Oral history, European Nenets

Stephan Dudeck greets us from his fieldsite in the European Nenets Autonomous Okrug, North West Russia. He is there for starting the ORHELIA project life history work. He has put some great impressions and a very nice first round of oral history work on his own blog. Congratulations! Just quickly two things: I remember that I met the baptist guy on the boat from Nel’min Nos to Naryan Mar, and he was showing me photographs of the Yamb-to Nenets reindeer nomads burning sacred sledges. I’ll never forget the feeling of shock that I had when I saw that, and an almost paralysed mental condition when I heard his answer on my question if they the baptists told them to burn their own religious heritage. His answer was “no, we don’t force them to do that, they come themselves and ask us ‘what should we do with our idols and sledges now that we have your new religion?’ and we said if they want to be safe and not fall victim to the old devils then they should get rid of them, but it’s their choice”. Can you imagine? As an anthropologist interested in studying and experiencing religious diversity on our planet, I only thought how on earth could that be stopped. Even more happy I am to hear from you Stephan that the baptists are not very successful in the malozemel’skaya tundra. When I was there around 2005 there weren’t either.
The other thing about oral history, and old women in Naryan-Mar and Nel’min Nos. You were saying you were going to find out ‘how much truth’ is in the nostalgia that they have for the bygone days in the malozmel’skaya tundra. I was wondering where do we as anthropologists take the justification to determine what the truth is? Isn’t it particularly important for us in life history fieldwork to take what people say at face-value and honour their perception of their lifeline? Of course I agree that it is important to cross check events and find out how they were perceived by others, and how did official history present them. It is particularly interesting to find out how knowledge possibly ‘nostalgifies’ as it is passed down the generations, for example when these babushki tell their stories to their grandchildren. But can we say that one perception is more true than the other?

Conference on religious studies 2012

Rudolf Havelka, who is working on religion, ecology and spirituality among the Forest Nenets hunters and herders, brings the following to our attention:

Dear colleagues,

I would like to draw your attention to this upcoming EASR (European Association of the Study of Religions) conference held at Södertörn University, Stockholm on 23-26 August, 2012. The general topic of the conference is “End and Beginnings”. So far, there are two possible panels for us: Anthropology of Religions and Religious Minorities in the Soviet Union. For your inspiration, I shall join the first one with paper “Is the indigenous religion of the Forest Nenets finished?”

The deadline for submitting the abstracts is April 30th.

Please visit their website for more information. Looking forward to some interesting discussions there.

Rudolf Havelka

Dolphins enter Akureyri port as Kulan conducts blessing at ICASS congress

During the recent ICASS congress a good friend of the anthropology research team, Alexandr Artemiev from Yakutia, called Kulan, blessed the 396 delegates during the banquet with a ceremony. Kulan is a representative of the new Sakha spiritual movement

Kulan (Alexandr Artemiev) playing the Khomus at Gullfoss, one of Icelands great waterfalls

that unites an animistic worldview rooted in Sakha shamanic spirituality with elements of a global spiritual revival that we see happening in so many other places on our planet which has given ‘new age’ so much uniting power.

As Kulan was playing the Khomus (Sakha mouth harp) during the blessing, Dolphins entered the port area of Akureyri, which we were told was highly unusual, especially as there were quite some people outside there in the port, among them even swimmers. ICASS VII convener Jon Haukur Ingimundarson was very surprised and pleased about this encouraging sign, which indicated the good spirits present at his conference. Certainly the sound of a Sakha Khomus is not amongst the most usual sounds that dolphins get to hear with their excellent ears in the fjord of Akureyri, which may have added to their generous curiosity.  When Kulan stopped playing and dozens of people streamed out to see the dolphins, they retreated back towards the open sea, so that few of us actually saw them.

Kulan also gave a presentation with Florian Stammler about the scientific and the supernatural at one of ICASS VII’s largest sessions, Stephan Doneckers “Imagining the supernatural North”. There he tried to explain how ancient Sakha spiritual knowledge seamlessly integrates with recent esoteric movements and also makes use of scientific terminology to describe the world beyond its measurable dimensions. It all comes down to an understanding of what several of our anthropology colleagues have extensively studied in many remote societies of the Arctic, which is the organic unification of the bodily, tangible, natural, spiritual, mental and all other components in the environment to a partnership of agency. In a talk with Tim Ingold Kulan and Florian Stammler noticed that anthropological enquiry and this spiritual work can go along similar lines, when we accept what Ingold (2000) has called the “dwelling perspective” and the “human agent-in-the-environment”, or David Anderson’s “sentient ecology” in Taimyr (Northcentral Siberia) (2000:116),  Florian Stammler’s “livestyle nomadism” in Yamal (Northwestern Siberia) (2005:23).