Reviews

This paper, based on field materials, is devoted to the analysis of an event that reveals how complex the situation of religions is in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) since the collapse of the Soviet Union.  It stresses the competition between multiple religious systems (the Russian Orthodox Church and many Protestant denominations).  In this context some Sakha trends are trying to build a religion of their own out of the Sakha traditions, since the beginning of the 1990s.  This cultural experimentation seems to be a reaction to the Christian missionary activity.  In 2002 in Yakutsk, the capital of the Sakha Republic, a very important temple, called Archie Dieté—translated as ‘House of Purification’ by Balzer, usually translated in Russian as ‘Archie House’ (Dom Archie) or even called Centre for Spiritual Culture (Tsentr dukhovnoi kul’tury)—has been built.  Various seasonal rituals as well as wedding ceremonies (though not funerals) are led in this new temple.  It is also the place of multiple other cultural events.  The spire of this monument is higher than the cupolas of the nearby new Orthodox Church of the Transfiguration, which is considered unacceptable by the Russian archbishop of Yakutia.  This competition of steeples shows that the Sakha would like to have a religion at this same social and political level.

The article also focuses on the analysis of the local contemporary debates and tensions implied by these cultural and religious attempts, related for example to the Yhyakh Festival (which was officially made a ‘state holiday’ in 1991): the traditional ritual with libation of fermented mare’s milk has now become the national festival celebrated for the summer solstice.  The Sakha intelligentsia itself is divided on these issues and several trends propose different reformulations of Sakha traditions, for example the founders of the social-religious group Kut-Siur (Heart-Soul-Mind), a Shamanistic association created in the early 1990s, considered as Sakha fundamentalists by the author, is very critical toward the Archie Dieté. Sakha ethnographers themselves take a prominent part in these religious reformulations.  The thesis of the author—who considers that ‘religion has become an idiom through which competing definitions of homeland and national pride are being shaped’—is well argued on the basis of contemporary data and articulated with the underlying question, “the question of whether ‘Shamanism’ as a complex combination of spiritual and medical beliefs and actions can or should be revived in the twenty-first century.”  However, in order to better put in light the specific complexity of the current situation, it would be interesting to replace more precisely the current debates in a historical perspective. On the one hand, it should not be forgotten that ritual, during the Soviet period, has already played a major political role, and the nowadays debates refer also to those of yesterday.  On the other hand, we cannot think either that the reformulations of Sakha religious traditions are a very new phenomenon.  The interactions between Shamanism and Orthodoxy were very important among the Sakha in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the Sakha religious system has already changed in connection with the influence of Russian Orthodoxy, even if in the Tsarist period there was no Sakha religious and ethno-national revitalisation trends.  However, other minorities of Russia, in closer contact with Russians, have developed in the past centuries nativistic religious movements.

Jean-Luc Lambert, EPHE, Paris
CER: I-5.1.A-391