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Logics, Stakes and Limits of Cultural Heritage Transmission in China, Russia and Mongolia

Museum and tourism activities in spreading the Nanai traditional beliefs

Les musées et l’activité touristique dans la diffusion des croyances nanaï traditionnelles
Tatiana Bulgakova


Dans la région de Khabarovsk (Russie), les musées et activités touristiques sont censés sauvegarder les traditions en faveur des Nanaï et autres groupes autochtones. Cependant, paradoxalement, les employés des musées et des agences de voyages s’opposent aux communautés nanaï locales à la fois en raison de leurs intérêts commerciaux et de leur interprétation de la nature des traditions préservées. Sans de préoccuper d’introduire des innovations créatives osées ni de dépasser les frontières de l’ethnie et de la tradition, ils œuvrent pour « sauvegarder les traditions nanaï », mais pas pour les Nanaï, et sans eux.
Cependant, le nouveau format des musées et activités touristiques, qui adopte des méthodes participatives, a conduit récemment à des innovations qui pourraient convenir aux deux parties. Auparavant, la plupart des Nanaï étaient méfiants des musées et du tourisme, et surtout des risques associés à la conservation et à l’exposition publique de certains objets et pratiques traditionnels (surtout les objets et pratiques sacrés). Désormais, les musées et les organisations touristiques commencent à soutenir des innovations visant la continuité des pratiques spirituelles nanaï, en les emmenant, d’un côté, au-delà des frontières ethniques, et en transformant ces lieux en espaces de culte pour des personnes quelle que soit leur ethnie. D’un autre côté, ces institutions contribuent au renouveau de la spiritualité au sein des communautés nanaï, en leur donnant une nouvelle forme dans l’espace communicatif du dialogue interculturel que constituent les musées.

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Texte intégral

  • 1 In this article, the concept of “tradition” is used in accordance with the generally accepted inter (...)
  • 2 Nanai are Indigenous people of the Far East, living along the banks of the Amur and its tributaries (...)
  • 3 The employees of the museum and tourism businesses are more often Nanai than representatives of oth (...)
  • 4 Field materials of the author, hereafter: FMA.

1In the context of intergenerational cultural communication, the widespread post-Soviet cultural practice of museising Indigenous cultures has become considered as one of the most effective means of preserving disappearing traditions1 and renewing the positive ethno-cultural identity of the Indigenous population of Siberia (Kirko 2015). Tourism activities, which include large-scale ethnic holidays and attract numerous guests, have been interpreted as a reliable means of strengthening the unity of Indigenous communities who renew their ethnic culture, as well as “support the task of preserving it” (Pchelkina 2020, p. 82). In the present paper we are investigating the Nanai case2, which is not however exceptional, but reflects the general trend characteristic of Siberia. For instance, on the territory of the ethnographic museum-reserve “Torum Maa” in Khanty-Mansiysk are held traditional bear games and wedding ceremonies of the Khanty people (Truevtseva 2012, p. 80). A “working model” of a sacred site in a Nenets Museum is used as a “real” sacred site for local residents, both Indigenous and Russian (Liarskaya 2011, p. 1). There are many similar examples all over Siberia. Meanwhile, when studying the specific manifestations of museum and tourism activities among the Nanai people, one can find a clear discrepancy between the declared goals of such activities (concern for the preservation of endangered traditions) and their actual results, which sometimes acquire a vividly modernist innovative character. At the same time, just as it happens in some other regions of the world (Batty 2016, p. 13), attempts by employees of the museum and tourism businesses3 to revive fading traditions are unpopular among the local population: for example, to equip tourist objects with sacred images or to return artefacts from the museum to the community. The organisers of museum and tourist activities believe that they are doing this in the interests of the local population. However, the local population does not always support such activities and calls such events “a game of preserving culture” (FMA4 2020). At the same time, paradoxically, the activities of museum and tourist organisations, which are not approved within the Nanai communities, are gaining popularity outside of these communities.

  • 5 This research is based on the author’s intensive fieldwork carried among the Nanai in the Khabarovs (...)

2This contradiction confronts us with the question of the relation of museums and tourist organisations to the modern Nanai community. The purpose of this article is to examine the attitude of the Nanai communities to museums and tourist sites and to find out how, having preserved their traditional needs (especially the needs regarding the spiritual world), the Indigenous population adapts to these changing communicative spaces of intercultural dialogue. One of the main means to achieve this goal and the key to solving questions about the producers and recipients of such activities in relation to the traditional community will be for us to address the social context of museum and tourism activities and differentiate the individual groups and individuals involved in it5.

Promoting Nanai identity brands outside of the Nanai community

3The active museisation of Nanai culture and the development of tourism started in the 1990s and 2000s. At that time, the museums and museum departments, which represented Nanai traditional culture, intensified their activities. Some new museum and tourist objects were established, such as the open-air ethnographic museum in the village of Kondon, the ecological and tourist complex “Velkom” [“Welcome”] in the village of Sikachi-Alian, the ethnographic cultural centre in the village of Verhniaia Ekon, and several school museums, some of which launched a wide range of activities, attracting many tourists. It is generally assumed that the goal of these museum and tourist organisations is to preserve and popularise the traditional Nanai culture (Ahmetova & Dement’eva 2016). Within the museums and tourist complexes, ethnic festivals, competitions, exhibitions, seminars, educational programs, courses for the teachers of Nanai language and master classes of Nanai artists and artisans regularly take place. However, these activities are significantly different from the traditional ones. Thus, on Kailasu Hill (Kondon Village), one of the most popular among the Nanai sacred places, where in the past bloody sacrifices were accomplished, now, “there are worshipping performances with fireworks and mass celebrations” (Mal’tseva 2009, p. 114).

  • 6 Despite the fact that they are Nanai, they can hardly be considered bearers of the Nanai tradition, (...)

4The organisers of those events, as inspirers of “revival of traditions”, are mostly the employees of local administrations and cultural and leisure institutions. Some of them are Nanai, although they are not themselves the bearers of Nanai culture6, but work in the cultural and leisure sphere, and can be, as such, characterised as “agents of change” (Barth 2006, p. 41). These are people who have received special education in the field of culture, arts or sociocultural technologies, but usually superficially know the Nanai traditional culture. Even if they are Nanai, they do not represent local communities, but groups external to these communities. All the employees declare their intention to preserve the Nanai culture, but in a specific version that matches their view. My informants, cultural and leisure workers, believe that by holding exhibitions at museums and performing festivals they “return their culture to the Nanai people” and “awaken a creative potential of the Nanai” (FMA 2020). According to their idea, “what contemporary Nanai have forgotten or even did not know at all, should become widespread again” (FMA 2020). They look at Nanai culture from the outside, judging it and making recommendations in order to “improve it”. For example, a Nanai person, who works in the cultural and leisure sphere, says that the Nanai culture is now “in a deplorable state”. Therefore, according to her, it needs to be “tightened up”, and only the festivals she organises may contribute to such “tightening up”. However, as she regrets, after 20 years working on it, she still has not observed that “local residents get the right culture”, they do not “pull themselves up to the level of the festivals, organised for them” (FMA 2020). It is symptomatic that despite the fact that those words were said by a Nanai woman, who lived in the same village as the people she talks about, and whose culture she tries to raise, she separates herself from them. This woman believes that she should influence other Nanai people, focusing on the instructions developed outside of her village and implemented by her efforts.

