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23:21 | Aug 09 | 2011

Yakut Khomus Craftsmen

From the ancient times the Sakha people have had a reputation for its skilful blacksmiths. It is proved by numerous legends, fairy tales and epics which became a part of local culture. 

Scientists believe that blacksmithing was commonly used by the tribes who lived on the territory of modern Yakutia in the X-XII centuries. Smiths and jewelers are mentioned in the archive documents of the XVII century associated with the colonization of Siberia. The quality of the iron produced out of ore by the Yakut blacksmith was highly respected. In 1647 Russian military governor Vasily Pushkin ordering to test Yakut iron noted that it “was better against the best of the German”. At that time it was even being considered to develop and export the Yakut iron to Russia which of course was impossible to implement in those days.

Whole dynasties of blacksmiths were known to pass on their craft and skills in melting metal from generation to generation. People highly revered their master craftsmen and no wonder that at all times, even in the era of Kyrgys (the time of inter-clan wars), blacksmiths were sacred.

The respect with which a blacksmith was treated almost bordered with worshiping of a holy man. This found reflection in national epics and legends. They tell that scheming of wizards, shamans and black spirits were powerless against blacksmiths having furnaces because they were patronized by serene spirits.

Blacksmiths were famous not only for their ability to produce household items and various decorations. Craftsmen who were able to make khomuses were well-known. Such instruments were played mostly by women because in those days khomus was considered a women’s musical instrument. Perhaps khomus had a cult value as well: as per one of the legends an a woman shaman named D’ereliyer always have a few khomuses with her and during magic rituals handed them to young folk so that young men and women could accompany the performance by playing the khomuses. It suggests that many people could play the instrument at that time. The achievements of the improvisers of that time can be judged from the fact that when playing “hohuyuu” (chanting the praises) each listener could understand what a khomus-player was singing about. Real competitions when improvisers were mutually chanting to each other were often organized.

At the moment there are four schools of khomus crafting in Yakutia: Gogol’s in the Megino-Kangalass area; Burtsev’s in the Ust-Aldan; Zaharov’s in the Vilyui District and a musical shop school in the Verkhnevilyuisk Area. They currently produce and are working to improve the eight basic types of khomuses which use the khomus players. Khomuses made by the oldest national master Semyon Gogolev from the Megino-Kangalass District are widely known among khomus lovers. They are examples of a classical Yakut khomus and crafted with careful observance of the traditional technology established over centuries. That is why Gogolev’s khomuses are considered as benchmark, being notable for melodiousness and adherence to the traditional proportions of the Yakut khomus. Many well-known improvisers prefer the masterpieces of the famous master of all others.


Dear participants and guests of the VII International Congress of Khomus Music!

On behalf of the Government of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) and on my own behalf I congratulate you on the VII International Congress-Festival “Khomus in the World’s Cultural Space”!

The Sakha Republic plays a special role in development of the jaw-harp music. Our national instrument khomus, providing the most ample opportunities for conveying the emotional and creative state of the performer and creating a miraculous music environment, is an embodiment of the spirit of people of Yakutia.

It is not only that over the past centuries khomus has not lost its significance, but, quite the opposite, it has become a valuable consort of the man and a universal key, a symbol of the spiritual culture of the modern man. Nations that have not lost the legacy of their most ancient generations, those that know their history and feel spiritual affinity of their respective cultures will always aim for peace and consent. The jaw-harp music certainly reflects the spiritual culture of nations.

It is gratifying that after a 20 years’ time the Congress is coming back to our Republic. The first International Congress of Khomus Music was held in 1991. The present Congress offers us an opportunity to popularize khomus even more among the people and to demonstrate to the whole world how much we value and esteem the instrument.

I wish all the participants and guests of the Congress-Festival a growth of their professional skills, a fruitful work, interesting initiatives and new creative achievements!

President of the Sakha Republic Ågor Borisov