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Shamans’ 21st century spirit: How the Altai Region keeps Slavic and Siberian customs alive

The central sculpture is a white stag, messenger of Ulgen, a god who saved the world from evil

ALTAI REGION, December 5. /TASS/. The Legend ethnic theme park in the south Siberian Altai Region has become a popular tourist site five years after its opening under the leadership of Artem Ignatenko, a shaman of the 21st century. 

The theme park was unveiled in 2013 after a wood sculpture festival.

The sculptures left after the event became the park’s first exhibits. Hundreds of statues of ancient gods, animals and birds were later made for the park in all Russian regions. 

The central sculpture is a white stag, messenger of Ulgen, an Altai god who saved the world from evil. The stag was made by Artem Ignatenko, a hereditary shaman who heads the Union of Altai Ethnic Cultures. The park visitors are greeted by Aina, a friendly malamute dog.

“Aina is the best dog in Altai, she is the dog of the Golden Wife,” the shaman says.

The Golden Wife is the protector of Altai. The legend says this wisest woman saved her people from a 40-day flood and the thankful people donated their jewelry to make her golden statue.

The ethnic park has a sculpture of the Golden Wife seated on the rocks. It is not made of gold but is covered with golden paint. Tourists can throw coins at the statue and make wishes.The park has a pantheon of three-meter Slavic and Siberian idols. The shaman also wants to build here a pyramid. 

“Each person should have a mission,” Ignatenko says. “If a person has money and family but has no mission, he will not be happy.”

The park’s museum smell with wood, tea and herbs and is decorated with dry flower wreaths, skins of wild animals, a cage with a small owl and a two-meter tambourine.

“This is the tambourine of harmony,” the shaman says.

A 23-meter historical painting is the museum’s centerpiece. It depicts the Altai elders writing a letter to Russian Empress Catherine the Great and asking her to make the region part of the empire. It took the shaman two years to make this painting.

“Many ethnic groups live in Altai and all of them are united by the Russian culture,” Ignatenko says. “Uniting all peoples from the Danube River to the Pacific has always been Russia’s mission.”

According to him, the purpose of the theme park is to preserve Altai and Russian traditions and to show their interdependence.

This is a place of power, the shaman claims. The nearby lake does not freeze even when temperatures fall to minus 45 degrees Celsius and swans come here for the winter.