|Origin & Development|
|History of Lake Baikal|
|Lake Baikal Climate|
|Fauna & Vegetation|
|Water of Lake Baikal|
|People of Lake Baikal|
|THE FACE OF BAIKAL - NAMES|
The history and the origin of the name "Baikal" by S.A.Gurulev ©
In antiquity, when people were faced with Baikal for the
first time, they were impressed first and foremost by the huge volume of water. In
ancient times, people, and the nomads in particular, knew that the land they were living
on was washed by large masses of water (the seas and oceans). But here, contrary to
their observations and the laws of nature, they met with a large volume of water in
the middle of land. So it is not surprising that the names given to the lake meant
large volume of water, sea or ocean.
Ancient man estimated the volume of water in Baikal according to its external parameters
- length, width and perimeter. These dimensions impressed him very much. The nomadic
tribes walked around the lake along its shores, but they had to overcome longer distances
because the shores of Baikal are rocky and inaccessible over large areas.
These external parameters of the lake alone did not allow ancient man to estimate the
real volume of Baikal's water. For a long time people did not know the depths of the
lake at all. Now we know the volume of Baikal's water is 23.015 cubic kilometres. Is
that a lot or not much? This volume can only be understood by comparison. Usually it is
compared with the water volumes of other lakes or with the quantity of the world's fresh
water reserves. Of the world's lakes, only the Great Lakes - Superior, Michigan, Huron,
Erie, and Ontario, taken all together, have the same volume of water. Other lakes are of
far smaller dimensions: Lake Tanganyika (in Africa) - is half the size, and Lake Ladoga
is 23 times smaller. The amount of the world's fresh water reserves defies precise
calculation, so the share in it of Baikal's water is estimated variously - from 1/5 to
1/20. In my opinion, the last value is closer to the truth.
Baikal's huge volume of water is held in an almost inaccessibly deep hollow or basin.
The lake is surrounded by high mountains on almost all sides. This quite significant
fact, especially for an ancient nomad, determined the lake's relative inaccessibility.
Ways by which it was possible to reach the shore of Baikal were, first of all, the
valleys of its largest tributaries - the Selenga, Barguzin, Upper Angara, and also the
valley of the Angara running out of the lake. Low and medium high mountains surround the
lake in only two places - Priolkhonye and between the rivers Barguzin and Kika. For this
reason Priolkhonye became the place of settlement of the Kurykany tribes in the middle
of the first millennium, and later the Buryat tribes and clans, and the area between the
rivers Barguzin and Kika was part of the so-called Barguzin-Tokum region, where often
the events of early Mongolian history took place.
Baikal's being surrounded by high mountains is reflected in its great depths and the
steepness of the slopes of its hollow. A significant amount of the lake's water is at
great depths. There are only a very few shallow areas. The parts with depths of up to
20 metres occupy only 7% of the total area of the lake, and areas with depths up to 70
metres - 13.32%. The small area of shallows influences the character and scale of the
biological processes occurring in the lake, as these are the most productive parts of
lakes from the biological view point.
Various peoples lived on the shores of Baikal in past times. But evidence has remained
of only a few of them. The great migrations taking place on the vast spaces of East
European and the Asian steppes changed the map of the world beyond all recognition.
Intertribal unions and states were created and destroyed. All these were reflected in
geographical names. Only a few of these names of Baikal have come down to us from the
past - Lamu, Beihai, Tengis, Tengis-dalai, Baigal, Baigal-dalai, Dalai, Svyatoye Morye
The name Lamu belongs to one of the most ancient peoples of Siberia - the
Evenks. The word "lamu", meaning "sea", has been in the Evenk language since ancient times.
This is the word they used for Baikal. The Evenks, at first living a life of hunters on
foot (right up till the beginning of the 20th century both nomadic and settled Evenks lived
on the eastern shores of northern Baikal) and later, mastering the art of reindeer - breeding,
they moved from their ancient homeland of Pribaikalye to the east, up to
the Sea of Okhotsk, and to the north, up to the Arctic Ocean. They transferred the name
Lamu to these natural phenomena in spite of the significant differences in sizes between
Baikal, the Sea of Okhotsk, and the Arctic Ocean. This is quite explicable since the
word "lamu" was a common noun initially and meant sea in general and only later was it
used as a proper name.
