The Rebirth of a People: Reincarnation Cosmology among the Tundra Yukaghir of the Lower Kolyma, Northeast Siberia

Laur Vallikivi and Lena Sidorova


We focus on Tundra Yukaghir reincarnation cosmology and its workings in the current ethnic revival by examining rebirth accounts from the Lower Kolyma. In Sovietized Siberia, the atheist state fought against everything that was “religious” and thus contributed to the wane of reincarnation ideology and related ritual practices. In addition, the state suppressed a distinct Yukaghir ethnicity it had partly constructed itself. In the 1990s, rebirth returned to public discourse, which coincided with the time of a vibrant ethnic revival movement. We shall explore how today Yukaghir elders, who fear their people will die out, link the idea of individual reincarnation with the trope of “the rebirth of a people.” In this particular sociohistorical context, they juxtapose the trajectories of personal and collective becoming through the notion of recognition, as both gaining full personhood and full peoplehood depends on being acknowledged by others (the living and the dead) as well as by oneself.

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