“Apa” or “Apashka” in Kazakh language means – granny. That’s how people address a shaman woman that is living in Ungurtas village, Kazakhstan. Her real name is Bifatima Dauletova. She is considered by many traditional healers in Kazakhstan to be the last local guardian of an ancient Sufi dervish tradition, performs a ritual cleansing using sheep’s blood at her homestead in the foothills of the Tien Shan Mountains, south Kazakhstan. Known by the honorific Bifatima-apa, the mystic and shaman draws followers from far afield. People come for health or addiction problems or to resolve life issues. Originally from Turkistan, Apa was told by the spirits to find a particular mountain. She found it 9 years ago and made a temporary living space and started accepting pilgrims. Soon after pilgrims built a whole farm, made steps on the mountain, which is thought to have healing properties.
Life at the farm is very basic. Every day starts with choirs, bringing water from the river, cleaning the stoves and putting new coal in it. Taking care of the sheep and other animals. Women usually cook and take care of the dishes.
Once in a while Apa says that she got a command from the sprits and gives out personal or sometimes common assignments, which usually include visiting some holy place in the neighborhood or saying particular mantras.
My personal experience:
I came there for the first time in January 2011. I came with a friend of mine, who was actually a main character I was following for my project about Russian hippies.
When we arrived at the farm, it was already dark. We were invited into the main dining room. There were people sitting there. They offered us tea. And we offered them bags with groceries that we got on the way.
After about 20 minutes of talking and sipping tea. Apshka said that she’s gonna have to shave us. If we would come tomorrow, she explained – this wouldn’t be necessary, but today she has to, cause she communicated with a spirit that told her to do that. We looked around almost everyone there had a shaved head including women. We decided to go along with the experience.
I never had a shaved had in my life before. And what a way to try it. It was dark and Apashka used a razor to shave the head, so naturally some cuts occurred when she was doing that with some bleeding as the result.
We were staying in the basement with all the other pilgrims. I participated in all the rituals and did what everyone else at the farm did. In return I was able to photograph freely. Apashka is not very fond of journalists.
I returned in October the same year to finish the story. That when I also shot video and did some interviews with pilgrims. This short multimedia piece gives more information and insight about what’s going on at the farm and who are the people coming there.