Local children put on the costumes for the mummers play on the Mari’s holiday Shorykyol when locals put on costumes and masks, visit neighbors and sing songs.
Sacred Groove in the Mari El Republic. Mari people often tie scarfs or pieces of cloth to the ropes around sacred trees or directly to the trees.
After living in Central Asia for three years, Japanese photographer Ikuru Kuwajima moved to Kazan, Tatarstan in Russia, which lies a short distance from the Mari El Republic. Drawn by curiosity, Kuwajima crossed into the region to learn more about the minority ethnic groups which inhabit the surrounding forests.
“The main native people are the Finno-Ugric Mari people,” explains Kuwajima, “whose religion is mix of paganism and orthodox Christianity.” Almost half of the Mari population live in the Mari El Republic, with the rest dispersed across Russia. Kuwajima’s motivation for the project was to “to explore something different in the post-Soviet space, culturally and visually.” Although at first glance the landscape of Mari El did not appear that different from say, the suburb of Moscow, Kuwajima describes how he was able to gain a deeper understanding of the place and its people after spending time there, as the differences hidden beneath the Soviet and Russian layers began to slowly reveal themselves. Kuwajima’s resulting project named after the Republic, contains images taken during various trips to the region while he was living in Kazan.
In the photos, we get a sense of the eerie atmosphere that seems to permeate the forests and snow-veiled landscapes, areas which the photographer assumes, “cultivated the grounds for the strange stories about souls, ghosts, magic and paganism.”