University of Illinois Press author Dr. Robin Harris recently returned to northeastern Siberia for a presentation of her book, Storytelling in Siberia: The Olonkho Epic in a Changing World. After living in northern Russia for a decade and spending almost another decade documenting the revival of the Sakha’s epic tradition of olonkho, Harris reports, “I was delighted to see the enthusiastic reception of this volume, long-awaited by the Sakha people. They are glad to finally have a way for the English-speaking world to know about the revitalization of olonkho, a process which began to gain tremendous energy when in 2005, UNESCO proclaimed it a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”
Harris was amazed by extent of local participation in the presentation, noting, “The olonkho singer surrounded by children on the front of the book not only came to sing at the event, he also invited some of the children who were in the picture nine years ago to cross the frozen river and participate in the book presentation with him. At the closing of the event, they gathered around him as he sang, reprising the original cover photo. Since the river was melting and almost closed to traffic, he was grateful that the parents gave their permission for the children to travel, noting that this was an event the children would remember for the rest of their lives.”
At the presentation, organized by Dr. Anna Larionova at the Institute of Humanitarian Studies and Problems of the Indigenous Peoples of the North, certificates of gratefulness were presented to the author by the Ministry of Culture (Vice-Minister Nikolai Makarov); the State Councilor to the Head of the Republic of Sakha-Yakutia (Andrei Borisov); a performer in the Theater of Olonkho (Valentin Isakov); the Olonkho Institute of the North-Eastern Federal University (Aitalina Koryakina); the Center for Intangible Cultural Heritage (Elena Protodyakonova); the Higher School of Music (Associate Professor Alexandra Khaltanova and Rector Vera Nikiforova); Advisor to the Chairman of the State Assembly (Sergei Vasilev); the Institute of Humanitarian Studies and Problems of the Indigenous Peoples of the North (Nadezhda Pokatilova), and an olonkho performer (Semyon Chernogradskiy).
Storytelling in Siberia, lauded as “a masterpiece of contemporary ethnography,” provides vivid insights into understanding the epic tradition of olonkho—its attenuation, revitalization, transformation, and sustainability—and its role in the Sakha’s cultural reemergence in post-Soviet Russia.