The Yukaghir, or Yukagirs , деткиль (detkil)) are a people in East Siberia, living in the basin
Drainage basin
A drainage basin is an extent or an area of land where surface water from rain and melting snow or ice converges to a single point, usually the exit of the basin, where the waters join another waterbody, such as a river, lake, reservoir, estuary, wetland, sea, or ocean...

 of the Kolyma River
Kolyma River
The Kolyma River is a river in northeastern Siberia, whose basin covers parts of the Sakha Republic, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, and Magadan Oblast of Russia. Itrises in the mountains north of Okhotsk and Magadan, in the area of and...



The Tundra
In physical geography, tundra is a biome where the tree growth is hindered by low temperatures and short growing seasons. The term tundra comes through Russian тундра from the Kildin Sami word tūndâr "uplands," "treeless mountain tract." There are three types of tundra: Arctic tundra, alpine...

 Yukaghirs live in the Lower Kolyma
The Kolyma region is located in the far north-eastern area of Russia in what is commonly known as Siberia but is actually part of the Russian Far East. It is bounded by the East Siberian Sea and the Arctic Ocean in the north and the Sea of Okhotsk to the south...

 region in the Sakha Republic; the Taiga
Taiga , also known as the boreal forest, is a biome characterized by coniferous forests.Taiga is the world's largest terrestrial biome. In North America it covers most of inland Canada and Alaska as well as parts of the extreme northern continental United States and is known as the Northwoods...

 Yukaghirs in the Upper Kolyma region in the Sakha Republic and in Srednekansky District
Srednekansky District
Srednekansky District is a district in Magadan Oblast, Russia. Its administrative center is the work settlement of Seymchan. Area: . District's population: 5,461 ;)...

 of Magadan Oblast
Magadan Oblast
Magadan Oblast is a federal subject of Russia in the Far Eastern Federal District. Its administrative center is the city of Magadan....

. By the time of Russian colonization in the 17th century, the Yukaghir tribal groups (Chuvans
Chuvans are one of the forty or so "less-numerous peoples of the North" recognized by the Russian government. Most Chuvans today live within Chukotka Autonomous Okrug in the far northeast of Russia...

, Khodyns, Anaoul
Anaouls were one of the sedentary subtribes of the Yukaghirs, an indigenous tribe of North Siberia. They are recorded in 17th century to live in the Anadyr River basin as fishermen and hunters. No further information about them known since 18th century. It is assumed that they were assimilated....

s, etc.) occupied territories from the Lena River
Lena River
The Lena is the easternmost of the three great Siberian rivers that flow into the Arctic Ocean . It is the 11th longest river in the world and has the 9th largest watershed...

 to the mouth of the Anadyr River
Anadyr River
Anadyr is a river in the far northeast Siberia which flows into Anadyr Bay of the Bering Sea and drains much of the interior of Chukotka Autonomous Okrug. Its basin corresponds to the Anadyrsky District of Chukotka....

. The number of the Yukaghirs decreased between the 17th and 19th centuries due to epidemics, internecine wars and Tsarist colonial policy. Some of the Yukaghirs have assimilate
Cultural assimilation
Cultural assimilation is a socio-political response to demographic multi-ethnicity that supports or promotes the assimilation of ethnic minorities into the dominant culture. The term assimilation is often used with regard to immigrants and various ethnic groups who have settled in a new land. New...

d with the Yakuts
Yakuts , are a Turkic people associated with the Sakha Republic.The Yakut or Sakha language belongs to the Northern branch of the Turkic family of languages....

, Evens
The Evens or Eveny are a people in Siberia and the Russian Far East. They live in some of the regions of the Magadan Oblast and Kamchatka Krai and northern parts of Sakha east of the Lena River. According to the 2002 census, there were 19,071 Evens in Russia...

, and Russians
The Russian people are an East Slavic ethnic group native to Russia, speaking the Russian language and primarily living in Russia and neighboring countries....


Currently, Yukaghirs live in the Sakha Republic and the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug
Chukotka Autonomous Okrug
Chukotka Autonomous Okrug , or Chukotka , is a federal subject of Russia located in the Russian Far East.Chukotka has a population of 53,824 according to the 2002 Census, and a surface area of . The principal town and the administrative center is Anadyr...

 of the Russian Federation. According to the 2002 Census
Russian Census (2002)
Russian Census of 2002 was the first census of the Russian Federation carried out on October 9 through October 16, 2002. It was carried out by the Russian Federal Service of State Statistics .-Resident population:...

, their total number was 1,509 people, up from 1,112 recorded in the 1989 Census
Soviet Census (1989)
The 1989 Soviet census, conducted between January 12-19 of that year, was the last one conducted in the former USSR. It resulted in a total population of 286,730,819 inhabitants...



The Yukaghir languages
Yukaghir languages
The Yukaghir languages are a small family of two closely related languages – Tundra and Kolyma Yukaghir – spoken by the Yukaghir in the Russian Far East living in the basin of the Kolyma River. According to the 2002 Russian census, both Yukaghir languages taken together have 604 speakers...

 are a small language family
Language family
A language family is a group of languages related through descent from a common ancestor, called the proto-language of that family. The term 'family' comes from the tree model of language origination in historical linguistics, which makes use of a metaphor comparing languages to people in a...

 of two closely related languages, Tundra Yukaghir and Kolyma Yukaghir. They are unclassified language
Unclassified language
Unclassified languages are languages whose genetic affiliation has not been established by means of historical linguistics. If this state of affairs continues after significant study of the language and efforts to relate it to other languages, as in the case of Basque, it is termed a language...

s: their origin and relation to other languages are unknown; some scholars consider them distantly related to the Uralic languages
Uralic languages
The Uralic languages constitute a language family of some three dozen languages spoken by approximately 25 million people. The healthiest Uralic languages in terms of the number of native speakers are Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian, Mari and Udmurt...

