Inga Shepeleva: The Bear Festival/hebeerin/
Inga Shepeleva
It is difficult to return to the stages that inevitably took their place in the formation of your own language and voice, it is difficult to talk about what has already become a pillar of subjectivity, which is inextricably linked with what I call myself now – a person, an artist.
However, rethinking past experiences is useful, though painfully difficult.

I shot the cycle of video-poetic works "The Bear Festival" or "hebeerin" in 2017-2018, it was my first experience with video, for the first time I looked at the matter of my own poetic text from the outside, broke out of the sticky structure of reflections and literary practices; outside, I tried to rework my experience on my own, while returning to the roots, which is important in this context.

Because re-awareness is always the pain of detachment, and there is no way to do without help here. Then, at the breaking point, I unconsciously turned to the world familiar from childhood – to the world of spirits, to the mythology of the Yakut people, among whom I was born and grew up. This is an interesting shift – something that would seem to repel a white man living in a metropolis, for me, turned out to be a necessary helping hand – the hand of the earth, the hand of all the upper and lower worlds. The Yakuts have a firm belief that the spirits of their ancestors take part in our life, help us. When I was writing this cycle, I addressed my ancestors directly, told them, “Look, here I am, help me understand who I am.” And they helped.

In some sense, I was singing what I saw. And transferred thoseimages to the screen as they were - here is a girl, here is a hunter, here are warriors, here is a forest and again a girl, she froze in ignorance, but here is a spirit - and it helps her, tells her “don’t be afraid, my poor baby.” And she is not afraid anymore, she opens her eyes. Nothing complicated, nothing special, but everything around sings and the earth sings, accepting me – I felt like I was sacrificing myself with the tacit consent of the higher powers and I was reborn right there, I opened my eyes, I moved into a new medium, I found a new instrument. This is how the directing, visual, dramatic art was invested in me, so the film sprouted from the poetic image, like a blueberry bush, like pale moss, like a strong northern mushroom or a dwarf birch tree. To some extent, I have gained a future vision, made the transition - and all thanks to this cycle.

Therefore, the Bear Festival is a great rite of many northern peoples, its sympathetic, fragile celebration on the remains of a slain animal, its worship of the forces of nature. The elegant head of the slain bear, neatly distributed entrails, decorations of the head, offerings to it, performing scenes for it, singing songs, dancing. And at the same time, as if endless circling around, covering up traces. We killed you, bear, but it wasn't us. We're eating you, bear, thank you, but it's not us. The balance in nature is so complex and finely tuned – the earth's scales tremble all the time, they are unstable. The spirit of the forest is kind to us today, and tomorrow it will sweep everything around with a terrible paw. Therefore, we dance on tiptoe, sing in a whisper and pretend that we are not us. We call ourselves by other names. In some sense, we understand that we are small, we are children. We have an eye on us, so we try to match. And at the same time, we, with our entire being, sink into the heart of nature, reading its slightest breath, because that is the only way we are alive.

Please look at me, but don't look closely. I'll be wearing a mask, I'll be speaking in someone else's voice. That way I'll be protected. I’m talking to the ancestors, I’m talking to the forest bear man, I’m talking to the hunter, I’m talking to the forest - I’m putting cookies on the stump, I’m feeding the fire, I’m talking to the supreme deity - the White Lord Creator. I’m telling him “look at me, but don't look at me, enter me, but leave yourself.” In a sense, this is the prayer before the jump. An implicit murmur - head bowed or tilted up towards the pale northern sky. This is a ritual game, the goal of which is to find yourself in a maze of three pines. And perhaps its main goal is to learn to be grateful to all the forces that lead you and not to be afraid. Because the main thing that the land of my ancestors taught me is to respect everything around you - on earth, underground, and in the sky - and then nothing is scary.
sibekki kharangany tulyauibattar
/flowers are scared of dark/


i let you take me by the hand
I draw boundaries
what you see is not me yet
what you're holding by the hand —
a crucified fell, trampoline
ritual
it is not me yet

