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, Irkutsk, 27 May- 2 June 2013: Conference on “The Integration of Archaeological and Ethnographic Research” Alexander C. Oehler University of Aberdeen Abstract: Archaeological and ethnographic literature on human animal relations in southern Siberia is marked by an emphasis on the origin of reindeer domestication and the development of the Saian style of reindeer husbandry. Explorers of the early 20th century, such as Alexander Carruthers (1914) and Ørjan Olsen (1915 a; 1915 b), were among the first to draw attention to southern Siberia as a place of origins. This way of representation perhaps finds its hiatus in the work of Soviet archaeologist and ethnographer Sevian Vainshtein (1972). Although the focus of the debate on the origins of reindeer domestication has since shifted to genetics, the ethnography of southern Siberia remains influential in non-indigenous representations of the lives of indigenous peoples residing within the Saian region. In this paper I attempt to briefly outline two themes that can be identified in the literature on the Saians: the ‘original homeland’ theme, and the prevalent emphasis on reindeer husbandry. I respond to these themes with a call for a multispecies approach to ethnography in the Saians, and by suggesting renewed attention to the role of local cosmology in human-animal relations of the region. Keywords: Colonial representations, cosmology, critical ethnography, human-animal relations, reindeer domestication, Saian Region. As a new PhD student with Arctic Domus at the University of Aberdeen, I am honoured to briefly stake out the intellectual and geographic territory of my proposed fieldwork in the Saian Mountains. Having come to Scotland from the Canadian Arctic, I am quite excited to finally be able to learn about a place that has occupied my mind since childhood. It is my hope, with this paper, not only to give you a rough idea of the type of data I seek to obtain over the course of the next year, but also to acquaint those who have expertise in other areas of the world with some of the literature available on a region so famous, among other things, for its claim to the origin of reindeer domestication in Eurasia. The title of my proposed research is “Cosmology and Human-Animal Relations in the Saian Mountains of South Siberia between the 19th and 21st Centuries,” but in this paper I will resort only to two themes that have stood out to me over the past few months of reading literature on the Saians. The first theme is what I like to call the ‘original homeland theme,’ a tendency to view southern Siberia primarily as the birthplace of many important cultural developments. The second theme is concerned with a single-species emphasis on reindeer as, what seems to have been, the most noteworthy species in the region. I wish to respond to both themes; to the latter by calling for a multi-species perspective in south Siberian ethnography, and to the prior by transcending the urge to think in terms of beginnings, and instead to view cultural developments— such as local cosmologies and domestication practices—as part of a greater and entangled flow of human practices and beliefs.
who has referred to the area simply as the “Saians”. the region constitutes a near impenetrable divide between the Mongolian steppes and Siberian boreal forests. The ‘original homeland’ theme Two disciplinary areas stand out in the ethnographic literature on the Saian region. and it has been adopted by several Russian authors. Tofalars of Irkutskaia Oblast (Tofalaria).The Saian Region.’ stretches from north-eastern Tuva in the west to south-western Irkutsk Oblast’ in the north. Róna-Tas 1998). and Dukha (Tsaatan) of northern Mongolia. A major quest in this work is to establish a hypothetical protolanguage that underlies subsequent development of related language variants. Soiots of western Buriatia. administrative divides were repeatedly carved across the region. or early reindeer domestication. anthropomorphic data have also featured in the Soviet method of ethnogenesis (c. and to locate the original homeland for such a 1 Although I do not draw on them here. The term “Saian Cross” [Russian: Saianskii perekrestok] was coined by Daniel Plumley (2003) of Totem Peoples Preservation Project. and continues to be the most southerly location on the planet where reindeer are herded (Donahoe 2003:84). scholars of various disciplinary backgrounds have pointed to Southern Siberia as a kind of Urheimat. it has been applied by Soviet ethnographers on a global scale (Arutiunov and Bromley 1978). each of whom have developed increasingly divergent economic modes. In this paper I will follow the example of anthropologist Brian Donahoe (2003). Donahoe 2003:66). which contributed to the formation of four distinct ethnic identities: Todzhu of eastern Tuva. Gemuev and Sagalaev 1987. With its high mountains. an American non-profit. 