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his section covers Chinese shamanism in Mainland China (both historical and contemporary) and Hong Kong, as well as on Taiwan (the Republic of China) and Singapore. China has historically been an agricultural society, divided into the cooler northern and more tropical southern regions. The north is distinguished by the Yellow River, which links the highlands in the west to the East China Sea off the Shandong Peninsula. The south of China is defined by the Qinling Mountains and the Huai River, but the most famous river of the south is the Yangzi. Some parts of China present great obstacles to farming, such as the very dry landscape of the Western Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region and the Tibetan Autonomous Region, as well as the steppes of the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region in the north. Shamanism of Turkic and Mongolian minorities in northern and northwestern China is discussed under the section on Eurasia, as the shamanism in these regions is substantially different. The shamanism of the Tibetans is covered under the section “South Asia, the Himalayas, and Tibet,” for the same reasons. As the official language of Mainland China, Mandarin Chinese has traditionally been regarded as a unifier of Chinese thought and culture. It is also spoken in all of the regions with entries in this section. However, beyond Mandarin Chinese and the Han Chinese culture associated with it, the regions in this section are linguistically and ethnically diverse, with approximately fifty-six ethnic groups. Some of these ethnic groups include the Zhuang, Uyghur (discussed in the Eurasia section), Hui, Yi, Tibetan, Miao, and Manchu. On the southeastern coast of Mainland China lies Hong Kong, with predominantly Cantonese, English (thanks to the British occupation from 1841 to 1997), and Mandarin Chinese speakers. On the East Asian island of Taiwan (the Republic of China), the largest ethnic group consists of Hokkien, who speak the min language that is also spoken in Fujian province in Mainland China. Most of the Hakka, to use another name for the same people, came to the island from Guangdong province in Mainland China. Those who speak Mandarin Chinese (which is also the national language of Taiwan) are associated with the group of Mainland Chinese who came to the island after 1945. In addition, a very small percentage of the population are aboriginals, including the Atayal, Saisiyat, Bunun, Tsou, Paiwan, Rukai, Ami, Puyuma, and Yami. As a result of Japanese occupation from 1895 to 1945, many older people also speak Japanese. (See the section “Australasia and Oceania” for shamanism among these Austronesian speakers in Taiwan.) Between Malaysia and Indonesia are the Southeast Asian islands of Singapore. Singapore became an independent state and republic in 1965. Here people speak Mandarin Chinese, English, Malay, and Tamil, and the main ethnic groups are Chinese, Malay, and Indian. Shamanism in the Chinese cultural sphere has been influenced by (and has influenced) the religious traditions of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. Originally, Confucianism referred to the ideas of the teacher Confucius (traditional dates 551–479 B.C.E.). Over time, the term Confucianism expanded to include the disciples of Confucian thought and their philosophies, which emphasize order and virtuous conduct. Eventually, Confucianism became a term used to describe a




corpus of Confucian classical texts. It was also a state doctrine opposed to beliefs and practices associated with shamanism and spirit mediumship. To the Chinese diaspora, Confucianism still largely defines what it means to be traditionally Chinese. Early Daoism refers primarily to the texts of Zhuangzi (369–286 B.C.E.) and Laozi (mid-third century B.C.E.). Daoist religion is seen as developing out of these Daoist texts and the pursuit of immortality, as well as shamanic exorcism, healing, and spirit possession, during the latter part of the Han dynasty. Unlike Confucianism and Daoism, Buddhism is a foreign belief system coming from India and the teachings of Gautama Buddha (fifth century B.C.E.). Like Daoism, Buddhism offers rites for exorcism, healing, and the ending of disaster, sometimes employing spirit mediums.

Chinese Shamanism Among the many kinds of practitioner that fall under the broad heading of Chinese shamanism are the spirit medium, spirit writer, and diviner of the spirit, along with other ritual practitioners known by various names: bi, tâng-ki, fugei, wu, and paq. There is some debate as to whether these individuals qualify as shamans in the “traditional” Siberian sense, or whether they are spirit mediums (see the entry “History of the Study of Shamanism”). Often the terms shaman and spirit medium are used interchangeably and without precision to describe religious functionaries within the Chinese cultural milieu who display abilities resembling those of shamans. As with shamanism in other regions and cultures, Chinese shamanism is so varied that it can be treated as a conglomerate of “shamanisms,” with each belief and practice sometimes resembling and sometimes differing from those of more “traditional” shamans in Siberia.

Introduction to the Entries The deep roots of shamanism within the Chinese cultureal sphere are revealed in the entry “Chinese Shamanism, Classical,” which focuses on the historical role of those called wu and other names in Confucian and Daoist Chinese classical texts. These texts tell of the many ritual performers with shamanic abilities who were ritual bureaucrats, healers, spirit mediums, exorcists, rain dancers, soul summoners, and diviners. The entry “Daoism and Shamanism” considers the significant impact of Chinese mediumship on the development of Daoism. Initially the entry discusses references to practices in texts classed as Daoist, such as those attributed to Zhuangzi and Laozi, as well as the Elegies of Chu and the Classic of Mountains and Waters. These practices include spirit mediumship, healing, divination, and exorcism. It then examines how Daoist religious movements gained popularity through the adoption of many of these shamanic beliefs and practices. In contemporary Daoist practice, it is the Daoist ritual master (as opposed to the Daoist priest) who continues to perform as a spirit medium, exorcist, and diviner. “Chinese Shamanism, Contemporary,” offers a glimpse of shamanism, or spirit mediumship, since the fall of the last Chinese imperial dynasty (1911). Spirit mediums have continued to offer services on matters related to health, wealth, family, and ancestors, in spite of Communist restrictions placed on shamanic practices in Mainland China between 1949 and 1979. The death of Mao Zedong (1976) and the rise of Deng Xiaoping (1978) and most recently Hu Jintao to power have brought new religious freedoms to the Chinese people, and although many shamanic activities continue to be officially banned, they are for the most part tolerated. Contrasting traditional mediumship and shamanic traditions with those prevalent today, “Spirit Writing in Hong Kong” outlines the three general types of mediums who engage in various levels of spirit possession. The first two types of mediums, the baisanpo and the manmaipo, or mangwaipo, are older women, who become possessed by spirits and the souls of those who have died, respectively. While they are possessed, these mediums speak and sing the words of the deity or soul. The more prevalent kind of contemporary shaman is the male or female medium or spirit writer, whose hands only become possessed, by educated deities who are able to write.



The determination of who will become a shaman by the year, month, day, and hour of birth is important in both Nong shamanism and in the practice of spirit mediumship in Singapore, as the entries on these topics bring out. In Singapore, as the entry explains, spirit mediums (predominantly male) are those who are predestined to live shorter lives because of the year, month, day, and hour of their births (they have what is called a light eight-character fate). Becoming spirit mediums strengthens these people and allows them to live longer. These mediums practice selfmortification and speak the words of the possessing deity. The spirit medium enables devotees to receive advice from the spirit world on matters relating to health, exams, jobs, business, and relationships, and to receive protection from the spirit world. Among the Nong of southern China, the shaman is one who becomes possessed by a spirit called a paq and travels to a realm known as the Flower Garden to recover lost souls. (Shamans also perform exorcisms, heal, and offer counseling.) Young girls who have a “light destiny,” as determined by the year, month, day, and hour that they were born, display this destiny by attracting a paq at a young age. Like the shamanic traditions discussed in the entry “Contemporary Chinese Shamanism,” Nong shamanism continues to be practiced in secret despite government restrictions, promoting the cohesion of the Nong, and it still thrives today. The performance aspects of Chinese shamanism and mediumship are the focus of the entry “Taiwanese Shamanic Performance and Dance,” which discusses the performance element in both more traditional Taiwanese shamanism and a more recent form. In both forms, the performance takes place while the mediums are in trance. The more traditional Taiwanese shamans have a broad range of functions, ranging from exorcism to providing counseling on fengshui. Some use spirit writing, but others, mostly men, are associated with the martial tradition and practice selfmortification and, in trance state, participate as performers on festive occasions and during pilgrimages. A new religious movement has grown up on Taiwan that also involves dancing while in trance; in its performances, it shows the influence of the older performance tradition. The performers, many of whom are women, are called lingji (diviners of the spirit), and sometimes lingxiu (cultivators of the spirit), or lingmei (spirit mediums), and the focus is on lingdong (moving the spirit). Although the ritual practitioners discussed in the entry “Qiang Ritual Practices” carry out some shamanic functions, their role is sufficiently different that it has been questioned whether they should be considered shamans at all. The shamanic beliefs and practices of the Qiang people of Sichuan Province in China have been influenced by Daoism and Buddhism, as usual in this area, and also by Christianity. Although shamans, called bi in the Qiang language (duangong in Mandarin), may be either male or female, female shamans are rare. The bi performs divination and fortune-telling and conducts rituals and ceremonies, sacrifices and blessings. To perform these tasks the bi carries a number of tools, for example, a white stone, a drum, a small gong, a horn, a dagger, as well as a holy stick used for exorcisms and a wooden board used for spirit writing. The bi does not, however, enter trance during rituals more often than other participants do, and does function as the community’s intellectual and scholar, to a greater extent than is typical of shamans. Bis have helped to preserve the Qiang language and culture, but the tradition is in danger of dying out. In this way also the Qiang example is atypical, since elsewhere in the sphere of Chinese influence shamanism is thriving. Alison R. Marshall

2 CHINESE SHAMANISM, CLASSICAL In early China, some of the shamans, as described in early texts, performed for religious efficacy, acting as shaman kings, divining, praying, healing, dancing, and sacrificing themselves for rain. But other shamans appeared to be ranked bureaucrats and were not noted for their religious expertise. According to modern scholars such as Chen Mengjia, Chang Kwang-chih, and Julia Ching, the kings of early China were shamans with the surname Wu and a special relationship with the divine. Shaman kings reigned during the Shang dynasty (1600–1050 B.C.E.), using divination and sacrificial rituals to connect with the spirit world. This connection is suggested in oracle bone inscriptions and animal-like designs in art (carved in bronze, jade, lacquer, wood) (Chang 1983; Chen 1937). In recent years, however, there has been growing resistance to the use of the term shaman king to describe the nature of early Chinese rule. David Keightley (1995, 33) has been the most vocal critic of the theory that wu were shaman kings of early China, noting that the wu could have been a spirit medium or priest and suggesting that more research has to be done to determine the precise nature of the wu’s role. Whatever the case during the Shang dynasty, it is clear that shamans were not kings after that time, but they did continue to perform roles as spirit mediums, healers, diviners, fertility specialists, exorcists, priests, and rain dancers. Until the Han dynasty (206–220 C.E.), shamans performed many of the formal ritual functions for the state, the ruler, and his family, some serving as ranked officials. However, writings of the Han dynasty convey a growing desire for the rationalization of religious performance and a distrust of shamans named wu, who were increasingly portrayed as foreigners noted for their expertise in the area of black magic (wugu) (Loewe 1987, 107; Lin 1988). When discussing Chinese shamanism, scholars rely on two texts—Discourses of the State

(Guoyu) and the Shuowenzi, a Han dynasty lexicon—to define and explain the practice in early China. Discourses of the State, being the earlier of the two and dating to the fourth century B.C.E., explained that in Chinese antiquity human beings and spirits relied on shamans to create a link between the spirit world and the world of human beings: Anciently, human beings and spirits did not mix. But certain persons were so perspicacious, single-minded, reverential and correct that their intelligence could understand what lies above and below, their sagely wisdom could illumine what is distant and profound, their vision was bright and clear and their hearing was penetrating. Therefore the spirits would descend upon them. The possessors of such powers were, if men, called hsi/xi, and if women, wu. They supervised the positions of the spirits at the ceremonies, took care of the sacrificial victims and vessels as well as seasonal robes. (Ching 1997, 14–15) In the later Shuowenzi, the shaman is defined as a female dancer and priest and portrayed with two sleeves raised in dance posture. Among all the early rituals that shamans performed, rituals to summon rain were the most important and most coveted for proving a shaman’s power (see the stories of King Yu and King Tang below). Many of these rain rituals involved the rain (yu) sacrifice, in which female wu and the cripple called the wang were burned either by fire or by the heat of the sun (Schafer 1951). Later rain rituals in the Han dynasty introduced different elements believed to improve the chance of rain during times of drought, such as the substitution of dragon effigies for the sacrifice of a human being (Loewe 1987).

Cosmology According to myth fragments dating from the Warring States (403–221 B.C.E.), Qin (221– 210 B.C.E.), and Han periods, Chinese culture




came into existence during the prehistoric era of the Three Sovereigns. In addition to the legendary Three Sovereigns, there were the five sage kings, traditionally esteemed for their embodiment of virtue, including the Yellow Emperor, Yao, Shun, Yu, and Tang. Among them, Yu and Tang’s acts of self-sacrifice reflected the early shamanic nature of Chinese religion. Explanations about the origin of rain dances by a king, and in particular dances to abate heavy rainfall, rely on the myth of Yu, the flood controller. After China experienced five years of flooding and severe famine, Yu exhausted himself in his attempts to stem the floods. An illness following his successful efforts crippled him, and for the rest of his life, Yu walked with a limp, which history records as the gait of yu, or the shaman’s gait. Like the story about King Yu, the story of King Tang illustrates the combined role of king as political ruler and as shaman, and it became a precedent used to explain why later shamans performed the important rain prayers and dances. After several years of drought, King Tang assembled a funeral pyre in the mythical Fusang grove, and prayed to di (the name of the deity and nature spirits during the Shang dynasty) and ghosts. As King Tang prepared to burn himself, it began to rain, ending the need for the self-sacrifice. Rain rituals in which shamans danced and were placed in the hot sun or burned reflected the importance of self-sacrifice in rain rituals. Confucian texts praised King Yu and King Tang (as well as other legendary rulers) as sage kings with special relationships to the divine. This divine relationship that sage kings enjoyed is suggested by the Chinese character for sage (sheng), composed of the radical for ear, meaning to hear, the radical for mouth, meaning to speak, and the radical for ruler or king, meaning to rule. As such, the character refers to someone who hears what has been spoken by the spirits, communicates what has been heard, and because of this is the ruler (Ching 1997, 54).

Shamanism in Early Confucian and Mohist Texts Shamans called wu appear often in early texts, including the Rites of Zhou, the Record of Rites, the Analects, the Mencius, and the Mozi, and are, for the most part, depicted as ritual bureaucrats and healers. The Rites of Zhou is a pre-

Qin text containing “a blueprint for the government of a hoped-for unified Chinese empire” (Falkenhausen 1995, 285). Here, the highest ranked shamans were called the head shamans (siwu), overseeing the activities of the shaman (wu) office. The head shaman administered the orders given to the rest of the shamans, guided them in the performance of ritual rain dances in times of drought, and oversaw the funeral ceremonies in which unranked shamans invoke spirits. Head shamans also prepared the offertory caskets for sacrifices and ensured that spirits attended the funeral services. However, as head shamans were ranked individuals, they did not enter trance and become possessed by spirits. The next in rank were the teaching shamans (shiwu), chosen from among the unranked male shamans and charged with the instruction of all of the other male and female shamans. The duties of unranked shamans were determined by gender. Male shamans performed the important sacrifices, as well as indoor and outdoor ritual exorcisms, and accompanied the king and priests on visits of condolence to the families of the dead. Female shamans communicated with spirits, performed rituals of purification during exorcisms held during the year, and performed the rain dances during drought. Like their male counterparts, female shamans also accompanied the queen and the priests on visits of condolence to the families of the dead. Beneath these unranked male and female shamans is another class of unranked shamans called the horse shamans (mawu), responsible for horse healing, in which shamans invoke ancestors of the sick horse and perform horse exorcism and horse funerals. Shamans are also mentioned in the Analects, a book attributed to the teacher Confucius (traditional dates 551–479 B.C.E.). The first reference appeared toward the end of Book 13, in which Confucius repeats a southern saying about shamans: “The southern people have a saying: ‘People without constancy cannot as such make shaman physicians.’” Confucius is a northerner who uses the words of a southerner to express that the shaman healer needs to be a calm person. His use of the saying may derive from an understanding that calm shamans make better doctors because they can withstand the stress of entering trance and communicating with deities in order to heal. The Analects’


other reference to the shaman is to an individual named Wuma (Horse shaman) Qi, a loyal Confucian disciple with a name suggesting he is related to the horse healers and exorcists described in the Rites of Zhou. The Mencius is another Confucian classic that refers to the shaman as a healer. Here, the Mencius contrasts those who make arrows and armor with the shaman and coffin maker. The shaman and coffin maker heal and protect as opposed to the makers of armor and arrows, who profit from people hurting and killing each other. Like the Rites of Zhou, the Record of Rites referred to the shaman as a minor ritual bureaucrat, but unlike that text it provided little information about the role of the shaman. Here there is the suggestion that the shaman had already become less important. Accounts in this text noted that the shaman’s services were required during court, funeral, and ancestral ceremonies. Emphasis was placed on the shaman’s physical position in relation to others in the ritual processions, such as the priest and the ruler and the ruler’s son, and few details were given about the shaman’s specific role as a spirit medium. While the others proceed into the temple, the shaman remained outside to keep the evil spirits away from the temple doors, indicating his or her position as a secondary religious figure, excluded from the inner activities of the religious ceremony. In addition, the Record of Rites included an account from an earlier text, the Zuo Commentary, in the section of the twenty-first year of Duke Xi, in which a duke proposed to burn a cripple, or wuwang, but was ultimately advised not to (Qiu 1983–1985). The Record of Rites’ inclusion of this anecdote implied a comment on the former practice in which female shamans or sick children were sacrificed in ritual rain offerings. The anecdote suggests that instead of relying on the shaman to pray for rain, society was increasingly choosing secular ways to end drought that involved ritual propriety and repudiating the need for ecstatic religious possession. Another text in which references to shamans are found is the Mozi, ascribed to the disciples of Mo Di (fifth century B.C.E.), who founded the Moist school of thought. The Mozi is a text coming from a school that was in some ways close to the Confucian school and in other ways critical of it, condemning the


wastefulness of elaborate funerary ceremonies and criticizing the emphasis on ritual propriety. The Mozi stressed the shaman’s role in rituals but often in a negative way, displaying contempt for the way the performance of ritual and the shaman’s role as a ritual bureaucrat had evolved. Here the shaman was called a zhuzi and was portrayed as a spirit medium and ritual expert who ensured that the ritual was performed at the right time of year and that the offerings and animals sacrificed were good enough for the deity. Elsewhere, the Mozi elaborated on the shaman’s talent as a spirit medium and diviner, explaining that there were restrictions on what the shaman could communicate to the people while he or she was possessed by the deity. What the shaman said had to first be told to the official, who would determine whether the people could hear it. According to Confucian and Moist texts, shamans were ritual bureaucrats, healers, spirit mediums, exorcists, and sometimes rain dancers. But anecdotes within these texts suggest that opinion about the shaman’s role as a ritual bureaucrat was divided and that there was a growing trend away from using shamans who entered trance in formal state rituals. While these texts conveyed one perspective, texts now classed as Daoist revealed another perspective of shamanic practice.

Shamans in Early Daoist Texts Zhuang Zhou, the reputed author of the Zhuangzi, is believed to have lived in the district of Meng within the State of Song near the border of Chu during the reigns of King Liang (370–319 B.C.E.) and Qi (319–301 B.C.E.). There are references to shamans (wu) in the Zhuangzi, but these individuals were not depicted favorably. They were portrayed as charlatans who fool people into believing they can divine the future, and as outdated practitioners of cruel sacrificial rituals. It was Zhuangzi’s ideal human beings who had many of the traits of shamans: they took spirit journeys, entered trances, were masters of fire and the natural elements, and demonstrated an extraordinary understanding of the Dao, or way. Many examples were given in the Zhuangzi of ideal human beings who were recognized by their names (the true man, the daemonic man, the perfect



man, the sage, the nameless man). They were also recognizable by their unusual appearances: hunched backs and skinny necks. Some of these individuals became shamanlike following an illness (Master Yü) or during a meditative trance (Ziqi of the South Wall). In addition to the Zhuangzi, early texts often associated with Daoism include the Elegies of Chu (Chuci), and the Classic of Mountains and Waters (Shanhaijing). Wang Yi (d. 158 C.E.), an imperial librarian who wrote the earliest commentary on the Elegies of Chu, attributes the text to Qu Yuan (fourth century B.C.E.), a loyal official betrayed by his ruler and banished to the south of China. Although Wang Yi’s commentary does not consider the shamanic origins of the songs in any great detail, modern commentaries and scholarship have mined the work for its information about shamanism in southern China before the second century C.E. (Hawkes 1959; Sukhu 1999; Waley 1955). One of the best examples of shamanism is found in the section called the Nine Songs. In the first song of this work, “Great One, Lord of the East,” a ling, or shaman, performs a ritual dance to Taiyi, the great sun god. The shaman’s dance to a cacophony of drumbeats, pipes, zithers, and the jingling of the jade pendants on her waistband sends her into a trancelike state that enables the deity to descend and possess her. The authorship and dating of the Classic of Mountains and Waters (Shanhaijing), is shrouded in debate, with some saying the text was a traveler’s guide or geographical gazetteer of the ancient Chinese terrain and others saying that the text is the work of shamans (Yuan Ke 1982, preface 1). The text describes shamans (wu) as healers who bring the dead back to life and travel to distant mountain summits in search of medicinal herbs. There is also the suggestion that shamanic practices were performed in connection with the snake cult and the worship of the Queen Mother of the West (Cheng, Cheng, and Thern 1985; Mathieu 1983). Alison R. Marshall See also: Colonialism and Shamanism; Daoism and Shamanism References and further reading: Chang Kwang-chih. 1983. Art, Myth, and Ritual: The Path to Political Authority in

Ancient China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Chen Mengjia. 1937. “Shangdai de shenhua yu wushu” [Mythology and shaman arts of the Shang dynasty]. Yanjing xuebao 19: 91–155. Cheng Hsiao-Chieh, Cheng Hui-Chen Pai, and Lawrence Thern, trans. 1985. Shan Hai Ching: Legendary Geography and Wonders of Ancient China. With commentary by Kuo P’u, Chin dynasty, and explanatory notes by Hao Yi-hsing, Ch’ing dynasty. Taipei: Committee for Compilation and Examination of the Series of Chinese Classics, National Institute for Compilation and Translation. Ching, Julia. 1997. Mysticism and Kingship in China: The Heart of Chinese Wisdom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Confucius. 2000. The Analects. Translated by Arthur Waley, with an introduction by Sarah Allen. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Falkenhausen, Lothar von. 1995. “Reflections on the Political Role of Spirit Mediums in Early China: The Wu Officials in the Zhouli.” Early China 20: 279–300. Hawkes, David, trans. 1959. Ch’u Tz’u: “The Songs of the South.” New York: Oxford University Press. Keightley, David. 1995. “Chinese Religions 4000 B.C.E. to 200 C.E.: Neolithic and Shang Periods.” Journal of Asian Studies 54, no. 1: 124–134. Lin Fushi. 1988. Handai de wuzhe [Mythology and Shaman Arts of the Shang dynasty]. Baiqiao: Daoxiang chubanshe. Loewe, Michael. 1987. “The Cult of the Dragon and the Invocation for Rain.” In Chinese Ideas about Nature and Society: Studies in Honour of Derk Bodde. Edited by Charles Le Blanc and Susan Blader. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. Mathieu, Rémi. 1983. Étude sur la mythologie de la Chine ancienne [Study on the Mythology of Ancient China]. 2 vols. Paris: Collège de France, Institut des hautes études Chinoises: Diffusion De Boccard. Qiu Xigui. 1983–1985. “On the Burning of Human Victims and the Fashioning of Clay Dragons in order to Seek Rain As Seen in the Shang Dynasty Oracle Bone Inscriptions.” Translated by Vernon K. Fowler. Early China 9–10: 290–306.


Schafer, Edward H. 1951. “Ritual Exposure in Ancient China.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 14: 130–184. Sukhu, Gopal. 1999. “Monkeys, Shamans, Emperors and Poets: The Chuci and Images of Chu during the Han Dynasty.” In Defining Chu: Image and Reality in Ancient China. Edited by Constance A. Cook and John S. Major. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. Waley, Arthur. 1955. The Nine Songs. London: George Allen and Unwin. Yuan Ke. 1982. Shanhaijing jiaozhu. Taipei: Liren.

CHINESE SHAMANISM, CONTEMPORARY Shamanism and spirit mediumship have a long history in Chinese society and have proved ever resilient and adaptable to different epochs and locations. Throughout this history shamans have served as primary mediators between the world of the living and the spirit worlds. Though Chinese shamanism is not all of one piece, fragments of tradition, or rather a dialogue that evokes some sense of tradition, continue to be an essential aspect of the shaman’s identity and calling. This connection to tradition is true even for the contemporary world, where many scholars have predicted that the forces of modernization, rationalism, and science would bring about the dissolution of traditional belief in gods, ghosts, spirits, and ancestors. But rather than bringing about the demise of Chinese folk religion and its practitioners, these practitioners have responded to the very economic and political changes that were to be their undoing by reinventing themselves and defining a new set of problems and resolutions, new identities and avenues for expression at the local level, both in the countryside and in urban areas. The literature that documents shamanistic activities in the contemporary period is, not however, as extensive as that available for other aspects of Chinese society. This is partly due to the tumultuous history of China since the fall of the last dynasty (1911). The bulk of the early research on this topic comes mostly from


Taiwan, Hong Kong and its territories, Singapore, and Malaysia. Yet it has really only been in the last few decades that more attention has been given to popular and folk religions even in those areas. As for the Communist-ruled Chinese mainland, its history is even more problematic with regard to this subject as the government’s official stance toward popular religion and its practitioners involved a concerted effort to eradicate them. For most of the Communist period (starting in 1949), shamanism operated out of sight or not at all. It has only been since the death of Mao (1976), with the more liberal reform policies of his successors, that shamanistic activities have again resurfaced.

Chinese Folk Religion In order to appreciate both the differences and similarities that may be seen across this landscape of contemporary shamanistic practices and beliefs, it is necessary to briefly address the nature of Chinese religions. Chinese folk religion has always had permeable boundaries and has incorporated many elements from diverse beliefs and practices that proved useful or practical for its purposes in different times and places. Some scholars have argued that such syncretism is a characteristic of settings in which religion does not achieve a centralized institutional status with a clerical hierarchy and titular head that challenges the power of the state. In traditional China, only the imperial government was allowed to exert such an authority and administer its rule through a hierarchy, while peasant beliefs were left to the outlying rural areas and represented diverse adaptations and interpretations. This lack of an organized religion meant that the Chinese would turn to Buddhist specialists, Daoists, spirit mediums, and so on, for different services that had to do with everything from birth to death, matters of health, wealth and family, building construction, ancestral rites, marriage, dealings with ghosts, spirits, gods, ancestors, and so on. Moreover all these beliefs and practices informed and borrowed from each other. What was common to popular folk beliefs, however, was a notion that there was an intimate and ongoing relationship between the world of the living and the world of



A female shaman leads her clients in a group prayer at the village's shrine, 1994. (Courtesy of Hong Zhang)

the spirits. Traditional China was populated by a plethora of deities and spirits, ghosts and ancestors. Families kept an ancestral altar in their homes and had various other sacred images and symbols throughout their dwellings. There were also neighborhood, village, and city gods; gods of various guilds and occupations; protective spirits; and so on. Deities and spirits were associated with almost every activity in daily life. In addition there were evil spirits and ghosts that one needed to protect oneself and one’s family against. In such an environment it was necessary to maintain a harmony between these worlds. If one did not propitiate the gods and spirits and honor the ancestors through rites and rituals and live a moral life, then illness, misfortune, loss, poverty, and even worse fates would befall one. One could fall prey to the dark side, lose one’s soul, have it stolen or possessed by demons and ghosts.

Chinese Shamans One of the primary conduits for communication between the worlds could be found in particular practitioners referred to as shamans (or spirit mediums) in the literature. In China shamans may be either male or female. They speak with the voice of a spirit or god and are sometimes associated with a temple, which may be Buddhist, Daoist, or Confucian; some practice on a smaller scale in the home, or travel

from one village to another as itinerants. As mentioned above, the syncretic nature of Chinese religion makes it difficult to separate the influences of the various religions, especially as concerns the practices of local folk traditions. It is probably the case that various religious beliefs, folk beliefs, local myths, and legends influence the shaman, who, as a member of the society, must ultimately use a language that local people can identify with. What legitimizes the shaman’s abilities is contact with the unseen world of the spirits, ghosts, ancestors, and gods. A characteristic common not only to the Chinese shaman but to shamanism in other times and places involves a calling to the profession. This calling usually centers on an event of possession: A spirit or god descends upon or into the shaman, causing confusion and near insanity until the call is accepted and understood for what it is, a summons to act as a conduit to the other world in order to help others in this world. This recognition and its acceptance by others within a social context is absolutely necessary, and if one does not receive it, one is not seen as a legitimate healer (see Wolf 1992). The recognition is, therefore, simultaneously personal and social and often involves an apprenticeship with an elder shaman for a time, although this is not absolutely necessary. Shamans must also remain true to their calling or risk becoming vulnerable and losing their abilities. The shaman is said to enter a trance using various methods of induction, chanting or dancing or drumming. In this state the shaman acts as the intermediary between this world and the Otherworld. Often, but not always, Chinese shamans are not individuals who have great wealth, social standing, or education. Most of them are parttime practitioners; members of local society who do not live solely from their shamanistic calling. In addition to journeying into the Otherworld and recovering the lost or stolen souls of his clients, the abilities of the shaman are wide ranging. Because of the power of the spirit that possesses the shaman, he is empowered to cast out evil spirits and demons from people, houses, streets, wards, and even entire villages. The shaman’s spirits also bring him the ability to see the client’s past and future, speak in tongues, use divining blocks, and engage in spirit writing (a form of automatic writing involving the use of a planchette, a Y-shaped tool


used to trace characters in sand). Some may use a variety of charms and other religious paraphernalia in curative rituals. Others have an extensive knowledge of herbal medicine, and many dispense psychological counseling and advice. Some may perform before massive temple gatherings or in group séances (described below), while others deal only with a small clientele within the domestic sphere. The range of abilities varies from place to place and from ritual to ritual.

Shamanism in Greater China: Some Examples The early emphasis in the anthropological literature is on the variation of shamanistic practices that were and continue to be found across greater China, which included studies from Taiwan, Hong Kong and the new territories, Singapore, and Malaysia. Most studies on shamanism during the height of the Communist period were done by scholars working outside Mainland China, and it is these studies that we initially examine. It is impossible to find any distinction drawn in the Chinese literature on the subject between the idea of spirit mediumship and shamanism, and most authors of these studies use the terms interchangeably.

Shamanism in Taiwan In Taiwanese villages shamans, tang-ki (a local term for shaman, called jitong in Mandarin), are the religious arbiters between this world and the world of the spirits. It is the tang-ki who are called upon to uncover the causes of conflict and the loss of harmony in the family or at the village level. Illness, misfortune, and death must have a causative agent; Wolf (1992, 105) described the problems brought to the tang-ki as “varied, ranging from illnesses in humans and animals to economic setbacks to marital disputes to fears of infertility.” For the tang-ki this disharmony is a function of the relationships between this world and the world of the spirits. The shaman must identify what ghosts or malevolent spirits are responsible for the client’s ills and prescribe a cure. They can exorcise harmful ghosts from the village and perform exorcisms on individuals, and they are considered to be the divine presence of their host god at temple rituals honoring that deity.


Tang-ki may also engage in the rituals of selfmortification described below at festivals honoring their gods in order to demonstrate the power of their deities. They are protected by their association with the gods and hence neither feel physical pain nor suffer permanent damage from their wounds, which heal quickly. In one of the few studies in this area, David Jordan (1972) described how the tang-ki engage in rituals of pricking and stabbing their bodies in order to draw blood, which may be used for some magical purpose. Swords are also used to drive off evil spirits during the course of a performance. Tang-ki often have a ritual assistant who may help with the inquiries in those moments when the shaman is most caught up in a state of possession and is speaking with the voice of the deity. The majority of these shamans are male or younger males, though this does not preclude women from practicing as shamans. Of the female shamans in Taiwan some are housewives who specialize in dealing with problems in the domestic sphere, that is, curing sick children, helping women who are unable to conceive children, dispensing various medicinal herbs, and providing emotional and psychological counseling and advice. Still others are professional spirit mediums, helping living family members communicate with the dead, relaying the messages and gifts of the living to the world of the ancestors. A common belief is that those called by the spirits and gods are those who were fated to die young; once they have been called, though, their lives are extended so that they can serve the public through their spirits. And it is imperative that they continue to obey their calling; if the tang-ki do not remain true to their calling then it is possible for them to be possessed by ghosts rather than gods. In this case the shaman loses credibility as a healer and can no longer function as one. It is therefore necessary that the tang-ki demonstrate purity with regard to their practice by not charging for their services. It is, however, customary for villagers to shower the tang-ki with gifts for the services provided for them. Some authors have argued that this gift giving defines the social nature of reciprocity among villagers. The gift establishes and perpetuates ties of relationship and interdependence. Some tang-ki may refer illnesses that are clearly medical to a medical professional or



other problems to other ritual and religious specialists. The tang-ki is usually a member of the local society, which is highly attuned to the background of a client’s history. Tang-ki may dispense a variety of cures and advice, ranging from herbal mixtures, incantations, charms and talismans, to psychological advice. Katherine Gould-Martin (1978) described a tang-ki’s trance session. The tang-ki, a man in his forties, had an image of his deity in his house; he went into a trance every evening after dinner. Others came to seek him out. He spoke with an image of his deity and then with the visitors. His assistant burned some paper money, thus sending it into the spirit world, and began to chant. As the chanting increased in frequency, the tang-ki began to convulse; suddenly his head hit the table, and the assistant then announced the identity of the questioner and the nature of the problem to the god. The tang-ki responded in a dialect that was supposed to represent the original language of the god he served. The voice was unnatural and incomprehensible at first but eventually became a deeper version of the shaman’s own voice. The god might or might not become engaged in the problem and might move on to the next problem, shifting back and forth between his two voices as he moved from one client to the next. At the end of the session the shaman was brought out of his trance when his assistant burned more spirit money.

Mediums in Hong Kong’s New Territories Spirit mediums studied by Jack Potter in Hong Kong’s New Territories (1978) had altars where they conducted their rituals. The altars contained various paraphernalia from the tutelary spirits served by the shamans for which they were responsible. The gods and spirits served might include the Jade Emperor (the ruler of the Spirit World), Guanyin (Buddhist goddess of mercy), and other traditional gods and spirits found in the Chinese pantheon. The shamans would also make house calls. Once a year they held a group séance during which they traveled to the Garden of Heavenly Flowers where every living person is represented by a potted flowering plant. During their journey they encountered the deceased relatives of many of the villagers and engaged them in conversation, speaking for them and allowing vil-

lagers to speak to them as well. In this way diagnoses of problems were made and various sentiments, gossip, and knowledge of village affairs were made public. In Potter’s examples almost all the spirit mediums were women who had been called into service by the spirits of their deceased children after a period of great personal loss and suffering. They resisted the calling for a time, acting out irrationally, engaging in seemingly insane behaviors, and speaking nonsense languages. They might experience their death (feel that they were dying) a number of times before they were redeemed through agreeing to accept their calling as spirit mediums. The supernatural world of these villagers was divided into two realms; one benevolent and the other malicious and dangerous. The first was the province of benevolent ancestral spirits and the beneficent deities who brought prosperity, health, and good fortune, along with the perpetuation of the ancestral line. On the other side were malevolent spirits and ghosts, who because they were denied or taken away from the fulfillment of society’s ideals in this life, returned to wreck havoc in this world. They were most often concerned with bringing sorrow, illness, and death to the most vulnerable and highly valued members of the family, that is, young children, especially boys, who were held most precious because they would continue the family line. In this sense the spirit medium who journeyed to the Otherworld to recover the soul that had been lost or stolen served to address the dark side and protect villagers against the intrusions of the malevolent forces. Since in this case the shamans were women and since they were called into the profession after great personal loss involving family members, gender played a significant role in reinstating them into the public world of the village, which is predominantly patriarchal. Their activities centered on righting what was wrong with society or protecting it against the world of malevolent spirits. It should be noted that in the south of China, where Potter did his field research, lineages were quite strong and that this was a factor in his interpretation of the above material. This characteristic, however, cannot be easily extended to other areas of China where lineages are weaker or even nonexistent. Shamanism in general can indeed be an avenue for the empowerment of women and


their voices in a society that has traditionally provided little space for women to speak and act in public.

Shamanism of the Underclass in Penang Jean DeBernardi’s research in Penang, Malaysia (1987), describes the dark world of the socially marginal and Chinese urban poor, whose subcultures eschew the dominant view of the social life and are often at odds and at war with society’s officials and their enforcement branches. The shamans who are called upon by this segment of Chinese society reflect the idea that there are different deities for different levels of society. For instance, there are the patron spirits of officials and magistrates, and then there are those of prostitutes, gamblers, and martial artists. These “other” gods are celebrated in the rituals of “secret” societies, rituals in which they possess spirit mediums (shamans) who act as healers and teachers of the syncretic Buddhist/ Daoist beliefs that are associated with various temples and their activities (DeBernardi 1987, 310–311). Such folk temples (which are a historical outgrowth of the Chinese Triads, groups formed in order to oppose the last imperial dynasty) have often been the locus of interaction and group identity for male members, who provide each other with mutual aid and protection. DeBernardi (1987) describes the way such “religious symbols and rhetorical strategies provide a means to invert social norms, to reinterpret the activities of the societies in light of a Chinese tradition of heroism and social banditry, and to elevate the hedonistic values of the underworld as a social ideal” (311). An example of this kind of inversion can be seen in the image of the trickster Jigong (the Vagabond Buddha), who is the antithesis of purity and one of the primary deities who possess shamans in these societies: “The Vagabond Buddha . . . never fasts, eats meat, drinks, gambles, and steals . . . is dirty” (328). He inverts social norms and religious values, as a kind of contemporary social bandit reminiscent of Robin Hood. The spirit medium officiating at a temple gathering takes on the status of the deity possessing him and is thus able to subvert social norms because he stands above the social world of everyday life. Representing the group, the shaman in a trance speaks with the voice of a god and can directly challenge the society


outside, create new norms and subvert conventional moralities. In this way a segment of society that is looked down upon by others can use that very status to articulate its own critique. Once again, one sees the shaman as mediator between this world and the other.

Shamanism in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) The Chinese Communists embraced a dogmatic Marxist position toward religious and spiritual beliefs and practices and had little tolerance for shamanistic activities, which were viewed as a threat to Communist rule and power and called superstitious, feudalistic, and even exploitative. Moreover for Communists the collective struggle took precedence over the concerns of the individual, the family, and the lineage, which had been the traditional space in which shamans practiced. In the “new” society the problems that shamans addressed would no longer exist. Shamans had no place there. Hence, persecution of shamans by Chinese Communists began as early as the Yanan period, which ran from the mid-1930s to the birth of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. A number of documents available from that period describe how Communists went about reforming these exploitative shamans who, they argued, were taking advantage of the people for personal profit and fooling them through various ruses and tricks, or who were themselves poor and ill-educated and did not understand that the world of spirits was ultimately an illusion that kept them from seeing the real cause of their oppression and suffering. On the one hand they extracted confessions by force and required shamans to make a public display of these renunciations, explaining how they misrepresented themselves and their abilities for personal gain and material reward. On the other hand, they were reeducated in a Marxist materialist view of the world espoused by Mao and rehabilitated to become good citizens of the new republic. After the Communist Party came to power in 1949, its attempts to reform society along political lines while transforming the nation’s economic base led to a number of campaigns that proved damning for shamans as well as for all other elements that might resist the new society. The two periods of greatest upheaval,



A female shaman chanting over “fushui” (magic water), 1994. Later she will sprinkle the water over her patient/client (sitting next to her) as part of her healing process. (Courtesy of Hong Zhang)

during which countless innocents were denounced, tortured, killed, and imprisoned, or rehabilitated and forced to issue elaborate confessions, were those of the Great Leap Forward in the late fifties and the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976). These were high points in the articulation of Maoist extremism. The nature of the antireligion activities of the latter period can be seen in the actions of the extreme wings of the Red Guards, as described by Sulamith and Jack Potter (1990). This account also provides us with a sense of how pervasive the world of spirits was in traditional Chinese society and how ongoing and intimately available spiritual guardians, spirits, and ancestors were in the social spaces of everyday life: Every building in Zengbu was searched, and all evidence of religious activity was destroyed or confiscated. Ancestral tablets in private houses were taken from their altars. Statues of Guanyin, the Buddhist

goddess of mercy, and Guangong, the deity and model of manly virtues, were also taken. The Red Guards stripped off the yellow-orange altar papers with the names of deities and the names of ancestors. The pictures of fierce guardian generals, pasted to the doors of houses in order to prevent evil spirits from kidnapping the souls of family members, were removed. The paper images of the kitchen gods, who watched over the behavior of the family and returned to heaven at the end of the year to tell the Jade Emperor what they had seen, were torn from their places above the stove. . . . The ancestral halls were taken away and the decorations were pulled down and destroyed. The village temples and their images were demolished. The village spirit mediums and the Taoist priest were ordered to stop exploiting the peasants by the practice of their false arts. The villagers were told that if they contin-


ued to burn incense and worship the gods, they would be denounced at public struggle meetings. (86) Communists denounced shamans as witches and brought many of them to justice, tortured, and reeducated them. Most practicing shamans today recall this period of political tumult as one of great personal persecution and suffering. Some even attribute the madness that overcame society as a whole to the destruction of temples and other religious sites and artifacts, which angered the gods, who turned away and would no longer listen to the plight of the people, thus allowing legions of demons to run loose upon the earth and possess them. Throughout the various campaigns against corruption and superstitious practices during the Communist period, shamans’ careers were often brought to an abrupt halt. Soon after Deng Xiaoping came to power (1978), there was a loosening of restraints on religion, and people were encouraged to pursue new economic policies emphasizing greater self-reliance and entrepreneurial activity. Collective enterprises were disbanded, and economic activity was returned to the individual family and its members. People were encouraged to go forth and prosper in the new economy. Unfortunately, many of the collective supports, including health care and various other activities supported by public funds, were eliminated for much of the Chinese countryside. In this new freer, somewhat depoliticized economic space, there were new opportunities for those who had been silenced. Throughout China there appeared what seemed to be a grand revival of tradition and traditional activities, although many of these activities were hardly a return to the past, affected as they were by the changes in the present. It has only been since the early nineties that frequent reports of shamanism on the Chinese Communist mainland have surfaced. Research into these practices, however, is still a task of the future, owing not only to the continuing difficulties involved in conducting fieldwork in the People’s Republic of China but also to the official policies still in place against such practices. The Chinese government requires government registration and permits for any and all religious institutions (i.e., Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism), their


activities, and their personnel. And most regulations on the administration of religious activities contain the following clause regarding folk religion: “Feudal and superstitious activities, such as fortune telling, using exorcism to cure illness, summoning gods and ghosts to appear, lot drawing and practicing divination, practicing geomancy, pretending to be gods and ghosts, spreading fallacies to deceive people, and swindling people of their money and causing them harm are banned” (cited in Madsen 2000, 91–92). Such regulations give the government great latitude in dealing with most Chinese folk religion, including shamanism. But in practice the government is not concerned with the activity of the shaman unless said shaman is stirring up unpatriotic sentiments and organizing local resistance to the government and its policies. In most instances the government looks the other way. And many shamanistic practitioners are quick to laud the new economic policies and the government in order to protect themselves from any possible political criticism. Owing to the size of the Chinese Mainland and the diversity of its dialects and regions, as well as the fact that it contains many minority areas, it is not possible to provide a really adequate summary concerning shamanism in the most recent period. The following example is drawn from the authors’ fieldwork in central China. More work needs to be done to gain a clearer picture of what this example means and to have sufficient data to describe the range of variation throughout the PRC. Nevertheless, tentative conclusions can be drawn. The following healing session was witnessed by the authors in the mid-nineties. An old woman in her early sixties began to have recurrent dreams that seemed to indicate that her relatives would soon visit, yet she had no living relatives except her own children, who, though grown, were residents of the same village whom she saw everyday. The woman also developed a large lump on her wrist that the village clinic was not able to heal. Eventually villagers suggested that she might see the local shaman, so she went to seek her out. Upon hearing about her problems, Shaman Wang told her to return to her house, buy paper money, and fashion a paper house and paper suitcases. As night fell the shaman came to her house to help her. A dinner was prepared for the shaman



and the family and other visitors. Shaman Wang described how her possession involved a voice entering into her from her right hand and shoulder and speaking through her, allowing her to diagnose and treat her clients. She explained that the old woman’s dreams were due to the fact that the woman’s deceased parents, whom the shaman had encountered in the Otherworld, had been living under another’s roof and had been chased out. Now they had to hang around their daughter’s house because they had no food or home of their own. They were hungry and cold. The paper images that Wang had told her to prepare were to supply provisions for her parents in the spirit world. When the meal was almost over Shaman Wang unexpectedly closed her eyes and began humming; then she let out three prolonged yawns. Someone exclaimed that she was possessed, and the old woman moved so as to sit next to her. Everything was quiet for a moment, and then Wang, her eyes still closed, started to sing and chant in a high-pitched, yet audible voice. The spirits had entered her body, and she was speaking in their voices. The voices told the old woman that there were several spirits present and that she should set up an altar to them to burn incense and pray to them. These spirits in her house (they were deities worshipped by the local people) were neglected and unhappy and had caused the lump in her wrist. By setting up an altar she would please the spirits, and they would protect her, bless her with good health, and heal her wrist. She was also told to worship her ancestors for three generations. Finally the spirits told the old woman that she should also do something for the shaman, that is, gather a jin (1.3 pounds) of cotton for her, as she was in need of it. Shaman Wang then yawned several times, and the spirits said they had nothing more to say. She yawned once more and the trance was broken. The old woman then recalled her dream and interpreted it using the shaman’s insights. The shaman instructed the woman to prepare a bowl of water, over which she chanted for about a minute; she then sprinkled this magic water over the old woman’s wrist and began to massage it. The shaman’s final task involved sending the prepared paper house and suitcases to the old woman’s ancestors. Everyone went outside, where the paper items were set on fire. As the

old woman threw some paper money into the fire, Shaman Wang chanted instructions to the spirit soldiers who were supposed to carry the paper house and supplies to the netherworld. When the fire died down the old woman tried to thrust a ten-yuan bill (Chinese dollars) into the shaman’s hand. The shaman insisted that this was not necessary, but the old woman persisted until the shaman accepted the gift. Like the descriptions from other parts of China noted above, this episode manifests the traditional Chinese belief that good health and good family fortune are manifestations of harmony achieved between this world and the Otherworld, which is inhabited by ancestral spirits and other deities. Discord, sickness, and irregularities come from the neglect by human beings of the spirit worlds, or the wrong exercise of human free will. To avoid misfortune and maintain harmony, human beings must make offerings (in the literal sense) to these spirits. If denied shelter and food, spirits will be hungry and dissatisfied, and they may become active in bringing evil to the world of the living. Thus, the parents of the old woman who sought healing from Wang had died during the Cultural Revolution, when burial rituals and ancestor worship were severely criticized, and she had not been able to engage in the appropriate practices for securing the happiness of her parents in the Otherworld. Since 1949, ancestor worship had been under heavy attack, and popular rituals such as offering food to the spirits had been considered backward, superstitious, and feudalistic and were suppressed in public. Such attacks reached their climax during the Cultural Revolution, when the suppression of popular rituals extended to the domestic realm. Family altars as well as village temples were dismantled and destroyed. Shaman Wang’s father was one of the first Communist Party members in his village to lead the attacks that helped to tear down village temples and destroy family altars that were used to worship the ancestors. According to Wang, the spirits left homeless by these actions became angry and hungry ghosts. Many years later, they had reentered her body and wanted her to speak for them and to heal patients; at the same time her father was stricken with cancer as a retribution from the gods for his actions. This connection between the acts of her father during the Maoist period and her pres-


ent shamanistic role further legitimizes and validates Wang’s practice under the current regime, where the previous extremes of Maoist policies have been discredited. Wang had experienced a period of “madness” a number of years after the Cultural Revolution and was eventually led to a shaman in a neighboring village, who treated her and asked her to become her student. Wang apprenticed herself to this shaman until the early nineties, when she started to see images of the gods and hear their voices on her own. She then began to see patients. Her history prior to her calling was undistinguished. She had had some elementary education, had started working in the fields in her teens, and had married and had children soon after that. Since the early 1980s the Chinese countryside has witnessed a flourishing of popular religious activities such as fortune-telling, temple rebuilding, temple pilgrimages, Daoist masters presiding over funerals, and feng shui (geomancy) masters hired to choose housing and burial sites. Shamans practicing in the role of traditional healers and as contacts with the spiritual world also seem to have joined in the array of religious activities that have resurfaced. Much of this return to tradition, though, must be reframed within the new space that has been created by economic reforms and prosperity on the one hand and a loosening of political control in local areas on the other. Since many of the shamans who are practicing today matured during the Communist period, it is inevitable that many of their practices are an amalgam of old and new, reinventions of tradition that respond to their own time and history. Nonetheless it is a reliance on some idea of a traditional belief system that allows individuals like Shaman Wang and her mentor to perform their acts of healing. It is the idea of the shaman as the mediator between this world and the other that seems to have proved resilient throughout greater China in all its diversity. Hong Zhang Constantine Hriskos See also: Daoism and Shamanism; Dramatic Performance in Shamanism; Uyghur Healers References and further reading: Anagnost, Ann S. 1987. “Politics and Magic in Contemporary China.” Modern China 13, no. 1: 40–61.