the time goes by
my hands find nothing in you
what one could take in a handful
and throw away
the anxiousness gives me no rest
no pain, no hands, no love totems
no closeness, no unhappiness
there's nothing but boundaries
between something and something
accidental connections
fells, fire, elongated blades of stone knives
you hold me inside of you
but this is not me
burnt games, a bed in the snow
try, sew two halves of my flag together
try, take my hand
when there's no leash on it
no rope, no wet sleeve
try, take my hand
when i'm emptiness itself
the boundaries of what I call myself
made of thick ice
oghom syyha, kuttanyma
/ don't be scared, my poor child/

i'm scared that every love will pass and there's no salvation
i see in a dream, how yakuts have stretched a fell
and are tossing up the shaman
he's flying and casting the spell
oghom syyha, kuttanyma
/ don't be scared, my poor child/


my totems are the sleeves of love
my totems are hands, light and tears
sacred animals of war
shamans-roses have bloomed
sibekki kharangany tulyauibattar
/flowers are scared of dark/
It’s not true
our bonfire is built of ice
a fire is burning at the river bottom
a fire afar
sun is descending upon the valleys' bottom
It’s not true, don't be scared of anything
a flower, a nightmare

the transparent old man-oyhun
the shaman on an outstretched fell
is heralding the beginning of the great holiday
of living nature of fearlessness
they haven’t invited me to the holiday of cold
because those moved by fear won't survive in snows
they are cast out into icy desert
laughed at from behind
oghom syyha, kuttanyma
/don't be scared, my poor child/

I'm scared because every love passes
and there's no salvation
I'm scared so much that in place of the eyes
holes will be left
reminiscences will close the doors
and I will fall asleep alone
oghom syyha, kuttanyma
/don't be scared, my poor child/
yuryung ayiih-toyon
/white lord the creator/

lord, I’ve trailed off
keep my secrets
don't pass by
lord, I've unclenched my hugs
the impossible world's flown away

sun, you're a tambourine
my heart is a maul
all these occurrences I’m burning for
in the fabled hell
all these occurrences –
are coins, iron plates
multicolored shreds
adornments on your costume
lord, shaman
relative, congener, holy seal
don't turn around, become me

I'm tingling like a tambourine
I'm tingling like my mistakes
gathering needles in a big forest
I’m looking at the wallpapers
calling and calling you
but you don’t pick the phone up
you are my lover, you are a stone in my stomach
all clouds and dawns and accidental pain –
are adornments on your costume

lord, I've stopped talking
see, all my secrets are revealed
the heart is coated with wax
the blood has dried up and doesn’t boil
the world is covered with deer skin
adorned with simple metal
screaming like a whale
big seal, killer whale

lord, I don't allow to touch me
to interfere in my business
I gradually learn to think by myself
it's hard, but who am I
to retreat

I want you to love me long
great god
white lord of heavens
to bite off piece by piece
before and after dinner
I want you to hug me
with both hands
to grab me with ices, with ices
to tap on my shoulder with your wings
to pull me out of cold earth
to turn me into metal
I want you to adore me
genuine giant god
and to praise me, praise me all the time
to caress my head
with billion of stars

I want you to eat me up
to read a burial service, fondle me
to wipe all the countless dust
off my lips, off the oars of spring, to show concern
to take me onto a new plane
to bless with wings
to pull me out of swamp
I want you to devour
my humanity
for a scandal to happen in the skies
I want you to love me the way
any man has dreamt of
great god
I want you to not let me go
to not let me be myself
to be stricter with me
I would work fucking hard like an ox
I would become a metal
in human skin

yakuts say that my messengers visit you
spirits similar to monsters in children's drawings
tell about my actions
cover their mouths with palms
yakuts say you laugh at us
in your transcendent world
with other gods
they say it's all the same to you
it's very funny, isn't it
even monsters are like animation heroes
even sufferings are cinematographic
souls of men — little people, insects
yesterday I was sitting, holding a phone
and was listening to the way you were keeping silent
you're keeping silent because you want to become me
when you'll start laughing inside of me
casting spells inside the heart, a spring will rise
become me, blow my fire
water the tongues of merciless thirst
with your boundless love
with thaw water
hebeerin
/bear festival/

1.
do as you wish
the bear says
and lets me go, merely the branches are ahead
I wonder, what’s better: branches or death
bloody traces, lessons of death

(from the mythological perspective northern peoples consider bear as a god dying and reviving, cultural hero, ancestor, totem, guarding spirit, healing spirit, sacred or sacrificial animal, incarnation of soul, benefactor, animal twin of a man, shaman’s help-mate, his zoomorphic dimension and soul, werewolf, etc.)

