“I saw the eyes of a person who had truly met her Lord”
Winter 2014-2015 Newsletter on the Yakut project

When the members of the Yakut team came to the IBT Moscow office for the audio recording of Psalms, it was not at all an easy task for them. Our translator Sargylana suffered from problems with her voice, while the well-known Yakut poet Mikhail Dyachkovsky, who lives in Moscow, came to the IBT office to do the audio recording with a broken arm. Still, together they managed to do excellent work, and the Psalms were audio recorded in two versions, one of them accompanied by a Yakut folk instrument, the khomus (jaw harp), played by a Yakut woman named Irina. In addition to their main task, the Yakut recording team prepared an audio version of the Hexapsalmos (Liturgical Six Psalms) in a cantillated Orthodox manner of reading that could be used during church services.

During small breaks in their difficult but rewarding work, Sargylana and Mikhail shared a few interesting facts and eyewitness observations about the Yakuts and their neighbouring people groups in the North of Russia. It was surprising to hear them voice an opinion commonly held in the North: that one of the characteristic features of indigenous northern people groups such as the Evens or Evenkis is their extremely hot temper, while the Yakuts, or Sakha people, as they call themselves, are considered to be well-balanced, calm and rather unemotional in comparison. This is rather unexpected given that the ancestors of the Sakha came from further south many centuries ago, the indirect evidence of which is that the Yakut language itself belongs to the Turkic group. For me as an outside observer, everything should have been vice versa, since hot temper is usually associated with the geographical south and southern roots. Sargylana complained of herself as being a rather emotional, “un-Yakut” lady, and in her eyes it meant that there is much “hot northern blood” in her veins. Once again I realized how God’s beautifully diverse reality refutes human commonplaces in all respects.

The territory, where the Yakut nomadic ancestors settled, was not always as big as their territory today. When the Russian Cossacks came to north Siberia in the early 17th century, the Yakuts followed them step by step and spread over the vast territory. Their language became the language of interethnic communication in the north and even gained the unofficial status of the aristocratic language of the north among the Evens, Evenkis, Yukagirs or even local Russians. Half of Siberia communicated in the Sakha language, similarly to how the Russian aristocracy in Moscow and St. Petersburg preferred to communicate in French in the 19th century. People even started finding supposed similarities between the Sakha language and French! Our team members mentioned the whole precedent as a funny historical joke with a local touch.

Though the ancestors of the Yakuts came from further south, the climate of their present homeland, the Sakha Republic, is far from the climate of the Holy Land where the Holy Scriptures originated. Thus, when translating Proverbs 31:21 “When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet”, there was no question for Sargylana whether to mention the word “snow”. For the Biblical authors snow implied cold weather, but for Yakuts, mention of snow would mean weather which they count as warm, since cold weather in Yakutia is too cold for any snow to fall! Thus, the Yakut translation of this passage simply says “when it is very cold.” Despite the geographic and climatic differences between the two lands, the Sakha language is no less rich in its poetic capacity than the languages of the Bible. Of course much depends on the personality of a speaker, and Sargylana in particular has a keen sense of her mother tongue's poetic beauty. According to the Yakut project's translation consultant, Dr. David Clark, in her translation of Proverbs, she frequently achieves such features of Yakut poetic style as rhythm, alliteration, vowel harmony, and even end-line rhyme. All these features make her translations highly suitable for audio recording, so Yakut Biblical audio recordings are highly attractive for listeners.

Yakut Bible translations have a long tradition of opening human hearts. This must be thanks to the historical fact that the first Russian Orthodox missionaries in Sakha cared greatly for the local population. They did not baptize them forcibly, but studied the language, developed the Sakha alphabet, and opened schools and libraries. This is why even in our time translations of Scripture into Yakut are “seeds that fall on a fertile ground.” One such heart-opening story was shared by Sargylana during the recent IBT Fellowship days in Moscow. “The most joyful thing in my Bible translation work is to see a specific person whose life has been changed because of what IBT is doing”, Sargylana began her story. “Once I went to visit my mother in a small village in the taiga forest. It is a 10-hour ride by shuttle bus from Yakutsk. I took the bus late in the evening. Suddenly, a young lady from among the other passengers called me by name. I could not recognize her at first, but she seemed to know me very well and to be excited to see me. She said that she was regularly reading the NT in Sakha and always carried it with her. To my utter surprise she took out of her bag a shabby, well-read first edition of the NT and demonstrated it to me triumphantly. We spoke for some time without it becoming any clearer to me who she actually was. She stepped off the bus at one of the small villages along the way, and it was only then that I remembered that I had seen this young woman when she had been just 3 years old. Alas, I knew the drama of her life, which unfolded right before my eyes long long ago, since her village was nearby. Her very beautiful mother had become an alcoholic and her step-father once murdered a guest who arrived at their house. After that he committed suicide. Later her mother froze to death and her birth father drowned. Together with her sister, this girl was raised by their elderly grandmother. Her life-story was an awful one… But when she spoke to me during the bus ride that night, her eyes were full of warmth and joy. I saw the eyes of a person who had truly met her Lord.”

IBT plans to continue the Yakut project by publishing a book of Bible stories with illustrations drawn by a local artist.

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