The Eastern Arctic Seas Encyclopedia

2016 Edition
| Editors: Igor S. Zonn, Andrey G. Kostianoy, Aleksandr V. Semenov


Reference work entry
Yakuts (self-name: Sakha) – a Turkic people, the indigenous population of the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic. There are 478,100 Yakuts residing in Russia, primarily in the Republic of Yakutia (480,000), as well as in the Irkutsk, Magadan, Khabarovsk, and Krasnoyarsk regions. The Yakuts constitute the ethnic majority (49.9 %) of the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic. The second largest ethnic group (37.8 %) is Russians.

Between the eighth and the twelfth centuries, there are believed to have been several waves of migration of the Yakuts from the Lake Baikal area to the basins of the middle Lena, the Aldan, and Vilyuy rivers where the Yakuts partially mixed with and partially ousted other northern indigenous peoples of Russia such as the Evenks and the Yukagirs.

The traditional occupation of the Yakuts is cattle farming, with their unique practice of breeding cows and horses in the harsh continental climate conditions of high latitudes. The Yakuts have also been involved in fishing, hunting, trade, smithcraft, and military arts.

According to the local legends, the ancestors of the modern Yakuts had been floating down the Lena River with their households and families until they discovered the Tuimaada Valley suitable for breeding cattle. That is where the modern city of Yakutsk is now located. The Yakuts were believed to have been headed by the two people’s heroes: Eles Bootur and Omogoi Baai.

Archaeological and ethnographic findings show that the present Yakut ethnicity was shaped as southern Turkic language-speaking settlers assimilated with the tribes residing in the middle Lena area. The last of such migration waves is believed to have occurred between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In terms of their ethnic affiliation, the Yakuts belong to the Central Asian anthropological type of the South Asian ethnic group. Unlike other Turkic language-speaking peoples of Siberia, they have more pronounced Mongoloid features which had been shaped toward the end of the second millennium already in the Lena River area.

Some ethnic groups of Yakuts (e.g., the reindeer breeders of the northwest) are believed to have been shaped recently as the Evenks mixed with the Yakuts from the central regions of Yakutia.

In the course of their migration to Eastern Siberia, the Yakuts have populated the basins of the Anabar, the Olenyok, the Yana, the Indigirka, and the Kolyma rivers. The Yakuts have modified the Tungus reindeer breeding practices by creating the Tungus–Yakut type of transport reindeer breeding.

The inclusion of the Yakuts into the Russian Empire in 1620–1630s has facilitated their socioeconomic development. Between the seventeenth and the nineteenth centuries, the main activity of the Yakuts was cattle farming (breeding cows, horses, and reindeer) with hunting and fishing playing the secondary role. Starting from the second half of the nineteenth century, agricultural farming began to gain prominence for the Yakut economy. In winter, the Yakuts lived in log houses called balagans (half dwellings and half barns), and in summer, they moved to the urasa made from slender timber pole frame covered in birch bark. The clothing was traditionally made of animal hides and fur. In the second half of the eighteenth century, most of the Yakuts were converted to Christianity, though their traditional shamanism is still practiced.

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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016