The Evenks use the word "lamu" not only in naming Baikal but in other toponyms. Thus the
Evenks call the river Kichera in its lower reaches, where it flows out onto the flat
spaces of the common delta with the river Upper Angara and, merging with its arm, the
Angarkan, flows through lakes into Baikal, 'Lamutkan', i.e. the Sea river flowing into
the sea Lamu. The mountain range between Northern Baikal and the river Kirenga is called
Lamsky by the Evenks. At least it had such name in Russian documents of the XVIII
century; for example, it is said in taxation statements that the interpreter Kondraty
Myasin brought 54 sable skins from the Upper Kirenga and said "he had walked from the
taxation winter quarters up the river Lena between Lamu and the river Kirenga to the
Lamsky mountain range to the Tungus people ..." The territories around Verkholensky
fortress are described in the Russian documents as follows: "from Verkholensky fortress
up the rivers Lena and Kulenga and Kirenga, and Khandy and the Lamsky mountain range and
lake Ocheulya ...", and the Tungus tribes inhabiting these territories are called "the
Tungus of lake Ocheulya and the Lamsky mountain range" or simply "the Lamsky tribes".
Possibly the Evenks included the word "lamu" in the names of their family groups.
A.S.Shubin noted this, suggesting that the Evenk family of namyasintsy (nameghiry),
inhabiting the mouth of the Barguzin river on the eastern shores of north Baikal before
the coming of the Russians, received its name from their locality - the shores of
Baikal, that is from the word "lamu", which was transformed as follows: namu - lamu -
lamughil(r) - namughir - nameghir. The family names that arose had only one meaning -
It is well to bear in mind that the word "lamu" in the Evenk language has closely
related synonyms: lam - in the Uchuro-zeisky, the Chumikansky, the Ayansky, the
Sakhalinsky dialects; lama - in the Podkameno-tungusky, the North-Baikal, and the
Uchursky dialects; nam - in the Ayansky dialect and all of them with only one meaning
"sea". There are corresponding words to this in related languages: Evenk (nam), Negidal
(lam), Oroch (namu), Udegey (namu), Ulchor and Orok (namu), Nanaian (namo, namu),
Manchurian (namy), and in all of them with the meaning "sea", but in many of these
languages, with the exception of Evenk, there is also the meaning "ocean" or even
"Lake Baikal". Furthermore there are corresponding words in the Korean language: lam -
blue, dark blue, in the Mongolian languages: the old written Mongolian language - namag,
the Mongolian and Buryat language - namag, and the Kalmyk language - namg (an
old-fashioned word) meaning "bog, swamp, quag". V.M.Ilich-Svitych suggests that the
original was the lost word form "lamu", meaning "bog", in the Altai languages. Besides
this, he points out corresponding words in the Kartvel languages (lam - silt, dampness),
in Indo-European languages (lehm - bog, puddle), in Ural languages (Lampe - bog, lake)
and singles out the ancient language form LaHm(u) - bog.
The lake is often referred to by the name Lamu in Evenk legends.
In the past, the territory which used to be inhabited by the Evenks was larger than now.
This can be seen from the geographic names related to the Evenk language either in their
roots or in the way they are formed. For example, in Russ there are clear signs of Evenk
or in any case Tungus-Manchurian origin in such seemingly age-old Russian names as
Vychegda, Onega, Pinega, Nyandoma, the cities Vologda, Volokolamsk and others. In
Siberia, close communication between the Evenks and the Yakuts resulted in the Evenk
word lamu penetrating quite deeply into the Yakut language. The Yakuts began to call
the Sea of Okhotsk Lamu baiagal, combining their own word meaning "sea" with the Evenk
name. The road leading from the river Lena to the shores of the Sea of Okhotsk came to
be called Ilin Laamy suola, the Easter Lamsky road, and the city of Okhotsk Laamy. This
question has been examined more thoroughly, with more toponymic examples, by the Yakut
toponymist Bagdaryyn Sulbe.
