Pop, poetry and the gods: Landscape, beauty and spirituality in Sakha community life
(University of Cambridge)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores the changing integration of a spiritualised landscape into the celebration and reproduction of a non-Russian Siberian community. The Sakha people’s tradition of shamanic prayer accords their landscape its own agency and presence in their experience of national belonging.
Paper long abstract:
This paper explores the changing integration of a spiritualised landscape into the celebration and reproduction of a non-Russian Siberian community - the Sakha people, of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia). The Sakha people's animist shamanic tradition did not die out during the Soviet period, and its post-Soviet revival is continuing despite the pressures of rapid social and technological change. Contemporary Sakha shamanic practice centres around two genres of shamanic prayer, the Algys and Ohuokhai, which consist largely of extensive poetic eulogies of the surrounding landscape and its spirits, sung by the specialists leading the prayer. In the classical practice of Sakha shamanism, the aesthetic experience of the poetry and music of these prayers is a central aspect of the interaction between humans and spirits they instantiate. The poetic words are in fact bestowed by the upper gods and spirits, in an act of divine self-giving. The beauty of the prayer's poetry and music enable the ritual participants to contemplate the glory of the created order, including the spiritual entities who have set it in place, and the landscape they inhabit. In doing so, they perpetuate the Sakha people's experience and re-creation of their natural environment as a national homeland: the landscape, via its spirits, has its own agency and presence in the Sakha people's experience of national belonging. I suggest that the landscape maintains its potency within Sakha perceptions of community even for those who lack interest in classical Sakha shamanism, via the celebration of natural beauty in Sakha pop songs.
Listening landscapes, speaking memories