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Schaun Wheeler's Kyrgyzstan Blog
Monday, 14 August 2006
Last Entry

My trip is done--I leave for the States Wednesday morning.  I hope you've enjoyed the blog.  If you have any questions--about Kyrgyzstan, travelling in the former Soviet Union, the Kyrgyz language, anthropology, my research, anything at all--email me at

Posted by Schaun at 12:48 PM

I've poseted several pictures of Bishkek.  The pictures and captions speak for themselves, so I won't bother describing them.

Bishkek is a small city, as far as capitals of countries go.  It's in the Chui valley, on the northern border of the country (not very far from Almati, Kazakstan.  The center of the city is filled with monuments (like any soviet city).

Posted by Schaun at 12:44 PM
Wednesday, 2 August 2006

I put up a few pictures of a Gis I helped make.  It's a carpet made out of dyed wool.  It's fun to make.

Posted by Schaun at 10:06 AM

The woman who guided us through the Manjili Mazaar was a shaman.  Actually, Tynara called her a clairavoiant (sp?), but I think that's mainly because everything she did deeply couched in a lot of Islamic practices, and shamanism is generally not considered very Islamic.

This woman, however, was a textbook shaman.  She was called to her practice through a series of visions and other spiritual experiences.  She has a few spirit guides that talk to her in holy places and let her know about the people she is with.  She tells the future.  I put a picture of her in the album.

Everyone was kind of suprised when I was the first one she talked about.  We were sitting at the grave of Manzhili and she said that her guide was telling her that I was a sprititual person--that I had come to this site not just because it was associated with my work but because of my interest in religion and spiritual things.  She said she saw my taking a long trip and meeting a man in a large building who would help me do my work. 

Later, she said that I was about to take a long journey-within a month or two--but that I would return to Kyrgyzstan.  This freaked out the women I was with, because they hadn't told her that I was leaving for America in a month or that I was planning on comming back to continue my research.

Fun stuff.

Posted by Schaun at 9:53 AM
I took a pilgrimage on Sunday. On the Western end of the Southern banks of Issyk Kol, there is a mazaar by the name of Manjili. A mazaar is any site that is considered to have special spiritual powers. A holy person visiting a place makes it a mazaar (hence, Solomon's Mount in Osh is considered one). But a spring or a waterfall or a wierd shaped tree can become a mazaar as well.

The Manzhili mazaar is named for mullah of the same name. However, only one of the holy places at the mazaar was associates specifically with the person--his grave (which is very large, considering it also houses his horse--he was Kyrgyz, after all).

The other holy sites were springs. I drank a lot of nasty water. At least one spring had very high sulpher content. It tasted like I was drinking rotten eggs. The other ones were just dirty.

A lot of people come this mazaar. There were grounds for ritually purifying yourself: you void your bowels, then ritually wash (meaning, you wash three times) your genitals, left foot, right foot, left hand, right hand, face, neck, and head. In that order. There were also facilities for sacrificing animals, and for preparing the meat afterwards. I've included some pictures in the photo album.

Posted by Schaun at 9:42 AM
Monday, 24 July 2006
Kyrgyz Hospitality

Our car broke down in the middle of nowhere.  Well, that's not true.  We were drining to the middle of nowhere in order to find a mazaar (holy site).  The car overheated, and our driver went down to a nearby farm to ask for water.  He came back after a few minutes, but without his water cannister.  When we asked him where it was, he said, "It's down there.  We're staying here tonight."

We went down to the farm.  The family sat us down, fed us.  Told us where the spring was so we could wash, laid out bedding in the yard near where they kept the donkey, hung our belongings in a tree, and wished us well when we left the next morning.  They didn't ask our names.  Didn't ask where we were going, and didn't ask for payment.  Oh, and they fixed our car.

This is normal for rural Kyrgyzstan.  You don't need to knock at a yurt when you approach it.  You just enter, they feed you, and then they ask you where you're going.  I put a picture of the farm in the photo album.  It was really a beautiful place at sunset.