DeBernardi, Jean. 1987. “The God of War and the Vagabond Buddha.” Modern China 13, no. 3: 310–332. Elliot, Alan J. 1955. “Chinese Spirit Medium Cults in Singapore.” Monographs on Social Anthropology, no. 14. London School of Economics and Political Science. Gallin, Bernard. 1966. Hsin Hsing, Taiwan: A Chinese Village in Change. Los Angeles: University of California Press. Gould-Martin, Katherine. 1978. “Ong-Ia-kong: The Plague as Modern Physician.” Pp. 41–67 in Culture and Healing in Asian Societies: Anthropological, Psychiatric and Public Health Studies. Edited by Arthur Kleinman, Peter Kunstader, E. Russell Alexander, and James L. Gale. Boston, MA: G. K. Hall. Jordan, David K. 1972. Gods, Ghosts, and Ancestors: The Folk Religion of a Taiwanese Village. Berkeley: University of California Press. Kagan, Richard C., trans. and ed. 1980. “The Chinese Approach to Shamanism.” Chinese Sociology and Anthropology 12, no. 4. Kleinman, Arthur. 1980. Patients and Healers in the Context of Culture: An Exploration of the Borderland between Anthropology, Medicine and Psychiatry. Berkeley: University of California Press. Madsen, Richard, ed. 2000. Chinese Law and Government 33, no. 3 (May/June): 5–11. Potter, Jack M. 1978. “Cantonese Shamanism.” In Studies in Chinese Society. Edited by Arthur P. Wolf. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Potter, Sulamith H., and Jack M. Potter. 1990. China’s Peasants: The Anthropology of a Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Sawatzky, Sheldon. 1990. “Chinese Shamanism.” In Taiwan Journal of Theology [Taiwan shen xue lun kan]. no. 12. Taibei. Thompson, Laurence G. 1969. Chinese Religion: An Introduction. Belmont, CA: Dickenson. Wolf, Margery. 1992. “The Woman Who Didn’t Become a Shaman.” Pp. 93–116 in A Thrice Told Tale: Feminism, Postmodernism, and Ethnographic Responsibility. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Yang, C. K. 1967. Religion in Chinese Society. Berkeley: University of California Press.



HONG KONG See Spirit Writing in Hong Kong

NONG SHAMANISM (SOUTH CHINA) Among the Nong of southern China there is one kind of religious practitioner, entirely female, whose characteristics are close to those of a classic shaman. These shamans were able to continue practicing in secret even during the Cultural Revolution, and they still play an important role in the life of the Nong.

Background The southern province of Guangxi in China numbers some 15 million Zhuang, and hence was proclaimed the Zhuang Autonomous Region in 1958. The term Zhuang appeared for the first time during the Southern Sung dynasty (1127–1279). This Zhuang minority group includes an ethnic mix of Thai speakers, including the Nong. This group occupies a territory located between the Xi River’s two tributaries, the Zou and the You, in the southwestern part of the province. Following revolts led by chief Nong Zhi-gao in the eleventh century, a large proportion of the population took refuge in North Vietnam, where they can be found today, between Langson and Caobang. The Nong practice bu-luo fu-jia (non-residence with the husband). The young bride lives with her parents until the birth of the first child, which must take place at the husband’s home. Descent is patrilineal (according to the father’s kinship). Inheritance concerns only the house and personal goods; the fields are not included in any division, since according to the laws of China “The land belongs to the entire people” (Cauquelin 1994, 19). Professional religious practitioners among the Nong may be divided into five categories. Mei mot, or po mo, is translated as “sorcery” when it occurs in Chinese texts. Richard Pottier explained: “The term mo designates, in Lao language, any individual gifted with a particular talent, knowledge or power, especially doctors, magicians, astrologers, soothsayers, musicians, etc.” (Pottier 1973, 107).

Dao gong are priests, and always men. On the whole, they claim to follow Daoist practices, but some of them claim to be Buddhists. They are in charge of funerals. Mot dao are also men. According to a survey done by the author, these men play the role of soothsayers, healers, and intermediaries between the population and Chinese institutions. During rituals, mot dao use the Nong language to call upon Daoist and Buddhist divinities, such as the Three Pure Beings, Buddha, and the like. They make their diagnosis using divining rods and heal the sick using oriental medicine. In some villages, they can replace the dao gong and accompany the soul, but to the southern rather than the western paradise. It seems probable that the mot dao are former healers who have lost their jobs to national medical practice, represented by small local dispensaries, and have taken on some of the rites practiced by the dao gong. Mot nam are women. It appears that the rituals they perform are limited to the intoning of popular tunes known as mot leng. They do not possess any ritual objects and are probably subject to Daoist influence. Mot nang ai are also women (nang ai here means “moon goddess”). During the moon festival, which takes place each year on the fifteenth day of the eighth month in Jingxi, two or three women are possessed by this goddess. They also reveal that they have been chosen by her, and undergo an investiture ritual. They are renowned for the recovery of lost souls. Additionally, there is another kind of religious practitioner, known as a shaman, who also recovers lost souls, like the mot nang ai, but has other functions and is identified by the possession of a spirit-elector, the paq.

Becoming a Shaman The Nong use the system of the “eight characters” (the four cyclic binomials that situate an individual’s birth: year, month, day, hour) to determine each person’s destiny. Only those who have what is called a light destiny “can travel into the supernatural world, and attract spirits,” according to the Nong. “A light destiny” is the sign of spirits. Very early, children who have this destiny manifest strange behavior and sudden personality changes: For example, a silent child will become talkative; an-


other will remain white and drawn for hours. People fear a decrease in their own “breath of life” via contact with a “light-destined” person, and familiars keep their distance, while adopting a respectful attitude toward that person. Those with a “heavy destiny,” on the other hand, have no contact with spirits, who are afraid of them.

Auxiliary Spirits One can only be a shaman if one possesses a spirit-elector, that is, a certain kind of spirit who chooses one, the paq. The paq is allied to Maolang, the chief of the troop of auxiliary spirits, and reveals itself in the form of a horse, which the shaman uses during the ritual to reach the “Flower Garden,” where the paq live with the other spiritual beings. The shaman’s soul then crosses a bridge to enter this Flower Garden, where it goes to talk, and sometimes quarrel, with the spirits, or so it is said. Shamans say that in this place the houses are magnificent, the gardens are full of flowers and planted with great trees, and rivers wind through the beautiful landscape. Each paq has a personal name. A paq never dies. It is freed at the shaman’s death and goes away to choose another person to begin a new life. The paq undertakes this step either as soon as the shaman dies, or a few years later. The Nong call this endless progression of the spirit elector from one shaman to the next, mot t∂t, “transmigration of the mot,” (te:t, literally, “the spasms shaking the body before death”). This shamanic lineage is independent of kin relationship. The Flower Garden where the paq and the other spirits live owes its name to the correspondence established between flowers and children’s souls. Every child’s soul has its double, a flower soul in the Flower Garden, and when the child reaches adolescence, this double becomes a star soul. On the ancestors’ altar of every house, an offering bowl is dedicated to Grandma Flower, who watches over children. Grandma Flower does not look after adults, since their souls are taken care of by other spirits. The biological soul is lodged in the heart, and is reflected as in a mirror in its stardouble in the sky. During dreams, illness, and nightmares, the soul flies out through the head, and the “reflection in the mirror is


blurred”; the double becomes dull and ceases to shine. It is through this lack of light that the shaman discovers the illness. The temporary absence of the soul housed in the heart does not necessarily lead to death, and the shaman must recover it and reincorporate it in the patient’s body. At death, the star soul “falls down.” The biological soul likes to wander. Some of its escapades require the intervention of a shaman to recover it, others, on the contrary, are voluntary: For example, during a ritual, a young girl may send her soul wandering into the invisible world. The diagnosis is obvious—this is the mark of a paq’s presence.

Symptoms of Election The Nong describe two forms of election, passive and active. In both cases, illness is the symptom of election by a paq, which occurs during adolescence. Passive election is shown by disorders caused by the paq: illness, anorexia, repeated fainting fits, climbing cliffs, trees, or the roofs of houses, loss of sensations of cold and heat, unawareness of danger, and others. These first symptoms are followed by others that enable a diagnosis to be attempted, such as the recitation of ritual words, or the journey of the soul into the spirit world during a ritual. Most often the family circle tends to speak of madness. A shaman performs the ritual sa-iksi to confirm the presence of the paq. Active election also involves a disturbed girl, who meets a shaman during different rituals she performs. Sometime after being cured, this girl talks to herself and recounts in detail specific episodes of what she calls her life—in fact, of the life of a child who has died an early death in the region, even though, as far as anyone knows, she does not know either the child or the events of the child’s life. Witnesses identify the child and are convinced that the child has chosen rebirth expressed through this girl. Whatever the means of election, novices will all undergo the same apprenticeship and are in the same category. Their functions are identical; the only difference is internal, and it is not of interest to the population in general. Shamans, however, reply unambiguously if asked the question. The great majority of shamans have experienced passive election.



Apprenticeship A girl chosen by a paq cannot escape her destiny as a shaman. Her family knows this and accepts it, and yet they fear complications. If the parents wish to postpone their child’s destiny, they ask a shaman to “lock up the eight characters.” The shaman “writes” (in fact, pronounces, since shamans do not know how to write) the girl’s eight characters on a piece of red paper and locks them up in a jar, which she seals with a talisman. Then she asks the paq to immerse itself in a bowl of water, drinks the liquid, and sprays it onto the talisman. In this way, the paq loses track of the girl. This ritual requires the participation of a competent shaman, otherwise the paq resists. Parents do not oppose their daughter’s fate, but simply wish her to be able to enjoy a love life before her investiture. As the Nong saying goes, “Shamans are often sterile.” Whatever curative treatment is used, after three or five years the paq becomes restless, and the ritual to “free the eight characters” must be performed and a teacher must be chosen. A girl who has experienced passive election listens to her paq, who guides her to the house of the shaman who will educate her. If a girl has experienced active election, her biological and adoptive family (the family of the dead child having become her adoptive family) decide to send the girl to a shaman to celebrate the “wine rite,” which, according to the Nong, resembles the welcoming ritual for a newborn baby. The shaman sits down in front of the ancestors’ altar, holds her new disciple on her lap, chews some rice, and transfers it to the novice’s mouth, as a mother does to feed her newborn child. Then the shaman leaves the girl on the mat, playing with her ritual objects like a baby with its toys. She becomes a disciple. The novice is reborn in the arms of her spiritual mother. The novice then calls her teacher paq. The close relationship between the shaman and her disciple is expressed in this term of address. Whether chosen actively or passively, all disciples undergo three months of apprenticeship. The novice learns to sit in the lotus position for hours on end, manipulate her fan, ring the bells, memorize chants, and learn sign language. At the end of the first month, the girl’s family goes to the shaman’s house to celebrate the first-month ceremony; the novice can then

follow her teacher and assist her in rituals. Once again, the disciple, like a baby, must wait for this ceremony before she can “go out.”

The Investiture Ceremony After three months’ training, the disciple is free to leave her teacher. But she must first undergo an investiture ceremony. Her blood sisters prepare, at the shaman’s house, the meal known as “the wine closes the belt,” which may be translated as “the ceremony of the award of the belt.” Her sisters must give the square of embroidered silk that covers the shaman’s legs, the headband and veil, the embroidered shoes, and the ritual belt, which is tied around the new shaman’s waist by her teacher. Her teacher presents her with the ritual objects: the fan, the chains, and the bell. The disciple becomes a shaman. She has gone through the different stages that will make her a professional, but her fame is not yet established, so she stays with the old shaman and assists her in rituals, playing a more and more important role. In all cases studied, incidentally, the teacher who trains the apprentice is not the one who revealed the paq’s presence a few years previously to the passively chosen shaman.

Functions of the Shaman Women shamans are responsible for the cohesion of the Nong group in the Jingxi region. They take care of all sociological and biological disorders and take charge of the souls of those dying an untimely death. During exorcisms, the shamans take these restless spirits home, place them under their altar, and “bring them up” as parents bring up their children, rendering them harmless. They also go in search of souls that have escaped through the top of the head; in this respect they seem to be in competition with the mot nang ai. However, they never take charge of funerals, which are reserved for the dao gong. According to the shamans, it is thanks to their paq that they have been able to survive the political upheavals in China. They remind us that a paq never dies, and so no temporal power, however repressive, can oppose its transmigration. During the dark years of the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), the shamans practiced in secret. Their omnipresence and the recruitment of young


shamans is proof of their perseverance, their ability to not only survive but thrive in the contemporary world. Josiane Cauquelin Translated by Caroline Charras-Wheeler See also: Burmese Spirit Lords and Their Mediums; Chinese Shamanism, Contemporary; Hmong Shamanism; Malay Shamans and Healers; Thai Spirit World and Spirit Mediums References and further reading: Cauquelin, Josiane. 1994. “The Zhuang.” Péninsule 29: 9–34. Ling, Shu-dong. 1993. “Zhuang zu wu jiao de zhuan yong ji qi zu zhi he liu pai” [Perpetuation of Zhuang shamanism’s teaching, its organizations, and its schools]. Guangxi min zu yan jiu [Studies of the minorities of Guangxi province] 3: 84–90. Pottier, Richard. 1973. “Note on Shamans and Mediums and Some Other Thai Groups.” ASEMI 4, no. 1: 99–109.

QIANG RITUAL PRACTICES In a remote and mountainous part of western China lives an ethnic group known as the Qiang, Tibeto-Burmese language speakers, whose identity has been preserved and shaped by ritual practitioners who have some of the characteristics of shamans. The rituals of the Qiang, the practitioners who carry them out, and the language of the people are all in danger of disappearing with the urbanization and modernization of the region, but enough remains to provide an opportunity for studying a distinctive kind of ritual practice and the people who carry it out. Information in this entry is drawn from the author’s interviews with the duangong Lao Beizhi (1995–1997) and Yu Yao Ming (1996–1997) in Sichuan, China.

Background The Qiang people are one of the fifty-six ethnic groups living in China today. Qiang is a name given by the ancient Han Chinese to the nomadic people in western China. In their own language, they call themselves Erma people, meaning “our self.” They inhabit the moun-


tainous regions in the northwestern part of Sichuan Province in western China. The Qiang are recognized as “first ancestor” culture due to their ancient roots; evidence on bones and tortoise shells shows that the Qiang were living in communities in northwestern China during the Shang dynasty, circa sixteenth–eleventh centuries B.C.E. (Zhang and Zeng 1993, 144). Some Qiang were assimilated by the Tibetans, and some Qiang by the Han, leaving a small number unassimilated. This group gradually moved to the upper reaches of the Minjiang River and eventually became today’s Qiang nationality, with a total population of about 198,000. The Qiang people live in villages situated in difficult topography. The steep mountains with crisscrossing turbulent rivers prevent homogeneity or unity among the Qiang. Historically dominated by both the Tibetans and the Han Chinese, the Qiang have never been a unified political entity. The Qiang live in stone-fortress homes built on the mountain cliffs. There are also a growing number of urban Qiang, residing in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, numbering about 600. Since the early 1980s, China has been opening to the outside world. As a result of efforts to modernize and promote economic development, enormous changes are taking place for both individuals and within the social body. These changes are influencing the ancient belief system and traditional customs of the Qiang culture. Although the Qiang people have their own language, most speak Mandarin Chinese, and a few are even learning English in the hopes of obtaining better jobs outside of the village. Therefore, the Qiang language could be considered to be an endangered species. More and more villagers, after obtaining changes in their household registrations—easier to achieve now, though it is still a rigorous process—are able to move to the county town, where they pursue a variety of jobs, sell their crops in the free markets, or perhaps open small shops. In the villages, they are primarily farmers, raising crops such as corn, buckwheat, potatoes, vegetables, apples, walnuts, tobacco, hemp, and livestock—pigs, chickens, goats, yaks, oxen, mules, and dogs. In Sichuan province, the Qiang inhabit primarily the counties Maoxian, Wenchuan, Lixian, Songpan, Beichuan, and Heishui of the



Aba Tibetan-Qiang Autonomous Region, an area interspersed heavily with Tibetans and Hui (Muslims), as well as Han. Although this area was opened to outsiders in the 1980s and tourism is being actively developed, it is officially considered a minority area. Linguistically, the Qiang language is part of the TibetanBurmese branch of the Sino-Tibetan family. Qiang language is categorized into northern and southern dialects, with five and four subdialects, respectively. As mentioned above, most Qiang are bilingual, speaking Mandarin Chinese as well as Qiang, until recently an exclusively oral language. It is quite often the case that residents from villages twenty kilometers apart have trouble understanding each other, if they speak in the Qiang language. Beyond the very obvious aspects of language, this diversity among the Qiang is also evident in their customs, music and dance, and religious practices as well. Several years ago, Chinese linguists developed a script and educational materials in hopes of salvaging the Qiang language, and there are pilot language programs now in place in the village schools. At the center of Qiang culture stands the shaman, duangong (in Chinese), called Bi in the Qiang language. The Bi is the keeper of the culture, the scholar of the community. Although there are several stories of female duangongs in the past, and there is no limitation as to gender, there are no living female duangongs at this time, and so in what follows the masculine pronoun is used. Among his many responsibilities, the Bi coordinates the relationships between human beings, spirits, and deities for the welfare of all the villagers. Like the Qiang language, the Bi’s skills, knowledge, and wisdom—as well as his tools and implements and practices—traditionally transmitted orally from generation to generation, are endangered. Since a growing number of children and young adults today cannot speak the Qiang language, the duangong has also become a keeper of the language, and as he recites the chants and songs, the words themselves are emblems of the changing culture. The Qiang sutras have no written form and were memorized by the duangongs when they were youngsters. Yet it is the case now in more and more villages that only elders know the Qiang language.

Qiang Belief System The Qiang’s belief system has been influenced by Daoism, Buddhism, and even Christianity (via missionaries). There is great variety in spiritual beliefs, even between villages within close proximity. Generally, there is belief in souls and in spirits, ghosts, and demons. Some people have adopted the Chinese belief in three major souls and seven lesser souls (Graham 1958, 43). There is belief in reincarnation and fate as well as regular practice of ancestor worship. The Qiang believe in a large pantheon of gods; unlike the Chinese and the Tibetans, however, both of whom make images of their numerous gods, the Qiang have no holy images of their gods. There are two possible exceptions: AbaMulah, the original duangong, and the King of Demons, often carved on the duangong’s sacred staff. The AbaMulah is a monkey skull wrapped in bundles of white or brown paper. Once each year, the AbaMulah is wrapped with another layer of paper. The Qiang people hold a polytheistic belief system based on animism; basically, they worship gods associated with nature and ancestors who are believed to have become gods. People offer sacrifices to the gods of nature; the ancestor-gods are enshrined in the family house. There are five great gods and twelve lesser gods worshipped in each village (Graham 1958, 46) as well as a variety of other gods, such as mountain gods, tree gods, door gods, god of fire, god of domestic animals, a god of wind and rain, a god of births, occupational gods (hunter, stonemason, blacksmith), a god blessing women in their work, and a god blessing men in their work. Many Qiang people believe Chinese gods, such as kitchen gods and house gods, to be real deities and worship them regularly. According to Wang Kang and his colleagues, there are up to forty-eight kinds of gods. “All the gods, with the exception of Abamubita (God of Heaven), are of equal rank and assume social functions and duties within certain limitations. For instance, the god of a certain mountain can only govern this mountain; the god of a certain place can only rule that place. There are no degrees of seniority among the gods, nor are any statues of them given. People can choose any god(s) to worship according to their needs” (Wang, Li, and Wang 1992, 14).


The religious practices of the Qiang are the most complex aspect of Qiang culture. Their religious customs encompass a diverse and vast array of activities. Dress, food, residence, travel, marriage, funerals, festivals, daily life etiquette, and social contacts—all have strong links to the religious customs. Since the Qiang language has no written form and its spoken forms are quite numerous and distinct from each other, these religious customs vary greatly from locality to locality and even from village to village. Without question, the most visible and distinctive element of Qiang culture and religious practice is the white stone. Commonly found in all areas where the Qiang reside, the quartz stones are enshrined on roofs, towers, and mountains, in fire pits and field and forests.

The Duangong and His Artifacts The duangong wears no special clothing and in fact lives an ordinary, everyday life, with family and fieldwork responsibilities no different from anyone else in the village. The duangong’s tools and implements, however, are emblematic of the spiritual place he both holds for and carries within the community. The duangong is believed to have contact with the gods and spirits. It is believed that the duangong can prevent and heal diseases. He also calculates (through divination and fortunetelling) the best dates for important events in community life, carries out rituals and ceremonies, and conducts sacrifices and blessings. The duangong deals with spirits on three levels: upper, middle, and lower. The tools and implements of the duangong are sacred, handed down from duangong to student after the teacher dies. There is great variety in design, though not in function, between the implements of the Northern Qiang and the Southern Qiang. Generally, it is believed that the tools hold supernatural powers, which increase with age. The Qiang have no holy statues for their numerous gods; even at shrines their positions are vacant, represented at most by white stones or incense sticks. It is important to note that most duangongs now practicing do not possess an entire kit of tools, and may even lack a tool kit altogether. Some items, or even the whole tool kit, may have been de-


stroyed or lost. The most important tools of the duangong include the following:

The White Stone The quartz stone is believed to provide protection. Such stones are often collected and placed on shelves above doors and windows on homes. There are many legends about the origin of the white stone. To the outsider’s eye, the white stone is remarkable, set against the landscape of mountainsides covered with mudslides.

Language As noted, language is included in the duangong’s tool bag. Just as the hat is worn and the drum is played, the texts of the epics and chants are draped around the duangong. An indispensable element in the ceremonies and rituals performed by individual duangongs, language, which is subject to the restrictions and demands of the Han majority, is also used as a sign of identity by the Qiang community.

Monkey Skull The AbaMulah, as discussed above, could be considered the most sacred item for the duangong. This is the only holy object worshipped and enshrined, often held in a special drawer.

Hat For Southern Qiang, this is stitched together from a golden-haired monkey skin. In some cases, the eyes and ears and tail are left on. The hat is decorated with cowry shells and small round plaques, made of silver or brass or copper. For duangongs of the Northern Qiang, the hat is made out of leather, usually five rectangular boards stitched together, sometimes with painted images on each. In both the north and the south, the duangong’s hat is considered holy and efficacious.

Drum The Southern Qiang use a single-sided sheepskin drum constructed on a wooden frame and played with a drumstick, usually covered with monkey skin. A pair of copper bells may be



hung inside the drum on a wooden crossbar. The drum is often heated in front of a fire to tighten the head, a procedure that is useful in producing a pleasing timbre when the drum is played. For Northern Qiang, the drum is quite different: It is a small double-sided handheld drum on a stick, with small balls attached on a leather thong. The stick is held in the hand and twisted or rolled back and forth, and the balls, like a child’s toy, bounce around, hitting the skins and producing a relatively high, tinny timbre.

Holy Stick Made out of wood, this looks like a walking stick and has three parts: the handle, the middle wooden pole, and the iron tip. The handle often has a head carved into it, sometimes two faces and sometimes just one face. The head is also said to represent the King of Demons, useful for the rituals the duangong does to drive out the devils from a sick person. The staff is rugged and knotted, sometimes shaped like a spiral or coil.

Small Gong This gong, made of brass or copper, with a leather handle, has a tapper inside. It is used to drive away demons.

walls or burned and then eaten by the patient. Charms produced by the latter board are used for the villagers’ animals, pasted up on the pigsty or sheepfold to provide protection.

Sacred Bundle The sacred bundle is a valuable item for Southern Qiang duangongs. It includes horns of wild animals such as mountain goats, seashells, bones of birds, shoulder blades, claws of hawks and eagles, small brass horse bells, Chinese coins kept as charms, and tusks of musk deer, wild boars, bear, leopards, and tigers. The equivalent for Northern Qiang duangongs is a holy necklace—heavy and long, with many of these objects strung on a leather cord.

Horn Probably from an antelope, the horn is used to exorcise the demons. Both David Graham and Wang Kang and colleagues concur that the horn is used specifically in a water ritual to relieve pain in a patient. Holding the horn in a digging posture, perhaps even sticking the point into the ground, the duangong chants “Get out and go home” and then pours some water into the ground where the spirit was disturbed. The patient is then healed.

Divination Book Dagger Used to kill the sacrificial goat or sheep or chicken, the dagger can also be employed to make small flags and straw men for ceremonies.

Magic Seal Usually made from iron or bronze or brass with Chinese characters, the magic seal is used to print charms on paper.

Spell Board The spell board is a wooden printing board with Chinese characters used to print charms on paper. Often the duangong has two, one long and narrow, the other wide and short. Spells printed with the former board are used to treat the sick; they are burned in open places or pasted up on

This is a reference book used to calculate the best dates for life events including marriage, to arrange funerals, and to predict good or bad luck in making big money. It contains folding pages of colorful images of people, constellations, and the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac. When consulted, the duangong uses the pictures selected and gives interpretations. At first glance, it would appear that the duangong is a shaman. As a holy priest, he plays a drum and is constantly sought out to heal the sick. He is believed to have mysterious powers and deals with the world of spirits, demons, and ghosts. Wang Kang and his colleagues make a convincing argument that the duangong carries out some functions of a shaman but that the duangong is, at the same time, quite different from a shaman (1992, 78). Briefly, their argument can be summarized as


follows: The duangong carries out several roles, including presiding over religious ceremonies (Graham labels him as priest), carrying out of magic spells to relieve people of evil spirits, acting as a wizard, as healer, doctor, and psychologist, treating patients for their sicknesses, and at festivals and major gatherings, organizing and performing the Qiang epics, myths, and legends, thus acting as the community’s intellectual and scholar. At the same time, the duangong is an ordinary member of the village and never makes his living as a duangong professional. Although both shamans and duangongs deal with the spirit world, using magic and special chants and the drum, duangongs deal with a wide range of spirits and have the supreme AbaMulah god in common, while shamans often deal with a much smaller number of gods and each shaman has a personal protector god. Shamans generally have been chosen by the spirits to become shamans (often after a test or life-threatening event), whereas anyone can become a duangong as long as he completes the training and education. Often, shamans receive the spirits in a state of trance or possession; duangongs never do. Possession and trance do occur during some rituals, but this happens also with other people, often called tongzi, and hence is not an exclusive mark of a shaman. Emma Zevik See also: Burmese Spirit Lords and Their Mediums; Chepang Shamanism; Hmong Shamanism; Ladakhi Shamans and Oracles; Tibetan Shamanism References and further reading: Graham, David Crockett. 1958. The Customs and Religion of the Ch’iang. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution. Wang Kang, Li Jiangzhong, and Wang Qingyu. 1992. Shen Mi De Bai Shi Chong Bai—Qiang Zu De Xin Yang He Li Su [Mysterious white stone worship—beliefs and social customs of Qiang nationality]. Translated by Tang Qinquan, 1997. Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China: Sichuan Nationalities Publishing House. Zevik, Emma. 2001. “Lao BeiZhi Never had a Gaigua.” Shaman 9, no. 1: 61–72. Zhang, Weiwen, and Qingnan Zeng. 1993. In Search of China’s Minorities. Beijing: New World Press.


SPIRIT WRITING IN HONG KONG Spirit writing is one of the prominent features of shamanism in Hong Kong, a form of the ancient shamanistic practice in China. Shamanism in Hong Kong is derived largely from Cantonese religious traditions, given that Hong Kong, Kowloon, and the New Territories had been part of Guangdong province (of which Canton is the major city) prior to British colonization (1841–1997). There are three forms of “Cantonese shamanism”: (1) The shaman’s body is possessed by heavenly deities who speak and sing their messages to humans (in Cantonese, a shaman of this type is called bai san po, “grandmother who worships the gods”); (2) the shaman’s body is possessed by departed souls who may or may not be in heaven and who also speak and sing their messages (in Cantonese, a shaman of this type is called man mai po, “grandmother who asks those who are lost,” or man gwai po, “grandmother who asks the ghosts”); (3) the person’s hands are possessed by spirits who choose to write their messages, rather than speak and sing (in Cantonese, the procedure is called fugei). As indicated in the terminology, those in the first two categories of shamans are all older women, whereas the third category may be either men or women. In Hong Kong, the first two categories of shamans seem to be found only in the lineage villages of Hong Kong’s New Territories, the area that abuts the mainland of China (see Liu 1995 and Potter 1974). The “lineage villages” here refer to the villages that consist of certain lineages and whose villagers are bonded under a traditional Chinese kinship system. Since these lineage villages have undergone massive restructuring in recent decades, with most of the original population having moved elsewhere, the traditional shamanism associated with such villages has also gone into decline. There is little evidence that such forms of shamanism have diffused into the more urban areas of Hong Kong, probably because of their specific association with lineage ideology and organization. Thus the prevalent form of shamanism now found in Hong Kong is fugei,“spirit writing,” whereby spirits send written messages to humans via the mediation of human “spirit writers.” All spirits can speak, but only educated



spirits can write. Given the high value that Chinese people place on education, this makes spirit writing (pinyin: fúji ) a superior form of shamanism. Most shamans use voice to transmit messages between spirits and humans. Chinese spirit writers use a different method—a stick that writes messages from the spirit world. Spirit writing can now be found mainly in Hong Kong and Taiwan, although it was once prevalent also in Mainland China. Spirit writing brings messages from powerful and wise spirits. These spirits are considered to be gods (shen) in the Chinese context, even though most of them were once humans before they ascended to heaven and became immortal. These spirits offer remedies for all kinds of problems to reverent petitioners. They may also deliver sermons on morality and virtue, along with veiled prophecies about the coming year, to small groups of worshippers who have gathered around a particular spirit writer. The technology of spirit writing is simple. The spirit writing stick is usually Y-shaped, with one or two spirit writers holding the branched end of the stick and the stem tracing the characters. Some spirit writing uses a basket with a stick inserted through it. The stick traces characters on a table or tray, which is usually covered with a layer of sand. If sand is used, the tray is scraped after each character has been identified and recorded, to prepare for the next character. Spirit writing is a collaborative enterprise, and requires a minimum of two persons: one to write the spirit messages on a table, calling out each character as it is written, and a second person who serves as the scribe and writes each character on a piece of paper or in a notebook for later use and study. The mood in sessions with only two participants is often casual, with no obvious manifestations of trance. However, the person doing the writing—the spirit writer—claims not to know what he or she is writing. Rather, the spirit is guiding his or her hands, which are thereby possessed. It is this partial spirit possession of only one part of the body—the spirit writer’s hands—that makes this ritual less intense than full-bodied spirit possession entailing trance states. As a result, spirit writing does not look very different from an outpatient clinic where a doctor receives patients and writes out prescriptions (except that

the petitioner will often kneel before a statue of the god while the spirit writer is busy producing the god’s message). In this type of spirit writing operation, the petitioner writes down the question on a specially prepared piece of paper provided by the organization that sponsors the sessions. The questions are answered patiently by the spirit writer, one by one, and the scribe hands each petitioner a copy of the message or prescription provided by the deity for that particular question or problem. The spirit writer is not supposed to know the content of the question— only the spirit knows—but at some sites the spirit writer and the scribe retain the paper containing the original question and may discuss it after the petitioner has left. The next time the petitioner comes for a consultation with the deity, the spirit writer probably knows the type of question that the petitioner will ask. In any case, these sessions are calm, quiet, and businesslike. But some sessions involve a larger number of participants in the spirit writing, and these sessions are usually more intense. The number of persons who collaborate in the spirit writing session indicates the seriousness with which an organization’s members devote themselves to this practice. The most complex form of the procedure was observed by the authors at a session in a small temple near one of Hong Kong’s satellite towns in April 2002. About thirty people attended the session to watch the messages arriving from the spirit world and to seek instructions and guidance from the spirits. There were seven persons involved in the actual spirit writing: two persons to hold the writing implement (in this case, a basket with the stick protruding from the bottom of the basket), two others to announce the characters and to check that each announced character had indeed been written by the stick, a fifth person who scraped the tray of sand after each character had been written, and two scribes who separately recorded each character in the message to be sure they did not miss anything. The members of such organizations are fervent believers, who look forward to the god’s messages and study them carefully later. What do people seek from these spirit writing sessions? In Hong Kong, as elsewhere, spirit writing is mainly devoted to personal and medical problems. Petitioners come to the spirit writing sessions to ask about various difficulties


in their lives and to seek remedies and prescriptions for their ailments. Spirit writing sessions may also produce pronouncements about morality and righteousness. Like other forms of spirit mediumship (Lewis 1989), spirit writing can provide the focus for a sectarian worship group (Jordan and Overmyer 1986) and can occasionally lead to the development of a new cult (Lang and Ragvald 1998). In the past, spirit writing has also played a role in the founding of new temples and in justifying the migration of god cults to other cities (Lang and Ragvald 1993). Medical problems are the simplest of the questions that petitioners bring to these sessions. When city dwellers ask for help with a medical problem, there are several possible responses. The most frequent response from the spirits is to prescribe Chinese traditional medicines, available from any local Chinese-medicine shop. The spirit writer produces the list of ingredients, along with instructions for preparing them. Some of the persons who serve as part-time spirit writers actually work in the area of Chinese traditional medicine, as shop owners or herbalists. Thus, they are familiar with traditional remedies for various ailments. Petitioners also ask about distressing family problems. For example, at a large public Daoist temple in one of Hong Kong’s satellite-towns, on a hot Sunday afternoon, a middle-aged woman named Stella (a pseudonym) came to the temple to ask for guidance. Stella had previously asked the deity for help through spirit writing for her medical problems. She was taking Western medicines but had experienced unpleasant side effects, and with the deity’s apparent approval she stopped taking the medicine and switched to Chinese herbal remedies. Stella’s problems, however, were much deeper. She had come today to ask the deity, for the second time, about her marital troubles. Her husband, like many other Hong Kong men who travel regularly to Mainland China on business, had taken a mistress, or “second wife,” across the border. (On the second-wife phenomenon in southern China, see Lang and Smart, 2002). Deeply distressed, Stella came to ask the god whether her husband had left his mistress (as he had apparently claimed) or whether he still secretly lived with the mistress whenever he traveled to China for business. In a previous visit to the temple, Stella had asked


the same question, and had received the following reply: “In the midst of the fog, the sun’s rays are shining through at an angle; after you recover what should return to you, the responsibility is not ended.” Stella interpreted this message approximately as follows: “Your husband is now charmed by the ‘second wife,’ but their relationship is going to end. When your husband returns to you again, you will still have to be attentive.” On this day, Stella asked whether her relationship with her husband was good enough to survive these difficulties. The deity replied: “When you strike the plank, that constitutes a fact; when you reach the time, then it is easy to settle the matter.” The deity seemed to be saying: “The facts cannot be changed. When everything has settled down, it will be all right.” But Stella was not quite certain what the deity was trying to tell her. She really needed someone’s help and advice, and the deity provided, at best, ambiguous answers. Nevertheless, Stella had returned for more counseling and reassurance from the god. Such poignant stories can be heard at any spirit writing shrine in the territory. Spirit writing may also be used to provide a deity’s comments on current or imminent events. This is rare, and not many spirit writers have the courage and the skill to do it successfully. There are many risks in such an enterprise: Making a mistake about impending events, or offending some patrons with the wrong analysis, are the most obvious risks. However, Chinese spirit writing, like shamanism and spirit writing in many other societies, is occasionally used for such purposes. Shamans use their roles as intermediaries with the spirit world to analyze the struggles within their own societies (Vitebsky 1995, 116–119), and Chinese spirit writers also cannot resist the call of such events. For example, in 1989, around the time of the June 4 events in Beijing, during which hundreds and perhaps thousands of civilians were killed by soldiers attempting to clear Tiananmen Square, a private spirit writing session in Hong Kong produced a message that electrified those attending with the opening words, “The blood of the ignorant children is running as a river . . .” (Lang and Ragvald 1993, 158). The members of this private temple later printed the full message to demonstrate that their god had foreseen the tragic events.



Another small spirit writing operation, headquartered in a suburban Hong Kong temple, now produces a number of predictions in March of each new year and publishes these messages on the group’s Web site. In 2001, for example, this spirit writing operation produced the following message from a Chinese deity: “The East will rise, and the West will sink; such are the affairs of the gods.” They printed this message and posted it on the wall in the shrine, accompanied by their interpretation of the message. They believed the message had predicted the following: “China will enter the WTO [an event that occurred later in the year]. The economy of China will continue to grow, while the economies of the Western powers will decline.” The prophecies in March 2001 also included the following: “The bing-shen month [September] will cause the qi [energies] to be in discord; the sky will clash with the earth, and evil people will arise; everyone at this time will feel panic, and the six spirits [of the household] will be in disarray; in the middle of the night, orphaned souls will cry.” After the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, they decided that this statement from the spirits had been a prophecy of those events. Alas, the prophecy was too subtle to provide forewarning. Graeme Lang Vivienne Wee See also: Chinese Shamanism, Classical; Chinese Shamanism, Contemporary; Spirit Mediumship; Spirit Possession; Taiwanese Shamanic Performance and Dance References and further reading: Jordan, David, and Daniel Overmyer. 1986. The Flying Phoenix: Aspects of Chinese Sectarianism in Taiwan. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Lang, Graeme, and Lars Ragvald. 1993. The Rise of a Refugee God: Hong Kong’s Wong Tai Sin. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press. ———. 1998. “Spirit Writing and the Development of Chinese Cults.” Sociology of Religion 59, no. 4: 309–328. Lang, Graeme, and Josephine Smart. 2002. “Migration and the ‘Second Wife’ in South China.” International Migration Review 36, no. 2.

Lewis, Ioan M. 1989. Ecstatic Religion: A Study of Shamanism and Spirit Possession. 2d ed. London: Routledge. Liu, Tik-sang. 1995. “Becoming Marginal: A Fluid Community and Shamanism in the Pearl River Delta of South China.” Ph.D. diss., University of Pittsburgh. Potter, Jack. 1974. “Cantonese Shamanism.” Pp. 207–231 in Religion and Ritual in Chinese Society. Edited by Arthur P. Wolf. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Vitebsky, Piers. 1995. The Shaman. Boston, MA: Little, Brown.

SPIRIT MEDIUMSHIP (SINGAPORE) Chinese spirit mediumship in Singapore is derived historically from religious traditions in southern Fujian province, where the ancestors of most Singaporean Chinese came from. (See de Groot 1886 on religious practices in southern Fujian in the nineteenth century.) Spirit mediumship of this type is also practiced in West Malaysia and Phuket in South Thailand. (See, for example, Cheu 1988 and Cohen 2001). Why are some people spirit mediums and not others? It is commonly believed that spirit mediums are people fated to have short lives. This belief is expressed in the Chinese term used for referring to mediums, dangki (in the Minan dialect spoken by Singaporeans of Fujianese ancestry) or tóngji (in its Putonghua equivalent, although it is doubtful whether this term is found outside southern Fujian). Significantly, this term literally means “child medium.” Those with the fate of a short life are described as having a “light eight-character fate” (paz`i in Putonghua)—the “eight characters” being the symbols for the year, month, day, and hour of birth. When spirit mediums are possessed, their bodies are intermittently occupied not by their own souls, but by the possessing deities. This intermittent suspension of their souls from their bodies enables the spirit mediums to live longer lives, by spacing out their limited amount of soul over a longer period of time. For this reason, spirit mediums claim to have no recollection of what happens


during the time when their bodies are possessed by the gods. They cannot remember because their souls were absent; only their bodies were present. It is also for this reason that older spirit mediums are said to be particularly líng (powerful). Their age is taken as proof that the gods have truly possessed their bodies, thereby enabling their originally fated short lives to have to been prolonged. The belief underlying Chinese spirit mediumship is that the medium’s body becomes the physical embodiment of a deity, as the image of a deity does, with the difference that the god embodied in the medium can talk and move. Mircea Eliade’s differentiation between shamanism and spirit mediumship is relevant here (Eliade 1964). Whereas shamanism is associated with mastering spirits, spirit mediumship is associated with being possessed and controlled by spirits. In Chinese spirit mediumship, however, this logic of possession is limited to the medium’s body, and it does not extend to the medium as a person. Outside of the periods of spirit possession, the medium is seen only as a devotee among other devotees. How is it possible to tell that a medium has been possessed and is, for that moment, no longer himself or herself? The state of possession is ritually demonstrated by signs of loss of control over one’s body, such as intense shaking, ritualized violence self-inflicted upon the body without getting hurt (also called self-mortification), and unintelligible speech uttered during possession. By inflicting ritualized violence on their bodies without getting hurt, mediums demonstrate that they are, for that moment, more than mere mortals. This is done in standard ways, including licking burning joss-sticks (incense), cutting one’s tongue with a sword, sticking metal skewers or a wooden pole through one’s cheeks, striking one’s back with a ball of spikes, climbing a ladder of knives, or bathing in a cauldron of boiling oil. While possessed, the medium utters unintelligible speech, which is supposedly the divine tongue of the deity. This requires translation by an interpreter blessed with the ability to understand. From a devotee’s point of view, utterances in this divine language are the most important manifestation of the deity’s presence, as these express the divinations and advice that the devotee should heed.


There is a gender bias in Chinese spirit mediumship. It is apparent that there are more male spirit mediums than female spirit mediums. In Chinese symbolism, the male body is regarded as yang (and so belongs to light), while the female body is yin (and so belongs to darkness). Because most of the possessing gods are believed to dwell in heaven, which is the realm of light, they prefer to occupy male yang bodies, rather than female yin bodies. However, spirit possession as such is not gender-specific. Female gods may possess the bodies of male mediums, and male gods may possess the bodies of female mediums. A typical spirit medium session is a collective activity at a designated place of worship, such as a temple, the site of a festival or the home of the spirit medium. For everyday consultations, regular sessions are held at least once a week. Festivals are organized at least once a year. A session generally proceeds in the following manner. The medium lights three joss-sticks and prays to an image of the possessing deity on an altar. At this initial stage of the session, a male medium would be dressed only in a pair of Chinese silk trousers, with his upper body left bare. A female medium would be dressed in a Chinese blouse and trousers. The medium sits on a red wooden armchair, painted with dragons, facing the possessing deity on the altar. In the meantime, a ritual assistant—invariably a man—proceeds to light a thick bunch of joss-sticks, which he holds, while using a thick rope to whip the four corners of the site of worship. This is to chase away evil spirits. The joss-sticks are placed in an urn on the altar. Then several ritual assistants (all male) start to beat loudly on drums and gongs, and to chant an invocation, inviting the deity to come. After a while, the seated medium starts to shake, first the legs, then the whole body. The medium’s head rotates, slowly at first, then increasingly faster. This shaking is interpreted as a sign that the deity has started to take possession of the medium’s body. The medium starts to rise from the red chair. The ritual assistants quickly dress the medium in the clothing appropriate to that possessing deity. After being dressed, the medium manifests behavior characteristic of that deity. For example, a medium who has been possessed by the Monkey God may jump onto chairs and tables.



At this point, the deity-in-the-medium may begin to speak in an unintelligible divine tongue. However, at least one of the ritual assistants will be fortuitously blessed with the ability to interpret this language. The deity-in-themedium may ask for joss-sticks and a sword. When these items are handed over, the medium would start licking the lighted joss-sticks and cutting his or her tongue with the sword. This is minimal ritualized violence, which may be manifested in both male and female mediums. This level of self-inflicted violence tends to be the norm for everyday sessions. It is only during festivals that extreme acts of ritualized violence are carried out, such as skewering one’s cheeks or striking one’s back with a ball of spikes. Extreme acts of ritualized violence tend to be the prerogative of male spirit mediums. It is believed that if a menstruating woman were to touch an instrument of ritualized violence to be used by a medium, such as a cheek-skewer, she would bleed to death. Female spirit mediums tend to inflict only minimal ritualized violence on themselves. How then is their possession by gods demonstrated? They have to rely on speaking in a divine tongue. Sessions with female mediums thus tend to consist more exclusively of verbal exchanges between deity and devotee. Mediumship sessions are held to enable devotees to seek the help of the possessing god. These devotees are usually well informed about the time and place of the regular mediumship session, either because they frequent a particular place of worship or have been brought there by someone who knows. Generally, they gather together before the session begins. If the crowd is large, the ritual assistants may distribute queue numbers, so that the devotees can consult the deity in turn. During the session, the devotees play no role in invoking the possessing deity or enabling the deity’s possession of the medium’s body. They merely stand around as witnesses to the ritual spectacle, including the acts of ritualized violence. It is only after the deity has demonstrated possession of the medium’s body, through the acts of ritualized violence, that any communication is established between the deity and the devotees. This is done with the deity-in-the-medium sitting on the red chair, using the altar as a writing desk. The consulting devotee approaches the deity-in-the-medium and poses a question.

Some devotees put their hands together in a gesture of worship while approaching the deity. Others simply approach the deity as they would someone in an official position, such as a government official or a doctor. The deity-inthe-medium is addressed as that particular god—the Monkey God, the Goddess of Mercy, the Third Prince, and so on. The devotee presents a problem, which may involve health, examinations, jobs, business, relationships, or almost anything else. The deityin-the-medium gives advice in a divine tongue, which is interpreted by a ritual assistant for the devotee. Sometimes, before giving advice, the deity-in-the-medium may ask for further information, thereby engaging in conversation with the devotee, with the help of the ritual interpreter. Apart from verbal advice, the deity-inthe-medium may give ritual prescriptions. This is done by writing (unintelligible) divine characters on red charm papers. The deity-in-themedium may write using blood from the tongue, if this had been cut with a sword as an act of ritualized violence. If no tongue cutting was done or if the blood has dried up, red ink is used instead. The devotees are given instructions by the deity about what to do with their charm papers. For example, some charm papers may have to be burned and their ashes mixed with water and then drunk. Others may have to be posted on the front and back doors of the house to keep out evil spirits. The deity-in-themedium may also provide some treatment on the spot. For example, he or she may light some charm papers and wave them around the devotee. This is to give protection from evil spirits. After the devotees have consulted the deity, they depart. At the end of the session, before the deity leaves the medium’s body, the ritual assistants may have questions to ask. These may concern themselves or their collective worship. In the former case, the ritual assistants are just consulting as ordinary devotees. In the latter case, they are engaged in a collegial discussion about collective matters, such as ritual procedures for organizing a festival. When all questions have been addressed, the deity leaves the medium’s body. This is manifested through shaking of the body and rotation of the head, culminating in sudden physical rigidity. Then the medium falls limp, either into the arms of the ritual assistants or onto the red chair. Medi-


ums then awake as themselves, claiming to have no memory of all that has happened. The ritual assistants have to tell them what happened. The manifestation of spirit possession through ritualized violence and a divine tongue suggests a state of trance, meaning altered consciousness and loss of self-control (Strathern 1995). However, this is not seen as an end in itself, but as a means for achieving the thisworldly aims of the devotees. While the belief structure of spirit mediumship in Singapore has persisted, its institutional practice has changed through time. To understand the continuities and changes to be found in spirit mediumship in Singapore today, compare the studies of Alan Elliot (1955), Vivienne Wee (1976, 1977), Ruth-Inge Heinze (1997) and Wee Thiam Lester Chua (2001). Many spirit medium temples have been demolished in the massive re-urbanization of Singapore. In most cases, the medium, ritual assistants, and devotees still wish to continue practicing spirit mediumship as a collective activity. Thus, they need to find a new place of worship. However, because such mediumship groups usually did not register themselves as religious associations, they have difficulties in getting government permission to set up new spirit medium temples. As a result, they have to conduct their mediumship sessions in private homes—usually at the home of the medium. Despite this, mediumship groups still conduct lavish festivals at least once a year. Such festivals are held over several days in large tents on open grounds and involve processions, Chinese opera, feasts, and marathon mediumship sessions lasting days and nights. Certain changes have occurred in mediumship practice in keeping with larger social changes in Singapore. In some mediumship groups, the manifestation of ritualized violence has decreased. Conversely, greater emphasis is placed on divine utterances. Some of these utterances have become so elaborate that they go on for hours, particularly during festivals. In one noteworthy case of ritual innovation, the possessing deity has dispensed with the divine tongue. Instead, as a manifestation of his power, this deity speaks in English, albeit with a singsong intonation. This has indeed enabled greater accessibility, particularly by younger, English-educated Singaporeans. In another noteworthy case, there is a significant degree of


syncretization with Buddhism, such that Buddhist chants are played on a hi-fi set before and after the mediumship session. This helps devotees to feel that they are partaking of a ritual belonging to a world religion. Vivienne Wee See also: Buddhism and Shamanism; Chinese Shamanism, Contemporary; Spirit Possession in Rajasthan References and further reading: Cheu Hock Tong. 1988. The Nine Emperor Gods: A Study of Chinese Spirit Medium Cults. Singapore: Times Books International. Chua, Wee Thiam Lester. 2001. “A Temple at Its Crossroads: A Study of Change and Struggle in a Taoist Temple in Singapore.” B.A. honors thesis, National University of Singapore. Cohen, Erik. 2001. The Chinese Vegetarian Festival in Phuket: Religion, Ethnicity and Tourism on a Southern Thai Island. Bangkok: White Lotus. de Groot, Jan Jakob Maria. 1886. Les fétes annvellement célébrées à Emoui (Amoy): étude concernant la religion populaire des Chinois [Annual Feasts celebrated at Amoy: A study concerning the popular religion of the Chinese]. Translated from the Dutch by C. G. Chavannes. Paris: E. Leroux. Eliade, Mircea. 1989. Reprint. Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Translated from the French by Willard R. Trask. London: Penguin Arkana. Original edition, New York: Bollingen Foundation, 1964. Elliot, Alan J. A. 1955. Chinese Spirit-Medium Cults in Singapore. London: Department of Anthropology, London School of Economics and Political Science. Republished in 1964, Singapore: Donald Moore Books. Heinze, Ruth-Inge. 1997. Rev. ed. Trance and Healing in Southeast Asia Today. Bangkok: White Lotus. Strathern, Andrew. 1995. “Trance and the Theory of Healing: Sociogenic and Psychogenic Components of Consciousness. In Questions of Consciousness. Edited by Anthony P. Cohen and Nigel Rapport. London: Routledge. Wee, Vivienne. 1976. “‘Buddhism’ in Singapore.” Pp. 155–188 in Singapore: Society in Transition. Edited by Riaz Hassan. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press.



———. 1977. “Religion and Ritual among the Chinese of Singapore: An Ethnographic Study.” M.S.S. thesis, University of Singapore.

