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Respublika Sakha (Yakutiya)
Republic of Sakha (Yakutia)

(compiled by Tatiana Argounova)

Note: This page is an archived page dating from the year 2000.

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Name of this area in Russian language:
Respublika Sakha (Yakutiya)
Респу́блика Саха́ (Яку́тия)

Name of this area in Sakha language:
Sakha Respublikata
Саха Республиката

Name of this area in English language:
Republic of Sakha (Yakutia)

Abbreviated name:


Area (km², 1993): 3,103,200 (18.2 % of Russian Federation)
Population (1994): 1,062,000 (0.71 % of Russian Federation)
Population density (inh. per km²): 0.34
Population change 1989-1994: - 32,065
Number of households: n. a.
Average size of family: n. a.

Ethnic breakdown

Nationality number
TOTAL 1,094,065 100.00 1,050,878 100.00
Sakha (Yakut) 365,236 33.38 408,549 38.88
Russian 550,263 50.30 491,668 46.79
Ukrainian 77,114 7.05 60,663 5.77
Evenk 14,428 1.32 15,092 1.44
Even 8,668 0.79 10,532 1.00
Yukagir 697 0.06 783 0.07
Chukchi 473 0.04 539 0.05
Tatar 17,478 1.59 14,958 1.42
Belorussian 9,900 0.90 7,839 0.75
Other 22,714 2.08 39,445 3.75

Native language breakdown (all figures in %)

Nationality Language
Language of
own nationality
Russian Sakha
1989 1994 1989 1994 1989 1994
Sakha 95.0 97.1 4.9 2.9 ----- -----
Russian 99.7 99.7 ----- ----- 0.2 0.2
Ukrainian 49.4 42.4 50.3 57.4 0.1 0.2
Belorussian 35.5 32.3 63.6 66.3 0.3 1.0
Evenk 8.5 5.0 8.9 4.2 82.5 90.8
Even 34.7 57.0 10.6 8.0 54.3 34.9
Yukagir 35.1 n. a. 33.4 n. a. 28.1 n. a.
Chukchi 63.2 n. a. 28.5 n. a. 7.3 n. a.
Other 50.3 47.1 45.8 41.8 1.7 9.9

Administrative centre: Yakutsk 226,100 inhabitants
Other major towns: Neryungri
113,300 inhabitants
40,000 inhabitants
27,400 inhabitants

Urban population (%, 1994): 64.5
Students (%, 1994): n. a.
People in pensionable age(%, 1994): 16.6
Average age (1989): 27.6
Birth rate (per 1000 inhabitants, Jan-Nov 1995): 15.0
Death rate (per 1000 inhabitants, Jan-Nov 1995): 9.8
Natural increase (per 1000 inhabitants, 1987): + 4,7
Infant mortality (per 1000 inhabitants, 1994): 21.7
Migration, arrivals (Jan-Nov 1995): 14,100
Migration, departures (Jan-Nov 1995): 29,500
Net migration (Jan-Nov 1995): - 15,400
Net migration (Jan-Nov 1994): - 29,500
Serious crime rate (per 1000 inhabitants, 1994): 9.0

Employment structure (1993)

spheres number percent
industry 88,700 16.5
agriculture 64,100 11.9
trade 48,300 9.0
culture 90,100 16.8
management 15,100 2.8

Unemployment rate (%, June 1996): 5,0
Below RF defined poverty line (%, 1994): 7.2
Personal income index (July 1995, RF=100): 208
Food prices/basket index (July 1995, RF=100): 196
Back wages owed/person (Sept. 1995): 333,700 rubles

Dates of festivals (public holidays):

    • 27 April - Constitution Day (adopted in 1992);
  • 21 June - Ysyakh (summer festival);
  • 27 September - Sovereignty Day (proclaimed in 1990).


  • Goskomstat Respubliki Sakha (Yakutia). 1996. Demograficheskiye i sotsiokul'turniye pokazateli naseleniya respubliki (Demographical, social and cultural indicators). Yakutsk.
  • Goskomstat SSSR. 1987. Perepis' naseleniya (Population census).
  • Goskomstat Respubliki Sakha (Yakutia). 1995. Sotsial'no-ekonomicheskoye polozheniye Respubliki Sakha (Yakutiya) za yanvar' - dekabr' 1995 goda. N 12. (Social and economic situation in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) for the period of January-December 1995. N12). Yakutsk.

