CRAFTMANSHIP OF SIBERIAN PEOPLES

Crafts

Most of Siberian peoples had no professional craftsmanship. Economic necessities in objects of everyday consume and utensils were satisfied thanks to home manufacture. Strict division into men and women’s occupation’s existed. Men made objects of wood, bone, and horn, women from birch bast, plant stems, leather and fur. The notable exception was professional metal work.

Treatment of wood and plant materials

For the peoples of Siberia wood was universal material.  Almost all the kinds of wood were used with careful distinguishing of specific qualities of different sorts. Birch was the most popular material. Every part of the tree was used. Trunk served for hollowed and later chiseled utensils. Woven containers were made of roots and thin branches of rowan, osier bed, and bird cherry. From knars people carved utensils for food keeping and smoking pipes. Soft chips served for towels and cradle bedding. The peoples who lived on the coast used wood brought by sea waves.

To make wood utensils people used hand-made drawing knives, drills and knives. 

The crafted objects were decorated with various types of carving. Yakuts made chorons — the cups for kumis, efflux cups, deeper, the peoples of the Amur River crafted domestic and ritual utensils, as well as furniture and the Ob-Ugrians — hooks for hanging cradles. The objects of everyday use were embellished with painting (Buryats and South Siberian peoples) and metal in-lays (Khants, Mansi, Nenets, Evenks).

Among the Ob-Ugrians, Selkups, Kets, Yakuts and the peoples of Amur River the preferred material was light, impermeable and flexible birch bast.  Usually it was gathered in late spring-early summer, when tree emitted juice or in autumn when leaves fell.  Not boiled down birch bast was generally used for making utensils. With help of simple kit of instruments (awl, knife, and needles) people made of it containers for keeping, transport and consume of foodstuffs and objects of everyday use. Sinew, nettle, hemp threads, cherry bird or willow twigs, roots of Siberian cedar and fir, horse hair served as connecting materials. Plain or dyed birch bast was decorated with carving, embossment, printing, painting and scraping. Yakuts embroidered birch bast boxes for women handicraft tools, buckets for berries and wild honey with beads threaded onto horse hair. They adorned them with mica in-lays, leather tassels and patches of colored textiles.  While wooden and birch bast utensils of South Siberian peoples were simple and primitive, the peoples of the Amur River decorated their extremely diverse in shape and sizes utensils with carved spiral-band and curvilinear motives. In particular, the utensils for the ritual of “feeding water” made in shapes of sea or water animals and birds like fish, seal, and duck as well as the objects for bear feast: plates for cutting bear meat, spoons, dippers, and boxes were carefully and abundantly ornamented.

Weaving of grassy plant stems was widespread. For example, significant part of Aleut utensils was woven of wild rye and pea. Aleutian women used as an instrument intentionally grown and sharpened nails of their thumbs. With their help they split grass, roots,stems and through appeared holes threaded decorative threads, bird feather and splints of whale bone.

Crafting and decoration of leather and fur objects

Among nomadic livestock breeders leather was widespread material for bags, cases, and covers and also for different containers for making and keeping dairy products. Animal intestines were also used as raw material for making vessels.  Rein-herding peoples used reindeer hides and skins of wild animals and birds for making various small bags, sacks and rugs. For example, Negidals made rugs of skins taken from the heads of wild ducks.   Hides’ treating was multi-staged process realized by women with help of different scrapes.   One of the most widespread types of decoration was mosaic (the Ugric and Samoyedic peoples) and embroidery with reindeer neck hair (the people of Extreme North-East) and beads.  Among Evenks bags and cases for boxes containing women sewing kits were decorated with bead and reindeer hair embroidery and suede tassels

Among the fishermen of the Amur River the universal raw material was fish skin. The most common ways of decoration were embossment, painting, embroidery, appliqué. The people of the Extreme North-East of Siberia used vessels made of sea mammals’ bladder to keep whale and seal fat.

Treatment of bone and horn

The  peoples of Siberia used for making various objects  of everyday use mammoth tusk (Yakuts), walrus tusk and whale bones (the peoples of North-East Siberia), horns of reindeer and other horned livestock ( livestock-breeding nomads of South Siberia). Among Yakuts the treatment of mammoth tusk appeared in the eighteenth century.  In respect of their technique and shape Yakut cases and chests are similar to Kholmogory production, but traditional ethnic motives predominate in their ornamentation.