- Paperback: 240 pages
- Publisher: Phoenix; New Ed edition (6 Mar. 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1842126636
- ISBN-13: 978-1842126639
- Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 2 x 19.9 cm
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,003,522 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Shaman's Coat: A Native History of Siberia Paperback – 6 Mar 2003
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Steeped in history, ethnography and reportage, THE SHAMAN'S COAT tells the story of the indigenous people of Siberia. This vast expanse of land, much of it barely populated jungle and forest, has a population of just one million. One of the world's great unexplored peoples, they have a colonial history as shocking as that of the American Indians or the Aboriginies, and live in some of the world's harshest conditions. Until the 1950s they had no written language; the little we know about them is gleaned from outsiders' accounts. They believed nature possesses animating spirits to be worshipped, placated or guarded against and Shamans performed appropriate ceremonies. There has been an extraordinary revival in shamanism, with many communities again carrying out dog sacrifices, imbibing hallucinogenic drugs, corpses of bears being offered food to bring good luck. Siberians are also realising how rich the land in which they live is, and have embarked on a dangerous battle with Russia.
From the Back Cover
Part history, part travelogue, The Shaman's Coat vividly portrays some of the world's most unique and threatened peoples. Anna Reid investigates the indigenous Siberians, Russia's equivalent to the Native Americans or Australian Aborigines. Drawing on interviews with shamans and reindeer-herders, camp survivors and Party apparatchiks, The Shaman's Coat travels through four hundred years of history and across a twelfth of the world's land-surface, from Mongolia to the Bering Strait. 'An enlightening study of indigenous peoples and post-Soviet geopolitics, full of unexpected insights... It is no small achievement to make the reader want to see this eerie landscape for themselves' Scotland on Sunday 'She blends history and anthropology with travel experience to create a rare cocktail of a book...The oral history she chronicles is deeply moving' Literary Review 'Thoroughly researched and often powerfully described' Times Literary Supplement 'Reid has an agreeable style and a deadpan good humour that is very engaging, and she has an economy of description that occasionally borders on the miraculous...I have travelled in Siberia myself, and the authentic flavours of the place are here present on every page' Marq de Villiers PHOENIX NON-FICTION/HISTORY UK 7.99 CAN $17.95 Cover photograph: [Details to follow] Isbn: 1 84212 663 6See all Product description
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Siberia is such a huge area that if you took the whole of the USA, Alaska, and all of Europe (bar Russia) and put it over the area of Siberia, it would be about the same size. So, plenty of land. And for many centuries there have been a wide diversity of peoples who have made Siberia their home, many of them undisturbed until modern times (by which I mean say after 1600) by anyone from outside their own regions.
The author, a journalist who lived in the Ukraine from 1993 to 1995, and who holds a master’s degree in Russian history and reform economics offers a unique and entertaining viewpoint on a journey through parts of Siberia, largely heading from West (Moscow) to East – following somewhat the Trans-Siberian Railway which heads across towards Japan on the East coast, skirting the northern boundaries of Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia. The author then heads north-east through Sakhalin up to Chokotka, as far away from Moscow as it is possible to get while remaining on Russian soil (a nine hour flight).
Obviously within the confines of a journey like this, and within a printed medium of a single volume book this is not a comprehensive history of Siberia as a whole, or its peoples and cultures. What this book offers in seven chapters is a look at some of those peoples who have, over the centuries made Siberia their home. Each chapter offers some of the history of the peoples and their local regions, and then shows what current (2002, when the book was first published) life is like as it is experienced by the people the author meets. She offers visual glimpses into this unique landscape, and into the peoples who she meets – those of the elusive ‘Siberians’, the Khant, Buryat, Tuvans, Sakha, Ainu, Nivkh, Uilta and the Chukchi. Their interactions with Russia, China (under the Manchu regimes), and Europe and the wider world are fascinating, and the author has succeeded admirably in bringing into our lives (for me, on the other side of the world and many thousands of miles distant) a glimpse of the realm of our imagination, Sibera as it can truly be experienced. The theme which the author has used to link all these journeys together is the history of the Shaman, an iconic figure of Siberian history. Does Shamanism still exist amongst the Siberian peoples – can it exist, in cultures battered by Russian and other influences? Definitely recommended, as is the author’s book on Ukraine – Borderland. Highly enjoyable reads, both entertaining and informative.
'The Shaman's Coat' tells the story of this region since it became part of the Russian empire some 400 years ago. Despite common perception as a land of barren tundra, Siberia was conquered for the furs valued by the nobility in Moscow and the West. It was then discovered to be rich in resources, particularly petrol and gold, and under Stalin the gulag system of labour camps was set up to exploit this abundance. Reid discusses the impact of Soviet socialism and the breakdown of the regime on the indigenous Siberians, particularly on the island of Sakhalin just north of Japan. This island has yo-yo'd between Russian and Japanese control for centuries, much to the detriment of the native peoples who either moved to Japan in 1946 or have disappeared.
The contrast inherent in such a vast land is not ignored. The experiences of the Buryat around Lake Baikal near Mongolia are kept separate but still compared to those of say the northern Chukchi. Reid's separation of the native as opposed to incoming 'Siberiyaki' experiences is in contrast to the Soviets' partial sucess in assimilating every culture into a unified Russia. The people she interviews are almost uniformly shocked that someone, let alone a Westerner, has any interest in their lives and culture.
This book is definitely essential reading for anyone planning to travel in Siberia, perhaps on the famous Trans-Siberian railway. I found it an interesting contrast to the normal Russian history I've been studying - history as written by the losers is often a very different story. It isn't an academic text for an in-depth look at the social history or anthropology of the region, but in providing an overview it succeeds very well. A couple more maps might have been useful, otherwise I wholeheartedly recommmend it.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
There was much in here I enjoyed, but the flip side of the story in this book is that there is little left of the natives who once inhabited the far north, after generations of forcible intervention by Soviets whose intentions ranged from extracting wealth in the removal of oil or diamonds, to the Soviets who firmly believed that all people were equal, and should be relocated from their homes to tiny farms, ignoring that in the capricious north you can barely garden, let alone grow potatoes, until all the people starved and died. It is ultimately a tragic tale (aren’t all Russian stories thus?) and one I had to put down from time to time and take a break. Find some hope and sunshine and hug my kids…
It’s worth reading, if you are at all curious about the history of Siberia. It’s written well, easy to read in style, and offers a glimpse of fascinating what-might-have-been alternate history timelines. I’m not going to explore those, but they do leave you wondering.
Oh, and the Shaman’s Coat? She didn’t find one, in the end, as she came to the waves of the Bering Strait. All that were left were the cold rocks and empty booze bottles that had drained away the hope of a once-fierce people.