In ancient Chinese chronicles Baikal is called Beihai which in
translation means Northern sea. Baikal is referred to by this name in the transactions
of the "father of Chinese history", Sym Tsyan (born in the middle of the II century
B.C.) in the description of the history of the Chinese mission headed by Go Tszi to the
northern neighbours - the Sunnu, known to us as the Huns (Hunny, Ghunny). The Chinese
emperors tried to get round the Sunnu with rich gifts, princesses given as wives for Sunnu
chieftains (shanyuis) in order to protect their lands from the ruinous raids of the nomads.
Go Tszi came to the headquarters of the shanyui and asked to be given an audience. When
asked by the Sunnu official in charge of the reception about the subject of the
conversation with the shanyui, he muttered something inarticulately and avoided a
direct answer. This he did with some purpose as it seems he was sure that he would
not get to see the shanyui in person if told the truth. Nevertheless, he was permitted
to go through to the shanyui. And there Go Tszi let himself go and delivered a speech,
saying: "What's the point of moving away and hiding to the north of the sandy steppes?
There is nothing to do in the cold and barren country". In conclusion the ambassador
made an ultimatum to become a vassal of China. The shanyui liked neither the
ambassador's speech nor his ultimatum. First of all he gave an order in violent anger
to cut off the head of his official in charge of the reception and then arrested Go
Tszi. Some time later Go Tszi was sent to Baikal.
Thus, for the first time, in the year 110 B.C. the Chinese historians mention Baikal
calling it Beihai.
The next record of Baikal in the Chinese chronicles goes back to the year 101 or 100
B.C., when a Chinese mission headed by Su U came to the Sunnu shanyui Tszuidihou, who
had only recently come to power.
Tszuidihou had taken steps before this which were interpreted in China as indication
of his peaceful intentions. So the Su U mission carried lavish gifts to him.
Nevertheless, more than one hundred warriors were included in the mission.
Contrary to expectations,the shanyui conducted himself in an unfriendly manner, and
behaved proudly, though he did take the gifts put before him by the ambassador. He was
just about to send the mission back, when news was received about rioting by Chinese
living on the Sunnu lands. The mission was arrested, while the shanyui went off hunting.
Only wives, children and the younger brothers of the shanyui remained at the
headquarters. The Chinese from the mission decided to organize a riot, but they were
betrayed by a deserter. Forces were called out and the riot was suppressed. The
ambassador himself had not taken part in the plot, but he was accused of having done
so. Though there was no evidence against him, he was put to numerous and cruel tortures
which were accompanied by proposals to renounce his motherland and the Chinese emperor
and to go over to the service of the Sunnu (many people from the mission accepted these
proposals). Su U bore all torture and refused point-blank to admit his participation in
the plot or to betray his motherland.
Eventually the Sunnu took Su U for a spirit, as he bore the superhuman trials
courageously, and left him. Su U was exiled to Beihai. He was sent "to an uninhabited
place, where he was ordered to keep rams and told that he would be able to return to his
motherland when the rams lamb", in other words the Sunnu promised him exile for life.
Some of the other officials of the mission did not betray the motherland either, but
they were separated and sent to settle in other places.
At Baikal, Su U "dug up and ate the seeds of wild grasses stored by field-mice". When
watching the rams he leant on the ambassador's staff - as symbol of his fidelity to his
distant motherland. Su U did not let the staff, a bamboo stick, decorated with a yak
tail at one end, slip out of his hands either while sleeping or during the day, for
this reason the hairs of the tail on the staff came out.
Five or six years later the young son of the shanyui came here hunting for wild ducks
and geese. Su U made nooses for him, spun bow-strings for his bows, and straightened
them. In this way he won the favour of the prince who took a liking to the captive and
granted him food and clothes and on the whole made the hard life of the exile easier.
The next time the prince came he presented Su U with horses, cattle, earthenware jugs
for keeping wine and milk, and a yurt. Su U married a Sunnu wife, who bore him a son.
The patronage of the prince did not last long,within a short time he died. And
subsequently, in the winter the Dilin (tribes inhabiting Pribaikalye) stole Su U's
cattle and sheep; and again, he was plunged into great hardship.
With the consent of the shanyui, who was surprised at the fortitude of the ambassador,
Su U was repeatedly visited by Chinese from the same mission that had gone over to the
Sunnu. Using lies and blackmail, they tried in every way to force him to go over to the
shanyuis service. They told Su U that his young wife in China had been unfaithful to him
and married, that his sons had publicly renounced their father, and that the Chinese
emperor prohibited the name Su U to be pronounced. But the ambassador was unshaken and
flatly refused to bow down to threats and different promises.
