A crowd patiently waits, snaking around the dark halls of a small office. Some pace nervously while children bounce in laps. One’s first guess of this being an underequipped doctor’s office isn’t so far off. The clients who fill this busy room, who quickly enter and exit a small examination room, waiting for some mysterious physician, are turning to the traditional Kyrgyz practice of healing that was once forgotten during Soviet times. Rapakan Aidarkulova, a 63-year-old woman from Karakol near Lake Issyk Kul is just one healer playing an active part in this countrywide resurgence of traditional knowledge within Kyrgyzstan.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union more Kyrgyz are rediscovering once rigidly controlled and often forbidden traditional practices, turning to ancestral knowledge as a key to the past. These practices include pilgrimages to sacred sites known as Mazaars, soothsaying, treatment from traditional healers, and the reciting of oral histories in the form of the world’s large epic – Manas.
During the Soviet times, traditional practices were heavily restricted and believed to be strong expressions of nationalism that threatened stability within the republics. Under Party control, healers, soothsayers, and other traditional practitioners were forced to hide their abilities, practicing behind closed doors away from prying eyes.