Last weekend I had three Yukagir guests – an old lady, a middle age lady, and a young lady. All three Yukagir ladies are pious Orthodox Christians. I took them to the Holy Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius of Radonezh (Svyato-Troitskaya Sergiyeva Lavra).
Yukagirs were specially pleased to see and venerate many relics of Saints. Every Yukagir clan had a shaman “Alma”. After death every shaman was treated as a deity. The body of the dead shaman was dismembered and kept by the clan as relics (Evenkis would never do that – tradition of keeping relics is foreign to Evenkis).
Yukagir old lady told me that recently in their distant settlement (village Andryushkino - Nizhnekolymsky area of Yakutia) dead mother visited her daughter in a dream, thanking her for providing funeral reindeer (reindeer slaughtered during the funeral). Having reindeer she had a good journey to other world, while many pedestrians walking to other world are in absolutely miserable state. These pedestrians got dead woman with their complaints and pleadings.
She also told me about an unexpected close meeting with the bear in her childhood. According to tradition her grandmother was persuading the bear in four languages – Yukagir, Even (Lamut – not Evenki), Yakutian and Russian. Meanwhile grandmother whispered to girl: very slowly depart behind my back – grandmother tried to sacrifice herself to rescue the girl. Well the bear liked arguments in four languages and didn’t touch them. Or better to say the bear was note in the mood for hunting. The tradition teaches: never run from the bear, do not look into his eyes, talk to bear and try to persuade the master of the forest.
By the way the she-bear which few days ago injured Nadezhda Teplyakova was not hunting – she-bear was defending cubs. Seeing that cubs run away into the forest she-bear left Nadezhda Teplyakova alive. Kislokan bear which had Honored Teacher of Evenkia Mrs. Margarita Chapogir for breakfast and Mr. Anatoliy Sirotkin for dinner was in mood of hunting. That bear watched humans and decided that the bridge over stream would be the best place for attacks on humans.
These Yukagirs had their own system of views on the objective world and the place of human in relation to the surrounding reality. Some may think they are “primitive”. Are they? All members of Yukagir family communicate freely in four absolutely different languages – Yukagir, Even, Yakutian and Russian. How many Russian or American families speak at home in four languages? Yet, they are “primitive” and we are not.
“Dances with Wolves” is a rather naïve film, yet it is better in comparison with American violence films: all problems of this sinful world can be resolved by violent prone American hero. The Lakota (Sioux) used the metaphor to describe white men’s violence. It was Wasi'chu. Wasi'chu does not describe a race; it describes a state of mind. Wasi'chu is a human condition based on inhumanity and racism.
It is very difficult to understand meanings of Evenki religious constructions such as rivers, bridges, rafts, staircases etc. It is interesting that under influence of Russian Orthodox Christianity Evenki iron and wooden images indeed became more primitive than pre-Russian ones – images became secret allusions to older tradition. Russian Emperor Peter the Great ordered Russians to become Western-Europeans and "barbarians" to become Christians.
Yet, not pro-Western anti-Eurasian ideology of Russian St. Petersbough Empire, but Soviet Union reforms, boarding schools, TV and other mass-media became fatal for Evenki traditions. Now we have only fragments of traditional Evenki symbolism. It is also interesting that neo-shamanism was not accepted by Evenki folk – for majority of forest Evenkis it is false religion (I have heard that opinion many times), while some Evenkis living in cities play some games with neo-shamanism to get Dollars and Euros from Western spies, tourists and scholars. The main difficulty for my field research is that Evenkis refuse to show sacred places and graves.
Local Russians are ready to help, but they don’t know Evenki sights. Another problem are the bears, no one visits to forest without a rifle. But taking rifle onto an airplane is strictly prohibited.
[Ed. Note] After reading Yuri's article, we asked: "From what you wrote, we gather that their Christianity is a blending of Christianity and their former 'pagan' religion. Is that correct?" He responded:
I got the impression that they are very pious people for they were very happy to attend church services. After one week train journey they rushed to Pokrovsky monastery to kiss relics of St. Matrona (without me) - there is always long cue of pilgrims there. And I took them to the Holy Trinity Lavra (70 km from Moscow). Certainly they are rooted in Church rules and follow Church traditions automatically. On the contrary I was brought up in atheistic communist family (once my father - Russian Airforce colonel - smashed icons I brought from the church) so I am not rooted in Church traditions and always forgot to do some things.
I think that for Evenkis it is very difficult to accept veneration of relics because all Evenkis are very afraid of "bugadyl" of dead humans (very small personal spirits of any person - infections?). Yukagirs traditionally kept relics of shamans, so they understand and enjoy veneration of relics. I wanted to show Yukagir old lady many relics of saints, but it was too late - she herself found these relics and was praying before them. I always wonder how one saint can have so many heads, hands etc., but some relics are certainly authentic.
Of course their Christianity is more or less blending of Christianity and their former religion. And of course their world-view is very different from the world-view of city dwellers. However, as it is known Yukagirs, Yakuts and Evens (Lamuts) are more devoted Christians than Evenkis. Some pagan religions were very close to Russian Orthodox Christianity - for example Yakuts are sure that Jesus Christ was Yakut (Saha) and arrived from Yakutia (Saha). Mission among Yakuts was very easy because Yakuts recoginize their own faith in Christianity. Yakuts think they have got "white faith" and demonize Evenki religion as "black faith". Yakuts conqured and subdued some Evenki tribes, some Yakuts call Evenkis "swines". Evenkis think that Yakuts (yoko) are greedy and violent folk and Russians (luchal) are silly and funny people, which don't understand life in forests.