TAIWANESE SHAMANIC PERFORMANCE AND DANCE The theatrical nature of contemporary Taiwanese shamanism, in the forms to be discussed in this entry of self-mortification and lingji performance, reflects the importance of drama and dance in early Chinese shamanic practice to end drought or floods, and to exorcise malevolent spirits. During the Great Exorcism (Danuo) rituals, twelve ritual functionaries played the roles of the twelve animals: “Rat, Ox, Tiger, Hare, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep Monkey, Cock, Dog and Boar” (Loewe 1982, 54). Emphasizing the role of the shaman in dances, the Han dynasty lexicon Shuowen jiezi defined the shaman (wu) as a priest or invocator, who was female and who danced for rain. Among the early rituals performed by shamans, these rituals to summon rain were the most important and most coveted for proving a shaman’s power. Although present-day shamans continue to dance for rain in the rituals of the indigenous Taiwanese, one more commonly encounters the Taiwanese shaman called a jitong (or ta-ng-ki) as entranced dancer, exorcist, and theatrical performer in festivals, pilgrimages, and processions. Taiwanese shamans are spirit mediums, healers, diviners, changers of fate, exorcists, and counselors on issues ranging from fengshui to fertility. These contemporary Taiwanese shamans can be divided into two groups: those who perform spirit writing, who are associated with literature (wenji), and those who perform self-mortification, who are associated with martial gods (wuji). It is the second group of shamans who are the entranced dancers, exorcists, and theatrical performers in festivals, pilgrimages, and processions. These shamans are for the most part male, but women who have entered menopause can become self-mortifying shamans (Ahern 1975). Perceived as children of the demigods possessing them, self-mortifying shamans wear special costumes during perfor-

mances in which they dance and strike their skin with sharp objects to cause themselves to bleed. Typically these costumes allow for the exposure of skin on the back. If they are male shamans, they appear bare-chested, wearing only an apron (duer) and pants, and no shoes. If they are female they wear special backless shirts, over which the apron is placed. Donald Sutton explained the occasions that call for self-mortification in Taiwan: For Taiwan temples that have self-mortifiers, there are three kinds of occasions at which it is considered obligatory. The most important is in procession or pilgrimage to mark the encounter with another god’s temple or his possessed medium. A second kind of occasion is a temple’s events of transition at which chiefly temple members are present, for example at the dotting of the eyes (dianyan) of new images of gods, at the raising of the ridgepole in new construction, or at the initiation of a new medium. Thirdly, self-mortification is occasionally utilized on behalf of families of the temple community, to exorcise a dwelling at night, to expel evil airs (xieqi), or to exorcise objects such as unsanctified gods’ statuettes that have brought bad luck. (Sutton 1990, 101–102)

Self-mortification requires the use of the five treasures (wubao)—the prick ball, axe, barbed stick, dagger, and double-bladed barbed stick. During performances involving self-mortification, shamans will strike their arms, back, face, and chest with each of the five treasures (and sometimes lit incense). Each blow to a shaman’s body causes temporary cuts and demonstrates the power of the possessing deity. The blood from these temporary cuts is cleaned up with yellow paper called spirit money by those who accompany the medium through the procession. Unlike other forms of ritual performance in Taiwan, the dances and postures that make up the performances of self-mortifying shamans have a set structure and pattern. During processions and festivals, the entranced mediums will chant and perform dances in which they dance, twirl, shadowbox, skip, and hop, for example, in order to scare away and battle with malevolent spirits. David Jordan explains: “Their performance consists of an athletic ballet, magnificently rehearsed and

Female jitong performing self-mortification. (Courtesy of Alison Marshall)



enthusiastically performed, in the pugnacious tradition of Chinese shadow boxing” (Jordan 1972, 48). Many of the other performers in processions and festivals also enter trance. These individuals are often boys from the village community who have begun their training with a local temple master. Some of them hold the sedan chair (carrying the image of the god) during processions and festivals and demonstrate their training in martial arts and in boxing “parading in strategic formations that repeat the cosmic diagrams: the Eight Trigrams, the Five Cardinal Points, the Dragon-andTiger” (Schipper 1993, 46). Others dance with the parasol, and the five flags, representing the five armies, and still others play musical instruments such as drums and gongs. For larger events, an electric flower truck (dianzi huache) is ordered, upon which attractive young women (often wearing very little) sing karaoke to entertain the gods. Developing out of the performance tradition of shamans in Taiwanese festivals, processions, and pilgrimages is the new religious movement of the lingji (diviners of the spirit), sometimes called lingxiu (cultivators of the spirit), or lingmei (spirit mediums). Like the shamans who perform dances of self-mortification and exorcism while they are mediums of a god, lingji are mediums who perform dances when they are moved by a god (lingdong). These performances take place both informally, in private and formally, in public, in both individual and group settings, and although they share performance elements with self-mortification (such as the use of costumes and flags in their dances), they are not linked to exorcism or the martial gods. During a performance a lingji may become moved by any one of the Taiwanese goddesses—Mazu, the Buddhist Guanyin, Jigong Bodhisattva—or even by Mao Zedong, God, or the Virgin Mary. Lingji may be either male or female, but many of those who dance and sing are female; they range in age from teens to eighty years old. The performances, unlike those of self-mortifying shamans, are not routinized and vary from individual to individual. Many of them use exercises from qigong or the martial art sometimes considered part of qigong, taiji (tai chi). There are those who twirl—some slowly like the parasol holders and mediums in festivals, pilgrimages, and processions, and some very quickly in the manner of

dervishes. Many of the dances feature hand movements or mudras of Buddhist deities in which the index finger and thumb are joined, the middle finger and thumb are joined, or the ring finger and thumb are joined. Some dance on the balls of their feet, incorporating movements that appear to taken from western ballet. Others dance with flags. Lingji practice and beliefs associated with it have much in common with qigong practice, which became popular in China during the 1950s. Lingji practice is a primarily spontaneous and rapidly growing religious phenomenon in which individuals cultivate increasingly intense states of ecstasy reflected in the way they shake, dance, and move with others (Ots 1994, 120–123). Lingji practice has also been influenced by the practices of others called lingji who belong to and adhere to the standards set by the Republic of China Association of Mediums (Zhonghua Minguo lingji Xiehui). The association began in 1989 to establish standards for lingji practice. It offers lectures that instruct one in how to behave according to the institutionalized standards and also publishes a journal to help those belonging to the association understand what they should be doing. In one issue of the journal, Lai Zongxian explains the lingji, emphasizing the lingji’s role as a medium: Lingji signifies someone whose body is available to the ling (spirit) realm to communicate to humans, which may be special messages, songs or poems to advise, wake up or save the world, or answers to questions asked by people. Lingji are selected by the spirits primarily from those who have inherited the ability through their family lineage or, secondarily, from those who in their previous life developed a relationship with spirits due to a number of reasons. One can recognize that one is potentially a lingmei if one begins to have visions with the eyes closed, if one has special dreams, if one hears voices, if one sees written characters while the eyes are open, if one begins to do automatic writing of literary Chinese (not having studied it) or if one spontaneously speaks or sings (Chinese) opera, etc. (Cited in Paper 1996, 110).

Unlike these lingji who belong to the association, the new religious movement of lingji


cultivation practice is not institutionalized, and emphasizes informal performances. When a lingji comes to the temple or gathers with friends to move the spirit in practice sessions, she puts on a special costume. Costumes vary from the favored loosely fitting long white top over white loose pants. Lingji also wear brightly colored embroidered satin tops and pants in green, yellow, and red. Still others combine aspects of the traditional and contemporary costumes, with white tops and yellow pants or yellow tops and white pants and yellow slippers. The ever changing performance can be any combination of lingji meditating, burping, singing, or dancing and comes into being initially through the individual’s discovery of her original spirit (benling) and original nature (zixing). The place for the performance can be anywhere, and the way in which the dance will unfold is never known before it is performed. As the dance emerges, so does the context. Although some of these performances might be appreciated for their aesthetic beauty like other forms of modern dance, their spiritual value lies in the way they reflect the moving of the spirit (Marshall 2002). Contemporary Taiwanese shamanistic practice continues to manifest the importance of dance, drama, and exorcism in formal and informal rituals. Alison R. Marshall See also: Chinese Shamanism, Classical; Chinese Shamanism, Contemporary; Dramatic Performance in Shamanism; Spirit Writing in Hong Kong


References and further reading: Ahern, Emily. 1975. “The Power and Pollution of Chinese Women.” In Women in Chinese Society. Edited by Margery Wolf and Roxane Witke. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Jordan, David K. 1972. Gods, Ghosts and Ancestors: Folk Religion in a Taiwanese Village. Berkeley: University of California Press. Loewe, Michael. 1982. Chinese Ideas of Life and Death: Faith, Myth and Reason in the Han Period (202 B.C.–A.D. 220). London: George Allen and Unwin. Marshall, Alison R. 2002. “Cooperation and Lingji Performance on Taiwan.” Paper presented at the American Academy of Religion National Meeting, Toronto, November 23. Ots, Thomas. 1994. “The Silenced Body—The Expressive Leib: On the Dialectic of Mind and Life in Chinese Cathartic Healing.” Pp. 116–136 in Embodiment and Experience: The Existential Ground of Culture and Self. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Paper, Jordan. 1996. “Mediums and Modernity: The Institutionalization of Ecstatic Religious Functionaries in Taiwan.” Journal of Chinese Religions 24: 105–129. Schipper, Kristofer. 1993. The Taoist Body. Translated from the French by Karen C. Duval. Foreword by Norman Girardot. Berkeley: University of California Press. Sutton, Donald. 1990. “Rituals of SelfMortification: Taiwanese Spirit-Mediums in Comparative Perspective.” Journal of Ritual Studies 4, no. 1 (winter): 99–119.





he subcontinent of South Asia comprises the present-day states of India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and the Maldives; its influence over the adjacent countries of Tibet, Burma, and Afghanistan has been sufficiently strong that they too are often included as parts of the region. Among these countries, Nepal, Bhutan, Ladakh (part of India), and Tibet are located in the Himalayan region, the highest mountain range in the world. The economic, cultural, religious, and linguistic diversity of this region, which includes nearly 25 percent of the world’s population, is staggering. India alone has recorded over 1,600 languages. Major religions originating in the region include Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism, while Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Christianity have also existed for many centuries in well-established communities. The arrival of Islam in the twelfth century transformed the region, with Muslims forming nearly a quarter of the region’s population and accounting for approximately a quarter of the world’s Muslims. South Asia has a complex prehistory, being considered, along with China and West Asia, as one of the three “cradles of civilization.” Agricultural settlements in the Indus Valley cultivating barley and wheat date back at least 5,000 years, as does the domestication of sheep, goats, and cattle. Pottery also appeared by 5000 B.C.E. and came to be mass-produced with the introduction of the potter’s wheel around 3500 B.C.E. Although the earliest written materials that have been preserved, the inscriptions of Emperor Ashoka, date back only to 240 B.C.E., the magnificent collection of hymns known as the R.g Veda has been preserved orally from the second millennium B.C.E., brought at that time to the subcontinent by Indo-Europeans, arriving in waves from the northwest to become the ruling power throughout much of the region. Prayer and sacrifices were the key characteristics of Vedic religion, which evolved to contribute to the complex practices, doctrines, and philosophies generally grouped together as “Hinduism.” Siddhartha Gautama, who became known as the Buddha, the Awakened One, was born in the region circa 563 B.C.E., his birthplace traditionally identified as Kapilavastu in the lowlands of Nepal. Buddhism spread from northern India throughout Asia, yet, except in Sri Lanka and the Himalayan regions, by the twelfth century C.E. it had nearly disappeared from the subcontinent, losing ground to a vigorous Hindu resurgence and the arrival of Islam from West Asia. Most of the region was colonized by the British during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a legacy that has helped shape much of the region’s current politics and economies, though the states involved gained their independence in the mid-twentieth century. South Asia has rich traditions of poetry, linguistics, science (having invented, most notably, decimal numerical notation), medicine, music, dance, architecture, and the decorative arts, but these all lie outside the scope of this present work. Within a region so diverse and historically complex, the variety of divination, healing, possession, exorcism, and other ritual activities loosely identifiable as shamanism can only be sampled, yet indigenous shamanic expressions are well represented in the series of articles covering South Asia, the Himalayas, and Tibet. The historic depth of the phenomenon, with multiple expressions of




hypnotic trance, possession states, healing ceremonies, and prophecy, is demonstrated in the entry “Ancient South Indian Shamanism,” which focuses on the Tamil-speaking region of South India, using the Sangam anthologies of poems that date back approximately two thousand years. These early Tamil poems describe various categories of ritual performers, several of whom appear to have had shamanic functions, including healing while in altered states of consciousness induced by drumming. A second entry, “South Asian Shamanism,” reviews the earliest record of shamanic phenomena in South Asia, found in the classical texts of the Vedas, and also discusses some of the unique features of shamanic activity as it has evolved in South Asia. The diversity of ritual activity found throughout India today is sketched in three other entries, covering Rajasthan, Manipur, and Ladakh, completing the four poles of India’s compass. Although it focuses on India’s western desert state, “Spirit Possession in Rajasthan” discusses many of the common themes regarding possession throughout India, particularly the tension between “popular” and “classical” modalities of Hinduism. That entry also emphasizes pragmatic aspects of spirit possession, which, like sorcery accusations, frequently has links to property disputes and social or familial tensions, aspects that deserve wider consideration throughout South Asia. Devotional and healing aspects of shamanic acculturation that draw on Rajasthani examples are also detailed in “South Asian Shamanism.” In common with the ritual specialists of Manipur, most of those found in Rajasthan are more accurately termed spirit mediums rather than “shamans” in the strict sense, as they act as human vehicles for supernatural forces who overpower and occupy humans who have suspended their own consciousness. The situation in Manipur, as noted in the entry “Manipur Meitei Shamanism,” is particularly noteworthy for the prominence of women as mediums there, including ritual specialists who function as midwives, responsible for cutting the umbilical cord of newborn infants and invoking their shadow souls to enter. Manipur mediums also have the social responsibility of pronouncing death. “Manipur Meitei Shamanism” also notes the opposition of written and oral traditions, another important axis of contrast when comparing indigenous healing practices throughout Asia. Spirit mediums who incorporate many more characteristics of shamans than those of Rajasthan and Manipur are found in Tibet, most notably the State Oracle, best known of the high-ranking monastic oracles, a role also found in Ladakh, though in decline there. Other forms of oracular expression in Tibet and its adjacent areas occur among local curers, as noted in both “Tibetan Shamanism” and “Ladakhi Shamans and Oracles.” The situation in Ladakh is particularly interesting, as it is characterized by growing popularity, with oracular possession gaining increasing centrality in local ritual practices, as what was formerly a hereditary calling has shifted toward becoming a vocational practice, a shift apparently not yet true in other Tibetan communities. Village oracles articulate concerns of the disempowered, sometimes so forthrightly that the authorities may seek to suppress them. “Tibetan Shamanism” adds detailed discussions of the spirit mediums’ pantheon, examines their training, and describes their equipment and ritual practices. Of particular note are discussions in this entry of the very shamanic practice of calling back the soul, and the phenomenon possibly unique to Tibet of travelers to the realm beyond death, those who die “by mistake” and are sent back to the living with advice on how to avoid the hells where sinners are tormented. Nepal provides more examples of the varieties of shamanic activity, as nearly every ethnic group in the country has its own forms of shamanic expression. These various forms are introduced in the entry on “Nepalese Shamans”; specifics on two ethnic traditions are found in the entries “Chepang Shamanism” and “Rai Shamanism.” The entry “Nepalese Shamans” uses the common distinction between shamans and other forms of spirit possession and mediumship by the degree of control over the forces involved, a shaman having full control over the agents of possession rather than being simply a passive vehicle used by spirits to express themselves. That entry also reviews the complexity of shamanic etiology as well as the diversity of diagnostic, curing, initiation, and death rituals found among Nepalese shamans. The situation among the Chepang, a marginalized ethnic group of south central Nepal, is distinctive, in that shamans are the group’s only religious specialists. Chepang shamans are responsible not only for conducting healing ceremonies that involve travels to the upper and lower worlds, but also for officiating at all life cycle rituals for



the community. Oral mythological traditions, a key aspect of shamanism, are discussed in the entry on “Rai Shamanism.� Among Rai groups, the systems of ritual specialists differ considerably, with tribal priests existing alongside shamans in most groups. Thus this entry appropriately completes the sampling of South Asian diversity offered by these entries. Gregory G. Maskarinec

2 ANCIENT SOUTH INDIAN SHAMANISM Although shamanism per se is not a major force in the historical development of the Hindu tradition, there are subtraditions in South Asia in which certain figures appear to have shamanic functions. The existence of these figures historically indicates that the present-day subtraditions of the Hindu tradition in these areas may show an important influence from them. One of these areas is the Tamilspeaking region of South India, which coincides by and large with the present-day Indian state of Tamilnadu. The primary sources of information and descriptions of the ancient culture and religion of South India are the large, well-developed, and beautifully crafted groupings of poems known as the Sangam anthologies. These poems were written approximately two millennia ago. The anthologies fall into the two categories of akam, “interior,” poems focusing on love and personal relationships and pu≤am, “exterior,” poems focusing on war and political relationships. The poems themselves are classical in nature and show clear characteristics of being written compositions rather than oral compositions. George Hart, who has written extensively on the Sangam anthologies, has argued convincingly that numerous characteristics of these poems, especially their periodic use of enjambment, preclude the possibility that they are oral compositions. Figures referred to in the poems indicate, however, a preexisting tradition of oral poetry, powerfully religious in nature, which was the expression of a culture in which certain groups of sacred performers played roles that were important artistically and ritually—with no distinction being made between art and ritual. These performers appear to have produced a tradition of ritually powerful oral poetry, upon which the later written compositions of the classical Sangam anthologies were modeled. Though these ritual performers may not precisely fit the standard definition of shamans,

they appear to have had a shamanic function. If the distinctive and vital traditions of shamanism found throughout the world include ritually powerful healing figures who enter altered states of consciousness autohypnotically by means of various types of performance such as music, percussion, song, and sacred utterance in the form of oral poetry, then these ritual performers of ancient South India had a function in the society that crossed over into the shamanic. Moreover, considering the diversity found among shamans worldwide, it is important to explore cultures not traditionally or primarily associated with shamanism in order to find where on the scale of the shamanic to the non-shamanic these cultures fall. The culture and religion of ancient South India appear to be ripe for such exploration. Early Tamil poetry describes and mentions several categories of ritual performers. The most important among them were the, K‹ttar, Porunar, Vi≥aliyar, and the Akavunar. The first of these, the, appears in numerous ritual contexts in the Sangam poems and is associated with drums and instruments that were ritually powerful. The performer could lend an aura of auspiciousness to a household that summoned him by performing songs and poems at various times of the day and during various types of activities. The played a lutelike instrument called the ya-§ that was believed to be filled with the sacred. The music he played on this lute was performed in sacred modes called pan. s, from which his title is derived. Attesting to the ritual power of this music, these pan.s appear to be the basis from which the present-day traditions of South Indian classical ritual music called Saxk†tam are derived. The also played and was associated with ritually powerful drums and drumming. At times of harvest and during battle, they played a resounding drum called the tan. n. umai. The K‹ttar were ritual performers who danced as well as sang. They appear to have also been connected with ritual reenactments. Most probably the present-day k‹ttu tradition




of epic reenactment has its roots in these ancient performances. The K‹ttar were associated with ritually powerful drums and with altered states of consciousness best described as sacred entrancement, or possession. There are clear references in the poems to such performers dancing ecstatically to the resounding, sacred drum called the mu§avu. The context of these dances of sacred entrancement/possession (called the, was an area ritually initiated and bounded by the K‹ttar. means “threshing floor,” indicating an important connection between this area connected with grains and the harvest and the sacred entrancement ceremonies of the K‹ttar. The third category of ancient Tamil ritual performer mentioned above are the Porunar, who were singers and ritual poets. They also appear to have been associated with sacred drums and other instruments. Their ritual and artistic activities seem to have been connected with harvest festivals and with conferring blessings of prosperity, fertility, health, and success on communities and individuals. In the contexts of these groups of sacred performers and the importance of their experiencing sacred entrancement/possession or autohypnosis, the origin of the name Porunar is instructive. It is derived from the Tamil verbal root poru, which means “to join, to unite with, to be combined” (Winslow 1979, 822), indicating a theological concept of some type of fusion with the divine. It is important to note that in the devotional movements that developed centuries later in South India analogous concepts concerning sacred entrancement/possession played central roles. Still in the early twenty-first century in Tamilnadu, the experience of sacred entrancement/possession is vital to the religious movements and traditions that predominate in this region. The Vi≥aliyar were female ritual performers. The term is almost always glossed or explained by commentators as a word referring to the wives of the, K‹ttar, and Porunar, indicating that they had achieved a status as sacred singers, dancers, and reenactors distinct from that of their spouses. The Vi≥aliyar, as with the male groups of ritual performers, appear to be linked with sacred songs, sacred instruments such as the lute and various ritual drums, and ceremonies of blessing and ritual entrancement/possession.

The Akavunar appear to have been divinerpoets, both male and female. Their poetry, specifically linked to the sacred sounds of their words and music, has a particularly mantic quality. The term Akavunar is derived from the verb akavu, “to summon, to call,” and is often linked to certain birds, carrying also the meaning of “to utter sound, as a peacock.” This verbal root and its derivatives take on a particularly sacred sense in the ritual contexts of ancient Tamilnadu. The term akaval comes to refer to a meter for sacred poetry, particularly oracular poetry, and also takes on a primary meaning of prophetic utterance. The link with birds is also important in that certain birds were considered ominous. Of further significance is the association of the Akavunar with certain ritual instruments and implements. There appears to be a linkage with a drum called the kin. ai, which seems to have been used in ceremonies in which sacred figures were awakened or summoned. There is a more distinctive association of the Akavunar with a ritual rod or staff, probably made of bamboo. It is called the pi≥appun.a≥ttun.k∫l, which, according to George Hart, is, “the staff that gives knowledge of the future” (Hart 1975, 145). Several important characteristics emerge from a close study of the poems composing the Sangam anthologies that developed out of the traditions of sacred oral poetry associated with the ritual performers discussed above. One of these relates to the epithet mutu va-y, “ancient wisdom,” which was frequently applied to them. This epithet was specifically linked with persons or creatures who possessed a knowledge of the past and future and who were associated with divination. Men and women from these groups of ritual performers received these powers of divination in the context of the rituals that characterized ancient Tamil culture and religion. These performers went into sacred hypnotic trance/possession, and their words were mutu va- y, “prophetic.” The male diviner became a priest who was an exorcist, a dancerpriest in sacred trance/possession (Kailasapathy 1968, 64). In the early Sangam poems the male diviner was described as doing a sacred dance called ve≥i ayartal, “to dance in frenzy/possession.” These two vital ritual concepts, mutu va-y and ve≥i ayartal, indicate that traditions of ecstatic prophecy and mantic poetry were central


to ancient Tamil culture and that the ritual performers discussed above were foci of these sacred traditions. A poem from the Sangam anthologies that is an elegant and telling manifestation of the traditions and ritual performers of ancient Tamil society discussed above is Akana-yu-≤u 98, which has been translated into English: Women who utter ancient truths, skilled at lying, Spread out rice in a winnowing fan To discover the truth And say, “It is the presence of Murugan, hard to bear.” Mother believes them, And in a house so well made it could be a picture, She prays: “May my daughter’s loveliness, As lovely as a doll’s, return.” The sweet instruments are played together, The floor is prepared, A large pandal is decorated with ornaments for the dance, They put on Ka»ampu [sacred flowers] and white pieces of palmyra leaves, The sweet drone sounds behind a compelling beat, They cry out the great name of the god Throwing up their hands, And the priest makes the large floor resplendent With his frenzied dancing, Moving like a puppet Manipulated by a skillful puppeteer. (Hart 1975, 28)

The above typology of ritual performers from ancient Tamil society indicates that their sacred ceremonies and oral poetry were linked with hypnotic trance/possession, healing and blessing, and prophecy, each of these important aspects of traditions of shamanism worldwide. Studying these ancient Tamil traditions of sacred performance from a comparative perspective will enable those scholars specifically interested in more distinctly shamanistic traditions to place them on a spectrum from the shamanic to the non-shamanic and make important cross-cultural comparisons along this spectrum. Richard A. Frasca


See also: Divination; Dramatic Performance in Shamanism; Drumming in Shamanistic Rituals; Healing and Shamanism; Hinduism and Ecstatic Indian Religions; South Asian Shamanism; Trance, Shamanic References and further reading: Frasca, Richard A. 1990. The Theater of the Maha-bha-rata: Terukk‹ttu Performances in South India. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. Hart, George L. 1975. The Poems of Ancient Tamil: Their Milieu and their Sanskrit Counterparts. Berkeley: University of California Press. Kailasapathy, K. 1968. Tamil Heroic Poetry. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Sivathamby, Karthigesu. 1981. Drama in Ancient Tamil Society. Madras: New Century Book House. University of Madras. 1936. Tamil Lexicon. 8 vols. Madras: University of Madras. Winslow, M. 1979. A Comprehensive Tamil and English Dictionary. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services.

CHEPANG SHAMANISM (NEPAL) Very little is known about Chepang Shamanism despite its extraordinary importance, and the Chepang, who at present reside in the central southern area of Nepal, in particular in the districts of Dhading, Makwanpur, Chitwan, and Gorkha, are one of the least studied ethnic groups in the country. The present geographical distribution of Chepang settlements is the result of a series of migrations that have, over the past fifty years, led them to abandon the lands originally inhabited by their forefathers, which was mainly in the district of Dhading, in search of arable land. Up to a few decades ago, the Chepang were a nomadic population of hunters and gatherers, but a combination of violent deforestation and a ban on hunting activities in many parts of the country has brought sudden and violent change in the life patterns of the group. Most obviously, their subsistence economy had to change from one based on hunting and gathering to one based on agriculture. When the Chepang began their migration in search of land for cul-



tivation, the best land had already been occupied by other ethnic groups, which meant that the Chepang had to settle in areas that were particularly arid and often almost inaccessible. The Chepang are in fact one of the poorest ethnic groups in Nepal, where Hinduism prevails. The Chepang do not recognize the Hindu caste system, which is particularly rigid in Nepal. Though most profess to be Hindus to ensure a peaceful coexistence, their religion is clearly shamanistic and still closely linked to the world of the forest and hunting. The relatively unsyncretic nature of their form of shamanism would also appear to be confirmed by the fact that their shamans, known as pande, are the only religious experts present in the group. Many other ethnic groups in the country have other figures functioning alongside the shaman, such as Buddhist or Hindu priests or other religious experts who conduct particular ceremonies such as funerals. The pande covers all functions and is the key figure in Chepang society. Apart from functioning as an intermediary between the world of humans and the divine, he or she also functions as a diviner, therapist, and psychopomp, whose presence is indispensable for all rituals connected to life cycles. Though many inhabitants of Nepal consider the Chepang to be Untouchables, members of the lowest rank of the Hindu caste hierarchy, pande command great respect and are held to be the most powerful shamans in the country by other ethnic groups whose villages are located in the vicinity of Chepang settlements. The Chepang pande consider themselves to be tunsuriban, a term that denotes their ability to conduct cosmic journeys into both the Heavens and the Underworld. Shamans from other ethnic groups are classed as urghsuriban, as they are considered, though this is not strictly correct, only to be able to travel in the celestial regions. According to the Chepang and many other tribal groups in the country, the world is divided into three parts: nine celestial levels, an intermediate level, which corresponds to the human world, and seven levels of the Underworld. All three zones are inhabited by divinities, various types of supernatural beings, and demons. The Chepang are undoubtedly closely linked to the Underworld, in which it is believed they have their origins and where the spirits of the

most worthy ancestors are called upon to live alongside the divinities. Though accessing the Underworld is extremely dangerous, it is described by the pande as an idyllic place full of forests, rivers, and jungles in which the ancestors can hunt freely and where there is no reminder of anything negative, none of the hunger or illness that afflict the Chepang in the course of their sojourn in the human world. The Heavens, on the other hand, are conceived as a source of many problems and even death and destruction. The ninth and last celestial level is inhabited by the lord of death, known by the Hindu name Yama-raja. This lord is served by dangerous planets that inhabit the lower levels, in particular the Kal and Niu, which he sends to the human world to bring on illness and death. The Kal and Niu, together with a host of supernatural beings and witches, for the main part human, are the greatest opponents of the Chepang pande during the frequent shamanic sĂŠances for almost all their nocturnal duration. The pande can only undertake cosmic journeys in the night, which journeys take place only during trances. These trances are sometimes so deep that they may, in particularly dramatic cases, lead to the pande falling into states of catalepsy. The sĂŠances held during the day are strictly diagnostic in nature, and pande never enter into the altered states of consciousness that allow them to conduct journeys into the celestial world or Underworld or to act as a host for spirits and divinities during the day. No particular costume is worn during ceremonies, and a limited number of ritual objects are used, including two necklaces, one made out of black seeds and one of rudraksha (Elaeocarpus ganitrus), which are also common to other ethnic groups in Nepal and function as protection for the pande against attacks from evil spirits. The main instrument used is the single skin drum, termed rin or ring in the Chepang language, which has a diameter of forty to fifty centimeters. The ring has a cross-shaped grasp on the inside and various forms of iron chains and hangings dangle from the back of the drum. The role of the drum as it is used by the Chepang is particularly interesting. The drum is never associated with animal forms and never takes the form of a steed. Instead, it has its own personality and its own name, which is kept secret and is identified with the figure of a hunter who ac-


companies the pande on his or her cosmic journeys. The duties of the ring are to protect the pande and search for the causes of illnesses or calamities that may have befallen a certain individual or a whole village. The ring will chase wicked spirits and, especially during divinations, is also often associated with a mirror, which reflects the images of other cosmic zones. Dreams play a particularly important role in Chepang Shamanism, especially during the initiatory call to the profession. The pande do not recognize any earthly instruction, and gurus can almost always be recognized in supernatural beings that appear in dreams to the initiates and provide instruction over the course of several dreams. Generally speaking, novice pande do not undergo any physical or other form of suffering in the course of initiation, as has been noted to be the case with many other Nepalese groups. The supernatural spirits involved in initiation vary from individual to individual though it is not uncommon for the guru to be the spirit of an ancestor, an ex-pande belonging to the same clan as the initiate, who undertakes the training of the future shaman. One of the most important figures that appears in many tales linked to the call to the profession is that of the spirit shaman of the forests known in Nepalese as the ban-jh∑kri. Those pande considered to be the most powerful generally tell of how they were kidnapped at a very young age or even when they were newborn babies by the ban-jh∑kri. The banjh∑kri is believed to take children he has chosen for initiation into the profession to his palace, where he lives with his terrible wife, the banjh∑krini, who is an extremely dangerous witch, very fond of flesh and human blood. The banjh∑kri has to protect the future pande from her. In the ban-jh∑kri’s palace candidates for initiation learn to play the ring, sing, and do everything else they need in order to practice the profession. Some, though not many, tell of experiencing cleansing and purification operations during which the ban-jh∑kri opened their bodies to clean their internal organs. Once instruction has been completed, be it in the form of a dream or during a kidnapping, the pande must then be recognized as such by the community. An important festival called the Chhonam Festival is held once a year, in the month of Bhado (August 15–September 15), to celebrate


the new harvest. During Chhonam, harvest offerings are presented and offered by the pande to the divinities and ancestors. Many patients also appear at the dwellings of the pande where the ceremony is held, as this day is believed to be the most propitious for the curing of illnesses, especially for complicated cases or those cases that have not been resolved in earlier séances. Chhonam is the period during which novice pande are presented to the community to which they must prove their abilities and knowledge. These séances are usually watched over carefully by expert pande who help the novices and maintain control of the situation, especially during the phases in which the novice pande go into trance. These trances are considered to be dangerous since, if the novice has not yet acquired enough experience, he or she may well be possessed by evil spirits, which could endanger the lives of all present. The control exercised by the pande over the novices suggests that, though initiation apparently takes place in the course of a dream, the role played by those who are already pande is by no means secondary. Not all novice pande presented to the community in the course of the Chhonam are considered to be ready to practice the profession of the shaman, and those who are judged to be insufficiently prepared have to wait for the next year’s Chhonam to be recognized as pande. Apart from this important annual festival, the Chepang pande celebrate another in the course of the year, which is held in honor of the god of hunting, Namrung. As we have already said, Chepang shamanism and Chepang culture in general are closely linked to the world of hunting, and for this reason one of the main divinities of the pantheon is the god of hunting, who controls all wild animals and is believed to live in the dense forests. Namrung is one of the few divinities that appears to be common to all Chepang groups, whereas the names and characteristics of many other supernatural beings vary greatly from one area to another and even from one pande to another. This may also be because the pande receive the call to the profession and instruction in the course of dreams from different spirits and supernatural beings, which makes the personal element particularly strong in Chepang shamanism. Shamanic séances are held fairly frequently and for different motives. People turn to the



pande in the case of illness or when they want to find the reason for which a person or an object has been lost. Funerals are extremely important, and the pande are called on to celebrate complicated and dangerous séances in the course of which they accompany the soul of the deceased to the world of the ancestors. Therapeutic séances are still the most frequent, and are held according to a common pattern. The ceremony always begins with a request by the pande addressed to the friendly supernatural beings, some of which will accompany him or her on the cosmic journey in search of the soul of a patient that is believed to have been kidnapped by some angry divinity or malevolent spirit. Once the soul has been located, or in other cases once the cause of a patient’s sufferings has been found, the pande attempts to negotiate with the supernatural spirits and often engages in real battles with the latter. Most of the time the pande succeeds in his or her task by promising the spirit some offering of blood. After the pande comes out of the trance in the course of which his or her soul has completed the cosmic journey, he or she communicates the requests of the divinities or spirits to the audience. This communication is often followed by a sacrifice of an animal, usually a chicken or in the most serious cases a goat, whose blood and head are offered up to the angry spirits. The séance is concluded with the greeting of the friendly spirits, some of which possess the pande. In every way the pande function as intermediaries between the human world and the divine, and this role is of vital importance for the spiritual and physical well-being of the entire community. Diana Riboli See also: Animal Sybolism (Asia); Colonialism and Shamanism; Daoism and Shamanism; Drumming in Shamanistic Rituals; Drums, Shamanic: Form and Structure; Initiation; Nepalese Shamans; Psychopomp References and further reading: Gurung, Ganesh Man. 1989. The Chepang. A Study in Continuity and Change. Kathmandu: Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies, Tribhuvan University. Hitchcock, John T., and Rex L. Jones, eds. 1976. Spirit Possession in the Nepal Himalayas. Warminster, UK: Aris and Phillips.

Rai, Nivak. 1985. People of the Stones. Kathmandu: Tribhuvan University. Riboli, Diana. 1993. “Shamanic Paraphernalia and Dances among the Chepang Shamans.” Pp. 122–127 in Shamanism and Performing Arts. Edited by Mihály Hoppál and Tae-gon Kim. Budapest: Ethnographic Institute, Hungarian Academy of Sciences. ———. 1994. “Shamanic Rites of the Terai Chepangs.” East and West 44: 327–352. ———. 2000. Tunsuriban. Shamanism in the Chepang of Southern and Central Nepal. Kathmandu: Mandala Book Point.

HINDUISM AND ECSTATIC INDIAN RELIGIONS Hinduism is not a unified, rigidly coherent religious system organized around a single revealed text or charismatic founder, but rather a congeries of beliefs, practices, and texts arising from different cultural and linguistic regions within India, all of which nonetheless are bound together by a history of mutual influence and share many cosmological features. Hinduism can be compared to a vast ocean into which streams of influence from many different regions have poured, and whose waters have, in turn, mixed thoroughly with those of the tributaries that feed it. Among those influences, ones flowing from what one could call shamanism have been particularly significant. Yet here too, terminological problems complicate the task of straightforward description. Scholars have described a variety of Indian ritual practices as shamanism and a variety of religious specialists as shamans. Indeed, the ecstatic states said to be characteristic of shamanism are a regular feature of Indian religiosity; meditation, devotional worship of deities, and spirit possession, for example, can all induce altered states of consciousness. For the purposes of this article, the Indian religious specialists who will be identified as shamans are those who actively will supernatural beings to come to them, often using special drum rhythms or other techniques to induce in themselves the states of consciousness necessary for these beings to speak and act through their bodies. They do this not mainly for their own


spiritual benefit, but to assist people with difficulties, the causes of which may be moral, medical, or supernatural, or all three simultaneously. In general, Indian shamans usually do not describe their work as involving either journeying to another world or retrieving lost souls. Rather, an Indian shaman’s performance usually entails the convincing bodily impersonation of a supernatural being. Arguably the most prestigious and widely influential stream of texts, beliefs, and practices within Hinduism is that of Brahmanical Hinduism, which takes as its authoritative reference point a body of ancient inspired texts known as the Vedas. Devout Hindus would argue that the Vedas are eternal, heard rather than composed by human beings, but scholars estimate that they were composed in the north of India and compiled into a single collection around 1200–1000 B.C.E. The sages (≤≈i) who first “heard” the Vedas have some of the characteristics commonly associated with shamans. Intoxicated by a drink prepared from the soma plant, rishis perceived the hidden webs of similarity that connect things that otherwise seem distinct, and they “trembled” (vipati) with the intensity of their visions. The religion described within the Vedas centers on the sacrifice (yajña), an elaborate ritual initially performed to nourish the deities, called devas (from the Sanskrit root √div, to “shine,” to “be brilliant”), who create and sustain the universe. Later (around 900–600 B.C.E.), ritual commentaries elaborated on the inner meaning of sacrifice, revealing that the components of both the sacrificial altar and victim were identical with the constituents of the natural world and the social order. In the sacrifice, Brahman priests harnessed the power underlying these identities through the use of sacred syllables (mantras) and ritual action to provide their patrons with this-worldly benefits such as success in battle, wealth, long life, and sons. Over time, the Vedic sacrifice lost its central place within Hinduism, but the authority of the priests continued. Brahman priests are still a significant component of Hinduism today. In their role as family priests (purohits), they preside over key life cycle rituals such as marriages, funerals, death anniversaries, and coming of age initiations, lending the authority of tradition to events through their recitation of Sanskrit texts and mantras. In addition, as experts


in the science of astrology, Brahman pan.Rits (scholars) compete with shamans for clients seeking relief from problems with apparently supernatural causes. In the seventh and sixth centuries B.C.E., a new style of religiosity emerged in the urban centers of northern India, crystallized in the figure of the Ωraman.a, or “renouncer” (lit. “one who toils, who practices asceticism”). As a religious ideal first introduced in the (Brahmanical philosophical texts), the renouncer rejected the this-worldly desires of the householder who patronized the Vedic sacrifice, abandoning spouse and family for a life of anonymous wandering or seclusion in the forest. Freed from social obligations, he devoted himself to ascetic and meditative practices that quelled egoistic desires and led to a revelatory understanding of the universe. A distinctive and influential cosmology developed from the renouncers’ milieu, according to which no individual being comes into the world for one time only. Instead, beings move through an aeonslong cycle of birth, death, and rebirth (saqsa-ra), in which the kinds of bodies individuals are born into are shaped by their actions in their previous lives (karma literally means “action” seen as bringing upon oneself inevitable results). Within the Brahmanical orthodoxy, this cosmology reinforced the ideology of caste, according to which society was organized into an interdependent, hierarchical whole by the division of people into distinct social classes. Thus Brahmans and other elites deserved their high status and social privileges by virtue of their good deeds in previous lives, just as low castes deserved their low status and deprivation. Renouncers sought to escape this cycle of death and rebirth altogether by eliminating the karmic effects of action, which bound one to the world. The new Indian religions of Jainism and Buddhism took these ideas to their furthest realization, but they also deeply influenced Hinduism, as seen in the prevalence of sa-dhus (ascetics), yogis (spiritual adepts), and sannyasins (mendicants) in present-day India. Mircea Eliade, Sergei Shirokogoroff, and others have entertained the idea that the Sanskrit word Ωraman.a is related to the Tungus word shaman (through a Pali cognate, saman.a) (Eliade 1964, 495; Maskarinec 1995, 97). Although this etymological argument (and the argument about influence that it implies) is dis-



puted, one could argue that the meditative states of a sixth-century renouncer bear some similarity to the trance states of Central Asian shamans. A significant difference, however, is that the South Asian renouncer does not enter into trance states to act as a conduit for the divine for the sake of others, but rather to attain redemptive power and knowledge for him or herself. Buddhist monks and Hindu yogis do serve their communities—through preaching as well as through the exercise of the superhuman powers (siddhis) they develop in the course of practicing meditation. In this way, like Brahman priests, they function as professional rivals to shamans. But the renouncer is ultimately engaged in a solitary journey, the goal of which is to transcend the cosmos altogether. Renouncer ideals posed a challenge to the religious authority of Brahman priests, prompting a creative reconsolidation of Hinduism. Key for our purposes was the reemergence at this time of theism. The worship of divine beings had been an important component of Vedic religion, but with the elaboration of the technical aspects of sacrifice, the gods had taken a backseat to the awesome power of priests. Gods again resumed their central place with the rise of the Sanskrit mythological texts called Puranas ( and epics such as the RGmGyan.a and the MahGbhGrata. In the Bhagavad-G†tG (a section of the MahGbhGrata composed between 100 B.C.E. and 100 C.E.), one learns of an alternative way to achieve salvation known as bhakti. Here, salvation comes not through the performance of Brahmanic rituals, or the meditative and ascetic rigors of the renouncer, but through absolute devotion to a god, who is generally understood as the Supreme Being. The word bhakti is derived from the Sanskrit verbal root, flbhaj, which means to “share” or to “participate in,” and it refers to a style of devotional religiosity that stresses the intimate, embodied, and personal relationship of devotees to deities. Bhakti also gave rise to a new kind of ritual, p‹ja-, in which one offered pleasing substances to the deity. The characteristic bhakti theme of “sharing” is seen vividly in this ritual, in that after offering flowers, fruit, and other such things to the deity, worshippers distribute them among themselves. By consuming the leftovers that a deity has already sampled, devotees display both their intimacy with, and their subordination to, the divine.

The love of the divine celebrated in the path of devotion reached phenomenal heights in the regional forms of bhakti that arose first in seventh-century southern India and later throughout the subcontinent. Bhakti literature composed in regional languages such as Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Kannada, and Tamil describes how groups of devotees sought to cultivate and intensify the experience of god-love through exercises involving visualization, energetic singing and dancing, and repetition of divine names. For example, when the “mad” Vaishnava saints of Bengal experienced the bha-va (the “mood,” or “feeling”) of Lord Vishnu they would cry, shout, writhe in the dust, babble and laugh incoherently, and engage in all manner of unorthodox behavior (McDaniel 1989). Tantra is another theistic style of Hindu religiosity that emerged early in the Common Era. A mostly elite, conservative tradition within Hinduism, which is more extra-Vedic than antiVedic, tantra can be defined as a fast-track practical path to salvation aimed at the achievement of supernatural powers and salvation in this life through the practice of complex rituals that lead the adept to a reintegration with the original cosmic powers. Tantric cosmology does not stray far from established Hindu views in seeing the cosmos as saturated with the presence of a divine godhead, conceptualized as powerful, beguiling, and feminine. But while Hindu ascetics view the cosmos with its sensuous qualities as something to transcend, tantrics seek to achieve mastery over it by harnessing the feminine cosmic power and becoming fully, consciously integrated with it. In contrast to bhakti ritual, which encourages submission to the divine, the rituals of tantra enable the adept to become divine through visualization of the deity (dhya-na), recitation of mantras, and magical gestures (mudras) that “put” or “set” (nya-sa) the deity in the body of the practitioner. Having become divine, tantrics can command all the forces of the cosmos, including spirits, to achieve their own desires or the desires of others. An argument that scholars often hint at, but rarely develop systematically, about both bhakti and tantra is that one sees in them ecstatic techniques found in indigenous shamanistic traditions channeled toward the worship of the gods of the Hindu pantheon. Given the difficulty of locating historical sources that repre-


sent indigenous regional traditions before contact with Hindu ideas, this theory will probably remain speculative. But the links between bhakti, tantra, and shamanism in India are undoubtedly very strong. Two theological assumptions are central to all three traditions in India: first, that the gods are physically close, easily accessible, and intimately concerned with human affairs, and secondly, that the gods are capable of both protecting and harming human individuals and communities. One would be hard-pressed to find any community in present-day India that has not been influenced to some degree by the movements that have shaped Hinduism, as described above. However, at higher elevations and in more remote areas, the religions of the local people sometimes bear only a very slight resemblance to Hinduism. They may, for example, assign the names of Hindu gods to their own deities, while retaining religious practices and beliefs whose overall structure and tone are very different from Hinduism. The shamanistic elements in these religions are quite varied. This entry focuses on the shamanistic patterns that one sees in the religions of communities of the plains and riverine areas where Hinduism has had a deeper influence. The type of religious specialist identified for the purposes of this article as shaman exists alongside many other specialists in India. The shamans do the work of diviners and astrologers when they offer diagnoses of present difficulties and make predictions about the future; but, like mediums and oracles, they do so by summoning deities who assume control of their body, speech, and mind. Like exorcists they can drive afflicting ghosts out of their clients, and like healers and curers they provide other kinds of diagnoses of and treatments for illness, but again they do so by channeling the power of a deity. Sometimes they function as priests for the gods who possess them, and sometimes they work in a complementary fashion with priests, prescribing the necessary sacrifices and rituals to propitiate a deity, which a priest must then conduct. The common thread connecting all of these functions is spirit possession, but of a particular kind. Many Indian languages distinguish between two states that English conflates under the single word possession: an unwelcome, afflicting type of possession and a benevolent type that is


actively sought out. In Tamil, for example, spirit possession is described and experienced as affliction when an unsatisfied ghost (p∂y) or offended family deity (kuladeyvam) is said to have “caught” someone (pi»ikkiratu). This sense of an entity that is hard to brush off, that is attached like a thorn or a burr, or a sticky stain, is also conveyed in the phrases used to describe unwelcome spirit possession in Rajasthan: bhu-t lagna- or bhooth laiyo or churail lagi, which literally mean “a ghost lays hold of ” or “gets stuck to” someone (Kothari 1982, 11). On the other hand, possession by a deity who is welcomed, sought out, and experienced as benevolent is described in Tamil as the god “coming to,” or “descending upon” someone (vakiratu, azhakiratu). Similarly, the phrase bha-v a-na- (literally the deity’s “feeling” is “coming”) in Rajasthan denotes the arrival of a welcomed and worshipped entity (Gold 1988, 38). Consistent with Ioan M. Lewis’s observations on the etiology of spirit possession (1986), there is a correlation between social status and possession. Women and young or low-caste men are generally more vulnerable to the negative type of spirit possession, while the benevolent type is experienced more often by men than by women, and more often by those with relatively more wealth, power, and status than their peers. In South India, for example, spirit mediums tend to be from the lower castes, but are often individuals with exceptional wealth or status. This contrast between benevolent and malevolent possession depends in part on the hierarchical nature of the popular Hindu pantheon. A different set of specific deities presides over each region and village in India, but the underlying structures of each set exhibit considerable similarity. At the top is usually a local form of one of the great gods of the Brahmanical tradition, S´iva or Vi≈n. u. These gods accept only vegetarian offerings from their devotees and are attended to by Brahman priests. At the next level down is usually a local goddess (amman-, Ωakti) identified with the pan-Indian goddess. At this level and below, the deity usually accepts nonvegetarian offerings (e.g., goat and chicken sacrifices) and is attended to by nonBrahman priests (p‹ja-ris). Next are the herodeities, ancestors, local nature deities, apotheosized spirits of those who died violently or prematurely, and theriomorphic deities (e.g.,



the snakelike na-gas). Finally, at the bottom of the hierarchy one finds an assortment of largely malevolent supernatural beings, who may be recruited into the service of gods higher up in the pantheon but more often roam about spreading disorder: ghosts and demons (p∂ypica-cu, bh‹t, pretas, churail), witches, the jinns of folk Islam, and so forth. The notion that the divisions between types of beings, whether supernatural, human, or animal, are not absolute or fixed allows for considerable mobility between the levels. The spirits of men and women who died prematurely or with many unsatisfied longings may become afflicting ghosts who lurk in the branches of trees, in cremation grounds, and in lonely spots near rivers or crossroads. Even the most frightening ghost, however, may become a beneficent ancestor if worshipped properly. In time, a local godling with a large following may become identified as a local incarnation of or a guardian deity to one of the great gods of the Sanskritic tradition. Generally speaking, the deities invoked by Indian shamans are the minor gods and local hero-deities who partake of the ferocious power of the lowest beings, but who use it in the service of both humans and gods. In Tamil Nadu, the shamanistic ritual of exorcism vividly displays the hierarchy of gods, as the more powerful deity who speaks through the shaman dominates the afflicting ghost (speaking through the mouth of the possessed), berating it, beating it, and forcing it to disclose what it needs in order to go away. Hindu shamans are almost always devotees, and often priests, of the gods who come to them. This is true for the sa-miya-»is (lit. “Goddancers”) and ko-»a-n.kis (exorcists who use hourglass drums) of Tamil Nadu, the ga-d.igas of Karnataka, the ba-k†s of the Pahari-speaking people of the Lower Himalayas, and the bhopa-s of Rajasthan. In addition, shamans tend to follow the purification conventions established by regular temple priests. Before conducting important rituals that require them to enter possession states they purify themselves by bathing and abstaining from sexual intercourse, eating meat, and drinking alcohol. When the deity comes to them, they become a kinetic icon of the deity and receive worship from others. The line separating what one could call a shaman from people to whom a deity regularly or occasionally comes is fairly thin; in fact,

crossing over that line is a regular element in the career of a shaman. Nevertheless, a distinctive professionalism characterizes those who can generate income and prestige by invoking the deity at will. A sign of such professionalism is often the use of special objects during their shamanistic performances. In Tamil Nadu, where the tradition of serving as the sa-miya-»i for a particular deity is passed down by inheritance from one generation to the next, the office usually passes to an individual particularly adept at becoming possessed, along with the implements used to physically embody the divine (ceremonial staff, billhook, drum) or demonstrate that the possession-state is genuine (iron nail–embedded shoes, torch, hooks for piercing the skin, and the like). The training of a shaman is often informal, based on a process of observation and imitation. As elsewhere, an effective shaman is sensitive to the cultural codes of a community, is aware of local gossip, and is a good judge of character; the shaman is also able to respond quickly and convincingly to minimal cues. This latter ability is especially important when clients come with the expectation that the deity will know without being told what problems or issues they wish to have addressed, as is common in Tamil Nadu and the Pahari-speaking areas of North India. Insofar as their performances consist of bodily impersonations of the gods, shamans must adhere to the conventions that shape the way audiences expect the gods to appear: The presence of Mariamman, a village goddess of South India, is physically signaled with wide-open, bulging eyes; Kaliamman sticks out her long tongue; and serpent deities cause the arms of their mediums to entwine above their heads in a sinuous, sometimes sensual manner. But successful shamans, those who attract many clients, are able to do this convincingly while adding their own distinctively personal touch. Some scholars have maintained that shamanism in India displays a critical stance toward the established caste and gender hierarchies of Brahmanical Hinduism. Gerald Berreman noted in 1964 that low-caste Pahari shamans and their audiences seemed to derive considerable pleasure from the fact that higher-caste clients were compelled to do the shaman’s bidding when he spoke in the voice of the god. Indeed, shamanism, like other deviations from


Brahmanical orthodoxy, denies the exclusive authority of Brahman priests, enables both men and women to assume prominent roles, values rather than denigrates the “natural” qualities of women and members of low castes, and encourages the expression of strong, one might say extreme, emotional and psychological states that may lead to the transgression of orthodox norms. To the extent that the authority of shamanism is based on a speaker’s perceived ability to represent authentically the point of view of the divine, shamans can and do authorize departures from tradition. But on the same authoritative basis, they may just as easily support or reinforce prevailing norms. Recently, scholars have questioned the extent to which shamanism necessarily sanctions resistance to the dominant social order, or whether it does so in a simple, straightforward manner (Hancock 1995; Kapadia 1995). For example, when the goddess “came” to the urban, middleclass Brahman mediums of the goddess Mariamman, as described by Mary Hancock, they were able to buck the social norms that compel a wife and mother to attend unquestioningly to the needs of her family, and they were also able to dictate unorthodox innovations, such as that women who are menstruating are not ritually impure (contrary to orthodox belief ). But these moments of liberation were relatively fleeting and dependent on the cooperation of family members. One can also see a correlation between the caste identity of Indian shamans and the hierarchical position of the deities who regularly come to them. In general, higher-caste mediums serve as the vehicles for gods higher up in the pantheon, while lower-caste mediums serve gods lower in the pantheon. Moreover, higher-caste mediums, or those bent on upward mobility, often manifest spirit possession in a much more subdued manner than do mediums from lower-caste backgrounds; higher-caste mediums tend to “Sanskritize” the appearance of the deities they channel, even when these deities are from the lower echelons of the pantheon (Hancock 1995; Harper 1957). Such observations support I. M. Lewis’s contention that where shamanism is marginal to a dominant religion it can offer opportunities to critique the prevailing social order, but when it is central, it tends to reinforce the dominant social hierarchies (Lewis 1986). Eliza F. Kent


See also: Ancient South Indian Shamanism; Ladakhi Shamans and Oracles; Manipur Meitei Shamanism; South Asian Shamanism; Spirit Possession in Rajasthan; Tantrism and Shamanism References and further reading: Berreman, Gerald D. 1964. “Brahmins and Shamans in Pahari Religion.” Journal of Asian Studies, 23 (June): 53–69. Blackburn, Stuart H. 1985. “Death and Deification: Folk Cults in Hinduism.” History of Religions 24, no. 3: 255–274. Dumont, Louis. 1986. A South Indian Subcaste: Social Organization and Religion of the Pramalai Kallar. Translated from the French by Michael Moffatt et al. Delhi: Oxford University Press. Eliade, Mircea. 1989. Reprint. Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Translated from the French by Willard R. Trask. London: Penguin Arkana. Original edition, New York: Bollingen Foundation, 1964. Gold, Ann Grodzins. 1988. “Spirit Possession: Perceived and Performed in Rural Rajasthan.” Contributions to Indian Sociology 22, no. 1: 35–63. Hancock, Mary. 1995. “The Dilemmas of Domesticity: Possession and Devotional Experience among Urban Smarta Women.” Pp. 60–91 in From the Margins of Hindu Marriage: Essays on Gender, Religion, and Culture. Edited by Lindsey Harlan and Paul B. Courtright. New York: Oxford University Press. Harper, Edward B. 1957. “Shamanism in South India.” Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 13: 267–287. Kapadia, Karin. 1995. Siva and Her Sisters: Gender, Caste, and Class in Rural South India. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Kothari, Komal. 1982. “The Shrine: An Expression of Social Needs.” Pp. 5–31 in Gods of the Byways. Oxford, UK: Museum of Modern Art. Lewis, Ioan M. 1986. Religion in Context: Cults and Charisma. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Maskarinec, Gregory. 1995. The Rulings of the Night. An Ethnography of Nepalese Shaman Oral Texts. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. McDaniel, June. 1989. The Madness of the Saints: Ecstatic Religion in Bengal. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.