1988. rather than herders who occasionally hunt. this area is also hailed as the birthplace of Eurasian reindeer domestication (Vitebsky 2006:25. each of which contribute to a representation of Southern Siberia as a place of origins: linguistics and archaeology. a methodology that attempts to retrace the formation of contemporary ethnic entities. 2 . For linguists. Historically. proto-shamanism.g. Western and Soviet scholars have repeatedly looked to southern Siberia as a cultural and linguistic contact zone responsible for the formation and dissemination of several cultural innovations. southern Siberia has been an important catalyst in the formation and dispersal of Turkic languages (e. Golden 2006. or ‘original homeland’ – a cradle of origins so to speak. however. and from western-most Buriatia in the east to north-western Mongolia in the south.f. these indigenous inhabitants had in common what has been called the ‘Saian-style’ of reindeer herding (Vasilevich and Levin 1951:76– 7). is not limited to the discourse of ethnogenesis in southern Siberia. The study of ethnogenesis is not unique to southern Siberia. Soviet ethnographers have used both disciplines to reconstruct processes of ethnogenesis1. Ingold 1980:23). especially in relation to the proposed establishment of a UNESCO world heritage site by the same name (Kalikhman and Kalikhman 2009:5). Whether the research is concerned with the discovery of a proto-language. Menges 1995. human rights organization active in the area. also known as the ‘Saian Cross. Known as ‘hunters who have reindeer’ (Andreeva and Leksin 1999:92). Likely because of its unique positioning. L’vova et al. The idea of origins.
Tuvinians. but the central south Siberian realm remains in focus among turkologists to this today.” where contact with Indo-European. there are several methods that help establish an Urheimat. Khakasans. Shortsans. and West Mongolia. Altaians. In similar manner. these lines of inquiry. and for the study of human genetics in this area. Alexeev 1989). Definitions of the ‘original homeland’ have fluctuated over the course of time. and Yeniseic would have occurred. Buriats.protolanguage. anthropological traits visible in contemporary South Siberians have been traced to more recent migrations from Central and Eastern Asia. Following Róna-Tas. further complicating the history and prehistory of the people in this region (Alexeev 1989. the Altai-Saian region has also been known as a source of data on the starting point of early human migrations into northern Siberia. 2006). Often the denotation of particular environmental features in the lexicon of a protolanguage (e. suggest that "[t]he last habitat we can reconstruct [for protoTurkic] … can be placed in west and central Siberia and in the region south of it" (1998:68). The longue durée of cultural contact in the archaeological and 2 In Russian: “Saiano-Altaiskaya istoriko-etnograficheskaya oblast” 3 . Derevianko 1998). and the data they produce. western linguists proposed a Turkic Urheimat somewhere in the Altai or Trans-Baikal region (Menges 1995:55-57). attributing particular importance to the Saian-Altai region. has been to research the origins of indigenous populations (esp. Vajda 2004:viii). Khakassia. and migration across time. if their respective localities are known. Gohman. folklorists. and archaeologists. According to András Róna-Tas (1998).g.g. In south Siberian archaeology. Altai. Yet. The latter method indicates language contact. and “where elements of equestrian culture may also have been acquired from the Indo-Europeans” (Golden 2006:139). such investigations point to Inner Asia as their origin (cf. borrowed words from neighboring (proto-) languages can provide geographic hints. More recently linguists have searched for a contact zone “in the south Siberian forest-steppe region. Khakassians. Uralic. and Tofalars) as belonging to a so-called ‘Saian-Altai historical ethnographic region’2 with linguistic roots in the eastern Hun branch of Turkic languages (L’vova et al. traits that are believed to have been present as early as the Bronze Age (Alexeev. which often parallels material remains of historical culture contact visible in the archaeological record. Tuvans. combining the efforts of historians. A prominent objective for the archaeology of South Siberia. Europeoid traits have been identified in steppe populations of Tuva. Soiots. Altaians. much of which now relies on the analyses of mtDNA and Y-chromosome data (Derenko et al. the search among linguists for a protolanguage and its ‘original homeland’ has been inseparable from the study of landscape. A number of Soviet scholars identified Turkic-speaking peoples of southern Siberia (e. 1988:6. hydronyms) can point to a specific locality. and Khit’ 1984. 2003. In similar manner. Vasil’ev 1993. material culture. Todzhins and Tofalars). In the case of the central Siberian Ket. Gemuev and Sagalaev 1987:87). ethnographers. Thus.
