Chuvash - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practices. An inscription dated from 1307 shows that some Chuvash were converted to Islam, and religious terms occur in Chuvash in the form of Tatar loanwords; sources do not, however, specify Muslim religious practice among the Chuvash. Russian sources of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries mention the Chuvash as "people of different belief" ( inorodci ) , a term known to denote worshipers of images and spirits. The Russian Orthodox church tried to Christianize the Chuvash by force in the seventeenth century without success. In the eighteenth century it changed tactics; the Bible was translated into Chuvash and preachers began to use the Chuvash language. The Chuvash nominally accepted the Christian faith and traditional names were changed into Russian names, but traditions of Orthodox worship did not take hold. According to reports of travelers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Chuvash peasants offered sacrifices in places deemed holy by them, believed in home spirits, and practiced idolatry. Nowadays, the traditional beliefs are disappearing and atheism is gaining ground.

Arts. In Chuvashia folk art developed from home industries. Its best-known branch is the carving of objects (drinking cups, jugs, mugs, spoons, dippers, etc.) from a single piece of wood. Important features of Chuvash culture include different forms of folklore (songs, tales, and legends), hand-embroidered articles of clothing, and goldsmiths' works. Folk ornaments also appear on modern personal belongings. In the fine arts of the Soviet era, a Socialist-Realist style prevailed.

Medicine. Medical care is now general, free, and provided by health institutions of the state. Until the beginning of the twentieth century, folk medicine was important. There was a male or female healer ( yumsa ) in each village who "healed" either with medicinal plants, witchcraft, or psychomancy.

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