Only when 19 years had elapsed, in the year 81 B.C., did Su U return to his motherland.
By which time the Chinese and the Sunnu rulers had been changed. The new Chinese emperor
asked the new shanyui for information about Su U's mission. At first the Sunnu said that
Su U was dead. However Chinese scouts reported to the Chinese emperor that the
ambassador was alive and living at Baikal. At the second inquiry the Sunnu let Su U
return to his motherland. When he returned home he found that his wife had been faithful
to him, his sons had not renounced him and his name had not been defamed. The Chinese
emperor made Su U one of the highest officials of his court. Su U took his son from the
Sunnu and gave him an education. Su U's name has passed into legends as a symbol of
fortitude and faithfulness to the motherland. And the Chinese people honour him to this
Baikal is also referred to by the name of Beihai in the later Chinese chronicles. For
example, the historian Shan Yue has written in the work "History of the Sun dynasty"
(V century AD.) about the Zhuizhui people (Datan, Tantan), a separate branch of the
Sunnu. He pointed out that the Zhuizhui "have no cities enclosed by inner or outer walls
and they are engaged in cattle-breeding, moving from place to place searching for water
and grass. Felt tents are used as dwellings and are carried to each camp site. In their
lands there are dark mountains on which snow lies even at the height of summer, and
planes stretch for thousands of lis ... In the steppes there is no green grass, the
climate is cold, the horses and cattle eat dead grass and lick snow, but they are fat
and strong by nature. Government is simple. There are no official written documents,
they use notches on wood for records. Later the Zhuizhui gradually learned written
language and now there are many scholars among them". In his work Shan Yue outlined the
limits of the Zhuizhui territory, indicating that "the territory of the Zhuizhui is at
a distance of more than 1000 lis from Beihai bordering on the territory of the Dilin".
The lake is referred to as Beihai in the Chinese chronicles of later times. Sometimes
the opinion is expressed orally (for example by Buryats of Chinese origin, natives of
the Barguzin valley) that the Buryat word Baigal is a transformation, adapted from the
ancient Chinese name Beihai to the peculiarities of the Buryat language. This opinion
has no documentary or factual proof. It contradicts historical facts and language laws.
Beihai is a proper Chinese name. It was written by two hieroglyphs in the Chinese
chronicles. Its usage was also limited to these chronicles only. Usually, Chinese
historians adopted only the minimum of words from the languages of the peoples
surrounding China, who were considered "barbarians" and were equated with the so-called
"low people" (the poorest sections of the population with no property) in China itself
(for example, the ethnic names of the peoples themselves), adapting them to their own
language and inevitably distorting them. The non - acceptance of everything foreign
(not only in language but in culture as a whole) by the ancient Chinese was determined
by a special policy pursued with respect to "barbarians" which was expressed in the
formula "suppress barbarians by using other barbarians".
The Chinese chronicles were written exclusively for the use of the Chinese emperor and
court. Only events concerning China in one way or another were touched on in these
chronicles. So we can say for sure that mention of the Northern Sea was made only
because Chinese ambassadors were exiled to Baikal by the Sunnu. The adoption of foreign
names in this case is out of the question. At the same time, however, the Sunnu used
another name for Baikal in their own way. It is worth noting the version that the Sunnu
used the word Dengis for the sea-lake, or as later the ancient Turkic people called it,
Tengiz. Only indirect evidence of this is found in the fact that amongst the few Sunnu
words to come down to us is the the word "Dengizikh". The son of the Sunnu leader
Attila, who fought the Roman legions in the V century AD on the fields of Gallium and
led his mounted hordes to the walls of the holy city of Rome was so named.
The name Beihai was used only in court chronicles in ancient China and was not extended
to the people in general. What is more, it is absent from ancient geographical works.
