Olonkho: Nurgun Botur the Swift

Olonkho: Nurgun Botur the Swift

by Platon A Oyunski


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Written down for the first time in the indigenous Sakha language of Yakutia (Sakha Republic, northeastern Siberia) in the early 1930s by the politician, poet, and story-tellerPlaton A. Oyunsky (1893–1939), this first English translation was proclaimed by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Olonkho is the general name for the entire Yakut heroic epic that consists of many long legends—one of the longest being “Nurgun Botur the Swift,” consisting of some 36,000 lines of verse. Like Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, the Yakut Olonkho is an epic of a very ancient origin dating back possibly as early as the eighth or ninth centuries.The Sakha language in which the Olonkho is written (previously only ever spoken or sung) is one that is enriched by symbols and fantastic images, parallel and complex constructions, traditional poetical forms, figurative expressions, and alliteration.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781898823087
Publisher: Renaissance Books
Publication date: 07/01/2015
Series: Olonkho
Pages: 506
Product dimensions: 11.50(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

The Olonkho was written down for the first time in the indigenous Sakha language of Yakutia (Sakha Republic, northeastern Siberia) in the early 1930s by Platon A. Oyunsky (1893-1939), politician, founder of the Sakha literary language, poet and story-teller.

Read an Excerpt


Nurgun Botur the Swift

By Platon A. Oyunsky

Global Books Ltd

Copyright © 2015 M.K. Ammosov North-Eastern Federal University, Russian Federation
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-898823-08-7


Song 1

The eight-rimmed, eight-brimmed
Full of discord-discontent,
Our Primordial Motherland,
Was created-consecrated, they say ...
So, we do our best to tell the story ...

* * *

In ancient times
In warring, bloodthirsty times
Before the world changed,
Beyond the evil horizon
Of the awful earlier years,
When the Middle World
Was not yet known,
As the thirty-five tribes
Emerging from everywhere,
To become the front-faced,
Human beings
With an ability to foresee;

The people of the Under World
Born wearing worn-out, ragged fur coats,
With teeth as sharp as a knife
Descendants of the famous tribe
Of Arsan Dolai
And the famous old woman Ala Buhrai,
Not yet known as the thirty-six tribes
To the people with the reins on their backs
With foreseeing eyes;
The descendants of the Kun Aiyy family
The great old man, Ulutuyar Uluu Toyon,
Born in the upper, inaccessible sky,
And Khotun Kokhtuya with a shrill voice,
Not yet known as the thirty-nine tribes
To the people with the reins on their backs.
Tales about them were by no means on the tip of their sharp tongues.
The inhabited Middle World was created,
They say ...

It is unknown if the smooth, white sky
Is held together by its edges;
It is unknown if it hangs on radiant ropes,
It is impossible to see
Where it begins at three shiny locks
Where the steps rise into the air,
It is impossible to see how it floats
Above the deathly nyuken etugen.
No wings can be seen
Which lift it into the air,
The axis cannot be seen
Which rotates the earth,
But a mournful song,
A sorrowful toyuk is heard.

The great cold ocean lies beneath this World,
The edge of the ocean cannot be seen,
The opposite side of the ocean
Cannot be seen.
The Middle World is washed
By the frightening waters
Of by the deadly Odun Baigal
The thunder rumbles menacingly,
The lightning flashes brightly,
It is surrounded by the salty ocean,
With stunning white clouds above;
At the bottom of the World
There lies the bitter evil ocean
With its horrible, and deadly roar.
The edge of the Middle World
Is covered with ice and hoarfrost,
Where an evil storm swirls and plays,
The red sand on the hills –
Flying, buzzing and whispering.
Out of the yellow clay-covered ground
Copper-coloured dandelion shoots grow,
And green sedge grows on its white clay soil.
On the slopes of its mountain
The sun-beams dance,
Along the foothills of its mountain
Thick fog descends.
Its rocky mountain summits protrude sharply.
Its sides are so thick
That they will not give way under pressure,
Its backbone is so strong
That it will not bend when struck.
Its inner core is so wide
That it will not budge when battered.
It is the Earth with eight rims and six rings,
Discordant and discontented,
With the sun rising
And setting behind the trees,
With the water drying up,
And the wealth vanishing gradually.
Full of torments and disasters,
Hopeless and desperate,
The Middle World was created,
They say ...
An olonkhosut
Sat down, crossed his legs, and started
Singing his song
To the valiant toyon
Of whom the underlings were afraid,
To the masters with daggers
Of whom the servants were afraid,
About how the evil tribe had followed them,
How the Abaahy tribe had chased them,
How three kins of Sakha
From the Upper and Under Worlds
Were born and grew in number.

