The culture of the peoples that inhabit the Arctic is distinctive and self-sufficient. At the foundation of the culture and life of indigenous peoples is a concept called circumpolar civilization - one of the oldest in the world, it has been integrated into the global community. The legacy of circumpolar civilization includes artifacts, rock art, languages, folklore, rituals, trades and tools of the northern peoples. The relationship with nature and the proximity of the land are the main features of circumpolar civilization, and possibly what have preserved it: the civilization has already outlived many others. In the 21st Century modern Polar culture is able to adapt well to global culture.
Culture and Life
The life and culture of Arctic peoples have always depended on the living conditions in harsh environments. A house for a northern settler could be a solid log house or a house on stilts; nomadic herders prefer portable chums (tents), insulated with deer skins and heated with whale or walrus fat. For centuries, the peoples of the north have chosen the perfect patterns for clothes, and every seam has had its place. Clothes could be all-in-one, without a single cut, or with an open front.
For off-season clothes they used rovduga - suede made of reindeer or elk skin. Winter clothing was made from deer skin, it was traded with sea hunters for seal skin - used to make waterproof footwear. To finish items they used the skins of small fur animals (squirrel, ermine). A fur mosaic technique was used, where pieces of fur of different colours are sewn together one by one. Women mastered the art of deer hair embroidery. In Chukotka, a use was found for walrus moustache, and the Mansi often used coloured thread.
Foreigners brought beads to the north, Evenks were willing to trade a few beads for a deer. The first beads cracked in the cold, but people then began to bring glass beads that were more hard-wearing. The art of sewing beads passed from generation to generation among the northern peoples. Decorating clothes is a long and difficult task, so patterns were first torn off old clothes, and if possible transferred to new clothes.
The main trades of indigenous peoples of the north are associated with hunting and hunters’ trophies. An ingenious invention was the harpoon with a revolving head to hunt walruses and whales. It guarantees a successful hunt. If the harpoon hits the target, the revolving mechanism hooks on to its catch.
Bone carving has become a traditional craft of the Chukchi and Inuits. A number of bone carving schools have been established, the oldest of which is Uelen School on the Chukotka Peninsula. Carved combs, knife handles and harpoon heads, which we have obtained, date back to the first millenium AD. Chukchi carved miniatures made out of walrus tusks are highly regarded throughout the world for the originality of the engravers, who make finished products without draft designs. Each work is unique and distinguished by the graphic quality of the image and the fluidity of the lines. Some of the master bone carvers also developed skills in graphic narration: the most famous graphic tale illustrates a meeting of whalers and reindeer herders, who are trying to make a deal to exchange animal skins. Figurines of deer and seals made of walrus tusk have been found. They presumably served as talismans against the weather and brought good luck in hunting.
The Arctic became the birthplace of Mezen painting. This is one of the oldest crafts of the north. The painting began in the early 19th Century and it was mostly done by men. Wooden utensils were painted, as well as household items (chests, buckets, boxes, spinning wheels). It is often a three-tier pattern painted in red and black, with each symbol having a certain meaning. Images of the sky, sun, animals, birds, animals and fire are traditional and were taken from the rock paintings of the North of Russia.
Rock paintings were discovered in Russia on the banks of the White Sea and Chukotka. The most famous Arctic petroglyphs are located in the north of Norway in Alta. They are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The rock paintings were created during the period from 4000 BC to 500 AD. They are in a variety of geometric shapes, the meaning of which have not yet been deciphered. There are also images of deer, hunting scenes, everyday life and rituals.
The mystery of the mazes on the Solovki Islands remains unsolved. The labyrinths lined with stones could have served as a venue for folk festivals and dances, a project to catch fish, with which fishermen could have honed their skills, or they may have been of a strictly religious significance. On Vaigach Island, idols were discovered which the Northern peoples, the Ugra and Samoyed, brought sacrifices to. Some scientists believe that in terms of uniqueness and significance, Vaigach Island is no less superior than Easter Island. Whale Alley in Chukotka was a place to perform sacrifices and initiation rites.
