. These are sledges for poles called tchuma. They look like the front part of a caved canoe with a flatly cut basis of the bottom. They have three side holes: one in the very front of the sledge (for the reindeer team), and two placed symmetrically on both sides closer to the west edge. A rope runs through those side holes: the chuma’s perches with openings at the each end are fastened onto this rope. This type of construction allows carrying the perches of the sledge, i.e., the main function of the rope is to join the front ends of the perches together, so that they wouldn’t mingle the movement (Gurvich, 1963, p.90-93). Another type of similar sledges is the dragging sledges; they were used temporarily to carry meat. In order to make them, the Yukaghirs would stitch two pieces of buck skin together with the fur-side out. This way they got a bag. Then they would just put the large pieces of reindeer meat inside the bag. Finaly, they would stitch the bag and tie straps to it, so that the bag could move in line with the fur. The reindeer were hitched into the bag (Creynovich, 1972, с.86).


In the summer the Lower Kolyma Yukaghirs travelled on horseback and they carried their belongings in a saddle. This system of carrying things was borrowed from the Evens and has absolutely no special true Yukaghir features. The saddles were fastened to the reindeer’s shoulder blades, because the reindeer have a weak spinal cord. Only the large forest reindeer breed was used for travelling. This type of reindeer breed was typical of the Tungus-speaking peoples, Tofalars and Tuvans. The reindeer saddles had no stirrups, so the rider had to hold balance with the help of a wooden staff. Just like the sledges, there are riding saddles (for men) and carrying saddles (for women), so a woman could sit on a carrying saddle or one could put belongings there. Although, there is a cargo saddle, it’s impossible to sit in it, because the front and back saddlebows were joined by a crossbeam. This crossbeam was used to carry firm load, the firm load was tied to it. Load bags were fastened by a bellyband with a ring at the end, unlike the one in the horse saddles; it ran through the top of the saddle and the cargo.

The reindeer saddle had the following structure: two short and wide planks called “shelves” joined together closer to the ends in a obtuse angle by saddlebows made of antlers or wood in the form of loops, then they were coated with coverings made of reindeer skin that were stuffed with reindeer fur, like pillows. A crack went along the middle of the reindeer saddle; it was closed by reindeer skin bedding. The length of a regular saddle was 50-60cm.

Men’s saddle differed from women’s (or cargo saddle) having a more obtuse angle that joined the shelves and lower saddlebows. These saddles have a significant feature – planks or narrow boards fixed on the outside between the saddlebows on the shelves along the saddle; the planks stuck out under the pillows perpendicular to the surface of the shelves. Women’s and cargo saddles had wider and slanting shelves, as well as high wooden saddlebows that were decorated in various ways.

Load bags for cargo saddles are usually made double, but there are single ones. They had a flap on the binding or a tightening manhole. This type of single bag often balances a baby crib that hangs on the other side of the saddle. Double bags were joined together by a wide strap or were folded in two and had one common manhole. The problem of arranging the cargo fastened to these types of saddles was that the rider had to balance both sides of the load.

The problem of carrying children that were not infants anymore was in the fact that they had to be fastened to the reindeer’s back, so that he would not fall out under any circumstances. Yukaghir children travelled sitting in a saddle like in a boat, inside two high boards that were tied to the high saddlebows. The boards’ height allowed the babies to hold on to them. There was a crack between the lower edges of the boards and the saddle: it was large enough for the children to stretch out their feet and ride like a grown-up person.

The Yukaghirs usually crossed rivers on the deer’s back through the shallow of the river if the water was up to the level of the saddle. If the water level was high, they would cross the river on branch-like canoes.

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