A Day with the People of Sakha

During the last week here on the coast the Gualala Arts Center, along with Gualala Point Regional Park and the Fort Ross State Historic Park, cosponsored a Days of Sakha Culture Festival. It was over 200 years ago that the Yakut people of the Sakha region of Russia (in Siberia) first arrived here on the Sonoma coast in what is now Fort Ross. These people occupied this region from about 1812 through 1842. The cultural festival today is designed to further strengthen the bonds between our regions here on the Sonoma Coast and the Sakha Republic in the Russian Federation.

Part of the week-long celebration involved the creation of several ceremonial hitching posts, or serge (pronounced sayrgay) which will be installed in all three of the participating locations (Gualala Arts, Gualala Point Regional Park, and Fort Ross.) Now these hitching posts are not your great grandfather’s hitching posts; these are totems carved out of full-size mature trees, as you will see in the image below. I was lucky enough to visit the encampment in Gualala Point Regional Park where the Master Wood Carvers were carving the totems. As you can see in the first image, this is no small undertaking.

Serge in the works
These wood carvers are from Yakutsk, the capital city of the Sakha Republic in Siberia. In the next several images I show some of the carvers and their family members within the encampment. These folks do not speak any English, and I motioned to one of the carvers and pointed to my camera. He waved and seemed to give me the go-ahead to take pictures. Carving like this is focused and delicate work with extremely sharp chisels. I didn’t want to interrupt their work, and I also didn’t want to intrude too much into their personal space, so I used my 70-200mm lens and shot from a good distance. I was able to capture more candid shots this way as well. I enjoyed my afternoon watching these people work and go about their day. They also seem to work quite collaboratively and yet they each seem to have a specific duty to perform. I found them quite interesting.


Woodcarver working the details

Carving into the poleAll hand workCarving the top of the SergeA young lady gathering seedsOne of the Sakha elders
Some of these Sakha people were also engaged in what appeared to be the construction and/or repair of some traditional Sakha saddles, or Yngyyr in the Sakha language. The images below show a pair of these saddles with their traditional large horn and hammered metal front. Many older versions of these saddles had hammered silver front plates. The detail on these saddles is exquisite, both the leather work and the metal work. Also shown is a Yakut craftsman doing dome hammering detail on one of the front plates.


Sakha Traditional SaddlesHammer work for the saddle front plate
Before I show the completed serges I also wanted to show some of the carving detail that flows throughout these huge pieces. The images below show the small carving details that go into the main totems and also the carved pieces that are added to the totems. What I find compelling about this work is not just the quality of the carving, but the intricacy of the overall design. All these carvings have to be laid out and proportioned prior to initiating any carving. It all has to come out right all the way around the pole; and the pole changes size from top to bottom.


Carving DetailCarved Horse Feature to be added to Serge
The completed and installed serges are shown in the final two images. They were installed in the Park in a beautiful open meadow overlooking the Gualala estuary. In Sakha, these totems not only served as a hitching post, but were erected next to a family home to represent the family’s desire to survive the harsh winter and other natural obstacles. These are a welcome addition to the park, and I feel privileged to have witnessed firsthand the making of these beautiful works of art. I hope they return again.

The Serge installed at Gualala Point Park

Serge overlooking the Gualala estuary


Equipment: Nikon D3s; Nikkor 70-200mm lens.

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