Siberia’s Yakut People

The Yakut are an ethnic group belonging to the Turkic Eurasian people who live in the Sakha Republic or Yakutia in Siberia. Yakut are a distinct people, with their own history, culture and identity. The number of yakut peope is about 380,000. They follow the Christian Orthodox religion, but with some remnants of shamanism.

The Yakut moved from the southern Siberian steppes and into the Lena River basin around 1000 to 800 years ago. Even when the Russians came into this area around 1630, the Yakut were still the largest ethnic group in the area. After 1630, the Yakut expanded their territorial base significantly at the expensive of their neighbors. The environment of Yakoutia is forest, steppes and mainly in the areas of river meadows.

Yakuts are surrounded by various fishing, hunting, and reindeer-raising tribes. While the Yakut people have lived in this inclement climate over the centuries, they have not changed their traditional lifestyle of southern horse-and cattle-breeding nomads. Yakut horse, an extremely hearty breed, is the base of the traditional Yakut economy and their traditional cuisine. Yakut food is very rich in fats, including many milk, cream, and sour-milk products, and meat. Yakut people do not eat mushrooms.

Among the Yakut, horses were a respected animal that one could measure their wealth against. Bride prices (kalym) were paid with horses and horses were regularly sacrificed to the gods.

In modern times, Yakuts plant vegetables in greenhouses, but traditionally the Yakut people collected and preserved wild vegetables. Every spring they collected a lot of wild green onions that grew along the river Lena; these fresh onions were added to all dishes and were kept salted for year-round use. Wild garlic and some other plants were also collected.

The Yakuts drink Chay (tea) with cream or milk all day long. Mors, a fruit drink made of red whortleberries, is consumed instead of water. There are also many sour-milk drinks, like milk whey and herbs (tansy, thyme, wormwood), which is drunk on hot summer days as a cooling and tonic drink. For an alcoholic drink, fermented mare’s milk is preferred: it provides the basis of such drinks as koumiss (which includes herbs such as wormwood) and araghy.

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