Liesbet Nyssen – Relating to mountains and megaliths. Animist musical conceptualisations and practices in Khakassia, southern Siberia

28 May 2019
Universitat de Barcelona (Spain)

WHO: Liesbet Nyssen, Leiden University Institute for Area Studies

To the Khakas people, who inhabit the Minusinsk Basin and adjacent valleys up to the mountainous taiga, the surrounding landscape has deep symbolic and spiritual meaning. In their traditional, animist worldview all the elements of the landscape, but in particular prominent geographical landmarks including mountains, rocks, caves and certain (pre-) historic remains, such as excavated burial mounds and carved stelae, host spirit beings, often mythical ancestors. In current musical practice this is manifested mostly in song lyrics, which frequently express a high sensitivity to the (spirit-filled) natural surroundings and, to some extent, ancient stone relics. Closer investigation, however, reveals that specific practices also link the environment with music. For instance, the abilities to make music and tell stories are also today attributed to supernatural beings present in the mountains and, incidentally, to archaeological monuments. Shortly after the demise of the Soviet Union, musicians were faced with the need or actively sought to contact spirit beings at significant places in order to revitalise a musical culture in severe decline. At that time, new musical practices and rituals also emerged to reconnect music-making to the Khakas’ spiritual geography. What can we learn about earlier (pre- and early-Soviet) conceptualisations and concrete uses of music, sound and silence to relate to the (spirited-filled) surroundings from late-20th – early-21st-century music making, oral literature, ethnographical studies, and the sparse ethnohistorical sources?

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