Shamans of Siberia – Shelf Life 360

[WIIND BLOWS, OLD RECORDING OF SHAMAN SONG] >> LAUREL KENDALL: A shaman is a master of the spirits The word comes to us from the language of the Even, reindeer herders living in Siberia

[SHAMAN SONG, DRUMMING] A shaman is someone able to travel into spirit realms and come back with knowledge, to go down into the underworld If you look at the shaman costume of the Sakha people, you will see that it's bedecked with a great deal of metal The metal is a conductor of magic Some say the bits of metal represent the bones of birds, so that the shaman, when he flaps the arms of the costume, is able to fly through the sky [MUSIC PLAYS] Here in the Asian Ethnographic collection, we have an amazing trove of materials from Siberia, related to shamanic practice

I'm Laurel Kendall I'm an anthropologist And here we are in the Conservation Lab of the Division of Anthropology where our conservators have been working on material collected by the Jesup North Pacific Expedition more than 100 years ago The Jesup North Pacific Expedition was probably the most ambitious anthropology expedition of all time It was the brainchild of Dr

Franz Boas, the founder of American anthropology, and for many years, a curator in this Museum His idea was to send teams of scholars to do research on both sides of the Bering Strait— one on the American side, one on the Russian side— and have them explore the question of who came over the Strait, when They would do this by looking at the cultures of then-living peoples On the Siberian side, their mandate was studying peoples' life ways, collecting objects They were taking lists of vocabulary and recording songs

[OLD RECORDING OF SONG] They took a lot of photographs They took hundreds and hundreds of front view and side view This was a method in the day when people thought that they were studying different biological types But, you know, when you look at the faces of some of these photographs, you don't see what you see in many other places— a very stiff, very clinical We get some sense of the person, the- you know, the living human being with an imagination, with a sense of humor, perhaps, behind the photograph

[LOW DRONE, WIND BLOWING] The Soviet era was a hard time for Siberian peoples The shamans were persecuted And there was a fear that Native culture might be lost [MUSIC PLAYS] But once there was an opening, we began to be contacted by Native scholars from the Russian Far East And we have had many visits, and some truly wonderful things have happened

The Jesup Collection is important not only to us, as part of world heritage, but it's important—critically important— to the descendants of the people who worked with the Jesup Expedition [MUSIC PLAYS]