Peculiarities of the Baikal polytheism

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The Christianization of indigenous people of the Baikal region was not so smooth. The first problem is that worshippers and preachers of shamanism, which is known to be a pagan religion with plenty of deities and close ties with specific clans and tribes, were not ready for monotheism. They were guided by the idea that despite a narrow scope of their deity, it was more accessible with the help of shamans and people could ask it for protection and help. For that reason they were skeptic about having an omnipotent God, one for all. The czarist policy adopted a position that also was of high significance. In fact they tried not to intrude into ecclesiastical affairs run by missionaries. Here is the evidence by church testimonies: “The missionaries are striving to convince the Buryats that adoption of Christianity is the Emperor’s will and its adoption will be a sign of respect towards the Emperor. But indigenous people would not believe it. Thus, once they objected to a missionary: “You are wasting your time; all you say is a lie! In case it was the czar’s will, we would have official papers as a proof, we would hear it from the officials or we would be forced to adopt Christianity”. As for the tribal elite and especially shamans they did not share the interest in Christianity as it would certainly challenge their authority.

The Bishop Benjamin’ letters to Posolsk monastery said about the Bible translations provided by English missionaries who resided in the Baikal region from 1819 to 1848. The British failed to impose Christianity on the local population who considered them just as teachers and healers. According to the experts of Mongolian and Buryat languages, these translations ranked among the best ones as it was a good combination of literary (bookish) Mongolian language and colloquial (simple) Buryat. In the second half of the XIX century the Bible was not republished and thus it was not accessible for the Buryats and Tungus and the missionaries suffred this shortage.

The converted and those who still remained pagans split over the issue of clan management and it was well described in reports published in “Irkutsk diocesan news”. The baptized ones ceased to obey the clan authority as well as violated the Buryats’ usual mode of life. In 1865, in Zabaikalsky spiritual mission it was reported: “First it was hard to baptize the Buryat nomads living around Posolsky monastery due to countermeasures taken by pagan authorities and Christianity was quite unfamiliar to them as they never had preachers”.

But later on the “ordinary” Buryats were very tolerant towards Christian worship, relics. They wouldn’t mind going to an orthodox church, lighting a candle, worshipping icons, making frameworks for them, carrying gonfalons during sacred procession but however they would maintain commitment to shamanism. Missionary churches were built with the support of donations given by both Christians and pagans. Schools and boarding houses run by missionaries taught literacy to a small number of buryat boys as there were few pupils who volunteered in devoting a lifetime to tread the path of virtue. But still there were representatives of local population who assisted in popularizing Christianity. As advised by missionaries Meletios and Plato, the diplomas were awarded to Jacob Berezovsky, a chief taisha of Kudarinsky Buryats, a Mikhail Monzonov, leader of the first Chernorudsky clan, “indigenous dwellers”-Nicholas Khamaganov and Nicholas Sonzhonov. This information was published in “Irkutsk diocesan news”.

Christian saints were met with mixed perception as the Buryats underwent a change in their economic management because the saint “consecrated” the spheres and branches that were introduced to the Buryats with the arrival of the Russians. In this respect the most "lucky" one was St. Nicholas: he was a patron of farmers (arable farming were introduced to the aborigines by the pioneers of Russia) and besides he rescued sailors and ships. Apparently, due to these virtues apostle Nicholas was honored. “Siberia portrayed in ancient legends and present-day stories” by N. Shchukin tells that the Buryats, while they were on their way back from Kachugsky fair, usually speeded their way home to celebrate Nicholas day. The Buryats believe in St. Nicholas, saint patron of Russia and it seems that Russians’ great respect for this saint was transmitted to the Buryats. They get together on May 9 to drink, dance, sing, shoot a bow at a target, ride horses etc. So maybe our St. Nicholas Day replaced one of their pagan spring festival? ".

St. Nicholas enjoyed a great popularity among aboriginal sailors and fishermen and it resulted in legends which were very similar to well-known stories of the people residing in Russian settlements around Baikal. “Once buryat fishermen were assailed by a strong storm. A roar by the sea hurts ears, spoondrifts, the mist rambles through the sea like snow does in a heavy snowstorm. And the great wave is turning to a huge wall and like a lion puts on a white mane, crumbles and crashes down like thunder. Water is filling the boat… And then night fell. And then everything was plunged into darkness: the sea, the sky, the mountain. The wave is roaring and dancing as if she is wild, then turns as if she is mad, hits the boat finally and wets it down and the boat is about to be scuttled. But the fishermen had a narrow escape and they were indebted to the “wonderworker” for it was kept in a fisherman’s possession.

Interconnection and interdependence of confessional trends in the Baikal area can be traced even in religious art. A mere glance at two icons of St. Nicholas, given as illustrations in this book, to understand how much people borrowed from each other. The Cathedral of the Epiphany in Irkutsk has a few icons of "siberian style of painting" – “John the Baptist”, “the Virgin of Smolensk”, "The Virgin of Vladimir". They are pertained to Siberian art because their creators did not follow strict rules-the canons which were common for icon painters, and hence, they are unique.

