Wandering in Other Worlds: Evenki Cosmology and Shamanic Traditions

We invite you, through this display and a 360 degree film (available to view online) to wander in another world, an Evenki world. Find out more about Evenki cosmology and shamanic tradition and how these relate to objects in the Pitt Rivers Museum. The Evenki are a diverse cultural group living across Northern and Central Asia. They are primarily reindeer-herding and hunting people, although in the steppes, Evenki took up horse herding, while in the Arctic, fishing became an important occupation. Adapting to change and living in harmony with nature has always been central to Evenki way of life.

The Evenki proverb ‘Baeye dunne toktan’ (‘Man is but a speck of dirt’) teaches us that humans are only a small piece of the puzzle of the natural world, charged with keeping balance with other beings. Animals, plants, the sun, the moon, the stars, rivers, forests and mountains all have spirits, which humans must respect and honour in order to live in reciprocity and to prosper. The forest fires raging through the Siberian taiga each year, a result of global climate change, are an indication of global imbalance. We have not kept up our responsibilities to the natural world, and suffer the consequences of environmental disturbances, making life in the taiga increasingly difficult for Evenki today.

In 2019, artist Anya Gleizer, researcher Pablo Fernandez Velasco and anthropologist Jaanika Vider journeyed to Evenkia in the Siberian Arctic, retracing the route of an expedition led by anthropologist Maria Czaplicka in 1914–15. Using a VR headset and digital versions of the Museum’s collections, the team hoped to learn more about the objects Czaplicka had brought to Oxford a century before. Swiping through photographs on an iPad and visiting Oxford via the VR headset, locals in Chirinda and Tura shared their stories with them. Anya worked with elders and children in Evenki communities, sharing 360-degree video technology as a means for them to record these stories. This collaborative exhibition, curated by Alexander Varlamov, Galina Veretnova and Anya Gleizer, emerged from those friendships made in 2019.

Acknowledgements and Credits

  • Exhibition curated by Alexander Varlamov, Galina Veretnova and Anya Gleizer with support from Faye Belsey, Zena McGreevy, and Jaanika Vider 
  • Conservation by Andrew Hughes, Jennifer Mitchell and Jeremy Uden
  • Object photography by Henrietta Clare and Malcolm Osman
  • Print design by Alan Cooke
  • Case installation by Alan Cooke and Josh Rose
  • Digital content by Anya Gleizer, Galina Veretnova and See More film studio with support from Katherine Clough
  • Special thanks to the Evenki Council of Elders and members of the Evenki community
  • Supported by the Bertha Foundation