Working Paper 137

The alaas: the interplay between environment and Sakhas in Central-Yakutia

Csaba Mészáros

Siberian Studies Centre

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Working Paper 137

Alaases, thermokarst depressions formed in the permafrost environment of Yakutia (north-eastern Siberia) provide fertile hayfields for the Sakha cattle economy. At this northern latitude, cattle breeding is in particular demand of nutritious fodder, because cows spend an average of nine months in winter-stables. Therefore, alaases are in the focus of Sakha environmental perception. Sakhas not only dwell at alaases, but through their economic activities, they modify and maintain them as well. This process is based on control and domination rather than on procurement of the environment. Villagers in Tobuluk (central Yakutia) consider the areas surrounding their village as controlled islands of alaases (hayfields) in a sea of uncontrolled forest. In this paper, I examine Sakha environmental perception in which landscapes and cardinal directions evoke and define each other and characterise those who reside there. Due to the subsequent transformations of Sakha economy and lifestyle by the Soviet and Russian state administration in the last 100 years (collectivisation, centralisation, and decollectivisation), the way Sakhas interact with their surroundings has transformed radically within the past four generations, causing profound differences in the way generations relate to, interact with, and understand alaases.

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