Devlet and M. a person is shown riding a bridled deer (Vainshtein 1971). and arguably. interpretations of these depictions have differed widely (e.genetic records of the Altai-Saian region establish southern Siberia as a cradle for cultural contact. I will briefly look at the contributions of the rock art literature in regard to early forms of cosmology and human-animal relations. A. a phenomenon also depicted in burial grounds of the Minusin Depression (Kyzlasov 1960). the fact that these petroglyphs were found in the steppe suggest that reindeer herders from the Altai and Saian mountains may have had ethnic and cultural ties to the steppe area. According to Esther Jacobsen. This emphasis on cultural innovations and genetic origins can also be located in the work of scholars concerned with the interpretation of South Siberian petroglyphs. particularly the question of where and when reindeer first underwent domestication. and that a form of reindeer breeding may 4 . Dating has been difficult for Siberian petroglyphs. On the other hand. play an important role in this discourse on origins. which suggest multiple layers of culture contact. but with bows. Devlet 1965). Bahn 2010:96). and I would like to argue that this emphasis continues to dominate the Western imaginary of South Siberia. Some specialists hypothesize that data from South Siberian rock art can provide insight on ancient Siberian cosmology. M. within which traditions from Siberia's forest-bound North met and merged with traditions moving out from the vast Central Asian Steppe of grass and desert" (1993:14). Kyzlasov 1952). However. which on many occasions resulted in cultural innovations that dispersed from here into the north. Devlet 2001. transformed into anthropomorphic bird figures and dressed in garments that find parallel in the ethnographic record (Rozwadowski 2008:115).g. “the South Siberian-Mongolian region functioned for thousands of years as a cultural vortex and eruptive point. E. Petroglyphs bear account of various forms of human-animal relations. In the Syyn-Chyurek Mountain petroglyphs of the same period in central Tuva. and as an influential factor in how the Altai-Saian region is viewed today. and rock art that most clearly depicts drum-bearing shamans similar to those found in ethnographic accounts may be from as recent as 200 years ago (Rozwadowski 2012:458). Devlet 2001. making it difficult to assume that reindeer riding in the Saian Style had already been established at this time. Devlet 2002). which have been hypothesized to depict a form of proto-shamanism. These images from two millennia ago depict deer-riding herders driving a reindeer herd. In terms of their significance for south Siberian ethnography. Human-animal relations. are spoken to in the Boiar Engravings of the Minusin Depression in central Tuva (e. and they hint at early religious practices in the area. In light of these findings it would seem plausible that Siberia and Central Asia continue to be heralded by many as the ‘original homeland’ of shamanism. even a form of proto-shamanism (E. Other scholars are hesitant of such assertions. For Vainshtein (1980:120). petroglyphs dating back to the second and third millennium BC depict religious specialists without drums.g. an authority on Siberian petroglyphs. Griaznov 1933.g. especially in reference to pre-historic occurrences of shamanism in Siberia and Central Asia (e. the Saian Canyon petroglyphs. As is evident from the literature. there exists an academic bias on reindeer husbandry and early forms of cosmology.
