In Chapter 1 the author creates a history out of the shamanic narratives that reaches beyond the official. She argues that shamanism as a form of mobile history and memory and should be understood against the Buryats’ experiences of colonialism, displacement, and socialism in Russia and Mongolia. Shamanism is a type of symbolic protection against being turned into “bare life”—biopolitical subjects stripped of their identities and places of belonging. The origin spirits constitute verbal memorials; a shaman adorned in full paraphernalia is a compendium of narrative memories; and a Celestial Court—the ruling hierarchy of spirits—governs an imagined nation-state. The Buryats’ origin-spirit narratives have an unusual anti-colonial thrust, as they contain a partial betrayal—a politically opposing side of the story. This helps integrate diverse Buryat groups, including those that might shift identities between the oppressed and the dominators. Yet the Buryats’ mimicry of oppressors is highly targeted and different from what Taussig and others discuss. Even as the Buryats attribute acts of power by the oppressors to their shamanic deities and thus make their deities more powerful, they maintain their own, culturally distinct representation of their deities through language and embodied performance.
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