INDIA See Hinduism and Ecstatic Indian Religions; Spirit Possession in Rajasthan (India)

ISLAM AND SHAMANISM See Tajik Shamanism (Central Asia); South Asian Shamanism; Zarma Spirit Mediums

LADAKHI SHAMANS AND ORACLES (HIMALAYAS) In Ladakh as elsewhere in Asia, shamanism is hardly a dead or desiccated issue as was once predicted (Geertz 1973). Once thought to be scholarly survivals, shamanism and spirit possession are part of a growing social phenomenon within that indeterminate and contested cultural realm known as the Himalayas. The growing popularity and centrality of oracular possession in local ritual practices is proof of its persistent ability to articulate an increasingly fragmented and contested social and cultural reality. The ability to resist the reductionism of rational or medical idioms is what allows possession to encompass the wider domains beyond the Cartesian mind and body, including family, kinship, society, and polity (Atkinson 1992; Boddy 1994). At the western end of the Indian Himalaya, the shamanic traditions of Ladakh both bridge and transcend a number of critical symbolic oppositions in local discourse––lay and monastic, male and female, purity and pollution, order and disorder, sickness and sanity. Ladakhi shamans, or oracles (as they are known locally) both disrupt and consolidate key cultural norms through their flexible, pragmatic, and ad hoc approach to healing and divination. The oracles’ paradoxical pronouncements both reinforce and resist the superiority of the monastic authorities who ultimately provide the authority for the oracles’ ritual status. Yet even as oracles subtly submit to the monastic discourse of power and knowledge, they creatively adapt these dis-

courses by enabling or empowering others to disrupt extant social hierarchies. In local discourse, oracles, or lhapa (lha pa), are one of a range of healers who engage in the strategic and professional transformation of personal and social suffering (Kleinman 1980). Other customary healers include monks (dge slong), reincarnate priests (rin po che), lay astrologers (dbon po), and practitioners of traditional Tibetan medicine (am chi, lha rje). Part doctor and part diviner, part psychiatrist and part lawyer, oracles not only diagnose and cure various illnesses and misfortunes, but also negotiate property disputes and divorces, counsel couples and families, and make predictions about individual, household, and community prosperity. Ladakhi shamans are best understood as oracles or spirit mediums who are possessed by one or more named spirits of the local Buddhist pantheon. From a perspective outside of the culture, Ladakhi oracles are understood less as journeying to than communicating with a distant spirit world, as their bodies become vessels through which the divine can speak. Whereas Eliade was inclined to exclude spirit possession from his definition of shamanism, contemporary research on Himalayan shamanism and possession (Hitchcock and Jones 1976) regard both as variable aspects of a single phenomenon. Ladakhi oracles share an ability “to divine the future, diagnose disease and misfortune, and otherwise bring aid to . . . clients” with many other spirit mediums across the Buddhist Himalayas, including the Sherpa and Dolpo lhapa, the Tamang bombo, and the Tibetan or Bhutanese dpa’-bo, dpa’ mo, and lha pa (Hitchcock and Jones 1976, xiii). Ladakhi shamanism is a historically and culturally mediated social practice with traditional links to the monastery as well as the state, the medical as much as the ritual realms. Although A. S. Anagnost (1987) has suggested that the rise of state and religious bureaucracies led to the replacement of charismatic male shamans by more peripheral female spirit mediums, the evidence from Ladakh suggests a more complex interpenetration of shamanism, monasticism, and the state. Rather than the replacement of male shamans by female mediums, the two roles coexist and complement each other in local discourse. In Ladakh, as in Tibet, the conversion to monastic Buddhism between the seventh and tenth cen-


turies never fully suppressed earlier shamanic traditions (Samuels 1993; Stein 1972; Tucci 1988). The synthesis between shamanic or ecstatic mediation and a more scholastic and institutionalized Buddhism is evident in the two types of oracular possession: a disruptive village level medium and a more official, formalized monastic medium. The two major types of Ladakhi oracles–– village/house mediums and monastic/state mediums––are both known as Lhapa (Brauen 1980, Day 1989). Whereas the village oracles have a more peripheral and ambiguous status as personal healers and diviners who are closely linked with the demonic and misfortune, the monastic oracles serve as official diviners who are closely affiliated with the monastery and the state. Village oracles diagnose and cure the body and spirit of their patients, the household, or the community. By contrast, monastic oracles simply divine but never cure the political fortunes of the state and its public servants. Village oracles are laypeople of either sex whose ability to enter into controlled trance is triggered by prior illness or a possession experience. In recent decades, village oracles have mostly been women. By contrast, monastic oracles are always men, either lay or monastic, who are chosen by lottery or election to be possessed by protector spirits (chos skyong, srung ma). Although their service to the kings ended with Ladakh’s absorption into the Indian nation in 1947, monastic oracles still serve local bureaucrats and citizens who ask about politics and social welfare. While the popularity and prevalence of village oracles has grown steadily, the impact of monastic oracles remains small. By 1990 only two out of Ladakh’s dozen monasteries, Matho and Stok, still maintained monastic oracles. By contrast, oracles (lha mo) are now found in many villages along most the heavily populated portion of Indus valley, half of whom were female by 1981 (Day 1989). Ladakh lies in the Himalayan portion of Jammu and Kashmir, which borders the vast Tibetan plateau as well as Pakistan’s Northern Area. With historic links to Central Asia, Tibet, and Kashmir, Ladakh has a mixed Buddhist and Muslim population. It is made up of two districts, Leh and Kargil, whose combined population is just under a quarter of a million people. Buddhists and Muslims each make up


about 48 percent of the population; the rest of the population comprises Sikhs, Christians, and Hindus. There is also a small community of Tibetan refugees, who came across the border from Tibet after 1959. Ladakhi oracles are drawn from and cater to a predominantly Buddhist population that is concentrated in Leh district and the Zangskar region of Kargil district. Occasionally, clients and oracles are drawn from Muslim, Christian, and Hindu communities (Day 1989). The rising prevalence of oracles in Ladakh is most related to changing work, marriage, and residence patterns. Older forms of status and rank cannot compete with new forms of wealth, status, and the growing spread of modern Indian cinematic and media culture. Despite rapid modernization, the household and its land remain the primary economic, legal, and social unit of Ladakhi society. Traditional practices of primogeniture, polyandry, in which many brothers marry the same wife, monastic celibacy, and the joint family system are on the decline, as younger sons commonly marry separately and divide the family estate or migrate to the city for work in the military, civil service, or tourist sectors. Most daughters move to their husband’s natal household unless there are no sons, in which case a daughter inherits her natal household and brings in a husband from elsewhere. Although young wives are still subject to the authority of their in-laws, shifting careers have led some couples to set up house independently. The incomplete transition from primogeniture and the joint family to nuclear households and individual inheritance has left a growing percentage of the younger generation disenfranchised. Oracular possession is related to increasing conflict over collective identities framed around ethnicity, religion, or gender (Aggarwal 1994; Beek 1996; Gutschow 1998). Local explanations for the recent rise in oracular possession point to politics, economics, and Buddhist cosmology. The rising number of oracles is said to be due to increased militarization and insecurity, state development initiatives, a growing cash economy, and increased external and internal migration (which causes ritual pollution, grib), along with the worsening state of the world, which forces deities into the human world or causes them to flee to Ladakh from elsewhere, such as Tibet (Day 1989). Within Ladakh, village oracles are con-



centrated most heavily in and around Leh, where the social fabric has been most dramatically altered by internal transience, population growth, militarism, and the influx of Kashmiri merchants, Indian soldiers, foreign tourists, and migrant workers from Bihar and Nepal. The slight increases in education and jobs have left a younger generation frustrated with limited social mobility, poor educational standards, and consistent discrimination against them as inferior subordinates who cannot compete at the state or national level. Extended stays by young people outside of Ladakh for higher education or employment, along with the influx of migrants, have led to heightened strain on cultural boundaries and local concepts of purity and pollution. Oracles mediate cultural and social boundaries as they attend to stresses such as finding a job, a wife, or a place in the education system. The anonymity and secularization of urbanization have led to increased incidences of depression, mental illness, suicide, and drug use. These have led to greater participation in the cult of village oracles, even as the monasticism oracles are in decline. Village oracles are made, not born in Ladakh. What was formerly a hereditary calling has become a largely vocational practice. Although village oracles used to be drawn from households with a long tradition of oracular possession (Day 1989), village oracles currently come from a range of households, not necessarily associated with an oracular lineage. Oracles are drawn from both lower and middle classes, from wealthier and older households as well as more indigent newcomers, and from both commoner and outcaste strata, though rarely from aristocratic households. Despite varied social, economic, and personal backgrounds, all oracles undergo some form of an initiatory ordeal or illness. Although individual ailments may vary, a generic pattern can be tentatively identified. Before being formally inducted as oracles, most initiates experience a prolonged period of psychosomatic illness, often accompanied by involuntary possession attacks. During this prolonged attack by malevolent forces, which may last from several months to several years, initiates commonly face some form of social censure or ostracism. Although the initiates’ unpredictable behavior––sudden fits of emotion, fainting spells, and inability to work––may be deemed evidence of divine elec-

tion in the long run, they earn certain disapproval and loss of social status in the short run. The inexorable logic of karma may turn the victim into the accused, as present suffering is considered the well-deserved result of past misdemeanors. Like psychoanalysts, village oracles must undergo a ritualized “cure” before they are trained to heal. Initiates become oracles by submitting to the same ad hoc treatments that they will recommend to their future patients. Most initiates seek out competing diagnoses and cures from a range of healers, including oracles, Tibetan doctors, monks, astrologers, and biomedical doctors (Day 1989, Gutschow 1997). With the exception of biomedicine, all of the traditional discourses––medical, monastic, oracular, and astrological––draw on shared idioms and compatible notions of causality. Although all of the discourses draw on the law of karma for ultimate or primary causality (rgyu), each recognizes a number of secondary or proximate causes (rkyen). The secondary causes of spirit possession include behavior, emotion, diet, season, astrological factors, mental illness (known in local idiom as wind disorder, rlung gi nad pa), demonic influences, witchcraft (gong mo bzhug byes), and ritual defilement (grib). Ritual defilement in particular includes a range of transgressions from the ritual to the moral realm (Gutschow 1998). Defilement is caused by both accidental ritual oversights harming (gnod) unseen spirits and by improper behavior or emotions, such as theft, lying, violent activities, mixing with Muslims, obsessive thoughts, excessive anger, and violent jealousy. This emphasis on defilement defines possession as an attack by vulnerable spirits, who are in continual danger of being offended or wounded. In local idiom spirit possession is conceptualized as a transgression, excess, or imbalance of the spiritual, psychic, or moral order. Spirit possession reflects and refracts a broader Buddhist discourse about the disturbance of cosmic boundaries, natural balances, and bodily barriers. Oracles learn to repair that which has been transgressed as they begin to channel the spirits and their emotions in a more socially productive fashion. Whereas medical, ritual, and oracular discourses stress the physicality of the invasive demons or spirits, Buddhist philosophical discourses recognize demons as psychic projections or illusions, ultimately empty


of inherent and independent existence. All of the discourses, however, even the philosophical, accept the conventional validity of phenomenal reality and its spirits, even if they subordinate this reality to the Buddhist doctrines of karma, emptiness, and dependent origination. Before becoming village oracles, initiates undergo extensive medical and ritual interventions. It is possible to make a tentative distinction between the medical approach, which focuses on the body, behavior, and emotion, and oracular, ritual, and astrological discourses, which focus more on morality and cosmic causality. In practice, the discourses are interdependent and inclusive rather than exclusive and separate. Most initiates who experience involuntary possession begin with medical treatments ranging from “gentle” herbal mixtures to “fierce” remedies such as acupuncture and moxibustion (use of the moxa plant, placed on the skin and used as a counterirritant. In Tibetan medical discourse spirit possession is grouped with other mental illnesses (smyo ba) caused by a profound imbalance of the body’s three major humors, wind, bile, and phlegm (Epstein and Rabgyay 1982; Rabgyay 1985). If the medical treatments fail to assist the displacement of the body’s central life wind (srog rlung), ritual intervention may be required to call back the soul or enhance the life force. The life force (srog) and soul (bla) are two of the five factors calculated in a Tibetan horoscope: The other three are body (lus), power (dbang), and luck (klung). Any number of personal or household rituals, including exorcisms (brgya bzhi, lha gsol) and enhancement rites such as putting up prayer flags (rlung rta) or calling the soul (bla ‘gugs), may be performed to ransom the initiate’s health, call back the soul, or enhance the initiate’s luck and power in order to avert sickness and death. Initiates may be required to purify themselves by undergoing ritual performances, including ritual ablutions or fumigations (khrus, bsang), fasting, circumambulation, meditation, and pilgrimage, as well as other forms of gaining merit. After completing ordinary rituals and taking standard ways of gaining merit, initiates may petition a high-ranking or reincarnate monk to use his tantric prowess to divine the god or demon that afflicts them and provide a ritual purification (khrus), blessing (sbyin rlabs), or sacred amulets (srung ba) to ward off further


impurities or spiritual malaise. This monk may perform a standard tantric liturgy (sadhana), in which he generates and embodies his tutelary deity (yi dam), in order to dispel the demonic and bind the beneficial spirits plaguing the initiate. Only senior monks or reincarnates can confirm the presence of beneficial spirits and fully banish the demonic. The emphasis on tantric ritual and Buddhist merit making reinforces the primacy of Buddhism over the lesser spirits and folk beliefs with which it does continual battle. From an external viewpoint one could say that the monks use their monopoly of tantric practices to authorize the new oracles as ritual healers. Although oracles must submit to the monastic authorities for recognition, they may continue to challenge or resist the supremacy of the monks in their healing practice. Village oracles can only be inducted as healers through explicit ritual recognition from a senior oracle and a senior monastic. During or after their ritual or medical interventions, initiates apprentice themselves to a senior oracle, from whom they learn to recognize and control the possessing spirits, as well as to perform basic healing practices. All village oracles undergo a lengthy tutelage under a senior oracle, a practice known as “submitting to the gods” (lha ‘bogs). During this training period, initiates repeatedly enter trance in the presence of the senior oracle and a senior monk (Day 1989). The two ritual authorities interrogate the initiate in order to identify and authenticate any spirits that are present. These training sessions are used to confirm that all demonic influences have been banished and that the possessing spirits are dedicated to work only for the welfare of others, a standard Buddhist objective. The training and induction rites mirror the process by which Buddhism subdued (‘dul ba) the fiercely independent shamanism it encountered across the Tibetan plateau. The initiate, who is possessed by worldly spirits (‘jig rten pa’i lha) still trapped within the cycle of birth and rebirth (srid pa’i ‘khor lo), submits to the monks, who draw on the power of higher tantric deities and transcendent gods, ‘jig rten las ‘das pa’i lha, literally those who “have gone beyond” the world of suffering (NebeskyWojkowitz 1975). In Tibetan Buddhism, tantric virtuosos are the most highly prized ritual experts because they can call on the widest range of forces in



their battle against demonic chaos. Tantric experts make use of Buddhas, celestial bodhisattvas, and tantric protectors, as well as more worldly gods, such as monastic protectors (chos skyong), household gods (pha lha), village gods (yul lha), and personal protectors (dgra lha). Oracles, by contrast, primarily access the worldly gods, such as protectors and more ambiguous sprites of the Underworld (klu), earth (sa bdag), and space (gzhi bdag). Such autochthonous worldly spirits are domesticated and absorbed within the Buddhist pantheon in order to secure the clerical sphere of authority and efficacy (Gutschow 1998; Samuels 1993). The final induction into the status of full oracle involves a critical separation rite (lha ‘dre phye byes) in which the senior oracle and an ordained monk determine that the initiate’s spirits have come to work for Buddhist purposes (Day 1989). The senior oracle and the students will undergo trance simultaneously in order to separate and dispatch the negative demons and positive spirits accordingly. A variety of symbolic idioms are used to test the initiate’s ability to distinguish the good spirits from the bad––arrows, stones, or a game of dice. The initiate may be required to break or discard the arrows or stones symbolizing demonic spirits and correctly identify those that signify certain Buddhist deities, such as the guardian deities (chos skyong, dharmapala) of the four directions. Alternatively, the initiate’s fate may be decided by a ritualized game of dice, recalling the famous episodes from the Central Asian Gesar epic and the Indian MahGbhGrata (in the latter the fate of the Pandava kingdom is decided by a game of dice) (Day 1989). In this ritualized competition, the senior oracle champions his or her protégé against a monastic adversary, whose victory spells defeat for the initiate. In the course of the separation rite, the monk discards a set of tantric offering cakes (gtor ma) signifying obstacles and performs a ritual ablution or fumigation to purify the space. This final authorization of an oracle neatly illustrates how monks and oracles both complement and contest each other’s ritual power. The induction process confirms monastic preeminence in dispelling impurity and danger, while restoring ritual order and purity. After induction, village oracles begin practicing by performing healing séances in their own home or, if necessary, in the form of a house

call. Most séances follow a typical pattern, as the oracle becomes temporarily possessed by one or more local guardian deities or more remote mountain deities from Tibet. Depending on the oracle’s popularity, the séance may include anywhere from one to a hundred patients who have gathered at the appointed hour in the oracle’s home. The oracle prefaces the rite by carefully washing of the hands and mouth, for most spirits are deemed to be particularly offended by human smells and other forms of defilement. While patients chat informally, the oracle prepares the standard set of offerings as invitations of hospitality (gsol ba) or requests for assistance from a range of Buddhist and local spirits (Ortner 1975). The oracle then dons her ritual costume after preparing the customary Buddhist altar of seven offerings, including water, flowers, incense, barley, a butter lamp, and offering cakes, as well as “golden drinks” (gser khyem) and juniper incense. In full view of the patients and audience, the oracle dresses herself with a ritual apron (pang khebs), cape (stod le), and five-pointed crown (rigs lnga), and ties a scarf over her mouth before picking up her major ritual implements––the bell, thunderbolt, and small hand drum, used in standard tantric practices. The arrival of the god is signaled by hiccuping, sneezing, or other behavioral tics, often while putting on the crown or scarf. The oracle begins her séance with a lengthy chant, while spinning the hand drum, shaking the bell, and performing basic tantric gestures (mudra-s). As the hypnotic combination of the bell, drum, and chant take effect, the oracle may address the god who has come to possess her, by offering the golden drinks. The healing session begins when the oracle is fully in trance and turns toward the patients, who offer a blessing scarf and then present their ailments, predicaments, or queries. Most patients are treated either with an extraction or a divination. To extract noxious substances believed to be causing illness or misfortune, the oracle places a short copper tube upon the patient’s body, vigorously sucks, and then spits the resulting substance into a bowl of water set aside for this purpose. The oracle may then divine the cause of illness by reading the offensive substances just removed from the body. She may also read the barley corns dancing across her drum or use her rosary beads to calculate


an answer. Patients may seek answers to any number of concerns, including marriage prospects, upcoming exams, jobs, and other mundane worries. The extraction of substances may offer only limited healing, yet the divination may specify the secondary causes of the ailment, including pollution, accidental transgression, or the attack of harmful spirits. Because accidental pollution is so common in a system where unseen spirits are offended by daily human activity, the question is not so much whether pollution is present but who has been offended. The oracle either identifies the wronged spirit and recommends ritual treatment or refers the patient to other healers for further diagnosis. After the tense acrobatics and power of the ritual, each patient contributes a small donation in cash or kind before leaving the oracle’s house. Oracular possession encourages multiple interpretations and a flexible, inclusive rather than exclusive approach to illness and treatment. Using Arthur Kleinman’s terms for analyzing indigenous healing systems (1980), oracular possession uses informal institutional settings; a relatively intimate and yet authoritarian interaction between healer and patient; empathic and charismatic healers who accept limited payment for their services; and a ritualized rhetoric of diagnosis and healing using somatic, psychic, and moral idioms. The therapeutic stages of the healing process are open-ended and inclusive, as the diagnosis, treatment, and cure of the illness and final authorization as an oracle often require the wider involvement of the family, community, and religious establishment. Yet oracles do not supply seamless harmony at all costs. The village oracle may reject previous diagnoses, scold patients for seeking treatment elsewhere, and forcibly counter prior diagnoses offered up by supplicants. Both village and monastic oracles may serve as a local voice of resistance, scolding villagers about the decline in morality, purity, and loyalty to tradition and custom. They may also go so far as to critique the establishment, by singling out lazy and lecherous monks, scheming astrologers, doctors, or merchants, and politicians with no sense of shame. In other words, the oracle voices truth to power, by articulating the concerns of the displaced or disempowered in a direct, shameless manner, openly disregarding customary norms of polite nonconfronta-


tion. In the case of village oracles, such critique can earn both respect and disparagement, or even outright retribution from higher authorities such as monastics. It is not uncommon for village oracles to lose their abilities to enter into trance, unlike monastic oracles who are simply rotated out of their position. A village oracle may stop channeling spirits for a number of reasons, including personal health, concerns about the accuracy of her diagnoses or divinations, and monastic anxieties about the authenticity or benevolence of the spirits in question. Unlike monks, who draw on institutional backing even when rituals fail, village oracles renegotiate their healing authority every time they practice. Their ambiguous position outside of the institutional monasticism stands in sharp contrast with the second, much smaller group of spirit mediums in Ladakh: monastic oracles. Monastic oracles have more legitimacy than most village oracles, although their practice is less frequent and more circumscribed. The two monastic oracles left in Ladakh are closely associated with royalty or aristocracy. In Stok village is the palace (mkhar) and estate granted to the last king of Ladakh in the nineteenth century; Matho housed a lesser aristocracy, which frequently intermarried with the kings and nobles of Ladakh, Zangskar, and Lahaul. Even after the fall of the Ladakhi monarchy to the neighboring Dogra rulers in the nineteenth century and up through Ladakh’s incorporation into the Indian nation in 1947, monastic oracles were called upon to give advice to the kings and ministers who continued to adjudicate local affairs (Heber and Heber 1977). Because monastic oracles are chosen by rotation or by lottery, they bear little of the stigma associated with the prolonged ordeal of involuntary possession. At Stok, two village households each provide a man to serve as oracle every year, in turn, while the two Matho oracles are chosen by lottery from the monastic population, although they used to come from among the lay population. The laymen who serve as oracles are paid in grain for their performance, which is collected as a tax from every household in the village. Before their ritual appearance during the twoday festival at Stok monastery, the two laymen chosen as oracles undergo fifteen days of ritual preparation, including daily ablutions (khrus) at the hands of the Vajra master (tantric master) (rdo rje slob pdon) of Stok monastery (Brauen



1980; Day 1989). The two oracles become possessed when the monks of Stok hold their annual sacred dances (‘chams) on the ninth and tenth of the first Tibetan month. While the monks present their spectacular dances of tantric deities and local protectors dressed in rich costumes of silk brocade topped with fierce masks, the oracles appear on the monastery roof, now running along the parapets, now slicing their tongues with heavy brass swords, now gesticulating wildly and making pronouncements or answering random questions that are warily tossed their way. Each oracle is possessed by one of the two manifestations of the local village protector (yul lha), Ser rang, one of which has a close relation to the palace and the other to the monastery. The oracles wear almost identical ritual dress. On the first day, they wear a red felt hat (btsan zhva) marked with three eyes linking them to the fierce Tsam spirits of the Middle World, a brocade coat, collar, and aprons, and on the second day they are dressed more plainly in light pants, aprons, and collars, as well as red and black wigs. Matho used to have laymen serve as oracles until they complained of the strenuous nature of the possession; the Matho oracles are now chosen from the monastic assembly by lottery a year before the monastic dances (‘chams) take place on the fourteenth and fifteenth of the first Tibetan month. The two monks, who are selected from a group identified as fully purified, must spend a year in retreat, performing meditations, avoiding certain foods like garlic and onion, and receiving weekly ablutions from the monastery’s Vajra master. During Matho’s two-day dance festival, the oracles receive highranking visitors before they make a spectacle of themselves in the monastic courtyard by making ominous predictions and answering questions from the audience. The two oracles are possessed by either the wrathful or peaceful manifestation of the local village deity (yul lha), known as Rong btsan, who was brought from the Tibetan region of Kham by the Sakyapa monk who founded Matho in the fifteenth century, Drung pa Dorje. Each oracle wears a ritual costume over his monastic dress, including a red hat with three eyes, a brocade coat, and a large breastplate made of iron, and brandishes a spear and a sword as he runs along the monastic parapets, making pronouncements about the future of Ladakh to all and sundry.

Last but not least, the Shey oracle continues to serve as a state oracle, by making predictions about communal and agrarian welfare during the fall harvest festival (shrub lha), which marks the beginning of the scything period in the seventh Tibetan month. This oracle may date back to well before the seventeenth century, when Shey rather than Leh was the capital of Ladakh. Kim Gutschow See also: Buddhism and Shamanism; Hinduism and Ecstatic Indian Religions; Siberian Shamanism; South Asian Shamanism; Tibetan Shamanism References and further reading: Aggarwal, Ravina. 1994. “From Mixed Strain of Barley Grains: Person and Place in a Ladakhi Village.” Ph.D. diss., Indiana University. Anagnost, A. S. 1987. “Politics and Magic in Contemporary China.” Modern China 13, no. 1: 40–61. Atkinson, Jane Monnig. 1992. “Shamanisms Today.” Annual Review of Anthropology 21: 307–330. Beek, Martijn van. 1996. “Identity Fetishism and the Art of Representation: The Long Struggle for Regional Autonomy in Ladakh.” Ph.D. diss., Cornell University. Boddy, Janice. 1994. “Spirit Possession Revisited: Beyond Instrumentality.” Annual Review of Anthropology 23: 407–434. Brauen, Martin. 1980. Feste in Ladakh [Festivals in Ladakh]. Graz: Akademische Druck und Verlagsanstalt. Day, Sophie. 1989. “Embodying Spirits: Village Oracles and Possession Ritual in Ladakh, North India.” Ph.D. diss., London School of Economics. Epstein, M., and L. Rabgyay. 1982. “Mind and Mental Disorders in Tibetan Medicine.” gSo Rig: Tibetan Medicine 5: 66–84. Geertz, Clifford. 1973. “Religion as a Cultural System.” Pp. 87–125 in The Interpretation of Cultures. Edited by Clifford Geertz. New York: Free Press. Gutschow, Kim. 1997. “A Case of Madness or ‘Wind Disorder’ in Zangskar.” Pp. 177–202 in Recent Research on Ladakh 7. Edited by Thierry Dodin and Heinz Räther. Ulm: Ulmerkulturanthropologische Schriften, Band 9, Universität Ulm. ———. 1998. “An Economy of Merit: Women and Buddhist Monasticism in Zangskar,


Northwest India.” Ph.D. diss., Harvard University. Heber, A. Reeve, and Kathleen M. Heber. 1977. Reprint. In Himalayan Tibet and Ladakh. A Description of Its Cheery Folk, Their Ways and Religion, of the Rigours of the Climate and Beauties of the Country, Its Fauna and Flora. New Delhi: Ess Ess. Original edition, 1926. Hitchcock, John, and Rex Jones, eds. 1976. Spirit Possession in the Nepal Himalayas. Warminster, UK: Aris and Phillips. Kleinman, Arthur. 1980. Patients and Healers in the Context of Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press. ———. 1991. “Suffering and Its Professional Transformation.” In Writing at the Margin. Berkeley: University of California Press. Mumford, Stan. 1989. Himalayan Dialogue: Tibetan Lamas and Gurung Shamans in Nepal. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. Nebesky-Wojkowitz, René de. 1975. Oracles and Demons of Tibet: The Cult and Iconography of Tibetan Protective Deities. Graz: Akademische Druck und Verlagsanstalt. Ortner, Sherry. 1975. “God’s Bodies, God’s Food: A Symbolic Analysis of Sherpa Ritual.” Pp. 133–169 in The Interpretation of Symbolism. Edited by Roy Willis. London: Malaby Press. Rabgyay, L. 1985. “Rlung Diseases and Their Treatment.” gSo Rig: Tibetan Medicine 9: 47–68. Samuels, Geoffrey. 1993. Civilized Shamans. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Press. Stein, R. A. 1972. Tibetan Civilization. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Tucci, Giuseppe. 1949. Tibetan Painted Scrolls. 3 vols. Rome: ISMEO. ———. 1988. Ruichenbzapo and the Renaissance of Buddhism in Tibet around the Milennium. English Version of Indo-Tibetica 2. Translated by Nancy Kipp Smith, edited by Lokesh Chandra. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashau.

MANIPUR MEITEI SHAMANISM (NORTHEAST INDIA) The shamanistic tradition in Manipur is part of the pre-Hindu religious tradition of the Meitei community who live in Northeastern India. There are both male and female shamans in this tradition, and their duties and practices are


clearly designated and distinguished from one another. Bordered on the east by Myanmar (Burma), the state of Manipur (total area: 8,456 square miles) in northeastern India consists geographically of an oval valley of about 700 square miles surrounded by densely forested mountain ranges. The members of the Meitei community are the principal residents of the valley, and the community has had a rich history. Their religious tradition combines pre-Hindu beliefs and Hindu Vaishnava practices. The pre-Hindu religion has a rich shamanistic tradition. There are both female and male shamans in the preHindu tradition, and they are called maibas (male) and maibis (mostly female), respectively, in Meitei language. As female shamanism is such an uncommon feature in India, the maibis have received much more attention from scholars, and there are extensive accounts written about them. Less written material is found about the maibas.

Female Shamans The priestesses, the maibis of the pre-Hindu religion are chosen by divine intervention. They may be chosen either in the Lai-haraoba ceremony during Lai-nupi thiba or at some other time. (The Lai-haraoba ceremony is a yearly public festival celebrated throughout Manipur. It is the principal religious festival of the preHindu religious tradition.) If a woman falls ill and no other medical practitioner can cure her, the belief is that a god has chosen her to become a maibi. She is treated by a maiba, then sent as an apprentice to a senior maibi. She becomes a full-fledged maibi only after a long period of apprenticeship (Brara 1998, 136). It is considered normal for a woman to be a maibi and to also continue married life and have children. In some cases, however, maibis have to give up married life, since some families do not like their women to be traveling and performing in public. Socially the maibis perform several roles. They officiate as priestesses in the Lai-haraoba ceremony, leading the proceedings. They also sit in trance making divine predictions every morning during the Lai-haraoba ceremony. Many women consult them throughout the year when in any kind of uncertainty or trouble, and they make divine predictions about people’s lives and futures. Apart



from some yearly rites such as the Sagei-apokpa khurumba (yearly functions for the progenitor of the clan), the main role of the maibis in the society is during Lai-haraoba. After becoming a maibi, a woman has to follow certain food restrictions. She cannot take fire from a lit fireplace; instead, she has to light her own fire by friction. If a maibi deviates from the food restrictions, she tends to suffer from acute bodily pain and uneasiness, causing restlessness. Her hair becomes locked and matted (Chaki-Sirkar 1984, 168), and she develops some kind of lump in the abdomen, which surgeons are unable to find in order to remove. All these symptoms are thought to be curable through the lairen puba (purification process) of laikhai-taba (complete training) (Brara 1998, 137). Once she is possessed by the lai (god), she acquires incredible strength. (It is to be noted here that even though the word lai in the Meitei language is used to refer to both Hindu and pre-Hindu gods, in the context of the maibis it is used to refer to the pre-Hindu god, whom the maibi is propitiating.) When she is possessed, even a number of persons cannot control a single maibi. The maibis belong to three salais (clans), Mangang, Luwang, and Khuman, and they are represented by their respective clan colors, shanglen, nongmai, and phura, respectively. These three groups have different languages. The deity of the shanglen group will only possess a maibi of its own group, and if a maibi of another group wants to talk to the deity of Shanglen, the deity will not listen to her. Hence the lairon (language) for all the three groups is different, so that each maibi can converse with only the deity of her own group. A Shanglen maibi will always look for an Ima-guru (mother-teacher) belonging to the Shanglen group; in fact, she will be automatically led to the Ima-guru of that particular group. There is a hierarchy among these three groups, and they are trained differently, as they are headed by three different deities. If either of the other two groups performs the rituals and offers flowers to a deity from the third group in any of their own houses, that particular house is said to face chaos. These three groups stay in different places, are trained differently, and acquire different lairon. The maibi herself cannot change her group. She has to serve the deity who has chosen her.

Maibis are functionally divided into two categories: (Brara 1998, 138) 1. Wangong shang da Angangbu Ngaibi (who waits in the house for the child). This kind of maibi specializes as a midwife. She delivers the child, cuts its umbilical cord with a bamboo-knife, and while cutting it, requests the limi (shadow), or the soul, to enter the newborn. 2. Khabi shingta chakpa larak phambi (one who can stop the god). This kind of maibi has the ability to confront the god (or spirit). She is the kind of maibi who experiences possession. At the beginning of of her conversation with the god in lairon, she sits on a banana leaf, considered sacred and conforming to good etiquette, in order to reach the gods. It is also believed that the growth of banana trees is an indication of fertile ground. The banana leaf is a symbol of fertility, hence prosperity. She covers her head and face with a white cloth, holds a bell in one hand, and rings it near her body. The dance of maibis and the ritual theater of the lairoi numit (meaning “the last day�) (the last night of the Lai-haraoba ceremony) are the oldest examples of dance and traditional theater among the Meitei. The evening rituals of Laiharaoba consist of Hoi-laoba (singing by the maibis), Thougal-jagoi (dancing by the maibis to invoke the deities), Laiching-jagoi (dancing by the maibis that involves a variety of expressive movements), and Laibou-chongba (the dance of creation, done by maibis). The sequence ends with Leiren mathek, in which a maiba leads a line of the participants in an imitation of the movement of a snake, a symbol of the snake-god Pakhangba), Wakol, during which all the cultic objects are put back in the temple, and a concluding song to put the deities to sleep. In the all-night function of lairoi numit, the mythological story of Tangkhul and Nurabi is enacted by the Penakhungba (Pena [bow-stringed musical instrument] player) and the maibis. This enactment is highly ritual in nature and symbolizes the propagation of fertility in the Meitei society (Achoubisana 1989, 18).


The maibis can also be male. The male maibis dress up in women’s clothes when they officiate at a function. In recent times, there has been an increase in the number of male maibis. One of the major maibis of Manipur today is a man. A member of the community told the author that, due to security problems in the state, organizers of Lai-haraoba prefer to have male maibis officiating at the festival, as they do not want to take responsibility for protecting women.

Male Shamans The maibas, the male priests, are an important institutional presence in the Meitei society. Their services range from acting as medicine men to serving as counselors. They are experts in the indigenous medicine system of Meitei society. They are, however, not chosen by divine intervention as the maibis are. A man may choose to become a maiba if he wants to. He does Ojha–Boriba (a ceremony by which the teacher accepts the disciple) with a teacher and thus can become his disciple. The medical tradition of the Meitei community has been written down in the traditional text Maibarol. It is interesting to note here that even though socially both maibas and maibis are considered equally important, the male tradition of the maibas has a written tradition, but the female tradition does not. The Meitei community has a long tradition of writing and literature, which is found in the ancient manuscripts of this community, popularly known as the puyas (Ray 2000). These manuscripts are handwritten in the archaic script on ancient paper derived from tree bark, and they are considered sacred by the community. They have been written from the fifteenth century up to the recent past. Many scholars are of the opinion that the writing of the puyas continued through the conversion into Hinduism. The royal authorities were hostile to the pre-Hindu puyas during the time of conversion, but later attempts were made to syncretize the two belief systems (Hindu and pre-Hindu), and writing and studying of puyas found royal patronage again. The subject matter of the puyas is varied. They encompass religion, philosophy, ethics, martial arts, dance, music, botany, zoology, mountaineering, anatomy, physiology, medicine, and so on. Very few of


these puyas have been transcribed into the popularly used Bengali script and published. Most of them are still in handwritten form. Very recently under state initiative the puyas have been archived in the newly established Manipur State Archives. From ancient times, the royal authority of Manipur has been the patron behind traditional scholarship. The shamanistic healing tradition was very much a part of this knowledge system. The royal administration was divided into eight departments, loishangs, and the foremost among them was the pandit loishang, the royal house of scholars. The palace of Manipur as it still stands today houses the adjoining royal temple of Govindji (a Hindu god). The temple along with the several royal departments includes the royal house of scholars. Even today the house of scholars stands in its place. There are three scholars in residence in the loishang, and the deputy head of the loishang has office hours there every day. The head of the loishang visits occasionally. The pandits (scholars) are allowed to choose their area of specialization, and many of the pandits also function as maibas or amaibas. Among the current residents of the loishang there are some prominent medicine men. In the early part of the twentieth century there was a feud in the royal establishment. As the then Maharaja of Manipur, Maharaja Okendrajit, became a convert to a revivalist religion called Sanamahism, the royal temple separated from the palace and established a managing trust of its own. The royal departments, including the pandit loishang, came under the temple board. The head of the pandit loishang at that time was the renowned pandit M. Chandra Singh. In parallel to this establishment, a separate maichou loishang (department of scholars) was set up by the king, which was headed by a revivalist scholar, Nodiachand Amaiba. This system continues at the present time. The head of the pandit loishang adjoining Govindji’s temple is Ngariyambam Kulachandra, and the head of the maichou loishang patronized by the present royal family is Ng. Kangjia, a well-known preacher of the Sanamahi religion. As the pandit loishang and the maichou loishang belong to separate schools of thought, the difference in the religion has given rise to acute differences in the interpretation of the



puyas. But despite differences, there is a certain degree of standardization that is found in the shamanistic tradition of Manipur, as it is grounded in a textual tradition. The actual procedure of the healing can vary vastly. There is a medicinal tradition, in which herbal medicine is manufactured by the maiba and administered to the patient. There is also an indigenous science of studying the pulse beats of the patients. The ritual healing process is, however, completely different. It is a procedure of intense prayer on the part of the maiba, the details of which are usually unknown to the public. In modern times, there are a number of doctors and nurses available in the state, and people usually do go to Western-trained doctors for treatment. In many cases, however, the ritual traditions of medicine as found in the traditional faith are considered important (Brara 1998, 144). Thus, in everyday life in Manipur no ceremony of birth is complete without the maibi ceremonially cutting the umbilical cord and invoking the mi (shadow), or the sixth soul, to enter the child. Even after a Western-trained doctor has written a death certificate, families wait for a maiba to come and declare the death ritually. The clientele of the maibas and maibis is thus varied. In villages in interior parts of the country, where people cannot afford to go to physicians, maibas are often contacted. There is no question of caste or creed among the clientele of the maibas and maibis. Their clientele may be composed of any resident of the state, including Brahmans, nonBrahmans, and even non-Manipuri residents of Manipur. In general people who are educated and Westernized do not openly admit that they believe in this indigenous system of healing. But when it comes to a crisis they usually resort to these indigenous healers. As uncertainty looms in the everyday life of the community, people depend more and more on the divine predictions of the maibas and the maibis of Manipur to make decisions about their future. Sohini Ray See also: Hinduism and Ecstatic Indian Religions; Spirit Possession in Rajasthan References and further reading: Achoubisana, R. K. 1989. “Lai-haraoba: The Gods Rejoice.” Pp. 11–18 in Dances of Manipur: The Classical Tradition. Edited by Saryu Doshi. Mumbai: Marg.

Brara, N. Vijaylakshmi. 1998. Politics, Society and Cosmology in India’s North East. New Delhi, India: Oxford Publishing House. Chaki-Sirkar, Manjusri. 1984. Feminism in a Traditional Society: Women of the Manipur Valley. New Delhi: Shakti Books. Indira, Elam. 1998. Laiharaobagi wakhallon paring [Series of thoughts on Lai-haraoba]. Imphal: Elam Indira. Maibi, Ngambam Kumar. 1988. Kanglei Umanglai Haraoba [Rejoice of folk-gods of Kanglei]. Imphal, Manipur, India: Thambal Angou Devi. Parrat, Saroj Nalini Arambam, and John Parrat. 1997. The Pleasing of the Gods: Meitei Lai Haraoba. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House. Ray, Sohini. 2000. “The Sacred Alphabet and the Divine Body: The Case of Meitei Mayek in North-Eastern India.” Unpublished dissertation. Los Angeles: Department of Anthropology, University of California at Los Angeles. Singh, Khumujam Ratan Kumar. 1995. “The Lai-Haraoba of Manipur: A Social, Cultural and Historical Study.” Unpublished Dissertation. Imphal: Manipur University. Singh, Ngariambam Kulachandra. 1963. Meitei Laiharaoba. Imphal: Keishamthong Leirak Machin.

NEPALESE SHAMANS To understand the diversity of shamanic expression found in Nepal, any discussion of Nepalese shamans must be first situated in the context of Nepal’s history and cultural complexity. The kingdom of Nepal, which for a brief time included most of the southern slopes of the Himalayas, began to emerge in the mideighteenth century, as the king of one of many petty hill states, Gorkha-, embarked on the conquest of his neighbors, successfully conquering in 1769 the sophisticated Newari cities of the Kathmandu Valley. That king, Prithvi Narayan Shah, described his kingdom as “a flower garden of four castes and thirty-six subcastes” (ca-r varna chattis ja-tko phulba-ri). This remark, by recognizing the ethnic diversity found within


Nepal while simultaneously reframing those groups within a Hindu caste structure, may be regarded as the beginning of both Himalayan ethnography and Hindu hegemony. Prithvi Narayan’s remark acknowledges the complex ethnic and linguistic heritage of Nepal, in whose small but geographically rugged area of 56,000 square miles 120 distinct languages have been recorded. Military interventions by the British in the early nineteenth century established the present borders of the kingdom but preserved Nepal’s nominal independence, an independence that was strengthened by Nepal’s strong support of the British during the Indian sepoy mutiny of 1857. Never having been genuinely colonized and rigorously outlawing all missionary proselytizing, whether by Christians or Muslims, Nepal has preserved its diverse cultural traditions, which include many varieties of shamans, oracles, and spirit mediums, as well as Hindu priests, Buddhist lamas, Tantric practitioners, astrologers, fortune-tellers, wandering ascetics, Ayurvedic doctors (practitioners of the ancient Hindu science of health and medicine), and herbal healers. Within such diversity, it must be observed that there is no “Nepalese shamanism,” not in the sense of a coherently integrated religious system practiced throughout the country, neither one paralleling those reportedly found among the Ural-Altaic peoples, as the term was originally applied by the ethnographers of Catherine the Great, nor as some systematic institution whose priestly specialists perform life-cycle rites or exclusive healing rituals for some society. Whatever their status elsewhere in the world, it is misleading to describe Nepal’s shamans as forming a distinct religious practice, or to think of shamanism as constituting a “religion.” Most groups of Nepalis have been sufficiently exposed to South Asian religious thinking during the past three millennia to think of what the West calls religion in terms of the concept dharma shared by both Hindus and Buddhists, and, except perhaps as part of the very recent emergence of increasingly militant ethnicity as a political force in Nepal and consequent efforts to define some ethnic practices in opposition to Hinduism, Nepalis do not regard shamans as part of their dharma. It is likewise untenable to see shamanism in Nepal as an atavistic survival of some earlier religious configuration, since there is little evi-


dence to suggest what sort of practices may have preceded the emergence of the long-dominant Hindu and Buddhist life-cycle rites. In Nepal, shamans may be most accurately characterized as intercessors who diagnose and treat afflictions that trouble their clients using ritual practices incorporating a mastery over spirits. To distinguish shamans clearly from other ritual specialists, such as the oracular mediums (dha-mi) of the Karnali Drainage area of western Nepal or Newari Tantric priests (vajracarya) of the Kathmandu Valley, this discussion follows Shirokogoroff ’s classic definition of shamans: persons of either sex who are masters of spirits, who can at will introduce these spirits into themselves, and who use this power over the spirits for their own purposes, particularly to help other people. Sergei Shirokogoroff listed five essential characteristics of a shaman: (1) The shaman is a master of spirits; (2) he has mastered a group of spirits; (3) there is a complex of methods and paraphernalia recognized and transmitted; (4) there is a theoretical justification of the practice; (5) the shaman assumes a special social position (Shirokogoroff 1935, 274). Additional characteristics that help distinguish shamans from other practitioners of spirit possession usually include a predilection for undertaking soul journeys to the underworlds and the heavens, trance states—sometimes described as “ecstasy”—that involve dramatically staged performances including specific initiation and death ceremonies, and an extensive repertoire of memorized oral texts. Following Shirokogoroff ’s definition, there are shamans found in many different communities of Nepal. They are ritual intercessors. Their elaborate divination, exorcism, and healing practices incorporate command over extensive, well-defined groups of spirits; they use elaborate, traditionally affirmed paraphernalia; they often enter trance states to conduct ritual journeys; and their theoretical justification and major therapeutic tools can be found in their memorized oral texts, both long, publicly chanted recitals that preserve mythic stories and short, whispered, secretive incantations (mantras). As the article that first described Nepalese shamans observed, the shaman serves as “a privileged intermediary between spirits (who cause and cure illness) and men: between the past, present and future; between life and death, and most importantly between the indi-



vidual and a certain social mythology” (Macdonald 1962). Given the low caste of many of them and the accusations of sorcery with which they are sometimes faced, the special social position of these intercessors is ambivalent, but Shirokogoroff himself only meant by this that “a group distinguishes one of its members by bestowing on him their confidence” (274), something that the numerous clients of these intercessors do with each consultation. Ritual specialists found in Nepal’s different communities who meet most of the basic features of Shirokogoroff ’s definition (although each type of specialist has distinct characteristics, including different costumes, different rituals, and different oral texts) include Gurung poju and hlewri (Pignède 1966), Tamang lambu and bonpo (Höfer 1981, 1994, 1997; Holmberg 1989), Yolmo bonpo (Desjarlais 1992), Tharu gurau (Krauskopff 1988), Rai bijuwa-, padem, and lambu (Allen 1976, Gaenszle 1991; Hardman 2000), Limbu yeba (Jones 1976), Sunuwar puimbo and ngiami (Fournier 1976), Chepang pande (Riboli 2000), and Sherpa lhapa and mindung (Paul 1982). However, the practitioners who most closely match the full set of conditions are the low-caste (Qum) jha-ngr† (in central and eastern Nepal pronounced jhãkr†) and Magar ramma- of the western hill region, most significantly the ka-m† (blacksmith) shamans who are found practicing throughout Brahman, Chetri, Magar, Gurung, and Tamang communities in western Nepal. In an early article, John T. Hitchcock (1967) accurately noted the striking parallels between the symbols and practices of western Nepalese jhãkr† and the shamans of Central Asia, clear parallels also visually demonstrated in a spectacular ethnographic film by Michael Oppitz (1980). Jhãkr† still recognizable as closely related to those of JGjarkot, Rukum, and Baglung districts of western Nepal can also be found further to the east, at least as far as Parbat District, as the brief reports of Reinhard Greve (1982) and Wolf-Dieter Michl (1976) have shown. This distribution clearly results from the presence of blacksmiths found in the midst of other distinctive ethnic groups such as Chantals and Thakalis. How far to the east in Nepal this pattern holds true remains to be seen, since there have been no extensive studies of the lowest castes of Nepal, though they are often peripherally mentioned in ethnographies.