5The content of the revived cultural practices is diverse and is mainly based on certain images of musical folklore and decorative and applied arts, separated from their traditional context. At the same time, in the museum collection, one can observe the obvious domination of the religious marker (shaman, shamanic drum, figurines of idols). The “revival” of religious praxis is easier because, in a context of loss of traditions in various spheres of culture, some religious rituals turned out to be the most efficient and viable in everyday and domestic praxis, and have been preserved to this day in simplified versions. This is also related to the fact that religious traditions have become the main source of the ideology for national revival. E. Glavatskaia affirms that ethnic mobilisation as a global phenomenon has everywhere actively used a religious marker (Glavatskaia 2010, p. 240). In the post-Soviet countries, one of the most accessible and easily perceived variants (brands) of identity turned out to be “ethno-religion” (ibid.). Even though the elders were wary of preserving the equipment of deceased shamans in museums, contemporary “agents of change” began to consider museums as a proper resource from which they could draw objects to reintroduce that equipment into real praxis. About this, a Mansi poet wrote, “So, I take it from the museum shelf / my sonorous drum […] / I warm it over the fire of goodness […] / I warm it so that its skin is stretched, / so that it responds more willingly / to the blows of my beater” (Shestalov 1997, p. 205).

6Shamanism, which is now perceived as the most attractive and intriguing brand for the “consumers” of museum and tourism services, began to be actively advertised. Even though most of the local communities remain sceptical about the religious component of the tourism industry, many scholars support it, writing that museum and tourism business contribute to the active revival of shamanic ritual practices and cults “at the epicentre of the social and cultural modernisation of traditional society” (Oktiabr’skaia & Shapovalov 2005).

Nanai traditions preserved not for the Nanai and without the Nanai

7The target audience of museum and tourist activities is not only Nanai residents, but mainly external viewers and tourists. The tourists visiting such museums and tourist centres are not only Nanai from other localities, but also representatives of different nationalities interested in Nanai culture (Russians, Japanese, Chinese, Koreans and representatives of other nations). Museum artefacts are exposed to visitors, and modernised simplified shamanic-like rituals are performed for the tourists who take interest in exotics. Performing festivals can be reduced to the demonstration of some isolated attributes or to some ethnocultural characteristics of a community for representatives of other ethnic groups (Pchelkina 2020, p. 83). In short, the declared preservation of traditions is replaced by the demonstration of ethnicity (Bulgakova 2015). Individual representatives of local communities are occasionally involved in museum and tourist activities only for some service works. Residents of the village of Sikachi-Alian, where festivals are held on a regular basis, judge it the following way:

Everyone here says that those festivals are not for us. We all are just working here to provide everything necessary to the guests, to feed them, to give them drink, to perform master classes for them, something like that. This is a holiday for them, not for us. (FMA 2020)

8However, such a work does not concern all the village residents. Only a small group is involved, whose tasks consist in performing concerts and serving guests. Moreover, these persons complain that the rest of the Nanai people are either “completely indifferent” to what is happening, or condemn their activities (FMA 2020). Meanwhile, the organisers usually take special measures to involve the rest of the population, offering prizes and trips in exchange for participation. However, as the organisers complain, they have to make too much effort, and “nothing can impress them [their villagers]” (FMA 2019). If, by chance, they succeed in involving some local residents, they characterise their interest as “forced”, based on the promise to get a prize, or on the reception of some kind of gift or money reward. In spite of these measures, the majority of the population remains indifferent. Indeed, this kind of activity is not complete according to the old traditions. Emphasising ethnic specifics, exposing sacred objects just so that strangers could look at them, performing rituals for the entertainment of the public – all that was alien to the traditional Nanai culture. The group of organisers of museum and tourism activities and the local population oppose each other because of their conflicting interests, and because of a discrepancy of interpretations regarding the culture that they are supposed to safeguard.

Figure 1. School Museum in the village of Sikachi-Alian, Khabarovsk Krai

Figure 1. School Museum in the village of Sikachi-Alian, Khabarovsk Krai

© Tatiana Bulgakova

Figure 2. A school yard in the village of Belgo, Khabarovsk Krai, in which figures depicting spirits are placed, October 2020

Figure 2. A school yard in the village of Belgo, Khabarovsk Krai, in which figures depicting spirits are placed, October 2020

© Tatiana Bulgakova, photo taken by the author in the fall of 2020 during the flood

Figure 3. School Museum in the village of Verhniaia Ekon, Khabarovsk Krai, October 2020

Figure 3. School Museum in the village of Verhniaia Ekon, Khabarovsk Krai, October 2020

In front of the exhibits depicting shamanic spirits, there are glasses with offering

© Tatiana Bulgakova

Conflict of interests

  • 7 Sikachi Alian is a Nanai village in the Khabarovsk district of the Khabarovsk Territory, located 75 (...)

9The conflicting interests are caused by the fact that the local population does not support the tasks set by the representatives of the museums and tourism businesses. This conflict was obvious in the introduction of the ecological and tourist complex “Velkom” (organised by a commercial tourist association) in the Nanai village of Sikachi-Alian7, famous for its rock petroglyphs. The very name of the newly created centre – the English word “welcome” spelled with Russian letters (“вэлком”) – shows that the centre appeals not to the villagers, but to the tourists-guests (preferably foreign ones, who understand the word “welcome” – Japanese, Chinese, etc. – and who may pay more than local Russians), inviting them to visit the famous place with ancient rock carvings.

  • 8 Before the arrival of this travel company some Nanai practiced some offering toward these stones wi (...)

10The initiative to transfer the management of the territory with petroglyphs to a commercial tourist organisation belonged to the regional administration. As for the ethno-cultural centre, the heads of the district structures, who deal with social policy, and employees of regional offices and departments related to tourism and cultural heritage objects created it in order to coordinate the actions of the commercial organisation with local residents. A meeting was organised in the village club, which “was filled with people, 80-90 villagers came” (FMA 2020). The administrators introduced to them the leaders of the “Velkom” Company. They announced that access to the petroglyphs (situated on the river bank) would be restricted from now on, that local Nanai people would be allowed to visit the petroglyphs only in exchange for a fee on a general basis, and that no Nanai would have the right to fish near the petroglyph place. All the villagers were against such a project: “Our initiative residents openly told them in simple words: ‘Don’t you want to leave us alone at all?’” (FMA 2020). However, even though, on this day, the introduction of a tourist company into the village was disrupted, the regional Ministry of Culture, relying on the structures responsible for the development of Indigenous culture and supported by the Khabarovsk Art Museum, later managed to legalise the activities of the “Velkom” Company. In front of the population, it was argued with insistence that “Velkom” would be compelled to contribute to the preservation of the Nanai traditional culture and would help the Nanai engage in artistic crafts. At the same time, it was promised that “Velkom” would protect the petroglyphs at its own expense and that fees for accessing the petroglyphs would be taken only from visiting guests. The cautious attitude of Nanai people regarding the activities of the travel company was explained not only by the risk of restriction to their rights, but also by the lack of support regarding the motives of the travel company’s activities. The local residents were convinced that the company’s organisers had no other goals besides that of getting profits: “They came here to earn money, and we are not the owners of our place anymore. What the government and the administration tell us, we do. Is it right or wrong, what we are doing? And what should be done? Should we start a revolution, or what?” (FMA 2020)8.

