Le cheval chez les Iakoutes chasseurs et éleveurs : de la monture à l'emblème culturel

Abstract : In the North-East of Siberia, the Yakuts, who arrived from the Baikal region less than seven centuries ago, raise horses and cattle in the alaas, in the valleys and the taiga on the lower course of the Lena river.
The bibliography in Russian language concerning this people is rich and includes narratives by travellers, accounts by administrators as well as analyses and descriptions by ethnographers prior to 1917, but dating as well of the communist period and of the post-soviet years. The theoretical analysis was fed by Western sources, including the works of Evelyne Lot-Falck, Laurence Delaby and Roberte Hamayon about the peoples of Siberia as well as those of Jean-Pierre Digard about the horse and its domestication.
Cousins of the horse-riding Turkic and Mongolian peoples of Central Asia, the Yakuts are aware of their belonging to that ensemble while putting forward their originality.
Conceiving their horse more like an animal of the forest than like ordinary cattle, they breed it while preserving its “wild” character. Inside a domestication system that does not try to submit the animal, this one finds a place, as well in the facts as through the symbols, between the domesticated animal and the wild beast.
For the Yakuts, who have a binary economy, the equilibrium of which between hunting and cattle breeding has fluctuated according to the history of the society and the natural restraints, the horse is representative of a significant animal. In a system of thinking articulated between hunting and breeding shamanism, the stallion chief of the herd, with its fiery and independent temperament, represents for the shaman as well a way of transportation as a symbolic double during the rituals. It is as well the best exchanging object in the relation that the humans think to have with the horse giving spirits, specially during the kyjdaa ritual that began in the eighteenth century according to narratives. It was a historical period of troubles during which rich peoples legitimated their status thanks to the installation on the territory of the administration of the Tsarist Empire.
Progressively, the exchange with the spirits, that occurred according to the equalitarian mode of the hunting shamanism, becomes vertical and takes the shape of a symbolical dependence of the spirits, no longer animals but ancestors givers of cattle, of whose one needs to implore the benefits. In parallel to this phenomenon appears aside the character of the Ürüŋ Ajyy Tojon spirit, that the Yakuts put on the top of their Pantheon, the one of the Terrible D'öhögöj, the protector of humans and horses, the gifts of whom are welcomed and the anger is feared.
Before the policy of collectivisation that occurred in the 1920-1930 years, the horse had acquired an incontestable utilitarian importance and its symbolic role was already sung by epic singers, who were praising the Heroes who founded lineages. Nowadays, the horse is no longer a part of the daily life of every Yakut : more often eaten that ridden, it acquires a symbolic signification inversely proportional to its disappearing from the landscape. So the National reconstruction process that took place after the fall of the Soviet Union raised the horse to the status of an emblem for the Sakha Republic (Yakutia), so as to-day the Yakuts call their people and their horse as the “sons of the D'öhögöj spirit”.
The Yakut example shows the importance of the horse figure in the system of thinking of a hunting and breeding people of Siberia, as well as the parallelism between the shrinking of the utilitarian function of an artefact and the reinforcing of the symbolism of which it is the support.
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Emilie Maj. Le cheval chez les Iakoutes chasseurs et éleveurs : de la monture à l'emblème culturel. Sciences de l'Homme et Société. Ecole pratique des hautes études - EPHE PARIS, 2007. Français. ⟨tel-00311117⟩

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