Official emblems

flag flag ( PJRC, cf enlarged version)

seal seal ( Northern Forum)


Text Section

The text section includes chapters on:


The Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), previously known as Yakutia, is situated in the north-east of the Russian Federation. It is the biggest region and occupies one fifth of the total territory of Russia (cf factsheet). It stretches 2,000 km north south and 2,500 km east west.

Apart from the mainland, the territory of the Republic includes several islands in the Arctic Ocean, such as the Novosibirskiye Islands. The whole area of the republic is located in the high latitudes. Over 40% of the territory lies within the Arctic Circle. Sakha borders the Laptev Sea and the East-Siberian Sea of the Arctic Ocean to the north. From the east through the south to the west, the republic neighbours are: Chukotskiy avtonomnyy okrug, Magadanskaya oblast', Khabarovskiy krai, Amurskaya oblast', Chitinskaya oblast', Irkutskaya oblast', Evenkiyskiy avtonomnyy okrug and Taimyr avtonomnyy okrug. Local time is 6 hours ahead of Moscow. The capital, Yakutsk is 8,468 km from Moscow, 6,280 km away from St.Petersburg. The republic has three time zones.

The main of Sakha are: the Lena river (4,400 km) and its major tributaries, the Vilyuy river (2,650 km) and the Aldan river (2,273 km).

The climate in the republic is severe continental. Sakha is known for being the coldest region of the northern hemisphere: seasonal temperature variations exceed 100 °C (from +40 during the summer to -60 during the winter). The town of Verkhoyansk is at the negative temperature pole of the northern hemisphere (the temperature here drops as low as -71.2 °C).

The Republic of Sakha is a land of mountains and plateaus, which occupy over 70 % of the territory. The territory has a complex geology, correspondingly rich in raw materials, the full extent of which is still unknown. The republic is located in the permafrost area. During the summer season the top layer of soil may thaw to the depth of 0.4 - 3.5 meteres, while the ground below remains permanently frozen.

Administrative divisions (cf map)

The Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) has 33 ulusy (districts) and 2 municipal territories (those of Neryungri and Yakutsk), 11 cities, 69 towns and 352 villages.


The first Russian adventurers met the Sakha people on the banks of the Lena river in the 17th century. In 1632 Russian Cossacks built a fort on the right bank of the Lena, which then developed into the city of Yakutsk. This date is considered to mark the incorporation of Yakutia into the Russian state.

The origin the name of Sakha is not clear, therefore much debated. The name "Yakut" is thought to be a Russian corruption, through Evenk (yako - a stranger), of their self name "Sakha". The Sakha language belongs to the family of Turkic languages (cf section on culture and language) but has also a strong Mongolian influence. The Sakha are thought to have migrated northwards from around Lake Baykal to the middle reaches of the Lena river and the lower Vilyuy and Aldan Rivers in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Yakuts were driven out, according to their own legends, by the Buryat (Vitebsky 1990: 304). They gradually moved towards the Arctic Ocean shores, assimilating indigenous ethnic groups. The Yakuts spread beyond the Lena area, in northeastern and western directions.

The Yakuts brought with them a southern economy which is based on horse and cattle breeding. They settled along the middle Lena and the lower Vilyuy and Aldan rivers, which provided grazing. This contrasted with the hunting and reindeer herding economies of the original, much smaller populations, mainly Even, Evenk, and Yukagir, who were assimilated or moved into the uplands. The Yakut were influenced by these peoples and adopted local customs. The Yakuts then became gradually marginalised by the Russians.

From the oral epics, which Sakha are known for, we learn about the ancient leaders (toyons). The greatest among them was Dygyn, who in the early seventeenth century conquered numerous other clans to form a chiefdom. Dygyn was known for his power and military spirit. The Russian Cossacks were sent here by the Tsar in the quest for fur. The population was to pay the yasak (fur tax). Thus Yakutsk became the main staging post for further Russian conquest towards the Pacific. Russians brought knowledge of land-cultivation and other agricultural techniques (Vitebsky 1990: 304-305).