Inconsistency of interpretations

11Museum and tourism activities perform not only functional tasks (preserving and demonstrating some traditional items), but also interpretative ones. They introduce traditional artefacts into a new sociocultural reality, interpreting them in this communicative space of intercultural dialogue. By means of depriving traditional cultural objects of their traditional meanings and declaring the actualisation of ethnic identity as one of the key tasks of our time, tourism businesses in fact often use markers of local ethnic culture such as some conventional signs. In order to impress ignorant observers, that is, the consumers of these kinds of activities, organisers of tourism businesses can replace local artefacts with “more spectacular” ones taken from other ethnic cultures. They can also suggest to the tourists their own, sometimes very special, interpretations of the “culture” they give representation to.

12Thus, “Velkom” put several wooden sewens (Nanai “wooden figurines, dwellings for spirits”) near the village. “They did it to make everything look nice there, and so that everyone could see that Nanai people have spirit guardians of their territory”, as a villager told me. They hoped it would promote and attract here a wide audience (PMA 2020). However, the local population did not share the enthusiasm of the employees of this ethnotourist centre. Regarding the attitude of the local population towards a similar museum and tourist complex in another Nanai village (Kondon), Olga Mal’tseva writes: “The idea of placing a cult sculpture near residential buildings caused certain rejection. The majority of Amur and Gorin Nanai believe that ritual objects should not be put on public display” (Mal’tseva 2009, p. 98). For the employees of the museum and tourism business, ritual images and figurines rather have a symbolic meaning and a certain aesthetic value.

13On the contrary, for the carriers of the traditional Nanai worldview, the decision of storing and displaying images of ritual significance depends on their vital interests in relation to spirits in certain situations. When they decide to store a work of ritual plastic art, the bearers of Nanai traditions consider the fact that these works can, as they believe, be used by spirits as temporary containers. If the contact with spirits is not desirable at the moment, these images cannot be stored and even less put on public display, they should either be destroyed or put away. Residents of Nanai villages accuse the employees of the museum and tourism sector of not knowing this: “They do not know that any figurine carved is already ‘a house’ in which someone [spirit] can enter in… Now there are a lot of spirits who remain without ‘houses’. Therefore, they can walk around and sit on our necks and molest us, gnaw us, and do with us anything else” (FMA 2020). Most of the Nanai people prefer quietness, in the sense of “staying away from spirits”, but the more such figurines (“houses”) are made and displayed, the more spirits are, as they believe, attracted to the people living nearby.

14Employees of the museum and tourism businesses interpret the attitude of the local population to their traditions in their own way. They believe that, for Nanai people, the value of their traditions is terminal, which means that these traditions are self-valuable for the Nanai and that this determines the need to store and display ritual artefacts in front of a wide audience. The attitude of museum workers and organisers of tourist services towards Nanai culture is instrumental, they use it for their business development. For example, they consider that any traditional Nanai ornament has terminal value and can decorate any object in any circumstance. However, Nanai people, who still keep the traditional worldview, consider it absolutely unacceptable to place inappropriate ornaments on the objects (on clothing or on the walls of houses) not suitable for a specific occasion and that it performs a function that does not correspond to a particular situation.

  • 9 The shamanic way of singing is recitative, with certain individual characteristics that each shaman (...)

15Concerning the local population’s point of view, traditions do not have so much a terminal as an instrumental value. Artefacts and actions fixed in the tradition are used to satisfy specific needs that usually lie outside the cult sphere. Traditional techniques are used to ensure contact with spirits and their required impact on a particular everyday situation. According to the villagers, Nanai who submitted to the businesses’ propaganda and spoke to tourists, demonstrating them shamanic practices, were at risk (Bulgakova 2013, pp. 152-162). My informants cite many examples of the sad outcome that resulted from entering the system of alien values. In particular, they recall L.D., who, speaking on stage, spontaneously started singing in the shamanic way9: “She did not live a year after that. She died. People associate this with the fact that nobody should do this, but she did. Everyone thinks so. However, it was beautiful (to hear shamanic singing), of course! From the stage! It gave shivers, and such a voice! Imagine, shamanic singing! For all people, that was very intriguing, it was very interesting! It was exciting to the point of trembling! She did it and died quickly” (FMA 2013).

16Mutual misunderstanding results, as the Nanai believe, in negative consequences both for themselves and for the curious tourists. They tell about a fire which occurred in Sikachi-Alian during the service of Japanese tourists (supposedly the tour guides called the spirits, but failed to provide proper treatment for them). Organisers of tourist activities in the same village complained that the wooden figures – according to their interpretation, the guardians of the well-being – prevented them from carrying out tourist activities: “They bought new equipment from the store and brought it to turn on the music at full volume, but that equipment soon broke down. At first it worked a little bit and then it broke down (again). Then the tourist guides bought another technique, and this technique quickly broke down as well” (FMA 2020). Nanai residents, in turn, also complain about the figurines put near their houses, and about the entertainment business that pretends to revive shamanic culture: “Because of them, spirits began visiting and disturbing our people” (FMA 2019).

“The danger of museums”

17Listening to the employees of the museum and tourism sector, it would seem that Nanai people should be grateful for their concern for traditional culture and be proud of the exhibitions that display artefacts of Nanai culture. There are certainly some Nanai who are proud, but most of the Indigenous population treat museums as “dangerous places” which should be avoided: “I have never visited the museum”, admits highly educated Nanai artist E. A. “When you do not know [what is in museums], then it is nothing, but if you know, it is scary!” Nanai woman L. K. told me she visited the museum with a friend: “We went to the museum”, she said,

we were watching the exhibition. Suddenly I felt really bad, my head began to hurt a lot. D. [the friend] said: Something wrong is with my heart [] She was already almost falling. I took her out [of the hall where the Nanai ritual plastic was demonstrated]. Something was also wrong with me. We both turned pale. [] We quickly left that hall. [] We became bad, very bad. [] What was that? Amban [Nanai “harmful spirit”] was sitting on a sewen [on a wooden figurine exposed in the exhibition]. We left [the museum], we left it as quickly as we could!”. (FMA 2011)

18According to the explanations of my informants, the poor state of health experienced by some people in the museum is explained by the fact that the spirit that has taken possession of a museum exhibit seeks to “take a human soul (the soul of a visitor) to possess it on the sly. […] He [the spirit] is fuelled, nourished by human souls! He is sitting there in an exhibited figurine, but he needs human energy and human soul. […] They [the spirits] eat them [human souls]. They chew [human souls], and people die. […] They [the spirits who dwelt into a museum exhibit] take you [the visitor’s soul] in order to eat you and your soul!” (FMA 2011).