Later the name Baikal came into Chinese geographical works in the form of Beitszyaerhu,
expressed by a combination of four hieroglyphics where the first hieroglyphic - "bey" -
means "shell, wealth, treasure, jewel", the second hieroglyphic - "tszya" - "to add, to
increase, to exceed", the third hieroglyphic - "er" - is a suffix, and the fourth
hieroglyphic - "hu" - is "lake". All together the Chinese word "Beitszyaerhu" in
translation means "lake increasing wealth" or "lake increasing the number of shells"
(the latter being associated with the high value and usage of shells as money in ancient
China, just as the skins of squirrel and marten were used as money in ancient Russ).
Besides, in modern Chinese Lake Baikal is called Baikalehu, a phonetic analogue to the
Russian word Baikal or Baihai - the White Sea. The Japanese reading of the hieroglyphic
Beihai - Beikarr-ko should also be noted. As a matter of fact the latter occurs without
any explanation in scholarly works on Ancient Chinese history, being considered as a
translation of the word "Beihai" from the Chinese, which is incorrect.
The ancient Chinese hieroglyphic Beihai could not have been transformed into the
Mongolian word Baigal considering the laws of word building in Mongolian languages.
The transformation of "e" into "a" is impossible in the first syllable, as is the
mutation of "kh" and "g", as the sound "kh" in Mongolian languages is very productive,
and would be bound to remain and not be transformed into "g". The impossibility of the
transformation of "i" into "1" is obvious.
So, historic and linguistic factors show that the ancient Chinese word Beihai was not
the prototype of the name Baikal.
The names of many of the rivers of southern Siberia and northern Mongolia are mentioned
in the Mongolian historical and literary monument of the XIII century the "Secret History
of the Mongols" that tell about the Chinggis-khan genealogy, and his intertribal and
aggressive wars. Most of them have kept the same names or slightly transformed names
till now. These are the Onon, Keluren (Kerulen), Orkhon, Selenga, Tuula (Tola), Kilkho (Khilok),
Khalkha, Ergune (Argun), Erdysh (Irtysh). Of the large geographic landmarks of Pribaikalye
the country Barguchzhinskaya, or Barguchzhin-Tokum, on the lower reaches of the Selenga
and along the river Barguzin is often mentioned. Nothing is said about Baikal directly.
At the same time the chronicles relate events that sometimes correspond exactly chronologically
and tell about some inland sea by the name of Tengis and Tengis-dalai. Let us take a look at these events.
At the beginning of "The Secret History of the Mongols" it is related that "Borte-Chino,
born according to the will of the High Sky, was the ancestor of Chinggis-khan. His wife
was Goa-Maral. They appeared, having swum across the Tengis (inland sea). They led a
nomadic life near the sources of the Onon-river, on the Burkhan-khaldun hill, and
Bata-Chigan was their descendant". To the question as to what can be understood by the
name Tengis, what natural landmark it is, and what inland sea, there is no clear answer
and the suppositions made are contradictory. S.A.Kozin gives the word "Tengis" in a
number of different transcriptions and translates it in the paragraph dictionary as
"tenkis lake"; tenggis-tenggis dalai - inland sea, large lake , and in the general
dictionary - tenkis-dalai Caspian Sea(?).
Another interpretation of the word "Tengis" is given by Mongolian researchers. Kh.Parlaa
understands the Tengis to be the river near Lake Khubsugul. He concludes that the first
camp of Borte-Chino was in the north-western regions of Mongolia, from where he went to
the basin of the river Onon, having swum over the river Tengis. This opinion is
supported by the academician B.Rinchen (Mongolia),who points out that the Tengis is a
very turbulent and almost impassable mountain river. Nevertheless, most researchers are
inclined to the opinion that by the word Tengis one should understand Baikal. The main
proof for this is the fact that events of Mongolian history took place near the lake,
on the rivers Selenga, Barguzin and Angara.
The word "Tengis" is Turkic. In ancient Turkic languages it had only one meaning -
"sea". In modern Buryat it is considered to be a word borrowed from the Turkic
Later the Mongolians added their own word "dalai" - "sea" to the Turkic word "Tengis".
In the Mongolian chronicle "Altan tobchi" ("The Golden Story"), dating back to the
middle of the XVII century, in episodes from Mongolian history, where in "The Secret
History of the Mongols" only "Tengis" was used, the words "Tengis-dalai" appears.
