Accepted Paper:

The aesthetics of belonging in Buryat ritual and dance  


Joseph Long (University of Aberdeen)

Paper short abstract:

In Buryat communities there are formal analogies between clan offering rites and the circle dance institutionalised as part of national culture. Here I explore the collective experiences in both forms that suggest a Buryat aesthetic of belonging.

Paper long abstract:

In Buryat communities of Siberia, belonging to lineage and clan groups is constituted through tailgan rituals in which animals are butchered and the meat shared among spirits and kin at the ancestral hearth. The Buryat circle dance, the yokhor, formed a key part of ritual events before it was divorced from its ceremonial context during the Soviet era. While shamanist practices were actively repressed the yokhor was re-framed as a part of an institutionalised national culture .

There are formal analogies in the spatial and embodied elements of Buryat ritual and dance. Where scholarly analyses of both tailgan rites and the yokhor have emphasised symbolic and imitative elements of these practices, this paper considers the experience of ritual and dance performance. Participant accounts chime with Durkheimian notions of collective effervescence and the communitas described by Victor Turner.

In accounting for the way in which participants experience the yokhor as a meaningful and significant act in the contemporary political context, I propose moving beyond anthropological analysis of dances as lexicons of gesture, and historical accounts of the yokhor that seek to assign semantic reference to the dance. Instead I turn to the work of theorists that include Langer (1953,1957), Turner (1969, 1979) Jackson (1983), and Hobart and Kapferer (2005) to explore the aesthetic and experiential power of these forms. Rather than invoke notions of beauty or the sublime, I look to a more contextually meaningful notions of value inherent in these experiences, and consider belonging to people and place as an aesthetic experience.

Panel P007
Aesthetics and the making of religious collectivities