  • 10 The exhibits of that museum were gifted to the local history museum of the village of Troitskoe (Na (...)

19In the 2000s, the boarding school museum in Naihin Village was liquidated for the reason that Nanai teachers decided that spirits living in the museum exhibits negatively affected the psyche of the students. As they said, “a mysterious living force has settled in that museum, causing fear to the inhabitants of the boarding school building”10 (FMA 1993).

  • 11 Edenku means with eden, that is with a spirit-master, owner of a certain object.

20Nanai museum keepers are usually afraid to dust off ritual objects or simply to touch them, because, as they believe, it can cause them sickness. There are stories about how some museum keepers died, because they did not succeed in pleasing the sewens (Nanai “images of spirits”) which were stored in the museum shelves. Even though Nanai people consider that most of the museum objects are empty, that the spirits, who lived in them, have abandoned them long ago, there are some edenku11 exhibits, which means exhibits “with the spirits owners”. Such objects can behave restlessly in the museum, they rumble at night, come out of locked showcases: “You cannot stand it, it is scary!” – says O. E. – “No matter what locks you put [on the museum showcase], in the morning there is nothing [behind a locked showcase], and the exhibit is in a completely different place” (FMA).

21The bearers of the tradition also believe that the spirits inhabiting the museum exhibits do not want to interpret the Nanai rites and ritual objects exclusively as aesthetic phenomena. They say that those spirits interfere with employees and visitors of museums in order to preserve them from such a transformed way. Individual Nanai who share the views of museum workers are inclined to such a transformation. The curator of the school museum in the village of Verhniaia Ekon said that once, when foreign tourists came to the village, a Nanai teacher guided a tour of the museum for them. She took a shamanic belt from the exhibition and put it on herself, took a drum from the shelf and began to dance. “After that, the heating pipes broke in her classroom, and her class was flooded, and this teacher herself had a big problem with her legs” (FMA 2020). In Sikachi-Alian, a small Nanai tourist village, Anne Dalles recorded the story of young people who wanted to use the drum from the museum to make a paid show. The director of the museum refused because of the spirits that the drum may still contain (Dalles 2019, p. 93). The idea of the museum as a dangerous place is typical not only for Nanai. Thus, Emmanuel Kasarhérou mentions that representatives of Indigenous peoples in Melanesia in New Caledonia “were convinced that working in the museum was potentially dangerous for an Indigenous person” (Kasarhérou 2016, p. 25). It is the belief in the possibility of the presence of spirits in museum artefacts and at the same time the inability to communicate with these spirits in a safe way that strains the bearers of the traditional worldview.

The museum as a place for “disposing” of shamanic equipment

22According to Nanai traditions, not all objects of worship may be on display for everyone to see. Lots of ritual figurines (Nanai sewens) belong to specific individuals and can be stored only in their private secret storages, in special places outside the house or locked in small huts or hidden under beds (not left in sight). Only the owner has the right to touch them and move them to other places. Ethnographic literature recounts about shamans, who suffered after selling figurines of their helping spirits to museums. Thus, A. V. Smoliak’s informant Molo “sold to a museum worker some items of his shamanic equipment, including figurines of spirits. After a while, he realised this was a disaster. The shaman became even more ill, but he perceived the departure of the spirits and his illness as an inevitability, with which he completely reconciled himself” (Smoliak 1991, p. 89). This prohibition concerns not only shamans, but also ordinary people who have their own private placings for their personal spirits. Moreover, the figurines become dangerous for others after the death of their owners, that is the reason why they are usually thrown away and abandoned forever. “It is scary even to pass by such discarded things! Only shamans are not afraid” (FMA 2001).

23During the Soviet period, some Nanai became free from those fears because of the atheistic propaganda and attempted to hand over ritual objects of deceased people to museums. Motivation for such actions was related, on the one hand, to the desire to earn money and, on the other hand, to get rid of dangerous objects. About one sewen (the ritual figurine) that was sent to the Moscow Museum, my informant said the following. Before the museum workers came, the Nanai “were scared of that sewen, they felt that he [sewen] was eating people”. Then the ethnographers came and asked to give him [that sewen] for the museum. “So, take it! […] The one [the ethnographer] who took [that sewen to the museum] died!” (FMA 1993). In fact, ritual objects, which earlier belonged to the deceased, were often handed over to museums not for safeguarding there, but because it was a reliable way to get rid of them.

24In this regard, it is worth pointing out the case mentioned by T. Sem, where a figurine of a sewen guardian spirit was brought to the Russian Ethnographic Museum. The author wrote that before the informant gave it to the museum worker, “she performed a special ritual. She took the sewen [a wooden anthropomorphic figurine wrapped in seal fur] attached it to a leather string and began to swing it, speaking to it as if it was a living person: ‘Go to the museum, there you will be well, people will take care of you’” (Lavrillier & Sem 2021, pp. 41-42). However, such behaviour of the owner of the figurine does not mean that she cared about the well-being of the spirit. Observing some necessary precautions, she sought to get rid of the spirit inhabiting the figurine. For the ritual practice of the Tunguso-Manchu peoples, persuading the spirit to go to this or that place is very typical, and it is done by deceiving the spirit, telling it that it will supposedly be better in another place (in a museum or somewhere else). In other situations, the spirit of a disease is lured into a figurine, and convinced to enter in it because it would give him various benefits. After the spirit is tempted and moves to where the person performing the rite guides it, the figure is treacherously destroyed or thrown away. People behave in a similar fashion towards the figures of spirits transferred to museums. It is not about taking care of the well-being of the spirit placed in a museum, but about getting rid of it its dangerous proximity.

25Nanai people believe that spirits do not like that the objects they dwell in are moved to museums, and take revenge on those who get rid of them that way. A resident of Belgo Village who wanted to earn money (“to make a business”) collected a suitcase full of sewens, brought it to the city, put it in the hallway of her friend, with whom she stopped for the night on her way. At night, rustles, footsteps and voices were heard in the hallway and in the kitchen, although there was no one else in the apartment except for the two of them. The hostess realised that the sewens had been brought into her apartment, and the next morning she scolded her friend. Then that woman took the suitcase home and put it on the balcony. Immediately after that, her roommate killed her son in a fight. Nevertheless, “she handed over the sewens to the museum and received money” (PMA 1991). Another woman told me the following about how she sold the sewens to the museum. “I had never trusted anyone [who told me about the danger of touching sewens]! I just wanted to take one [sewen to a museum], but here someone invisible kicked me from behind! I was swinging there! I turned around, but there was no one. In the middle of the day! I turned around, I just wanted to go to the stairs, but someone kicked me again from behind! That night I did not sleep at all. That is how I earned those dollars. You do not even want any dollars!” (FMA 1994).