Oral texts may demonstrate a much wider continuity, as fragments of text from a Lohorung Rai community of eastern Nepal (Hardman 2000, 65) and from among the Chepang of central Nepal (Riboli 2000, 134) show striking similarities with myths found among jhGngr† (Maskarinec 1998), though much more extensive documentation is required to establish how close the relationship is. As jhGngr† are the geographically most widely distributed and most numerous of the various types of intercessors found in Nepal, this article will concentrate on them, referring to them simply as Nepalese shamans. Throughout Nepal, most shamans are male, although highly motivated women occasionally overcome the biases of patrilineality and gender discrimination and become shamans. Although many future shamans undergo disturbing possession crises as adolescents that prompt them to seek training, preparation of new shamans concentrates on their memorizing oral texts rather than on learning trance techniques such as drumming. Most important is to learn the secret mantras that control the many spirits that shamans must manipulate in their rituals. Unlike other circumstances that involve involuntary or spontaneous spirit possession, shamans thoroughly control the spirits that they summon to their ceremonies, ordering, flattering, bribing, cajoling, and threatening them to ensure that they obey the shaman’s will. A line found in mantras used to summon dead souls and to dismiss the assembled spirits demonstrates most clearly the hierarchical relation between a shaman and his spirits: “Come when I say come, go when I say go” (Maskarinec 1998, 268, 391). Spirits summoned by shamans belong to many distinct classes, including local gods and goddesses (deuta-, deb†), spirits of animals and inanimate forces (bir), souls of human suicides, particularly vengeance spirits—men or women who were unable to find justice in their life time and deliberately committed suicide in order to become such a spirit (male barma- and female ba-jyu), souls of other dead humans, especially those who died untimely deaths, whose funeral rites were improperly performed, or whose corpses suffered ritual pollution such as being touched by a dog (masa-n, sya-urya-), familiars of living entities (bara-ng), familiars of dead entities (ma-ph†), crossroads ghosts (dha-m,


dhuwã), and the souls of other shamans (gel). Some of these groups are protective, solicitous, benign, and undemanding; others are malicious, oppressive, and threatening. Nearly all demand blood sacrifices, a key element of all major shamanic rituals. Communicating with these spirits allows shamans to diagnose problems, treat afflictions, and restore order and balance to the lives of their clients and their communities. Shamans’ diagnoses of their patients’ afflictions commonly involve some combination of seven possible causes: (1) curses and spells, particularly those of witches and other shamans; (2) unlucky astrological configurations, foremost of which are dangerous planetary configurations called star obstructions; (3) the intrusion of alien substances into the body, whether by acts of sorcery, by violation of sacred space, or by violating rules of ritual purity, such as coming in contact with a woman’s menstrual blood; (4) weakened life forces, including soul loss, lost wits, dullness, and several recognized forms of madness; (5) social disorder, especially disputes within families and communities; (6) fevers of autonomous origin; (7) the activities of spirits or ghosts, provoked by acts of neglect, pollution, or disrespect. When spirits are involved, the most common types are patrilineal family gods (kul deuta-, pita-r) or the numerous minor local spirits who inhabit particular hilltops, trees, waterfalls, and rivers. At other times, major local gods (deuta-), particularly Masta; minor deities of nonhuman origin, such as the BarGh and the MGlG; quasi-spirits thought to have some degree of corporeality (NGg, moc); the souls of recently deceased children (ra-h), or even shaman helping or tutelary spirits may be diagnosed as causing affliction. Witches figure prominently in the oral texts that shamans recite, where they are cast as traditional enemies, and treating cases of witchcraft is a special therapeutic domain of shamans. Nevertheless, Nepal’s traditional legal codes set such strict criteria to ascertain bewitchment, as well as mandating severe punishments for unproved accusations, that cases specifically involving bewitchment are a small fraction of shaman consultations. These traditional sanctions remain well remembered. Nepal’s first legal code, the Muluki Ain of 1853/1854, enforced for over a hundred years and still quoted in local discussions, stated that


if a bewitchment accusation could not be proven, the person who made the accusation had to pay a fine, the amount of which could exceed local per capita annual income. Failure to pay this fine resulted in imprisonment. Strict criteria to demonstrate bewitchment included vicariously branding the witch by directly branding the patient, vicariously causing the witch’s head to be shaved by shaving the head of the patient, or using a mantra to make the witch dance in public. Although cases documenting the successful use of all three proofs exist, most shamans now keep witch identifications vague, and prefer to diagnose astrological crises, soul loss, or the afflictions caused by spirits. Even when the diagnosed cause of a problem is not witchcraft, however, every shaman performance acknowledges the close relation between shamans and witches, established when the first shaman allowed the youngest of the nine original witch sisters to survive, having negotiated a secure income by treating clients that she agreed to afflict. The story goes that the witch agreed, “I will cause illness, you will cure it,” and she predicted: “You will eat land by deception, you will eat grain by deception” (Maskarinec 1998, 220). This is not just a guarantee of a profitable career for the shaman, however. As part of their treatment, shamans seek to replace the chaotic, unbalanced, inexpressible suffering of a patient with orderly, balanced, grammatical and eloquently expressed states. To do so, the healer has to take responsibility for the orderliness of affliction as well as for its cure, so that shamans must, ultimately, also take responsibility for the existence of witches as well as for the pervasiveness of suffering. This way of accounting for problems allows a patient to comprehend that their unfortunate situation is normal, that they are not singularly guilty, that they are not the cause of their own suffering, that suffering is an ordinary, even necessary, part of the everyday world, part of all human life. Nepalese shamans perform diverse rituals, ceremonies that prominently incorporate throughout every stage of activity both long, publicly chanted recitals and short, whispered, secretive incantations. More accomplished shamans memorize between 10,000 and 12,000 lines of poetic oral texts, each line ordinarily a couplet of six or eight syllables in



length. It takes on average between seven and twelve years to memorize the complete repertoire, a pupil repeating each text line by line as a teacher performs them. These texts constitute the core of every Nepalese shaman’s knowledge. In learning their texts, Nepalese shamans acquire the knowledge necessary for their profession and obtain a detailed view of the world and its participants. Most of the longer shaman recitals involve stories of origin, narrating the origin of the universe, this world and others, their inhabitants, and their afflictions. To cure acts of witchcraft, one retells the origins of witches; to repair a star obstruction, the story of the origins of the heavenly bodies is recounted; to counter acts of shamanic sorcery, the circumstances of the original curses are related. In each case, shamans seek to influence the history of the cosmos, to reestablish a natural order that has been disrupted, to produce a present time more favorable for their clients. Different texts are used depending on whether the patient is male or female, adult or child, of high status or low. Nepalese shamans attempt to order the universe into patterns that more readily permit successful shamanic interventions, even seeking to rearrange inauspicious astrological configurations. As the texts recount actions by gods and by the original shaman to resuscitate the dead, the shaman mimics the same actions, waving yak tails at the patient’s head, blowing into the ears, striking the back with an iron staff, tying strings around the limbs. Other public recitals conduct ritual journeys, search for lost souls or frayed wits, or dispel dangers. Other texts document the construction of the shaman’s ritual equipment, most importantly, the construction of the drum, the brewing of beer, consumed as part of every ceremony, and the reconstitution organ by organ of the animal to be sacrificed, whether goat, sheep, or chicken. Like the public recitals, the secret mantras portray an ideal world to which shamans seek to force this world to conform. Mantras suppress malign threats and encourage benevolent powers. Mantras are speech acts whose specific effective forces upon the listener differ, but whose primary goal or force is to exert compulsion. They compel spirits to be present. They constrain various items, quotidian and metaphysical, to stay in place, to be bound, to be distanced, delayed, or destroyed. They order

dead spirits to stay dead, living villagers to stay alive. To accomplish these acts of compulsion, mantras incorporate aspects of any successful exorcism: They suppress, restrain, and eliminate. Mantras that open and close any ceremony protect by systematic prescription, ordering chaos into a comprehensively patterned taxonomy. At the beginning of a ceremony, the world receives shape and form, molded into a holding pattern of bound elements. The shaman’s recitations and rituals then improve upon selected elements within that overall pattern. At the conclusion of rituals, the new system is fixed in place and held there with oaths, promises, and threats. “Seeds of truth” (sat byu), a mixture of raw grains, are scattered over patients, their families, their homes, animals, and property, to sprout into a reinvigorated life of reinvented meaningfulness. Shaman repertoires clarify major concerns of traditional Nepalese society. They demonstrate the interrelatedness of illness, death, witchcraft, sorcery, land disputes, astrological impasses, political opportunism, childlessness, problems with in-laws, and accidents. In occasionally archaic but understandable language, the recitals clarify symptoms and provide explanations of the causes of problems, and they carefully describe the methods of intervention, detailing the proper ways to conduct rituals. Providing audiences with a perspective on their misfortunes that provides hope of possible relief, the results of public recitals parallel the ways that the whispered mantras seek to manipulate and change the world. Many rituals illustrate in various ways the activities of repairing and postponing adverse fate and setting up barriers to protect the patient from its consequences. Two rituals incorporate explicit acts of raising the patient heavenward, where the crossed stars need repair, the closest that a Nepalese shaman comes to being a psychopomp (one who escorts souls to or from the world of the dead). In the first of these rituals, the shaman moves the patient’s foot step by step up a small model of a pole ladder, in which he has cut nine notches. Upon return, the recital takes the form of a dialogue between the shaman and the patient, with the shaman speaking both parts: “Did you eat the green grass, the fresh water? Yes, did you see the nine suns, the nine moons? Yes, did you cross the seven star obstructions, the seven heavenly bar-


riers? Yes, if you ascend to the sky, I’ll pull you pack by your feet. If you descend to hell, I’ll pull you back by your top-knot” (Maskarinec 1995, 55). In the second lifting ritual, nine relatives and neighbors lift the patient as she crouches atop nine winnowing trays (Hitchcock 1974), ensuring both familial and neighborly solidarity in weaving the patient back into a normal life. In other ceremonies, the shaman constructs a small barrier resembling a funeral pyre in front of the patient’s house, helping to keep away the star obstructions, and to placate the Time of Death, Jama (Sanskrit: Yama) KGl, and his ambassador, Jama Dut. Nepal’s traditional legal codes forbade shamans to suck directly on their patients’ bodies, but this is nevertheless still done to remove magical impurities that have become lodged in patients, sometimes with the drumstick as an intermediary tool. Shamans also employ diverse techniques as diagnostic or evaluative divinations. These are used at the beginning of treatment to identify the source of affliction, and afterward to determine if the ceremony has been efficacious. Once an animal has been sacrificed, the shaman carefully examines the liver of a goat or the gall bladder of a chicken to decide whether the patient will benefit from the offering. Some shamans also prepare amulets (Nepali: jantar) for their patients to wear to ward off negative influences. Nepalese shamans perform their ceremonies at their patients’ homes, not at shrines, after being personally invited by a member of the patient’s family. The client arranges for an assistant, called a curmi, to carry the shaman’s paraphernalia basket. The shaman never carries this basket himself, insisting on the minimal formal social recognition entailed by having a servant. For major ceremonies, shamans decorate their drums with simple line drawings of white clay. Crucial paraphernalia, besides the drum, include an elaborate costume whose elements deliberately suspend the shaman’s identity between male and female, human and animal, living and dead, natural and cultural. The costume includes two kinds of women’s outer wraps; men’s pajamas; cinnamon, guava, oak, or chestnut leaves worn on their head along with pheasant feathers and porcupine quills, all secured by a turban; a vest made from the skins and cured leathers of several wild and domesticated animals, with bells and other iron objects


such as miniature discs representing the sun and full moon attached; and necklaces of snake bones and rudraksa (Elaeocarpus) seeds. A piece of bitter turmeric root under the tongue and ashes on the forehead complete the shaman’s adornment, all done as protection from witches, ghosts, gods, demons, and other shamans. Ambiguous suspension of the shaman’s personal identity is emphasized in initiations, which take place with the shaman suspended on a pole between heaven and earth, and in burial practices, when the shaman’s corpse is seated in a mound half in the earth, half out of it, comparable to the tombs of KGnphat.a yogis (religious ascetics that venerate the Hindu god S´iva). Shaman texts appear especially anxious to establish parallels with yogis, who are credited with miraculous abilities to intervene, and who also depend largely on a memorized repertoire to perform these interventions. Second only to shamans themselves and to witches, the descriptions of yogis found in shaman texts are elaborate and accurate, but the parallels are most pronounced in shaman death rites. In the rites of initiation and their yearly reenactment, the shaman climbs a pine tree trunk erected in the center of the village whose “roots are in hell, whose branches are in heaven” (Maskarinec 1995, 217) to deliver prophecies while physically poised at the boundary of heaven and earth. In preparation, assistants have tied a living piglet toward the top of the tree. At the climax of the pole climb, the shaman drives his drumstick into the pig’s neck and sucks out its blood. After drinking blood, he prophesies the future. He drums on the drum, which was first buried and then resurrected from the Underworld, and takes through his own mouth the blood drunk by the spirits who penetrate his body. The demands of those spirits become his demands, their appeasement his appeasement. Nepalese shamans perform death ceremonies only for other shamans. They do not participate professionally in other funerals, nor do they guide souls to the Underworld. There is no evidence in their texts to suggest that they ever played a role in the funerals of ordinary individuals. Death ceremonies for a shaman have two parts. The first half of the ceremony is called “making a shaman disappear,” while the second half is the “raising of the shaman.” The first begins as biological signs of life fail. A



shaman is expected to predict his moment of death, so that it can take place at his home, with his pupils in attendance. Dressed in his costume, a shaman is expected to die sitting up, cross-legged. Relatives dig a shallow round grave not far from the shaman’s home, at a spot chosen by him in advance. Pupils tie the corpse to a plow beam to support it and carry it outside in this posture, upright. They put a slice of bitter turmeric root under his tongue, a staff in his left hand, a drumstick in the right. They apply ashes treated with a mantra across his eyes, to protect him during his descent into the underworlds. Should a shaman have the misfortune to die away from home, his topknot is returned to his family, and the entire ceremony is performed with the topknot as a substitute for the corpse. The tomb, built up into a cone, is sealed with a jug of alcohol inside and a pole planted either in the shaman’s fontanel or between his legs, as though he were suspended on it. Above the tomb the pole pierces through the shaman’s drum. On the ninth day, the shaman’s pupils gather around the tomb and recite the stories of creation that shaped and animated the first man. The pole is expected to shake and the drum to sound, signaling that the time has come to open the tomb. The assembled shamans then drink the alcohol that was deposited inside. They become frantically possessed, and remove the shaman’s topknot of hair, which becomes the foundation of his permanent monument in a prominent place elsewhere, such as a crossroads, confluence of streams, or on a ridge above the village. In at least one case personally documented by the author, the entire skull of the shaman was removed, hinting at a ritual dismemberment. The assembled shamans now claim the departed shaman as a participatory spirit in their future rituals, so that he remains committed to both the world of life and the world of death, detached from salvation, judgment, or cycles of rebirth. Gregory G. Maskarinec See also: Chepang Shamanism; Gender in Shamanism; Healing and Shamanism; Rai Shamanism; South Asian Shamanism; Tantrism and Shamanism; Transformation References and further reading: Allen, Nicholas J. 1976. “Shamanism among the Thulung Rai.” Pp. 124–140 in Spirit Possession

in the Nepal Himalayas. Edited by John T. Hitchcock and Rex L. Jones. New Delhi: Vikas. Desjarlais, Robert R. 1992. Body and Emotion. The Aesthetics of Illness and Healing in the Nepal Himalayas. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Fournier, Alain. 1976. “A Preliminary Report on the Puimbo and the Ngiami: The Sunuwar Shamans of Sabra.” Pp. 100–123 in Spirit Possession in the Nepal Himalayas. Edited by John T. Hitchcock and Rex L. Jones. New Delhi: Vikas. Gaenszle, Martin. 1991. Verwandtschaft und Mythologie bei den Mewahang Rai in Ostnepal. Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag. Greve, Reinhard. 1982. “Deu Basne und antibiotika: Schamanistische Heilrituale und westliche Medizin in Austauch” [Deu Basne and antibiotics: Shamanistic healing rituals and Western Medicine in Interchange]. Pp. 257–268 in Nachtschatten in Weissenland: Betrachtungen zu Alien und neuen Heilsystem. Edited by Manfred Brinkmann and Michael Franz. Berlin: Verlagsgesellschaft Gesundheit. Hardman, Charlotte E. 2000. Other Worlds. Notions of Self and Emotion among the Lohorung Rai. Oxford, New York: Berg. Hitchcock, John T. 1967. “A Nepalese Shamanism and the Classic Inner Asian Tradition.” History of Religions 7, no. 2: 149–158. ———. 1974. A Nepali Shaman’s Performance as Theatre. Artscanada 30th Anniversary Issue: 74–80. Hitchcock, John T., and Rex L. Jones, eds. 1976. Spirit Possession in the Nepal Himalayas. New Delhi: Vikas. Höfer, András. 1981. Tamang Ritual Texts I. Preliminary Studies in the Folk Religion of an Ethnic Minority in Nepal. Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag. ———. 1994. A Recitation of the Tamang Shaman. Bonn: Wissenschaftsverlag. ———. 1997. Tamang Ritual Texts II. Ethnographic Studies in the Oral Tradition and Folk-Religion of an Ethnic Minority in Nepal. Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag. Holmberg, David H. 1989. Order in Paradox: Myth, Ritual, and Exchange among Nepal’s Tamang. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Jones, Rex L. 1976. “Limbu Spirit Possession and Shamanism.” Pp. 29–55 in Spirit Possession in the Nepal Himalayas. Edited by John T.


Hitchcock and Rex L. Jones. New Delhi: Vikas. Krauskopff, Gisèle. 1988. Maîtres et Possédés: Les Rites et l’ordre social chez les Tharu (DangNépal). Paris: Editions der CNRS. Macdonald, Alexander W. 1962. “Notes préliminaires sur quelques jhãkri du Muglan.” Journal Asiatique: 107–139. (English translation, 1976. “Preliminary Notes on some jhãkri of Muglan.” Pp. 309–341 in Spirit Possession in the Nepal Himalayas. Edited by John T. Hitchcock and Rex L. Jones. New Delhi: Vikas.) Maskarinec, Gregory G. 1995. The Rulings of the Night. An Ethnography of Nepalese Shaman Oral Texts. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. ———. 1998. Nepalese Shaman Oral Texts. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Michl, Wolf-Dieter. 1976. “Notes on the jhãkr† of the Ath Hajar Parbat/ Dhaulagiri Himal.” Pp. 153–164 in Spirit Possession in the Nepal Himalayas. Edited by John T. Hitchcock and Rex L. Jones. New Delhi: Vikas. Oppitz, Michael. 1980. Schamanen im Blinden Land. WSK Productions, New York. (16mm film). Paul, Robert. 1982. The Tibetan Symbolic World: Psychoanalytic Explorations. Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press. Pignède, Bernard. 1966. Les Gurungs: Une population himalayenne du Népal. Paris and The Hague: Mouton and Co. Riboli, Diana. 2000. Tunsuriban: Shamanism in the Chepang of Southern and Central Nepal. Translated from the Italian by Philippa Currie. Kathmandu: Mandala Book Point. Shirokogoroff, Sergei Mikhailovich. 1982. Reprint. Psychomental Complex of the Tungus. New York: AMS Press. Original edition, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1935.

PRIESTESSES (MEDIUMS) OF SRI LANKA Shamanistic forms of religious practice coexist and intermingle with other forms of religion and magic in Sri Lanka, but it is the priestesses, or mediums, of Sri Lanka who come closest to the classic role of the shaman. Neither Buddhist bhikkhus (monks), nor dasa s†l ma-ta-s (ten pre-


cept–holding “nuns”), nor kapura-las (shrine priests) usually function as intermediaries between the living and the dead. Although bhikkhus and dasa s†l mGtGs may serve as objects of merit-making practices (usually almsgiving) done by surviving kin for the benefit of their dead, and although some kapurGlas who serve at deva-layas (shrines) dedicated to ban.d.a-ra-type (mid-level) deities may perform exorcisms or act as sorcerers, communications between the living and the dead are carried out almost exclusively by mediums who are not affiliated with royally established viha-rayas (temples) or devGlayas. Almost all mediums within Sinhala religious culture and society are women, who respond to the needs of their clientele within the context of their own privately established devGlayas. Nevertheless, the cultural and spiritual meaning of their work is thoroughly informed by the idioms of TheravGda Buddhist religious discourse. That is, their explanations for the manner in which the dead are perceived to persist, how their conditions may change in the future, and how they may interact with the living are predicated upon theoretical principles intrinsic to the moral economy of karma. Thus, the vocation of a priestess is driven not only by ecstatic experiences of the divine, but by the moral force of ethical precepts. Since there is no formal community or guild, nor is the profession understood as hereditary, there are no regularized forms of initiatory rites for priestesses in Sri Lanka. In most cases, priestesses report a propensity or sensitivity, apparent already during a troubled childhood, for experiencing the presence of the divine or the supernatural. Ecstatic experiences of a significant deity (e.g., Vis.n.u, Pattin†, Skanda, Däd.imunda, etc.) are referred to in Sinhala as di≈»i (derived from the Sanskrit root d≤≈ meaning “to see”), and function as a sine qua non for practicing priestesses, many of whom are raised in either impoverished socioeconomic urban conditions or in rural village contexts. In many cases, priestesses characterized their lives as children, youth, or young adults as very difficult. It is not uncommon to hear them speak about broken homes, sexual abuse, poverty, failed marriages, mental illness, and powerlessness (Holt 2004). The ecstatic experience of di≈t.i signals the potential for acquiring supernatural knowledge and power. Some priestesses report that they re-



sisted these experiences at first and did not seek to use their supernatural encounters as the basis of a priestly career. They report that in Sinhala culture, a woman who is known to be frequently possessed might find that predilection a liability in hoping to secure a suitably arranged marriage. At the same time, many regard di≈ as a powerful and irresistible “calling” to do the bidding of the deity who has continued to encounter them. They believe that their own destinies as priestesses are somehow bound up with the power of a specific deity, a result of karmic retributions from the past. Some have come to regard the priestess vocation as kind of karmic debt that they are paying off, a way of making up for deleterious actions or mistakes that they may have committed in a past life (Holt 2004). The supernatural knowledge and power priestesses acquire through di≈t.i is confirmed for them in the form of a varama, a “warrant” bestowed upon them by one of the higher or more powerful deities of the Sinhala pantheon, a deity who has decided to enlist them to work on the deity’s behalf in response to devotees’ entreaties. This pattern of understanding the priestess vocation means that the career of a priestess emulates the mythic careers of many of the lesser deities in Sri Lanka, whose own mythic charters in folkoric poetry and ballads usually contain stories about how their arrivals in Sri Lanka, and their divine provenance, were secured through the permission, bidding, and assistance of one of the higher guardian deities (e.g., Vis.n.u, Skanda, Pattin†). Varamas are thus given at important devGlayas, such as Däd.imunda’s chief shrine in upcountry Alutnuvara, and are usually symbolized by the purchase of ritual object; for example, a hala≠ba, “anklet.” The hala≠ba is a particularly potent and popular symbol of power for priestesses because it is associated with the cult of the goddess Pattin†, the most prominent female deity and one of the most active and powerful gods in the religious culture of Buddhist Sri Lanka. Often, a priestess will take the hala≠ba in hand while she chants her own especially designed mantra as a means of entering into an altered state of consciousness in order to perform her priestly functions. A priestess who claims a varama is indicating that she has passed a threshold: She is no longer only possessed by supernatural be-

ings, but has now gained the ability to manipulate power in the supernatural world in the service of a deity’s beneficent work. What separates the work of a priestess from that of a sorceress is that her power is derived from a morally sanctioned deity (as opposed to an ambiguous or demonic power), and therefore her intentions are wholly benevolent rather than malevolent. Insofar as most priestesses understand their work as assisting those in a state of existential distress, or suffering (dukkha), they understand their efforts to be fully aligned with the ethos of Buddhism. Priestesses may communicate with or speak for the dead at any time, but they are usually “open to the public” on kemmura days, Wednesdays and Saturdays. These are the days in the astrologically configured calendar that are deemed intrinsically inauspicious, and therefore the days when devotees might be in greatest need and when the dead may be particularly active or attentive. In Sinhala culture, care and concern for the dead is an ancient legacy. While merit-making, almsgiving rituals involving Buddhist monks are performed for the benefit of the deceased on the seventh day after the third month after the death, and annually on the date of death for members of the immediate family, priestesses may communicate with the dead at any time, though sometimes they specify that departed kin must have been dead between three months and ten years if a successful connection is to be made. This specific time parameter reflects the belief that the period before three months is one of liminality (transition) for the departed and a time of pollution for surviving kin. After ten years, the soul of the dead is believed to be too far “gone” (giya) into the rebirth process to be reached. A priestess’s clientele is motivated to use her services for several reasons. They may simply want to inquire into the fate of the dead, a matter of compassionate curiosity. But often a priestess is sought to discover why inexplicable developments have occurred within the family since the death of a relative, especially if further tragedy or suffering has since occurred within the family. Often, troublesome departed kinfolk are envisaged as pretas (hungry ghosts) or bh‹tas (malevolent supernatural beings) who are creating misfortune for survivors owing to some perceived motive of revenge. By inquiring


into the well-being of the deceased, clients often seek to know if a member of the surviving family has offended the dead, or if rituals performed on behalf of the dead have not been performed in an acceptable or efficacious manner. In addition to enjoining survivors to act ethically in relation to the memory of the deceased, priestesses often prescribe pilgrimages, donations, or almsgiving, with the idea of transferring the merit accrued from such actions to the deceased. The intended affect is to pacify a restless or unhappy preta or bh‹ta who may be wreaking havoc upon the living. Sometimes clients will ask the departed for specific advice about mundane family matters, including issues pertaining to arranged marriages, the selling of property, potential venues of education, and the like. On the whole, the vocation of the priestess is concerned primarily with those matters related to family affairs. Successful priestesses attract a national clientele. As a result, some have risen out of poverty and have even entered the middle class. Others remain only locally known. In all cases, however, a priestess’s varama is usually considered “valid” for only a prescribed period of time, usually for several years. Priestesses often claim that they can feel their powers ebb and flow, and that it is necessary to regularly recharge their powers by visits to important devGlayas or pilgrimage sites. As a result of di≈ experienced at these sacred places, their powers are recharged and reaffirmed. Or, priestesses may learn that their efficacy is spent. In Sri Lanka, many see the priestess vocation as a way of defending the psychic integrity of the family. Priestesses may see themselves as assistants to the great moral powers of the cosmos, antidemonic champions who defend the life, health, fertility, and the world of light against darkness, disease, sterility, disasters, and the world of darkness. They understand themselves as specialists in knowledge of death and the afterlife. It would not be wrong to see in the pattern of their experience a type of epic structure at work: They travel to the unknown realms of the supernatural world, acquire knowledge not known to normal mortals, and then return to this world armed with power to improve its plight. Priestesses in Sri Lanka are links to this Otherworld, and insofar as clients perceive them to exercise a beneficial influence on their lives, they represent the possibility that


the laws of nature can be transcended in order to assuage the samsaric experience of suffering. John Clifford Holt See also: Buddhism and Shamanism; Burmese Spirit Lords and Their Mediums; Malay Shamans and Healers; Manipur Meitei Shamanism; Spirit Possession References and further reading: Barnett, L. D. 1916. “Alphabetical Guide to Sinhalese Folklore from Ballad Sources.” The Indian Antiquary 45: 1–116 (appendix). de Silva Gooneratne, Dandris. 1865. “On Demonology and Witchcraft in Ceylon.” Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the royal Asiatic Society 4: 1–117. Gombrich, Richard, and Gananath Obeyesekere. 1988. Buddhism Transformed: Religious Change in Sri Lanka. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Holt, John. 2004. The Buddhist Visnu. New York: Columbia University Press. Obeyesekere, Gananath. 1975. “The Idiom of Demonic Possession.” Social Science and Medicine 14: 97–111. ———. 1983. The Cult of the Goddess Pattini. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Wirz, Paul. 1954. Exorcism and the Art of Healing in Ceylon. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

RAI SHAMANISM (NEPAL) Rai shamanism comprises a plurality of shamanic traditions, varied but closely related, like the Rai groups themselves. The Rai in East Nepal consist of numerous subtribes, and even though they speak different languages and have their own distinct traditions, they all share a common linguistic and cultural heritage. Together with Limbu (the language of a related group residing farther to the east, also in Sikkim and Darjeeling), the Rai languages belong to the Kiranti family, which is a subgroup of Tibeto-Burman. Culturally the Rai have been influenced by both Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism, but these influences have only marginally affected their ancestral traditions, in which shamanic features still figure prominently.



Oral Tradition The religious tradition of the Rai is generally referred to by a single term in the various Kiranti languages. Among the Mewahang Rai, for example, it is known as muddum, among the Yakha Rai as mintum, among the Kulunge as ridum, among the Chamling Rai simply as dum; thus there is apparently a common root (*dum), which points to a shared conceptual base. All these terms designate the essentially oral tradition of the group, including both the spoken “texts” as well as their ritual performances. This tradition may be seen as the means by which the Rai, with the help of their ritual specialists, that is, shamans and priests, maintain a link to the ancestors: remembering their deeds in mythological narratives, speaking to them in ritual invocations, and interacting with them in ritual exchanges. The mythology of the Rai subgroups varies in details, but in the overall structure the narratives are quite similar. Creation stories recount the origin of the universe and nature, of man and culture (Gaenszle 2000). Often it is a snake, called na-gi and associated with the river source, that is seen as the cause of the beginning of all things: The first being originated from a clod of mud down in the plains “where all the waters dry up” after being swept down the river. In these times of origin, procreation continued through several generations of primeval mothers, all impregnated by the wind, until one daughter was told to look for a proper husband. She eventually found a husband up in the sky, but did not like him, and only through a trick did he manage to impregnate her. In due course this daughter gave birth to the whole variety of species. The duality of river source and plains, as well as that of the sky and the earth, in short the vertical dimension, is of crucial significance in the ancestral rituals: It provides the mythic pattern for the shamanic journey. The topic of movement along the up/down axis is prominent in other myths about the migration of the ancestors: The ancestors walked up along the rivers from the place of origin in the plains and separated by following different valleys. Similarly, both the shaman and the tribal priest travel along the riverside in their chants, thus replicating the mythic journeys (Gaenszle 1999). Rituals among the Rai are focused very much on the spoken word. Many rituals consist of lengthy invocations and recitations, accompa-

nied by only a minimum of ritual gestures and actions. What is unique about this form of speaking is that it requires the use of a special ritual language. This language is distinct from ordinary language. Though there is a certain continuity with everyday language, in particular on the level of grammar, the ritual code has a special lexical inventory, consisting largely of binomials (nouns consisting of two terms). Forms of parallelism are pervasive in all texts. Thus ritual speech has highly poetic qualities. It is seen as an ancient language inherited from the ancestors, and hence as the proper way of communicating with them.

Ritual Specialists Although simpler rituals addressing ancestors can also be performed by lay persons, communication with the more powerful ancestral beings or deities requires special competence. Though the system of ritual specialists differs considerably between the Rai groups, it is striking that there is always a pronounced duality of ritual office. On the one hand, there is what is generally termed the tribal priest (e.g., ngo:pa in Mewahang Rai, nokcho in Kulung, dewa nokcho in Thulung Rai,); on the other hand there is the “shaman,” taken in a narrower sense (e.g., makpa or mangmani in Mewahang, sele mop in Kulung, seleme among the Thulung Rai, who may be male or female). Shamans can be easily distinguished by their professional costume and paraphernalia: feathered headdress, white gown, harness of bells, and, most importantly, . the handheld drum (Rhya-nro). In fact, this is the typical dress of the pan-Nepalese shaman, who is found among almost all ethnic groups and castes (including untouchables and Brahmans) and is generally known as jh∑kri in Nepali. In certain contexts Rai shamans also use the big drum called Rhol. The tribal priest usually does not have a special dress, except for the turban that some of them wear. He may use a metal plate to accompany his chanting, but he rarely uses a drum. It is tempting to see a simple contrast between the tribal priest and the shaman: daytime ritual versus nighttime séance, sacrifice versus possession, ancestral spirits versus evil spirits, auspicious versus inauspicious, and so on. In fact, however, the situation is far from clearcut. In many of the groups, both may become


possessed, both may conduct sacrificial offerings, both may go on ritual journeys, and both may deal with dangerous spirits. Therefore there are good reasons to regard both ritual specialists as shamans, but in order to avoid confusion, the above terminology has become generally accepted (Allen 1976a). In spite of these ambiguities, however, one can say that the tribal priest is generally in charge of maintaining a good relationship with the ancestral beings (which involves regular blood sacrifice), whereas the shaman is responsible for warding off harmful influences and dangerous spirits (especially those associated with bad death). Moreover, the former often has the task and capability of dealing with the territorial spirits, whereas the latter also deals with many nonKiranti spirits and deities (such as S´ iva and Devi from the Hindu pantheon, as well as others). Whereas the tribal priest never uses the Nepali language, a good deal of the shaman’s ritual chanting is done in an “archaic” version of the national idiom. This indicates that the duality of ritual office has also been subject to historical influences (Allen 1976b).

Initiation Among all the Rai groups, members of both major classes of ritual experts have to undergo a period of initiation in order to be able to perform the respective rituals. Generally this kind of initiation cannot be chosen at will. Rather it is the divinity itself that selects its adept. At first the candidate has recurrent dreams that involve encounters with the tutelary deity and is shown certain paraphernalia that are needed for performance (e.g., the drum). The neophyte also dreams of travelling along ancestral routes, and in the case of the shaman embarks on real journeys through the forests. Eventually the candidate may become possessed by the divinity, in some cases suffering fits and illness, or even lengthy periods of confusion and “madness.” But with the help of initiated ritual experts, the adept learns to control this contact with the divine forces and to communicate with them in a regular manner. However, such a calling is only possible if the adept has inherited some ancestral competence: Only if there is a forebear among the paternal or maternal ancestors who was a ritual specialist can the neophyte claim similar capabilities.


Performance Rituals performed by both tribal priests and shamans are celebrated at regular intervals, as well as in times of special need. Both kinds of specialists are called for divination and healing, but the purpose of the performances is not only medical. They aim at achieving general prosperity, fertility, and well-being through reordering relationships with the ancestors. The performance of the tribal priest is somewhat less spectacular than that of the shaman. The main part of his performance consists of the verbal journey, which may last for several hours. For example, in the na-gi ritual the practitioner sits in front of his grain offerings and beer containers and recites the place names of his itinerary. When the deity’s abode has been reached, divination takes place, during which the deity answers questions through “giving” mild possession. In some cases animals (goat, sheep, chicken) are sacrificed before the return journey begins. The shamanic performance of the jh∑kri (known as cinta-), on the other hand, takes place at night and is full of symbolic action and dramatic events. The altar of the shaman is a composition of numerous paraphernalia that may be seen as helping to create a bridge to the other world: for example, horns of wild goats and deer, human bones, snake vertebrae, porcupine spines, the beak of the giant hornbill (a bird of mythic significance), quartz crystals, stones that have “fallen from the sky,” and chestnuts. It also includes items of Hindu provenience, such as tridents, ma-la-s (necklaces), and conch shells. Further there are various leaves and offerings of rice, milk, coins, and incense. During the first part of the séance the shaman dons the shamanic garment, as a warrior dons his armament, begins to drum (assisted by lay helpers), and invokes the tutelary deities (e.g., Aitabare, Mahadev, Shikari). Gradually these deities are brought into the shaman’s body, and eventually they speak through the shaman’s mouth. The congregation of the household and visitors now can ask about the state of affairs by directly addressing a divinity. After this crucial divination, a ritual journey in order to search for a soul or various kinds of offerings may follow (such as the presentation of flowers and burning wicks to Sansari Mai). The climax of the session occurs



at midnight, when the evil planetary constellation is “severed” (graha The household members sitting on the verandah are connected by a cotton thread to a banana sapling placed in the courtyard. The shaman now moves the evil influences from the house through the thread to the banana, and with a powerful stroke accompanied by fierce drumming and yelling, the shaman eventually ends the connection by breaking the thread. The banana sapling is then discarded by kinfolk related through marriage. After this the healing ceremonies proper (jha-rphuk) may begin. Not only the household members but also neighbors may ask for treatment, so this part usually goes on for several hours, lasting until the early morning. Various techniques of diagnosis and treatment are employed, depending on the situation. For example, the shaman may ask a question and then count the beads of a section of the mGlG, and depending on whether the number is even or uneven the answer is yes or no. Or the shaman may just look through a hollow bone and “see” the cause of the problem. In order to effect a cure, the shaman may suck some small substance out of the patient’s body, chase away polluting witches with the help of green twigs of the chestnut tree, or use the technique of “inversion” (ult.o garne), that is, feeding liquor to his patients and turning the cup upside down afterwards. After these healing rites, shaman and helpers dismantle the altar. Before parting in the morning a small “head-raising” ceremony is held. A cock and a chicken are offered by placing them on the heads of the household couple: through this their “head-soul” (saya) is “raised,” which means that the vitality of the household is renewed, ensuring not only physical health but also more general prosperity (Gaenszle 1996; Hardman 2000). This, in fact, is the aim of most Rai rituals: Making offerings to the ancestors, thus keeping them happy and benevolent, maintains the balance of the social as well as the natural order. Martin Gaenszle See also: Chepang Shamanism; Ladakhi Shamans and Oracles; Nepalese Shamans; Tibetan Shamanism References and further reading: Allen, Nicholas J. 1976a. “Shamanism among the Thulung Rai.” Pp. 124–140 in Spirit

Possession in the Nepal Himalayas. Edited by John T. Hitchcock and Rex L. Jones. Warminster, UK: Aris and Phillips. ———. 1976b. “Approaches to Illness in the Nepalese Hills.” Pp. 500–552 in Social Anthropology and Medicine. Edited by J. B. Loudon. London, New York: Academic Press. Gaenszle, Martin. 1996. “Raising the Head-Soul: A Ritual Text of the Mewahang Rai.” Journal of the Nepal Research Centre 10: 77–93. ———. 1999. “Travelling up and Travelling Down: The Vertical Dimension in Mewahang Rai Ritual Texts.” Pp. 135–163 in Himalayan Space: Cultural Horizons and Practices. Edited by Balthasar Bickel and Martin Gaenszle. Zurich: Ethnological Museum of the University of Zurich. ———. 2000. Origins and Migrations: Kinship, Mythology and Ethnic Identity among the Mewahang Rai of East Nepal. Kathmandu: Mandala Book Point and The Mountain Institute. Hardman, Charlotte E. 2000. Other Worlds: Notions of Self and Emotion among the Lohorung Rai. Oxford and New York: Berg.

SOUTH ASIAN SHAMANISM South Asian shamanism replicates a sufficient number of features of shamanism found in Central and East Asia to conclude that it is part of a general cultural area of similarly constituted shamanism. South Asian shamanism does, however, exhibit unique features, for both Hinduism and other religious systems of the region, as well as the dominant South Asian social structure, lend it a wealth of unique details. Given Geoffrey Samuel’s remark regarding “the multiple misunderstandings that seem inevitably caused by any use of the term ‘shamanic’ in scholarly discourse, however carefully defined” (2000, 663), along with earlier studies in which nearly everything dramatic from earliest recorded history to ethnographies of the first decades of the twentieth century was regarded as a manifestation of shamanism (e.g., Ruben 1940), the best course to adopt here will be close adherence to the most outstanding and least controversial features of South Asian shamanism. In South Asia, as elsewhere in Asia, shamanism broadly indicates manipulation of spirits,


the usual process being the intentional, ritually induced, introduction of a spirit into the psychomental system (and presumably the body) of the shaman, which the shaman then employs in a deliberate manner, generally for the benefit of others, often for curative purposes. In South Asia this process usually takes the form of oracular possession. The practice of South Asian shamanism cannot be equated with that of Hindu or other higher profile priestly activity. Priests—which is to say Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Muslim, Christian, and Zoroastrian ritual officiants—perform rituals according to fixed injunctions and patterns. Although they undergo rigorous and specified training according to certain sectarian and lineage affiliations, shamans are self-selected and comparatively peripheral to their sectarian affiliations. Priests are generally expected to be literate, whereas shamans are often uneducated or possess little formal education. Priests are usually linked with mainstream Hindu or Muslim textual traditions and as often as not perform rituals for individuals at close quarters. On the other hand, South Asian shamans are usually knowledgeable within public, even festival, ritual contexts that are often restricted to select communities. Priests follow tradition-based injunction, while shamans, ostensibly at least, act intuitively, though of course shamanic or ecstatic activity, even possession, is learned and cultivated. Priests in South Asia are preponderantly male, whereas a significant percentage of shamans are female. Most present-day South Asian shamanistic praxis is not linked with texts of any great antiquity; indeed it is not linked with texts at all. Rather, it is largely linked with the oral traditions of communities of lower social rank, though in recent decades newly emergent educated and literate people have been participating increasingly in shamanistic activity. Indeed, it may be argued that members of the upper classes, notably Brahmans, have always participated in such activity, beneath the radar screen of official Brahmanical orthodoxy. Shamans often develop a practice, usually within their homes, as they become known for their healing or other oracular powers. The shaman’s very presence is potent, empowering, and indicative of certain cultural and ritual subsystems. The potency or empowerment abides in the perception of the shaman’s ex-


traordinary gifts and is arguably the most essential component of the shamanistic process. It is this that sets in motion the performative processes and their eventual realization. Thus, in South Asia, the medium is the message. Shamanism has a long history in South Asia. Certain inscriptions, masks, and other items of material culture from the Indus Valley civilization (ca. 3000–1700 B.C.E.) argue for the presence of shamanism, probably as a survival from earlier, more characteristically shamanistic hunter-gatherer cultures farther north (During Caspers 1992). The literary evidence, moreover, beginning with the earliest Sanskrit texts from the second millennium B.C.E. and continuing through ancient and classical Sanskrit and vernacular literatures, argues strongly for a shamanistic presence. The earliest text in Sanskrit, the Çg Veda, dating to the mid-second millennium B.C.E., describes a longhaired ecstatic sage of sweet disposition, who treads the aerial path of the gandharvas (celestial musicians) and the apsarases (celestial dancers) (10.136). This is in general resonance with descriptions of shamanic journeying elsewhere. The most prominent ritual described in the Çg Veda is the soma ritual, in which a plant, thus far unidentified, is pressed, strained, and consumed. This soma plant is anthropomorphized as the god Soma, who bestows strength while leading the singer to the heavenly light. Soma enters into his friend, the singer or sage (≤≈i or vipra, words that etymologically indicate a “quiverer,” or ecstatic sage), bestowing prosperity and striking down demons and rivals. It is clear that the sage becomes possessed by Soma, experiences ecstatic trance-states (Çg Veda 5.44, 8.48, 10.119; cf. Thompson 2003), and is able to mediate between earthly and celestial realms. Another early Indic example of shamanic possession appears in the B≤hadGran.yaka (3.3.1), one of the best known religious texts of ancient India. Once upon a time, Bhujyu LGhyGyani, a disciple of the celebrated teacher YGjñavalkya, sought the advice of Patañcala KGpya. Upon entering his house, he discovered that the daughter of Patañcala KGpya was possessed by a gandharva. Bhujyu asked the gandharva to reveal, speaking through the daughter, who he was. The gandharva replied that he was Sudhanvan of the family of Axgiras. Bhujyu asked him the



whereabouts of the descendants of He then returned to YGjñavalkya and reported the conversation to him. YGjñavalkya accepted the possession without further question and confirmed the answer of the gandharva in the form of a riddle, “They went where the performers of the horse sacrifice go.” The explains that gandharvas pervade the sky and that the worlds of the gandharvas are pervaded by suns. Bhujyu’s association with possession echoes another passage from the Çg Veda (1.116.3–5), in which Bhujyu is seemingly rescued or healed as a result of invoking a pair of Vedic healing deities called the AΩvins, after being abandoned in a deep sea or water cloud. The same Upanis. ad further reports (3.7.1) that on another occasion UddGlaka went to the home of the same Brahman, Patañcala KGpya, who was at that moment busy studying ritual. This time it was Patañcala’s wife who was possessed by a gandharva. Through the wife, the gandharva identified himself to UddGlaka as Kabandha, the son of Atharvan. This gandharva also turned out to be quite learned, knowing both the sacrificial rituals and the inner self. In both stories, the gandharva announced his identity and communicated healing knowledge. Both possession and the gaining of healing knowledge from the possessing deity are wellattested features of shamanism. These brief accounts from the Vedas satisfy Sergei Shirokogoroff ’s five characteristics of a shaman (at least among the Tungus of Siberia): (1) a shaman is a master of spirits, who has (2) mastered a group of spirits; (3) a shaman commands a recognized array of techniques and paraphernalia that have been transmitted from elders; (4) s/he possesses a theoretical justification for the shamanistic process; (5) the shaman occupies a special social position. Whether spirit or deity, these five are repeatedly borne out in studies of South Asian spirit mediumship or oracular possession (Shirokogoroff 1935, 274; cf. Maskarinec 1998, viii). This is not to argue that all possession in South Asia is shamanistic; indeed, it has been argued that much of the oracular possession in South India is not shamanistic, strictly speaking (Inglis 1985). It is simply to say that there are points of contact in phenomena that must be distinguished. A little-known form of spirit mediumship that may be traced back perhaps two millennia and

that unambiguously falls within the category of shamanism is what we may call svastha-veΩa, based on several occurrences of this term in published Sanskrit texts and unpublished manuscripts ranging from Tamilnadu in South India to Kashmir in the extreme north, dating from the fifth century C.E. onwards. This term may be translated as “possession of one who is in a good state of (mental and physical) health.” In svasthGveΩa, a medium causes a spirit (usually ancestral) or deity to descend into any one of a number of reflective objects (e.g., a mirror, water, a sword blade, a shiny wall, an oiled thumb, and so on) or into the body of a young boy or girl, after which the medium or youth answers questions from a client relating to events of the past, present, or future. If a youth is employed, the shaman also serves as a mediator between the client and the youth. This form of shamanistic practice is also found in Tibet (Orofino 1994) and China (Davis 2001, 120ff.; Strickmann 2002, 194ff.), records of which read nearly word for word with the Indian texts, and are doubtless based on them, a diffusion northward and eastward through Buddhist Tantric texts and practice. The South Asian practice of svasthGveΩa occurs as the central element in a fairly involved ritual (similarly in Tibet, though the ritual appears to be severely attenuated in the Chinese texts). If a child is employed, the ritual takes the following approximate form (the texts and manuscripts differ in details): A geometric representation of a deity (yantra) is inscribed on the ground, and a child (boy or girl) is made to sit on it. The ritualist then places powdered and scented ash from a ritual fire (bhasma) on the head of the youth and recites certain mantras specific to the deity invoked (HanumGn, Bhairava, MahGdeva or ‡iva) at least a hundred times. Then the ritualist summons the deity, who then possesses the child. At that point the client asks questions, after which the child answers them directly or to the ritualist. The possession is then lifted with the application of ash twenty-one times, accompanied by another long mantra. Another form of this ritual attested in both Indian and Chinese texts has the child learning difficult philosophical or literary texts through this form of spirit communication. Perhaps the most indisputable shamanistic characteristic in South Asia, arising from a widely distributed and more or less uniform de-


votional ethos, is that in oracular or any other divine possession the gods descend into humans as an act of grace. Though the shaman invites the deity, the prevailing indigenous view is that it is the deity who instigates the possession. Shamanic practice is, in short, a product of devotion (bhakti), an act of divine reciprocation. This attitude may be traced back to at least the first millennium B.C.E. Despite the foregoing descriptions, shamanism in a strict, unembellished sense is difficult to locate in South Asia. There is no land of the dead into which local shamans accompany the deceased, and little magical shamanic flight. The negative evidence is strong, as the literature on locally constituted shamanism numbers in the hundreds of works. An example of this nonconformity with “standard” shamanism occurs in the central Indian state of Maharashtra, where possession among certain folk cultures may be understood as shamanic, at least in a broad sense, when it is mediumistic, involving exorcism or healing. Followers, often shepherds, of a well-known regional deity named Khan.d.obG, experience the deity “coming” to them, then speaking through them. Though this occurs to relatively large numbers of devotees in certain festivals, for example when the new moon falls on a Monday, there are a few among them whose experience is qualitatively different, which is to say that their devotional commitment and intensity is deeper. Such a person is called dev≤≈†, “divine sage.” “By entering into the body of the dev≤≈†, [the god] makes him into a ‘temple’ and enables him to diagnose others’ diseases, adversities, and so on, in the form of bh‹ta [demonic entities], and to recommend methods for remedying them” (Sontheimer 1989, 145). Many studies have been conducted of shamanistically influenced Buddhism in Ladakh (eastern Kashmir) and Nepal (e.g., , Mumford 1989; Reinhard 1976; Srinivas 1998). Buddhist (as well as Hindu) orthodoxy has historically envisioned itself as opposed to shamanism, which it positioned as impure, violent, disorganized, not bound by formal doctrine, and the property of people of lower social or educational rank (including women). Nevertheless, one of the strategies Buddhists of all sects have employed over the millennia in Buddhism’s encounters with shamanism has been to co-opt or amalgamate those aspects of it that


are least antagonistic to Buddhist doctrine. In practice this amounts to a great deal. Indeed, though the older shamanistic layer that exerts such a tremendous influence on popular religion in South Asia has continually been challenged by literate orthodoxies, most often the result has been a new configuration or balance between the two, not the eradication of one or the other. Often shamanistic practice and orthodoxy have been mediated by Tantric ritual, which is structured by a sense of inclusiveness. This may be found in the encounter between the Buddhism led by educated lamas of northwest Nepal and local Gurung shamanistic practice (Mumford 1989). In other parts of Nepal, shamanism is relatively untouched by Buddhism or philosophically oriented Hinduism. These are tribal areas in which the shaman becomes possessed in order to deal directly with the spirit world and perform divination and healing (Reinhard 1976). Such phenomena are also found among the Chepang of Nepal. This pattern of alternating orthodoxy, shamanistic practice, and amalgamation or Tantric mediation of the two, is repeated throughout the subcontinent. A remarkable manifestation of “Hindu shamanism” (which has close Muslim cognates) may be found at the Hindu pilgrimage complex called BGlGj†, in the small town of Mehndipur in the northwestern Indian state of Rajasthan, as well as at other pilgrimage centers, which double as spirit healing centers. In this practice, Hindu and Muslim religious imagery merges with a shamanic substrate (Dwyer 1998, 1999; Pakaslahti 1998). BGlGj† is the local name for HanumGn, the monkey god, whose devotion to RGma is widely regarded in India as paradigmatic, and who has a major presence in shamanic ritual in India. At the BGlGj† temple and in its immediate environs, dozens, sometimes upwards of a hundred, spirit healers set up small clinics. These healers are practically all from the lower social classes and have little formal education. These clinics are a last resort for people throughout much of north India whose physical debilities or mental dysfunction remain undiagnosed or are pronounced incurable through the more mainstream biomedical and indigenous health care delivery systems. These people, along with supporting family members, flock to BGlGj† in search of a cure. Once there,



they encounter a healing system based on an extended image adopted from the British colonial legal system, which adopted the PersianUrdu language of the Islamic legal system of the Mughals. These healers, who practice possession and exorcism rituals that are not standardized but bear the distinct imprimatur of each individual healer, situate their exorcisms in an imagined ada-lat, or Islamic court, drawing their inspiration from the concept utilized at the main temple. This envisioned court serves as a background metaphor employed for instituting their processes of possession, exorcism, and healing. The primary deity, Hanuma-n as BGlGj†, is the supreme magistrate. He is assisted by two subordinates, Bhairavj† (the local manifestation of the protector divinity Bhairava) and PretrGj (King of the Spirits of the Dead), who are BGlGj†’s messengers (d‹t)—as HanumGn is RGma’s messenger (d‹ta). Before visiting the office—usually a small rented shrine room—of one of the many clinicians in the town, BGlGj† is first petitioned (darkhva-st) at the main temple. Whether pilgrim or afflicted petitioner, BGlGj† is proffered sweets (ladd‹), parts of which are offered into a sacred fire (havan), while the remainder is returned to the client as blessed and potentiated (prasa-d). After this offering a larger petition (arzi) of sweets is served to Bhairavj† and PretrGj in side annexes of the temple, where their shrines are located. By consuming the prasGd, the clients are said to be infused with the power of the deities. One or two days later trance commences, usually during scheduled offerings (a-rati) or devotional singing (k†rtan), which may occur either in the main temple or in the “office” of the exorcist. This k†rtan consists of deafeningly amplified recordings of Hindu devotional singing to the melodies of Hindi film songs. This engages the largely Hindu, but often multicultural, clientele of afflicted individuals and their families, who chant along with the music, “Jai MG, Jai MG” and so on, and clap rhythmically—some of the standard accoutrements of shamanic trance music. The word used for this trance is the Urdu peΩ†, literally a “hearing” or “appearance in court.” In it, the classic symptoms of possession occur, initially rhythmic swaying, but eventually violent whirling of the head and upper body, hectic chaotic movements such as somersaults, writhing and sobbing, and so on.