2011). and it advocates multiple and independent origins of domestication. Mirov 1945. leading him to suggest a single origin of domestication in South Siberia (I. Maksimov suggested that “some Turkic or Mongol tribe” were herding deer for some time prior to adopting cattle (1928:33). Whitaker 1981:342). 2008. and Hatt (i. The other view is known as evolution theory (Storli 1996. Sirelius 1916). In either case. were carried on by several other Western and Soviet scholars after Olsen. The single-species emphasis: Reindeer domestication and the Saian Style The origins of reindeer domestication feature as an early and prominent theme in the ethnographic literature of Southern Siberia. particularly the origin of reindeer domestication. which tend to support the independent evolution model. In fact. respectively (Stepanoff 2012:288. Røed et al. Two main theories emerge from the material. Mulk 1994.have been established here as early as A. Particularly the Altai-Saian region is associated with ‘birth place’ notions of reindeer domestication for Eurasia. Carruthers and Olsen independently spent approximately three summer months among the Todzhu of eastern Tuva in 1910 and 1914. Whitaker 1981:341. While much of the discussion continues to revolve around diffusion and evolution theory today. Olsen’s hypothesis of a single-origin for the domestication of reindeer had opened up a field of inquiry that would attract discussion and further research for years to come. Whitaker 1981. Laufer. Olsen identified hunting as primary subsistence activity.M. debates that have been summarized more than once for an English readership (e. and various other elements of material culture. the focus has since shifted to genetic analyses in both Russia (Kol and Lazebny 2006) and Norway (Røed et al. I. while Carruthers claimed herding to be at the centre of economic activities (I. Explorer Douglas Carruthers (1914) and Norwegian zoologist Ørjan Olsen (1915) were two of the earliest ethnographers who examined human-reindeer relations in the Saian region. Maksimov 1928). linking these ‘origin themes’ with living populations. One of Olsen’s goals was to show similarities between Sami and Todzhu reindeer-herding practices. I will now briefly focus on the early ethnographic development of diffusion theory. Rock-art data. Wiklund 1918).D. 100. which he did by comparing the use of plant and animal products. Hatt 1918. Skalon 1956. Skalon and Khoroshikh 1951. The debates on whether reindeer had been domesticated prior to other species in the area. One view is the so-called diffusion theory (Aronsson 1991.g. Zolotarev and Levin 1940). Vasilevich and Levin 1951. Although both visitors experienced Todzhu life only in summer (and therefore did not witness the main hunting season). and whether the Saian region could indeed be considered as the birthplace of reindeer domestication. which argues that the practice of reindeer domestication spread from Southern Siberia into northern Siberia and to Scandinavia. Laufer 1974.e. Leimbach 1936. on the basis of which Vasilevich and Levin (1951:87) proposed that it may have been under this influence that 5 . have been interpreted in the context of ethnographic materials for the same region. Whitaker 1981:345). like other archaeological data from the area. A. Schmidt 1951. 347). For the purpose of my analysis of the origin theme in South Siberian ethnography. Manchen-Helfen 1931.
and on Mashkovtsev’s (1940) and Kartselli’s (1925) observations that Saian reindeer are easier to handle than any other known breeds (Vainshtein 1980:132). and which was published also in a shortened and edited form for English readers (1980). who had been familiar with other forms of pastoralism in the steppes as early as 2000 B.. it does not provide an explanation for the origins of the Saian style of reindeer herding in which deer are used not only as a means of packcarrying. and by 1970 he offered a three-stage single-origin explanation for Eurasian reindeer herding in eastern Tuva. Vainshtein (1960) concluded that the use of reindeer as load carriers preceded their use as a means for human transportation. His argument that reindeer herding may first have appeared in the Saian region is based in part on the presence of an ancient breed of reindeer not found anywhere outside of the Saian region. The first stage of reindeer domestication would have occurred at a time when Samoyeds. were pushed towards taiga regions by Karasuk and Tagar tribes who had moved into the Minusin Depression from the north. as well as for the development of the Saian style of reindeer husbandry in particular. Vainshtein reasoned that reindeer herding had originated in the Saian region in ancient times. when Samoyeds began to branch out into the taiga. would have occurred when Turkic tribes of the Saians (being in close contact with their Samoyed neighbours to the north) adopted reindeer husbandry and applied their horse-related practices of milking and saddle-based riding to their reindeer (Vainshtein 1980:135–6). While this practice likely spread across the Saian region. but that people started riding on reindeer only in the 14th century (1980:131).” have struck some 6 . Based on his study of cultural transformations in the Saian region. in his Englishlanguage book “Nomads of South Siberia: The Pastoral Economies of Tuva. In 1956 Russian archaeologist and ethnographer Sevian Vainshtein entered these discussions. Studying saddle designs in archaeological and ethnographic records.Samoyeds adopted the practice. This cultural development Vainshtein accounts for in his three-stage theory. The third stage of reindeer herding. equipping their reindeer with pack-carrying saddles. and the birth of the Saian style. thus setting apart reindeer herding from other forms of pastoralism. Vainshtein’s expansions on the single origin problem in the Sayan region.C. but also for riding. a theory that he found to parallel the findings of ethnographers working with Enets (Vasil’ev 1962) and Tungus (Vasilevich 1964). While these assertions account for a basis to the claim that reindeer domestication may have originated here. it is believed to have ended in the area when the Samoyeds were pushed further north by horse-breeding Turkic groups (Vainshtein 1980:134). presumably as a source of meat (Vainshtein 1980:133).D. In this new area between steppe and taiga Samoeds would have herded deer alongside other species. Such inter-species application of practices points toward the importance of a stronger multi-species emphasis in the ethnography of the Saians. His theory attempted to account for the domestication of reindeer at large. taking it with them further north (in Vainshtein 1980:133). processes which he contextualized in a very detailed work two years later (1972). The second stage would have taken place up until 1000 A.
Petri 1928a. whether from an archaeological viewpoint or from an ethnographic one. It would seem then. The extent to which other practices associated with reindeer herding may have affected human relations with cattle and other livestock in the Saians remains to be examined. the human role in this web of interdependencies. skills. he also emphasized its survival in spite of Soviet modernization narratives. I wish to re-emphasize the presence of multi-species in existing ethnographies of the Saians. partly for its rich archaeological and comparative archival data. Vainshtein provides an example of skills transfer when he discusses how the Turkic riding saddle was introduced to Saian reindeer.g. notes that the author is unwilling to point to any ethnographic remains of ancient reindeer practices in the Saian region. Castrén 1857) Vainshtein’s ethnographic writings tended to represent the Saian Region as a mysterious and pristine place. But his work has had an impact in more than one way. and the extent to which human practices. His emphasis on a discussion of origins arguably influenced his Western readerships’ view of southern Siberia. that the Saian region and its Todzhu and Tofalar inhabitants were in deed seen as a kind of repository of the past. Petri 1927. to study the traditional social organization of Siberian peoples by ways of field ethnography is rather widespread. Radloff 2013.Western readers as fastidious and at times speculative (e. But even in the Russian-speaking world. 1961). and beliefs associated with one species can be transferred to other species. but which allows for a critical analysis of human-animal relations that do not conform to traditional Western notions of ‘wild’ and ‘tame. Vainshtein published an article on the patronymic organization of Tofalars prior to the 20th century. Multi-species: Moving toward co-dependencies in Saian ethnography Having provided a number of examples of the ‘original homeland’ theme in southern Siberian ethnography. Katanov 1891. In so doing I seek to engage a broader spectrum of domestication practices. Following in the tradition of other sources available for the region from earlier periods (Kon 1934. Vasil’ev 1910. I wish to move away from a focus on origins now. his work helped shape Russian perceptions of southern Siberia. in his 1980 review of Vainshtein’s English book. in which he states: “The opinion that it is exceedingly difficult. if not impossible at this point. Yet. pointing to the reality of divergent species’ influence on each others’ behaviour. In what follows.g. As mentioned previously. not only was Vainshtein aware of indigenous knowledge of traditional practices in his time. Ian Whitaker. Whitaker 1981).’ At the same time. To the contrary. proposing that political constraints on Soviet scholars may be responsible for such an omission (Ian Whitaker 1981). experience shows that such research remains quite possible today” [my translation] (Vainshtein 1968:60). It would seem. I. a kind of geographic cradle in which one could still observe traces of ancient cultural processes. I wish 7 . where Vainshtein is known as an experienced ethnographer for Tuvinians and Tofalars (1970. one which not only permits the inclusion of species other than reindeer. and partly because it was among the first books in the West to shed light on southern Siberia after the Second World War (e. Shimkin 1982). 1968. and on the topic of traditional social structure rather than reindeer herding.
