Siberia, Southern

Siberia, Southern – The Altai (Gorno-Altai) in the southwest, Tuva in the southeast, and Khakassia to the north are southern Siberian regions consisting of vast steppes and mountains. Altaian peoples are nomadic pastoralists of mixed Turkic-Mongolian descent. The Khakass are Turkish-speaking nomadic pastoralists, some of them related to the Kyrgyz who moved to Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia. The territories of the Khakass and Altaian peoples were annexed by Russia in the 18th century. Tuvans, to the north of Mongolia, are pastoralists of mixed Turkic-Mongolian descent, and Chinese control of Tuva was passed to Russia at the outset of the 20th century. With the advent of Communism, shamanic traditions, like all religions, faced purges, and shamans suffered greatly everywhere across the Soviet Union. Altaic shamanism is famous from the 19th-century accounts of such authors as Wilhelm Radloff and Uno Harva, who describe shamans in costume going on voyages to other worlds. During the Soviet era, Russian scholars continued to disseminate information, though officially shamanism was considered a dead and archaic practice of a bygone primitive age: for example, L. Potapov extensively published on Altaic shamanism, while Sevyan Vainshtein did the same for Tuvan shamanism.

Shamans today, as well as traditional forms of music, are undergoing a major resurgence in Khakassia and Tuva, with shamans practicing openly and neo-shamanisms emerging as people draw on the past and renegotiate the role of shamans in society. In the Altai, there is a shamanic revival but there is also a significant revival of Altaic culture and spirituality within the indigenous religious movement called Ak Jang, the “White Faith.”
See also Siberia, Northern and Eastern; Siberia, Western.


Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007