Women’s hair is always unbraided and left loose during the proceedings. During the peΩ†, the clinician or an assistant temporarily takes the offending spirit from the client, while simultaneously becoming possessed by Bhairavj† or PretrGj. This double possession of the invasive spirit (bh‹t) along with Bhairavj† or PretrGj is understood as a battle between bh‹t and d‹t, negative and positive entities and polarities of personality. It is often cast as a literal battle; the d‹t may be assisted by an army of positive spirits, with its own hierarchy, called phauj (Urdu for “army”; or d‹t sapha-†, “sepoy”), constituted of former bh‹ts that have been transformed into this lower grade of protective d‹t by the exorcistic and analytical procedures of clinician-ritualists. If the clinician or the assistant has taken on the bh‹t, the battle transpires within her body, which has also become possessed by the d‹t. She then acts out the violence of battle in chaotic movements, with eyes turned back, hair flying, mouth foaming, and other familiar effects of ecstatic possession. If the client has retained the bh‹t (and often if not), one of the regular actions of the clinician is visibly forceful beating on the back (usually the lower part of the spine) of the victim with her fists, followed by wrenching upward movements of the fists, said to drive the spirit(s) up the spine and out the top of the head. This, according to the model of the adGlat, is the punishment (saza-, dan.R) meted out to the bh‹t by the d‹t. It forces wildly uncontrollable shaking of the head and rocking of the upper body. Often both the clinician and the afflicted person are in possession, writhing and wrestling, both sets of eyes locked or rolled back. But the clinician, with much more experience and comfort in the adGlat and a seasoned eye for the dynamics of psychosocial issues, particularly the manner in which mental distress bears on social dysfunction, has more control of the situation. Therefore he is in a much better position to control the agendas and paths of rectification and healing. This process of administering psychological justice in the peΩ† usually must occur many times, not just once, before the healing is fully effected, which is to say before the bh‹t is completely extricated. In this way the client becomes empowered or resocialized to the point of normal return to the flow of family life.


The penultimate step in this legal proceeding is the bayan, a confession or statement by the spirits, who identify themselves, announce their departure, their next destination, and perhaps other significant information, such as why they have taken up residence there. The confessions of the spirits are spoken out after the battle has been suspended due to exhaustion of either the client or the clinician or her ritual assistant who has borne them. In this way the battle lines are drawn between bh‹t and d‹t: Counterpossession of positive entities is required to combat possession by negative ones. Usually the bh‹t reveals the required information upon questioning, often harshly worded, by the clinician or healer. This part of the adGlat resembles a talking cure, a local variant of psychoanalysis that deals directly with the offending spirit, in which the clinician attempts to address the problems of the entity and elevate it into the ranks of the phauj, thus freeing the afflicted individual of his madness or dysfunctional condition. The final procedure in the adGlat is the giving of parhez, home instructions, which often include dietary advice—usually the elimination of alcohol, meat, and garlic (because spirits are attracted by these), and their replacement with more salubrious foods such as barley—and the prescription of gifts of uneaten food offerings to cows and dogs. It is apparent from this example that many classic aspects of shamanism have entered Hindu devotional and healing praxis, a shamanistic acculturation that has appeared throughout the Indian subcontinent in various forms for millennia. Frederick M. Smith See also: Ancient South Indian Shamanism; Buddhism and Shamanism; Chepang Shamanism; Hinduism and Ecstatic Indian Religions; Ladakhi Shamans and Oracles; Nepalese Shamans; Spirit Possession in Rajasthan; Tibetan Shamanism; Tantrism and Shamanism References and further reading: Davis, Edward L. 2001. Society and the Supernatural in Song China. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. During Caspers, E. C. L. 1992. “Rituals and Belief Systems in the Indus Valley Civilization.” Pp. 102–127 in Ritual, State and History in South Asia: Essays in Honour of


J. C. Heesterman. Edited by A. W. van den Hoek, D. H. A. Kolff, and M. S. Oort. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1992. Dwyer, Graham. 1998. “The Phenomenology of Supernatural Malaise: Attribution, Vulnerability and Patterns of Affliction at a Hindu Pilgrimage Center in Rajasthan.” Social Analysis 42, no. 2: 3–23. ———. 1999. “Healing and the Transformation of Self in Exorcism at a Hindu Shrine in Rajasthan.” Social Analysis 43, no. 2: 108–137. Inglis, Stephen. 1985. “Possession and Pottery: Serving the Divine in a South Indian Community.” Pp. 89–102 in Gods of Flesh/ Gods of Stone: The Embodiment of Divinity in India. Edited by Joanne Punzo Waghorne and Norman Cutler. Chambersburg, PA: Anima. Maskarinec, Gregory G. 1998. Nepalese Shaman Oral Texts. Harvard Oriental Series, vol. 55. Cambridge, MA: Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Harvard University. Mumford, Stan Royal. 1989. Himalayan Dialogue: Tibetan Lamas and Gurung Shamans in Nepal. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. Orofino, Giacomella. 1994. “Divination with Mirrors. Observations on a Simile Found in the KGlacakra Literature.” Pp. 612–628 in Tibetan Studies, vol. 2. Edited by Per Kvaerne. Oslo: Institute for Comparative Research in Human Culture. Pakaslahti, Antti. 1998. “Family-Centered Treatment of Mental Health Problems at the Balaji Temple in Rajasthan.” Pp. 129–166 in Changing Patterns of Family and Kinship in South Asia. Edited by Asko Parpola and Sirpa Tenhunen. Studia Orientalia 84. Helsinki: Finnish Oriental Society. Reinhard, Johan. 1976. “Shamanism among the Raji of Southwest Nepal.” Pp. 263–292 in Spirit Possession in the Nepal Himalayas. Edited by John T. Hitchcock and Rex L. Jones. Warminster, UK: Aris and Phillips. Riboli, Diana. 2000. Tunsuriban: Shamanism in the Chepang of Southern and Central Nepal. Kathmandu: Mandala Book Point. Ruben, Walter. 1940. “Schamanismus im alten Indien” [Shamanism in ancient India]. Acta Orientalia 18: 164–205. Samuel, Geoffrey. 2000. “The Indus Valley Civilization and Early Tibet.” Pp. 651–670 in New Horizons in Bon Studies. Edited by



Samten G. Karmay and Yasuhiko Nagano. Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology. Shirokogoroff, Sergei Mikhailovich. 1982. Reprint. Psychomental Complex of the Tungus. New York: AMS Press. Original edition, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1935. Sontheimer, Günther-Dietz. 1989. Pastoral Deities in Western India. Translated from the German by Anne Feldhaus. New York: Oxford University Press. Srinivas, Smriti. 1998. The Mouths of People, the Voice of God: Buddhists and Muslims in a Frontier Community of Ladakh. Delhi: Oxford University Press. Strickmann, Michel. 2002. Chinese Magical Medicine. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Thompson, George. 2003. “Soma and Ecstasy in the Çgveda.” Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies 9, no. 1. Available at (accessed June 29, 2004).

SPIRIT POSSESSION IN RAJASTHAN (INDIA) In Rajasthan, shamanism and spiritual possession are tightly intertwined. Shamans are most typically those who have been healed from experiences with possession. Based on these experiences and now controlling and accessing the power and knowledge of the pestering spirit that once afflicted them or the divinity that formerly overwhelmed their human capabilities, shamans find themselves able to heal others. Spiritual possession, then, begins as an affliction but can be transformed into a gift that plays an important role in a shaman’s healing repertoire. This entry deals with the nature of sprit possession, which can be accessed by a shaman, healer, or anybody who has such ability for trance. In Rajasthan, men and women serve as shamans. Still, men often monopolize these roles, as many consider it shameful for women to publicly experience the ecstatic states associated with spiritual possession that so often accompany shamanism. Shamans provide a wide range of services for their clients, from predicting the future, to healing, to petitioning for

spiritual aid in matters of love and money. In all these contexts, shamans serve as intermediaries between humankind and supernatural entities and energies, communicating with and often channeling gods and spirits both malign and benevolent for the benefit of humanity. Shamanism is generally associated with village Rajasthan as well as with “folk” or “popular” Hinduism, thus distinguishing shamans from Brahmin priests and India’s classical textual traditions. But, as we shall see below, the lines between shamanism and priesthood are blurred, as they are throughout India. Working as a healer can bring honor and status to individuals and indeed can signal gratitude to the spirit or deity that allowed one to survive a difficult affliction. Serving as a shaman can also bring in new income, though most shamans retain their former employment. Rajasthanis speak of spiritual possessions as bhav a gaya, literally meaning “a feeling has come.” This phrase suggests that one feels an extraordinary emotion in one’s body, but more specifically can imply, depending on the case and context, that one is simply overcome with emotion, that one is so overwhelmed by emotions as to seem crazy, that a person is pretending to be a particular spirit or god, that one evokes in an audience a supernatural being’s feeling (bhav) or flavor (rasa), much as would a temple painting or a sacred song, that an individual emotionally identifies with a particular spiritual being and indeed thinks she is that being even though she is not, or, finally, that a person’s demeanor and emotional state are so reminiscent of a particular spirit or divinity that she is probably being controlled by that entity. In “true” possessions, the entities can be good and beneficial, as is usually the case with Hindu gods (devis and devatas), only a few of which in fact alight (utarna) on human mounts (ghoralas, related to the Hindi term for horse). Bhairuji, a lusty bachelor god of the Underworld, is said to grab human beings more than any other Rajasthani divinity (this god is a local equivalent of the pan-Indian Bhairava, “the Destroyer,” also referred to as Bhutesvara, “Lord of Ghosts,” both “fierce” or “terrible” forms of Siva spoken of in ancient Sanskrit scriptures) (Gold 1988a, 1988b; Harlan 1992, 66; Kothari 1982; Snodgrass 2002a, 39–42; Unnithan-Kumar 1997). Hanuman the monkey god, a popular Hindu


deity referred to as Balaji in Rajasthan, is also said to take over human bodies (Dwyer 1998, 1999; Seeberg 1995), as do various incarnations of the Mother Goddess collectively referred to as Mataji (Kothari 1982; Snodgrass 2002b; Unnithan-Kumar 1997), and other divinities such as Gailaji, a local god of madness (Gold 1988a, 177), Tejaji, a healing deity of snake bites (Gold 1988b), and Bhakar, a “tribal” god of the mountain (Unnithan-Kumar 1997, 217). Sagasji Baojis, the deceased spirits of murdered kings, also seize human beings (Snodgrass 2002a, 35–39), as do Muslim saints referred to as pir babas (Snodgrass 2002a, 42–45). Kuldevis (lineage goddesses), however, do not possess humans, instead communicating through visions and dreams (Harlan 1992, 66–68; for an exception see Snodgrass 2002b), nor do satis (women who immolate themselves on their husbands’ funeral pyres) (Harlan 1992) or various “big” Sanskritic gods such as Brahma who, the author was told, possess such power (shakti) as to risk exploding earthly bodies. Despite Rajasthan’s many benevolent spiritual beings, possessing entities are more than often evil and malevolent. These include capricious ghosts trapped between the human world (manushya-loka) and the world of the ancestors (pitri-loka), ghosts that are referred to by Hindus as bhut-prets or malris and by Muslims as jinds (from the Arabic djinn; Muslims speak of possessing entities as a hajris, “presences”). Some spirits are said to linger as ghosts because of their immoral defiance of customs that keeps them bound to their earthly existences and enmeshed in the lives of their friends and family. Others are believed to have passed away before the time allotted to them by Yama the Hindu god of death and are referred to as akal mots (untimely deaths) reluctant to leave this world. The latter include murder victims, suicides (for example, young women who throw themselves in wells because of premarital pregnancies), accident victims (such as, the author was informed, a foreign tourist who drowned in one of Rajasthan’s palace hotels), unmarried male children (who have no descendants to remember them), and stillborn babies. Other malicious spirits said to seize humans are dissatisfied ancestors (purvajs, pitr-pitranis), demons (raksas), witches (referred to as dakan if they are still living, meli if they are dead), deceased widows (considered sexually voracious or “hungry”


entities who lust after the bodies of newlyweds), and still living men who send their own souls to torment and kill their enemies (Snodgrass 2002b, 45–49). The distinctions between benevolent and malevolent spirits are not always clear, as even mischievous spirits can be used for good. Mediums who control their spirits—using spiritual energies to heal, locate jobs, fix marriages, predict the future (as oracles), find lost items, chastise the sinful, and reward the deserving— are referred to as bhopas, ojhas, and bhagats, which could be translated as “shamans,” and who are akin to, in Komal Kothari’s words, “human, or living shrines” (1982, 25). Controlling spiritual beings and being able to summon them at will—on auspicious days and at regular intervals—entails learning the songs, drumbeats, chants, smells, or images that please each entity. A shaman, when linked to a particular temple through the observance of that shrinedeity’s niyam (regimen), can be referred to as a cauki, literally a “square stool”—in the sense of a judicial seat where legal court hearings (peshi) are held and justice is dispensed by divine powers (Gold 1988b, 38; Kothari 1982, 31; Seeberg 1995). Spiritual beings, good and bad, possess humans for a variety of reasons. Hindu gods, it is said, want fame and feel that appearances in the world—the performance of miracles and communication of important messages— might boost their popularity rating. Ghosts, too, are said to want things. They “hunger” and feel that they can satisfy their desires—to play (khelna), eat sweet and sour things, devour meat and alcohol, smoke pipes, or engage in sexual activities—in human form. Because of their unclean desires, ghosts are drawn to dirty places such as toilets, cremation grounds, and burial sites, and toward beautiful things like perfumes and brightly colored clothing. This taste for dirt and beauty also draws spirits near women, as females are perceived to be ritually unclean (ashudh)—during menses for three or four days and after birth for twelve days (Dwyer 1998)—yet nonetheless alluring. Women are similarly perceived to have stronger fleshly appetites than men (for rich foods, money, and sex) and to be more vulnerable and fearful than men, thus further increasing their vulnerability to spiritual attack (Dwyer 1998).



Gods, ghosts, and ancestral spirits are also easily offended—from ritual neglect or simple human carelessness—which can draw them into the world in order to express their dissatisfaction and gain redress. The recently deceased, for example, sometimes feel that their families have not given the priests enough gifts, thus jeopardizing these spirits’ safe passage to the realm of Yama (Seeberg 1995, 51). In other cases, sorcerers or conjurers, referred to as jadugars or tantriks, are contracted to place “dirty” (gandi) spirits in the bodies of their patrons’ enemies. It is hoped that these summoned spirits, some who come voluntarily and others who are little more than slaves, will seize and consume their victims’ souls (Freed and Freed 1990, 404). Spiritual hit men accomplish ghostly transfers in numerous ways, for example, by giving victims ensorcelled food disguised as a sacred offering termed prasad, that renders their marks more susceptible to supernatural attack (Seeberg 1995, 52). In addition to sorcery (jadu-tona) and poisoned gifts of food, witchcraft can also weaken a person enough to precipitate a spiritual attack. Shamans may even cause the possession of their former patients, if, say, they become angered because their patients turn to other healers. Finally, ghosts are closely associated with liminal places (crossroads, burial grounds) and times (dusk and dawn, noon and midnight). In traveling over these places or at these times, one may inadvertently bring pestering ghosts into one’s body, although a host of auspiciousness (shubh and ashubh) beliefs concerning, for example, when to leave one’s house and when not to, minimize such dangers (for ghosts’ links to place, as opposed to sorcery’s association with familial conflict, see Dwyer 1998). Possessions by divinities, even angry ones, are boons. Having malicious spirits alight in one’s person, however, is a curse, and Rajasthanis do everything possible to get rid of them. Spirits disrupt one’s life—fouling up weddings, business ventures, and love lives—and generate a multitude of debilitating symptoms. Possessions begin with the afflicted swaying rhythmically, referred to as jhumna, literally, “to move as if one were intoxicated, as a drunkard” (as quoted in Dwyer 1999, 113). Some possessions never progress further than this, with mediums demonstrating a calm demeanor and no visible trance. In other cases, however, gentle swaying

quickly turns violent, with victims entering altered states of consciousness. Such states may involve voices other than the victims’ own speaking through them; trembling and convulsions; moaning (spirits are said to howl in pain from the punishment, dand, they receive from exorcising shamans or justicebringing gods); fevers; tearing at one’s hair and body, interpreted as ghosts trying to kill their human hosts; rapid breathing; wailing for mercy, since when brought to hallowed ground, spirits are forced to appear and account for their sins, which can bring cries for leniency; cursing, threats, uncontrolled shouting, and other expressions of anger (gussa) directed at divine images (murtis), as spirits become enraged when forced to appear before divine judges (Dwyer 1999, 119). These states may also include gurgling, choking, and difficulty in breathing, which is “interpreted as a death rattle because a ghost is trying to take the victim’s soul through its throat and mouth” (Freed and Freed 1990, 405); rolling on the ground in the muck (signifying degradation); complaints of numbness and coldness followed by uncontrolled shivering (perhaps showing mounts’ nearness to death); feelings of being bound up (bandha, signaling the imprisonment of human souls by destructive spirits); and moans and movements reminiscent of sexual orgasm, in possessions by Bhairuji, for example, which are interpreted as sexual penetration, and thus especially undignified for men and high-caste women (Gold 1988, 257–258; Harlan 1992, 66), followed in most cases by weakness, lethargy, and amnesia, with the possessed claiming to remember nothing about their experiences. Rajasthanis, spiritually tactical and medically polymorphous, practice a variety of measures to rid themselves of pestering spirits. Some try antibiotics and other allopathic remedies drawn from Western cosmopolitan biomedicine, while others turn to local systems of healing such as Ayurveda (a Hindu healing tradition described in ancient Sanskrit scriptures) or Unani prophetic medicine brought to India by Muslims, which has been described as a “combination of Greek humoral theory (four humors— blood, black bile, yellow bile and phlegm) and animistic beliefs introduced by the Prophet Muhammad” (Freed and Freed 1990, 404). These, in fact, represent first choices. Neverthe-


less, most Rajasthanis eventually turn to shamans. Shamans, or “healed healers”—these persons were typically also once assailed by spirits—first engage ghosts in conversation, hoping to find out who the spirit is and what it wants. Having pinpointed ghostly identities and desires (though this is difficult, as ghosts are notorious liars and tricksters), shamans proffer deals to the spirits, offering gifts of sweets, coconuts, tamarind fruit, cloth, or money, thus hoping to entice or exorcise (bhut-pret utarna) spirits from the bodies of their hosts. These deals involve considerable pleading, cajoling, and complaining on the part of both healers and ghosts. Spirits are sometimes transferred to another person or thing—even, temporarily or permanently, into the shaman’s own body. Alternately, shamans make offerings to sources of divine power, hoping that such powers will chase the spirit from their victims. Such fonts of spiritual vitality, be they gods, saints (in the Muslim tradition termed pir babas), or the shaman’s own spiritual servants, are found near impromptu shrines erected in or near sacred spots (termed sthans), temples (mandirs), mosques (masjids), or saints’ tombs (pirs). If these steps do not work, spiritual specialists make ghosts as uncomfortable as possible, hoping to convince them to leave human hosts. Techniques include abusing and insulting ghosts, smoking spirits out with unpleasant fumes such as burning cow dung (Freed and Freed 1964, 168), beating or electrically shocking the bodies of the possessed (some locals say only villagers and saints, but not shamans, employ electrical shocks), transferring mounts and thus their ghostly parasites to holy ground, reciting sacred verses termed mantras that summon superior supernatural forces in order to discipline recalcitrant spirits (the term mantra is a condensation of mananat trananat meaning “thoughts that protect”; Seeberg 1995, 45), providing the possessed with consecrated amulets that offer protection from ghosts, and using bundles of peacock feathers or branches from the neem tree to “sweep” (jhara, jharphuk) disease-causing spirits out of the body (Lambert 1997, 259). High-caste Rajasthanis link most forms of spiritual possession with the lower castes, the poor, “tribals,” and women, the primary exception being possession by ancestors (purvajs), a


malady that commonly afflicts high-caste men (Harlan 1992, 66–67, n. 39; Snodgrass 2002a; for shamanism among “tribal” communities, see Unnithan-Kumar 1997, 229–234). Similarly, Rajasthanis, and especially urban educated men, associate beliefs in spirits with village contexts as well as with illiteracy and lack of education, referring to such traditions as mere foolish “superstitions” (andvisvas) (Dwyer 1998, 10). There has been little systematic study of the distribution of spiritual possession in Rajasthan across social caste, class, or gender, or according to whether victims dwell in rural or urban settings, making it difficult to verify locals’ claims. Graham Dwyer’s study (1998) of 734 patients with “supernatural” maladies, along with their accompanying friends and family in the Balaji temple in Mehndipur village near Jaipur City, a popular exorcism site, is an exception (on this temple, which similarly features Bhairuji and Pretraj, “Lord of Ghost Souls,” see also Kakar 1982 and Seeberg 1995). Among Dwyer’s sample of the spiritually sick, 75 percent originated from towns and cities in northern India, 49 percent were men (though only 26 percent of men as opposed to 35 percent of women attributed their illnesses to spiritual possessions as opposed to other explanations like sorcery, demonstrating that men seem less susceptible to possession), and most were largely middle class and fairly well educated (10–12). This may reflect the fact that rural persons visit their own village shamans, not needing to venture to this popular temple on the outskirts of Rajasthan’s capital, or perhaps that this shrine is particularly attractive to highcaste affluent persons. Nevertheless, these numbers do demonstrate that possession is not limited to villages and small towns, women, or low-caste uneducated persons. Rajasthani spirit possession is associated with “folk” or “popular” Hinduism, given its link to illiteracy and oral traditions, to local incarnations of pan-Hindu deities, and to the countryside, low castes, and small dispersed shrines, and thus its opposition to “great” or “classical” Hinduism’s ancient textual traditions, Sanskritic gods, urban centers of learning, established priesthoods and dominant classes, and wealthy temples (on the distinction between Hinduism’s “great” and “little” traditions, see Marriott 1955). Moreover, the ecstatic, free-



wheeling and even bawdy behavior of spirits and shamans is opposed to the emphasis placed within orthodox Brahmanical Hinduism on composure, philosophical sophistication, sexual restraint, and bodily purity. High-caste persons may assert the religious centrality of established priesthoods and Sanskritic traditions, pushing folk beliefs in spirits to the superstitious social margins. Conversely, low-caste or rural persons might point to the way popular spirit beliefs infuse Hinduism with energy—folk traditions, then, give Hinduism its lively vitality, with priestly classes existing as mere money-hungry parasites. In fact, neither of these positions is exactly correct. On the one hand, in orthodox Hinduism (Sanatan [eternal] Dharma), one finds the idea that the soul can become a ghost, usually just before passing into its next birth or merging in moksha (salvation) (or mukti [spiritual liberation]) with the Absolute; also, ancient Sanskrit texts, notably the Atharva Veda (the last of the four Vedas, the most sacred scriptures), the MahGbhGrata (one of the two great Hindu epics), and the Puranas (tales reframing the moral lessons of the ancient Vedas), describe ghost illness, spirit possession, and the Brahman’s power of exorcism (Freed and Freed 1990, 404); further, even Brahmans from high-caste communities, referred to as pandits, wield Sanskritic mantras to exorcise and slay spirits. On the other hand, spirit possession’s emphasis on embodied or revealed divinity, and thus on the immediacy of godhood, parallels and intersects with orthodox Hindu beliefs such as the belief in the possibility of darsan, “divine viewing” (possession provides a living glimpse of god); the belief in avatars, or divine incarnations (Rajasthani villagers say that possessions are less potent than full-blown divine incarnations, which were more common before the current decadent Kali Age; Gold 1988b, 41); the belief in shakti, or creative energy or essence (spirits are considered one form of such energy); the belief in making puja, “sacred offerings” to divine beings (gifts to possessed mounts allow exchange with the supernatural world); the belief in karma, the force generated by one’s actions that shapes one’s next life (sinful actions are said to bind souls to earth as ghosts); and bhakti, or devotional Hinduism (spirit possession reflects the direct experience

of divinity and emotional intensity common to Hindu devotional traditions; Dwyer 1999, 132, n. 7; Seeberg 1995). Despite differences of emphasis—folk Hinduism’s emphasis on the Mother Goddess, ghosts, practical problemsolving, and spirit possession, and orthodox Hinduism’s emphasis on the next life, moksha, philosophy, purity and pollution, and Brahmanical morality—the two strands of Hinduism are intimately intertwined in Rajasthan (Lambert 1997). Despite this interconnection, it would be possible to find support in Rajasthan for Ioan M. Lewis’s “deprivation hypothesis”—the idea that possession allows women and other dominated classes to express dissatisfactions, thus providing not only emotional catharsis and social support but covert channels of protest that these persons would not otherwise have (1978)—for example, in the case of a lowcaste Bhat woman whose possessing goddess rants at her husband’s stinginess and antisocial nature, and in the fact that Rajasthani women suffer more from affliction possessions, while men are more likely to gain control of dangerous spirits and become shamans (Dwyer 1998, 12; Snodgrass 2002b). Still, the possessed offer statements (bayan) confessing their crimes, which seem like capitulations to dominant morals, ideologies, and hierarchies rather than contestations of them (Dwyer 1999; Seeberg 1995; Snodgrass 2002a, 2002b). Moreover, ethnographers of Rajasthan have asked whether seeming possession protests are actually experienced as such, or in fact more likely demonstrate, based on the stutters and gasps of the possessed, a failure to protest or even to speak at all (Snodgrass 2002b; see also discussion in Spirit Possession entry). Dwyer, following Levi-Strauss (1979), saw Rajasthani possession and exorcism as therapy akin to psychoanalysis in the West, allowing ailing persons to de-identify with pathological states and negative emotions, thus reconstructing themselves in more positive images, and rediscovering what it means to give and receive emotional love and support (Dwyer 1999, 123). Dwyer, however, was less willing to enter into an explicit Western psychological language—where possession is conceptualized as, alternately, hysteria traceable to sexual disturbances and conflicts within the family (Freed and Freed 1964; Kakar 1982), dissociative and


somatoform conversion disorders (the latter term used if biological factors are involved) linked to the inability to transition to adulthood (Freed and Freed 1990, 405), or, more specifically, as a form of dissociation termed multiple personality disorder brought about by early childhood abuse (Castillo 1994) or by unresolved Oedipal conflicts (Obeyesekere 1981)—or even to speculate on the internal psychic states of the possessed. Instead, in an approach termed phenomenological, Dwyer explored the local conceptions of self and emotion that ground these spiritual experiences (1998). Helen Lambert, likewise, examined how local Rajasthani ideas concerning, for example, local medical systems, the body, and auspiciousness frame perceptions of illnesses such as spirit possession (1997). Noting that possession is eminently theatrical, evoking humor and even applause, ethnographers have also used this form of sacred “play” (khelna) to explore the link between art and religion, drama and ritual, aesthetic pleasure and religious commitment. Ann Gold, for example, examined Rajasthani representations of true (saco) as opposed to false (jhutyo) possessions, the deep trancers as opposed to the clever con artists, thus exploring what might be meant by “belief ” in spiritual beings, as well as the appropriateness of Western performance languages for analyzing local possessions (1988b). Likewise, the author, in examining the way untouchable bards referred to as Bhats conceptualize possessions as performances, examined how aesthetic imitation of threatening others—suicides, stillborn infants, widows—in allowing people to imagine their way out of unsatisfying identities, leads to healing (Snodgrass 2002a). Other students of Rajasthani religion have used beliefs in spirits to tease out underlying cultural ideas regarding exchange and the economy, noting that, for example, spirit mediums quote the coming year’s grain prices and are generally enmeshed in economic life (Gold 1988b, 40), that exchanges of money and evil spirits share an underlying logic of gifting and social relations (Seeberg 1995), that possessions, like sorcery accusations, are often tied to disputes over shared property such as land, homes, businesses, or grazing rights, bringing to the fore either intra- and interfamilial or caste tensions (Dwyer 1998; Snodgrass 2002a, 2002b), and that spirit possession provides an


imaginative commentary, not at all unified and straightforward, on the modern capitalist economy (Snodgrass 2002b). Possession, then, has been used as a mirror of Rajasthani society, as an institution in which key assumptions about the world are alternately celebrated and challenged, be these related to illness and health, self, emotion, and the body, gender dynamics within the family, social hierarchies of class and caste, local interpretations of the global economy, or other yet-to-be-explored dimensions of experience. For Rajasthanis, spiritual possessions hardly appear startling, much less supernatural. Nevertheless, the institution brings to the surface shocking emotions and extraordinary ways of being. And it is this tension between the expected and the unexpected, the quotidian and the remarkable, that allows spirit possession to so effectively reflect Rajasthani culture, displaying taken-forgranted assumptions about the world while adding unexpected intensity and mystery to Rajasthani self-perceptions. Jeffrey G. Snodgrass See also: Dramatic Performance in Shamanism; Hinduism and Ecstatic Indian Religions; South Asian Shamanism; Spirit Possession References and further reading: Carstairs, G. Morris. 1983. The Death of a Witch. London: Hutchinson and Company. Castillo, R. J. 1994. “Spirit Possession in SouthAsia, Dissociation or Hysteria. 1. Theoretical Background.” Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 18, no. 1: 1–21. Dwyer, Graham. 1998. “The Phenomenology of Supernatural Malaise: Attribution, Vulnerability, and the Patterns of Affliction at a Hindu Pilgrimage Centre in Rajasthan.” Social Analysis 42, no. 2: 3–23. ———. 1999. “Healing and the Transformation of Self in Exorcism at a Hindu Shrine in Rajasthan.” Social Analysis 43, no. 2: 108–137. Freed, Ruth S., and Stanley A. Freed. 1964. “Spirit Possession as Illness in a North Indian Village.” Ethnology 3: 152–171. ———. 1990. “Ghost Illness of Children in North India.” Medical Anthropology 12: 401–417. Gold, Ann. 1988a. Fruitful Journeys: The Ways of Rajasthani Pilgrims. Berkeley: University of California Press.



———. 1988b. “Spirit Possession Perceived and Performed in Rural Rajasthan.” Contributions to Indian Sociology 22, no. 1: 35–63. Harlan, Lindsey. 1992. Religion and Rajput Women: The Ethic of Protection in Contemporary Narratives. Berkeley: University of California Press. Kakar, Sudhir. 1982. Shamans, Mystics, and Doctors. London: Unwin. Kothari, Komal. 1982. “The Shrine: An Expression of Social Needs.” Pp. 5–32 in Gods of the Byways. Edited by Julia Elliot and David Elliot. Oxford: Museum of Modern Art. Lambert, Helen. 1997. “Illness, Inauspiciousness, and Modes of Healing in Rajasthan.” Contributions to Indian Sociology 31: 253– 271. Levi-Strauss, Claude. 1979 [1963]. “The Effectiveness of Symbols.” Pp. 186–205 in Structural Anthropology. By C. Levi-Strauss, trans. C. Jacobson and B. G. Schoeph. Harmondsworth: Penguin. Lewis, Ioan M. 2003. Ecstatic Religion: A Study of Shamanism and Spirit Possession. 3d ed. London: Routledge. Marriott, M. 1955. “Little Communities in an Indigenous Civilization.” Pp. 175–227 in Village India. Edited by M. Marriott. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Obeyesekere Gannanath. 1981. Medusa’s Hair: An Essay on Personal Symbols and Religious Experience. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Seeberg, Jens. 1995. “Spirits, Words, Goods, and Money: Substance and Exchange at the Balaji Temple.” Folk 36: 39–59. Snodgrass, Jeffrey G. 2002a. “Imitation Is Far More than the Sincerest of Flattery: The Mimetic Power of Spirit Possession in Rajasthan, India.” Cultural Anthropology 17, no. 1: 32–64. ———. 2002b. “A Tale of Goddesses, Money, and Other Terribly Wonderful Things: Spirit Possession, Commodity Fetishism, and the Narrative of Capitalism in Rajasthan, India.” American Ethnologist 29, no. 3: 602–636. Unnithan-Kumar, Maya. 1997. Identity, Gender and Poverty: New Perspectives on Caste and Tribe in Rajasthan. Providence, RI: Berghahn Books.

SRI LANKA See Priestesses (Mediums) of Sri Lanka

TIBETAN SHAMANISM Tibetan religion is, with some variations, practiced among peoples not only in Tibet, but also in parts of Nepal, Ladakh, and Sikkim. The religion is a particular form of Buddhism, in which a number of shamanistic elements and practices are to be found. Tibetan lha-pas and dpa’-bos, “spirit mediums,” who, when ritually possessed, will cure illness and tell the future, are especially relevant in this regard. The ‘daslogs, the “travelers to the realm beyond death,” also clearly have shamanistic characteristics, but much less research has been done on them. Other specialists that have been seen by some authors as having shamanistic features, such as the sgrung-pas, the bards singing the epic of Gesar, or the gter-stons, the visionary treasure finders, will not be dealt with here.

Background Tibetans, an ethnically relatively homogenous people, and populations closely related to the Tibetans, live today in the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China, as well as in other provinces of China, in Bhutan, in parts of India (Ladakh and Sikkim), and in parts of northern Nepal. Exiled Tibetans live in various countries, with substantial groups in India and Nepal. Tibet traditionally was, and to some extent still is, an isolated country. Agriculture and animal husbandry form the basis of its economy, which is rather underdeveloped due to, among other things, the climate and the high altitude. The majority of the population belonged to the peasantry, but there was also a class of hereditary nobility, and the monastic institutions were powerful bodies in Central Tibet. Traditional Tibet ceased to exist in the mid-twentieth century with China’s incorporation of the country. The practice of religion has since been severely restricted. Thus, much of what is said here concerns traditional Tibet, or practices among exiled Tibetans outside of Tibet proper.


Ever since it arrived in Tibet in the seventh century, Buddhism has been the dominating religious force. Within Tibetan Buddhism many schools and monastic traditions have developed, and a vast religious literature exists. It is safe to say that Buddhism has entered every aspect of Tibetan religious life, its world of thought permeating every sector and its concepts and terminology articulating every religious experience. As an expanding and missionizing religion, Buddhism has often tended to be comparatively tolerant in matters of lay practice, which has led to a readiness to integrate local rituals and beliefs. Thus, shamanic elements have survived, after having been incorporated and often transformed. This process, difficult to follow historically in Tibet, has presumably been facilitated by shamanic features within the Buddhist tradition itself.

Spirit Mediums The most obvious examples of shamanic features in Tibetan religion are the spirit mediums and the ritual possession they practice. Ritual possession may be found on different levels in Tibetan society, from the local curers in the villages to high-ranking monastic oracles, of whom the State Oracle of gNas-chung is the best known. In this article, lay mediums of the lha-pa and dpa’-bo will be described, as it is their practices and beliefs that are best known in the West. Although a few studies, films, and recordings have been made of the monastic oracles, much remains to be done in the field before a clear picture of their world will emerge. The main sources for the historical background discussed below are Nebesky-Wojkowitz 1975 and Samuel 1993. For contemporary practice, the sources are Nebesky-Wojkowitz 1975, Pommaret 1989 and the author’s own work (Berglie 1976, 1983, and 1999). There are male as well as female spirit mediums. It is possible that there are more males than females active today, but there seems to be no great difference in their status and activities. Further research is nevertheless needed with respect to the gender aspect.

Mythology and Pantheon It is difficult to trace these practices back in Tibetan history. There are, however, occasional


mentions of possession in early textual sources, and there is evidence of the existence of institutionalized mediumship from at least the sixteenth century onwards. History notwithstanding, the dpa’-bos have a foundation myth, according to which it was Padmasambhava (founder of the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet, placed by legend in the eighth century) who invited the first spirit mediums, whom their successors today still can name, to come to Tibet from four neighboring regions so that they could cure the illnesses afflicting the Tibetans at that time. Everything the spirit mediums do today is modeled on the actions of these four dpa’-bos. In the history of Tibet, Padmasambhava is clearly a figure often referred to in attempts to construct, or reconstruct, a religious heritage. The pantheon of the spirit mediums is divided into three classes: the lha with 80 members, the btsan with 360 members, and the klu with several thousand members. The lhas are mild and well-disposed beings, clad in white and arriving at the séance from their home in the western snow-covered mountains riding on their white birds. The lha class is subdivided into smaller groups according to function and specialty, groups such as the astrologers, the fortune-tellers, the curers, and the soul lifters. The lhas are often called the “Indian gods” and are identified with the famous Tantric siddhas (those who have acquired miraculous powers through intense meditation and discipline) of the Indo-Tibetan traditions. Before they became Indian siddhas and Tibetan gods, they were the heroes of Gling, the epic warriors of King Gesar. They possess the spirit mediums very rarely. The btsans are wild and aggressive beings connected with mountains. They are red in color and arrive from their mountains riding on horses. The members of this class are grouped according to which mountain or mountain range they belong to. One group belongs to the Thang-lha mountains, and another important one is connected to Mount Targo in western Tibet. During their séances, the spirit mediums are most often possessed by members of the btsan class. The klu gods are connected with different lakes in Tibet. Often the mountain gods and the lake goddess are thought to be united in a divine polyandrous marriage. In addition to this hierarchical ordering of the pantheon, the gods are also distributed geo-



graphically from the west to the east. Thus the lhas belong to the high snow mountains in western Tibet and India, the btsans to the central provinces of dBus and gTsang, and the klus to Amdo and Khams in the east. The pantheon of the spirit mediums is, however, not limited to anthropomorphic beings, but also includes a number of supernatural animals belonging to the gods. These wolves, dogs, wild yaks, and birds carry out important functions during curing séances, as it is they who actually remove the illness from the sick person’s body. According to the spirit mediums, rtsa, “channels,” are to be found in the human body connecting different parts of the body in a complicated, esoteric, and systematic way. The three most important of these channels have their source in the heart and their opening at the crown of the head, and in the fourth finger of each hand, respectively. The gods enter the human body along these channels, after the spirit medium has sent his or her own consciousness, rnam-shes, out of the body through the opening at the top of the head. The rnam-shes then travels a short way up to the altar, where it will be protected by a guardian deity. The interval when the body is “empty” is considered potentially dangerous, as demons always threaten to enter the spirit medium. To prevent this, the spirit medium has to invite guarding deities and place them at the openings of the rtsa. They have the responsibility of seeing that nothing happens to the dpa’-bo then and during the rest of the séance. Further deities are placed at other parts of the body in the same function.

Vocation and Heredity The hereditary transmission of the spirit mediumship seems to be very important, and it is obvious that a long line of spirit mediums in the family is considered a guarantee of the trustworthiness of a performing dpa’-bo. Having the heritage of a spirit medium, however, is not enough. If a person is to become one, this vocation has to be confirmed by a call from the gods. The phenomenon of this divine election seems to be rather universal. The call usually comes when the boy is thirteen years old and consists of visionary encounters with the gods. The spirit medium-to-be sees

strange but beautiful beings mounted on horses and feels an irresistible urge to follow them into the wilderness. This can go on for several years and be rather disturbing for the candidate and his family, as he often is irritated and angry, walks in his sleep, loses his appetite, and the like. Finally, a traditional authority such as a lama or an older spirit medium is consulted, and if he recognizes the supernatural beings as gods, and not demons, the boy may start his training as a dpa’-bo. The spirit medium will have an especially close relationship in the future to the gods he has met in this way in his youth. This is similar to classic shamanism in Siberia in its aspects of inheritance, vocation from the gods, visionary encounters, and attachment to the spirits encountered during this period.

Tests and Training Tests of one kind or another are considered necessary by most spirit mediums. The tests all aim at safely identifying the supernatural beings met with in the visions. The identification might be carried out by someone who has a sufficient knowledge of pantheon and of the supernatural world of the spirit mediums. It is a rather complicated process, in which tests are followed by teaching. Thus it starts with describing and analyzing the visions and continues with the older spirit medium establishing contact with a wider range of gods. The teaching medium invites the gods with the candidate present and then asks the candidate to describe what he or she sees. Such séances may be held at irregular intervals for many years and indicate the kind of knowledge a spirit medium necessarily must have: The medium must know the names and appearances of a large number of gods. The possession of this knowledge is shown in the mastering of the invocation songs. If they are performed correctly, the gods are obliged to come to the séance where the spirit medium can identify and describe them. A special relationship is established between the teacher and the candidate which is supposed to last for life. The older spirit medium is expected to help the younger in every aspect of medium activities, and even to “give” the latter gods for use at séances. During a sequence of séances, the teacher is able to check the ability of the student to clearly see the gods. This abil-


ity is thought to depend, on one hand, on the student’s knowledge of the pantheon, and, on the other, on the “cleanness” of the channels in the student’s body. Thus, a fortunate combination of intellect, memory, and morality is required. To be able to recognize the members of the pantheon is, however, not enough to become a successful spirit medium. The most important task of a dpa’-bo is the curing of illness by sucking the object or substance causing the illness out of the patient’s body. As this is carried out by one of the supernatural animals, the spirit medium must have a good knowledge of these animals, as well as of the technique of sucking out. This can only be learned from another spirit medium. In traditional Tibet, a young dpa’-bo had to go on a pilgrimage to Mount Targo in the western part of the country. This mountain is the seat of a very important group of btsan gods, and there is also a cave in which Padmasambhava used to practice meditation. In this particular cave a spirit medium has to conduct a séance, in order to find out if he or she is good, mediocre, or bad. In this cave, three stones are said to be found: one for the spirit medium to sit on, one for incense, and one for the altar. According to one version of the initiation procedure, an incompetent dpa’-bo will die when invoking the gods here, whereas a good one not only can give an excellent performance, but also is sure to find some treasure, gter, when leaving the cave. According to another version, at Mount Targo the spirit medium has to climb a ladder in the cave; a good dpa’-bo flies up the ladder riding on a special bird, the mount of the lha gods. A bad dpa’-bo, on the contrary, will fail completely. When he or she tries to climb, the headdress and drum will become heavy as rocks and immobilize him or her on the ladder, in which position the dba’-po will die. In this version we find an interesting combination of the motifs of the legendary founding figure, Padmasambhava, the ritual climbing of a ladder, and the qualitative separation of the spirit mediums. When a young spirit medium has had initial visionary experiences, has undergone the necessary tests, and has been taught by a teacher, the medium is supposed to seek the blessing of a lama, after which he or she can begin to help people on his own. By then the medium is also


supposed to have command over meetings with the gods and many of his or her afflictions will cease. If, for some reason, a dpa’-bo does not want to continue as a spirit medium, he or she has to perform the following ritual. Five small parcels made of leaves and containing tinder are put at five places on the body: the top of the head, the right and the left shoulder, the back, and the chest. Then an assistant has to set fire to these parcels and thus burn the body, making it disagreeable to the guardian gods who would otherwise stay there during the possession.

Ritual Equipment All the spirit mediums use some kind of equipment in their séances. These ritual instruments may be obtained in various ways, for example, the spirit medium finds them as treasures, gter, or as a gift from his teacher, or inherits them from older dpa’-bos in his family line. The most important part of the equipment is the metal mirror placed on the altar, which a spirit medium arranges at the beginning of every séance. Without at least one mirror no séance can be held, because then the gods do not have anywhere to descend and to reside. Ideally, a spirit medium ought to have three mirrors, one for each of the three classes of gods. In the mirror the spirit medium can see the gods arrive on their mounts in good order and can see them dismount and place themselves in order of rank with their head god in the middle. Sometimes a knife can substitute for a mirror. On the altar the spirit medium also places a few gtor-mas, cone-shaped sacrificial cakes, small paintings of high-ranking guardians, such as the Karmapa, the Dalai Lama, and mythic protectors of the religion. Spirit mediums use musical instruments such as a drum, either a large one hit by a curved drumstick, or a smaller drum, shaped like an hourglass. Dpa’-bos also use a flat bell, a gshang. The sound of the drum is thought to reach the gods and make them come more willingly. Other instruments are occasionally used, such as a horn trumpet blown three times to greet the three classes of gods arriving. The spirit medium ties a piece of red cloth around his or her head after the gods have arrived at the altar, prior to donning the headdress. The putting on of the headdress is an im-

A Tibetan shaman drives away evil spirits with a traditional drum and a female thigh bone, ca. 1980–1990, Manag, Nepal. (Earl & Nazima Kowall/Corbis)


portant moment during the séance, as it marks a change of status: The god has entered the body of the dpa’-bo, and from now on until the end it is the god who speaks and acts. The headdress is a five-lobed crown, a rigs-lnga, which is fastened to the head with strings. On the lobes paintings of the five cosmic Buddhas are to be found, namely, Vairocana, Akshobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha, and Amoghasiddhi. In front of the outermost lobe at each side two “wings” are attached to the strings. The wings are fan-shaped and painted in the colors of the rainbow. In front of the wings, big bundles of multicolored ribbons hang down on each side. Such crowns, but without the wings and the bundles of ribbons, are also used by the monks in the highly esoteric Tantric rituals. Among other ritual items a small figurine in the semblance of a human being may be used sometimes. It is made of leather with black stones as eyes and with bird-claws attached to its hands and feet. It is used at curing séances, when the patient is hit over the head with it as part of the exorcism. All the equipment is put away and kept near the ordinary house altar, when not used.