2.
he grabs the moss with beasty paw
the water is beneath, cervine trace is shivering
thin ice is glittering, now look ahead
if there’s a bear who's standing waiting
there is a bear, no, there is no bear
there is a bear licking off the honey
from islands overgrown with heaven, from real meanings
from eyes extinguished and symbols of the people gone long time ago
from sisters' tears calling from the graves
if there is a bear who stands awaiting for the round dance
who touches birch with lips of his
(what are you doing there, come
come here, come to me, pull bloody trace
along the tuffets of familiar graves, along the hills of parents gone away)


(the bear’s feast or khebeerin consisted of several parts - ritual hunting, bulk flaying and delivering it to the village where the bear was treated like a guest with gifts and food and drinks,
excusing rituals, odes to bear as an ancestor or relative, animal or bird dances, dramatic staging, ritual cooking of bear’s meat and repast for everyone, rituals of burying bones. keeping the pelt, skull, pieces of face, teeth and paws as sacred).


3.
do as you wish
the bear says
but I don't know, I am a roach, a copper
I’m waiting to be taught and forced
I'm walking full of fear shouting “yoo-hoo”
rules are unknown to me
I'm a black sheep, the other side
a farewell bush, a heaven’s branch
I am a man, a meat, a grub
the bear says to me:
come here, girl, you little Masha, daughter of the woods
an orphan insect, northern bitch
I’ll fall in love with you, you I’ll swing you like a branch
I’ll eat you, braid you into aspen's pain, I will disjoint you into the shade of leaves
I’ll torture you, will make you going round

(a head of the killed bear was called «esekeen» and placed on the special table situated at the noble corner. while feeding, the nose and the mouth of bear’s head were rubbed by cow’s butter and bear’s blood and fat were flattered into the fire. while doing this all the yacouts were crying in chorus «huuh!» sometimes the cry was accompanied by arms waving like wings. it meant that crows are feasting on bear’s meat, not people).


4.
do as you wish
the bear says
and lets me go, merely the branches are ahead, hollows are
ahead, there are merely the eyes, the branches, streams and swish

just follow me, my bear, and stay quite inside
like all my conscience stay inside like shame, like fear
stay inside and roar
like cloud drift
like moss, like tear, like top of spruce
like trace of dear, like water

do as you wish
as you are used to do
the bear says so and let me go and nothing follows
no woods, no needles, nothing
just azure roaring of your voice
inhuman and alive


we'll celebrate and lush with fat
save up the warmth and hide the amulets under the tongues
delaminate accretions on the earth
wound the water with spear’s blade
the fate of bear, the secret fang, lake water
do as you wish, my girl
Igor Gulin on the "Bear Festival” by Inga Shepeleva
What to do when a poem is written? Words are found, intimate experience of body and soul is pronounced, but it still requires further care and concern. Every writer faces this question. The text is doomed to the common grave of a literary magazine or to an indifferent post on social networks. It cannot be saved. The further life of a poetic text in the modern cultural reality devalues the forces invested in it. There are authors who work directly with this logic of indifference, making it their tool. Inga Shepeleva is not one of those. Experiencing this doom of poetry - and with it the doom of personal experience - she arranges a magnificent funeral for the text.

An intimate experience surely is not so individual - it all consists of the general, of the requirements of society and gender, the animal world and the spiritual world - of the voices of modern politics and ancient tradition. But it seems that the pain of Shepeleva's poetry is not in the excessive demands of these voices, but on the contrary in their insufficiency, in their muffledness, almost indifference. A poet is someone who is not heard and who is not spoken to. Therefore, in Shepeleva’s art, the voice is so important, sound is a reproach to this logic. The world of modern cultural production demands to sacrifice the voice, sacrificing it for the sake of sweet totality. Inga's video project is a kind of sacrifice, in which the anxiety of an archaic ritual is combined with the neutrality of gallery video art, a dark chthonic element with the glamorous brilliance of fashion shooting, the passionate burning of individual speech with the lulling flow of ethno-electronics. Like any sacrifice, the goal here is to kill and save.

