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A native Yakut /Evenki man from early childhood is growing up carrying on his belt a knife with a wooden burl handle and a sharp blade in a sheath. Keeper of the pure sole and guardian against all evil. Dependable friend of a hunter, handy birch bark craftsman, blacksmith or a carpenter. Universal hand tool, indispensable item of everyday life, “extension of a northman’s hand”- as sincerely, respectfully and with love called the Siberian
Yakut knife Boris Neustroev – Mandar Uus.
Indeed, in the harsh environment of the north it is an irreplaceable thing. In the old times and until modern day, a Siberian man can not manage without it and every self-respecting Siberian must have his own knife, hand crafted by a master-craftsman. Each knife defines the character of its owner.
The Siberian Yakut knife although almost forgotten, managed to make it to the modern days in its original significance, unique form, and character, while at the same time gaining the modern day decorative attributes, re-emerging with ancient legends and good will.
The ancient crafts, representing the talent and skill, traditions and believes, wisdom of our people is the indisputable rich heritage of our ancestors. The significant scientific interest towards these crafts suggests the desire of our people to learn their past, history and culture, in order to confidently enter the future.
The people that remember, observe and respect their traditions will have a bright future. This is the reason why in the settlement of “Bayaginsky” in the “Tatinsky” ulus (region of Yakutia, Russia) a school of traditional arts “Mandyr Kyhata” was recently opened , in order to inherit traditional craft of our people, and pass on the knowledge, skills and secrets of our ancestors, and teach them to our youth and generations to follow.
We teach our boys and girls the traditional occupations: blacksmithing, carpentry, sawing, fostering craftsmanship skills, and passing on the wisdom of the ancient folk master-craftsmen. With mentor’s guidance the students collect material for their academic research, and as a result we publish academic brochures, research papers and catalogs.
In 2001 the director of the publishing home “Bichik” A.V. Egorov after familiarizing himself with my paper “The Yakutian Knife” suggested that “The research needs to be expanded in breadth and depth and some historical materials and publish a comprehensive work.” I took on these words as a task.
This work in front of you, is the result of several years of collective hard work of a group of craftsmen. Priceless materials and advice was provided by the master-craftsmen: Boris Fedorovich Neustroev (Rus. name) – (Yakut name Mandar Uss), Seryal Biliukin, Peter Lukovcev, Ilyan Pavlov, Alexander Danilov, and many others.
May the fortune be with you, march forward step-in-step with time.
Researchers about Yakut Knife.
The Yakut knife has been well researched. Mesmerized and proud of this blade many artists, photographs and movie makers depicted the Yakut knife in their work, praising it for its characteristics. The early researcher, the author of a monographic work “Memories” Afanasy Y. Uvarovsky in his book “Travels to the Northern and Eastern Siberia” published in 1848, provide the following characteristics to the Yakut knife:
“The Yakut knife is flexible and can be bent all the way to the handle. The knife is very handy at crafting bowls, cups and other dishes. It is very flexible and soft as aluminum but does not get dull.”
From the time of the early (15th century) settlers the Russians highly regarded Yakut metalworks. It is known that the early Russian settlers in Siberia preferred to carry Yakut battle helmets.
The Russian researchers who studied the culture, traditions and customs of the indigenous people of Siberia contributed significantly to the historical accounts and, left for us, the following generations, their notes, descriptions and sketches.
Traveler, scientific researcher Aleksander F. Middendorf and ethnographer axhiled by the Tzar government to Siberia Vazlav L. Seroshevsky vigorously studied Yakutia customs, including the traditional tools of the trade, detailed description of which we find in their publications.
Axes, horse gear, arrow heads, spears and other forged metal items found in excavated graves were acknowledged to be very similar to nomadic cultures of Asian and European steppes. (Scythian Sarmatian cultures)
Fig 1. Yakut knives described by Seroshevsky 1892.