I will recite as Timofey the Fat, and
Though you may not like my recitation,
I will try and imitate, even if badly,
The old man Kuokhaian;
I will narrate the story of the grey-haired
Urung-Aar Toyon,
With the high fur hat
Made of three sable furs,
With feathers on the top,
Who dwelt at the lower part of the edge
Of the eight-layered yellow and white sky.
In the upper part of the three-layered
Inaccessible high sky,
Where the air was light and blue,
The sunny midday land was there,
The creamy, milky lake was there.
Each step he took brought him an ilgeh blessing.
His breath was hot,
He had a plentiful supply of food,
He lived surrounded by abundance,
They say ...
A famous woman, Adjynga-Sier,
Was his wife and friend
Who shared his bed.
Her face was luminous
Like the rays of the rising sun,
Her face was radiant
Like the glow of the setting sun,
Her cheeks were crimson,
She was his khotun, they say ...

They became a forefather and a foremother
To the long-awaited people
With the reins on their backs,
With a strap on their necks,
Who had visionary shamans,
Kindly Aiyy udagans;
They became their ancestors,
They say ...

I was determined enough
To find out about other tribes
Who were perverse enough
To belong to different families.
In the remote past, thirty-nine tribes lived,
Behind the edge of the vast sky,
In the wide, secure dwelling-place,
Whose blood relative was Beki Sorun
With the gluttonous throat
As wide as the string of a fur cap,
Whose blood relative was Suor Toyon
With the big throat
As wide as the string of a waistcloth.

On the opposite side
Of the furious southern sky,
At the bottom of the violent hell,
There was the insidious blue sky
Under which a vast alaas could be found,
Where eight demons guarded the dark hell.
There was a land which was a source of treachery,
Whose whirlwinds
Turned everything upside down.
And if ninety-nine great shamans
Were dragged out of that abyss
Using the noose of a black rope
With ninety-nine loops,
And were thrown right before her –
Such an evil shrew with sooty face –
She would not be tamed,
Her appetite would never be satisfied,
She would not get her fill.
That was Khotun Kokhtuya,
Cunning and insolent;
She ruled there
Sitting on her bloody-mucus ocean,
She had a pantry at the bottom,
She had a fence on the shady side,
She had a shed on the left side.

I want to tell you
As skilfully as Akim did,
I want to speak
As expressively as Kylachisap did,
I want to paint the story in bright colours,
As to who was the friend of that smart old woman,
Who was good enough to share her bed,
To roll playfully on the bedding,
Who was the male
Destined to fertilize her womb?
It was Ulutuyar Uluu Sorun Toyon.
In the hollow of his chest
As large as a small sitting baby
There were two birthmarks
Looking like raw meat.
A fiery, revolving force whirled down
From his bleeding wound,
Which was right in the middle of his throat.
His spear, thirsting for fresh scarlet blood,
Glittered and reflected his young teeth and lips,
If it were driven into his hip socket
He would awake in a rage
Slapping his hips,
Crying out threateningly,
He would sit down menacingly.
It was he, her husband,
Ulutuyar Uluu Sorun Toyon ...

After the great hot-blooded battle
Which shook the firmness
Of the vast surrounding sky,
Uluu Sorun Toyon's tribes
Known as the pugnacious and boastful
Thirty-nine tribes
Settled on the right side
Of the southern swirling sky,
They say ...

If you want to know
Who are the men and women
Of these thirty-nine tribes,
Here they are ...

There are girls filthy with infectious disease,
Unable to give birth to a baby,
Looking like the curved skeletons
Of sacrificed horses.

There are boys infected with a dreadful disease,
Who have never experienced intercourse,
Looking like the skeletons
Of sacrificed horses turned upside down.
If you want an idea of their wealth
Here are the facts ...

They have a stooping, tall, black stallion
Which has never covered a mare.
They have an emaciated, snorting black mare,
Which has never been mounted by a stallion.
They have a starving, skinny black foal,
Plodding along, dying.
So, these are the greatest devils
Of the southern white sky.

