Three Sakha Intelligentsias and the ethnographical studies from the early 20th century to the 1930s

Takakura Hiroki
Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge

Three Sakha Intelligentsias and the ethnographical studies from the early 20th century to the 1930s

47th Meeting of the PIAC, Cambridge 2004

Recently, anthropologists and historians have developed the historical analyses of repressed Russian anthropology from the 1920s and 1930s in the former Soviet Union. They discuss the theoretical and institutional changes in anthropology or the implications of the transition from Russian Ethnology to Soviet Ethnography. Focusing on the institutional processes, i.e. how the Marxism-Leninism ideology influenced all the social sciences, including anthropology and they discuss the changes in the subject matter of anthropology and the role of anthropologists in the policies concerning nationalities. More recently interest is developing in the study of biographies of repressed ethnographers, who were the victims of Stalinist Purges.

This research topic is not restricted to the realm of the history of anthropology considering its unique theoretical and practical development in Russia, but also relates to national issues in the former Soviet Union. The repression and purges of anthropologists was not confined in the narrow sense to Russian intellectuals, but rather included many local and multiple ethnic intelligentsias. The repression of the national intellectuals cannot be explained only by the confrontation between old bourgeois and new socialist (Bolsheviks) intellectualities, but rather by the ethnically hierarchical relationship between Russian (Slavic) and other peripheral nationalities. To explore the history of the repressed national intelligentsias and their anthropology is to view their works and lives in the context between national politics and the development of Soviet Ethnography.

In this paper I try to describe the relations between the repressed Sakha national intelligentsia and their ethnographical studies, taking into account the socio-political conditions from the early 20th century to the 1930s. Sakha (or Yakut) are the most northern Turkic people and populates the vast territory of Eastern Siberia. Here, I focus on three distinguished cultural heroes and political leaders, V. V. Nikiforov (1866–1928), A. E. Kulakovskii (1877–1926), G. V. Ksenofontov (1888–1938), who lived from the latter half of the 19th century to the 1930s as ethnographers, historians, writers, torchbearers, and politicians. They were once branded as the enemies of socialism under the Soviet regime. Since the 1990s, biographical studies of them have been undertaken without any restrictions, censorship, or ideological prejudice.

These important three figures, as well as other intellectuals of the same period, tried to find something connecting modernity and tradition, and to cope with the Bolshevik’s socialist revolution in their own ways. Through the analyses of each person’s biography and their intercourse with each other, both in their research and political fields, I examine the interaction between their ethnographical studies and the socio-political activities of the period, and then consider the role and the significance of Sakha ethnography for themselves.