Muslim Women of the Fergana Valley: A 19th-Century Ethnography from Central Asia

Muslim Women of the Fergana Valley: A 19th-Century Ethnography from Central Asia

Muslim Women of the Fergana Valley: A 19th-Century Ethnography from Central Asia

Muslim Women of the Fergana Valley: A 19th-Century Ethnography from Central Asia


Muslim Women of the Fergana Valley is the first English translation of an important 19th-century Russian text describing everyday life in Uzbek communities. Vladimir and Maria Nalivkin were Russians who settled in a "Sart" village in 1878, in a territory newly conquered by the Russian Empire. During their six years in Nanay, Maria Nalivkina learned the local language, befriended her neighbors, and wrote observations about their lives from birth to death. Together, Maria and Vladimir published this account, which met with great acclaim from Russia's Imperial Geographic Society and among Orientalists internationally. While they recognized that Islam shaped social attitudes, the Nalivkins never relied on common stereotypes about the "plight" of Muslim women. The Fergana Valley women of their ethnographic portrait emerge as lively, hard-working, clever, and able to navigate the cultural challenges of early Russian colonialism. Rich with social and cultural detail of a sort not available in other kinds of historical sources, this work offers rare insight into life in rural Central Asia and serves as an instructive example of the genre of ethnographic writing that was emerging at the time. Annotations by the translators and an editor's introduction by Marianne Kamp help contemporary readers understand the Nalivkins' work in context.


Marianne Kamp

This work, originally titled A Sketch of the Everyday Life of Women of the Sedentary Native Population of the Fergana Valley and first published in Russian in 1886, offers readers a nineteenth-century ethnography focused on women in an Islamic society, as observed by Maria and Vladimir Nalivkin. the Nalivkins were Russians who lived in a “Sart” (Uzbek) village in a territory new to the Russian Empire, the Fergana Valley. With the exception of Edward G. Lane’s An Account of the Manners and Customs of Modern Egyptians, very few nineteenthcentury ethnographies of Muslim societies were based on the ethnographer’s long-term participant observation, and accounts by women were even rarer. Maria Nalivkina learned the Sart language and lived in the village of Nanay from 1878 to 1884, during which she befriended her neighbors and tried to learn all she could about their lives and the ways that Islam shaped their lives. the authors’ focus on explaining Islam will be familiar to those who have studied nineteenthcentury Orientalist scholarship: the authors wrote with all the hubris of Western cultural superiority but also with an attention to detail and effort at description that arose from genuine curiosity. the exploration of women’s lives is unique, but the Nalivkins’ focus on everyday life in rural communities exemplifies a dominant trend in nineteenth-century Russian ethnography.

This introduction provides brief biographies of Vladimir and Maria, focusing on their intellectual formation, the milieu within which they worked, and their scholarly production. Comparisons are drawn between their ethnographic work and those of several of their contemporaries in Russian Central Asia. An overview of the book’s themes is followed by a discussion of choices that we made in translation.

The Nalivkins

In 1878, a young Russian couple, Vladimir Petrovich Nalivkin and Maria Vladimirovna Nalivkina, purchased a courtyard home and some land in the kishlak (village) of Nanay in the Fergana Valley. Nanay, situated in the hills between the Tian Shan Mountains to the north and Namangan to the south, was home to people whom the Nalivkins identified as Sarts. I discuss the meaning of this term later. the Nalivkins lived in Nanay for six years, where they learned to speak and . . .

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