Sakhalin Studies' Page




My specialty is Folklore of North-East Eurasia. I'm studying now comparative oral literature of Ainu and Nivkh.


Sakhalin Island


The Sakhalin Island is located to the north of Hokkaido. The north end is 54° north and the south end is 45° north. The length of the south north of this island is a little shorter than 1000km. This island has long and slender shape. The area is almost the same as Hokkaido. In the climate it is colder than Hokkaido. The climate in the northern part of the island looks like the Amur area.


Traditional Names of Sakhalin Island


Ainu Name


Ainu people have called this island "karapto" for a long time. In Japan, it is called "karaputo". Japanese borrowed from Ainu and vowel [u] was put, as this language has no syllable that ends with consonant [p]. If you insist it is opposite, it is needed to explain why the vowel [u] was omitted in Ainu. When LaPerouse visited this island, no word like "karapto" was recorded. His group recorded a word "coka" as a name of this island. Researchers think "coka" means "I" in Ainu.


Nivkh Name


Nivkh people call this island "lermif" or "yghmif". The former means "playing land (land which plays)". Some people explain that seen from the continental side the island often hide itself in the fog. And it's like playing hide-and-seek, they say. The latter is more popular word. Its etymology is uncertain. The latter half "mif" means "land", but the meaning of "ygh-" is not clear. Perhaps it came from the verb "yghrd" which means "being black". The verb stem "yghr-" can be used in a form "ygh-" in some compounded word. If it is so, the meaning of "yghmif"is the same as that of "yghr-mif"-- "black-land", and that may be a translation of Tungus word "Sagalian"("black river"). Nivkh people have known that this island has a shape of fish. Nivkh people say that Schmidt peninsula is "the head of the fish" and that the mouth of the river Tym is "the abdomen of the fish". P>


Traditional Culture of Sakhalin Island


Northern Peoples


Nivkh people have lived in the northern part of Sakhalin island and Ainu people have lived in the southern part for a long time. There are various hypotheses at the age when Uilta and Evenki peoples migrated. Nanai people are added to these 4 peoples and they are called "Northern peoples" by the Russian government. Besides them Sakha, Taz and Buryat people live a little. Their total population is about 3000.


Excluding Northern Peoples


Mongolian Empire put this island in the 13th century under power. Small number of Japanese seemed to have been visiting at a simultaneous period. They set up the fishery in full scale at the latter term of the 19th century. Some researcher guesses that a Cossack force visited Sakhalin in the 17th century. If this guess is correct this is the first advancement to this island by Russian power. From the 19th century to the 20th century the development competition of Japan-Russia continued. 400 000 Japanese lived in the southern part until World War II ended. After the war the majority of Japanese left for Japan. About hundreds of Japanese remain now. The population of a present island is 600 000 people or less. 80% of the population are Russian (or Ukrainian).


After 1930's Korean people has migrated from Korean peninsula by the policy of Japan.  The migration continued to the end of the war. Most was a compulsion migration. Japanese Government deserted them after the war and they were not able to return home. 35 000 Korean people is living now.


Nivkh language


Genetic relationships with other languages


Nivkh language is isolated and doesn't belong to any language families. Compared with Ainu language that is adjacent in the southern part it might be able to be said "Altaic". This hypothesis has not been proven in the comparative linguistics. Some cultural vocabularies (about dwelling firearm etc.) are common with Tungus languages. Some vocabularies related to fishing (fish names fishing implement names etc.) are common with Ainu languages. Most other vocabularies are unique to Nivkh language.





There are Amur dialect and Sakhalin dialect. Each other can understand between these two dialects but it is not perfect and they tend to use Russian language. Amur dialect is spoken in the Amur downstream region and west coast of northern part of Sakhalin Island. Amur dialect is spoken in the Amur downstream region and in the west coast of northern Sakhalin. The Sakhalin dialect is spoken in the eastern coast of northern Sakhalin and called "East Dialect". The dialect spoken in the Schmidt peninsula in the northern part is thought to be one of the Amur dialects. There might be a difference in the Amur dialects between continental side and the island side but uncertain. About the Sakhalin dialects there are some differences between northern part (from the east coast to the downstream of the Tym river) and southern part (from the upstream of the Tym' river to Poronaysk).


Nivkh Oral Literature


Two major genres


There are two major genres in Sakhalin Nivkh Oral Literature. They are "epic (Ngasturh)" and "folk story (t'ylgurh)". Nivkh name of these genres are somewhat different according to the region (verbal form or nominal form etc). OGIHARA Shinko in Chiba University pointed out that only these two genres were popular among North East Eurasian peoples' oral literatures. It applies to Nivkh oral literature. In addition to these two genres there is a semi-genre which has no form. It is called simply telling news (kerh). It is not necessarily a fixed story but can be a simple personal experience story.


Comparison with adjacent peoples


Nivkh people has no genre corresponds to "god's songs (kamuy yukar or oyna)" of Ainu people. Nivkh epic resembles those of Tungus peoples when seeing from the form and melody. From the content it can be said that it resembles that of Ainu. But it is strongly needed to be compared more precisely with that of Tungus.


Materials for the study


Today performers of "epics" are very few. As materials of study you can use materials which were collected in the past and can do some interview with those who had heard epics in their childhood and that's all. As for "folk stories" some performers may tell stories in Nivkh language by the request of researchers and journalists. But they tell stories to their children only in Russian language. Before WW2 L.SHTERNGERG V.PILSUDSKI M.TAKAHASHI collected Nivkh oral literature texts. Their texts are very important in the study of Nivkh folklore. E.KREJNOVICH also collected many texts but they have not been published yet. After them some collections of Nivkh folkstories were published in Japan and Russia. Y.YAMAMOTO, HATTORI published in Japanese V.SANGI, Ch.TAKSAMI published in Russian. R.AUSTERLITZ collected Nivkh folk stories in1950's in Japan. In addition to them some books and pamphlets have been published in Sakhalin.

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