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The Post-Colonial Ecology of Siberian Shamanic Revivalism

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How Do Area Spirits Influence Identity Politics?

image of Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology

The Sakha national revival in Sakha (Yakutia), Siberia, aims to recover dying elements of Sakha culture, in order to preserve the Sakha people’s distinctive identity. And yet this revival is itself imbued with assumptions rooted in the European cultures that initiated modernist colonisation. Contemporary Sakha shamanism reflects the tensions within the nationalist revival, in the contrasting tendencies for activists, firstly, to recover what is seen as the old, genuine shamanic practice—and, secondly, to assimilate foreign spiritual techniques. But when these two strands of endeavour are examined with reference to the perceptions of person and environment that formed the basis of pre-Soviet Sakha life, it becomes apparent that they complement each other. Both facilitate the intersection of contrasting knots of relationship, predicated on differing ontologies. Sakha people currently live and work within institutions that have their roots in European modernism. However, older Sakha relationships with a live natural environment have not entirely disappeared. The authors suggest that the persistent presence of an environment imbued with spiritual agency differentiates the Sakha shamanic revival from the European traditions that shape its central motivations. This case reveals the importance of attending to place and environment, in the discussion of post-colonialist identity politics.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Social Anthropology, University of Aberdeen, UK ; 2: Institute for the study of Northern Languages and Cultures, North-Eastern Federal University of Russia, Yakutsk, Russia


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