My Master’s Research

It was the summer of 1991, under the auspices of an invitation to a week-long International Jew’s Harp Conference, that I made my first trip to the Sakha Republic. During the week of events surrounding the conference, we were flown out to various river regions of the Republic to participate in the Sakhas’ traditional annual fertility festival, yhyakh. In witnessing the contemporary festival, I was immediately taken by how much of the Sakha culture had been preserved in comparison to the other ethnic traditions I had been studying in southern Siberia. I decided to study the yhyakh for my Master’s thesis research topic.

I returned in January 1992 to work for a few months with my colleagues in Ulan Ude and then to relocate to the Sakha Republic capital Yakutsk for several months of archival research and interviews with specialists.. In late spring I moved to my research base in the Elgeeii village, Suntar region. I traveled throughout the Viliui Regions, interviewing local inhabitants about the festival and using still photography and audio-recording to document contemporary Sakha culture. I participated in and documented accordingly five yhyakh festivals. After the festivals, I continued to interview inhabitants and also to participate in the local activities of the summer—most notably, haying, berry picking, and fishing.

Based on my data, I concluded that the most vibrant and living aspect of the contemporary yhyakh festival is the ohyokhai, the Sakhas’ traditional circle dance which is fueled by the improvisatory singing of master singers. This was the basis of my Master's thesis, Dance of Life, Circle of Life: Ahyokhai as the Sakhas’ Emergent Ethnic Voice. Click here to see the table of contents from my thesis. You can also download an article I recently published in the Journal of American Folklore based on my Master’s research, Ohuokai : A Unique Integration of Social Meaning and Sound, Journal of American Folklore.119(472): 161-183. For a pdf of the article, click here.

I also developed a slide and sound presentation Dance of Life, Circle of Life: Ethnic Revival in the Sleeping Lands of Siberia. Here is a description:

Dance of Life, Circle of Life: Ethnic Revival in the Sleeping Lands of Siberia

The Sakha of northeastern Siberia have, through their history, celebrated the arrival of summer with the yhyakh kymys fesitval. The ohyokhai circle dance, an intergral part of that festival, emerges in contemporary times as the Sakhas’ major ethnic voice. This lecture presents fieldwork in both slide and soundtrack to show the festival in its contemporary context. Concurrently, the presentation portrays the environmental challenges the Sakha face in preserving not only their ethnic traditions but their people. The field site is the Viliui River basin regions of the western Sakha Republic.

Like my Southern Siberia show, I presented this one extensively. Email me if you would like to know more about this and/or the Southern Siberia show.