“We Cannot Pray without Kumyshka”: Alcohol in Udmurt Ritual Life


  • Eva Toulouze Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales
  • Laur Vallikivi University of Tartu


rituals, alcohol, gender, historical change, animism, Udmurts


We trace the history of the uses of the alcoholic drink known as kumyshka among the Udmurt. Our focus is on kumyshka’s ritual uses both in public and domestic contexts in the second half of the 19th century, the early 20th century as well as the early 21st century. We suggest that kumyshka not only represents a site of resistance to the dominant religious regime, i.e. Russian Orthodoxy, but is also a tool for self-enhancement and identity making for this indigenous people in the Volga River basin in Central Russia. The consumption of kumyshka has been a frequent object of criticism in the accounts of Orthodox clergy, scholars, doctors, travellers and administrators. Most accounts reflect a moralising stance, which only occasionally reflects the local understandings behind its uses. As anthropologists working in the region, we compare these historical sources with the current practices. We discuss changes in the religious sphere as well as in gender roles related to the uses of kumyshka.


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