Autobiographies and Family Trees

This video collection hosts interviews with Kalmyks who talk about themselves, their families and their clans.

In Kalmykia, autobiographies are not only stories about one's life but they often include details about the narrator's clan, relatives, parents, ancestors and native land. Convergence of personal and tribal/clan identities can be seen not only from autobiographies but also from daily activities and interactions such as greetings. Traditionally, a Kalmyk greeting between strangers begins with a standard question kenyakhnyavt? (which clan/lineage do you belong to?) to which a usual reply includes information about one's lineage, clan, its name, attributes, and merits. Here is an example: Kokshn Chakchi sekuste, manla gidg gurmte, Nogan Derk khurlta, Eej Avgatan gidg urata, Ik Bagud gidg uls bidn (Our spirit protector is the ancient Chakchi, our mantra is manla, our temple is that of Green Tara, our totem is Eej Avgatan and I am myself from the clan of Iki Bagud). Only after that, the respondent provides his/her proper name and other personal information. As knowledge of kinship is considered very valuable, from an early age the Kalmyks are encouraged to memorise their family trees -- which include the names of male relatives only -- and their clan and lineage affiliations.


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