Functions During the séance it is not the spirit medium who speaks and acts, but the god or goddess by which he is possessed. This is often said to be the sole source of the dpa’-bo’s authority, and the only reason why people come to him for help. In theory, he has no responsibility for what happens during the possession, and he claims that he does not remember anything at all afterwards. In practice, however, he is responsible for the correctness of his invocations to the gods, and he is also supposed to see to it that no demons sneak into his mirrors or into his body. Thus it can be argued that an absolutely distinct line cannot be drawn in this respect between the nonpossessed and the possessed spirit medium. The myth related above explaining the cause for the invitation to Tibet of the first four dpa’bos also stresses their main activity, then and now—the curing of illness. This can be effected in many ways, but the method most often used is to suck out the illness or illness-causing substance or object from the body. When such a sucking out is carried out, the spirit mediums


let themselves be possessed by a zoomorphic being, usually a wolf, a wild dog, or a bird. The medium then holds his or her drum, or some other item from the ritual equipment, against that part of the patient’s body where the illness is thought to be located, sucks from the opposite part of the drum, and spits out the result in a small bowl of water. The patient, and everyone else present, can thus see for themselves if the cure really has been effected. The healing process is supervised and controlled by a group of gods belonging to the lha class called the three Indian doctors, while other gods guard the patient’s body during the curing. Sometimes the spirit medium also hands out some herbal medicine in connection with the healing. Spirit mediums can predict the future, and to do so they usually use a kind of drum divination called rtsis. This divination can be done in various ways. The spirit medium may put a drum in front of himself or herself and place a few grains of rice on the drum skin. Certain gods, who are present to check the procedure, are then asked to move the grains to show the answer to the question posed. If the rice moves toward the altar, or if it rotates clockwise, it is considered a positive answer; if, however, it moves in the opposite direction, the situation is serious. In another method of divination, the spirit medium drops the rice from his left hand onto the drum skin and reads the future from the pattern formed by the grains. Exorcism forms a part of every curing séance, as it is opened with the dpa’-bo establishing an auspicious space for the coming events, a prerequisite being that no demons are around. An interesting, but unfortunately only fragmentarily known, practice is that of the “calling back of the soul,” bla-’khug. According to the spirit mediums, a person may lose his or her bla, “soul,” for many reasons. Demons, for instance, may steal it and carry it away. They do not, however, keep it for very long but throw it away. The aim of the bla-’khug ritual is then to locate the lost bla and bring it back to its owner. The possessed dpa’-bo takes three objects, one turquoise, one coral, and one small shell, and puts them in a small ball of pap, spags. The ball is then thrown away with a sling. A bowl is filled with water mixed with milk, and a scarf, kha btags, is stretched over the bowl as a cover. The patient then has to put his or her hands into the bowl in order to find the thrown-away



objects. If the patient can find all of them, his or her bla will return, but if the patient can find only one or two of them, the spirit medium then is possessed by an extremely wrathful deity, who helps locate the missing object or objects. Here, the three objects are obviously thought to be identical with the bla. In this ritual members of the lha class are thought to be active, and even to possess the spirit medium, who then will speak in “Indian.” Finally, minor ritual practices, such as stopping escaping thieves at a distance by paralyzing them, or a thread-cutting ritual intended to cure human beings and animals suffering from difficulties in breathing, are also known.

The Séance Spirit mediums usually perform in the evening and in the house of the people seeking help. All séances start with the arrangement of the altar. The invocations, mainly consisting of mentioning the names of many gods, are sung, during which the gods arrive and arrange themselves properly in the mirrors. This usually takes a little more than twenty minutes, after which there is a short break, during which the headdress is put on. The drumming and the singing become faster and faster, and the body of the dpa’-bo begins to rock to and fro. Suddenly the dpa’-bo leaps onto the floor and begins to dance. The god has entered his or her body, and the putting on of the headdress signals a change in ritual status. Just before the god enters, the spirit medium has to send away his or her own consciousness, the rnam-shes. It is thought that, for most mediums, their consciousness is protected by a special guardian deity during the possession. Other guardian deities also arrive to protect the spirit medium and the proceedings against the demons and their machinations. When the god has entered and the excited spirit medium has calmed down, the god usually introduces himself in rather haughty and even insolent words and asks what he is supposed to do this time. The intermediary appointed for the evening then sets about the task without delay. Clients are not allowed to speak directly to the god who is possessing the dpa’bo, and an intermediary, traditionally male, is therefore required. Then follows the main part of the séance: the solving of the problem. When the help has

been given, the god is duly thanked, and all the gods start to leave. Now begins the final part of the séance. This is the so-called rigs-lnga game, which may last for a few minutes or up to more than an hour. During this part the dpa’-bo swings and shakes his or her body violently. The singing has a more general content and is usually full of good advice, sometimes of an almost proverbial nature. All the séances finally end with the spirit medium leaning back in a sitting position, his or her head falling forward as the headdress slides off. As a rule it then takes only a few minutes for the dpa’-bo to recover and to start to collect and put away the equipment. Spirit mediums find it hard to describe what they feel at the onset of the trance. Many of them have visions of light and color, and some also experience changes in the size of ritual objects, which seem to grow bigger and bigger. At the same time the people sitting around the dpa’-bo become smaller and smaller, while their eyes shine brightly and their voices become thinner and thinner. When the god enters, the body may feel big and as if filled with gas; then everything becomes black. Under no circumstance may the dpa’-bo use any kind of drug or alcohol before and during the séance. It is considered wise and auspicious to abstain from alcohol and meat for some time before performing. More people are usually present in the room than really belong to the house or the immediate neighborhood. The onlookers may drop in during the invocations and leave after the dpa’bo has accomplished the task. There is always a relaxed atmosphere in the room, but if it is too relaxed and noisy, it provokes angry remarks from the deity. The spirit mediums work in a society dominated by Buddhism, and the Buddhist monks are the religious specialists with the highest authority. The spirit mediums act with the blessing of the lamas, but there does not seem to be much cooperation. They seem to act in different sectors of the religious field.

The Travelers to the Other Worlds: The ‘Das-Log The travelers to the land of the dead clearly belong to the shamanic complex in the Tibetan religion, although much research on these phe-


nomena is still required, both with regard to its appearance in Tibetan texts and its living presence today. These soul travels are described in hagiographic texts (Epstein 1982; Pommaret 1989, 1996), as well as in the anthropological literature (Berglie 1999; Pommaret 1989). The literary biographies of the soul-travelers, of whom the majority seem to be women, seem to be rather rigidly structured. In most cases, a conflict of a religious nature constitutes the starting point in the career of the ‘das-log. Wishing to be a nun but forced to remain in a secular state, she suffers. She has visions of her future life, hears strange sounds, and feels soaked in a rain of blood and phlegm. She finally dies and sees her relatives gathered around her bed and realizes that she has, in fact, died. Then she travels in unknown and terrifying lands where she is approached by dead people, eager to tell their sad stories. In the different hells she then visits, she sees the pains and torments of the sinners. When it is time for the ‘das-log to be put in front of the tribunal before which all the newly dead must appear, her case is investigated thoroughly. Since it is discovered that a mistake has been made, she is sent back to the living. Having returned to this world, she becomes a ‘das-log and spends the rest of her life telling about her great experience and giving advice on how to avoid having to spend time in the hells. Women seem to be in the majority also in the anthropological material. The overall structure of the career of the ‘das-log is similar, the most obvious difference being the ability of the contemporary ones to die again and again. They may even travel to the nether regions several times a month, on fixed days in the Buddhist calendar, or whenever someone asks them to. Such a journey may last for a few hours, or even longer, and after having returned the ‘daslog is able to deliver very precise messages as to what has to be done in this world to improve conditions for unfortunate relatives and friends in the Otherworld (Pommaret 1989). Stories have been recorded of ‘das-logs traveling in the heavens and in the hells for as long as seven days. And according to one informant, the ‘das-log is herself able to save people from hell and bring them to a better world. After their return it is said that they weep for days, having seen so much suffering (Berglie 1999).


In the ‘das-log, Buddhism and shamanism seem to have merged in a way that further studies may elucidate. Per-Arne Berglie See also: Buddhism and Shamanism; Funeral Rites in Eurasian Shamanism; Kalmyk Shamanic Healing Practices; Ladakhi Shamans and Oracles; Nepalese Shamans; Tantrism and Shamanism; Yellow Shamans References and further reading: Berglie, Per-Arne. 1976. “Preliminary Remarks on Some Tibetan Spirit-Mediums in Nepal.” Kailash 4: 85–108. ———. 1978. “On the Question of Tibetan Shamanism.” Pp. 39–51 in Tibetan Studies. Edited by Martin Brauen and Per Kværne. Zürich: Völkerkundemuseum der Universität Zürich. ———. 1980 “Mount Targo and Lake Dangra: A Contribution to the Religious Geography of Tibet.” Pp. 39–44 in Tibetan Studies in Honour of Hugh Richardson. Edited by Michael Aris and Aung San Suu Kyi. Warminster, UK: Aris and Phillips. ———. 1983. Gudarnas stiger ned. Rituell besatthet hos sherpas och tibetaner (English summary: The Gods Descend: Ritual Possession among Sherpas and Tibetans). Stockholm: Religionshistoriska institutionen, Stockholms universitet. ———. 1999. “They Only Weep. . . . Stories about Tibetan Travellers to the Other Worlds.” Pp. 87–96 in Return to the Silk Routes. Current Scandinavian Research on Central Asia. Edited by Mirja Juntunen and Birgit Schlyter. London and New York: Kegan Paul International. Delog Dawa Drolma. 1995. Delog: Journey to the Realms Beyond Death. Translated by Richard Barron. Junction City, CA: Padma Publishing. Epstein, Lawrence. 1982. “On the History and Psychology of the ‘Das-Log.” Tibet Journal 7: 20–85. Gibson, Todd. 1997. “Notes on the History of the Shamanic in Tibet and Inner Asia.” Numen 44: 39–59. Nebesky-Wojkowitz, René de. 1975. Oracles and Demons of Tibet. The Cult and Iconography of the Tibetan Protective Deities. 2d ed. Graz: Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt.



Pommaret, Françoise. 1989. Les revenants de l’au-delà dans le monde tibétain: Sources littéraires et tradition vivante [The ghosts from beyond in the Tibetan world: Literary sources and living tradition]. Paris: Éditions du Centre national de la recherche scientifique. ———. 1996. “Returning from Hell.” Pp. 796–818 in Religions of Tibet in Practice. Edited by Donald S. Lopez. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Rock, Joseph R. 1950. “Contributions to the Shamanism of the Tibetan-Chinese Borderland.” Anthropos 54: 796–818.

Samuel, Geoffrey. 1993. Civilized Shamans. Buddhism in Tibetan Societies. Washington, DC, and London: Smithsonian Institution Press. Volf, Pavel. 1994. Seger åt gudarna. Rituell besatthet hos ladakhier (English summary: Victory to the Gods. Ritual Possession among Ladakhis). Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell International.





he complexity of shamanism is Southeast Asia is in part a reflection of the geographical, linguistic, and ethnological complexity of the region. Southeast Asia consists of both a mainland area (which includes, most importantly, the modern countries of western, or peninsular, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Burma, plus contiguous areas of southern China and eastern India) and an insular one (including, most importantly, east Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia, excluding Irian Jaya, or western New Guinea). Except for remnant groups in a few areas, the indigenous peoples of the entire region share many physical features that link them to the inhabitants of the more northerly areas of East Asia. Most of the languages of mainland Southeast Asia belong to several large families or groupings, including Tibeto-Burmese, Mon-Khmer, Tai-Kadai, and Vietnamese-Muong. The languages of insular Southeast Asia (along with some of those of the mainland) all belong to the great Austronesian family, which, though spread throughout most of the Pacific Islands, is also of Asian origin. The indigenous peoples of Southeast Asia include very small and localized populations of nomadic hunter-gatherers or foragers, much larger and more widely spread groups of slash-and-burn horticulturalists, and vastly larger numbers of agriculturalists who practiced wet rice cultivation. Shamanism in Southeast Asia also needs to be seen against a backdrop of religious development that includes a long and complicated history of involvement with other major zones of Asian civilization, especially (except in sinicized Vietnam) India, and of later Western colonial rule. Indic religious influences date to the beginning of the common era and were in full flower among lowland, rice-cultivating populations of the western Indonesian archipelago, the Malay Peninsula, and most of the mainland by 1,000 C.E. Beginning in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries Islam began to spread, also mainly from India, along the routes of the spice trade, and it became dominant in the coastal areas of Sulawesi, Borneo, Sumatra, the Malay peninsula, the southern Philippines, and the northern littoral (and eventually all) of Java. At about the same time, Theravada Buddhism began to replace earlier forms of Hinduism and Buddhism throughout most of the lowland areas of the mainland. In all instances, however, elements of earlier indigenous and Indic beliefs and practices persisted, both among village cultivators and in the ruling court centers. Further, the later diffusion of Buddhism and Islam involved folk traditions of magic, animism, spirit possession, and the like, as well as scriptural or “orthodox� traditions. Finally, in the case of the numerous more autonomous tribal peoples of the upland and interior areas, the impact of outside influences was much more limited, and their classic religious traditions, including shamanism, much less affected. It has been the introduction and spread of Christianity, along with other Westernizing and modernizing influences, by colonial and postcolonial regimes that have done the most to transform the religious traditions of the tribal peoples of Southeast Asia. Brought first by the Portuguese and then the Spanish, Roman Catholicism arrived almost as early as Islam. However, outside of the Philippines and a few other local areas, the wider spread of Christianity was linked to the expansion of Dutch, British, and French colonial control and began mainly in the latter part of the nine-




teenth century or in the early part of the twentieth. Such processes, which have made few inroads among Muslim or Buddhist populations, are ongoing, diverse, and far from complete.

Introduction to the Entries The eleven entries that follow this overview include two general and comparative articles plus nine more specifically focused ones. “Southeast Asian Shamanism ” provides a general introduction to Southeast Asia as a region, and to its types of societies, religious traditions, varieties of shamanism, and patterns of change. It makes a distinction between narrowly and broadly conceived forms of shamanism, one that is reflected in the more specifically focused entries. In addition to this introduction, “Indonesian Shamanism” also offers an overview of shamanism and related religious traditions in Indonesia, the largest and most ethnically diverse country in Southeast Asia. This entry takes a broad approach to shamanism and relates some of its general features to the different areas and religious traditions of the vast and varied Indonesian Archipelago. The more specific entries are those that concern particular ethnic groups, including the Thai, Burmese, Malays, Javanese, Hmong, Taman, Murut, and Semai. These groups are of two types. The Thai, Burmese, Malays, and Javanese are large “national” (or transnational) ethnic communities that have long-established civilizations, literate cultures, state-level or centralized political traditions (courts, capitals, and kings), and adhere to either Buddhism (in the case of the Thai and Burmese) or Islam (in the case of the Malays and Javanese). Observers have sometimes used the term shamanism to describe the practices of trance and spirit mediumship and the notions of the soul and other spirit beliefs that have flourished, especially at the popular or village level of these societies, though more recently in increasing tension with religious orthodoxy. Such beliefs and practices fit better with a broad concept of shamanism than with a narrow one of the classical type first delineated regarding Siberia and central Asia. Among these articles, the entry “Malay Shamans and Healers” follows a longstanding precedent in applying the term shamanism to Malay spirit medium and healing practices. In contrast the entry “Thai Spirit World and Spirit Mediums” uses the term shaman for the spirit medium, but not for the spirit priest, and brings out some shamanistic elements in those practices, at the same time noting the extent to which popular Thai animistic beliefs and practices actually derive from Buddhism. Among the Burmese the shamanistic overtones of popular animism, possession, and exorcism appear to be somewhat stronger, but the entry “Burmese Spirit Lords and Their Mediums” embodies a similar view and uses the term shaman simply as a different way of referring to a spirit medium. The entry “Javanese Shamanism” takes much the same approach, but notes more explicitly that neither the classical shaman nor a shamanistic worldview really exists in Java, though shamanistic practices persist. More specifically, the entry “Shadow Puppetry and Shamanism” briefly explores possible links between shamanism and the most important and popular form of traditional theater in Java, but finds few. The most notable connection is perhaps that the dalang, the puppet master, is believed to be “called,” a common attribute of the true shaman as well. The societies noted in the remaining entries, the Hmong, Semai, Taman, and Murut (along with similar groups mentioned in the two broader surveys, including the Iban and Ngaju of Borneo and the Wana of Sulawesi, to which many others could be readily added), are very different from the Burmese, Thais, Malays, and Javanese. The Hmong and the others of this second group are basically small-scale or tribal societies of the interior or upland areas of Southeast Asia. They have not been, at least until recently, adherents of any of the world religions, and although many of them have now converted, it has often been to Christianity rather than to Buddhism or Islam, thus contributing to their continued ethnic and religious separateness. It is to the healing and religious practices and cosmologies of these societies that the label of shamanism has been most commonly applied by observers, and with the clearest comparative justification. Even so, it would be incorrect to suggest that all of the entries about these societies describe the same common form of true shamanism. Of these articles, “Taman Shamanism”—the Taman being a numerically small interior Bornean people of the upper Kapuas River in West Kalimantan, Indonesia—describes one of the most impressive examples of classic shamanism. Taman



shamans are always called to assume their position by willful spirits whose demands cannot be refused; once they are initiated, their souls can undertake journeys to other realms, and they cure by retrieving the souls of the afflicted and reinserting them back into their bodies. As the entry “Hmong Shamanism” explicitly notes, the practices of the Hmong are also an instance of classic shamanism. Nonetheless, Hmong shamans are hardly carbon copies of Taman ones, one difference being that whereas the former are usually men, the latter are nearly always women. In contrast to the Hmong and Taman traditions, those of the Semai of the interior of the Malay Peninsula and the Murut of Sabah (far northern Borneo) fit the mold of classic shamanism less well. As described in “Semai Shamanism,” the Semai have several types of practitioners of supernatural healing, of which hala’ are the most shamanic. But although hala’ do cure by rescuing and retrieving the absent souls of the afflicted, only some become hala’ as a result of calls (that come in dreams) by spirits, others doing so only through apprenticeship and study. The Murut appear to be even more of a mixed case, one that combines elements of spirit mediumship with those of shamanism. The entry “Murut Shamanism” notes that though shamans acquire spirit guides, they do not become practitioners as an effort to gain relief from bouts of mental or physical illness attributed to the attention of spirits. Given the localized nature of such societies and the oral basis of their traditions, such diversity is hardly surprising, and it could be easily further documented by reference to many other instances. Robert L. Winzeler

2 BURMESE SPIRIT LORDS AND THEIR MEDIUMS The cult of nats, “spirit lords,” is specific to Burmese cultural history. Negotiation with these “spirit lords” is undertaken by mediums, who in a shamanlike role go into a state of trance and thus become a conduit between the spirit and the client. Many aspects of shamanism can be perceived in these practices, including the location of the nats, who may reside in special features of the landscape or protect territories and kinship lineages. The cult of nats is encompassed conceptually by Theravada Buddhism and addresses specific practical and personal needs within that broader religious framework. Though the term nat is always translated “spirit lord,” in fact nats may be female as well as male. The authority of nats derives from their association with past kings, one’s kin group or ancestors, one’s village or home region, or one’s own personal affinity to them. Negotiating with spirit lords is a way of dealing with mundane social and personal concerns that require the practical authority derived from worldly power. The mythic origins of nats predate the reign of Anwartha (1044–1077 C.E.), the king who established the first Burmese empire in Pagan. He initiated religious reforms to strengthen Theravada Buddhism, but failed in his effort to purge the land of the veneration of nats. Several powerful spirit lords originated during his reign, and later kings confirmed annually the appointments of nats along with those for court nobility. Contemporary social forms of worshiping nats evoke a traditional past, its imagined authority and royal splendor. Burmese turn to these traditional sources of authority to gain control over uncertainty in everyday life and misfortune in times of personal crisis. Rosalind Morris (2000) has made similar observations in her work on spirits in northern Thailand. The cult of nats offers psychological, cultural, and social venues for confronting risk and misfortune and allows for the integration

of a variety of emotions into a broader social landscape. Normative Burmese Buddhist practice values generosity, restraint, equanimity, social harmony, detachment, mental discipline, and the good karma that results from such behaviors. The veneration of nats gives social reality to a host of emotions Buddhist practice discourages explicitly: hatred, greed, and desire; attachments, licentiousness, and jealousies; unhappiness over misfortune, illness, and the loss of social power more generally. The nature of the annual ritual veneration paid to nats, especially the songs glorifying their lives, lore, and personal attributes of power, suggests that the Burmese cult of nats has been shaped by Hindu and Buddhist traditions as much as by local or animist practices. Similarities with Hinduism are evident in the deities involved, the notion of divine kingship, and the bhakti (devotion) seen in ritual veneration. Some nats are identified as Hindu gods, such as Indra, King of Gods, and Ganesh, the Remover of Obstacles, but they never appear involved when mediums experience possession. Other nats are of Muslim or Chinese origins, but most of them are of Shan, Mon, and Burmese descent. In principle, nats are an open-ended category of spirit beings, and new ones may reveal themselves at any time.

The Royal Cult of the Thirty-Seven Nats and Authority of Spirit Lords The Thirty-Seven Royal Nats constitute a class of powerful protective spirits (see iconographic illustrations in Temple 1906 and Rodrigue 1992). The number of positions within the Royal Cult parallels the thirty-two realms in Theravada Buddhist cosmology, along with four Quarter Guardians and a center, usually represented by Mount Meru (Shorto 1967). The identities of the thirty-seven nats fluctuate, as Burmese often include different spirit lords among them. Many agree, however, on subsets among the thirty-seven. The Duttabaung Cycle includes seven nats linked to the Pyu period,




such as Thagya Min (Indra) and Mahagiri Min. They are thought to predate the formative period of Burmese political identity during the Pagan period. The nine lords of the Anawratha Cycle include the two Taungbyon Brothers, sons of Popa Maedaw (described below) and a minister at Anawratha’s court. Others in the list of Thirty-Seven Royal Nats have less fixed dates of origin. Local chronicles identify nats closely with Burmese history, social identity, and regional myths. The Glass Palace Chronicles, a nineteenth-century compilation of earlier histories, mention Popa Maedaw, the ferocious and fickle mother of the Taungbyon Brothers, who is an ogre nat who resides atop a volcanic mountain by the same name (Pe Maung Tin and Luce 1976). Other chronicles claim that King Mindon (r. 1857–1878), buried four men alive in order to turn them into guardian spirits at the four gates of his newly constructed palace in Mandalay. Countless local nats are said to reside in objects, such as cars and machinery, or reign over villages and features in the landscape, such as mountains or lakes. Still other nats protect specific territories and kin lineages (Nash 1966). All tend to be known for their mythic deeds, specific powers, personal attributes, and capriciousness. Even the most casual veneration of nats takes account of these personal quirks in negotiating exchanges and relations with spirit lords. Although Burmese recognize the power of nats in solving everyday problems, they also are aware of limitations on their powers. Nats are not omnipotent, universal deities. Instead, their personal traits, experiences, and connections to kings give them welldefined powers and attributes. Most nats are said to have met with an untimely, violent death, which according to Buddhist belief creates continued attachment to the people and contexts of one’s previous life and a ghostlike existence that cannot be reborn (Spiro 1978). Stuck in the cycle of rebirth, spirit lords nevertheless wield power and authority over specific regions. Prominent spirit lords continue to be worshiped at “palaces.” Devotees travel there on pilgrimage to negotiate favors, gain promises of protection, and make good on obligations, repaying them during ritual audiences by a spirit lord. These regional palaces are the sites of annual festivals. Some Burmese claim to

have an inherited obligation passed to them from their parents’ generation through either or both of their kin lineages. Many deem it a part of this obligation to make annual pilgrimages to their nat’s palace, attend the royal audience, and offer their tribute lest misfortune befall them and their kin. Others claim to come to these festivals mainly for popular entertainment, music, and fairs. Thousands travel to Taungbyon, a small village near Mandalay, to participate in popular celebrations over three days. This nat festival is dedicated to the two Taungbyon Brothers, the sons of Popa Maedaw and a minister at the Anawratha’s court. Their father became a nat when he was put to death by the king. The sons fell victim to palace intrigues and later also died at the hands of this king. Ritual activities at the annual palace festival proceed at multiple levels simultaneously. The gilded wooden statues of the nats are carried in procession through the palace grounds and down to the river in royal splendor. Meanwhile, at the palace, high-ranking spirit mediums make private offerings for them and organize large public rituals in which the brothers are ritually bathed and their status is reconfirmed. Evenings are devoted to public audiences, where throngs of devotees crowd into the audience pavilion and offer Eugenia leaves, coconuts, bananas, shawls, and expensive fragrances to invoke the protection of the brothers. In return, they hope to receive tokens of blessing from them. These are times of intense public drama heightened by the hypnotic effects of the rhythmic, high-pitched music of a traditional Burmese orchestra. The air is heavy and drenched with the sweet smell of jasmine flowers and perfumes. Oxygen is thin, and the temperature rises as the sea of devotees inundates the small audience hall. Individuals are submerged in the shoving of crowds moving toward the images of the nats seated on thrones in the inner confines of the audience hall. This emotionally charged, delirious atmosphere can create in some a cognitive and emotional dissociation from the ordinary social contexts of life. Spontaneous possessions occur when the spirit lords deign to show their affection to individual devotees. For many pilgrims, however, these rituals are not only contexts in which personal ailments and anxieties may be


resolved. A general lack of social restraint is permitted, if not expected, and many enjoy dancing, amusement, theatrics, drinking, and licentious sexual joking. The most senior spirit mediums there carry the titles of queens and ministers of the Taungbyon Brothers. They are clad in traditional royal dress and begin to perform highly scripted and stylized dance performances. Public dances are the prerogatives of established mediums, who display in the dances their intimate knowledge of the spirits. The choreography narrates their mythic lives, trickery, and powerful feats, and displays their emblems of power and personal qualities. The personality of each nat becomes apparent through characteristic costumes, emblems, behaviors, songs, and their favorite food offerings, which are given to them during the performances. For instance, Kou Kyi Chaw enjoys drinking and gambling, the capricious little Ma Nge-le likes boiled eggs, and Popa Mae Daw devours fruit and flowers. The performances also incorporate ostentatious offerings, as mediums often accept large sums of money from clients in the audience. Similar rituals of veneration and solicitation are performed at housewarmings, in neighborhoods, or by professional associations. Some of them are especially dedicated to offerings made to the nine lords (Brac de La Perrière 1989).

Mediums and Clients The shamanistic practices of Burmese spirit mediums are based on marriage to a spirit lord; they may include elements of alchemy, sorcery, healing, and divination. Mediums are known as natkadaw; literally, spouses who dance for spirit lords. Through trancelike possession, they become conduits for the spirit’s communications with a client, offer private counsel, and guide those who are spontaneously possessed through the experience of altered states of consciousness. Social marginality, unusual physical features, and the desire to transform difference into social validation and a steady source of income may be among the motivations for becoming a spirit medium. Recurrent spontaneous possession may signal that the spirit lord is courting a new spouse, and incurable illness may befall the bride until the spirit is placated. Many admit to initial embarrassment and apprehension, if not


resistance, at being the object of love and desire for a spirit lord. The spirit lord is thought to become infatuated with the butterfly-like “souls” of a human being. During this at times traumatic trial period, the new recruit may simultaneously express resistance and receive instruction during an apprenticeship under a senior medium. Once conflicting desires and obligations to one’s family, including perhaps marriage to a human spouse, are resolved, a mock wedding may be performed to indicate the rights and new status of the medium. Sexual allusions and joking are commonplace in the cultural contexts of nats, in stark contrast to the usual restraint of Buddhist society. Although, in traditional Burmese society, men usually outrank women in social standing, this general social ranking of gender roles can be inverted in the marriage to a spirit lord. Regardless of the medium’s gender, the status of the human spouse is always inferior to that of the spirit lord. Thus a female nat like Popa Mae Daw may be spoken of as choosing a male as a “bride.” While most mediums are female, many are male. Some mediate for more than one spirit lord, and they may think of themselves as living in polygamous marriages. Others stress an asexual relationship to the nat. Still others are openly homosexual or dress as transvestites. Clients who seek consultations with spirit mediums are motivated by personal or practical concerns, such as stress, anxieties, illness, or a family crisis that may be out of control. Others seek advice to ensure success in business or protection against potential risks or misfortunes. Soliciting the spirit’s goodwill, clients may promise lavish offerings once their ventures are successfully completed. The tone in negotiating with nats ranges from fearful supplication to skillful currying of favors, boisterous barter, and boastful promises. Many cultivate personal relationships with the medium and the spirit lord. This familiarity gives social reality to a range of emotions that Buddhist practice explicitly seeks to ameliorate. Rumors of intrigue or misuse of power can, however, fuel allegations of sorcery, which constitutes an inversion of power structures in the practice of the Buddhist Lower Path. Natkadaws generally emphasize that their practice helps clients negotiate this-worldly concerns, and is encompassed by Buddhist ethics and cosmology.



Relations with nats entail an elaborate system of exchange. Spirit wives also frequently compete with each other for prestige, status, and recognition. As mediators, they receive money and other offerings intended for the spirit lord. The flow of offerings and other ritual expenditures constitutes a social exchange between nats, their mediums, clients, and a host of others, and may include the hire of beauticians and orchestras, or the upkeep of palaces. Living up to the demands of the spirit lords as well as to those of peers and clients can lead to significant expenditures for a natkadaw. Some nats have extravagant tastes for liquor, gambling, or lavish luxuries. In addition, a medium’s conduct and reputation are important factors in the exchange between spirit lord and client and constitute symbolic capital in a profession that relies on divination, rumors, and trance to produce a steady income, if not considerable wealth and influence among an elite set of clients. The shamanistic experience of mediums gives socially sanctioned expression to emotions and various mental states of dissociation. It can also create an experience of community often called communitas, to spontaneous trance, predictable seizures, and perhaps even the manifestation of multiple personalities. The exchange with spirit lords creates social identity empowered by imagined and traditional authority and ritual forms, including pilgrimage, royal audiences, and annual tribute. Communicating with spirit lords is a socially constitutive experience that may integrate experiences of misfortune or social marginality and helps construct personal identity, social memory, and cultural continuity. Juliane Schober See also: Buddhism and Shamanism; Spirit Possession References and further reading: Brac de La Perrière, Bénédicte. 1989. Les rituels de possession en Birmanie: du culte d’Etat aux cérémonies privées. Paris: Editions Recherche sur les civilisations. Morris, Rosalind C. 2000. In the Place of Origins: Modernity and Its Mediums in Northern Thailand. Durham/London: Duke University Press. Nash, June. 1966. “Living with Nats.” Anthropological Studies in Theravada

Buddhism. Cultural Report Series, no.1. Yale University Southeast Asia Series, New Haven. Pe Maung Tin and G. H. Luce, translators and compilers. 1976. The Glass Palace Chronicle of the Kings of Burma. New York: AMS Press. Rodrigue, Yves. 1992. Nat-Pwe: Burma’s Supernatural Subculture. Translated by Roser Flotats. Gartmore, Scotland: Kiscadale. Shorto, H. L. 1967. “The Dewatan Sutapan, a Mon Prototype of the 37 Nats.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 30: 127–141. Spiro, Melford E. 1978. Burmese Supernaturalism: A Study in the Explanation and Reduction of Suffering. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Temple, Richard Carnac. 1906. The ThirtySeven Nats, a Phase of Spirit-Worship Prevailing in Burma. London: W. Griggs.

HMONG SHAMANISM (THAILAND, LAOS) Hmong shamanism, generally considered a “classic” form of Shamanism, very close to the Siberian forms to which it is probably related, provides a rich field of study, especially because it is still practiced among those of the Hmong who have settled in the United States.

Background The Hmong are a large ethnolinguistic group originating in China, where the vast majority of approximately six million Hmong still reside. In China, the Hmong, known to the Chinese as the Miao, are among the fifty-six governmentally recognized minzu, “nationalities.” This designation disguises a great deal of ethnolinguistic complexity, since there are thirty to forty distinct, mutually unintelligible Hmong languages in China (belonging to the Meo-Yao branch of the Austro-Thai linguistic family), and Hmong communities are widely scattered in the west and south, particularly in Guizhou, Sichuan, and Yunnan Provinces. Beginning in the early nineteenth century, Hmong groups have been migrating southward into Laos and Thailand, with smaller incursions into Vietnam and Myanmar, and since the Vietnam War,


Hmong from Laos and Vietnam have migrated even farther from their original source, to the United States, France, Australia, and other countries, even including Iceland. Because of the size and diversity of the Hmong (or Miao) in China, and the difficulty of access to Chinese groups from 1949 until recently, they are less well known to scholars than the Southeast Asian groups. There are two main subgroups among the 140,000 Hmong in Thailand and 210,000 in Laos: the Hmong Njua (known as Blue Hmong in Southeast Asia but Green Hmong in the United States) and the Hmong Daw (White Hmong). The usual explanation for these terms of distinction refers to the dress of Hmong women, but there are also some linguistic distinctions, though the two dialects are mutually intelligible. The Hmong have lived on the periphery of Chinese civilization for many thousands of years in relations of subordination and conflict. Early Chinese sources suggest their presence in the Yangzi River valley in 2000 B.C.E., with subsequent evidence of southward migration over centuries into present locations. The constant expansion of the Han and the growing power of the Han state kept the Hmong on the southern periphery from developing a competing state, and escape from Han dominance was always toward the south. As a result, the Hmong now inhabit the hilly areas in Southeast Asia, with an economy based on shifting rice cultivation; at preferred altitudes of 1,000 to 3,000 feet, they can supplement rice with opium as a preferred cash crop. They interact in Southeast Asia with the dominant lowland Thai and Lao, along with other hill tribe groups, mainly the Karen, Mien, Akha, Lahu, and Lisu.

Hmong Shamanism as “Classic Siberian Type” Hmong shamanism is often said to be of the “classic Siberian type.” All seven of the characteristics described by Robert Winzeler in his entry, “Southeast Asian Shamanism,” in this encyclopedia, are true of Hmong shamanic practice and belief. Mircea Eliade’s characterization of Siberian, or Inner Asian, shamanism included typical patterns of belief about the cosmos, the human soul, the calling and training


of the shaman, the experiential state of the shaman while in contact with the spirits, and the techniques employed during shamanic events (Eliade 1964). Given the Hmong’s probable origin in central or even northern China, partially evidenced by legends of having lived in a cold and snowy land, it seems likely that they once shared in the northern cultural area in which this kind of shamanism flourished.

The Cosmos Spirits, domestic and wild, inhabit the hills, valleys, villages, and households of the Hmong world. Some are more powerful than others; some are dangerous, others are friendly or can be tamed. Humans cannot see them, but dogs always know when they are around. Most are unnamed, but there are three powerful spirits who live in the sky and have bureaucratic responsibilities similar to those assigned to the important deities of the Chinese Daoist cosmology. Yorso, said by some to be the chief of these deities, is heard to speak in thunder, to strike in lightning, and judge Hmong souls (Chindarsi 1976). Others say it is Yonglao, who is invited to celebrate the Hmong New Year festival, but generally sends one of his sons or daughters, who is the head of the deities. Yawang has the magisterial duties of interviewing the recently dead and determining whether reincarnation is possible immediately or must be delayed by a period of punishment; he grants licenses for rebirth in the human world for specified periods of time. On expiration, the license holder must die unless granted a renewal by Yawang. Other named spirits hold up the cardinal directions: upland, lowland, sunrise, and sunset. Spirits with extraordinary powers also reside in unexpected places, such as those with elongated heads and red mouths that inhabit the ancient trees in Buddhist temples, where the karmic powers of the temple intensify the spirit’s power. Most dangerous of all the “wild” spirits are those in the large termite mounds that are common in the hills of Southeast Asia; such mounds, it is thought, are built by insects over a decaying body, so a burial has been disturbed, and the spirit that has moved into the termite mound is hostile and looking for trouble. Moreover, snakes move into the twisting tunnels of termite mounds, and they often carry



evil spirits with them wherever they go. These spirits in termite mounds are so powerful that they usually cannot be evicted; they simply have to be appeased with sacrifice of pigs and burned paper money. But the spirits that are most intimately connected with Hmong social life and shamanic practice are an assortment of spirits associated with the household, the village, and nearby mountains, forests, and streams. These spirits are hierarchized to a certain extent; the spirit of a mountain has power over those of forests and streams on its flanks, and for this reason will be invited to take up residence as the village protective spirit in a shrine called tier ti tier seng located in the shelter of a great tree in a grove high up the mountain. Similarly, there are various household spirits associated with the middle post, the door, and the two stoves, spirits that are served by the headman of the household. They protect both human and animal inhabitants of the household from attack by spirits of illness and the dead, keep souls from wandering away at night or during sickness, and prevent those who are not members of the clan from engaging in sexual activities in the household. The village shamans also contact and domesticate potentially dangerous spirits to serve as spirit guardians of the village.

The Soul The Hmong soul, rather than a single fixed entity associated with a unique personality, is a loosely organized composite of seven entities associated with the six sense organs—two eyes, two ears, nose, and mouth—plus the heart. As the senses can function separately and break down separately, so can the various souls slip away during sleep or get lost during a serious illness or scatter like flies if frightened. Missing souls are generally imagined as wandering lost in the forest, and it is the task of the shaman to find them and lead them home, although it is also possible for the head of household to take steps to bring back the soul of a weak or sick family member. Nusit Chindarsi (1976) described a method, practiced by heads of households in Meto village, in which a bridge was constructed across a stream or track; the souls of the sick were lured from the forest to cross back into the security of the village. The spirits were then fed sacrificed chicken and given pa-

per money, and the flighty soul was tied securely to the body with strings at the wrists, neck, and ankles. More generally, however, when a person falls ill, a family will call a shaman rather than treat the illness themselves.

The Shaman’s Calling The shaman is known as txiv neeb, the “father of the spirit,” in reference to one or more familiar spirits, or “doctor spirits,” under his control. It is essential for a village to have at least one resident shaman, although there are usually any number of them, since at least 25 percent of the men in a village have some shamanic powers. There are also women shamans, some with quite powerful reputations, but most are men (and so the male pronoun will be used in this entry). A shaman who has gained a reputation as being exceptionally effective at controlling particularly powerful spirits may be called to distant villages and paid relatively high fees in cash and kind, such as meat, live animals, firewood, or other practical gifts. It is ideal for the village headman to also be a shaman, but this is not always the case, since it is even more useful for a headman to have good political skills and linguistic abilities for dealing with government officials. A shaman’s career begins in sickness. If he suffers from an illness that is hard to cure, if he lingers in a sickly state for a lengthy period of time despite the ministrations of medicinal herbs and all shamanic efforts to dispel the hostile spirits and enlist the good ones on his behalf, someone will suggest that his only hope is to become a shaman himself. Certain diseases, such as epilepsy, are particularly portentous. Most typically the role is not sought, because Hmong fear the spirits and prefer to have no dealings with them. But once convinced, usually in his youth, that he has been called to the shamanic vocation, the initiate begins his training in an informal apprenticeship with an experienced shaman and goes on for several years. Unfortunately, there are no accounts, firsthand or otherwise, of the inner experience of the shaman in training, his acquiring of neeb, or neng (the familiar spirits), his visions while in entranced struggles with possessing spirits, or what he sees, hears, and feels while behind the mask and riding the “horse” into the invisible world that is interlocked with this one.


The Shaman’s Practice The Hmong shaman is a healer. Having survived his own illness, he has been to the liminal fringes of society, where death and danger reside, and come back again; he knows the way; he has been fortified by the experience; he can go there again on missions on behalf of other sick members of his society. The Hmong shaman has a professional’s tool kit of equipment to assist him, but his principal task, which may be accompanied by a great deal of dramatic elaboration that helps observers imagine what only he can see, is to cross a threshold from the visible world of human materiality into the immaterial and invisible sphere that shadows it. While never out of sight of anxiously watching family and neighbors, he shouts, wrestles, leaps, and even tumbles off his “horse” until he has finally won a victory on behalf of a feverish or injured or chronically ill patient. His horse is the bench upon which he sits, or rather rides, positioned in front of the spirit altar that can be found in every Hmong household. The altar may be a low table or a box hanging from a wall, or something convenient like an old tin drum will be made to serve, but in any case it will be opposite the door, because spirits traverse a straight line between the altar and the door. It is covered with white paper or cloth and holds a container with incense sticks and a bowl of paddy (rice). Much of a shaman’s work is diagnostic. What is causing this youth’s fever? Is it something that medicinal herbs will cure, or is an evil spirit involved? Why has the medicine from the lowland clinic not stopped this patient’s epileptic seizures? What is causing this child’s chronic nosebleeds? Why have several children in this household died in recent months? Why has this man become mentally disturbed? There is always a concrete presenting problem that requires the shaman’s interpretive skills. There are several methods of divination to answer these questions. The most common method of divination is to cast the split horns of a water buffalo. These horns are among the shaman’s most important tools; they are the two tips of horn, 6 to 10 inches in length, that have been split lengthwise, producing a convex and a concave side. They are thrown in the manner of throwing dice, while the shaman specifies what it will


mean if they land in particular positions. Since this method is considered rather a technology than a mystical state or communication with spirits, a shaman may be able to consult the horns without going into a trance. However, the central task of the shaman’s repertoire is passing through the permeable barriers separating the visible world of humans and the invisible world of the spirits. Only the shaman is equipped to do this, by the years of training following the brush with death and close encounter with spirits—good and evil— that singled him out for a lifetime of these engagements. However experienced he may be, it is an ordeal every time he approaches that invisible world. Covering his face with a black cloth to create a state of sensory deprivation, and accompanied by the hypnotic drumming of an assistant standing close behind him, the shaman sits on his “horse,” clutching the sword with which he fights the demons on behalf of the sick. He rocks, chants, and drums the earth with his feet until, after two or three hours of uninterrupted labor the pounded earthen floor bears the marks of his effort. At some point the familiar spirits who aid his entrée beyond “bite” him, or so the achievement of what may be a trance state is described. From this point on, observation cannot follow; the Hmong in attendance watch the visible signs of the invisible struggle going on out of sight. The shaman may leap off the bench, sometimes assisted by the drummer, in order to enlist friendly household spirits cowering in the rafters in the struggle against the invader. If the fight gets very intense, the shaman may be pulled off his horse into the ashes of the firepit, breaking household furniture in the fall (Heinz 2000, 110–115). He leaps up, hurling his sword at the vanquished spirit, who retreats out the door. Once the central drama of the fight is over, the patient, the family, and the house must be fortified against further onslaughts; for the offending spirit has not gone far. It may still be in the vicinity, looking for an opportunity to reinvade. Further chanting encourages the protecting household spirits to take courage, return to the beams, altar, and firepit where family life is lived, and reassert their protective functions. The patient must be fortified with strings at neck, wrist, and ankles that bind his soul to his body. The patient must be given a temporary disguise for protection from the vanquished



spirit, possibly an X in lampblack on his forehead. Offerings of chicken or pig are made to feed the household spirits newly restored to their posts; the family shares in this feast, eating the flesh as the spirits eat the spirit of the offered animal. The family then pays the shaman the price that was agreed to in advance. The Hmong shaman may engage in other rituals on behalf of his family and community, either during crisis points such as illness or at annually marked points such as Hmong New Year. But most of these additional ceremonies are performed by Hmong heads of household and do not require the expert services of the shaman. It is perhaps surprising that there is not more information about Hmong shamanism, given the prominence of Hmong in the United States since the Vietnam War and the wellknown fact that they have brought shamanism with them. There are several excellent films and a scattering of descriptive accounts, but they leave some interesting questions unanswered. How much variation is there in Hmong shamanic practice among the scattered Miao groups of China, the Hmong groups in Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam? What relationships exist between Hmong and other shamanic traditions in China and Southeast Asia? What is the inner experience of the encounter with the spirit world for the shaman? What is the phenomenology of the shaman in training who warily approaches wild and dangerous spirits and seeks familiar spirits? These questions await further exploration. Carolyn Brown Heinz See also: Healing and Shamanism; Siberian Shamanism; Southeast Asian Shamanism References and further reading: Chindarsi, Nusit. 1976. The Religion of the Hmong Njua. Bangkok: Siam Society. ———. 1983. “Hmong Shamanism.” Pp. 187–193 in Highlanders of Thailand. Edited by J. McKinnon and W. Bhruksasri. Oxford University Press. Conquergood, Dwight. 1989. I Am a Shaman: A Hmong Life Story with Ethnographic Commentary. Minneapolis: Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, University of Minnesota. Eliade, Mircea. 1989. Reprint. Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Translated from the French by Willard R. Trask. London:

Penguin Arkana. Original edition, New York: Bollingen Foundation, 1964. Fadiman, Anne. 1997. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Heinz, Carolyn Brown, 2000. Asian Cultural Traditions. Waveland Press. Lemoine, Jacques. 1986. “Shamanism in the Context of Hmong Resettlement.” Pp. 337–348 in The Hmong in Transition. Edited by G. L. Hendricks, B. T. Downing, and A. S. Deinard. New York and Minneapolis: Center for Migration Studies and Southeast Asian Refugee Studies Project, University of Minnesota. ———. 1996. “The Constitution of a Hmong Shaman’s Powers of Healing and Folk Culture.” Shaman 4, nos. 1 and 2: 144–165. Mottin, J. 1984. “A Hmong Shaman’s Séance,” Asian Folklore Studies 43: 99–108. Plotnikoff, Gregory A., Charles Numrich, Chu Wu, Deu Yang, and Phua Xiong. 2002. “Hmong Shamanism: Animist Spiritual Healing in Minnesota.” Minnesota Medicine 85, no. 6: 29–34. Siegel, Taggart, and Dwight Conquergood. 1985. Between Two Worlds: The Hmong Shaman in America. Film. Riverwoods, IL: Film Ideas. Siegel, Taggart, and Jim McSilver. 2000. Split Horn: Life of a Hmong Shaman in America. Film. San Francisco, CA: Teri Lang Alchemy Films. Tapp, Nicholas. 1989. “Hmong Religion.” Asian Folklore Studies 48: 59–94. ———. 2000. “Ritual Relations and Identity: Hmong and Others.” Pp. 84–103 in Civility and Savagery: Social Identity in Tai States. Edited by A. Turton. Richmond, Surrey, UK: Curzon Press. Thao, P. 1986. “I am a Shaman.” Pp. 164–200 in The Hmong World. Edited by Brenda Johns and David Strecker. New Haven, CT: Council on Southeast Asia Studies.

