Reviews

By an eminent specialist on the vernacular discourse on the Russian conquest and colonisation of Transoxiana (see infra in the following notice a review of the author’s study of the text by the Chaghatay poet Shayda’i on the Russian conquest of Khiva in 1873), this essay focuses on religious texts apologising the new state of things.  The author studies the text of two munajat (also called guyayish or iltija in Central Asian Persian, and properly defined by the author as a prayer full of self-abasement addressed to God that evolved over time into a particular literary genre) and a Friday sermon (khutba) elaborated on behalf of the colonial power and meant to enhance the authority that the Tsarist administration wanted to enjoy in Muslim circles.

The first is an anonymous Turkic text copied (perhaps also written) five years after the conquest of Khiva in 1878 by an author “not in full possession of the rules and secrets of the literary arts,” in a style “close to prayer texts used by healers for treatment (11-2).”  An edition of the text in Arabic script (pp. 77-84) is preceded by its English translation (15-30).  The second of the two munajat is a text written in Russian-administered Turkistan territory, in support of the Russian government, in the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5 (translations pp. 36-8, original text p. 84-5).  The third vernacular text edited in the present essay is a khutba written for the benefit of Tsar Alexander iii (not Alexander ii as written in the text, among other slight inaccuracies), and preserved in the personal papers of the colonial administrator and local historiographer Nikolai P. Ostroumov (1846-1930), in the Central State Archive of Uzbekistan (Ostroumov collection, I-1009, section 1, file 34, fol. 19; English translation pp. 74-5, original text pp. 101-3).  The text was written on a sheet of paper glued on a wooden plate that carries a round loop, obviously intended to hang up the plate on a wall.  The study and edition of the two existing versions of this short text—one revised by the Tsarist administration—is followed by the analysis of an autograph essay written by Ostroumov in 1930, the “Essay on the Khutba for the Tsar of Russia” (English translation pp. 49-74, original text pp. 86-100).  In this work, Ostroumov explains the history of the sermon and its translation into “Sart (Turki)” language, and edits the text and a Russian translation of it.  

This document suggests how the Tsarist administration made use of this religious and spiritual genre for its own purpose, and had it transposed into the most widespread vernacular language of Russian Turkistan.  Ostroumov’s doubts on the effective use of this sermon, and his overall critic of the khutba and of its instrumentation by the Tsarist administration is appropriately resituated by the author in the context of its writing—viz. the early 1930s and the first mass campaigns against religious practice in Central Asia.  The author’s insistence on the “pre-Islamic,” essentially “Shamanic” roots of munajat in Central Asia uncritically reproduces judgements of Soviet Oriental studies and ignores the long historical evolution of the genre in most different regions of the world of Islam deprived of a Shamanic past.  The same could be said of the uncritical use of the category “popular literature” applied to the munajat probably written on command of Russian authorities, in support of Tsarist administration, by non-professional authors, and of the assumption that the latter, “as [. . .] popular poet[s], could not understand the political significance of the war between Russia and Japan (35).”  These classical appraisals notwithstanding (should we consider them “survivals” of Soviet philosophy in the same way as the author evokes reminiscences of the pre-Islamic past?), the author’s scrupulous and original study of a specific category of texts largely ignored so far by modern historiography of Central Asia opens exhilarating perspectives for the study of crossed perceptions and interaction between modern colonisers and colonised population.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: I-3.4.C-291