Soviet power was established in Yakutia in 1923. This area was one of the last regions opposing the Soviets. The movement of the so-called confederalists in 1927, headed by Ksenofontov, proclaimed the idea of the republic equal in rights to the Soviet Union. The movement was subdued, its members exiled and later shot. In the 1930's the waves of repression reached the republic. Many members of the intelligentsia were denounced. Among many others were the writers Kulakovskiy, Sofronov, and Neustroev, who were accused of bourgeois nationalism. The same happened to the statesmen Ammosov and Oiyunskiy. The rehabilitation process of the 1990's re-established the names of these people.

Lenin and sergeler

Population and ethnic composition

The major ethnic groups are Russians and Sakha; the indigenous minority groups are Evenks, Evens, Yukagirs, and Chukchis (cf factsheet).

Starting from the 1960's the development of the mining industry in the republic has changed the demographic situation: the influx of new migrants from European Russia and other Slavic republics increased. It resulted in the drop of the proportion of Yakuts in the overall population of the republic from 90 % in 1920 to 43 % in 1970, to 36.6 % in 1979, and to 33.4 % in 1989 (Khazanov 1995: 177).

However, after the Soviet disintegration the republic has been experiencing strong outward migration. The number of Russians has decreased from 50.3 % in 1989 to 46.8 % in 1996, Ukrainians from 7.1 % to 5.8 % and Belorussians from 0.9 % to 0.7 %.

Political structure

Sakha (Yakutia) is a presidential republic and has a constitution. On 27 April 1922 Yakutia was granted the status of an autonomous republic. Since then its name had changed several times. Its present name the republic received in 1990 when the Declaration of Sovereignty of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) was signed on 27 September 1990. The republic's first president, Mikhail Nikolayev, was elected on 20 December 1991. On 24 December 1996 he was re-elected for another term of five years.

Sakha has a bicameral legislative system. The parliament Il Tumen consists of the Upper House and Lower House. The Upper House has representatives from each of the 33 ulusy (districts) and both municipal territories, the Lower House has members elected from 24 election districts. The President is also Chair of the Cabinet of Ministers, the Vice President is Prime Minister of administrative organisations. The Cabinet of Ministers consists of the President, the Vice President and 16 ministries. There are also eight national committees which are in charge of economic, social, and other activities.

Social and economic development

The republic plays an important role in the Russian economy because of its tremendous mineral resources. The main industry in the republic is mining. Sakha produces 100% of Russia's antimony, 99% of its diamonds, 24% of the gold, 33% of the silver. It is also a major producer of coal, natural gas, tin, timber, fish and other natural resources. The diamond mining industry is the main source of Russia's foreign currency income. Before the major economic reforms, the central government purchased and exported all uncut diamonds. However, under new economic circumstances 11.5% of precious metals and 20% of diamonds stayed in the republic. This arrangement was set forth in the Agreement on Economic Relations signed between the governments of the Russian Federation and that of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) on 31 March 1992. A joint stock company called Almazy Rossii-Sakha (Diamonds of Russia and Sakha) was established in 1992. This company is to run diamond negotiations with De Beers. In the last few years the percentage of diamonds and gold to remain in the republic increased and became 20% and 15 % correspondingly.

Sakha has large potential for energy production, there are more than 30 known oil and gas fields in the republic. The republican government signed an agreement with the South Korean government for the construction of a natural gas pipeline from Sakha to the Pacific.

See also the description of Tatiana Argounova's research project on federal relations between Yakutsk and Moscow.

International relations

The republic enjoys wide international contacts. It was not until 1989 that Sakha was allowed to trade directly with foreign countries. In 1993 direct trade greatly increased. The Ministry of Foreign Relations was established in 1992 and arranges international economic, cultural, and scientific contacts.

A UNESCO Secretary was established in Yakutsk in 1992, and runs cultural and scientific projects. The Republic of Sakha, among other northern regions, is a member of the Northern Forum (a non-governmental organisation) since 1993.


Agriculture accounts for 13.6 % of the Sakha economy's total output, the main activity being cattle breeding which accounts for 85% of the gross agricultural product. Cattle, horse and reindeer breeding are traditional ocupations of the native population. Cattle and horse breeding are most common in river areas and alasy (flat depressions caused by thermal processes in permafrost areas) where the climate encourages the growth of good grass. Reindeer are reared in tundra and hilly areas with vast pastures. Cattle livestock capita in 1993 were 423,900 excluding pigs (109,700), reindeer (342,900), poultry (1,278,900). Production in 1993 was 43,700 tonnes of meat and 214,300 tonnes of milk and dairy products.