Posted by Schaun at 11:41 AM
Communism and Islam

I got an interview with the Imam of one of the Osh mosques.  I only had a few minutes with him, because he as getting ready for Friday afternoon services (the busiest services of the week).  It's interesting--if you ask questions of an expert, you get expert answers.  I'd ask him how he personally felt about a subject, and he'd tell me what the Quran said.  The teenager who was there with him was much more interesting to talk to.


Several people here have explained the growing popularity of Islam in the same way they describe the Soviet party system.  It gives order.  Order is more important than anything else.

Posted by Schaun at 11:31 AM
Solomon's Mountain

Osh is built around a large hill called Solomon's mountain.  It's named after King Solomon, of Biblical (and Q'uranic) fame.  According to tradition, Solomon came to this mountain and prayed.  There is a small mosque built on the top of the hill, where there are five impressions in the rock (supposed to be the imprints of Solomon's knees, hands, and forehead).  The impressions are actually probably the remenants of a Zoroastrian shrine.  Zoroastrianism used to be very strong in Kyrgyzstan.

There are all kinds of smaller shrine sites on the mountains--caves where you can get blessings (very small and hard to crawl into, but the rock is absolutely smooth from centuries of people crawling in), smooth rocks that you are supposed to slide down in order to be healed.  It was very interesting, especially to see the different perspectives of the people who came.  Some people said that the rock had healing powers, and that is why you can get healed.  A much more conservative Muslim who I talked to (a Tatar from NovoSibirsk, Russia), said that was actually a false beleif.  He said Allah heals the people if they believe.  He just used the rock as an instrument.

All in all, this trip has taught me that I need to learn the Q'uran better.  It comes up a lot in conversations and I've only read excerpts from it.  The pilgrims were all very nice.  The guy who told me about the rock actually let me join his family in prayer.  He was very religious.  His grandfather was an Imam during Soviet times, and he has gone through quite a bit of religious training himself.  His religious and political views are probably what one would describe as fundamentalist.  His family was very nice too.

Posted by Schaun at 11:30 AM
The South

Kyrgyzstan has three southern provinces:  Osh, Jalal-Abad, and Bakhten.  I just got back from Osh and Bakhten.  It's incredibly hot down there.  And dry.  And Uzbek.  I'm seriously going to have to learn Uzbek in order to do my research--there wasn't a person I spoke to who didn't at least mix up Kyrgyz words with Uzbek pronunciation.  Most people weave in and out of Uzbek, Kyrgyz, and Russian.  It's hard to follow.

The road from Bishkek to Osh is actually very nice--most of it, anyway. It's large new.  There are a few back construction areas, and a few places where you have to drive a lot of extra kilometers because the road that you would normally take to a destination now goes straight through Uzbekistan.  It was a 11 hour drive from Bishkek to Osh.  That's about 3 hours longer than it was during Soviet times.

Posted by Schaun at 11:19 AM
Tuesday, 11 July 2006
Tash Arabat
Tash Arabat is a large stone fortress/guest house/who knows what that stands in one of the greener parts of Naryn. By greener, I'm referring to the grass. I saw no trees in all of Naryn province that were not planted. The mountains have snow one them, but they are completely bare of any vegetation besides weeds. From Naryn, you drive for about two hours through reddish-brown dust and gravel to get to the turn off for Tash Arabat. You drive about ten minutes and you are suddently in a shady green valley with a nice river running through it. Another 10 minutes and your at Tash Arabat.

No one really knows why it was built. One legend says that a father and son were building it when they heard a woman's voice laughing. The son wanted to look for the woman, but the father told him he must not. The son didn't listen, and the woman turned out to be a jinn (or Shaitan, depending on who tells the story). The work on the building stopped right then and there.

A slightly more believable story, one that is favored by some of Kyrgyzstan's archaeologists, is that the fortress belonged to a robber who got rich by plundering the silk road. He died shortly after the place was built, and then it was (ironically) appropriated to house merchants during their travels.

It looks like the building was built before Islam came to the area. The few pieces of moulding that still exist on the inside look more Buddhist (lotus patterns) than Islamic (geometric patterns). But I'm far from being an expert on the matter.

Posted by Schaun at 1:36 PM

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