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.

“Returning to traditional knowledge isn’t a surprise, because it’s our mentality, our lifestyle, we remain Kyrgyz, regardless of what regime we follow,” said healer Rapakan Aidarkulova.

At the moment, Aidarkulova, who is also a soothsayer reading into the futures of others, is mainly practicing traditional medicine, seeing a nearly endless stream of individuals at her office. She uses massage therapy and other methods to tap into her clients’ consciousness to solve their personal problems, which might range from infertility to impotence. Through the use of stones, pungent roots, old fashioned fire and a variety of other traditional healing tools, healers like Aidarkulova continue to treat believers as their ancestors have for hundreds of years.

As she starts her fertility ritual, Rapakan lights seven candles – a sacred number for the Kyrgyz people. Then, forming a ciricle with the candles, she begins saying a prayer, asking for spiritual guidance. As she finishes, Rapakan opens her eyes and takes her stones into her hands; she throws stones at the surface of the table and starts telling what is bothering her client and how the problem could be solved. Unlike ordinary doctors Rapakan isn’t a formally trained medical specialist, but she works with dozens of health problems, such as fertility issues, blood pressure, long-term illnesses, offering cures that clients report to be oddly successful.

Through what she believes to be gifts from a higher power Rapakan has treated thousands of clients and continues to read the future of many more.

“My visions of the future that I have thought as of intuition in the beginning have rapidly grown more, and I even fell into a trance while having lunch with my family, people around me were afraid of consequences,” says Rapakan.

“Spirits of my ancestors and great Kyrgyz people speak about unity and friendship, which are so necessary for our nation,” she added.

This post was originally posted on Sons of Hedin, a site aimed at ‘enhancing global understanding of Central Asia’.

Read more:
Twelve reasons to love Kyrgyzstan
Komuz: sound of goats, water, falling raindrops, racing horses
Spiritual practitioners pray for peace in Kyrgyzstan

About the author

Nargiza is a journalism student at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She has also studied in the USA as part of the Future Leaders Exchange programme. She speaks Kyrgyz, Russian and English.