Complicated natural and climatic conditions prevent Yakutia from developing its agriculture so as to wholly meet internal demand. On average there is about 0.4 hectares of arable land per person, which is well below the Russian average. Agricultural land covers 139,900 hectares of the republic. Yields for crops in 1993 were wheat (23,900 tonnes), potatoes (74,600 tonnes) and vegetables (25,300 tonnes). Much attention is being given to the development of forage farming. Potatoes supply 40-50 % of home demand, vegetables 15-20 % and forage 60-70 %.

Along with cattle breeding there is also significant activity in hunting, fur farming and fishing, with much hunting and fur farming production being exported.

At present, state-owned property in agriculture is being transformed, as farms and private enterprises are being created at a rapid rate. About 38 % of grazing and 11 % of agricultural land have been given over to the private sector which also accounts for nearly half of beef cattle livestock, 70 % of pigs, 30 % of horses and produces 40 % of gross agricultural product.

(From: Anon. 1995: 34).

Transportation and Infrastructure

Transport accounts for 12.9 per cent of gross domestic product. Total cargo traffic amounted to 36.8 million tonnes in 1993, rail accounting for 11.8 million tonnes, river-borne transport for 11.2 million tonnes and road transportation for 13.2 million tonnes. At present cargo is transported in the republic from other regions through Osetrovo river port on the Lena (in Irkutskaya oblast'); by the North Shipping route via Tiksi port and the outfalls of the Yana, Indigirka, Kolyma and Anabar rivers in Northern Sakha; through Berkakit railway station on the Amur-Yakutsk railway; and by air linking Yakutia with many major cities in Russia. Water-borne transport ranks first by cargo turnover and second following rail transport by total transportation volume. The reason for this are high carriage capacities, relatively low transportation costs and a well-developed water network which totals some 12,000 km and covers almost the whole of the republic. There are six river ports in Yakutsk, Nizhneyansk, Belogorsk, Lensk, Olekminsk and Khandyga; two sea ports in Tiksi and Zelenomysskiy. Three shipping companies serve the river transportation: the Lena Association of River Navigation joint-stock shipping company, the Kolyma Shipping joint-stock company, the Yana River Navigation joint-stock company; and the Arctic Sea Shipping company.

Railway transport is relatively new to the republic, but today ranks second by freight turnover, following water-borne transport. The coal industry is a major cargo-supplying sector and accounts for 9 million tonnes of coal annually transported by the Amur-Yakutsk Railroad. Operating all year round, rail transport holds much promise for the republic, allowing a reduction in cargo transportation and storage time by 83 days as compared to that of water-borne transport. In operation at present is the Berkakit-Aldan section of the Amur-Yakutsk railway which totals 297 km and links the Baikal-Amur railroad with the industrial centres in South Sakha. Plans include the completion of the Amur-Yakutsk railway, linking the Baikal-Amur and Trans-Siberian railways with the capital of Sakha. Over 3,000 skilled workers with many years of experience in the construction of the Baikal-Amur railway are engaged in its construction.

Sakha transports 70% of the freight into the region by river over a very short period of navigation. Major roads include the road that connects Yakutsk to the Siberian Railway, and the road connecting Yakutsk and Magadan. Transportation by truck is easier on the frozen roads in winter. Difficult transport infrastructure makes Sakha's economy vulnerable.

The main system of transportation in the republic is aviation. The Sakhaavia national air company is a large airline serving the central, north-eastern and southern parts of the republic. The company incorporates 37 airports, of which the major ones are in Yakutsk, Magan, Neryungri, Mirnyy, Tiksi, Lensk and Chokurdakh. Apart from Sakhaavia there are also three independent airline companies, including the Mirnyy Airline company of Diamonds of Russia-Sakha.

(From: Anon. 1995: 36-38).


Tourism is an undeveloped industry. Long distances, the lack of infrastructure, inaccessibility to the remote areas, dependence on air transport, and climatic conditions are reasons for this. Therefore most of the tourist agencies are specialising on outward tourism. Internal tourism is mainly represented by 6-day cruises along the Lena river from Yakutsk to Tiksi in a tourist boat. Hunting tourism is also popular.