V.L. Soroshevsky writes “I was particularly amazed by the knives of that period very similar in details with contemporary Yakut blades”
After visiting the Moscow’s Museum of Natural History he wrote “Now, I also note the three oval buckles on the harness that by anyone who has ever seen the Yakut musical instrument
Hamus (aka Vargan) would be recognized as its distant cousins.
Moreover, Seroshevsky noted many similarities in the burial ceremony. Therefore, he concludes that Yakut traditional of metalworks has its origin in that culture.
Here is how Seroshevsky describes the Yakut knife ” Yakut knives are not large, seldom blade is longer than 4// and wider than 1/2//. The back of the knife is dull from 3 to 5 lines (3 lines is 7.62 mm) thick. The tip is sharp. The edge has a slight bend. As you can see from the sketch (Fig 3) the blade has three edges, with the sheath made of bull tail leather and leather belt loop. The knife enters the sheath with its edge towards the belt, hence safe when taken out unlike a fighting knife.
Fig 2. Beginning of XX century. Yakutia region. Foto A.P. Kurochkin. Yaroslavsky, Yakutsk, State museum of History and Culture of the Indigenous people of the North.
Therefore, after compering the Yakut knives with knives discovered in Mongolian, Buriat, Urianhai tombs of the European and Asian steppes, one can conclude that Yakut knives is an example of a completely different design.
Fig 3. Knives described by Seroshevsky in his work “The Yakuts”
At the same time if compared with contemporary Yakut knives there are no significant differences.
Fig 4. Beginning of XX century. Yakut man is cutting tobacco with a Yakut knife.
V.L. Seroshevsky (1892) also noted the following “Recently a Russian commercial knife is replacing everywhere in Siberia the traditional indigenous knives. The Yakut knives so far are an exception.” It has been 120 years and the same can be stated today.
In the Ethnography Museum of Stuttgart Germany one can find a large collection of Siberian Yakut knives. (not these of course ) A Hungarian ethnographer, a geographer and a polio-anthropologist Jan Turza writes about this collection in his book “The Yakut Collection in Linden’s Museum of Stuttgart” published in 2009. Fig 5. The knives were brought to Germany from Russia at the turn of the last century. This is how Turza describes the knives. ” All Siberian Yakut Knives have a rat-tail tang mounted into a solid wooden handle. The handles have many forms and made of verious materials Most commonly the handles are made of root burls in combination with other materials such as antlers and animal bones, or even precious metals such as silver. The sheaths are made of birch bark, or wood covered by leather with various silver decorations. Some knives are elaborately decorated suggesting that their purpose is not solely utilitarian but they are also used as a part of the traditional ceremonial dress.
Fig 5. From the book of Yan Turza.”The Yakut Collection in Linden’s Museum of Stuttgart” published in 2009.
Fig 6. Knives found during excavations. A.Alexeev “Ancient Yakutia: Iron Age and the Middle Ages”
Fig 7. From the collection of ethnography museum of the M.K. Amosov’s North-East federal University. Early Iron Age 2.5 thousand years ago. Fount at the origin of the river Ulakhon, Segelennyakh, Olekminsky ulus.
Fig 8. Knife and a sheath from Birch bark and leather. XVIII century. Oleneksky ulus.
Fig 9. Knives and sheaths discovered by archaeologist in Verhoyansk and Use-Aldanskom ulus’.
Fig 10. Yakut Barrial XVI century. Churpachinsky Ulus.
Fig 11. Knives and sheaths beginning of XX century. Drawings of M.M. Nosov.
Fig 12. Knives and sheaths beginning of XX century. Drawings of M.M. Nosov.
Knives from the museum expositions
Fig 13. Knife with antler handle. Historical museum of Architecture I.P. Gotovcev. Tanda Ust-Aldansky Ulus.
Fig 14. Knife with antler sheath and antler handle. Homeland knowledge Museum Zabolotzkogo. Tomtor. Oymyakon Ulus.