26Communication with spirits dwelling in figurines is supposed to be controlled and limited to special situations (mostly ritual ones). Ritual artefacts were thrown away (in some cases, they were even completely destroyed) right after the ritual. If necessary, on the next occasion, people could always make other images for the same spirits. Long-term storage of ritual objects was, according to such traditions, inappropriate. Meanwhile, such a cautious attitude to the ritual objects stored in museums is characteristic only for Nanai who preserve the traditional worldview.

27A similar practice of discrepancy in the understanding of the value of museum objects is clearly manifested in situations when museums are trying to return sacred artefacts to the community from which they were once taken. Fear of the objects displayed in the museum also explains such cases. The Nganasans (the people living on Taimyr) told me that when the museum handed over the figures of shamanic spirits to them, they were uncomfortable expressing their concerns only because the transfer ceremony was organised solemnly and publicly. Only this solemnity prevented them from expressing their fears and refusing the gift. One can find similar instances to what is happening in Siberia in other places. At the Melbourne Museum, as the ethnographer P. Batty tells us, is endeavoured:

a repatriation policy that involves returning these ceremonial objects to their traditional owners in Central Australia. I have been involved in this program for many years and… it is a very complex, very difficult area. In my opinion, it is based on the very simple idea that museums or anthropologists took these things without permission and now they must go back. However, it is far more complex and difficult than this simple story. When we talk to Aboriginal people in Central Australia about their objects, some want them back; some would prefer to leave them in the museum; some want them in a regional museum and some people do not want anything to do with them because they have become Christians or have changed their cultural outlook. (Batty 2016, p. 13)

28Meanwhile new museum and tourism practices with their wide innovative opportunities are increasingly being adopted and mastered by “modern Nanai” and some other Indigenous peoples, thereby transforming their outlook.

Museum and tourism activities as a new way to update sacrifices

29Nowadays the role of museums and tourist sites has changed. Drawing on the rapid loss of traditions, they have taken on the paradoxical mission of reviving spiritual activity. Noticing the mysterious manifestations of life from some museum exhibits, some museum curators (both Nanai and Russian) secretly began to make sacrifices in front of these exhibits. Let’s give an example: “They took a large clay jar saola to the museum, inside which there was a figurine of the two-headed spirit diulin”. The curators of the museum (Russians) complained that something was allegedly “rumbling and rumbling, making a dull noise” inside that jar. After the saola was opened in order to check its contents, “the rumbling in the museum stopped”. My Nanai informant explained it so that “when the jar was opened, the spirit that dwelled in it succeeded in coming out” (FMA 1993). On another instance, M. E. said that, being in the museum, she began to hear muffled sounds coming from a figurine enclosed behind the glass case:

He made such sounds as ‘h, h’. That was how he did it. [] Then V. (who was sitting next to me) pushed me: ‘What are you doing?’ I said. [] ‘That sewen is yelling. [] he does not want to stay behind the glass. He wants to breathe! He wants to get out of the glass. He yells, swears. He asks (people) to take him out of there and to sacrifice to him by sprinkling vodka’. (FMA 2020)

Figure 4. School Museum in the village of Verhniaia Ekon, Khabarovsk Krai, October 2020

Figure 4. School Museum in the village of Verhniaia Ekon, Khabarovsk Krai, October 2020

In front of the exhibits depicting shamanic spirits, there is a vase in which visitors put money as an offering to these spirits

© Tatiana Bulgakova

30The practice of feeding the exhibits displayed in the museums has recently become common; it began to concern not only Nanai museum workers, but also other museum workers who are representatives of other ethnic groups, including Russians and other non-Indigenous of Siberia. Similar active honouring of the sacred museum exhibits is now spreading in other regions of the world. At the same time, museum employers say that the attempts to pacify the spirits inhabiting museum exhibits by means of offerings help only temporarily, and that the museum employees who took care of the sewens in this way suddenly got sick and died early.

31Nevertheless, Nanai people who still preserve the traditional worldview are against offerings to exhibited artefacts in museums: “If you do not bring them anything [no sacrifice]”, they say, “they could probably be empty, and even if you touch them, nothing bad would happen. However, when someone starts to sacrifice, the owner [the spirit] indwells” into that figurine and asks for regular sacrifices. Now most of such ‘sacred’ places and figurines (in museums) are empty, but out of caution, people began to be afraid of such objects and because of that, to visit them and sacrifice. As a result, “placings that have been empty for a long time are becoming fuelled by energy again” (FMA 2020).

32My informants believe that spirits dwelling in the museum exhibits can demand not only sacrifices within the museum, but also outside its walls, at large. E. I. handed over a drum to the museum, and began to have dreams in which the deceased shamans, whom she knew during their lifetime, scolded her, and asked her to return the drum back from the museum (FMA 2007).

33The practice of sacrifices was also restored at the initiative of museum and tourism workers. Thus, trying to be “closer to the authentic Nanai traditions”, the leaders of the ecological and tourist complex “Velkom” organised collective feeding of wooden figurines depicting Nanai spirits: “The fire was burned for them, vodka was poured, and therefore someone [invisible] was already sitting there [in those images]”. The spirits, as people believed, had already incarnated into the figurines: “A flatbread had been thrown into the fire for them, and they [the spirits] had received it” (FMA 2020).

Figure 5. School Museum in the village of Sikachi-Alian, Khabarovsk Krai, October 2020

Figure 5. School Museum in the village of Sikachi-Alian, Khabarovsk Krai, October 2020

In front of the exhibits depicting shamanic spirits, there is a trough in which visitors put money as an offering for these spirits

© Tatiana Bulgakova

Figure 6. School Museum in the village of Sikachi-Alian, Khabarovsk Krai, October 2020

Figure 6. School Museum in the village of Sikachi-Alian, Khabarovsk Krai, October 2020

Money In front of the exhibits depicting shamanic spirits as offering have been brought to them by the museum’s visitors

© Tatiana Bulgakova

  • 12 The “Velkom” organisation was established in 2002 and liquidated in 2014.

34The tourist complex “Velkom” worked in Sikachi-Alian for a relatively short time12. When the organisers of “Velkom” left the village, and new owners took their place, the newcomers left the images of spirits just “for beauty”, but they did not resume sacrificial practices. “But, it had started! [The spirits had already been lured]” – Villagers told me – “Then the light bulbs exploded, and then all the equipment broke down” (FMA 2020). Assuming that the troubles came from the wooden figurines, employees of the tourist complex removed them to a separate house standing at a distance. All the troubles stopped. However, if some curious tourists (not Nanai) wanted to look at these figurines, strange incidents happened to them from time to time, as they say. Thus, a young woman who took a look into the house with figurines, saw that in the corner there was a big sewen diulin; he took off and flew straight at her. She said: “I was standing there and looking, and he was flying right at me, flying through the air […]”. Then she somehow came to her senses, and saw that “the figurine was standing still in its place” (FMA 2020). Another woman was washing the floor in the museum and saw a tourist-woman walking around the hall. The female worker told me: “I asked that tourist: ‘How did you get here? All [the tourists] have already left! Probably you have fallen behind your group or something?’ However, she did not answer anything; she was walking around and looking at the exhibition. […] She was silent, as if I was not there. Then she went into a corner and went right through the wall!” My informant said that she ran from there, “almost breaking her bones”. She said: “I saw it with my own eyes! I have been to so many hot spots, I was not afraid of anything, but here it was so creepy!” (FMA 2020).

