Improvising the Voice of Ancestors. A historical ethnography of oral poetry performances among the Kyrgyz
My dissertation proposal is an integrative analytical inquiry examining a variety of theoretical and methodological approaches from historical anthropology, political anthropology, and anthropology of state, power and domination in Eurasia. From a historical anthropological perspective, I will investigate the complexities in relations of power between the state and society focusing intimately on the socio-cultural conquest and domination of Eurasia during the Soviet period. I am not necessarily interested in the Communist Party's use of coercive power and aggressive state politics towards borderland populations; the main impetus of the research is to study alternative strategies of domination the Soviets administered to establish a new political order, I ask, “What were the processes of collective identity construction and how were such processes implemented in creating a new national ideology and diversified set of loyalties?” Both variables were foreign to the borderland populations whose previous identities were constructed by the historical cosmologies of the land.
My research will focus on the oral literature, especially yr (Kyrgyz oral poetic performances) akyndar (oral poets), of the Kyrgyz people of Central Asia. More specifically, its production, dissemination and consumption by the local people under the Soviet regime from the early 1930s to late 1960s. While traditional oral poetry of the formerly nomadic Kyrgyz people had been instrumental in retelling the lives and accomplishments of heroic figures, moral tales, and honoring the history of tribes, Kyrgyz oral poetry has played a different role beginning in the early 1930s. I hypothesize the Soviet state appropriated Kyrgyz oral poetry in order to reconstruct the collective identity of the Kyrgyz people so that it was receptive to the message of communist ideology as well as a new form of citizenship of Soviet nationality. In this regard, I will particularly look into relations of power between state and society, focusing on folklore and oral literature as a field of discursive power formation and social location of the exercise of power.
In short, my dissertation will not merely examine a collection of examples of such literature and their interpretations, but focus particularly on the “processes” of collective identity formation - the processes of transforming formerly nomadic, Russian imperial subjects into communist Soviet citizens. I believe that while the such uses of vernacular poetry and its poets is known, the processes and mechanisms of their deployment by the Soviet State is not yet documented ethnographically or analyzed systematically. An ethnographical exploration of Kyrgyz people’s experiences of Marxist-Leninist socialism in this particular way will hopefully contribute to our understanding of the relationship between local cultures and ethnicities and the state, and will also help to diversify the scope of modern socio-cultural and historical anthropological studies.