Flora and Fauna

Newell and Wilson (1996: 127) state:

"Polar bears den and hunt in Arctic regions near the Henrietta Islands. Each year over 30,000 geese migrate to the wetlands between the Yana and Kolyma rivers and 200,000 to 300,000 ducks migrate to the region between the Kolyma and Alazeya Rivers. White Siberian cranes (sterkh), Canadian cranes, Ross's gulls, geese, and other waterfowl nest on the left bank of the Khroma River and along the lower Indigirka and Alazeya Rivers. Over half of Yakutia's Bewick swans nest between the Kolyma and Konkovaya Rivers. Sandhill cranes, eider, and other waterfowl also nest here. Little curlews, hooded cranes, and black storks nest between the Lena and Kolyma Rivers. In total there are 28 species of mammal, 285 species of bird, 43 of fish, and around 4,000 insect species.

"Yakutia's flora includes 1,831 species of vasacular plants, 526 species of moss, more than 550 species of lichen, and more than 510 species of mushroom. Many species of plant (331 species or 18.6% of the total flora) are listed in the Russian Data Book. Among them are 67 endemics and sub-endemics, including some growing in very limited areas."


Newell and Wilson (1996: 133-134) state:

"In Yakutia... there are only two zapovedniks: Ust -Lenskiy (1.43 million ha.) and Olyokminskiy (2.28 million ha.). There are 20 zakazniks covering approximately 11.2 million ha. Officially, 3 % of Yakutia is protected.

"On recommendations from ecologists, in 1994, the Yakutian president, Mr. Nikolayev issued a decree recommending the creation of a comprehensive system of protected areas of varied status (zapovedniks, national parks, zakazniks), by the year 2000. The territory recommended for protection equals 20% of Yakutia. Spearheadings of this movement are Dr. Nikita Solomonov and Dr. Nikolai Germogenov at the Yakutian Institute of Biology. (...)

"Yakutia's mining industry has damaged the structure and function of both marine and terrestrial ecosystems by decreasing their productivity and impoverishing their biological diversity. Of particular concern are 1) the Vilui River basin, with its well-developed diamond and gas extraction industry, 2) the Yana-Indigirka industrial region, where there is intensive gold and tin mining, and 3) Southern Yakutia, which is a center for coal, gold, and other minerals. Inefficient utilization of agricultural lands has led to a decline in the lichen that naturally grows on northern tundra and destroyed the many alas lake ecosystems in Central Yakutia. Because Yakutia occupies a significant portion of northeastern Russia with various landscapes (arctic deserts, tundra, taiga, mountain systems, steppes, river basins, and numerous lakes), the territory is of vital significance in preserving the ecological balance in Eurasia.

"Therefore, there is an acute need to create a system of protected territories in the republic as pat of global actions to preserve the ecological balance of the Arctic North. In recent years, efforts to protect Yakutia's environment have increased. In 1993, the republic became a member of the Northern Forum, an international nongovernmental association of northern countries, President Nikolayev issued a number of decrees concerning the resolution of ecological problems, and the Law on Nature Conservation was adopted. In August 1993, the Committee of Ecology and Nature Protection commissioned the Yakutian Institute of Biology to do a detailed study on the creation of a comprehensive system of protected areas. Based upon this study, President Nikolayev issued a decree, titled On actions relationg to the Development of Protected Territories, stating that approximately 20% of Yakutia should protected by the year 2000".

Rey (1997: 14) states:

"To preserve these unique resources, fragile arctic ecosystems, President of the Republic of Sakha Mikhail Nikolayev, recently reelected, announced yesterday, in Geneva, signing the Agreement with WWF. Yakutia is conserving 700,000, which is a quarter of the territory, as «reserves for the generations to come». Thus, here at the year 2000, the number of the protected sites, national parks and natural resources of Yakutia will represent area as large as ...17 territories of Switzerland.

"In these zones, according to special legal documents, all mining or industrial activities will be prohibited. The only allowed activity will be traditional use (fishing, hunting, reindeer breeding, etc.) as the indigenous peoples were practicing for thousands years. On it side the WWF which allocated 500.000 francs for activity, under the Yakutian initiative of the registered the Yakutian initiative according to the large project of «WWF 2000 - The Living Planet», according to which 10% of ecosystems are supposed to be protected by the end of the century. The project also envisages the training of the personnel, responsible for the future reserves".


