The Yakuts are the northernmost fragment of the Turkic world, which began to spread throughout the world since the 6th century AD. Largely due to their isolation from the great world turmoil of the last centuries, the Sakha people (the self-name of the Yakuts) have retained their ancient traditions, culture and religion.
The past of the Yakuts is very vague, historians still cannot determine the exact place where they lived before arrival in the territory of modern Yakutia. Scientists suggest that from time immemorial they came in small groups to their present territory. This process probably intensified in the 13th century and ended around the 14 – 15 centuries.
It is believed that the ancestors of the Yakuts before moving to Yakutia lived in the northern Baikal region and in the Angara region. It is not known how long they lived there. And did they live elsewhere in more ancient times? It is possible that the distant ancestors of the Yakuts lived much west of the Baikal region. In any case, it can be considered definite: they were in close contact with the peoples of not only the Sayans, but also the Altai.
It is generally accepted that the Yakuts moved to their present homeland under the pressure of stronger neighbors. Tribal wars, of course, played a big role. It was under pressure from the neighbors that the weak tribes of the ancestors of the Yakuts left their homes. But besides this, apparently, there were also “peaceful” reasons for the gradual movement of small groups of forest hunters and fishermen to the north and northeast.
The Yakuts lived in their new homeland in very difficult conditions. It was necessary to adapt to the terrible climatic and other environmental conditions, to save livestock in these conditions. They were tormented by tribal clashes, blood feuds.
This complex historical path of the Yakut people is reflected in its richest folklore. From mouth to mouth, passing from generation to generation, folklore replaced literature and history, family chronicles, preserving precious bits of peoples' experience.
The crown of verbal art of the Yakut people, its favorite and most characteristic form of creativity are great heroic tales, called Olonkho.
Olonkho is the common name of the heroic Yakut epic, consisting of many great legends. Their average size is 10-15 thousand lines of verse. Large Olonkho reach up to 20 or more thousand lines of verse. By contaminating various plots, Yakut olonkhosuts (narrators of Olonkho) in the past created even larger olonkho, but they remained unrecorded.
Now no one knows how many Olonkho were in the period of the heyday of its existence. Here it is most appropriate to say countless. Counting all simultaneously existing Olonkho is extremely difficult. The fact is that any plot from one Olonkho can be more or less painlessly transferred to another. It was possible, on the contrary, to reduce without much damage by crossing out entire plots or individual parts, episodes, various descriptions.
“Interpenetrability” and the possibility of reducing or increasing the volume of Olonkho without special damage to its content and the logic of the development of events constitute a characteristic feature of the Yakut epic, as a result of the similarity of legends.
Yakut Olonkho is epic of very ancient origin. Its origin dates back to the times when the ancestors of the Yakuts lived in their former homeland and closely communicated with the ancient ancestors of the Turkic-Mongolian peoples of Altai and the Sayans. This is evidenced by the commonality of the plot of Olonkho with the plot of the epic of these peoples, the similarity in the structure of language and vocabulary.
The ancestors of the Yakuts, the Kurykans, had contact with the ancient Turks in the 6th – 8th centuries. From the historical legends of the Yakuts and Buryats, it is clear that the last Mongol tribes encountered by the Yakuts (probably in the northern Baikal region) were the Buryats. This could occur no later than the 15th century. The initial sources of the Olonkho should be sought between these rather distant dates. Given that there are echoes of connections with the ancient Turks in the Olonkho, it is quite possible that these origins date back to the end of the first millennium, around the 8th – 9th centuries.
The Yakut epic itself comes from the late clan period. The fact that this is the epic of the clan period is testified, for example, by the Olonkho mythology, which reflects patriarchal-clan relations, remnants of animistic views, plots (struggle with monsters), remnants of the general clan distribution of prey (preserved in some Olonkho), exogamous marriage. This is also indicated by the bow and arrows as a weapon of battle and an instrument of labor (for hunting). And the nature of animal husbandry of the heroes shows that the epic belongs to the late clan period - the time of the “military democracy” among the Turkic-Mongolian peoples of Siberia - the prevalence of developed cattle breeding, especially horse breeding: the warrior on horseback, the horse is his best friend and helper. On the contrary, his opponent is often depicted riding a bull with a sleigh cart or riding a monstrous beast. Fishing and hunting are in the background (the hero hunts only at the beginning of his life). Clan society is actually divided into heroes (generic aristocrats and leaders) and their servants - domestic slaves who belong to the deficient members of the family and society. The hero is the leader of his entire tribe, the younger warriors unconditionally obey him. There are signs of a division of labor that has begun - a blacksmith and a blacksmith's craft have been identified. Blacksmiths forge iron objects of labor and combat. The fact that the Olonkho is an epic of the late clan period is also evidenced by a rather highly developed and harmonious religious system. It describes the "Olympus" – Aesirs of good deities led by Yuryung Aar Toyon (Great White Lord). Evil underground deities (the world is dualistic), headed by Arsan Duolay, confront good deities. His people - abaasy do evil and violence …
In addition to the Upper World (heaven) and the Underground World, there is the Middle World, that is, the earth itself. In the Middle World, people live, as well as spirits of various items, called ichchi. In Olonkho every living being, every object has its own spirit ichchi. Especially significant is the goddess Aan Alakhchyn Khotun - the spirit of the earth. She dwells in the ancestral sacred tree Aar-Luuk-Mas. The goddess of the earth helps the hero and his people, solicits the gods for the benefit of the people, blesses the hero going on a campaign, gives strength to him, giving him to drink milk from her breast. The hero needs the ichchi spirit of various places, mountain passes, rivers, seas. He has to give them gifts so that they can safely pass him through their territory and not interfere with him.
