Cover for Harris: Storytelling in Siberia: The Olonkho Epic in a Changing World. Click for larger image

Storytelling in Siberia

The Olonkho Epic in a Changing World

How the Sakha revived a near-extinct art form

Olonkho, the epic narrative and song tradition of Siberia’s Sakha people, declined to the brink of extinction during the Soviet era. In 2005, UNESCO’s Masterpiece Proclamation sparked a resurgence of interest in olonkho by recognizing its important role in humanity’s oral and intangible heritage.

Drawing on her ten years living in the Russian North, Robin P. Harris documents how the Sakha have used the Masterpiece program to revive olonkho and strengthen their cultural identity. Harris’s personal relationships with and primary research among Sakha people provide vivid insights into understanding olonkho and the attenuation, revitalization, transformation, and sustainability of the Sakha’s cultural reemergence. Interdisciplinary in scope, Storytelling in Siberia considers the nature of folklore alongside ethnomusicology, anthropology, comparative literature, and cultural studies to shed light on how marginalized peoples are revitalizing their own intangible cultural heritage.

“Robin Harris’s up-close and vividly written account of how an epic tradition from Siberia was proclaimed a UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity is a masterpiece of contemporary ethnography in its own right.”--Theodore Levin, Dartmouth College

"Ancient artistry comes to us through the trial of centuries. This book gives us hope that the heroic epics of the Yakuts, having survived under Soviet power, will outlive these rapidly changing, turbulent times as well."--Eduard Alekseyev, Academy of Spirituality, Sakha Republic (Yakutia)

Publication of this book was supported by grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the L. J. and Mary C. Skaggs Folklore Fund.


Robin P. Harris is an assistant professor at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics and serves as the director of GIAL’s Center for Excellence in World Arts.

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