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27 March 2011

Tilu Wgi (186?–?) shaman.

Tilu Wgi was a shaman among the reindeer-herding Chukchi of eastern Siberia.

Vladimir Bogoraz, the Russian anthropologist who observed Tilu Wgi in the 1890s, described her as physically 'wholly masculine and well developed besides'.

Nevertheless, with her hair done in the manner of Chukchi women, her face 'looked very different from masculine faces. ... All the ways of this strange creature were decidedly feminine. ... I heard her gossip with the female neighbours in a most feminine way, and even saw her hug small children with evident envy for the joys of motherhood’.

Tilu Wgi and her husband were hoping that she would "be able to equal the real soft men of old and to change the organs of her sex altogether". In the manner of Yirka'-la'ul, Tilu Wgi had the dominant say over her husband in that she was communicating with spirits. Once when her husband tried to chastize Tilu Wgi, she 'gave him so powerful a kick that it sent him foremost from their common sleeping room’.
  • Waldemar Bogoras. The Chukchee. American Museum of Natural History, 1909: 449.
  • Walter L. Williams. The Spirit And The Flesh: Sexual Diversity In American Indian Culture, Beacon Press 1986: 253-4.
  • Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer. "Sacred Genders in Siberia: Shamans, Bear festivals, and androgyny". In Sabrina P. Ramet (ed). Gender Reversals and Gender Cultures: Anthropological and Historical Perspectives. London: Routledge, 1996: 166-7.
  • Michael Berman. The Nature of Shamanism and the Shamanic Story. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007: 10.
    Gender variant shamans have probably been around for thousands of years, but most are not documented.   We know of Tilu Wgi because she attracted the attention of Vladimir Bogoraz who was exiled and living in north-east Siberia.  There were similar shamans among the Koryak, the Kamchadul and the Inuit.

    The Russians first encountered the Chukchis in 1643 as they expanded east.  In the 18th century the Tsar ordered that they be totally extirpated, but they fought back effectively, and after 1764, the Russians and the Chukchis traded peacefully.  In the 20th century the Chukchis evaded collectivization, and as late as the 1950s, large reindeer herds were still owned as per ancient practice.

    In the quotes from Bogoraz I have changed the pronouns referring to Tilu Wgi.  Bogoraz, writing first in Russian and then in English, used male pronouns.  However I don’t know from what I read what the Chukchi practice is.

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