Nganasan - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Reverence for the Great Mother Sun, Earth, Moon, Water, Fire, etc. was characteristic of earlier, shamanistic folk beliefs and shamanism. In contrast to neighboring peoples, the Nganasan were not subjected to Christianization. The contemporary younger generation, which observes certain traditional customs, is basically nonreligious. The last acknowledged Nganasan shaman died in 1989. Old people, however, can sometimes give help by methods that are close to those of the shamans.

Ceremonies. At the beginning of the twentieth century there were still several seasonal holidays and rituals that were common to the Avam and Vadev. There were rituals for the success of the hunt, for preparing the herd, and for improving the health of the community. Today general governmental holidays are observed. There are attempts to reestablish ritual with the participation of a shaman, but at the level of a folklore festival.

Arts. The ability of women to decorate the national fur costume is still highly valued today. Up to the present time there are personal songs or melodies in use that can be given as gifts or transmitted by inheritance. Some old men preserve epic oral folklore, which they sing, as well as historical legends and myths. The basic musical instrument, which is disappearing from everyday use, is the shaman's tambourine.

Medicine. Popular techniques of curing are limited. The shaman was usually concerned with health and exorcising the spirit of evil. Today there is in each of the three settlements a small hospital with a staff of medical personnel and the potential for transporting an ill person out to a large medical center by air.

Death and Afterlife. Traditionally, death is a boundary beyond which life continues in another world with the same activities as in this life. The Nganasan hold a funeral for an old man by placing him in a sleigh above ground, in a tipi without a covering, and supplying him with the needed possessions and food for the road. Today, the usual grave in the earth is becoming more common. It is to be visited once a year on the anniversary of death, but after three years should be left in peace.


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