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Conquered

Essay by   •  November 29, 2010  •  605 Words (3 Pages)  •  1,171 Views

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The Shaman’s Coat has followed me through advanced proof, hardback, and now paperback edition. Each time I read it I am convinced of its importance, especially as U.S. forces occupy Iraq. In some ways we regain our national identity by the use of imperial, military force. As we try to align Iraq's political destiny with our own, we should be full of questions about the nature of conquest and of the conquered. We can all recite examples of colonial and post-colonial oppression, but Anna Reid gives us something more complete.

The history of indigenous peoples is often lost in the books written by those who gobbled up their lands. Indigenous people seem to exist only in conflict with the land grabbers. These people are moved. These people are lost. These people merge and become indistinguishable from their conquerors. Some remain an inexplicable tie to the past unwritten by conquerors: an alternate history.

In The Shaman’s Coat, Anna Reid turns our attention to the native Siberians, peoples often forgotten. She, an outsider, deals with the subject in the most generous way. Although the text draws from folk tales, historical documents, KGB reports, and personal interviews with indigenous people, she never presents us with an overly dense section. Instead she gives us a travelogue, which is just as much about her discovery of the Khant, Buryat, Tuvans, Chuckchi, Ainu, and others in the vast territory held by the Russians, as it is a cultural document.

The central conceit of The Shaman’s Coat is exploring the remaining shamanistic practices. Her material falls short of the original intent. The Soviets effectively stripped not only Russian culture but forcefully eliminated the religious elements of the people they conquered. The traditions that had survived the onslaught of centuries of Russification disappeared in any real way during the reigns of Lenin and Stalin. The traces Reid found do not comprise a significant portion of the book, even with secondary materials. When she does find shamans, they are often coupled with Western New Age practices or exist only in the far more interesting traces of popular practice of native religions. However, the information she brings us about the Siberian people is so rich and unblinking,

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