Representation of Culture of the Altai People through Ethnographic Drawings

Author: Berezovskaya Sofia (National Research Tomsk State University, Russia)
Speaker: Berezovskaya Sofia
Topic: Anthropological Linguistics
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL COMELA 2020 General Session


The natural wealth of Altai and the ethnocultural potential of this region open up prospects for research in various fields of science.

Altaians are a Turkic indigenous people that include several ethnic groups. Living in the Katun river basin (Altai Republic), Southern Altaians are native speakers of the South Altai language and carriers of the original culture.

The need for a comprehensive study of the Altai region was outlined in the second half of the XIX century. Ethnographic expeditions to the Altai were undertaken by famous Russian scientists-Grigory Potanin, Alexander Adrianov, Vasily Sapozhnikov and others. Some items of material culture received from the indigenous population of Altai, scientists donated to the archaeological Museum of Tomsk. The museum was founded in 1882 on the basis of the first university in Siberia (Tomsk Imperial University). Currently, the Museum of Archeology and Ethnography of Siberia TSU has an impressive fund. There is a very large collection of Ethnography of the Altaians.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Andrei Anokhin, an ethnographer, composer, member of the Tomsk society for the study of Siberia, made a significant contribution to the study of Altai culture. Around 1910, he makes his first trip to the Altai Mountains. Using the included observation method, he collects valuable information on musical ethnography and Altai shamanism. We can judge how fruitful was the work done by Anokhin by ethnographic sketches of Tomsk artist Antonina Voronina-Utkina, who accompanied him on the expedition of 1910. About 200 sheets of her field albums are currently in the collection of the TSU Museum of Archeology and Ethnography of Siberia. They recorded the daily life of Altai people: details of men’s and women’s costumes, personal belongings of people (pipes, tobacco pouch, flint, etc.), musical instruments (topshur, ikili).

Voronina-Utkina pays great attention to the ritual practice of the Altai people – depicts places of worship; reproduces portraits of shamans, their clothes and attributes (shamanic fur coat «maniac», tambourines, etc.). Most of the drawings are accompanied by handwritten comments by the author, which convey the names of people to us, authentic names of things and rites, enshrined in the Altai language. So, in respect that many elements of traditional Altai culture have been lost nowadays, the field drawings made by Voronina-Utkina are a valuable and reliable source of information about the state of Altai culture in the early twentieth century.

Keywords: Siberia, the Altaians, Altai culture, Altai language, ethnographic sketches, Antonina Voronina-Utkina