Encyclopedic information about the bear festival (website "History of Yakutsk" (www.yakutskhistory.net ):

Bear Festival (mans. yany pike — "big dances", nivkh, chkhyf lerand — "bear game") is a complex of rituals associated with the cult of the bear. The ceremonies are accompanied by playing musical instruments, ritual, entertaining dances, and singing. Conventionally, the bear festival consists of several parts: ritual, in compliance with all the rules and prohibitions of hunting or staged hunting for a bear grown for this (sometimes keeping a bear skin for the holiday), in compliance with the rules, prohibitions and rituals of skinning it, delivery of the skinned carcass and skin with head to the village, where the bear was greeted as a guest, gifted and treated, the so-called apologetic rites (taking the blame for the murder on the "Russian gun", and for eating meat - on crows); praising the beast as an ancestor of the genus, phratry or relative (bear folklore); animal and bird dances, dramatic scenes and dramatizations, in some cases - sports competitions; ritual preparation of bear meat and meals; burial ceremonies of bones, skulls, designed to revive the bear; storing skins, skulls, minks (parts of the muzzle), lips and paws as sacred. There are myths about how the rituals of the bear festival originated. The Evenk myth tells about a girl who went into the forest, fell into a bear's den and spent the winter there. In the spring, she returned to her parents and gave birth to a bear cub which they raised. Later, the girl married a man and gave birth to a boy. Both brothers grew up and decided to measure their strength. The younger brother (the man) killed the older (the bear). Dying, the bear told how to hunt him and how to bury him. In the myths of the Khanty and Mansi, the bear, who gave birth to two cubs and a girl, says to her daughter: "People will come tomorrow. They will kill me, your brother and sister, and they will take you with them. When people cook my meat, don't eat it, but come to the back corner of the house at night." And so it happened. At the appointed place, the girl met a mother bear, who instructed her for three nights how to behave and how to deal with meat and bones.
The Kets have Kaigus - a bear who wants to marry a girl and kidnaps her. But being pursued, he releases the girl and tells her what to do for his rebirth after death. The cult of the bear (special attitude, worship, service to him) is characteristic of all the peoples of the North, but the bear festival is only for a part of them. Conventionally, three main variants of the bear festival can be distinguished: 1 - of a general nature (conditionally), characteristic of the Evenks, Evens, Kets, northern Yakuts, etc., 2 - Ob-Ugric (among the Khanty and Mansi), 3 - Amur-Sakhalin (among the Nivkhs, Ulchi, Udege, Orochi, Oroks). The first variant is most vividly represented among the Evenks and Kets. It is timed to bear hunting, and the main thing in it is the meal. Bear meat is eaten at night during the whole holiday (up to three days), and in between meals they arrange dances, games, and singing. Among the Evenks, the bear was killed by the oldest of the hunters, and skinned by his cousin-in-law (nimak). Removing the skin from the bear's head along with the cervical vertebrae, they said: "Grandfather (grandmother), we will take off our fur coat, there are a lot of ants running around, they will bite." The fat was separated, divided between families, the carcass was delivered to the village on sledges, which were then broken. In the village, they continued to skin the hunted animal: they cut off the head, took out the lungs, heart, liver, eyes, cut out the ears, tongue, nose, genitals (they were kept until the end of the holiday). To acquire the properties of a bear, the nimak, a relative of the hunter, ate raw meat. Bonfires were lit near a large tree. On the first day, the neck part was cooked. Young people played, danced and led round dances. At midnight, the "cry of the raven" heralded the beginning of the meal. They ate in silence by the fire and dispersed. On the second day, finely chopped hearts and entrails were cooked, meat was cooked in other cauldrons. The young people were having fun again, leading round dances. After midnight, the "cry of the raven" was heard again, everyone answered "the bird", smeared their faces with soot and, calling each other ‘oli’ (raven), sat around the fire. Nimak handed out spoons and let the vessel with the heart and entrails go around in a circle. They ate bear meat only having returned to their chums. On the third day, they continued to cook meat and performed rituals with the head and genitals of the bear, the meat from the head was eaten at midnight. The skull was wrapped in birch bark and buried. The bear skin was received by nimak (in return, he gave a deer to the hunter), it was fumigated and kept in the family along with the shrines. The paw was hung in the chum as a talisman or given to the shaman to make a mallet. The Khanty and Mansi bear holidays were not only sporadic (on the occasion of a successful bear hunt), but also periodic.
In the distant past, when killing a bear, the ancestor of the Por phratry, and eating its meat was forbidden, obviously, only periodic holidays were held, to which only members of the Por phratry were allowed. Over time, when the prohibitions weakened, outsiders and later foreigners were allowed to attend the holiday. To revive the beast and divert the guilt, they began to hunt for a bear, eat its meat and hold sporadic bear festivals. Periodic holidays - "bear games" were held in winter for seven years, followed by a seven-year break. They began in December, with the winter solstice, and ended in March, during the spring equinox. At first, they played for four nights in a row, then after 5-7 days of a break during January and February - for 1-2 nights, as people gathered from the surrounding villages. At the beginning of March, they played for seven nights, and before the full moon the games ended. The celebration took place in the center of the Por phratry - Vezhakory village on the Ob. The bear was represented by its skin, which was usually kept in the sacred barn. The first part of the holiday included songs, tales about the bear and the origin of the Por people, ancestral dances. The "bear songs" told about the origin of the bear, the establishment of rituals. Then followed the sacred part — "invocation songs" and "bird dances", during which they addressed common deities, summoned ancestors, and men performed dances with sabres or swords. However, songs and interludes were also instructed to be performed by men dressed in special costumes (foxes, roosters, cranes, etc.), with birch bark and wooden masks on their faces. Costumes and accessories of the holiday (sabres, swords, etc.) were stored in a sacred barn or in a special public house — a "dancing hut". On the last night of the festival, sacred performances were played, depicting the main spirits - the Great Spirit, Kaltash-Ekva, Mir-Susne-Hum, and dances dedicated to them were performed. Traditional dances and interludes depicted the confrontation of the bear, the ancestor of the Por phratry, and the Crane, representing the Mos phratry.

