Regenerating Life in the Face of Predation

A Study of Mortuary Ritual as Sacrifice among the Siberian Chukchi

in Sibirica
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  • 1 Aarhus University
  • 2 Aarhus University
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Abstract

This article describes in detail a mortuary ritual among the Chukchi of Northern Kamchatka and points to its remarkable affinity with an ideal-typical reindeer sacrifice. We argue that this connection between human cremation and sacrifice plays a key role in the people’s attempt to maintain and ensure continuation of their particular kind of life in a cosmos that is replete with numerous other, mostly hostile, life forms. The article describes all stages of the ritual and contextualizes the ritual in the literature on sacrifice. We argue that seeing Chukchi mortuary rituals as a way of transforming any death into a blood sacrifice calls into question well-established understandings of sacrifice as a means of diverting human violence. We suggest that ritual blood sacrifice may instead be seen as a way of protecting the sacrificial victim against violent forces and in doing so, securing the well-being of the community as a whole.

Contributor Notes

Jeanette Lykkegård is a PhD scholar at School of Culture and Society, Aarhus University. Her current research is on contemporary Chukchi lifeways in Northern Kamchatka, with a special interest in existential questions of religion, death, and the aporia of how to live.

Rane Willerslev is professor of anthropology, Aarhus University. He is the author of Soul Hunters: Hunting, Animism and Personhood among the Siberian Yukaghirs (2007) and On the Run in Siberia (2012). He is also the editor (with Christian Suhr) of Transcultural Montage (2013); (with Ton Otto) of Value as Theory (Special issue of HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 2013); and (with Dorthe Refslund Christensen) of Taming Time, Timing Death: Social Technologies and Ritual (2013).

Sibirica

Interdisciplinary Journal of Siberian Studies

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