“The Time of Singing Arrows”: role-play, tourism and self-presentation in indigenous culture camps for children and youth, Western Siberi

The Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District – Yugra, located in Western Siberia, looks back upon 20 years of reviving a traditional way of life. The efforts of the indigenous intelligentsia can be seen in the establishment of governmental bodies and legislation focused on the maintenance and development of indigenous traditions. This is strived for at the interface of oil- and gas industry interests, national/regional state demands and the heterogeneous voices of indigenous representatives. The concept of “neotraditionalism” coined by the Alexander Pika is still currently advocated by some indigenous intellectuals in order to develop indigenous settlements, based upon proposals in the area of youth entrepreneurship. In their view, indigenous tradition can be used as an economic resource in the form of tourism development to achieve economic and cultural self-determination of a young generation at local level. In other words, the cultural capital is seen as a capacity to be turned into financial capital (Bourdieu 1986).

Research Questions

In my dissertation I would like to explore the current development of diverse forms of tourism, in connection with ethno-cultural camps for indigenous children and youth - known as stoibishche - based near the indigenous settlements Kazym and Saranpaul in Western Siberia. These forms of tourism encompass the travel-related activities of camp educators and youngsters themselves and their instigation of commercial and non-commercial regional, national and international tourism activities (ethnographic, health, adventure, educational, youth exchange). My supposition is that these diverse forms of tourism are to a great extent interconnected with each other and linked to internal processes in the stoibishche.

What are the motivations and intentions of stoibishche agents (educators, youngsters) when they travel abroad and to other regions of Russian Federation and what motivates tourists at commercial and non-commercial levels to visit stoibishche?
How are these diverse forms of tourism inter-related? “Social identity is defined and affirmed in difference” (Bourdieu 1979). What is the role played by the travelling habits of stoibishche agents, the consumption of material goods but also the values, symbols and lifestyles of Europe, and the role played by touristic entrepreneurship in the establishment and/or maintenance of their own identity within the regional/national/ international context? (Friedman 2002)
How are these forms of tourism self-represented in medial forms: web, brochures, film, animations, flash games?

Ethno-cultural camps were established in the 1990’s by an indigenous intelligentsia in the context of the revival movement in order to transmit indigenous knowledge to a younger generation. The main assumption of indigenous educators in the stoibishche has been that receiving guests from other regions and countries or travel abroad will train youngsters and give them the skills to represent their local traditions, and that this encourages the youngsters to ask elders if they feel they are lacking knowledge. The “ethnicity industry” (Comaroff 2009), or the idea of bringing Khanty- and Mansi-ness onto a world market, is a new phenomenon arising in the past 4-5 years. In this context stoibishche can be understood as a “border zone” of interaction, a creative site of cultural production, and the manufacturing of identity and the differentiation of lifestyles with its corresponding struggles, limitations and representations of power (Bruner 1996; Ortner 1999). It matches Bhabha’s concept of a “third space” in which meanings and symbols can be “appropriated, translated, rehistoricized, and read anew” (Bhabha 1994) - as a space of revival and re-invention of local traditions, as a recreation and education space for local children and youths, but also as a space where those participants manufacture their identity and train to be tourist guides in role-play. Furthermore, it is a space for intercultural encounter with youngsters from other regions and countries and, finally, a recreation space for tourists within the framework of commercial tourism.

Some observations on changing habits of travelling and self-presentation
Stoibishche agents travel on a non-commercial basis to Germany
Indigenous activists are building partnerships with governmental and non-governmental organizations abroad, especially in Germany. Since 2004 young Khanty, Mansi and Komi have been participating in youth-exchange programs with a German non-governmental organization: theatre performance, dance and making music with German youngsters sponsored by German state funds. Two young Khanty and Mansi women are completing European Voluntary Service in Germany< of between six months and one year. Their task is to act as representatives of their regions and of local indigenous culture. German organizations (e.g. the Bavarian Forest National Park) have involved one Mansi young woman in their program of so-called “global education” as a volunteer. In addition to this, official visits take place for the building of bilateral school partnerships between Kazym, Saranpaul and Germany.

