It’s fairly common knowledge that Fort Ross in Sonoma County was founded by Russians in the 1800s, when they came to the Pacific Northwest to hunt for furs and to trade with the indigenous people. Fort Ross was actually the southernmost limit of their contact. At Gualala Point Park, just south of the town of Gualala, we came across a group of carved wooden poles erected in 2014 to remember the past and to celebrate the connection between local tribes and the Sakha people. It was a story I had never known before.
Since the sign is difficult to read in the photo I shot with my phone, I’ve transcribed some of the text below.
Sakha on the Sonoma Coast in the 1800’s: Historical records show that at least 16 Sakha people lived at Fort Ross (1812-1842). Serving Russian fur traders as guides across their Siberian homeland, the Sakha were pressed into service in Russian America as hunters, laborers, stockmen, skilled carpenters and shipbuilders. They travelled with the Russian American Company to this coast. While in Alta California, some of the Sakha intermarried with the Kashia, Southern Pomo and Coast Miwok.
Who Are the Sakha and What Is a Sergeh? Indigenous to northeastern Siberia, the Sakha are the northernmost horse breeders in the world, and horses figure prominently their survival. In the Sakha Republic, a Sergeh (pronounced sayr-geh), or hitching post, is placed near each family’s home. Besides its function as a hitching post, the Sergeh represents a world tree — the Tree of Life — and is symbol of the Sakhas’ cultural connection to the natural world and to their ancestors’ traditions. The Sergeh testifies to the desire to survive Siberia’s severe winter climate and other natural obstacles. Ritual ceremonies are held at the installation of each Sergeh, with traditional Sakha blessings, dancing and shamanic rituals.
The Sakha Honoring Their Ancestors: During the 200th Anniversary of Settlement Ross 2012, carvers from the Sakha Republic in Siberia returned to Fort Ross to carve two Sergeh, according to Sakha tradition, to connect with and honor the spirit their ancestors. One of those was placed at the Timber Cove Inn and the other at the Gualala Arts Center.
Feeling a strong connection to both their ancestors who lived here and the presence of their ancestors’ descendants still in the area, self-funded Sakha delegation returned again to the North Coast. Hoping to reconnect with the local Pomo, the Sakha craftsmen were invited into the Kashia Roundhouse near Stewart’s Point to meet with the Pomo elders.
The Sergeh at Gualala Point Park: Sakha Tuhulgete
The Sergeh location at Gualala Point Park is named “Sakha tuhulgete,” meaning a ceremonial place of the Sakha people. There are three “tuhulgete Sergehs” serving as a model of the universe. The tallest Sergeh is a symbol of the world tree, the axis of the universe. The three together represent the Sakha conception of the three interconnected worlds: upper (inhabited by the nine Sakha deities), middle (inhabited by earthly beings and the spirit of nature), and lower (inhabited by evil spirits).
These carvings are traditional Sakha Sergeh. They were carved onsite in 2014 over a period of three weeks by visiting Sakha Craftsmen: William Yakovlev, Egor Stepanov, Yuri Ksenofontov, Luka Egorov, Andrey Chikachev and Mikhail Ershov.
The intricately carved poles came from 40-foot Douglas fir logs donated locally.