That is quite noticeable when looked at “The Virgin of Vladimir”. An anonymous icon painter changed slightly the form of iconographic scene: the Virgin is depicted at the moment when she gets to know about a strange fate that awaits her son and she acts on instinct when she tries to protect him But the Virgin of Vladimir has slanted, elongated eyes, long arched eyebrows, contoured cheekbones, slightly dashing eyelids, and besides, the baby has some features of the oriental type. Irkutsk fine art expert T.A. Kryuchkova, who studied in detail the Siberian icons, is right in her surmises: “Either the Russian icon painters were inspired by nature while observing life of native people or the icons were painted by aboriginal handymen who mastered well icon painting art”. But anyway, both bear good psychological effects on christianizing and christened representatives of Siberian people as well as on their loyalty towards the philosophy of Christianity.

The Buryats’ attitude towards Christianity was often formal and it is well reflected in their denial of this religion at the time when being a believer was regarded as non-prestigious and unprofitable. This is evidenced by this document dated back to February 2, 1934

“To Assistant Chief of Police in Kabansky district

Comrade Chepik

Hereby we inform you about the decision of the general meeting of Korsakovo (majority of the population is represented by the Buryats - AK.) to destroy Korsakovsky Peter and Paul Orthodox Church and you, comrade Chepik, are invited to witness it.

Head of Kabansky police department, Zorin "(see 340).

Speaking about those ethnic supporters who “lost faith in” Christianity, we should make a point of the significance of Korsakovsky church (as well as the significance of the Buryat temple called Malii Dugan) for the Baikal natives whose fathers and grandfathers suffered much for the church was destroyed in Saganskaya steppe in 1861. Let’s recall some details of this tragedy. Almost all the steppe with its vegetation and the constructions were flooded. But it was both surprising abd mysterious that the flood did not affect Russian villages. For example, the water did not reach houses, sheds, barns of Dubinino and Oimur villages though the water flew up to their streets. Also the flood resulted in a large fissure not far from Oimur which would gradually fill up with water (when children we would fish much and we called this fissure “furrow” having no idea about its origin).

In 1863 the missionary Fr Milenty wrote about this incident: “When being overtaken by fearful divine scourge, farmers saw the decress of heaven which took care of them. The water was at a distance of 10-20 yards from them and the settlements remained safe despite the rents in walls of their houses. Apparently the natural power was led by power of God and the scourging sword affected shamans’ settlements located in Tsagansk district... ” (see 316).

Hence, the Russians, residing not far from the flooded plain and the natives themselves together with the clans and tribes found side by side, regarded it as a retribution towards the Buryats who committed offence. Moreover the Buryats were given the cold shoulder and they were treated like “outcasts”, “leprous” afterwards especially by the tribesmen-neighbors who didn’t suffer the flood. The “castaways” were in great need of new beliefs and deities in their ethnic environment. And the Christian “brothers” represented by clergy rent a helping hand. No doubt that this Baikal tragedy and its ethnic and psychological effects fostered the Buryats’ faith in the saviors Peter and Paul and other Christian “benefactors”.

Considering the attitude of the natives towards Christian traditions and ceremonies it should be noted that shamanistic cults had the reverse effect on the Russians in Siberia. According to P.A. Kropotkin when the Cossacks that accompanied him along Siberia were in the “sacred places” of indigenous people: “...they were quick to remove a tuft of hair out of horse’s mane and pinioned it to oboo (cult-site) branches. Siberians are scary of pagan gods. They do not set a high value on them but they prefer not to sour relations as those pagan gods are likely to do dirt. It is much better to redeem them giving a bit of attention?”(177, p. 198). Present contemporaries of different ethnic backgrounds also share the Cossacks’ opinion lasting for 150 years.

The Christianization of native peoples of Siberia faced a new problem for the past 10 years. The fact is that different representatives of traditional religions, but mostly religious sects, in particular Pentecostals streamed in small indigenous settlements taking advantage of instability or even the lack of stable religious beliefs. This case is of particular concern for the future of the nations who were left behind any religious roots for the years of religious. As mentioned above, this refers to the Tofs. When the Tofs were at risk of being converted into a sect, Irkutsk Christian priests had to pay visit to Tofalaria and take measures tailored to adoption of Christianity. In early 2007, for the four-day stay in the mountainous “republic” the priests baptized 138 men- not only children but also adults. So the missionary work still goes on in the Baikal region. However as in the case with the Buryats and the Evenks the efficiency of formal Christianization is still problematic.

See also

Literature

  1. A.D. Karnyshev "The Many Faces of Multilingual and Mysterious Baikal"© BSU Publishing House, 2011

Выходные данные материала:

Жанр материала: English | Автор(ы): Karnyshev A.D. | Источник(и): The Many Faces of Multilingual and Mysterious Baikal. Ulan-Ude. 2012 | Дата публикации оригинала (хрестоматии): 2011 | Дата последней редакции в Иркипедии: 30 марта 2015

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Тематический указатель: Irkipedia English