If I tell it as Argunov did,
If I narrate it as Tabakhyrov did,
All bright and lively,
Kinsfolk of the Under World who begot the tribes
Born wearing worn-out, ragged fur coats
And fetters on their feet
In the ruinous country of Ap-Salbaniki
Who caused bloody death
In the hostile country
Of deadly Eluu Cherkechekh,
If you throw a burning noose
With eighty-eight loops
To pull out of the northern swirling sky
Eighty-eight great shamans,
If you tie them up
To push them into the gaping maw
Of that woman:
She wouldn't be sated.
It was the great woman
Ala Buhrai, Aan Jahin, their mistress,
Who was born wearing shackles,
Whose close relatives are covetous and stingy
Khapsa Buhrai and Aan Jahin,
Whose wells are always empty,
Whose deceit is endless,
She was the mother of the Aan-Darahy kin.

If you want to know
Who was that old woman's man
Who he was to deserve her love,
To share her bed,
To climb on her,
To quench her thirst for love.
Here he is, her beloved man,
Arsan Dolai, Logayar Luo Khan –
Born wearing a worn-out, ragged fur coat,
With teeth as sharp as weapons.
Made of iron
With a big backside,
With legs that walked with a swing,
With a crooked nose,
Who became the father of evil relatives,
Who became the toyon of the deep abyss.

If you want to know
Who these best men
With yokes on their necks are,
What their future is,
How prosperous they are
Here it is ...

Looking down at the land of Cherkechekh,
Out of the corner of my eye,
I see dark, thick-set boys
Who have never loved women,
I see dark, skinny girls
Walking with their heads thrown back
Who have never been pregnant;
I see a short-legged, cross-horned, dwarfish bull
Which has never impregnated cows.
For being deprived of this duty by Mother Nature –
Its herd of cows keep away,
As their hindquarters are too narrow
For a bull to climb on,
To give them posterity.
They have hungry infected calves,
As black as willow bark,
Scraggy and short-legged
All covered with scab,
Starving to death.

After the severe, fiery battle which made
The resounding white sky shiver,
The great greedy misers,
The hot-headed daredevils,
Having created bloody death
Came from the place of Eluu-Cherkechekh,
Settled in the insidious Under World,
In the mouth of Ap-Salbaniki.
They became relatives of Ajarai-Khan
And there were thirty-six tribes of them ...

If one speaks about the vast and wide Middle World,
Where thirty-five tribes settled and lived,
If one repeats the Olonkho
Sung by the grey-templed olonkhosut,
If one unburdens one's heart
As the old woman Androsova did,
If one tells the story in the same words
As the deaf Beken did,
If one makes up the tale with joy and pleasure
Of how three kins of Sakha
Were created and spread,
Here is how the story goes:

Behind the far and remote side
Of the dangerous ancient times
When the upper greedy tribes
Used to fly like arrows,
Before the changing, awful
Other side of the ancient times,
When the lower terrible tribes
With their mouths wide open, ran everywhere,
When the three kins of Sakha,
Front-faced and straight-nosed,
Had not yet come into being,
At that time with no end in sight,
A terrible trouble began.

Three legendary kins of that country
For several centuries attacked each other.
In blind violence and fury,
The frenetic battle began:
They struck and spiked each other,
Shrieking and yelling,
They broke their legs,
Smashed each other's weapons to pieces,
Grasping each other's breasts,
Seizing each other by the throat,
Poking each other in the eyes,
Twining like bending trees.
They were the reason for the grief
That lasted for centuries,
They were the source of the noise
That never ceased.

There was great hubbub and upheaval
And great roaring for thirty days and nights;
They struck blows to each other's heads,
They punched each other's temples.
A disaster which was never forgotten
Took place there ...

The blows of axes and batases
Rumbled like thunder,
Bows and arrows
Struck like lightning bolts,
The strong western wind
Burst out howling,
Nine wild storms swirled.
Out of the western sky,
Rain and snow came down in sheets.
The sun did not rise,
There was a thick fog everywhere.
The moon did not appear,
It became as dark as pitch
So they moved around by touch,
Trying to grasp each other in the night.
They wallowed in the shadows,
They flopped around like frogs,
They waggled around like bugs ...