Restoration of Nanai practices that cease to be Nanai

35The analysis of the specific material considered in this article allows us to assert that the transfer of traditional animistic practices of the Nanai people from a closed clan society to an open museum and tourist sphere, initially focused on publicity and explicitness, does not achieve the actual preservation and revival of traditions. It is a completely new format for the implementation of a most significant core of those practices. It is not the preservation of traditions, but rather their innovative transformation. On the one hand, such transformation is completed in accordance with markers, such as traditional ornaments on clothing, figurines depicting shamanic spirits and shamanic drums, which indicate to an external observer the ethnic identity of the people displaying them. On the other hand, the meaning of these markers remains peripheral, since now, in fact, they go beyond the Nanai communities and cover a wide range of people, regardless of their ethnicity. This also affects the Nanai themselves: they do not turn to their past, but postfactum, they accept the new cultural features created around them, which are largely devoid of any ethnic component. Nanai people turn to using the new forms suggested to them in order to achieve the same goals as their traditional practices. Ethnic culture can no longer exist separately from such vividly unfolding museum and tourist activity. Museums not only try to represent the ethnic culture, not only exist side by side with ethnic culture, but create “a specific symbiosis with it” (Liarskaya 2011, p. 20).

Figure 7. Ethnocultural Center S. Krasny Iar. Primorskii Krai, September 2020

Figure 7. Ethnocultural Center S. Krasny Iar. Primorskii Krai, September 2020

At the entrance to the centre, there is an image of a spirit, whose palms are used by people for good luck: they apply themselves to the palms of the figurine

© Tatiana Bulgakova

36Museums, in turn, are not limited to a passive demonstration of their exhibits now. They are included in “the culture of participation” (“participatory culture”). Participatory culture invites visitors – and not only Nanai – to take part “in the process of understanding and updating cultural heritage” (Dilendik 2020, p. 321) and “in the creation of a museum product” (idem). At the same time, neither guides nor tourists limit themselves to the strict framework of Nanai traditions, but they allow themselves to fantasise freely. For example, when they come to Sikachi-Alian to look at petroglyphs, a guide tells the tourists that this is a “place of power” and recommends them to snuggle up to the stones. The Nanai guide tells, for example, that if you attach yourself to this stone, you will heal your headaches: “On one stone, there is a moose depicted, and if you lean against the moose’s stomach, then your stomach and abdominal pain will pass, if you touch its head, your head is to be healed”. Knowledgeable in old shamanic praxis Nanai people condemn such guidance: “Did she invent it herself or did she read it somewhere? She just needs to lure tourists”.

37Most of the local Nanai do not agree with such interpretations. They do not agree with the idea of “a place of power” and with the information that in the past, Nanai people supposedly came to petroglyphs “to recharge with energy”. At the same time the words “energy”, “to recharge with energy”, “a place of power” are widespread contemporary terms willingly accepted by Nanai, because, as they consider, they help to express in a modern “scientific” version such traditional shamanic concepts as “spirits”, “to get help from spirits”, “sacred sites filled with spirits”. Meanwhile, in the tradition, the same place had a favourable effect on some people and at the same time harmed other ones; it depended on their clan affiliation. The elders still remember that the same place can act favourably on a person at one moment, and “after a while it will turn against the same person” (FMA 2019).

38However, the guides’ authoritative reasoning makes an impression on the young Nanai who do not know the traditions well enough. Some of them start to believe what the guides say, and not what Nanai elders tell them. For example, they begin to explain the effectiveness of a shamanic practice with regards to the movement of some “energies”, not contact with “spirits”.

39Another innovative practice that has been formed in the museum and tourism sphere is the practice of healing, in which a guide or a curator of the museum performs the function of a priest and healer. Nanai people who have inherited spirits and are suffering badly (“those spirits tear them apart”) rarely have the opportunity to consult to traditional healers in their places of residence. Therefore, they began visiting museums in order to solve their spiritual problems. A Russian curator of a school museum in a small village told me about Nanai visitors, who began to regularly come to the museum in order to get help from their clan sewens displayed there. Such significantly innovative praxis could not have been imagined until recently. Instead of those who avoid museums, some Nanai people started perceiving these institutions as places for performing rituals. As the curator says, as they come to the school museum, the visitors solicit the exhibits: “Well, we decided to visit you, our sewens!” (FMA 2020). The curator allows them to “feed” the museum artefacts or, more precisely, the spirits that have dwelt into the figurines on display.

40In the case a visitor is sick, the curator of the museum herself suggests performing a sacrifice in order to be healed. A Russian woman explains her deeds: “I allow people who are ill to feed them [the exhibits]. The visitors believe that it will help them. […] I ask them: ‘Why did you decide to come to the museum? Who told you?’ – My friends said: ‘Go there, who knows what would help in life! Maybe it will help you! Go there [to the museum], bow there [in front of the exhibits], and all [your troubles] would be swept away from you!’ Then after some time I find out that a certain person was healed after what he did in the museum. Well, it helps! […] If it goes for the good, let it be Russian, Chinese, Ukrainian – what difference does it make, who you are!” (FMA 2020). That way the curator of the museum, a Russian woman, started healing people, accomplishing the role of a priest (who in Nanai tradition is a person who organises clan sacrifices for spirits). She says: “I get out of the framework only when a sick person arrives. If a sick person, a very sick one comes, when I clearly see that he or she is sick” (FMA 2020).

Figure 8. School Museum in the village of Verhniaia Ekon, Khabarovsk Krai, October 2020

Figure 8. School Museum in the village of Verhniaia Ekon, Khabarovsk Krai, October 2020

It can be seen that the mouths of the figurines are dirty. This is the result of the fact that they are regularly “fed”

© Tatiana Bulgakova

41It is interesting that some features of the practice of that Russian curator of the museum became similar to what was typical to Nanai traditional priests and partly even shamans. For example, a shaman had no right to refuse a patient who came for help. In the same way, the curator of the school museum believes she cannot refuse those who ask to let them feed the museum exhibits: “I say to those who come to the museum: ‘I will not refuse you, I have no right to refuse you, […] come after school, when the school building is empty, so that there it is silent’. And so, they come, sometimes they just bring someone else” (FMA 2020). Such practice is also known to the curators of other museums. An employee of the Grodekov Museum in Khabarovsk, candidate of Historical Sciences, coming to this school museum, said to its curator: “Your exhibits [sewens] are alive. Those Nanai who gave them to you fed them [sacrificed to those figurines], so you must continue feeding them!” (FMA 2020).

