Embedded in History

A Study of Kyrgyz Historicity and Historical Consciousness

Funded by:
The Swedish foundation for humanities and social sciences
Nathan Light

Project description:
In the modern world people are encouraged to view history as processes of significant change in the world and to view the personal and local as less important. Personal history is subordinated to large-scale processes that are explained by scholars and politicians.

While Kyrgyz villagers in the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan understand these hierarchies of world history, they hold to other ideas about the place of history in community life. This project investigates how Kyrgyz create and share local understandings through material, social and spiritual practices that embed them in history. Interactions with ancestors and other spirits give direct knowledge of the past, abilities such as healing and divination are inherited within family lineages, and popular Muslim historical ideas circulate in religious activities. People are identified in terms of kin, ancestors and age-mates. In social life people evoke the shared past as foundation for present solidarity, and display the mutual appreciation that promotes good relations for the future. 

Émile Durkheim argued that society worships itself through its religion, but this project investigates the ways Kyrgyz construct and sacralize their society through historical knowledge and its expression. This project analyzes how Kyrgyz historical consciousness comes less from European modernity than from indigenous practices and concepts, and historical significance emerges from ongoing engagement of community and individuals.

Click on the images to view them in full size.

Family transport to one of the many rural homes that lack vehicles and maintained roads in Kyrgyzstan

Teachers from school near Bishkek joining in a celebration of village history.

Woman from rural Chatkal region of Kyrgyzstan discussing local history with visiting researchers.

Outdoor kitchen used by pilgrims to prepare feasts when visiting Padysha-Ata sacred site and tomb in southern Kyrgyzstan.

Neighbors gather to celebrate a woman receiving a “Hero Mother” medal from the government of Kyrgyzstan. She has given birth to seven children.

Kyrgyz village woman making fried dough for commemorative feast one year after a death.

Constitutional court in Bishkek, with Kyrgyz, Soviet and international political symbols and architecture.

New mosque and local mullah in a village near Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Inscriptions and offerings at tomb of Shah Fazl in southern Kyrgyzstan.