Rivalry and Solidarity among Uyghur Healers in Kazakhstan

in Inner Asia
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Abstract

The article explores popular rituals among residents of a poor neighbourhood in Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan. It focuses on the activities of Uyghur healers who mediate between humans and the spirit world. These inspirational practices are so thoroughly intertwined with Islamic symbols and assumptions that simply to label them shamanistic is inadequate and certainly unacceptable to the actors themselves. The efflorescence of healing activities among the Uyghur in the changed political and economic climate of post-Soviet Central Asia demonstrates continuities with past practices, which have some of their roots in ancestor cults. Invention of tradition is compatible with inventive strategies on the part of the healers, who are competing in a lucrative market. The success of individual healers depends on a number of interrelated factors, including intra-group divisions in the Uyghur diaspora in Kazakhstan, particularly that which separates early arrivals from more recent migrants.

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