The bear and all those present were also attacked by mosquitoes, an owl, a fire fox, and a raven. The fire fox dance was performed in winter clothes, to which a tail of straw was tied. During the dance, the tail was set on fire - this was supposed to lead to the purification of the premises and the participants of the holiday. They danced and sang to the accompaniment of a five-stringed musical instrument sangultap. The final episode of the holiday is the arrival of the seven forest spirits - the Mankvos (spirits of the Por phratry) for a redemptive sacrifice in the form of two wooden figures of a man and a woman. They were taken to a secret sanctuary and burned. Later, this rite took the form of a puppet show. The dolls acted as antagonists of the bear, and the death of the doll, which ended the performance, was perceived as a redemptive sacrifice. If a male bear was killed, then the bear festival of the Ob Ugrians lasted five nights, if a female bear - four, and if a bear cub - then 2-3 nights (the same number of "bear songs" were performed at the beginning of the festival). The sporadic festival is a shortened version of the periodic one. It had more entertainment elements. When the bear carcass was brought to the village, a purification ceremony was held: in summer everyone was doused with water, in winter they were covered with snow.
The festival took place in the house of the hunter who got the bear. The skin with the head and paws were put in the front corner on the table in a sacrificial position — the head was placed on outstretched paws. The bear's head was covered with a handkerchief, birch bark mugs or coins were placed over its eyes, and paws were decorated with rings and ribbons. Treats were placed in front of the head, dough figures depicting sacrificial deer (deer and horses were sacrificed earlier), and smoking chaga for fumigation. Everyone who came to the celebration bowed to the bear, kissed its paw (women - through a handkerchief). At the festival, they sang songs about the bear, its life in the forest, and how it was hunted. The rites of "renunciation" occupied an important place: hunters turned to the bear and said that they were not to blame for its death. At first, the blame was assigned to the members of the Mos phratry, and later - to foreigners ("Russian weapons are to blame"). For several nights they performed bear folklore, dances, songs and performances - dramatizations in masks (tuli lap). They had both sacred and entertaining significance. All roles, including female ones, were performed by men. The women danced, covering their faces and hands from the bear with a large handkerchief. The scenes depicting braggarts, cowards, thieves, lazy people, and slovens were of an edifying and satirical nature. Any person, including those present at the holiday, could become the object of the interlude. No one took offense at the actors. Moreover, the well-known actors were kind of anonymous: when they returned to the house after performing and changing clothes, the owner asked them: "People were having fun here, where were you all evening?" To which they replied: "We do not know this at all: we were sleeping soundly all the time."


