Accepted paper:

Animals in Kyrgyz ritual economy


Nathan Light (Uppsala University)

Paper short abstract:

Kyrgyz village life involves many rituals. Feasts associated with life-cycle events depend upon animals for hospitality and for gift transactions. Other ritual feasts are central to religious, neighbourhood, and economic groups. Production and consumption of animals link economic and ritual life.

Paper long abstract:

Post-Soviet Kyrgyz village economies have undergone radical changes, first with a return to subsistence agriculture, and then with new modes of market participation. The pastoral economy has devolved from collectivized production to more exclusively household-based production, but raising animals remains central to Kyrgyz village economics. Animals are important for subsistence, loans, savings, gifts, hospitality, and are central to transactions in the ritual economy. Most families hold animals in reserve for gifts and to slaughter and consume when they host ritual feasts. Families also loan animals when associates need them for rituals. Despite the importance of crops for subsistence and income, animals symbolize wealth and the ability to participate in community events. Successful feasts for religious, life cycle and community rituals depend upon having access to the necessary animals: social ties are drawn upon to get the animals, and hospitality in the events themselves strengthens social ties for exchanges in the future. The market economy is based on immediate equivalent return, while the ritual economy depends upon trust and long-term ties that are reproduced across many exchanges, but may involve considerable delay and not be equivalent. However, ritual relationships are valued because they are durable and flexible, and contribute to one's status in the community. Animals and rituals hence provide economic stability that is not found in markets in Kyrgyzstan.

panel W120
Economy and ritual