Russkoye Ustye is a strange "reservation" for old Russian culture. Since its inhabitants were largely cut off from the rest of Russia for centuries, the archaic specificities of their language as well as old songs, fairy-tales and customs were preserved for a long time. This became clear to anyone who reached the remote village at the mouth of the Indigirka. The first (written) folkloristic records of culture in Russkoye Ustye were made in the 1860s by I.A. Chudyakov, a folklorist banished to Verchoyansk. V.M. Sensinov, who was banished to Russkoye Ustye in 1912, also examined the customs and way of life of the people on the Indigirka, putting their songs into writing.

His description of marriage customs is especially valuable. In Russkoye Ustye, marriages were only celebrated once a year, during the long period of fasting before Easter, since it was during this period that a priest from Verchoyansk came to the village for a short time. This limitation explains why the couples often lived together for longer periods before actually being married, although their common future had to be sealed by a paternal handshake beforehand.



Irina Platonovna treats her guests to mit yurmak (sliced fish)

In the 1920s-1940s, another series of expeditions reached Russkoye Ustye. Today, the reports of these expeditions can only be found in Russian archives; usually, they remained unpublished. In the 1960s and primarily in the 1970s, further important expeditions reached the Indigirka. As a result of this work, a monograph ("The Folklore of Russkoye Ustye") was edited and published by S.N. Asbelev and N.A. Meshtsherski in 1986.

Like general Russian folklore, the folklore of Russkoye Ustye includes fairy-tales, legends, bylines, sound (i.e. ballads, historical and lyrical songs, customary songs), riddles, sayings and tshastushki (derogatory verses). However, there is a series of specific features: according to Asbelev, the seasonal customs related to agricultural life (kalendarny folklor) are relatively weak in Russkoye Ustye. The North Russian tradition of songs of mourning during the marriage ceremony could also not be found in the early 20th century, although other parts of the ritual were still followed up into the 1940s.

Many of the fairy-tales which were and are told in Russkoye Ustye are similar to the fairy-tales of the European Russian North; on the other hand, some sujets have only been recorded here. Although Yakutian, Yukagirian and Ewenkian fairy-tales are also told, their influence on Russian folklore is assumed to be negligible. In Russkoye Ustye, folkloristic interpretations of literary sources have also been documented, ranging from old Russian texts via Pushkin's fairly tales to Arabic fairy-tales. This is seen as a document of the high level of education in earlier generation.

The popularity of the tshastushki is undiminished up to the present. Like a local newspaper, they reflect the life of Russkoye Ustye's population. They are often bitingly satirical and leave a great deal of room for improvisation. An example:

Русскоустьински ребята
В курточках да в шапочках,
Вше коротких пиджачках
И от шпирту на боках.
Today, many of the traditional customs have been forgotten, although the "Rossukha" and "Omukkanovo" dances are a marked exception.

Kristina Kuehne, Marion Krause