On Friday, the 14th of November, Aibek Samakov and I went on a six hour trip with destination Naryn. The aim of our stay there was to conduct as many interviews as possible with traditional healers within two days, because Aibek needed to go back to Bischkek on Sunday.
Arriving in the late evening in the city of Naryn, we were warmly welcomed by the family we were going to stay at the next days. Naryn oblast is the Kyrgyz oblast with the lowest average temperature throughout the year, its capital Naryn being situated in the Central Tien Shan, surrounded by its high peaks. Due to that fact I had been advertised by almost everyone whom I talked to about my plans to travel there, to pack the warmest clothes I had. Surprisingly, it is not that cold at our arrival and also throughout the next days the weather would be much more pleasant than expected, the outside temperature being sometimes even higher than inside the people’s homes.
On Saturday morning, just after seeing for the first time that the house we are staying at is beautifully situated next to a huge rock at daytime, we go to the house of Jakesh ata and his wife, an elderly couple in their seventies. Previous to our trip we had been told that Jakesh ata is a very knowledgeable man, being able to help us to find informants. Indeed, he tells us a lot about healing practices and healers back in his youth, where he used to visit healers often, especially because one of his children had a serious sickness and he had been trying everything in order to help his child. He describes that in earlier times a lot of молдо (kyrg. for mullah) had been healing and expelling djinns and that at the time when he was young many of them were so powerful that they could stop the flowing of the rivers and turn water into yoghurt. Even his father was a healer, but Jakesh ata regrets that he couldn’t learn healing from him, because it was forbidden under the Soviet reign to practice traditional healing openly and that’s why it had been so difficult for many of the knowledgeable healers to pass their knowledge. He concludes that there have been only a few really powerful and wise healers left, the new generation only slowly starting to regain the old knowledge. Nevertheless he admits that many practices are lost and the nowadays молдолор are not as powerful as they used to be in older times. He tells us about one табыб (type of healer, who is mostly healing with herbs) who used to live in a small village thirty kilometers from Naryn and healed him some time ago, about one fortune teller and about two ордо (“base”; gathering places of the ата жолы movement), located in Naryn.
We are accompanied by him to the apartment of the fortune teller (she calls herself БүБү), who agrees to have an interview with us. She has got a cloth in front of her, in which her utensils are wrapped, such as 41 stones and playing cards, with which she predicts. She opens it one time and closes it very quickly, but when we ask her to reopen it and explain to us, what the different objects mean, she is unwilling to do so. After fourty minutes a man comes in and she tells us to leave. When we ask her if we can come again later she replies “no, I think it’s enough”. The experience is a little bit disappointing, since a lot of questions have not been asked in that short time. In the afternoon we decide to leave for that little village, Jakesh ata told us of and try to find that healer, hoping that he still lives there. Fortunately, the taxi driver we are going with knows the man and drives us straightly to his house.
Sultanbek baike, the seventy year old табыб, is not at home, since he is a herdsman, going with his sheep every day. We are immediately invited by his son and daughter-in-law to stay at their house until the next day, since their father will come home late and there will be no possibility to get back to Naryn the same day. While having tea, we have the chance to talk to Almazbek, Sultanbek baikes son, who tells us about what religion means nowadays and how his father heals. We join him to a nearby мазар (sacred site), where a little spring is sited as well as some sacred bushes and trees. The place is surrounded by a brass wire fence and the bushes are burned down.
The reason for that is that five to six years ago some local молдо said the place would be inhabited by djinns and therefore burned down the bushes. He tells us that his father established a new mazar not far from that place and that the sacredness of the old site moved to the new one. Nevertheless it is still auspicious to drink from the little creek that comes out of the earth in that place. In the evening we finally meet Sultanbek baike, who is eager to answer all the questions I have. According to him he doesn’t mind at all to share his knowledge, unlike many other healers. He says that the knowledge needs to be transmitted in order to survive. Unfortunately, he agrees with Jakesh ata that most of the people keeping the old knowledge about healing practices are dead. He states that there is only one more woman, living in Kochkor, who is in fact really knowledgeable.
The next morning we leave again for Naryn where we visit one of the two ордо. Because it is Sunday, the акку (female practitioners who got their blessings directly from the Kazak founder of the movement) are all gone for the weekly pilgrimage, so we talk with three other members of the ordo who tell us about the general ideas of the movement. Later on we find out, while asking around in the Bazar, that there is one female табыб who works at the pharmacy. Since we can’t find her there, one of her colleagues gives us her address. She is living in one of the several Soviet-style blocks that can be found next to the main road throughout Naryn. That’s why it’s even more surprising that the first woman we meet in the stair platform is the one we are looking for. Since she saw in her dreams that we would be coming, she is not hesitating to speak about the way she became a healer and her healing practices. After this last interview it is eventually time to return to Bischkek.