Olonkho describes the original life of a man from his first appearance on earth. A man, having appeared on earth, begins to organize life on it, overcoming various obstacles that stand in his way. The creators of Olonkho represent these obstacles in the form of monsters that flooded the beautiful country. They destroy it and destroy all life on it. Man must cleanse the country of these monsters and create an abundant, peaceful and happy life on it. These are the high goals of the first man. Therefore, he must be an extraordinary, wonderful hero with destiny predetermined from above:
Mighty Nurgun Botur, the Swift,
With the black fleet of foot horse
On the border of the clear, white sky
In all Olonkho, the first man is a hero.
The hero and his tribe of divine origin. Therefore, the hero's tribe is called aiyy-aimaga (relatives of the deity). The name of the aiyy-aimaga tribe means the ancestors of the Yakuts - the creators of Olonkho.
In accordance with his high purpose, the hero is portrayed not only the strongest, but also the beautiful. In Olonkho, the appearance of a man reflects his internal content. Therefore, the hero Nurgun Botur the Swift:
But the hero, above all, a powerful hero, leading a deadly struggle. Therefore, he is depicted majestic and formidable.
The images of Olonkho are sharply contrasted. If the hero is a good defender of people, saving all those in distress, then representatives of the abaasy aimaga tribe (literally: relatives of the devil) are depicted as evil and ugly monsters - one-armed and one-legged cyclops. They are addicted to all conceivable vices (malice, cruelty, lustfulness, uncleanliness). Abaasy attack people, rob and destroy their country, kidnap women. The abduction of women in Olonkho is shown as a symbol of all the insults and humiliations of people. With all this, the abaasy warriors have indisputable human traits. Their relations with each other are built according to the type of human tribal relations. Arsan Duola has signs of the head of a patriarchal clan. In the course of events, the heroes enter into negotiations with them. These negotiations are similar to negotiations between representatives of the warring tribes. Heroes with warriors and abaasy she-shamans make various deals: temporarily reconcile, give each other an oath not to attack during a truce. Sometimes heroes do not kill the defeated abaasy, but let go in peace, taking the word no longer to attack people, or turn them into slaves. In this respect, the marriage deals between the defeated warriors of the aiyy and the powerful abaasy she-shamans (who won the aiyy warriors) are interesting. She-shamans of abaasy are lustful, in addition, they have an unbearable desire to marry the aiyy hero. To do this, they are ready to betray even their brother - the main opponent of the hero. Taking advantage of this weakness of theirs, the aiyy warrior, defeated by them, makes a fraudulent promise to marry the victorious she-shaman and makes various deals with her against her brother. The abaasy she-shaman fulfills this agreement, but the aiyy hero does not. Sometimes warriors of aiyy and abaasy become allies, which is, however, temporary, since permanent friendship and fraternity with abaasy in Olonkho are considered impossible. All this suggests that the image of the abaasy warriors, even in the mythologized and fantastic form, reflects the features of the real ancient tribes with which the ancestors of the modern Yakuts once fought.
All the other Olonkho characters are grouped around heroes and warriors of abaasy: parents and relatives, good and evil deities and spirits, shamans and she-shamans, messengers, slaves, "guards" of different places and many other minor characters.
Preservation and development
At the end of the 20th century, the process of reviving the national culture and traditions in Yakutia began. Olonkho, as one of the foundations of culture, attracted particular attention of the authorities of the republic. Historians, cultural scientists, the few remaining olonkhosuts (narrators of Olonkho) went all out on its revival and development. Thanks to joint efforts, now Olonkho, as a genre of folklore, has been preserved and even gained worldwide recognition. In 2005, UNESCO declared Olonkho one A MASTERPIECE OF ORAL AND INTANGIBLE HERITAGE OF HUMANITY.