Sacred sites

Mazar worship has existed inKyrgyzstanfor a long time. But the extent of its study and or even simple description is limited. In 2004 the Aigine (ay-gee-neh) Cultural Research Center was preparing a project on sacred sites and was looking for literature to find out how many sacred sites were in the country or in particular regions, when and how they appeared, how and why they are visited and what policy authorities have towards worship practices at mazars. It turned out to be difficult to find materials on these questions and other aspects such as the ecological, social, cultural and religious role of mazars.

I believe that this book, Mazar Worship in Kyrgyzstan: Talas Practicioners and Rituals, an in depth study of cultural specialists and their practices of pilgrimage, worship, and healing involving sacred sites in Kyrgyzstan will help fill this gap.  This book is based in two years of field research in Talas oblast, which theAigineResearchCenter carried out together with Talas residents and students fromTalasUniversity, and with financial support from the Christensen Fund.

We have divided the book into two sections in order to show the world of mazars from two positions: the insider perspective of mazar visitors and the outsider perspective of researchers.

The insider position includes people who have long visited sacred sites and carry on mazar traditions, such as healers (bübü, bakhshy), dervishes, manaschys (reciters of the Kyrgyz Manas epic), improvisatory poets, and mazar guardians and custodians. Some of them have university education, but it is in the school of life, through experience and public recognition that they can be considered experts in particular aspects of traditional knowledge.

Some sections of the first section are presented in the form of monologues, others as interviews, discussions and reflections, and some as life stories. For Aigine it was critically important to understand and preserve the specific ideas and characters of those who carry on traditional cultural practices.  This book will preserve their vision, logic and language and describe the connection of mazar worship with their lives. This is their own expression, what anthropologists call emic understanding: they are using their own language to express events and concepts in ways that feel natural to them.

Readers who know little or nothing about mazar culture may have to make some effort in order to understand the thinking and language of these practitioners. To simplify this process Aigine has provided explanations and comments to key concepts, which usually are located after a chapter or in footnotes.

If in the first section practitioners speak, the second section belongs to researchers, those who prepare research materials, and analyze and theorize about them. The article authors represent various branches of natural, social and human sciences: anthropology, history, folklore, psychology and psychiatry, literature, ecology, biology, zoology, and geology. They are united by this project of studying sacred places in Talas, they all worked in and continue working in the region motivated by Talas project observations, ideas of which became the topic. Two articles are byTalasUniversitystudents Nazira Jusupova and Nazgül Asankunova, who have worked with Aigine for two years.  This is their first research experience and first publication in their life. Talented and hard working Nazira and Nazgül now study at a provincial higher education establishment, where they were not taught methods for field research nor academic writing. I strongly hope that they will continue to work with scientific literature and grow into researchers who create important and useful theories.

Studying mazars in Talas raised the whole issue of traditional knowledge and how to study it from the points of view of human and social sciences. Studying mazars in Talas raised issues about the relation of theory to practice, as well as how to connect natural and social sciences, and traditional beliefs and Islam. Aigine plans further scholarly activities and publications in these areas.