Yakutia has a rich and ancient culture which has survived for millennia. For over 10,000 years primitive peoples inhabited the basins and tributaries of the great northern rivers, from North East Asia to Alaska and Canada. Laying the foundation for human civilisation these aboriginal peoples created their own unique cultures and adapted to the extreme living conditions. Evidence of their early culture can be seen in petroglyfic drawings in Yakutia found along the Lena River. Over time these hunter gatherer groups began to reindeer herd, and become semi nomadic. Others eventually settled and engaged in animal husbandry focusing on raising horses and cattle. Yakutia is home to many distinct groups of indigenous people such as the Evenk, Even, Yukagir, Dolgans, Nganasans, Chukchis, Enets, Nenets and of course the Yakuts. Each of these groups retain their own languages, customs and traditions and seek to preserve their cultures as much as possible in the face of the ever advancing homogenisation of the world. The Yakuts were historically and still are the largest and the most politically organised of the different ethnicities and the most assimilated with Russian culture. Many of these groups live in ways that are not much changed over hundreds of years. Such has been their deep rootedness to the land and kinship with the elements for survival, that religious cultures formed based on the ‘spirit’ of the earth. For thousands of years Shamanism was the only belief practiced in this area until the arrival of the Russian empire and the Orthodox religion. Indeed the word ‘Shaman’ is an Evenk word. Shamanistic practices and rituals that have survived the ages are still practised and thrive today. Nowhere is this more evident than in the amazing Yakut New Year celebrations of the summer solstice. This is the time of the White Nights, the endless daylight when the sun never sets in the north and only for 1.5 hours in the south. The celebration is held just thirty minutes from the capital Yakutsk and is attended by tens of thousands from all the different ethnicities in Yakutia. It’s a two day festival of ceremonies, parades, sports, rituals, thanksgiving and worship of the sun. During the day there are many great spectacles; sporting contests like Khapsagai wrestling, horse racing, stick fighting, archery and long jump take place. There’s also singing, traditional folk concerts, Khomus playing (mouth harps used with Shaman rituals), and competitions for the best folk costume and best national dishes as well as local popular music. During the festivities people drink Kumis (alcoholic Mare’s milk) which adds to the excitement. Indeed, much merriment can be seen throughout! Alongside the fun and games are the ancient shaman rituals; and of great importance in the celebration is the Fire Ritual which opens the holiday; in this ritual Kumis, which is a symbol for fertility, is sprinkled over the earth and fire. White Shamans are in attendance over the weekend performing various rituals, one of which gives thanks to Mother Earth for the harvest. In the evening the dancing commences; the traditional circle dance and singing of Osuokhay pays gratitude to celestial bodies for their life giving warmth and light and symbolizes the life cycle and universal unity of people. The dancing continues until morning as the main event approaches; the sunrise of the second day. As the sun comes up above the horizon sacred rites are performed and people can be seen to raise their arms as if in worship. It is said that the light from the sun will fill the body with life giving energy for the year ahead.
All in all the holiday is a real scream. It is a total celebration of life but with a spiritual aspect that stirs the soul into awakening to the beauty and true nature of Mother Earth.