The Resilience of Shamanism among the Buriat and Tuva of Siberia

Open Access
Doran, Kylie R
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Catherine Wanner, Thesis Supervisor
  • Timothy Michael Ryan, Honors Advisor
  • Shamanism
  • Siberia
  • Indigenous Rights
  • Soviet policies
  • Buriat
  • Tuva
Shamanism is part of the foundation for all aspects of indigenous life in many parts of the world. To explore the history of indigenous peoples of Siberia, it is not helpful to trace the evolution of isolated cultural characteristics, such as language, gender roles, agricultural practices, or religion. Though Shamanism is most commonly identified as the latter, it is intricately tied together with most other aspects of life for Siberian people. Shamanism is a worldview based on connections that link the natural world to beliefs in a supernatural world, and shamans are those individuals who mediate both worlds. Thriving despite efforts of Christian missionaries and Soviet propagandists to eradicate it, Shamanism has proven its ability to adapt to radically different challenges and circumstances and stand the test of time. Though Siberian Shamanism has adapted and evolved in response to outside pressures, it has had lasting effects on indigenous populations and their cultures. The trends resulting from outside pressures seen among the Buriats, one of the largest and most powerful Siberian ethnic groups, and among the Tuvans, one of the most geographically isolated Siberian ethnic groups, mirror the trends among colonized groups over time. The history of Siberian indigenous peoples is one of shifting dynamics of power and powerlessness, much like histories of minority groups the world over. As indigenous peoples, Siberians have been particularly slated for reform or assimilation into majority groups because they are perceived as hindering progress. Their experiences are a particularly vivid example of these dynamics. The history of Shamanism’s transformation in Siberia is merely one side of a larger story of both colonialist disempowerment and self-led empowerment of a minority group, revealing how majority-minority power dynamics can transcend ethnicity, location, and time, and are prevalent around the world.