Russians started to settle in the Baikal land which stretches from the southern shore of the lake to the mountain ranges of the severe northern taiga in late 17th century. The Baikal land, or Pribaikalye, includes the districts adjacent to the coast of Lake Baikal: Kabansky, Pribaikalsky, Barguzinsky, Severobaikalsky districts of Buryatia and Olkhonsky district of the Irkutsk region. The territory of Pribaikalye occupies 150 thousand sq. km.
The pioneers were attracted and amazed by uncountable riches of the land. The people got over hundreds of versts in the taiga, trails were laid through impenetrable forests, winter cabins were built, villages and settlements were founded. The people’s memory preserved the legends about the Russians exploring and settling on the Baikal land. In the 19th century the population of the Baikal land started growing very fast because of laying a wheel road, and links with Siberian towns appeared. Opening the gold mines in the Barguzin taiga in the 30ies-40ies of the 19th century was very important. Gold mining promoted the development of agriculture in the region: cattle breeding, ploughing, arable farming, fishing and fur hunting, because the gold mines needed both food and transport. The villages founded in the 18th century started growing, settlers from the nearest villages founded the new ones. By the 80ies of the 19th century the Baikal coast, the Itantsa and the Barguzin valley were covered with numerous Russian villages where farmers and gold-diggers, hunters and fishermen lived.
A very important role in the life of Pribaikalye was played by convicts (Siberia had always been a place of exile). They were engaged in agriculture, worked in the mines, etc. The political convicts also enlightened the local people.
The oral folklore of the Pribaikalye Russian old residents make up unwritten history of the people who had settled at Lake Baikal. The legends and stories recorded in the Baikal land are extremely local, not known anywhere. They reflect the history of the pioneers, the local everyday life and specific facts and phenomena which had taken place in Pribaikalye.
All the genres of traditional folklore were common here. However there are more legends and songs on different topics than fairy-tales, proverbs or sayings. Farmers, fishermen, hunters, gold-diggers also used the folklore works borrowed from the Buryats and the Evenks; at the same time they made up their own ones about the origin of nature and wildlife, the history of villages, the origin of rivers and lakes and their names. There are legends which reflect the genealogy of the Russian old-timers, some of them tell about the origin of the Buryat clans.
Such folklore narrators as E.I. Sorokovikov-Magai, V.R. Guryanov, D.S. Aslamov, G.M. Shelkovnikov, V.V. Kobelev, E.D. Perfilyev, V.D. Zorin and others used to recite the legends.
In their activity the Russian old-timers sang “the sacred sea” of Baikal which they loved greatly: “He who hasn’t been to the Baikal, hasn’t seen the beauty”, “Come to the Baikal and see the paradise”, “Passing the Baikal you’ll see a corner of the paradise”, they used to say. In the legends they told different stories about the origin of the lake and its name (the legends “About the Sacred Sea”, “Where the Name of Baikal Came from” and others). The folklore narrator E.I. Sorokovikov-Magai knew a lot of stories of such kind. A.D. Aslamov often recited the legend “Where the Baikal Came from”. This legends resembles the stories about the Baikal Gap which formed in 1861 as a result of an earthquake (“About the Baikal Gap”, “The Gap in the Baikal”, “The Baikal Gap”). That event influenced the contents of the legends about natural phenomena.
The legends about the origin of Lake Baikal tell us that the lake formed in the presence of ancient people, they witnessed the land sinking and then a great water fountain gushed from under it. According to other versions the Baikal appeared as a result of the phenomena going on deep underground: the underground waters mixed with solvent minerals and produced steam which makes the land layers move until the underground waters with the steam gush onto the surface.
Russians also had legends about the Buryat clans origin. The most wide-spread ones are the legends telling about the fact that the Buryats have been living near the Baikal since times immemorial, since the time when the lake had just appeared. The first man who appeared at the Sacred sea, Buryadai, is considered to be the forefather of the Western Buryats. He is said to give rise to other Buryat clans which had settled all over the territory of the Baikal land long before the Russians came there. The legend “About Buryadai and Suikhan” tells about a man named Buryadai who met a girl named Suikhana and took her to the Baikal. Soon Suikhana gave birth to three sons who became the forefathers of three clans. The parents take care of their offsprings’ wealth and feel happy that their sons and grandsons have found happiness in the new rich land. They thank the generous nature for that.
The Russians gave the form of a fairy-tale to that subject of the Buryat genealogy. The events are so ancient that nobody remembers “how many thousand years have passed since that old time”, that “hundreds of ravens generations have crowed here for that period whereas the Baikal was just accumulating its strength”. All the legends about Buryadai and Suikhan convey the idea that man is inseparable from the nature and the unity is being felt throughout the whole story. The most complete variant of that group of legends was in the repertory of the folklore narrator G.M. Shelkovnikov.
The folklore narrators considered the Baikal to possess magic qualities. Thus, E.D. Perfilyev used to tell that the Baikal is connected to all other seas and oceans with underground straits, that almost all fishes which exist in the world can be found in the Baikal, that there is nothing more delicious than the Baikal water (the legends “About the Origin of the Baikal”, “The Baikal Is a Rich Sea”).
The sacred sea is glorified in the songs “My Siberian Land”, “Roar, Baikal”. “A great number of the Baikal songs has not been recorded yet. These songs are mostly local, but they are very popular with the local people and may become more widespread because the Baikal is becoming a place of tourism” (Eliasov L.E. Russian Poetic Folklore of Pribaikalye // Russian Folklore of Pribaikalye. – Ulan Ude, 1968. – p. 63).