Reviews

To say it plainly, considering the profusion and quality of materials and the rigour shown in the preparation for publication, the present volume is assuredly one of the most, if not the most compelling book in Kyrgyz ethnography published since the end of the Soviet period.  The volume brings together Fiel’strup’s unpublished field notes and remarks on the social life of northern Kyrgyz and north-eastern Kazakh groups, collected and written down mostly between 1924 and 1929.  The materials have been grouped by the editors into four chapters.  The first one covers life cycle rituals (marriage, birth and death) and fills almost half of the volume.  The second chapter deals shortly with believes and customs related to animal husbandry and hunting (a substantial unpublished paper on that later topic lies by Simakov, who used it extensively in his book on hunting with birds of prey).  Chapter three is devoted to various customs, ranging from healing and time counting to invocations and entertainments.  Each of these three chapters is supplemented by a rich apparatus of notes by the editors, which provides, on each topic dealt with, an almost exhaustive comparative bibliography of later Soviet works.  A fourth chapter gathers together folklore materials, like proverbs and songs.  The text is abundantly illustrated with pictures from Fiel’strup’s archive, many of which are unique documents on early-twentieth-century Kyrgyz and Kazakh groups.  The importance of this publication of Fiel’strup’s work should not be underestimated.  It does not merely provide information on a society and a way of life that vanished with decades of political and social change.  It shows how the school of early Soviet ethnology (in which scholars like Rudenko, Fiel’strup and Andreev played a leading role) indeed survived as a hidden but still much praised and lively tradition among their colleagues and followers (Karmysheva, Peshchereva, Pisarchik, to name but the closest circle).  It also incidentally reveals how bright the legacy of almost a century of Soviet ethnology on Central Asia may be.

François Ömer Akakça, Humboldt University, Berlin
CER: I-7.4.D-638