The University of Yakutsk was founded in 1956. In 1990 it was renamed after Maxim Ammosov. The university is composed of 10 departments. It has its branches in Neryungri and Mirnyy, a number of colleges, the Institute of Applied Mathematics and Information, the Information Technologies Centre and Continuing Professional and Management Educational Centre, a Civic Centre, a Linguistic Centre. The Sakha-American Business Centre is a part of the University as well. The University has about 10.000 students; 3.500 are on vocational education. There are 950 lecturers (Anon. 1996: 3).

There is also a Medical Institute (est. 1992), an Institute of Finance and Economics (est. 1995), and an Institute of Education (est. 1996).

Culture and Language

The Yakut language belongs to the Turkic group of languages, which belongs in the Altaic family of languages. Turkic languages are characterised by vowel harmony, general lack of consonant groups, the specific lack of initial l and r in native words, the use of possessive suffixes, lack of gender and a general agglutination of suffixes in word formation (Krueger 1962: 29).

The Yakut language became a lingua franca over a vast area of East Siberia. In the past, the Yakut language was more widespread among the Russians living in the country than it is today.

Since perestroika the attitude towards the indigenous has languages radically changed. Sakha language is now one of the subjects at primary all schools. The number of schools with Sakha as the main language has increased.

girl in Sakha dress


Every nation has its own old traditional festivals that are passed from generation to generation. The Sakha Ysyakh is connected with the cult of the Sundeity, the cult of fertility. Ysyakh is a typical cult holiday in the nature revival. It is celebrated for several days in June, including the 21 June - summer solstice.

The origin of this summer festival comes from Inner Asia. Sakha ancestors were nomads and moved with their cattle to pasture in the steppe. Elements of the Yakut festival are similar to those of other Turkic peoples: Tuvinians, Altayans, Tatars and Bashkirs. The festival opens with the solemn ritual of feeding the fire. The festival area is arranged with rows of new birches -- chechir -- for guests of honour. The festival lasts two days long, it includes sport contests and horse races.

The first recorded information on this summer festival was found in the diaries of the Dutch traveller Ides, who passed through Siberia on his way to China in the late 17th century. He stated that the Yakuts had only one festival a year. He noted the great solemnity of the rituals: making a fire and keeping it while the festival went on, and preparing a great deal of kumys (a beverage made out of mare's milk).

In the old times the opening ceremony of the festival was carried out by the white shamans (aiyy oiun). He was accompanied by 8 virgin girls and 8 virgin boys. The ritual of sprinkling kumys was an offering to the local spirits. The festival highlight was the appeal to the heavenly deities to whom the well being of the people depended on.

Ysyakh was closely linked with the traditional economic activities of the Sakha. The Sakha celebrated Ysyakh as the beginning of a new year. They celebrated it as a festival of renewal and birth of new life. After a long, continuous winter the people of Sakha could gather and enjoy the festival: drinking kumys, playing games, competing in wrestling and horse races, performing the Olonkho (the epic and heroic legend of the Sakha). The main focal point of the festival was the circular dance Osuokhay, which lasted till the morning. The festival, according to the legends, could continue up to 9 days and after Ysyakh was finished all the people returned to their work. In the 1930's the festival was banned, and instead sport competitions were carried on. Since 1991 Ysyakh became a state festival (based on Nazarov 1994: 2-3).


Vitebsky (1995: 10-11) states:

"Shamans are at once doctors, priests, social workers and mystics. They have been called madmen or madwomen, were frequently persecuted throughout history, dismissed in the 1960s as a «desiccated» and «insipid» figment of the anthropologist's imagination, and are now so fashionable that they inspire both intense academic debate and the naming of pop groups. Shamans have probably attracted more diverse and conflicting opinions than any other kind of spiritual specialists. The shaman seems to be all things to all people.

"The word «shaman» comes from the language of the Evenk, a small Tungus-speaking group of hunters and reindeer herders in Siberia. It was first used only to designate a religious specialist from this region. By the beginning of the 20th century it was already being applied in North America to a wide range of medicine-men and medicine-women, while some New Age practitioners today use the word widely for persons who are thought to be in any sort of contact with spirits.