The name Baigal is met for the first time in the Mongolian chronicle of the first half
of the XVII century "Shara tudzhi" ("The Yellow History"), where another victory of
Chinggis-khan is related: "At forty-seven years of age he gave battle to the army of
Ajnbagai-Khagan near the river called Baigal, defeated and subjugated him". Here the
name is given to a river, but it should be born in mind that the Mongols also called
the lake-sea Baigal-muren (Baikal-river). The name Baigal-muren is met in the XVIII
century chronicle "Altan-tobchi" of Mergen gegen, which says (incorrectly, as a matter
of fact) that the mountain Burkhan-khaldun is on the shore of Baigal-muren.
In the chronicle "Altan-tobchi" of Lubsan Danzan the name Baigal is found in the
description of the presentation of gifts to the great khagan by the chieftains of the
forest tribes. Here, without any doubt, it relates to Lake Baikal. The chronicle says:
"The Buryat Chieftain Oro Shigushi presented a falcon caught near the great Baikal to
the noble and eminent lord. The Buryats were given into the possession of Oro
If the name "Baigal" entered into the XVII chronicle, it must be accepted that it came
into use amongst the Mongolian people before this period. Unfortunately, we have no
documentary evidence for this. In any case, the Russians in the 1740s encountered only
one Mongolian name, which was "Baigal". They immediately began to use it, leaving the
Evenk word "Lamu".
The Russians adopted the name Baigal from the Buryats. For a long time this circumstance
led scholars to search for the source of the word and its origin in the Mongolian
languages. The search for the word in the Buryat language can be explained by the fact
that historically the Buryats as a people came into being in the lands around Baikal.
The Buryats belong to the Mongolian group of languages. Just like the Mongols, they
called the lake either Baigal-dalai or Baigal-muren (muren-river) at the time of the
Russians' coming to the area.
How can the meaning of the word "baigal" be explained if its Buryat origin is assumed?
Many opinions and suggestions have been made on this score, since this would seem to
have been implied, and Russian historical documents confirmed directly that the word
could only be of Buryat origin.
The first scholar to try to explain the meaning of the name "Baikal" was Nikolai
Spaphary, who was travelling through Siberia as the tsar's envoy to China. He wrote:
"And the name of that Baikal is not Russian, it was called by that name in accordance
with the name of the foreigner that lived in those places". Notice that in the XVII
century the Russians called the inhabitants of the area foreigners, failing to bear in
mind that this name was more appropriate for themselves, having come from other lands,
than for the native population. It seems that the appearance of this version is
connected with some kind of misunderstanding or chance. The thing is that Spaphary used
Russian material, that has not come down to us, that described Baikal itself and the
Siberian rivers, the Lena, Vitim, Amur and others that Spaphary never visited but whose
description he gives. It was while using this, generally someone else's material, that
a shift in the understanding of the origin of the name "Baikal" occurred. In Russian
documents it was always implied both before and after Spaphary that this name had been
adopted from the Buryats and that it was actually "foreign". Spaphary's version that
Baikal is the name of "a foreigner", was subsequently repeated and used in scholarly
works, but no one gave it any foundation or justification. All of which permits us to
speak of the completely accidental nature of its origin.
There is the long-standing opinion that the word "baigal" means "the standing of fire".
This was accepted without question at the beginning of this century by one of the
outstanding scholars of Baikal, D.K.Drizhenko. This view is based on two facts. First,
on the translation, the word "bai" can be translated from the Buryat as "standing", and
the word "gal" as "fire". Secondly, on the Buryat legend by the name "Bai gal -
However there are objections to such an explanation. In particular these are expressed
by the Mongolian historian, Kh.Parlaa, though without giving any arguments.
Another explanation for the word "baigal" is given by the geographer B.R.Buyantuev, who
suggests that it comes from the Buryat word "baikhaa" - "of nature, natural, existing".
B.R.Buyantuev's opinion is supported by the geologist S.G.Sarkisyan and the geographer
L.S.Berg. However, the historian G.N.Rumyantsev does not agree with them, being of the
opinion that such a translation bears no criticism from the linguistic point of view.
Sometimes the word "baigal" is translated as "rich fire". Such a translation seems
oversimplified and formal.
Thus, attempts to explain the meaning of the word "baigal" by comparing it with the
vocabulary of the Buryat language or on the basis of legends, and to find its etymology
in the Buryat language have not been successful.
