A Siberian Shaman
|Photo from here.|
In Russian Siberia, three indigenous nomadic peoples - The Chuckchi [Chukchi], Koryak and Kamchadal - embrace a third gender.
As reported at PBS' great resource: A Map of Gender-Diverse Cultures Throughout The World,
"The Chuckchi (and neighboring indigenous peoples including the Koryak, and the Kamchadal) are a nomadic, shamanic people who embrace a third gender. Generally shamans are biologically male with some adoption of female roles and appearance who married men but also were not subject to the social limitations placed on women. Third gender Chuckchi could accompany men on the hunt, as well as take care of family."
So cool to know!
Here's more from the pbs-linked website of Raven Kaldera. Alhough it has a pretty negative spin on being gender non-conforming and not playing by the "gender rules," it does provides more detail about how the third gender was recognized and functioned in these societies:
If you look at the research on shamanism worldwide - and especially that of the subarctic circumpolar shamanisms, from Siberia to the Inuit - you find, over and over, the disturbingly frequent presence of spirit-workers who transgressed gender roles and indulged in unusual sexual practices. In some cultures, just showing evidence of these behaviors was considered a sign that a child was bound to be a spirit-worker of some sort.
This was remarked on particularly in Siberian shamanism, specifically among the Chukchi, Koryak, and Kamchadal, and across the Bering Strait with the Inuit. While Siberia may seem to be a long way in the minds of many people, from Scandinavia or even Finland, there are many things that the circumpolar subarctic shamanic traditions have in common, much more so than shamanic traditions from further south. …
Interviews with these "transformed shamans" report that the spirits informed the shamans in question that they were required to put on the clothing and take up the jobs of the opposite sex; in some cases, they lived their whole life in this way, including taking lovers appropriate to their role, and in some cases the male-to-female shamans would ritually mime childbirth. (Even here, however, the "special" role of these shamans as still not playing by the gender rules can be seen; a "shaman-wife" of this type did not have to observe the taboos of women, but could accompany their husband to battle, and rather than taking their husband's name, sometimes the husband took theirs instead.) Sometimes one also finds reports of male-to-female shamans who changed gender later in life, but remained husbands to their wives and fathers to their children, merely adopting female clothing and household jobs. Some merely donned women's clothing during ceremonies.
There's more on the Chukchi people at this site, where I learned they call themselves the Lygoravetlat, which means "genuine people."
And also at this site on Siberian Shamanism, that quotes from Yuri Rythkeu in National Geographic [February 1983],
"The Chukchi are a people who used to herd reindeer on the tundra and set up coastal settlements on the Bering Sea and other coastal polar areas. Originally they were nomads who hunted wild reindeer but over time evolved into two groups: 1) Chavchu (nomadic reindeer herders), some of whom who rode reindeers and others who didnt; and 2) maritime settlers who settled along the coast and hunted sea animals."
A Chukchi shaman was "was the preserver of tradition and cultural experience. He was meteorologist, physician, philosopher, and ideologista one-man Academy of Sciences. His success depended on his skill at prognosticating the presence of game, determining the route of the reindeer herds, and predicting the weather well in advance. In order to do all this , he must above all be an intelligent and knowledgeable man."
Despite the male pronoun used above, it's fascinating to learn more about what people in this third-gender role did in their culture.
Knowing that indigenous people in Russia saw - and still see - gender differently than the binary (and dominant) Russian and Western culture's view that you're-either-a-guy-or-a-girl is inspiring. People who combine male and female qualities, roles and attributes to form their own gender identity feels very similar to the "Gender Queer" identities being claimed by younger people in the LGBTQ community today.
And knowing that Russia has this history of indigenous gender non-conformity - an honored and sacred position among their society - in the Chukchi, the Koryak and the Kamchadal? That's something to celebrate!
Add To The Celebration:
Who are the Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Trans and Queer Russians you'd like to celebrate? Tell me your favorites in comments, or by twitter, and on the final day of the Olympics, I'll run a rainbow variety-pack post with everyone's suggestions!
Please Note: Given the situation in Russia, I'm thinking we should keep it to either people who are no longer living in Russia or are historical. I'd hate to create a list that then would be used against people by a repressive, anti-LGBTQ regime.
Having said that, there is a lot of Queer Russian heritage to explore and so many LGBTQ Russians we can celebrate!
Take Action (and today's bonus video!):
Get the Olympic sponsors that count you as a customer to know that you expect them to stand up and speak out in support of Russia's LGBTQ community.
Here are the main ten sponsors of the Sochi Olympic shame:
I LOVE this grand-standingUP moment, as reported in the International Business Times, of European Parliament Member Michael Cashman cutting his Visa Card To Protest Sochi.
“The discrimination, violence and human rights attack by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin are entirely unacceptable. Attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people are equally unacceptable,” Michael Cashman, a British Labour MEP representing the English region of the West Midlands, said. “I trust the athletes to speak out in Sochi, but I condemn sponsors like McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Visa for their continued support of the Games. I will boycott the sponsors, starting now, with Visa. Madame President, not in my name!” He then proceeded to pull out of his pocket a Visa Inc. (NYSE:V) card and a pair of scissors, cutting it in half.
Here's the video:
Now each of us has to figure out how WE can stand UP and have our voice heard, too!