Accepted paper:

The concept of North in Arctic indigenous environmental perception (the example of Sakhas)


Csaba Mészáros (Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Research Centre for the Humanities)

Paper short abstract:

In Sakha worldview cardinal directions are both historical and geographical constructions. Although in Sakha environmental perception North was traditionally hostile area, due to Soviet modernization and recent global interest in the Arctic, the Sakha perspective on North has changed profoundly.

Paper long abstract:

Sakhas (Yakuts) of northeastern Siberia normally localize themselves and define their immediate environment in the wider context of culturally determined macro-environment. In Sakha environmental perception ethnic groups, lifestyles, and landscapes are associated with cardinal directions. Cardinal directions are as much historical as geographical constructions; they are imbued with memories and identities, and represent a historically rich, stratified, changing, and incoherent collection of ideas and assessments. Out of the cardinal directions North is of special interest. Although in Sakha environmental perception North was traditionally a peripheral area of frost and evil spirits, as well as the homeland of uncivilized peoples, due to modernization efforts in the Soviet era (widely known as the conquest of the North), and recent growing global interest in Arctic regions, the Sakha perspective on North and the Arctic world has changed profoundly. Instead of referring to the North as a peripheral area, alien to Sakhas, it has taken a central position in Sakha self-identification and in Yakutia's region-building process. The paper aims at presenting conflicting local and national discourses on the notion of North in Yakutia, and showing the efforts of local cultural politics in making the Arctic and North a Sakha homeland.

panel P011
Practicing the Arctic: home and heterotopia