Sunday, February 19, 2006


Siberian Logic

The word shaman comes from the language of the reindeer people of Siberia. To subdue these nomadic people who ranged from the Urals to Mongolia to the Arctic Circle, the Communist Party first exterminated the shamans.

The people there still enact an annual ritual of their souls flying to the sun on the backs of reindeer, which shamans sometimes accomplished by transforming themselves into reindeer, allowing themselves to also perform reconnaisance of the cosmos as well as the landscape and their herds of up to ten thousand animals.

After two generations of habituated cosmopolitanism by the Soviet bureaucracy, some tribes of reindeer people began to name some of their domesticated working reindeer after literary figures and heads of state. One dominating female, for instance, they called Margaret Thatcher. A more docile male, Sancho Panza. A stolid favorite, Chernomyrdin, after the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation.

When the human Chernomyrdin left the Kremlin, the reindeer herders killed his namesake. "Why waste resources herding an ex-Prime Minister?" they argued. "He stopped being a useful government contact, so we ate him."

We are enjoying reading The Reindeer People by Piers Vitebsky.


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