Shatra and Jurt: The “Return Address” in the Altaian Ritual
Shatra аnd Jurt: The “Return Address” in the Altaian Ritual
Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera), Russian Academy of Sciences, Universitetskaya Nab. 3, Saint Petersburg, 199034, Russia
University of Aberdeen, Edward Wright Building, Aberdeen, AB24 4QY, United Kingdom
This article examines the shatra—ritual votive fi gurines made by Altaian hunters and pastoralists, and their relevance to the history of chess. Based on fi eld studies in an Altaian village, where the author has been conducting research since 2005, and on the museum and archival data collected in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Gorno-Altaysk, social relations mirrored by the shatra are examined through the lens of Altaian ethnohistory. Proceeding from Edmund Leach’s interpretation of ritual, the study reveals the communicative function of the shatra and its relationship to the land and identity claims of the people participating in the ritual. The concept of “return address” is introduced and applied to Altaian ritual. This concept makes it possible to determine the actors in the ritual and the social actions tied with them. The actors’ lives are intertwined through strong ties between themselves and the outer world, and are united through the creation of a fi gurative composition. These ties and their changeability are described using the concept of agency, as an action free of coercion. It is concluded that the shatra may be metaphorically interpreted as a knot of humans, animals, spirits, landscape, things, and materials.
Keywords: Altaians, game, ritual, ritual objects, communication, agency, religious movement.