How to Enjoy a Teetotal All-Night Party: Abstinence and Identity at the Sakha People’s Yhyakh

Eleanor Peers, Stepan Kolodeznikov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

This paper exploits the interconnections between alcohol use and politics, to examine changing forms of Sakha identification in the Sakha people’s northeast Siberian Republic, Sakha (Yakutia). The Sakha people are an indi-genous Siberian community; their territories have been under Russian administration since the early seventeenth century. The public event that is this paper’s main focus – the Yhyakh – is a shamanic ritual, which has come to be regarded as a quintessential traditional Sakha practice.
Like many other non-Russian communities across the Soviet Union, the Sakha people have been experiencing a cultural revival, in the wake of an intensive attempt at cultural homogenisation during the Soviet era. Moderate Sakha nationalist politicians enjoyed a heady period of political dominance during the 1990s, which ceased with the advent of the Putin administrations. The Sakha people have since then watched the political and economic power of the Sakha nationalist movement fade into nothing, as the central government in Moscow has re-asserted its dominance over the Russian Federation’s subject regions. This brief examination of alcohol consumption at the Yhyakh reveals the emergence of new conventions and discussions surrounding pleasure-seeking, physical discipline, and ethnic identification. It shows how the Sakha identification for many has become integrated into projects of personal reformation, as part of a broader acceptance of the Sakha national revival and its aims. The Yhyakh has become a fulcrum for the physical, spiritual and moral aspirations of a nationalist movement that can no longer exert a political influence, but is nonetheless capable of shaping aesthetic and moral values, and physical practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-134
Number of pages18
JournalFolklore
Volume61
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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Keywords

  • alcohol use
  • cultural revitalisation
  • post-Soviet identification
  • Sakha culture
  • shamanism
  • Siberia

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