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Title: Being between beings : Soiot herder-hunters in a sacred landscape
Author: Oehler, Alexander Christian
ISNI:       0000 0004 6353 1941
Awarding Body: University of Aberdeen
Current Institution: University of Aberdeen
Date of Award: 2016
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This study is an ethnography of Oka-Soiot human-animal relations in the Eastern Saian Mountains of westernmost Buriatia in South Central Siberia. It follows ten herder-hunter households from their winter residences to their summer camps, describing their year-round relations with dogs, reindeer, horses, and wolves. Although known in Russian literature as descendants of the people who first harnessed and saddled reindeer, contemporary Soiot herder hunters have shifted their skills to other species. Yet they continue to share with their Tozhu, Tofa, and Dukha neighbours a heritage of hunting, aided by transport reindeer. Historically, all four groups engaged other species alongside reindeer to varying degree. This diversity of animals is particularly magnified in Soiot households as a result of their proximity to Buriat settler pastoralists since the 18th century. In the early 20th century Buddhist ritual practice became widespread among these settlers, affecting also Soiot cosmology. Exploring Soiot relations with 'wild' and 'domestic' animals, this thesis positions domestication as 'ongoing perspectival expansion,' experienced at the intersection of shamanist and Buddhist approaches to sentient beings. The first part of the thesis focuses on how people and animals move between perspectives associated with forest and pasture, as a strategy for life in a shared landscape. It presents the Soiot household as a mirror image of the spirit-mastered household, while contrasting it to the Eurocentric model of the domus. It then shows how interspecies collaboration within the household can lead to perspectival expansion among its members, arguing that such a perspective furthers the recognition of affordances in the landscape. This is followed by a study of shamanist and Buddhist approaches to spirit masters, presenting parallel but non-identical views of the landscape. As the perspective of animals become As the perspective of animals becomes expanded in the human household, so householders' perspectives of the landscape are expanded in their encounter with the ritual domain of Buddhism. While Buddhist ritual practice attempts to domesticate spirit masters, it remains vital to Soiot hunters that the domestication of spirit masters remain incomplete, and that reciprocal relations with spirit households are maintained. Part two focuses on proximity between species, introducing dog-human and reindeer human collaborations. It examines the autonomy of dogs as hunters in their own right, and looks at evolving reindeer herd dynamics and species flux in Soiot households. Part three focuses on the material aspect of human-animal relations, focusing on implements and structures of the household as communicative devices rather than tools of domination. Horses and humans are seen to signal their intentions through roping techniques, while wolves and humans 'read each other' through trap design, den placement, and empathy. Being the first ethnography of Soiot human-animal relations, this thesis offers new knowledge to anthropology by filling a void in south Siberian ethnography, while calling renewed attention to a multi species perspective in Siberia. It contributes to classical debates on the human role in animal domestication, and challenges the division between hunting and pastoralist economies in its presentation of households that engage in both, and for whom the two remain inseparable.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: University of Aberdeen ; European Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Herders ; Hunters ; Human-animal relationships