Workshop for sacred site guardians and pilgrims, 2005


Date:  September 29, 30 – October 1,2, 2005
Place: “Jyluu Suu” (Warm Springs) sanatorium, Bishkek , Kyrgyzstan
Language: Kyrgyz


This participatory workshop became a direct consequence of participation of three representatives of Aigine RC in the wonderful conference in Kenya dedicated to mapping issues.

Aigine RC was interested in the development of a map of mazars of Talas oblast since the very beginning. Pursuant to this goal in April 2005 the students – members of theorkng group – underwent training in basic mapping methods. Since then, the students have regularly worked on the creation of the map. These students and our experts worked on the development of the map; the custodians and visitors were involved in this process primarily as informants, but not as developers of the map.

After trip to Kenya, following the presentations of such specialists as Robert Chambers, there emerged a need to involve Shaiyks [mazar’s custodians] and visitors in the development of map concept and to discuss with them the need in the development of a map in general, as well as other issues, including those of ethical nature. That was the main reason for conducting a workshop at Jyluu Suu.


  • 13 Shaiyks and visitors from Talas oblast
  • 3 students of the Talas State University
  • Regional coordinator
  • 5  graduates and students of the American University of Central Asia
  • Nathan Light, a teacher at the Anthropology Department of AUCA was invited to the conference as an observer.

This workshop was based on the methodology that had been used in Kenya: break out in groups, work according to the ‘snowball’ system in each group and presentation of each group work at the general session. Aigine RC also added one component to the “Kenyan” model: every group presentation at the general session was discussed once more, adjusted and a common position was developed.

Such methodology allowed us to: a) discuss a big block of questions; b) make this discussion very intricate; c) get each participant involved in the discussion; and d) seek common points in debates.

Description: All discussed issues were based on the field materials. Some of them had been discussed to different extent during the previous seminars, but required greater evidence, clarification or logical completion. For instance, they included such issues as:

  • The connection between “Kyrgyzchylyk” and mazars, the main components of “Kyrgyzchylyk”
  • Why the cult of mazars remains a live tradition for Kyrgyz culture
  • The healing practice at mazars
  • The code of behaviour at mazars

Some questions were discussed for the first time:

  • What goals should the map of mazars serve
  • Biological and ecological features of mazars
  • Possibilities for introducing classes on mazars to the system of secondary school education .

The substantive value of the workshop in Jyluu Suu was high. Collectively we managed to develop quite a holistic and balanced vision on many issues.

A special value was represented by the participants themselves. So, the oldest participant – Sonun-apa is 84 years old. She is one of the oldest visitors of Talas mazars. Sonun-apa sat through all group work and panel presentations from the beginning to end. She was mostly silent, but, if in her opinion, an important point was missing, at the end she would take the floor and make the point. For instance, after a long discussion of the rules of mazar attendance, Sonun-apa took the floor and stated imperatively that due to shyness other participants, especially men, do not discuss one of the main rules of mazar attendance. Then she very clearly formulated this rule, so that it was possible to include it in the draft rules immediately.

The workshop at Jyluu Suu also had another objective: here we tested and improved the “Kenyan model” of conference combined with a participatory workshop. The model tested here was used at the final event in Talas a month and a half later.

Prepared by Dr. Gulnara Aitpaeva