There is a very widespread opinion that the name "Baikal" finds its origin in the Yakut
language, from the two Yakut words: "bai" - "rich" and "kyol (kuyol)" - lake. At first
glance such an explanation seems quite probable, but all the same objections have been
made to it.
The Yakuts belong to the Turkic group of languages that include the Kirgiz, Kazakh,
Uigur, Uzbek, Turkmen, Azerbajani, Turk and other peoples. There are separate peoples
of the Turkic language group in the Crimea and even in Lithuania (the Karaims).
When the Russians came, the Yakuts had already formed as a people. They inhabited a
single territory (in the triangle between the middle reaches of the Lena and the Aldan
and the river Amga), a common language and culture. They called themselves either the
Uranhai - an ancient name, or the Sakha - a modern name. The Evenks called them
by another name - the Yako. The Russians adopted this name for the people from the
Evenks. In the first Russian documents reference was made to "the yako people". In
time the word "Yakuts" appeared as a result of phonetic transformation.
The basin of the river Lena is the new homeland of the Yakuts. They migrated here from
southern regions out of which they were driven by other peoples. This migration
continued over several centuries. It is conceivable that the migration began way back
at the end of the first millennium and was undoubtedly intensified by the aggressive
campaigns of Chinggis-khan. It seems that Mongolian tribes migrated to the Lena
together with Turkic tribes, which is indicated by the existence of family groups
originally from the Mongolian group of languages amongst the Yakuts. It must be assumed
that the movement of these and other tribes was caused by some common reason that gave
rise to one of the great migrations of peoples. The Yakut folklore scholar
G.V.Ksenophontov, has compared his people with an apple tree branch which has been torn
off the tree and is carried all over the world by the wind.
The last migrants from the south, as Yakut legends say, appeared in the Lena basin at
the end of the XVI century headed by Badzhei, the grandfather of Tygyn, the toiona
(leader, or chieftain) known from the same legends.
The Yakut tribes that migrated to the Lena met with more severe natural surroundings
than in the south. In their new land they had to maintain a desperate struggle with
unusual natural conditions. While in the southern regions the Yakuts had bred sheep
and camels, in their new camps, where these animals could not stand the cold climate,
they had to change their way of life and breed horses and cattle. Yakut horses are
adapted to the northern climate and serve to carry loads and at the same time to provide
meat, milk, wool and leather. In the north, the Yakuts lost their skills of cultivation
which they had mastered in their former homeland.
With the migration to the new regions, the Yakut tribes, separated completely from their
Turkic brothers who lived in the distant steppes and mountains of Central and Middle
Asia, also lost their written language. Only references to a once written language
remain in Yakut legends.
In the Yakut language there is a word that concerns us that has several phonetic
variations: baiakhal, baikhal, baiagal, baigal. This word has two main meanings:
"sea" and "Lake Baikal". It is also used to express the concepts: "plenty", "ocean",
and "a mass of water". So, the question about the sources of the word "baigal" and
its origin can be answered quite definitely: it is of Yakut origin.
The Yakuts use the word "baigal" widely in songs, legends and myths.
At one time the Yakuts gave a name to the deepest lake in the world - Baigal. The
Buryats adopted this name, used it for a long time (it also entered into Buryat
folklore) and bore it "with the help of Russian to the present day.
A new stage in the understanding of the nature of Baikal began with the coming of the
Russians to the region.
Russian explorers began to develop the territories of the Urals and Siberia some four
hundred years ago. Their movement eastwards was mainly confined to the taiga zone of
the little known land of Siberia. The belt of steppes was left to the native nomads who at
times put up successful resistance to the Russian detachments.
The general line of movement of Russian explorers can be retraced with the help of the
cities built by them along their way - Tobolsk, Yeniseisk, Kirensk, Yakutsk, Okhotsk.
