English translation from the official periodical of RAIPON “Мир коренных народов - живая арктика” (Indigenous Peoples’ World - Living Arctic) No. 16, 2005

The Great Odul on the destiny of his native people

S. Gorokhov, Professor, A.K. Ammosov Yakutsk State University

June 2006 will mark the centenary of Nikolai Spiridonov (Teki Odulok), a glorious son of the Yukagir people, the first scientist from among the peoples of northern Yakutia, a gifted writer, and the founder of the Yukagir literature.

Nikolai Spiridonov was born in the Nelemnoe area into the family of the hunter Atylyakhan who had no reindeer. He was the eleventh child in the family. Since childhood he was a very smart, positive and inventive boy. The life of the boy, who was born on the bank of a river with the tragic name Yasachnaya (from the word yasak, i.e., the tribute that native people had to pay to the tsarist government), was tragic. The hardships of the yasak, the death of the elder brothers, brought about the family’s breakdown. The father and mother had to give away their younger son to merchants to work as a servant. The young Yukagir managed to enter a primary clerical school.

After Soviet power was established, Nikolai was one of the first people in the Kolyma area to enter the Komsomol (Young Communist League). Subsequently, he was seized and for 17 months kept in captivity by counterrevolutionary rebels, from whom he finally managed to escape. When he was 18 he found himself in Yakutsk , where he finished a one-year Soviet Communist Party school. In 1925, he was sent to Leningrad to study.

After two years, a scientific expedition to Kolyma was organized, and Nikolai Spiridonov, a student of Leningrad University , was employed as a member of the expedition. The young researcher meticulously gathered information and artifacts bearing on the history, ethnography and folklore of his native people. He wrote essays In the Extreme North that were published in 1933 (republished in 1950 in Yakutsk ).

In 1931 Spiridonov graduated at the Ethnographic Department of the University and, at the advice of Prof. V.G. Tan-Bogoraz, entered the graduate course of the Institute of the Peoples of the North. In the course of his graduate studies he had published some extremely valuable articles: Yukagirs and the Yukagir Language. At an age of 28 he successfully defended his Cand. Sc. Economy Thesis – Trade Exploitation of Yukagirs – to become the first scientist from Soviet Yakutia with an academic degree and the first such scientist from among indigenous peoples of the Russian North. Without delay, Smirnov started working on his doctoral dissertation, which, according to his wife, a chemistry teacher in the Krupskaya Pedagogical Institute, he completed by 1936. Unfortunately, nothing is known regarding the manuscript of the dissertation.

Under the pen-name Teki Odulok (the small odul), Spiridonov is known as a gifted author. The book The Life of Senior Imteurgin is undoubtedly the first major work of the literature of the peoples of the North. When the writer was still alive it was translated into English and Czech, and republished three times in the Russian language. Thus, Teki Odulok is the first northerner whose works became known to foreign readers, in particular, in England , France and Czechoslovakia as early as the mid-1930s.

Being a very active and energetic person, Spiridonov could not stay away from the social life of the country. Back during his student years he actively contributed to the work of the Committee of the North of the All-Union Central Executive Committee, wrote articles, and developed draft programs for Sovietization of the North. In 1931, as a member of the organizing Committee of the Far Eastern Regional Executive Committee, he was sent to organize the Chukchi Ethnic Okrug. He spent 7 months there. After he defended the dissertation, he worked as the 1st secretary of the Ayano-Maiskiy Party Committee and subsequently, until April 1936, he was head of the ethnic sector of the Khabarovsk Writers’ Union .

For about one year – the last year of his brief life – he managed to live fairly quietly in Leningrad . On April 16, 1937 he addressed a meeting of the Children’s Publisher Detgiz in Moscow . His speech was emotional and bright, the speaker put in it all his soul, his concern for the future of the life of the peoples of Russia and his native people. He said: “I want to demonstrate in what way the tsarist government destroyed the entire people”. Two weeks later, on April 30, he was arrested, accused of spying for Japan , and on 17 March shot in Leningrad . He was not yet 32. Spiridonov was rehabilitated[1] on 29 October 1955 .

[1] Many people in the Soviet Union accused of being “enemies of the people” during the Stalin era were later – often after their deaths – officially exonerated.