Fig 15 Knife and a blank. Museum of folk learning. Orosy, Verhnevilysky Ulus.
Fig 16. Knife with a wooden handle. Middle of XX century. Museum of first settlers and diamond trade. Krestyakh, Suntaysky Ulus.
Fig 18. Sait Petersburg Peter The Grate Museum of anthropology “Kuntzcamera” 1994 Cultural heritage of Sakha people. Knifemaker Gogolev’s Knives.
Fig. 19 Knife maker Kononov and Androsov’s knives
Knives from a collection of Yakutsk joined museum of history and culture.
Fig 20. Knife-maker S.I. Gogolev. Sheath and handle by G.H. Shadrin.
Fig. 21 Knife and a sheath by I.F. Zakharov. Vilyusk.
Fig 22. Master Ignatiev.
Extracting iron from the iron ore.
Fig 23. Yakut smiths in 1905.
Fig 24. Crud iron ore.
In many villages of the vast Yakutia there are places named “Timir Umapyt” or “Pit where the iron is melted” Likewise many stories are alive about places where in the old days smiths were extracting metal from the ore. All this is the evidence that Yakuts forged metal since the early days. In the village of Bayaga the locals still tell the story how in the early 20th century the Russian merchant Krivoshapkin delivered the iron ore for their smiths from the Oymiakon mountains using hundred horses.
Fig 25. Artist T.A. Stepanov. Process of melting iron ore.
Fig 26. Iron extracted from the ore.
Fig 27. Sketch by V.L. Seroshevsky. Yakut blacksmiths 1800s.
Fig 28. Yakut blacksmith 1800s
Fig 29. Yakut blacksmith XIX century. Painting by I.U. Pistryakov.
Fig 30. 2010 smiths Extracting iron from crude ore in Tatinsky Region Yakutia
Fig 31. 2010 smiths Extracting iron from crude ore in Tatinsky Region Yakutia
Fig 35. Metal plate for forging holes, holders, etc..
Stages in crafting a Yakut Knife.
Fig 38. Shaping the blank. Stage 1 -moving the material. Stage 2 forging the tail. Stage 3 shaping the blade.
Fig 39. Forging the fuller. Flat forging technique.
Fig 40. Folk craftsman A.A. Kolodeznikov
Fig 41. Forging a fuller. Three different traditional techniques for forging a fuller.
Fig 42. Blacksmith E.V. Shestakov.
Fig 43. Temperature scale for steel heating.
Fig 44. Folk craftsman Neustroev Mandar Uus.
Fig 45. Folk craftsman V.V. Gotovcev.
Fig 46. Tempering steel.
47. Blade forged from several layers of steel (Damascus blade) Smiths Lukovcev and Tatarinov.
Fig 47 There is evidence suggesting that the traditional Yakut smiths possessed the secrets of Damascus steel. For example the knife shown here that was found by archeologists was fuse-forged from different types of steel in several layers.
From the ancient times many cultures were evaluating the social status of a person by the beauty of the blade their carried – as many examples of knives decorated with precious metals and stones exist. In many historical paintings we can observe blades elaborately decorated to be used as accessories for royalties, noblemen, sultans, and great military leaders of the world. These blades highlight their owners high status in the society and were created by the most skilled craftsmen with top notch skills.
These days the Yakut knife is known around the world as one of the unique creations of human mind. The Yakut blade smiths demonstrate their skills in many trade shows and competitions and grub significant attention, admiration and favourable feedback. Several craftsmen are renowned on the world stage as master craftsmen S.K. Bilyukin – the winner of an international competition “Klinok” an a ten time ultimate champion of a Russian Bladesmith competition amongst knife makers. S.K. Potapov also received several recognized awards. Mr. Neustroev Mandar Uus was the first modern craftsman to introduce figurative fullers on Yakut blades.
Knives by Craftsman B.F. Neustroev – Mandar Uus.
(Translated to English by Anton Salnikov)