but that they were also avid horse breeders (Rassadin 2000:35).’ are being re-evaluated. horses. and diverse hunted animal species are mentioned across all ethnographic accounts we have for the region. domestication has also been suggested as a process separate from ‘taming. Whether this division reflects the ways in which the local population categorized non-human animals in their environment is not clear. which mentions the possession of horses alongside reindeer (Vasil’ev 1910). and subdividing the latter into fur-bearing and meat-bearing animals. The evolution theory mentioned previously for reindeer domestication is. These observations are preceded by V. sheep.’ and its associated notions of ‘wild’ and ‘tame. and thus recognized the importance of other species and the differences that existed in human-animal relations between hunted and herded species. and how human animal-relations with these species are depicted.N. and in which commensalism and mutualism between human and non-human animals are explored at depth (Cassidy 2007. Aside from traditional reindeer breeding. An increasing number of scholars embrace more fluid conceptions of domestication. Most ethnographers of the region discuss species variety from an economic standpoint. even in the context of hunting and gathering societies. Not only does this view of domestication critically reassess traditionally assumed centrality of human intention in domestication. Zeder 2006). Yet. based in part on the relative ease with which diverse human populations have succeeded. and Pavlinskaia (2002). which posits humans as masters and primary beneficiaries. Rassadin (2000). This is especially the case where the definitions of ‘domestication. Quite to the contrary. over rather short a timeframe. It would not be fair to say that the importance of species other than reindeer is not recognized in the ethnographic record of the Saian region.to briefly outline the ways in which species other than reindeer have been featured in Saian ethnography. cattle. not herders. Among animals traditionally hunted 8 . and horses (2002:86). Thus the rigidity of a unidirectional model of domestication. it also reconsiders the importance of linearity and suggests fluctuation in the distance between human and non-human animals. and especially in the more recent ones of Mel’nikova (1994).’ is challenged. and which is complete only once an animal has been ‘tamed. all the while the practice of hunting was maintained (Gordon 2003:17). Pavlin’skaia discusses ancient pan-Altai-Saian breeding practices for three species of livestock among the Soiots of the Oka region: broad-range ranching of Mongolian hybrid cattle. Even Øran Olsen was aware of the fact that Todzhu were primarily hunters. ideas which take into account the co-evolution of multi-species. according to Gordon (2003:16). before I conclude with a note on the cosmology of human-animal relations in southern Siberia. Rassadin made the point that Tofalars were not merely reindeer herders. She also notes that Soiots and Buriat cattle breeders from the Oka region were engaged in hunting at the same time (2002:122). Hunting and herding have thus gone hand in hand in this region. Domestication is undoubtedly a key element in most discussions on human animal relations. dividing animals into herded and hunted categories.’ as there may have occurred a gradual transition from merely following of herds to controlling them. Vasil’ev’s 1910 ethnographic account of the Karagass (Tofalars). to domesticate reindeer.