, but this classification is not accepted by the majority of specialists in Uralic linguistics. The languages are regarded as seriously endangered.

Most of the Yukaghirs at present speak Yakut and Russian.

Traditional tribes

The 13 tribes which constituted the Yukaghir group were:
  1. Vadul-Alais
  2. Odul
  3. Chuvan
  4. Anaoul
    Anaouls were one of the sedentary subtribes of the Yukaghirs, an indigenous tribe of North Siberia. They are recorded in 17th century to live in the Anadyr River basin as fishermen and hunters. No further information about them known since 18th century. It is assumed that they were assimilated....

  5. Lavren
  6. Olyuben
  7. Omok
  8. Penjin
  9. Khodynt
  10. Khoromoy
  11. Shoromboy
  12. Yandin
  13. Yandyr

The surviving three tribes are the Odul of Nelemnoe, the Vadul of Andryushkino and the Chuvan of the Anadyr river area. Of the extinct groups, the most important were the Khodynt
The Khodynts were one of the 13 tribes of the Yukaghir tribe of Northern Siberia. The Khodynts were wiped out by a smallpox epidemic that happened between 1692 and 1693....

, the Anaoul
Anaouls were one of the sedentary subtribes of the Yukaghirs, an indigenous tribe of North Siberia. They are recorded in 17th century to live in the Anadyr River basin as fishermen and hunters. No further information about them known since 18th century. It is assumed that they were assimilated....

(both of the Anadyr River area), and the Omok (North of the Chuvan). Sometimes the Chuvan are considered a separate tribe. The Chuvantsy language has been extinct since the early 20th century. In 2002 1087 identified themselves as Chuvan compared to over 1300 in 1989. The Vadul are mainly involved in reindeer herding while the Odul (Kogime) are mostly hunter-gatherers. The Vadul are also known as Tundra Yukaghir. The Odul are also known as Taiga Yukaghir or Kolyma Yukaghir. The Vadul and Odul languages are as different as German is from Dutch. Both are nearing extinction, and Odul is in a much weaker state compared to Vadul. In the 1989 census, more than 700 of the Yukaghirs identified as Vadul while fewer than 400 were Odul.
The Yukaghir are one of the oldest peoples in North-Eastern Asia. Originally they lived over a huge territory from Lake Baikal to the Arctic Ocean. By the time of the first encounter with Russians, Yukaghir were divided into twelve tribes with around 9,000 people. The Yukagir ethnonym is “Odul” or “Vadul”, which means “mighty”.

Tribal divisions among the Yukaghir are fading now. although in every census from 1926, significant number of tribesmen identified themselves with tribal divisions like Anaoul, Odul and Vadul rather than describing themselves as Yukaghir. The Soviet government actively discouraged this tendency and now only the most elderly identify this way. In the 2002 census, out of the 1,509 Yukaghirs, 51 identified themselves as Omok, 40 as Alais, 21 as Odul, 17 as Vadul, 6 as Khangait and 4 as Detkil.

Clan system

The head of every clan was an elder or “Ligey Shomorokh”. His was the final word in all aspects of life. Hunting leaders were “Khangitche”, and war leaders were “Tonbaia Shomorokh” (the mighty man). Women and teenagers had equal voices with men. The internal life of the community was under the control of the older women. Their decisions in those matters were indisputable.

In the beginning of every summer all clans gathered together for the common celebration “Sakhadzibe”, where mutual Yukagir questions were discussed.

In the Yakut-Sakha Republic there are three nomadic extended family communities. These are “Tchaila” in Nizhnekolymsk district, “Teki Odulok” in Verkhnekolymsk district and “Ianugail” in Ust’-Iansk district.

The head of “Ianugail” is I. I. Tomsky. The community’s main activities are deer hunting and fishing.

“Tchaila” is the biggest of the three. Its head is S. I. Kurilov. They have 4000 domesticated reindeers, 200 horses, and 20 cows. The community also hunts deer and polar foxes. There is also a shop where traditional skin and fur garments are made.

The head of “Teki Odulok” is N. I. Shalugin. Their base is the village of Nelemnoe. This community is in the most difficult situation. Due to the “creative interpretation” of various perestroika and privatization laws by the local and district administration and so-called businessmen, the community has lost all their reindeer, cows and even part of its land. All they have left are about 50 horses. They have no money for supplies for hunting and fishing. 80% of all adult population is de-facto unemployed.

The highest forum for Yukagir is the all-people gathering “Suktuul”.


Alongside Russian Orthodox beliefs, Yukaghir still practice shamanism. The dominant cults are ancestral spirits, the spirits of Fire, Sun, Hunt, Earth, and Water. The spirits can act as protectors and as enemies of people. The highest is the cult of Sun, the highest judge in all disputes. The spirits of the dead go to “Aibidzi” where they are continually watching and helping. Every 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.


The main traditional activity is nomadic and semi-nomadic hunting of deer, moose, wild sheep, and sable, as well as fishing. Reindeer are bred mostly for transportation.

The decline of traditional economic activities, the horrible environmental situation of the Yukaghir’s traditional lands and waters, and the absence of local and federal laws and executive mechanisms protecting Indigenous peoples, have all resulted in a dreadful situation for Yukagir communities. Average life span for men is 45 years, and 54 years for women. Child mortality is the highest in the Yakut-Sakha Republic.

See also

  • Paleosiberian languages
    Paleosiberian languages
    Paleosiberian languages or Paleoasian languages is a term of convenience used in linguistics to classify a disparate group of languages spoken in some parts of north-eastern Siberia and some parts of Russian Far East...

  • Uralic–Yukaghir languages
  • Uralic
  • Eurasiatic
  • Nostratic
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