THE BURYATS more  -->

The Buryats are a group of peoples who prior to the arrival of Russian influence in Siberia were a nomadic herding people. They spoke a Mongol language and initially showed a strong resistance to Russian settlement. There are representations of two Buryat groups in the museum. The first is an exhibit featuring eight sided wooden yurts (interior support structure shown here) used by Western Buryats during the 19th century.Yurts are the traditional houses of the Buryat peoples.

The yurt interior features seats for honoured guests, wife's and husband's quarters, and household equipment such as these birch bark baskets. There is a Russian style oven near the yurt. This may represent Russian influence in Western Buryat life. The second Buryat group represented in the museum is the Eastern Buryats. Unlike the Eastern Buryats who practiced Buddhism, the Western Buryats were converted to Christianity. The full exhibit features a winter house and a summer yurt of a well-to-do Eastern Buryat, two felt yurts and a datsan or small Buddhist temple. The majority of Eastern Buryats became followers of Buddhism.

From the 13th to the 17th century, the area now known as the Buryat Autonomous Republic was part of the Mongolian empire. As the Buryat peoples were nomadic their movements, and their contacts resulted in shared cultural and linguistic traits with the Mongolians and shared religious traits with Tibetan Buddhists. An example of cultural acceptance and tolerance can be noted in Tsarina Elizabeth's 18th century official recognition of Buddhism as a religion in Russia. This official recognition increased the visible Buddhist presence in the region and it is estimated that there were 47 temples or datsans functioning in the region by the 19th century.

Unfortunately, this would not continue to be the case. During the 1930's the Buryat culture and the Buddhist religion were heavily persecuted by the repressive Stalinist regime. Many temples were destroyed or overtaken for use for official state purposes. Recent years have seen the resurgence and strengthening of Buryat traditional culture. Despite their complicated past Russians and Buryats live in an atmosphere of peaceful co-existence unmarked by much of the severe ethnic tension and violence found in other regions of Russia. Indeed, the Buryat Buddhist community was host to visits from Tyenzin Gyatsu, the 14th Dalai Lama in both 1991 and 1993. This Tibetan-style datsan was transferred from the Gusinoozersk Buddhist Monastery.