The culmination of the holiday is a performance with rag dolls attached to the legs of an artist lying on his back, or with wooden figures controlled by a musician playing the sangultap. Bear meat was eaten only on the last night of the holiday. It was cooked only by men, in a special place and in special cauldrons. They ate with their hands or special sticks (metal objects could not be used), the bones were divided by joints. Men ate meat from the front of the carcass, women - from the back. (The men cooked the head, paws and heart later, in the forest, and ate separately). During the meal, they croaked like crows, taking the blame away from themselves. They said: "The crows have come, the crows are eating." Then they cleaned themselves up: they poured water over them, lighting shavings, captured the flame with their mouths, held their hands over the fire, and tapped their teeth with the blade of a knife. After that, a man with a burning tinder walked around all corners of the dwelling and shouted like a bird; opened the door, "kicking" the birds out into the street — the house was cleared of violators of the ban. Then they turned off the lights and pretended to fall asleep. A voice was heard: "To the upper spirit rises" (bear). The bones of the bear were buried in a forest or lake, the skull was hung on a high stump or kept wrapped in a handkerchief in a sacred chest. The Amur-Sakhalin bear festival was also held periodically or on the occasion of a successful bear hunt. It is most vividly represented in the Nivkh. Members of the family, led by the oldest hunter, participated in the bear hunt. He sat on the back of a killed bear and shouted: "Oo-oo-oo-oo!" three times if a male bear was killed, and four times if a female one. To appease the beast, tobacco was put in his left ear. After skinning the carcass, they brought it to the village — they carried it headfirst, warning their relatives by shouting. The women greeted the bear by playing on a musical log. The carcass was placed in the barn, the skin with the head - on the platform, where the bones, skulls, and genitals of the previously hunted bears were already stored. Hunting equipment was piled up in the same place. They put all kinds of treats, fried bear meat was distributed to those present. The meal was accompanied by playing on a musical log.


Much more, the Amur peoples have developed a ritual of a periodic bear festival - with a caged bear, which was held in January-February, during the full moon. On the one hand, it was associated with a fishing cult (accompanied by a ritual of feeding the owners of the land, forest and mountains), on the other, with a wake for a deceased relative, whose soul allegedly passed into a bear. The bear cub found in the forest was raised for three years in a cage. The hostess even breastfed him at first, calling him "son". The holiday was divided into several stages: 1 - making sacred shavings of inau, 2 - killing a bear, 3 - placing the head of the beast on the platform, 4 - feeding guests with bear meat, 5 - sacrificing dogs, 6 - departure of guests. On the appointed day, the bear's owner poured wine to the house spirit and asked him to excuse him for not being able to keep the bear anymore, although he treated him well all the time. Then, with the guests, he went to the cage and treated the animal. The bear was taken around the village, he was joyfully greeted in every house, treated to fish, special jelly made of fish skin, wine, and it was also bowed to — this was supposed to bring prosperity to the house. To the sounds of a musical log, everyone danced, pantomiming the bear's future journey to the ancestors. Then the son-in-law (or sons-in-law) killed the bear on a specially prepared site ("shooting range"). The bear was skinned, the skin with the head was lowered into the house through the smoke hole. Dogs were sacrificed. They began to treat themselves to cooked dishes. Between meals there were dances, dog races, fencing on sticks, archery, women played on a musical log. Bear meat was cooked on the fire, made with the help of a family fire, it was taken out with a special scoop with the image of a bear, and then served in wooden ladles made for the celebration. The bear's head and meat were decorated with inau shavings. The bones were collected and given to the owners, attaching some kind of gift to them (a spear, a knife, a belt, even dogs, women - a cup of food). All the gifts, along with the bones, were allegedly sent to "forest people" - bears. Before the end of the festival, the old men sat all night near the skull of the bear, talked to it, and ate ritual dishes. The skulls were stored in a barn or on a tree, and in spring and autumn, starting the hunt, they were "fed". The bear festival of the peoples of the North combined elements of totemism (rituals of the bear revival - the ancestor and master of animals) and the hunting cult. It also reflects the widespread myth of the dying and resurrecting beast.