42Another feature of the behaviour of that Russian curator is that she becomes dependent on her activities in the same way that Nanai shamans were tied to their praxis. According to her, even though she, as a Russian, has no shamanic heritage, she can no longer stop working in the museum; she cannot, despite repeated attempts, quit this job. Since she decided to leave this museum, some Nanai from other villages have kept on calling her and asking her for some help in connection with the museum. They tell her about interesting artefact which have been found and should be placed in the museum or they ask her to deliver a lecture for children in order to introduce them to Nanai culture. The Nanai people say that this is because “the spirits whose images she keeps are already holding her themselves, that she has now become dependent on those spirits. […] It is not a simple thing at all. You cannot just play like that! Enthusiasts like her take a lot of risks” (FMA 2020).

43One more illustrative example of the active implementation of the “culture of participation” in museums has been recorded among the Khanty, another Indigenous people of the North of Russia. According to the oral report of Professor Igor L. Nabok, in the museum that he visited. while there was an exhibition of shamanic clothing, equipment and attributes, the guides gathered the audience in a darkened hall and turned on some music with drums. Then they suggested that anyone who wanted could join such a “game”. Those who were invited went out into an illuminated circle, in this darkened room, and some images of ritual figurines were projected on their faces and bodies. Supposedly they represented shamanic personal spirits. Then the guides gifted the figurines, whose images were used for the projection, to those persons on whom they were projected. This practice is also aimed at establishing contact between as many people as possible and the spirits that traditionally belonged to the pantheon of Indigenous peoples of the North. Innovation of such praxis consists in imposing spirits’ influence on any museum visitors at the initiative of museum employees. In the past such an imposition came from spirits and was avoided by people, as it was considered as dangerous. Compared to the situation not so long ago, people began to know much less about the relationship with spirits. They stopped being afraid of spirits, stopped taking precautions. On the contrary, not only those who inherited spiritual addictions and those free from such addictions (including Russians) enthusiastically began to seek contact with spirits themselves. That became one of the signs of a shift in the perception of the direction of human-spirit relationships. The activities of museums and especially tourist organisations, which, it would seem, should contribute to the preservation of Nanai traditions, actually began to support the eclectic mixing of the latter with the traditions of other peoples in order to preserve and strengthen contact with spirits for the sake of such contacts themselves.

44The activities of museums and especially tourist organisations, which, it would seem, should promote the conservation of Nanai traditions, in fact, supports the eclectic mixing of the latter with the traditions of other peoples. For instance, when some Ainu people came to Sikachi-Alian, they spontaneously began to conduct a ritual for local spirits together with Nanai people. Employees of the department of culture, who planned different events during that meeting, were glad of this change. Their explanation of such a success consisted of the following: “This ceremony brought together peoples from different ethnicities, and that is right! It is necessary to unite the energy of different ethnic groups, to strengthen it through a fire, through a rite!” (FMA 2020).

Figure 9. Episode of the interregional youth festival of Indigenous peoples of the Far East (village of Sikachi-Alian, Khabarovsk Krai), October 2020

Figure 9. Episode of the interregional youth festival of Indigenous peoples of the Far East (village of Sikachi-Alian, Khabarovsk Krai), October 2020

The performing Nanai shaman demonstrates an eclectic costume that has nothing in common with the traditional clothing of Nanai shamans

© Tatiana Bulgakova

45This trait is also an innovation in Nanai culture. In the recent past, not only rituals with stones, but also other rites were strictly connected with the attachment of people to certain family groups and clans. Currently, the size of the social group involved in the rituals has ceased to matter. Though, any “stranger” could participate in any ritual before as well, but it was considered unsafe both for this “stranger” and for the organisers of the ritual. The removal of social restrictions in the ritual sphere is one more manifestation of the contemporary enthusiastic desire to strengthen the closeness of people to spirits while rejecting any precautions.

46Such a course of things is also welcome by most of the local population. One Nanai shaman-woman also approves these innovations: “The old customs have gone. […] In the past, only clients were allowed to go to the petroglyphs in order to be treated there, but now the Japanese are coming with a specific purpose to visit that place. Now the crowds of people of different nationalities can pass here” (FMA 2020). Local residents believe that the Nanai sewens have started performing some new functions of attracting and gathering people around them. According to the informants, visiting the ecological and tourist centre, and the petroglyphs is not just an entertainment. After such a visit, people become “dependent on Nanai energy”: “Another time has come”, they say, “what the old shamans used to do, now still continues to be reproduced, but only in other new ways, by other methods. Because now, no one can exactly replicate what the old shamans used to do” (FMA 2020).

47Thus, the participatory activity of the modern museums and touristic activity have created a necessary area for that change. Sacred Nanai objects, which are newly made and widely exhibited, play the role of revitalisation and activation, but not of the traditions per se. As the contemporary Nanai assume, it fulfils the function of the revitalisation of worshipping the old Nanai spirits, and actualises religious activity, obtaining a new image in the communicative space of the intercultural dialogue.


48Our research suggests that the sceptical attitude of local communities to the development of the museum and tourism industry in their places of residence (the “game of preserving culture”) is due to the divergence of their interests with those of the representatives of the museum and tourism businesses. On the one hand, this discrepancy manifests itself in the alienation of a part of the traditional Nanai community from the museum and tourism industry. On the other hand, this is reflected in the invention, by a small part of the Nanai community, of another innovative way to meet traditional religious needs in the museum and tourist environment that provides all the opportunities for this. It can hardly be argued that traditional animistic practices are valuable for the Nanai people as a means of maintaining their identity, and that traditions as such are an absolute value for them. But being still in demand and relevant, the spiritual core of the Nanai culture (beliefs and animistic practices) now allows for the crossing of ethnic borders and cultural eclecticism. This crossing of ethnic borders is significantly manifested in the involvement of non-Nanai people (Russians and representatives of other nationalities) in animistic practices. Despite the fact that on a much smaller scale, such involvement of non-Nanai has been detected before (Russians sometimes became shamans’ clients), it is now significantly expanding and acquiring fundamentally new features. Previously, Russians could not practise healing themselves, and sacrifice to the Nanai spirits, they did not perform the functions of Nanai sacrificial priests. Now, some Russian employees of the museum and tourism businesses both donate and conjure, however they do not conjure clan spirits (as the Nanai priests used to do), but the spirits of deceased shamans, which is innovative in itself. Besides, no other tasks previously linked to shamans are performed in museums, and such activity cannot be defined as a kind of shamanic practice. Innovation is also manifest in the fact that the clan borders that were so important before, which formed the relations between spirits and people, are now losing their relevance. Thanks to the widespread activities of museum and tourist organisations, people begin to communicate with the artefacts of the Nanai shamanic culture not because of their ethnic and clan affiliation, but at will and prompted by their official duties (they are teachers-keepers of school museums, tourist guides, employees of scientific and educational creative associations of culture). All this makes it possible to actualise and partially satisfy the religious needs of the descendants of Nanai shamanists and people of other nationalities who contact them, to realise these needs in a new format, and to continue Nanai traditional spiritual practices in new non-traditional ways in the communicative space of intercultural dialogue.

