Tuva – Tuva lies north of Mongolia, east of Central Asia, and south of Southern Siberia, and the Tuvans are pastoralists of mixed Turkic-Mongolian descent with genealogical ties going back to Chinggis (Genghis) Khan. The area was under the control during the 17th century of Oriot (Western Mongol) Khans, who became Buddhist and established Lamaist monasteries, and local shamanism faced opposition from the new religious order, as it did in Mongolia and Buryatia. With the defeat of the Oriots, the area passed into Chinese control and was then annexed by the Russians at the beginning of the 20th century. During the Communist era, shamanic traditions were persecuted across the Soviet Union, including in Tuva.

Despite restrictions on scholarship on shamans, however, Soviet scholar Sevyan Vainshtein published extensively on Tuvan shamanism. More recently, the Tuvinian historian Nikolai Abaev has argued that religion in Tuva is not shamanism in the “strict sense of the term,” since their cosmology includes an idea of “god” (burhan) and not just spirits.

Benedikte Kristensen (as also discussed by Caroline Humphrey and Piers Vitebsky) agrees that “shamanism” gives a misleading impression of a single unified system and of the shaman as a “singular ritual practitioner,” while Tuvinian traditions termed “shamanism” are consistently flexible and fluid and include several religious specialists in addition to shamans. Kristensen retains the term shamanism because the Duha Tuvinians use a similar concept— böögiin sjasjin, meaning “shamanic religion or faith.” But, Tuvinians sometimes made a distinction between böögiin sjasjin as “faith in shamans” and as other engagements with spirits, and some Tuvinians informed Kristensen that they did not believe in “shamanism” because they did not trust shamans today and there were no powerful (xuchtei) shamans left—although this did not alter their belief in spirits. Drawing on Humphrey, Kristensen uses shamanism to mean “the entire conglomeration of ideas about beings in the world which includes the shaman” and not in the Duha Tuvinians’ strict understanding of the term (“faith in living shamans”).

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Tuva, among other nowindependent nations of Central Asia, has revived traditions that Communism sought to eradicate. Mongush Kenin-Lopsan has played a key role in this revival. Shamanism has reemerged with new vigor as part of a Tuvan nationalist agenda: lending an atmosphere of authenticity, shamans in the city hold clinics that operate much like a Western physician’s surgery, with a shamanic consultation requiring the shaman to wear a white coat and the patient to have a general medical exam before the healing séance. This change in tradition might indicate why some Tuvinians do “not trust shamans today.” While aspects of Tuvan shamanism derive from traditional practices (e.g., drumming, chanting, engaging with spirits), Western core shamanic elements have been adopted to fill in where traditions have been lost, and the U.S.-based Foundation for Shamanic Studies has been offering its services in the area. This situation raises issues of neocolonialism, on the one hand, and processes of creative fusion, on the other.


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