Accepted paper:

"I lay motionless in the bloody abyss:" ritual, sacrifice, and the birth of Soviet Sakha (yakut) literature 1917-1939


Naomi Caffee (Reed College)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the themes of ritual and sacrifice, in the works of two indigenous writers, Petr Chernykh-Yakutskii (1882-1933) and Platon Oiunskii (1893-1939), who became founding figures of the Sakha literary tradition in northeastern Siberia the early Soviet era.

Paper long abstract:

This paper features two writers whose works, as well as their tragic fate under Stalin, formed the genesis of the Sakha (Yakut) national literary tradition. Petr Chernykh-Yakutskii (1882-1933) and Platon Oiunskii (1893-1939) were Russian-educated members of the Sakha intelligentsia and early members of the Soviet Writers' Union. Oiunskii's seminal work of revolutionary mysticism, "The Red Shaman" (1925), re-casts Sakha religious rituals and cosmology within a Soviet teleological framework. The titular character of the Red Shaman, who summons revolution even as it hastens his own obsolescence and violent death, serves as an early literary record of the contentious relationship between Soviet visions of modernity and the drive to preserve minority cultures and lifeways. Chernykh-Yakutskii's 1924 short story "Bad Medicine" explores the same dynamic; here, however, revolutionary fervor gives way to despondency when a psychologically tormented Sakha man seeks out a ritual cure that results in tragedy for himself and his family. The Sakha writers of Oiunskii and Chernykh-Yakutskii's generation, whose works gave voice to indigenous peoples' struggles under the Soviet system and, in the case of Oiunskii, paid for it with their lives, were the founding figures of modern Sakha literature and identity. I argue that the themes of ritual and sacrifice in their works—which reflect their own life experiences under totalitarianism—form a cornerstone of this identity building process and still resonate with reading audiences today.

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