The resounding dome of the sky
Swayed unsteadily;
The inhabited Middle World
Was plunged into turmoil,
Turned around and capsized,
Engulfed in flames;
It began to wobble up and down like a quagmire,
The disastrous Under World was disturbed
Like water in a birch-bark bucket,
Blue, merciless flames
Came out of its four sides.
Between its four layers at the bottom
A spider would stay stuck.
The ninth stormy sky was shaken
Like water in a birch-bark bucket,
Burning furiously with blue flames,
Freezing with friable ice.
It had a single, whirlwind top
Where interminable sorrow settled
In the southern calamitous sky ...

Under a spell, the three tribes
Pierced each other with spears ...

Their tendons were too hard to bend,
Their body was too tough to be cut,
Their bones were too thick to be broken,
Their blood was impossible to shed.
They could not be killed,
They were immortal;
Three tribes sacrificed themselves
And fought to the death,
Piercing each other with stakes and spears:
Their eyes bloodshot,
Their bodies dripping with sweat
They dived into the ocean to cool their fury.
Unable to utter anything,
They only stammered,
They could hardly breathe
Sitting in a thick fog like shadows,
Swelling like a huge bellow,
They exhaled again and again.
Then they began to think it over:

'The resounding vast sky has swayed, has it not?!
The life of the inhabited Middle World
Has changed greatly,
Has it not it, people?!
The disastrous Under World
Has been deeply alarmed,
Has it not, people?!
While the disaster is enough,
While misfortune is not too unbearable,
While we are still alive,
Let us begin talking of a peaceful way,
Let us put our heads together
To take counsel together ...

What are we fighting for?!
Let us settle our dispute amicably',
They muttered.
Looking here and there,
Throwing back their heads,
They started peace talks ...

Tribes of the great and proud Ulutuyar Uluu Toyon
With fiery hands and sharp fingers,
Adept at stealing and robbery,
Said the following:
'The tribes of Kun-Erken
With the reins on their backs
Will oppress us
When they find our fresh footprints,
They will bring misfortune to us
When they find our old footprints,
They will keep us in subservience ...

Outright repudiation will not be enough
When they catch us,
Remorseless slander will be meaningless.
Let us not be neighbours with dogs,
Let us keep away from them.'
They so said and decided to settle
In the voracious,
Swirling, southern fiery sky,
In the ravenous country
With exploding flames
Full of dissent, greed and avarice ...

The tribes of Arsan-Dolai,
With the soft, silent steps,
With the habit of stealing at night,
Relishing robbery and break-ins,
Said the following:
'The tribes of Aiyy-Khan
With the reins on their backs
Will oppress us,
If we plunder or destroy something,
We will not find any place to hide ...

If we offend the tribe of Kun-Erken
And find a shelter at the bottom
Of the bloody Eluu-Cherkechekh,
It will be hard for them to find us.
If we offend the tribe of Aiyy-Khan
And go down to the Under World,
The three laughing abysses,
Will be the best place to hide.'
So they went down to the disastrous Under World
And settled in this place ...

'Let us choose them!'
They appointed
Odun Khan, Genghis Khan, Jilga Toyon
As the Lords of the Upper and Under tribes.
Giving them strength and power,
The great, arrogant and tall Jurantai
Became their right-hand man.
'He can use his fist if need be,' they said ...

After that, the highest deities
Who were so great
That the earth could not bear them,
Decided on their fate
To establish life in the Middle World.
But when they looked closely,
It turned out
That the Earth would court disasters
And become a source of discord
Between the Under World,
The land of Ajarais
Where cold winds blow,
And the Upper World,
The greedy skies
Where frosty winds blow ...


Excerpted from Olonkho by Platon A. Oyunsky. Copyright © 2015 M.K. Ammosov North-Eastern Federal University, Russian Federation. Excerpted by permission of Global Books Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Preface to the English Edition by Vasily Ivanov,
Foreword by Anna Dybo,
Olonkho - The Ancient Yakut Epic by Innokenty Pukhov,
Translating the Olonkho by Alina Nakhodkina,
Select Glossary and Commentaries by Alina Nakhodkina,
Map of Sakha (Yakutia) and Autonomous Areas of Russia,
List of Translators and Editors,
Song 1,
Song 2,
Song 3,
Song 4,
Song 5,
Song 6,
Song 7,
Song 8,
Song 9,

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