Rather than looking for an ‘original’ state of practices and beliefs. the Tofalar term for March [Yttyrai] was “dog month. Pavlin’skaia lists elk. and understandings of. environmental. and that even an old and retired hunter would be talked into coming along on a hunt.by the Soiots and Buriats for meat. attempting to see the extent to which such divisions are implicit and/or imposed. In her accounts of more recent Soiot hunting practices the use of dogs is not mentioned at all. Gleaning from existing ethnographic. According to Shtubendorf (1858). so that the party might benefit from the services of his skilled dog (2002:129).” 9 . archaeological. wolverine. and for which purpose highly prized dogs with the ability to locate bears’ dens were kept (2002:129) and presumably bred. roe deer. Although mention is made of the use of dogs during the hunt. The human-bear-dog interface not only lends itself to a study of how intentions influence relations (e. and gave birth to their offspring in the chum where puppies were cared for in a specially designated corner (Mel’nikova 1994:46). One starting point for examining the fluctuation of intentions and relations is the human-beardog interface. and archival materials. fox. but before and during the hunt they were being fed with intestines (Mel’nikova 1994:46. musk deer. we are able to obtain a rough sketch of what local intentions towards. 3 According to N. Mel’nikova (1994:45) adds grouse and mountain quail. Another emphasis needed in a contemporary multi-species ethnography of the Saians is a historical perspective. or on a Soiot dog breeding tradition. At the same time. A historical perspective is essential in so far as it allows us to take into account the perpetually changing flow of human practices and beliefs vis-à-vis other-than-human entities in an environment that undergoes political. while sable. Rassadin 1996:8– 9). both of which he has bred himself (Rassadin 2000:38. For Tofalars. and how such divisions have been negotiated by the local population over the course of time. Dogs not only shared space in the lodge [chum]. squirrel. Siberian weasel. otherthan-human species may have been at various points in time. social.g. ermine. rabbit. they also slept near the hearth. wolf and otter were hunted for the fur trade (2002:127). moose. Tofalar hunting dogs procured most of their own nutrition during the summer months. lynx. This is quite different for Tofalars. F. and boar (2002:122). Pavlin’skaia lists the bear separately as an animal traditionally hunted by the Soiots during the winter. A contemporary multi-species ethnography of the Saians will need to begin with a critical re-assessment of the historical ramifications that have led to the economic division of nonhuman animals into herded and hunted beings. Rassadin 2000:41). In Tofalar myths the hero hunts from a horse and with a dog. a new multispecies emphasis should offer room for a detailed description of how changing intentions create new relationships between species. the emergence of dog breeding). Katanov’s 12-months calendar (in Mel’nikova 1994:44). but also ideological changes. no further detail is given on the particular relationship between humans and dogs. it can also shed light on how human behaviour toward species fluctuates depending on the seasonal proximity. Pavlin’skaia does mention that bear-hunting dogs were considered a precious possession. the thirteenth month of the traditional Tofalar calendar (9 April – 7 May) was called “hunting game with dogs” [Ytallarai3].
Pedersen 2001. but Pedersen believes that the ability to shift one’s perspective across shapes or species is limited to the animism of Northern North Asia. each of which describes a distinct character quality.’ and it describes the animal as human-like in terms of behaviour and appearance (based on Sherkhunaev 10 . Willerslev 2007). in her ethnography of the Tofalars. 419). While this is a good starting point. Rather. While shape shifting is not well documented in the Saians. which has an impact on how people relate to this species vis-à-vis other species. Cosmology: Local ways of knowing and multi-species ethnography In order to obtain insight on how people relate to species other than their own. At the same time. One of these names is ‘grandfather. ethnographers also identify animist elements in the local cosmology of the peoples of the Saians. for instance. an understanding of how local cosmology features in human-animal relations is paramount.g. Vainshtein 1968). he argues. Pederson calls this division “animist analogous identification” vs. while totemic ways of knowing are based on a vertical structure that is based on descent. Pedersen (2001). writes about the significance of the bear as a totemic relative. and of the various ways in which Tofalar hunters relate to this animal as a consequence of this special relationship. modalities of either can be identified in the ethnographic accounts of both Northern North Asia and Southern North Asia (2001:413. both Vainshtein and Mel’nikova touch on the significance of traces of a totemic clan structure based on the bear. while perspectival shift in Southern North Asia is limited to one’s own species. one entity being adjacent to another. there does seem to exist an overlap of animist and totemic ways of knowing. Tofalars traditionally refer to the bear as “khoziain” (master/owner) and ancestor (Mel’nikova 1994:171). As points out Axel M. “totemist homologous differentiation” (2001:419). How do these observations help inform a multispecies ethnography of the Saians? Mel’nikova (1994). For the Tofalars social organization was historically based on the vertical notion of patrilineal inheritance (e. In fact. The more horizontal view of the world that underlies most Northern North Asian animist societies is expressed particularly well in a shaman’s ability to shape shift. Willerslev 2004. the main characteristic of animist cosmology is its horizontal sociality. For the Tofalars. totemism and animism should not be seen as mutually exclusive ontologies. In this sense. it is helpful to understand how they position themselves within the environment. which correlates vertical societies with vertically oriented cosmologies (e. In the following paragraphs I will briefly sum up why a historical perspective of local cosmology is essential for contemporary multi-species ethnography of the Saians. Shamanic practices exist in animistic and totemic cosmologies. or to enter an entity belonging to another species. A common place to begin the search for such positioning is in the social relations people maintain amongst themselves. which is well documented in the case of the Yukaghir (cf. In legends the bear is referred to by six names. The reason I am interested in the vertical nature of these relations is that there exists a body of literature.historical materials can inform us about the multiplicity of factors that help shape the intentions of actors across time and space. Humphrey and Onon 1996).g. especially for northern Mongolia.