"The Siberian shaman's soul is said to be able to leave the body and travel to other parts of the cosmos, particularly to an upper world in the sky and a lower world underground. This ability is traditionally found in some parts of the world and not in others and allows us to speak of clearly shamanistic societies and cultures. A broader definition than this would include any kind of person who is in control of his or her state of trance, even if this does not involve a soul journey, as in Korea. In these senses, shamans are quite different from other kinds of spirit medium who are possessed and dominated by spirits as and when the spirits themselves choose and who then need to be exorcized. But even though the shaman enters the trance under controlled conditions, his or her «mastery» of the spirits remains highly precarious. The shaman's profession is considered psychically very dangerous and there is a constant risk of insanity or death.

"There can be no shaman without a surrounding society and culture. Shamanism is not a single, unified religion but a cross-cultural form of religious sensibility and practice. In all societies known to us today shamanic ideas generally form only one strand among the doctrines and authority structures of other regions, ideologies and practices. There were probably purely shamanist communities in the past but we have only vague ideas about what it must have felt like to live in them. Shamanism is scattered and fragmented and should perhaps not be called an «-ism» at all. There is no doctrine, no world shamanic church, no holy book as a point of reference, no priests with the authority to tell us what is and what is not correct.

"Nevertheless, there are astonishing similarities, which are not easy to explain, between shamanic ideas and practices as far as the Arctic, Amazonia and Borneo, even though these societies have probably never had any contact with each other. Many current interpretations emphasize the healing side of shamanism, but this is only one aspect of the shaman's work. Among other things, shamanism is a hunter's religion, concerned with the necessity of taking life in order to live oneself. The shamanic view of cosmic equilibrium founded largely on the idea of paying for the souls of the animals one needs to eat, and in the societies the shaman flies to the owner of the animals in order to negotiate the price".



  • Anon. 1995. Republic of Sakha. Yakutian Business Guide. Messino: Italy.
  • Anon. 1996.Sakha State University 1956-1996. Yakutsk.
  • Khazanov, A. 1995. After the USSR. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
  • Krueger, J. 1962: 29. Yakut Manual. Bloomington: Indiana University.
  • Nazarov, A. 1994. Ysyakh. Yakutsk: Bichik.
  • Newell, J. and E.Wilson 1996. The Russian Far East. Forests, Biodiversity Hotspots, and Industrial Developments. Friends of the Earth - Japan.
  • Rey, J.-L. 1997. Cadeau iakoute. In: Le Matin, 12 February.
  • Vitebsky, P. 1990. Yakuts. In: Smith, G. The Nationalities Question in the Soviet Union. London and New York: Longman.
  • Vitebsky, P. 1995. The Shaman. London: MacMillan, Duncan Baird Publishers.

Selected bibliography on Sakha

  • Balzer, M. 1991. A state within a state: the Sakha Republic (Yakutia). In: Kotkin, S. and D. Wolff (eds.) Rediscovering Russia and Asia: Siberia and the Russian Far East. London: M.E.Sharpe.
  • Balzer, M. and U. Vinokurova 1996. Nationalism. Interethnic relations and federalism: the case of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia). In: Europe-Asia Studies 1996, 48 (1), pp. 101-120.
  • Forsyth, J. 1992. A history of the peoples of Siberia. Russia's north Asian colony 1581-1990. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Kempton, D.R. 1996. The Republic of Sakha (Yakutia): The evolution of centre-periphery relations in the Russian Federation. In: Europe-Asia Studies 1996, vol. 48 (4), pp. 587-613.
  • Khazanov, A. 1995. After the USSR. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
  • Ksenofontov, G. 1992 (first published 1937). Uraanghai - Sahalar (On ancient history of Sakha people). Yakutsk: Natsional'noye knizhnoye izdatel'stvo.
  • Klyuchevsky, A. 1989. Recent developments in Yakutia. In: Bon, A. and R. von Voren (eds.) Nationalism in the USSR. Problems of Nationalities. Amsterdam: Second World Center.
  • Poeltzer, G. 1995. Devolution, constitutional development, and the Russian North. In: Post-Soviet Geography. N° 36: 204-214.
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Compiled by Tatiana Argounova, 1997
Edited by Joachim Otto Habeck, 20 October 1997
Updated by Joachim Otto Habeck, 8 January 2000