Autobiographies and Family Trees

In Kalmykia, autobiographies are not only stories about one's life but they often include details about the narrator's kinsfolk, ancestors, and native home. Convergence of personal and tribal identities can be seen not only from autobiographies but also from daily activities and interactions such as greetings. Traditionally, a Kalmyk greeting between strangers begins with a standard question kenyahnyavt? 'which clan/family do you belong to?' to which a usual reply includes information about one's clan, its name, attributes, and merits. Here is an example: Kokshn Chakchi sekuste, manla gidg gurmte, Nogan Derk hurlta, Eej Avgatan gidg urata, Ik Bagud gidg uls bidn 'Our spirit protector is the ancient Chakchi, our mantra is manla, our temple is that of Green Tara, our totem is Eedzh Avgatan and I am from the clan of Iki Bagud'. Only after that the respondent provides his/her proper name and other personal information. As knowledge of kinship is considered very valuable, from an early age the Kalmyks are encouraged to memorize their family trees - which include the names of male relatives only - and their clan affiliation.

Ais Sandzhiev, Autobiography

Ais was born in Krasnoyarskiy krai in Siberia. When his family returned to Kalmykia, he went to secondary school in the village of Tsagan-Nur. After finishing school, he served in the Red Army and was posted to Czechoslovakia. Later he studied history at Kalmyk State University. Apart from two years when he worked in the police, Ais spent his career teaching history in secondary schools in Oktyabrskiy rayon. He is proud of his father who was also a teacher. Ais knows about his ancestors going back ten generations.


Badma Narmaev


Galina Ulanova, Evdokia Kikeeva, and Raisa Erendzhenova, Autobiographies


Sofia Lidzhi-Goryaeva, Family Tree


Telo Tulku Rinpoche, Autobiography