The 1930s marked a time when all religious practices were banned in the Soviet Union. Looking at Todzhu and Tofalar reindeer herding practices from an angle of property relations. one turned into a bear and became ancestor of all bears. A contemporary ethnography of the Saians should therefore take into account the nuanced interplay of multiple (and possibly contradictory) understandings of other-than-human entities. 2012) has touched on the role of changing cosmology in the Saians. but he also shows how different Soviet economic policies have 11 . While it may never have been conceived as a static cosmological framework. Conclusion Whatever the distribution of totemist vs.E. Is it the ancestor spirit of all bears who once was a Tofalar brother himself? While Tofalar beliefs show traces of both totemism and animism. master spirit of the waters. and consequently little historical detail exists on the state of beliefs and practices for the Soviet period in the Saians. This makes for a very interesting synthesis of ideas. and on his goodwill depended [one’s] success in the hunt. According to Chudinov (1931:70). others have killed and eaten you” (Mel’nikova 1994:174). Subordinate to these deities were Dag-Ezi the master spirit of the mountains. and Sun-Ezi. the other became progenitor of all Tofalars. it is not I who has killed you. and that the practices of any hunting-herder will draw on more than one narrative tradition. Every time a Tofalar comes upon a bear one of the two must die. He also protected the reindeer herd” (Mel’nikova 1994:136). or who has eaten you. He gave animals. Donahoe (2003. Petri (Petri 1928b) does provide a brief account of the Tofalar pantheon. Mel’nikova (1994) also notes that Lamaism began to influence Tofalar shamanic practices during the 14th-18th centuries. This latter view fits well with the landscape-based understanding of master spirits. as each of these religious traditions has historically held distinct approaches to non-human entities. fur. the upper world being ruled by the heavenly deity Burkhan (also Kudai) and the lower world being under the reigns of Erlik-khan. The Tofalars divided their cosmos into three main levels. Each of these deities had countless master spirits subordinate to them. Mel’nikova does not elaborate on who the informant addresses in this scene. animist modalities across the Saian region. it is to be assumed that local ways of knowing are comprised of multiple influences and experiences. responsible for smaller individual mountain ranges and water bodies (Petri 1928:15-16 in Mel’nikova 1994:136). legend has it that all began with two brothers who after a fight parted ways.1972 in Mel’nikova 1994:171). and that by the second half of the 17th century elements of Russian Orthodox Christianity came into play (Mel’nikova 1994:135). thus perpetuating the fight between the two brothers. One Tofalar informant recalls his father’s words to the bear spirit after its body’s ritual dissection in 1952: “Brother. “People were guests in the possessions of the mountain deity (Dag-Ezi). B. Not only does he describe the region as defying Western dichotomies between ‘wild’ and ‘domesticated’ in that it merges hunter-gathering and nomadic pastoralist economic modes. After the ceremonial dissection of a killed bear the hunters hide the animal’s remains to prevent the bear’s spirit from following them (Mel’nikova 1994:173). as he was able to record it during his early fieldwork.
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