The northern peoples believed that sacrifices, rites and rituals would help to appease the spirits and bring good luck in hunting. They were at the mercy of nature and deified it, the pantheon of gods was well developed. Some of the peoples of the north believed that the sky vault revolved around the Pole Star. The holidays of the northern peoples are linked to the seasons and to successful hunting. On the Taimyr Peninsula the massive ethnic festival The Big Argish symbolizes the meeting of winter. At the end of June, the Ysyakh celebration in Yakutia marks the beginning of the summer and the meeting of the sun. It also used to be a universal birthday, it was believed that those who had survived the long winter had every right to be one year older. There are also celebrations of animals: the bear, whale and walrus.
The northern peoples lived by hunting, this occupation had a profound influence on their culture. There was also a particular hunting culture. For example, the Nenets peoples made an effort to always catch fish in a different place to allow the river time to rest. There was an unwritten law that you should not take from nature more than you need. This preserved the biological resources of the north, until the poachers arrived. Khanty hunters have a rule: you have to beat an animal, if your dog has found it, otherwise you will be «ashamed» in front of your dog. Northern peoples learn to understand animals from an early age. Children learn the walrus or seal dance, most dances of northern peoples have different imitative and mimicking movements.
The dances are accompanied by ritual preparations for the hunt, which helps to focus on success. The Inuits, coastal Chukchi and Koryak incorporated the step-by-step process of hunting whale into their dance. Evenks imitated the pursuit of an animal in their dance. In the culture of the Chukchi whaler there was a rule that you should not save a drowning partner. This was based on the idea that water was the territory of the sea devil Keli, whom it was best not to upset. Furthermore, you could not be distracted from a catch, which could determine the fate of an entire village. The Sami god of hunting is the deer-human Myandash, whom the people regarded as their ancestor. He became the centre of ritual culture.
The Samoyed peoples dedicated their dances to the Gods of the Elements. The Nenets people danced in their chums (tents) in honour of the spirit of thunder, Khe, and asked him to save lives. The dancing culture of the northern peoples began to be formed in ancient times. Cave paintings suggest that the ancestors of the Chukchi danced as far back as in the first millennium BC.
The dances of shamans have a special place in the system of ritual dances. The shaman drum is the most popular musical instrument of the peoples of the north. For shamans the drum is a bird and a map in the spiritual world. Khanty and Mansi peoples knew about 30 kinds of musical instruments, from simple percussion instruments to string instruments, such as the seven-stringed harp called «the swan». In Yakutia, a very popular reed instrument is the khomus (mouth harp), which appeared about five thousand years ago. Yakutsk is home to the only International Khomus Museum in the world.
The Yakut heroic epic Olonkho, which reflects in a poetic form the eternal uncompromising struggle between good and evil, is well-known throughout the world. The plot is based on a confrontation between a warrior and evil one-armed or one-legged beasts and also the defence of justice and peace. The legend is usually named after its hero. Hyperboles in the imagery of heroes and realism in the description of everyday life are characteristic in Olonkho. Tales of warriors are a reference to ancient myths. Olonkho is an example of the poetic views on nature of the northern peoples. For example, a storm cloud is compared to a bear skin laid out flat. Olonkho has been performed by singers - olonkhosuts. This epic is the northern equivalent of Russian folk tales and has been kept in its best traditions. Even in the 21st Century Olonkho still inspires poets and artists to create their works of art.
The tales of the peoples of the Far North are a northern version of the Russian fairy tale. They are original and reflect the character, life and work of the northern peoples. They have a considerable teaching potential. For young northern people the tales were not only fun, but also a lesson in life, they helped children to understand folk traditions, and they roused the desire to imitate the main characters, who were simple hunters, fishers, herders, most often poor people - but clever, brave and resourceful. The spirit guardians of the elements were responsible for the magic. There is also a series of tales about animals. Sami folklore includes tales for children and tales of the good-for-nothing man-eater Tale, vampires and dwarfs. Myths about the deer-human Myandash and Sakki, describing wars, as well as urban legends and folk improvisations of the events of days gone by play an important role in Sami folklore.