Official trips of stoibishche-agents on the national and international level to promote commercial tourism on Kazym and Saranpaul territories
Stoibishche-activists have an official presence at foreign tourism fairs (e.g. Leipzig and Hannover), on website homepages and in promotional material issued with the support of governmental grants. Their homepages www.etnic.ru, http://kazym.ethnic-tour.ru/kazym/en/ etc. represent on the one hand educational activities in the camps for local kids and on the other hand promote the camps as a tourist attraction. Stoibishche-agents also travel to the capital of Russian Federation and other urban centres to promote their own indigenous cultures by means of a “mobile stoibishche” – putting up a chum-tent at fairs and festivals.

Individual tourism of camp-educators and youngsters
Official trips and networking visits by stoibishche-agents are often combined with a personal desire to travel and to visit European metropolises (Paris,Vienna).

Non-commercial tourism in stoibishche
Camp participants between Kazym and Saranpaul visit each other during summer vacations at a regional level. German youths also travel every two years to stoibishche - either to Kazym or Saranpaul - in the context of youth exchange.

Official tours to stoibishche
Educators of stoibishche invite specialists in camp activities from other regions in the Russian Federation (Moscow, Sankt-Petersburg) and from Germany. Furthermore, representatives of international/national/regional TV broadcasters and sponsors visit the camps.

National and regional commercial tourism to stoibishche and surrounding villages
Individual tourists as well as tourist groups travel to the Kazym and Saranpaul regions in order to "consume" indigenous culture and the natural environment. Celebrating events such “Khanty New Year” or attending the “Bear Feast” are offered to individuals with a deeper interest.


My research project is based on my own field investigations in 2006–2008 for an M.A. thesis. The main methods of research will be participant observation and narrative interviews. As a focal point of research I have chosen non-commercial tourism within the framework of youth exchange, on the assumption that it plays an important role in the launch of commercial tourism. I intend to observe and record responses, interpretations and behaviours of the German and indigenous group on the stoibishche and in Germany, as well as the expectations and the motivations of participants meeting one another. In addition to this, it is my intention to evaluate self-representation of stoibishche-agents on the web, in tourist brochures, in official tourism plans and self-produced educational material. This will therefore demand multi-sited research (Marcus 1998):
a) The observation of participants while accompanying the German youth tour-group from Germany to Saranpaul-stoibishche in August 2010 (approx. 12 persons) and during the encounter on the stoibishche. The main focus of youth encounter in 2010 will be the production of a joint creative film featuring – and made by - participants. The reconstruction of an ancient fortress gorodishche, including role-play (called: “The Time of Singing Arrows”), is planned as a focal point of the feature film. The film will be a product based on the idea of mutually finding a deeper source of understanding as to how indigenous educators and participants go about re-inventing their culture when it is acted out in role-play activities and represented in film, while at the same time being negotiated with German youth.
b) Accompanying the Stoibishche participants who take part in the youth encounter 2010 from KhMAO to Germany in July-August 2011 (approx. 12 persons). The film started in 2010 must be continued, developed and shot.
c) Interviews with educators and participants in the indigenous communities Kazym/Saranpaul and the regional capital Khanty-Mansiysk
d) The observation of participants in regard to commercial tourism taking place in the camps near Kazym and Saranpaul, including interviews with tourists.


Bourdieu, Pierre
1986. The forms of capital. In: J. G. Richardson (ed.), Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education; pp. 241–258. New York: Greenwood Press.

Friedman, Jonathan
2002. Globalization and Localization. In: J. X. Inda, R. Rodaldo (eds.), The Anthropology of Globalization. A Reader; pp. 233–246. Blackwell Publishing.

Ortner, Sherry
1999. The fate of “Culture”: Geertz and beyond. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Bhabha, Homi
1994. The location of culture. New York: Routledge.

Bruner, E. M.
1996. Tourism in the Balinese Borderzone. In S. Lavie and T. Swedenburg (eds.), Displacement, Diaspora, and Geographies of Identity. Pp. 157—179. Durham and London: Duke University Press.994. The location of culture. New York: Routledge.

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