Since the areas near Baikal were more southerly than the main line of the Russian
explorers, their development began noticeably later. This was also hindered by the high
Baikal mountain ranges, stretching for hundreds of kilometres. In 1639 the Russians
reached the shores of the Pacific Ocean, and only in 1643 they appeared on the shores
of Baikal. Here the explorers met the Evenks and learnt from them that the lake-sea
was called Lamu and that its shores and the lands around it were inhabited by the
"Bratsky" people (the Buryats) who call the lake by another word - "Baigal". In the
first Russian documents these two names alternated and went together hand in hand. At
first the Evenk word "Lamu" was used even more frequently. But having become more
closely acquainted with the land beyond the lake, the Russians saw that it was inhabited
by the numerous "Bratsky" people. For this reason they changed the name of the lake-sea,
switching over to the Buryat "Baigal", and the entire land beyond the lake got the name
Perhaps the first person to write about the Sacred Sea was N.Semivsky: "Baikal, the sea
or Sacred Sea, or lake, or more correctly the Angarsk fault has the form of a
crescent...". Later, in modern times, this name came to be attributed to the early
Russian settlers of Baikal. With respect to this, the opinion was expressed, padded with
careful reservations or surrounded by questions, that it is a loan-translation
from a pre - Russian name, translated literally from the latter. However, the name Sacred Sea was
not used in Russian documents of the XVII-XVIII centuries. At the same time, the word
"sacred" ['svyatoi' in Russian means 'sacred'], based on animalistic ideas, is
characteristic of the Russian vocabulary of the XVII century. At Baikal it was used to
name a peninsular Svyatoi Nos, which N.Spaphary wrote about in 1673: "...and the
distance between the island of Olkhon and the Svyatoi Nos, where they cross Baikal, is
exceedingly great, sometimes taking one and a half days to cross, and many boats are
wrecked in those places". The Svyatoi Nos peninsular is shown and named on "A Scetch
of the land of the City of Irkutsk" by S.U.Remezov. Sometimes Russians called the sea
in Siberia into which the river Yana flows the Sacred sea, that is the Laptev Sea. It
seems likely that this name was not used by the early Russian settlers for Baikal.
Besides, there is no name among the pre-Russian names mentioned above that could be the
basis for a translated borrowing of the name Sacred Sea.
If we take into account the date of publication of Semivsky's work, the name Sacred Sea
could have appeared among Russians only at the beginning of the XIX century. It might
have emerged under the influence of religious ideas, the more so as the yearning amongst
Russians for naming lakes, especially those shrouded in mystery, as "Sacred" could be
observed. There are many lakes so called all over Russia. However, in this case, the
Russian attitude to the lake was supported by the Buryats, who were connected with the
Russians by bonds of friendship and brotherhood. It is generally known that the Buryats
revere the lake-sea, and often use the terms 'great' and 'sacred' to describe it. Such
an attitude to natural phenomena formed back in ancient times when people worshipped
heavenly bodies, stars, high mountains, rivers, lakes and seas. Later this was
consciously cultivated by religion, and in the case of the Buryats, by shamanism. Thus,
the Russian name "Sacred Sea" could have been formed independently and be strengthened
under the influence of the Buryats who revered the majestic lake-sea, and need not by
any means have been the translation of a name borrowed from pre-Russian times. Moreover,
the Russian either adopted geographical names from native peoples, if they were known
to them, without changing them, or gave their own names when they did not known the
native name, but by no means did they turn to using the translated meaning of a borrowed
name. So, for example, the name of the peninsular Svyatoi Nos, the largest in Baikal,
belongs without any doubt to the Russians. The Buryats had another name for it -
Khelmen-Khushun, which means either "Cape Sabre" or "Sturgeon's Snout". The peninsular
was a religious place for Buryat shamanists where ceremonies of reverence for the cape
were performed. As can be seen, the name Svyatoi Nos is not the translation of a word
borrowed from the Buryat language, but perhaps it arose under the influence of Buryat
"Dalai" is a Mongolian name. It was formed from the word "dalai" - sea or ocean,
which was used in Mongolian and Turkic languages.
"Angarsk Sea" is a name from Yakut epic literature. The word Angara (Angkhara,
Dengere) in ancient times had the meaning "transparent water" in the Yakut language.
"Tukha-baiagal" - is a name that occurs in a Yakut song. In the opinion of
E.K.Pekarsky, this name is also attributable to Baikal.
We shall give only one name here - Barkh-al-Baka. In the opinion of the historian
Y. Maltsev from Dushanbe, this Arabic name means "sea giving rise to many tears" or
"sea of terror". That this name belongs: to Baikal has no documentary confirmation.