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1 In this article, the concept of “tradition” is used in accordance with the generally accepted interpretation in Russian science and is explained as a cultural heritage passed down from generation to generation. Despite the fact that cultural heritage has never been transmitted completely unchanged, the use of the term “traditions” at the present time, in view of the recent fundamental changes in the Nanai culture, becomes appropriate. The juxtaposition of “traditional” and “innovative, modern” allows us to emphasise the sharp difference between the current state of Nanai culture, which has, on the one hand, lost its former stability of cultural norms, values, and patterns and, on the other hand, the state of Nanai culture before these radical changes, when the Nanai language was still preserved, and Nanai appreciated following certain relatively stable cultural models.

2 Nanai are Indigenous people of the Far East, living along the banks of the Amur and its tributaries Ussuri and Sungari. According to the population census, in 2010, there were 11 671 Nanai living in Russia, and 5350 Nanai in China. The majority of Russian Nanai live in the Khabarovsk Territory. Nanai villages are located on both banks of the Middle Amur and on its tributaries. Currently, the way of life of the Nanai people and the level of their education is not too different from the other peoples of the Russian Far East, although they still remain committed to traditional fishing methods and keep some traditional ritual practices.

3 The employees of the museum and tourism businesses are more often Nanai than representatives of other peoples. But even the Nanai who have received a state education and are engaged in museum and tourism activities as their employment often look at everything that happens in the museum and tourism sphere differently than other Nanai, their fellow villagers.

4 Field materials of the author, hereafter: FMA.

5 This research is based on the author’s intensive fieldwork carried among the Nanai in the Khabarovsk Region in Russia. The author has been conducting field research among the Nanai people and some other peoples of the North of Russia since 1980. The author’s assistants are usually Nanai teachers interested in Nanai culture, among whom is her friend Raisa Alekseevna Bel’dy. As a rule, such teachers turn out to be the keepers of the most interesting collections in school museums at the same time. Therefore, throughout the entire period of fieldwork, the author had to get acquainted with museum life and with the problems that saturate it. The present article was written with the financial support of the RFBR project and the National Centre for Scientific Research of France (NСSIa) No. 21-59-15002 “Mentality Tungus-Manchus and Paleoasians Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East as an ideological basis and the figure of the features of the system of life” (Director T. Y. Sem).

6 Despite the fact that they are Nanai, they can hardly be considered bearers of the Nanai tradition, since they are more influenced by the modern than the traditional worldview, and they focus mainly on the information learned from popular literature and the media.

7 Sikachi Alian is a Nanai village in the Khabarovsk district of the Khabarovsk Territory, located 75 km from the city of Khabarovsk and 15 km from the Peter and Paul Lake downstream of the Amur, on its right bank.

8 Before the arrival of this travel company some Nanai practiced some offering toward these stones with petroglyphs and few of them managed to continue in this touristic frame (see below about the traditional uses of these stones).

9 The shamanic way of singing is recitative, with certain individual characteristics that each shaman uses. On stage, even if the performer represents a shaman with a drum, a “safe” manner of singing is used, that is a manner inherent in lyrical songs

10 The exhibits of that museum were gifted to the local history museum of the village of Troitskoe (Nanai district of the Khabarovsk Region).

11 Edenku means with eden, that is with a spirit-master, owner of a certain object.

12 The “Velkom” organisation was established in 2002 and liquidated in 2014.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. School Museum in the village of Sikachi-Alian, Khabarovsk Krai
Crédits © Tatiana Bulgakova
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,1M
Titre Figure 2. A school yard in the village of Belgo, Khabarovsk Krai, in which figures depicting spirits are placed, October 2020
Crédits © Tatiana Bulgakova, photo taken by the author in the fall of 2020 during the flood
Fichier image/jpeg, 620k
Titre Figure 3. School Museum in the village of Verhniaia Ekon, Khabarovsk Krai, October 2020
Légende In front of the exhibits depicting shamanic spirits, there are glasses with offering
Crédits © Tatiana Bulgakova
Fichier image/jpeg, 516k
Titre Figure 4. School Museum in the village of Verhniaia Ekon, Khabarovsk Krai, October 2020
Légende In front of the exhibits depicting shamanic spirits, there is a vase in which visitors put money as an offering to these spirits
Crédits © Tatiana Bulgakova
Fichier image/jpeg, 544k
Titre Figure 5. School Museum in the village of Sikachi-Alian, Khabarovsk Krai, October 2020
Légende In front of the exhibits depicting shamanic spirits, there is a trough in which visitors put money as an offering for these spirits
Crédits © Tatiana Bulgakova
Fichier image/jpeg, 994k
Titre Figure 6. School Museum in the village of Sikachi-Alian, Khabarovsk Krai, October 2020
Légende Money In front of the exhibits depicting shamanic spirits as offering have been brought to them by the museum’s visitors
Crédits © Tatiana Bulgakova
Fichier image/jpeg, 492k
Titre Figure 7. Ethnocultural Center S. Krasny Iar. Primorskii Krai, September 2020
Légende At the entrance to the centre, there is an image of a spirit, whose palms are used by people for good luck: they apply themselves to the palms of the figurine
Crédits © Tatiana Bulgakova
Fichier image/jpeg, 654k
Titre Figure 8. School Museum in the village of Verhniaia Ekon, Khabarovsk Krai, October 2020
Légende It can be seen that the mouths of the figurines are dirty. This is the result of the fact that they are regularly “fed”
Crédits © Tatiana Bulgakova
Fichier image/jpeg, 629k
Titre Figure 9. Episode of the interregional youth festival of Indigenous peoples of the Far East (village of Sikachi-Alian, Khabarovsk Krai), October 2020
Légende The performing Nanai shaman demonstrates an eclectic costume that has nothing in common with the traditional clothing of Nanai shamans
Crédits © Tatiana Bulgakova
Fichier image/jpeg, 410k
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Référence électronique

Tatiana Bulgakova, « Museum and tourism activities in spreading the Nanai traditional beliefs »Études mongoles et sibériennes, centrasiatiques et tibétaines [En ligne], 54 | 2023, mis en ligne le 06 juin 2023, consulté le 24 juin 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Tatiana Bulgakova

Tatiana Bulgakova is a Doctor of Anthropology and a Professor of the Chair of Ethnic and Cultural Studies at the Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia in Saint Petersburg. She is teaching Cultural Anthropology and Folklore of the Indigenous peoples of the Russian North. Her research is based on extensive fieldwork among the Indigenous population in different regions of Russia and mostly among the Nanai in Khabarovsk Krai. Her work has been supported not only by some foundations in Russia, but also by scholarships from the University of Alaska, USA (Fulbright program), from the Max Plank Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle, Germany and the Institute for Advanced Studies, Nantes, France.

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