INDONESIAN SHAMANISM Indonesia comprises a vast archipelago inhabited by over 200 million people divided among several hundred ethnic groups speaking a simi-


larly large number of distinct languages and dialects. Most Indonesian languages belong to the Austronesian language family, as do those of the Philippines, Polynesia, Micronesia, and parts of mainland Southeast Asia. Related to this common linguistic heritage, one encounters general similarities of culture and local social organization, not just within Indonesia, but between Indonesia and neighboring regions. Indonesian societies are organized mostly on the basis of bilateral kinship, that is, a system that does not form clear-cut descent groups. However, communities with unilineal clans (patrilineal or matrilineal) are found in the Batak areas of north Sumatra, in west Sumatra (Minangkabau), and in various parts of eastern Indonesia (the Moluccas and Lesser Sunda Islands). Moreover, locality can play an important part in systems of exchange and alliance between specific social groups, even where communities comprise corporate clans; and the household is a major locus of sociopolitical, economic, and religious life in all parts of Indonesia. Particularly in eastern Indonesia, although also in northern Sumatra, households or other social units tend to be linked in enduring affinal alliances (relationships through marriage), predicated on a categorical contrast of wife-givers and wife-takers (those groups from which the bride comes and those who receive the bride) and involving a preference for marriage of a man with a woman related through his mother. Owing to its size and diversity, it is difficult to generalize about shamanism in Indonesia. If one employs a broad definition of shamanism, forms of shamanic cosmology and practice can be found in most parts of the archipelago, where they figure as important components of local, indigenous religion. Shamans occur in both small and large cultural groups (for example, among both the Huaulu of Seram Island, who number less than a thousand, and the Javanese, with a population of about a hundred million), and among complexly organized cultivators as well as more simply organized food collectors. Western parts of Indonesia especially have been affected by the introduction of Hindu-Buddhist ideas and later by Islam. A variety of Hindu religion is still encountered on Bali, and Islam is now the majority religion in most of the other western parts of Indonesia. In eastern Indonesia, the majority religion is


Catholic or Protestant Christianity, effectively introduced mostly during the last hundred years. All of these external religious influences have affected Indonesian shamanism, as have a variety of changing social, political, and economic developments. Nevertheless, adapting to these changes, shamanic practices continue as a component of local religious traditions, maintained even by people who have converted to Christianity or Islam. Throughout Indonesia, shamanism is bound up with a belief in a human “soul” that is able to separate from the body. Thus, shamans are often represented as sending their own souls on a journey, on behalf of a client or the entire community. Typically, they do so as a means of dealing directly with harmful forces, including malevolent spirits. On the other hand, Indonesian shamans are regularly charged with retrieving other peoples’ souls, which have wandered far from the body or become lost or captured by malevolent beings, resulting in illness or other misfortune. The older literature gives the impression that spirit possession, mediumship (in the sense of channeling spirits through incorporation), and “trance” are general characteristics of shamanism in western Indonesia, while shamanic practices and ideology in eastern parts of the archipelago (and perhaps especially in the southeastern islands) are represented as incorporating different principles and procedures. This contrast, however, is by no means absolute. For example, among the linguistically western Iban (who reside both in Malaysian Sarawak and Indonesian Borneo, or Kalimantan), shamans are neither possessed by spirits nor do they serve as passive mediums. Also, while disassociation (or “fainting”) figures in some shamanic rituals, it is not essential to Iban shamanism in general (Graham 1987, 2; Sather 2001, 11–12). Contrariwise, in eastern Indonesia, possession by spirits is part of shamanic representations among the Huaulu of the Moluccas (Valeri 2000, 29, 286), while dissociation, as a critical means of interacting with spirits of the dead, and even intervening on behalf of living persons who are near death, occurs in particular ritual contexts in both Sumba (Forth 1981) and Flores (Forth 1991). If the idea of spirit possession accompanied by controlled dissociation (or trance) largely characterizes shamanism among the Javanese,



the Balinese, and the Malays of Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula, as Richard Winstedt suggested long ago (1947, 24–25), this may reflect the influence of Indian (Hindu-Buddhist) religion. At the same time, among the non-Hinduized Karo of northern Sumatra, one encounters female spirit mediums who are possessed by “wandering spirits” (Steedly 1989, 140– 142); mediums practising possession are also reported for the neighboring Toba Batak (Vergouwen 1964, 70). Nevertheless, throughout Indonesia, more widespread than the notion of possession by spirits is the representation of voluntary and controlled soul travel, which may or may not be associated with trance or some other special mental state (such as sleep and dreaming). In accordance with the relative absence of possession as a dominant value, the notion of the shaman as someone plagued and made ill by spirits that he or she subsequently overcomes and masters in the service of the community appears not to be a common idea in Indonesia. The status of shaman is generally not ascribed or hereditary, although in stratified communities the shamanic vocation may be associated with a particular social rank—typically not the highest. Among some groups, shamans are mostly or exclusively women (as for example among the Karo; see Steedly 1989), whereas in others they are predominantly men. As in Siberia, male shamans occasionally assume female gender attributes or roles, but transvestite shamans appear to be rare even in the societies where they are known (see Graham 1987, regarding the Iban manang bali). Becoming a shaman is usually a matter of individual talent and inclination. In some societies, it is usual for an aspiring shaman to serve a period of apprenticeship with one or more established shamans, followed by a rite of initiation. All this typically occurs after the individual has entered into a relationship with a spirit; among the Iban such spirits serve as messengers, complementing the journeying of the shaman’s own soul in dealings with the spirit world. Among the Nage of central Flores, such a spirit may approach a person, or the person may deliberately go in search of a spirit patron in order to gain special powers. After passing a series of tests and surviving frightening ordeals, the individual may then experience a period of derangement, emerging as a full-fledged mystical practi-

tioner (toa mali or ana mata da). If such a power seeker fails the tests set by the spirit, he may instead be transformed into a witch. In this regard, it is noteworthy that detecting witches and countering their nefarious activities is probably the most important function of the traditional Nage shaman (see Forth 1991, 1998). Among the Karo of Sumatra, where women become shamans following possession by a male spirit, this relationship may be formalized as a marriage, the familiar spirit then becoming the shaman’s husband. Traditionally, Karo female shamans were subordinated to male priests who, unlike the former, gained control of spirits through a period of training and apprenticeship and took the lead in rites in which the female shamans became possessed (Steedly 1989, 140–142). In the Karo idiom of asymmetric marital alliance, male priests further established control over the spirit husbands of the women as higher-ranked wife-givers. Comparable distinctions involving gender are encountered in other Indonesian communities. For example, among the Nage of Flores, uncontrolled dissociation is a tendency of certain women who, while in this state, typically encounter the souls of people near death or recently deceased. In contrast, Nage male shamans do not engage in trance, but deal directly with spirits through soul travel effected by controlled dreaming. Similarly, among the Toraja of central Sulawesi, male priests, who do not themselves engage in trance, take the lead in “a ceremony of mass or community possession” in which all participants may fall into trance (Crystal and Yamashita 1987, 66). The use of drugs to alter consciousness is not reported in Indonesia. Common shamanic techniques include dancing and chanting, sometimes to musical accompaniment, which may produce a special mental state in both practitioners and their audience. Especially in the practice of prophecy and clairvoyance, or as an aid to divination or diagnosis, Indonesian shamans may employ quartz crystals, stones, hens’ eggs, and plant materials. At the same time, shamans may be credited with special powers of vision in their own right—as suggested by the Nage name ana mata da, “[people with] clear eyes.” Particularly where a special poetic idiom is employed, the language of shamanic chanting—in which the shaman for example describes a journey undertaken into


the realm of spirits—can form an important part of shamanic ritual, as Clifford Sather has recently demonstrated in his study of the Iban (2001). In other societies as well, shamans employ special forms of speech when dealing with spirits, which may comprise elements of neighboring languages or what is represented as a special language, unintelligible to other people. In contrast, among the Nage of Flores, speaking of any sort does not play a significant role in shamanic ritual, although Nage female trancers, upon regaining consciousness, do report their experiences in the realm of the dead. Indonesian shamans sometimes wear special clothing while engaged in ritual. This may include a special headcloth; also reported is the practice of painting the body with special designs. Among the Nage of Flores, where shamanism is a largely private and almost surreptitious practice, there is the idea that shamans can be identified by the possession of a long beard (Forth 1998, 284), yet this physical feature is not in any way crucial to the status. Indonesian shamans commonly operate at night; but whether their performances necessarily take place inside a special building, enclosure, or other location is variable. Among the commonest functions of Indonesian shamans is diagnosing and curing illness and affliction. Curing is often effected by recovering lost souls, or by confronting malevolent spirits, even engaging them in combat and killing them. Also regularly included in the shaman’s repertoire are divination through communication with dead relatives or other spirits, identifying witches, finding lost or stolen objects, prophecy, and guiding recently deceased souls to the land of the dead. Individuals or groups of shamans may also lead in major collective ceremonies, including agricultural rituals and other rites of a calendrical (as opposed to critical) nature. Although all these tasks can be carried out by a single kind of practitioner, sometimes shamanic functionaries subserve a single kind of function. For example, in eastern Sumba the papanggangu, hereditary retainers of a high-ranking noble person, characteristically fall into trance at their master’s (or mistress’s) funeral. Representing various aspects of the dead person’s soul, the souls of the retainers are thought to travel with the soul of the deceased to the land of the dead (Forth 1981, 198–199). Among the eastern


Sumbanese, this is the only instance of ritual activity that can clearly be identified as shamanic. Even so, the function of these mortuary trancers is identical to that of psychopomps, or what have been called soul guides, in other Indonesian societies. When curing illness, Indonesian shamans may counter spiritual agents of illness by removing these from a patient’s body. As in other parts of the world, shamans on the island of Flores are adept at manipulating material objects identified with these afflicting forces. The objects may take the form of pieces of stone or wood, sand, or small animals such as insects, worms, or snakes (Forth 1991, 8–9). Since illness may alternatively be diagnosed as deriving from a person’s soul having wandered from the body, Flores shamans may on the other hand retrieve the soul, also in the form of a small animal, and by way of a manipulation appear to replace it inside in the body. (Among the Iban of Borneo, a seed is used to represent a returned soul.) In curing, shamans may additionally employ non-shamanic therapies such as massage and material medicines. Shamans usually act on behalf of an individual, that is, a single patient. They may also perform rites for the benefit of a group or the entire community. Shamans often operate individually, but either a pair of shamans or a larger group may cooperate, especially in larger ritual undertakings. Indonesian shamans usually coexist with other religious specialists, including priests and magicians, as well as with lay healers employing purely medicinal or manipulative remedies. Also, a person may occupy these other statuses simultaneously with that of shaman. In fact, rather than viewing shamanism as a discrete set of practices exclusive to a particular sort of specialist, it is generally more useful to view shamanic activity and ideology as one component, albeit often a major component, of the total spiritual life and practice of a community. Some Indonesian societies, moreover, recognize more than one kind of shamanic practitioner. For example, in southern Borneo, the Luangan distinguish shamans as balian and wara, according to whether they are concerned with matters of life or death (Weinstock 1987). A single individual may function in both capacities, although at present women are forbidden from serving as wara, or “death shamans.” (Luangan men also predominate among the



balian.) Conversely, among the Iban, shamans, who are normally men, are distinguished from “soul guides”—women who function solely in the context of funerals, when they guide deceased souls to the afterworld (Sather 2001, 8–9). Interestingly, whereas Iban shamans sometimes go into trance, there is no mention of this with regard to soul guides, whose souls, like those of shamans, are also thought to leave their bodies. This pattern, then, appears to reverse what is found among Nage male shamans and female trancers, who like Iban women can similarly serve as soul guides. In parts of eastern Indonesia (notably the Lesser Sunda Islands), shaman practice is often peripheral to the religious and ritual life of the community, and shamans are generally subordinated to priests and other sorts of ritualists, as well as to political leaders. In contrast, in more westerly parts of Indonesia—at least where Islam or Otherworld religions do not predominate—shamans appear to be socially more central. Indeed, sometimes community leaders are themselves shamans. Describing the Meratus people of southeastern Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo), Anna Tsing notes how many leaders are successful shamans, while those who are not “at least develop close working relationships with key local shamans” (1987, 204). In a similar vein, Jane Atkinson interprets shamanic ritual among the Wana of Sulawesi as informing and establishing political authority (1989). In fact, it may be in regard to the social location of shamanism, and the relation between spiritual and political power, that one encounters the most significant variations in shamanism among different Indonesian communities, rather than in regard to the occurrence of trance or beliefs in spirit possession. Gregory Forth See also: Javanese Shamanism; Shadow Puppetry and Shamanism; Southeast Asian Shamanism; Taman Shamanism; Trance Dance; Trees References and further reading: Atkinson, Jane Monnig. 1989. The Art and Politics of Wana Shamanship. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Crystal, Eric, and Yamashita Shinji. 1987. “Power of Gods: Ma’bugi’ Ritual of the Sa’adan Toraja.” Pp. 48–70 in Indonesian Religions in Transition. Edited by Rita Smith

Kipp and Susan Rodgers. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. Forth, G. 1981. Rindi: An Ethnographic Study of a Traditional Domain in Eastern Sumba. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff. ———. 1991. “Shamanic Powers and Mystical Practitioners among the Nage of Central Flores.” Canberra Anthropology 14, no. 2: 1–29. ———. 1998. Beneath the Volcano: Religion, Cosmology and Spirit Classification among the Nage of Eastern Indonesia. Leiden: Royal Institute (KITLV) Press. Graham, Penelope. 1987. Iban Shamanism: An Analysis of the Ethnographic Literature. An Occasional Paper of the Department of Anthropology, Research School of Pacific Studies. Canberra: Australian National University. Sather, Clifford. 2001. Seeds of Play, Words of Power: An Ethnographic Study of Iban Shamanic Chants. Kuala Lumpur: Tun Jugah Foundation (in cooperation with the Borneo Research Council). Steedly, Mary Margaret. 1989. “Innocence as Authority: Shifting Gender Roles in Karonese Curing Ritual.” In Changing Lives, Changing Rites: Ritual and Social Dynamics in Philippine and Indonesian Uplands. Edited by Susah D. Russell and Clark E. Cunningham. Michigan Studies of South and Southeast Asia Number 1. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies. Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 1987. “A Rhetoric of Centres in a Religion of the Periphery.” Pp. 187–210 in Indonesian Religions in Transition. Edited by Rita Smith Kipp and Susan Rodgers. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. Valeri, Valerio. 2000. The Forest of Taboos: Morality, Hunting, and Identity among the Huaulu of the Moluccas. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. Vergouwen, J. C. [1964] 1993. The Social Organisation and Customary Law of the TobaBatak of Northern Sumatra. Translated from the Dutch by J. Scott-Kemball and with a Preface by J. Keuning. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff. Weinstock, Joseph A. 1987. “Kaharingan: Life and Death in Southern Borneo.” Pp. 71–97 in Indonesian Religions in Transition. Edited by R. Smith Kipp and S. Rodgers. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.


Winstedt, Richard. 1947. The Malays: A Cultural History. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

JAVANESE SHAMANISM (INDONESIA) The Javanese are the largest ethnic group in Indonesia. They inhabit the central and eastern parts of the island of Java (pop. 110 million), the western portion being the homeland of the culturally related Sundanese people. With its long history and diverse social structures, Java does not lend itself to generalization. Nevertheless, it would be fair to say that the figure of the shaman, in the classical sense of an embodier and master of spirits, a voyager on soul journeys, hardly exists in Java as a distinct social type. Curers, midwives, and magicians may call upon supernatural aid, but very few incarnate their spirit helpers. Nor, in the highly contested, pluralist arena of Javanese religion, is there a distinct shamanic worldview. Shamanic voices must compete with Islam, Sufi- and Indian-influenced mysticism, Indian mythological heroes, and village cults. Nevertheless, features associated with shamanism—spirit possession, mediumship, the ritual use of trance, curing based upon soul recovery, and not least the parade of spirits in dubious public entertainments—are widely found in rural and urban settings. Generals and presidents, merchants and peasants, all alike have occasional recourse to the spirit world through the services of a specialist.

Historical Background The inconspicuous, residual role of the shaman in Javanese society needs to be seen against a complex cultural history. Little is known about popular belief in the Hindu-Buddhist period, though there are hints of shamanic practices in literary sources. The Islamization of Java, which began in the late fourteenth century, was gradual and uneven. The north coast has been, and remains, closer to Islamic orthodoxy; the inland agrarian states, officially Muslim from the sixteenth century, maintained a more syncretic form of Islam, tolerant of pre-Islamic beliefs.


Away from the centers of orthodoxy, popular religion remained an unstable mix of Islamic, indigenous, and Indic elements. Religion in contemporary Java reflects this checkered past; and its diverse strands, competing and often politicized, have taken different views of local traditions. In areas where modernist Islam is strong, spirit cults, trance dances, and the like have been suppressed as polytheistic and unIslamic; elsewhere such practices may persist, with the connivance of traditionally minded Muslims. Some pious Muslims themselves become magical specialists, though they emphasize the use of Arabic prayers over Javanese mantras.

Practitioners The generic term for the ritual practitioner is dukun. Many dukuns specialize as midwives, numerologists, or diviners. But when a practitioner is described simply as a dukun, without further specification, he—most are male—can be assumed to possess a range of skills, including curing, divination, exorcism, love magic, and (counter)sorcery (Koentjaraningrat 1985: 410–426). One becomes a dukun through apprenticeship (often with a relative), study of esoteric manuals, ascetic retreats, and at the invitation of spirits. Such people may be important, respected members of the rural village community. Equivalent figures—often referred to as “wise persons”—can also be found in white-collar professions and government circles. Dukuns diagnose illness through calendrical divination, dreams, meditation, and supernatural revelation. Their prescriptions range from herbal remedies, ritual baths, prayers, and ritual meals, to charms against sorcery. A standard treatment is to have the patient drink water over which mantras have been recited. A minority of general dukuns also possess the facility of contacting spirits while in trance. At some stage in their careers, they have been afflicted or possessed by a powerful spirit. Having recovered from this crisis, often by accepting their vocation, they are able to call upon the spirit or spirits to help them. The relation is one of collaboration rather than mastery. Firsthand anthropological accounts being scarce, an example from the author’s fieldwork in Banyuwangi, an area in East Java famous for its magic, may serve to illustrate the nature of



the dukun’s practice. A séance was held one night in a shrine dedicated to a village guardian spirit—a legendary nobleman-exile from Central Java. The dukun, a shrine caretaker, announced his presence with the Islamic greeting, then entered and laid flowers on the stone altar, embracing in turn the stones of the spirit and his wife. He burned incense and then clapped the ground and began springing about, showing that he had been entered by the spirit (kasusupan). The supplicant, a young unmarried man, crouching in darkness, put his questions to the spirit. “Will my application to be a civil servant succeed, Sir?” In a hoarse voice the spirit admonished him to give up gambling, promising success would follow. The man asked why his other enterprises had failed and who was thwarting his efforts to woo a village girl. The spirit named his rival and told him to look for magical substances planted near his house, promising to provide a charm to protect the house from further mystical attack. Later the voice of the dukun changed in tone, signaling the arrival of another spirit—a relative of the first. Before departing, the spirit requested cigarettes and flowers, which were placed on the altar; then an assistant tapped the dukun three times on the fontanel (the soul’s point of entry), and he came out of trance. Aside from such semiprofessional dukuns, whose shamanship may be a minor sideline, from time to time lay persons receive the call. Such dukun préwangan or dukun kamomong (Weiss 1977, 353) are often female, usually lower-class and poorly educated. Unlike the classic Siberian shaman, they appear to be passive vehicles of the possessing spirits. If they are chosen it is because—like most other victims— they are “empty,” lacking in wisdom and spiritual resistance. (A political reading would, of course, attribute agency to the medium rather than the spirit.) While the inspiration lasts they keep open house, seeing many clients in a day. The spirit familiar—sometimes a deceased relative—may be required to diagnose the cause of illness (e.g., sorcery or inadvertent disturbance of a spirit’s home), the location of a stolen ring, or the cause of misfortune. The medium’s spouse or assistant is on hand to feed the spirit incense and maintain trance, interpret the medium’s cryptic speech, dole out medicines, and collect payment. Different again, a dukun tiban, rather than being possessed by a dead

soul, receives power or illumination (wahyu) from the spirit world (alam antara) or God. Clifford Geertz gave a vivid picture of one such practitioner and of the frenetic, unpredictable style of her consultations with clients (1960, 101–102). He contrasted the unstable personality of the dukun tiban with the apparent “normality” of the ordinary dukun. Those who have made adopting a shamanic role a regular part of their lives, as in the Banyuwangi example, are in a sense in between: They carry on normal lives as farmers, artisans, and good villagers, but their shamanic performances lie outside normally acceptable behavior. The apparent loss of control, the consorting with rough spirits, and the taint of black magic offend Javanese values of social harmony, balance, and decorum. Consequently, their séances tend to be regarded with awe or disdain rather than approval. As elsewhere in the world, belief in spirits and in the possibility of contact with them is tempered by skepticism about particular practitioners. The most powerful dukuns are in the nextbut-one town or village (therefore their clients, especially in serious cases, are often strangers); one’s own neighbor one knows to be an incorrigible fraud. Partly because of their ability to do harm as well as good, many dukuns have an ambiguous reputation. This does not, however, imply a negative evaluation of magical or spiritual efficacy in general. The rulers of the Central Javanese principalities, the acme of Javanese civilization, derive some of their prestige from an intimate relation with powerful spirits. The sultan’s matrimonial alliance with the spirit queen of the Southern Ocean safeguards the prosperity of the realm (Jordaan 1984). Similarly, in a cult described by Woodward (1985), a respected healer acted as master of powerful spirits, operating through mediums rather than personally incarnating the spirits. The manner of contact and the eminence of the spirits involved evidently reflected upon the practitioner’s status.

Elements of Shamanism There is no distinctive shamanic cosmology or worldview; rather one can speak of a range of syncretic practices and beliefs that may gain shamanic formulation in ritual. Shamanic séances and healing sessions draw upon concepts and techniques with a wider currency in popular culture. Among these are the following:


1. Notions of divine power as a formless energy (kasekten) diffused in the world yet concentrated in certain places, persons, body parts, and objects such as heirlooms. Power can be accumulated through ascetic practices and manipulated in spells (Anderson 1990). 2. Belief in spiritual beings: ancestors, village founders, sprites and demons, place spirits (of fields, caves, graveyards). A person has four spiritual “siblings” (dulur papat) associated with the placenta, amniotic fluid, and other birth products. These personal guardians are propitiated in household rituals and are the focus of mystical attack or shamanic recovery. 3. Notions of spirit doubles, dual presence, and transformation into wild animals. As elsewhere in Southeast Asia (Wessing 1986), some practitioners claim to be, or are alleged to be, weretigers or to have tigers as their spirit familiars. In this form they can either abduct victims’ souls or recover them from the forest/spirit world. 4. Belief in possession or affliction by spirits as a cause of illness and madness. 5. Techniques that facilitate contact with the spirit world: drumming, incense-burning, meditation, fasting and sleep deprivation, chanting of mantras, concentration on ritual objects. 6. Belief in the interpenetration of the visible and invisible worlds. The spirit world is not simply other; it underlies and mirrors the everyday world. Just so, a person has a visible material presence and a subtle self, which can be contacted through esoteric ritual, meditation, or trance. The spiritual and refined (alus) is the complement and counterpart of the worldly and coarse (kasar). These concepts frame encounters with the spirit world, whether one is a healer, medium, mystic, or householder staging a ritual meal. One communicates with the spirits (wong alus) through the refined, powerful language of spells and Arabic prayers and by means of symbolic offerings of food whose essence is borne by incense. The symbolism gains its force from correspondences between material and spiritual realities.


Unmediated contact with the hidden sources of power can be dangerous. As dukuns are fond of relating, the uninitiated can become temporarily insane or may even be struck dead as a result of unwise dabbling or improper skepticism. Those who seek spiritual enlightenment or power must first undergo preparation in asceticism and meditation. Spells and ritual actions function both to conduct power and to protect the supplicant. And much ritual work goes into shielding the weak from hazardous contact. Sick people, young women, infants, and the very old—unless fortified by èlmu, Javanese science— are especially vulnerable to spirit intrusion.

Related Phenomena If the classical shaman is a rare, secretive figure in Java, elements of the “shamanic complex” can be found in many public settings. In the sacred seblang dance of Olehsari, East Java, it is not the master of spirits who goes into trance but the dancer, a young girl, who is animated by a succession of local spirits. Similarly, at the climax of the barong show of the same area, the dukun entrances a masked man whose animating spirit is the weretiger village guardian (Beatty 1999). In neither case does the possessed person communicate verbally with the audience: The ambiguous meanings of the performance are evident in symbolism and narrative structure. Elsewhere in Java spirit possessions may form part of the annual village cleansing rites. There are also popular entertainments, such as hobbyhorse dances in which men fall into trance at the crack of a whip and prance about or chomp grass like horses. Mysticism, widely practiced in rural and urban Java, has, in the past, incorporated magic as well as the quest for divine power. In certain respects spirit mediumship parallels mystical practices in which adepts “die in life” and transcend their worldly form in union with the godhead. They “return” from these altered states to report their experiences to fellow adepts. This is not to say that mystical ecstasy or gnosis is the same as shamanic trance: The one is inward-looking and calm, the other a violent encounter with the spirit world “outside.” Andrew Beatty See also: Indonesian Shamanism; Southeast Asian Shamanism



References and further reading: Anderson, Benedict R. O’G. 1990. “The Idea of Power in Javanese Culture.” In Language and Power: Exploring Political Cultures in Indonesia. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Beatty, Andrew. 1999. Varieties of Javanese Religion: An Anthropological Account. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Geertz, Clifford. 1960. The Religion of Java. Glencoe, IL: Free Press. Jordaan, Roy E. 1984. “The Mystery of Nyai Lara Kidul, Goddess of the Southern Ocean.” Archipel 28: 99–116. Koentjaraningrat. 1985. Javanese Culture. Singapore: Oxford University Press. Weiss, Jerome. 1977. “Folk Psychology of the Javanese of Ponorogo.” Ph.D. diss., Yale University. Wessing, Robert. 1986. The Soul of Ambiguity: The Tiger in Southeast Asia. DeKalb: Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Northern Illinois University. Woodward, Mark R. 1985. “Healing and Morality: A Javanese Example.” Social Science and Medicine 21, no. 9: 1007–1021.

MALAY SHAMANS AND HEALERS Malays, practitioners of Hinduism for a thousand years before converting to Sunni Islam in the fifteenth century C.E., make up more than half the current population of Malaysia. They are speakers of Bahasa Malaysia (Malaysian Language, sometimes known as Bahasa Melayu, Language of the Malays), a Malayo-Polynesian dialect similar to Bahasa Indonesia. Although Malaysian cities have been growing at an increasing rate, Malays living in small villages (kampung), particularly on the east coast, still follow many traditional medical theories and practices. Malay healers are known, generally, as bomoh, but in the northeast states of Kelantan and Terengganu shamanistic specialists also treat “sickness of the soul” through ceremony, singing, dancing, and, in trance, becoming the voice of disembodied spirits. Malay shamanism has attracted the attention of foreigners for more than a hundred years. The Malay spirit-raising séance first appeared in Western literature in the late nineteenth cen-

tury as “demon worship” and “downright heathenism” (Maxwell 1881, 12; 1883, 222) and later, in 1925, as “gracious and beautiful” perhaps, but the product of “primitive minds” (Winstedt 1951, 14) lacking conceptions of unity and abstract thinking. By mid-century, Western opinion regarding Malay shamanism had evolved from considering it an example of the “black art” to examining psychotherapeutic elements in what was regarded as an essentially magical enterprise (Chen 1979). Although parallels were drawn between many cosmologies and psychoanalytic formulations, Western psychiatrists continued to believe that the work of the shaman could be compared to psychiatry only in the same way comparisons were made “between alchemy and chemistry, or between astrology and astronomy” (Prince 1980, 335). In recent years, Islamic leaders’ religious objections to the shaman’s practices have become increasingly strenuous. Contemporary Malay shamans, however, regard their work in quite a different manner. In fact, they claim it is the oldest kind of medicine, dating back to the time of Adam and Eve: In the days of the Prophet Adam (said one shaman), Eve was sick. Adam looked for medicine but he couldn’t find any. Then he looked for a bomoh and he found one. Then he asked the bomoh, “Do you have medicine to treat Eve?” This is what the bomoh said, “I have medicine for everything!” He brought over a hand drum, he had a spike fiddle. Adam asked what those things were. “This is a bowl for medicine,” he said, pointing to the drum. “This is a medicinal herb,” he said, pointing to the fiddle. Then he treated his patient—he played. After he played Main ‘teri, Eve was cured. When she was cured, then God said, “I can’t afford to keep this bomoh around. It would be better if I send him to a cave. If I don’t, no one will ever die, none of the followers of Muhammad.” So he entered the cave and he is still living there. Its name is even older than that. When God made Adam he was just a lifeless image. God called Gabriel and breathed into his hands. He told Gabriel to fly over to Adam’s image and put the breath up his nostrils. Adam sneezed, and the breath traveled all over his body. His body was too weak for the breath, and it broke into little pieces. God told Gabriel to weld (pateri)


it back together, to make a whole. That’s why it’s called Main ‘teri. When we do it, we weld people together, we make sick people well. (Laderman 1991a, 6)

Malay bomoh, most of whom never trance, treat many kinds of illnesses, using herbs, dietary changes, massages, and other, often humoral, treatments, as well as reciting spells. If a satisfactory response is not achieved, it may be necessary to hold a Main Peteri, a shamanistic healing ceremony that includes a tok ‘teri (shaman) who achieves trance and speaks for the spirits, a minduk, who plays the spike fiddle, acts as interlocutor, and joins in singing with the shaman, and a player of floor gongs (often merely overturned pots); occasionally other instruments, such as the serunai (oboe) and hanging gongs, are added. This involves substantial expense, since a patient’s family must provide a feast and pay a fee to each performer, as well as distributing refreshments at the close of the night’s proceedings to an audience of friends, neighbors, and relatives who have come to offer moral support and be entertained. Malay shamans differ from other bomoh in their breadth of knowledge and style of treatment. While many other healers insist on secrecy and rote recitations of incantations, shamans are concurrently or formerly performers in the shadow puppet play (wayang kulit) or Malay opera (Mak Yong)—or both. In their view, the power of words lies in their contextual meaning rather than in their inflexible recitation. What is essential to the shamanistic ceremony is that the shaman and minduk be in harmony with each other and with the patient. Students of shamanism are taught that what may appear to an outsider to be possession by and exorcism of external spiritual forces is not nearly as straightforward as it seems. The Main Peteri takes place within the Self. The minduk’s invocation not only invites the spirits to the séance, but recounts the story of Creation—a double creation, of the universe and of humanity, the universe in microcosm. The mountaintop of which he or she sings is not merely the haunt of powerful genies; the healers, the patient, and the audience all know it refers as well to the human head. During this invocation the minduk recounts the role of the father in producing a child. The baby begins as a small en-


tity in the brain of the father and lives there for forty days, absorbing human rationality and emotions, before being placed in the mother’s womb. Following the invocation, the shaman achieves trance, aided by the minduk’s song, which raises the shaman’s Inner Winds, the personification of his talent. While in trance, the shaman invokes forces within the human body and mobilizes them to help maintain and regain health—a kind of spiritual immune system. After the divination that follows, a series of spirits (hantu) appear, speaking through the shaman in a dialogue with the minduk, and occasionally with the patient and members of the audience. These spirits are believed to be external to humanity; their attacks are ineffectual unless the victim’s own vital forces have been depleted by illness, overwork, shock, or fright. During the Main Peteri, the patient as well as the shaman may achieve trance. This is not a form of possession by external spirits; it is an outward expression of the inner workings of the personality, a sign that the Inner Winds have begun to blow freely within the patient’s bosom. The shaman does a divination, using the flame of a beeswax candle, or a handful of popped rice counted out as earth, air, fire, and water. A divination that points to any combination of earth, fire, or water may point to hantu (disembodied spirits) or genies as causal factors. They may have been sent by an enemy of the patient, or they may have come of their own volition, angered perhaps by the trampling of their invisible homes, or a shower of urine on their invisible heads. Although they are our older siblings, God didn’t grant them the power of reason that makes us truly human. They are like children, easily flattered, cowed by threats, and caught in their lies by clever bomoh, whose insulting remarks make the human audience roar with laughter but elude the spirits’ understanding. If an illness shows signs of spirit-connected etiology, the suspected spirits must be brought to the séance by the officiating shaman’s own familiar spirits. The victim’s humoral balance has been put awry by the spirits’ airy heat. The minduk exhorts them to return to their origins and restore the balance within the patient and within the universe, whose integrity is threatened by their encroaching on humanity.



Complications can arise when the patient’s birth sibling, as it is called, joins the hantu’s attack. The afterbirth that accompanies the birth of each human child is the mirror image of the hantu. Both are incomplete: The spirits lack the earthy and watery elements of which our body is made, while the birth sibling never receives the airy and fiery breath of life that animates its human sibling when the baby takes its first breath. A divination that includes air (angin) points to problems concerning the patient’s inner winds. The inner winds, as understood by Malays, are close to European concepts of temperament, both in the medieval sense of the four temperaments, and as artistic temperament. Everyone is born with angin, the traits, talents, and desires inherited from ancestors, but some have more, or stronger, angin than the common run. If they are able to express their angin, they can lead untroubled and productive lives and, in fact, will often be respected for their strong and gifted characters. If they cannot, their angin may be trapped inside of them, where it accumulates and produces sickness due to blockage of the inner winds. Healers of all types must possess the wind specific to their calling, and they suffer when their talents are ignored. The meaning of inner winds extends as well to the basic personality. The majority of conditions treated by Main Peteri are sakit berangin (wind sickness), and the most prevalent are due to the thwarting of the personality type known as the Wind of the Young Demigod, Angin Dewa Muda, whose archetype is the hero of a story from the Malay opera. Those who have inherited this wind crave life’s luxuries, both material and psychic, needing love and admiration as much as dainty foods and handsome clothes. Heirs to another wind, the Wind of the Weretiger, are quick to anger and heedless of its consequences, unable or unwilling to control their anger and hostility. People with gentle winds run little risk of wind sickness. Strong winds will not harm their possessors if they can be expressed in ways that satisfy the individual and enrich the community. If they cannot, their angin is trapped inside them where it accumulates, unbalancing the humors and causing disharmony within the person. The symptoms of wind sickness include backaches, headaches, digestive problems, dizziness, asthma, depression, and anxiety; in short,

a wide range of what we call psychosomatic and affective disorders. Asthma in particular represents a graphic example of repressed angin— wind locked within, choking its possessor. The inner winds of a patient in the Main Peteri who has been diagnosed as suffering from sakit berangin must be allowed to express themselves, to be released from the confines of their corporeal prison, enabling the sufferer’s mind and body to return to a healthy balance. After the hantu have been brought to the séance and exorcised, the patient afflicted with wind sickness is put into trance by means of appropriate music and the story of the angin’s archetype, recited by the shaman. When the correct musical or literary cue is reached, the patient achieves trance, aided, as well, by the percussive sounds of the musicians and the rhythmic beating of the shaman’s hands on the floor near the patient’s body. In shamanistic ceremonies whose primary aim is to remove demonic influence from human sufferers, the patient’s trance is the peak moment at which the object of the demonic enters into direct communion with the entity that is possessing the patient (Kapferer 1983). For the Malay patient, trance doesn’t occur during the exorcistic parts of the Main Peteri. The communication achieved by trancing patients is not with the demonic but with their own inner nature. While in trance, patients are encouraged to act out the repressed portions of their personalities until they feel refreshed and content. Entranced patients may sing and dance, perform the stylized moves and stances of silat (the Malay art of self-defense), or roar and pounce like a tiger. The relaxation experienced by patients after coming out of trance is profound. Headaches and backaches have disappeared, and asthma sufferers find they can once more breathe freely. Patients in trance feel the inner winds as experiential reality rather than merely metaphor. At the height of trance, a person with powerful winds can feel them blowing inside the chest with the force of a hurricane. Trance, for a Malay, is never achieved by the use of drugs, either by the shaman or by the patient. It accompanies the music, singing, and dance of the practitioners, and, for the patient, the recitation of the story of the patient’s own archetype. Shamans have been said to provide remission without insight, or symptomatic relief rather


than a cure, in contrast to psychiatrists, who help patients form a better self-image, allowing them to cope with the world. Shamans’ theories are conventionally thought to blame outsiders, whether spirits or humans. Malays, however, don’t conceive of the séance as a cure, since inner winds are inherited and inborn, and, unless life circumstances of patients change, those with strong angin will always be at risk of accumulating too much unexpressed wind. The portion of the Main Peteri that attempts to heal the wounds of body and soul caused by thwarted inner winds is the sole method of nonprojective psychotherapy (that is, psychotherapy that does not involve projection of the difficulty onto an entity outside the patient) reported to exist within the context of a shamanistic séance. Perhaps a fresh look at shamanistic rituals in other cultures might reveal comparable constructs not yet fathomed, based on traditional knowledge of the human psyche. Not all Malay healers are shamans. Other bomoh heal patients with medical treatments and incantations. Rather than dividing the causes of illness into natural and supernatural categories, they speak of usual and unusual sicknesses, a distinction based more on incidence than etiology. Usual health problems may be attributed to a number of causes: poor hygiene, bad diet, many intestinal worms (a small number is considered normal), overwork, worry, and changes in the weather that may upset the body’s humoral balance. Belief in intrinsic heating and cooling elements (humors) of the microcosm, the human body, and the macrocosm, the universe, is a pervasive part of traditional Malay medicine. Humoral qualities of foods and diseases are not related merely to temperature; boiling squash is considered very cold, and alcohol, even if iced, is extremely hot. Although villagers must travel for miles to see a physician, traditional healers are often readily available. The mudin treats broken bones and sprains. Obstetric and perinatal problems are the province of the bidan (midwife). Masseurs are in demand for muscular aches. Other usual problems are treated by patients and their families, often with the aid of a bomoh whose services are sought for both usual and unusual conditions. Bomoh are often experts in herbal medicine, as well as adepts of the spirit world.


Usual illnesses are often considered to be caused by humoral imbalance. They are treated through dietary changes that increase or decrease the heating or cooling elements, by ingestion or topical application of medicines, massage (thought to break up the lumps of cold phlegm that cause pain and keep the hot blood from flowing properly), and thermal treatments such as steam inhalation and cold compresses. Illness are classified as hot or cold, using criteria that interpret symptoms through empirical evidence in the light of humoral reasoning: 1. External heat, such as fever or boils, hot to the touch. 2. Internal heat: illnesses that make the patient experience burning sensations, such as sore throat or heartburn. 3. Visible signs: hemorrhages demonstrate that the hot element, blood, has boiled over. 4. Deficiency or excess of a humor deduced from internal evidence: that is, anemia (not enough blood), or hypertension (blood rising to the head, overheating it). 5. Pulse reading: fast denotes heat, slow denotes cold. 6. Some forms of madness due to overheating of the brain. 7. Response to treatments classified as hot or cold, indicating illnesses have the opposite humoral quality. (Laderman 1983, 50–51) Illnesses that do not respond to typical treatments are often blamed on incursions from the spirit world and must be treated by other means. Malays believe in a four-fold universe composed of the elements of earth, air, fire, and water. Spirits, lacking the earthy and watery components of fleshly bodies, consist only of superheated air. They were created, bomoh say, owing to the curiosity of the archangel Gabriel. God blew the breath of life into Gabriel’s hands and ordered him to place it near Adam’s nostrils so that his lifeless body, made of earth and water, might be animated. Gabriel, wanting to see what the breath looked like, opened his hands as he flew toward Adam, and the breath escaped. Having no body to receive it, the breath became hantu, the disembodied siblings of humankind. Like all siblings, hantu are sometimes beset with feelings of envy toward their broth-



ers, and like human siblings, they occasionally find ways to even the score. By blowing their hot breath on a victim’s back, they upset his humoral balance. Treatment involves increasing the cool and moist elements and ridding the body of excess heat and air. Bomoh employ “neutralizing rice paste,” made of earthy and watery elements, recite spells (jampi), blowing their magically cooled breath on their patients’ backs, and bathe them in cooling water. Healing, for Malays, concerns treating not only a body that is born and dies, but also a soul (roh) that lives on in heaven or in hell. The Malay person consists, too, of the breath of life (nyawa), which animates all God’s creatures, the spirit of life (semangat), which pervades the universe, dwelling within fire and rock as well as plants and animals, and the inner winds (angin), which determine the individual personality, drives, and talents already present at birth. The presence of these winds can be deduced from the behavior of their possessor, but they are palpable neither to observers nor to their owner, except during trance, when they are felt as actual presences: high winds blowing within their possessor’s breast. A whole, healthy person normally has little to fear from hantu, but, should an imbalance of component parts occur, whether due to depletion of semangat or accumulation of angin, the integrity of the person is breached, his “gates” no longer protect the “fortress within” but have opened to allow the incursion of disembodied spirits. The bomoh aims to return the patient to a state of balanced wholeness. One bomoh’s performance of healing began with an examination (Laderman 1991a, 44– 48). He felt the pulse at his patient’s fingers, wrists, inside the elbow, at the shoulders, ears and toes, to ascertain the source of a persistent fever. He then asked his assistant to chew a betel quid and spit into a cup. The saliva, red and frothy, formed patterns in the cup, which the bomoh divined as pointing to a path his patient had traveled, into a kampung (village) recently claimed from the jungle. The patient had neglected to ask permission from the hantu before intruding on their land. The bomoh cut the saliva with a knife, destroying the picture within. He dipped a leaf into the liquid and painted two crossed lines on the patient’s forehead, red circles around the ears, the shoulders,

elbows, wrists, knees, and ankles, causing the hantu’s heat to descend, exiting by way of the toes. Seated behind the patient, he recited a jampi, blowing his supernaturally cooled breath on the patient’s back to counteract the hantu’s hot breath. Then he prescribed two kinds of cooling herbal mixtures, which he compared to vitamin pills, valuable for renewing the patient’s strength and appetite. Before he left, the bomoh filled a pail with water to which he added lime juice, reciting an incantation, and recommended his patient bathe in the treated water. His treatment was complete; both the symptoms and their underlying cause had been dealt with. During pregnancy, through childbirth, and until the end of the forty-day postpartum period, Malays rely on the midwife (bidan). Each kampung has its appointed trained government midwife and several traditional midwives. Although the latter are termed untrained due to their lack of formal education, they have been apprenticed since childhood to older midwives: mothers, aunts, grandmothers. Women suspect pregnancy when their breasts ache, their faces turn pale, they crave sour foods, and their periods cease. But before conception takes place in the mother’s womb, the father has been pregnant for forty days. Men remember craving foods shortly before their wives began to exhibit signs of pregnancy. The baby begins life not as a creation in the mother’s womb, but as an essence, not merely an idea, in the father’s brain. Humanity is formed of the four elements and partakes of animal nature, but human beings also possess rationality, which makes humans higher than angels. Although both men and women have both rationality and animal nature, developed states of self-control are associated with men, while the body’s emotions and hungers are associated with women. What better source is there for a baby to develop its distinctively human characteristics than in its father’s brain? Although a bidan may be informed of a suspected pregnancy, she cannot feel the presence of a fetus until the third month. She can relieve stomachache, backache, and aching legs by massaging the mother and adjusting the position of the fetus. If a mother-to-be has fallen or been beaten, she may come to the village bidan to be reassured that the baby inside is still healthy. In the seventh month of pregnancy,


the mother and her family will present the bidan of their choice with several dollars and a betel quid for her to chew, which is meant to reserve the bidan’s assistance during childbirth. For a first pregnancy, special rites are performed to ensure ease of labor and safety of delivery. Many clients today request that Islamic prayers and ablutions be substituted for traditional forms; in the 1970s and 1980s, however, it was still possible to witness a full-scale lenggang perut, a rocking of the pregnant abdomen (Laderman 1983). Seven cloths of different colors were placed on a mat, and the mother-to-be, after removing all clothing except for her sarong, lay down atop the cloths. After the bidan examined her abdomen to determine whether the baby was positioned properly, head down and body vertical, she and the pregnant woman’s mother, sitting on either side, tied each cloth in turn loosely over the woman’s belly, rocked her gently, untied the cloth, and pulled it out from under her. Each release of a cloth signified the release of the mother from spiritual danger. Then, one after the other, the bidan rolled three plants across the pregnant belly: palas leaves, used to tie rice seedlings; leaves of the areca palm employed to brush noxious spiritual influences away; and a joint of bamboo, one end open and the other closed, a duplicate of the womb’s anatomy. After rolling a coconut three times around the woman’s body, the bidan placed it on her abdomen and pretended to cleave it with a machete. The symbolic release of its contents was meant to encourage the successful release of the contents of the womb. After bathing in cooling water, the pregnant woman was daubed with neutralizing rice paste (the elements of earth and water opposing the disembodied spirits’ fire and air) and gently touched with a knife or razor blade, to harden her semangat (spirit of life). Childbirth, for Malays, is not merely a physiological event necessitating medical care, but is also a stage in a rite of passage requiring spiritual prophylaxis and ritual expertise. A competent midwife provides practical obstetrical and nursing care and knows how to ease a baby’s way into the world and protect a vulnerable mother from attacks by envious spirits. Traditional Malay midwives employ a directional system whereby the laboring woman faces in the proper direction for the day of the week, hu-


morally speaking. North and east are avoided; north because corpses are buried facing this direction, and east since it is the opposite of the direction toward Mecca. The midwife doesn’t claim her methods are indispensable; they only encourage the baby to arrive with less difficulty than would otherwise be the case. During labor, the mother-to-be lies upon a mat on the floor of her bedroom, her head and shoulders on her mother’s lap. The midwife gently massages her abdomen, inserting a finger up her vagina at intervals to determine the descent of the fetus. Coffee and snacks are available to the mother and occasionally are requested. Female friends and relatives are present during labor, and children roam in and out of the room. The husband may enter the room briefly, but men usually stay in an adjoining room. The star of the drama is neither the husband nor the midwife; it is the mother. Although it is considered wise to follow the bidan’s recommendations, rural Malays view childbirth as a normal event in every woman’s life that should not be allowed to erode the mother’s autonomy. In the event of a difficult or perilous labor, a bomoh may be called upon to recite an incantation beyond the knowledge of the midwife. But whatever the outcome, the birth is followed by a burial: the disposal of the baby’s birth sibling, the placenta and umbilical cord, composed of earth and water and lacking the fire and air its human sibling receives with the breath of life. The midwife carefully washes it, wraps it in white cloth, and places it in a half-coconut coffin. Death follows birth, and birth includes death, in the Malay vision of the cosmos. Carol Laderman See also: Semai Shamanism; Shadow Puppetry and Shamanism; Southeast Asian Shamanism References and further reading: Material from Laderman 1991a is drawn from Taming the Wind of Desire by Carol Laderman, © 1991, The Regents of the University of California, and is being used by permission of University of California Press. Chen, P. C. Y. 1979. “Main Puteri: An Indigenous Kelantanese Form of Psychotherapy.” International Journal of Social Psychiatry 25: 167–175. Kapferer, Bruce. 1983. A Celebration of Demons: Exorcism and the Aesthetics of Healing in Sri



Lanka. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Laderman, Carol. 1982. “Putting Malay Women in Their Place.” In Women of Southeast Asia. Edited by Penny Van Esterik. Northern Illinois University Center for Southeast Asia Studies Monograph Series, Occasional Paper No. 9. Dekalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press. ———. 1983. Wives and Midwives: Childbirth and Nutrition in Rural Malaysia. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press. ———. 1987. “Destructive Heat and Cooling Prayer: Malay Humoralism in Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Postpartum Period.” Social Science and Medicine 25, no. 4: 357–366. Special issue: Hot-Cold Food and Medical Theories: Cross-Cultural Perspectives. ———. 1991a. Taming the Wind of Desire: Psychology, Medicine and Aesthetics in Malay Shamanistic Performance. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press. ———. 1991b. “Malay Medicine, Malay Person,” Medical Anthropology 13, nos. 1–2: 83–98. Maxwell, W. E. 1881. “Folklore of Malays.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Straits Branch 7: 11–29. ———. 1883. “Shamanism in Perak.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Straits Branch 12:222–232. Prince, Raymond. 1980. “Variations in Psychotherapeutic Procedures.” Pp. 291–349 in Handbook of Cross-Cultural Psychology, vol. 6. Edited by H. C. Triandis and J. G. Draguns. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon. Winstedt, Richard O. 1951. Reprint. The Malay Magician. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Original edition, 1925.

MURUT SHAMANISM (BORNEO) Murut shamanism is context-specific and therefore unique to Sabah, a state formerly known as British North Borneo. The Muruts, a term that literally means “Hill People,” are the third largest indigenous groups in Sabah, after the Kadazandusuns and the Bajaus. The Muruts

are by no means a homogenous group. They are subdivided into dialect groups such as the Baukau, Gana, Kalabakan, Okolod, Paluan, Selungai, Serundung, Tagal, Timugon, and the Beaufort and Keningau Muruts. The 1991 census has indicated that there are 54,037 Muruts in Sabah, with about 90 percent of them geographically concentrated in the southwestern part of Sabah (Pensiangan, Keningau, and Tenom).

Traditional Beliefs The cosmos of the Muruts consists of seven levels above the earth and seven levels below the earth (Harris 1995, 70). Muruts believe that there is a “Creator God, known to them as Aki Kaulung” (Fung 1998, 69), whom some regard as a higher and unknown power (kuasa in Malay). Aki Kaulaung is the creator of heaven and earth and lives in the uppermost level above the earth (Harris 1995, 70) As creator, Aki Kaulung penalizes human beings for any disrespect and mockery of the animals. Furthermore, they believe in aru (spirits), whom they call by various names (Harris 1995, 72–75). The kamanggas lives in rocks and trees. This spirit travels to different areas and may even reside in objects kept in the house. Whoever accidentally disturbs a kamanggas living in objects in the house will be shot at with a blowgun and then will fall sick or die. The angungkung is a lion that has become an evil spirit that flies around and preys on victims’ souls when they laugh as they walk in the jungle. The tambailung is a spirit that takes the form of an animal such as a deer and feeds on its victims. The lalandou takes on the form of a tall person and also kills its victims. Muruts believe in other jungle spirits that kill their victims in specific ways. The amamalir deceives its victims, especially children, and makes them wander lost in the jungle. The tampuyung leads people who sleep a lot to places of danger, such as a high place or the branch of a tall tree, so that when they awaken, they fall to their death. Muruts believe in different kinds of water spirits (Harris 1995, 73). The bandak resembles water buffalo with long teeth; the panandom looks like a human being. The deep parts of a large river are believed to be the abodes of the panandom, and this spirit drowns its victims. The lompor is a snake that becomes an evil


spirit that sleeps in a hole in the river or jungle. The baasan does not kill but scares people. The omolopot is a water spirit that drowns a victim who is bathing in a river by catching its victim in a net in the river. Other spirits attack vulnerable persons such as children, pregnant women, and older people. The amaratan causes children and the aged to fall sick. The baai cries like a child, but it disturbs children, causing them to have bad dreams, cry, and fall sick. Pregnant women are prone to be attacked by lalabi’, which causes the baby to die. To avoid the attack, a pregnant woman must light a lamp and stay awake. Akin to the lalabi’ is the pontianak, which cries like a child and eats up the fetus in the womb. Moreover, Muruts believe in a personal spirit known as taniou, residing in a rock, a piece of wood or some other object, which attaches itself to an owner (Harris 1995, 73–74). Taniou relates to people through dreams in which it communicates its location. When an individual obeys the dream and obtains the object, that person becomes a lumahon, the Murut word for a shaman. The taniou affords the shaman supernatural power for purposes of healing or inflicting harm, sickness, and death on others. In healing, the taniou assists the shaman in diagnosing the illness and finding the method of curing the sick. In addition, Maruts believe that the spirits of the dead, known as alinguh and andauu, linger on (Harris 1995, 74–75). The former returns just after death to bring spouse and children to accompany it in death. The latter is the spirit of one who died a violent death, which specifically preys on children left unattended by their parents. Educated Muruts consider that belief in the ordinary spirits of trees or rocks is not inconsistent with belief in God. The presence of aru enables Muruts to live the moral imperative that nature and animals must be respected. To ridicule and disrespect them will incur punishment, whereas to honor and respect them will bring blessings and rewards. When Muruts sail past or underneath some boulders along the river, they observe a custom known as amupuk (Fung 1998, 70). Water from the river is sprinkled on the heads of those who are making their first trip to sacred sites, particularly young children as they sail upstream. It is a sign of respect paid to the aru. At the same time, when they pass these boulders, it is customary to ut-


ter a few words, asking to be excused or offering an apology for the use of the passage. During such times, no one is allowed to shout, bang the boat, or swim around in the river, out of deference for the aru of the boulders. Muruts relate to the spirit world through taboo, divination, ritual, and magic. Taboos governing their everyday life, communicated to them via dreams, omens, and divinations, enable them to avoid coming into conflict with the supernatural spirits. They also placate the spirits through individual and group rituals.

Characteristics of Shamanic Rituals and Shamans The two shamanic practices known to most Muruts are sasampui and lumaagon. The first ritual literally means “to blow accompanied by the uttering of spells.” These shamanic rituals are normally intended for benevolent as well as malevolent purposes. For instance, Muruts resort to babas tangou to reverse the curse that causes someone to turn yellow (Harris 1995, 82). Umparan is a form of curse that is used with chants to inflict harm. On the other hand, Babas rambuyun cures those people who have gone insane and walk around talking to themselves. Babas umparan has the ability to heal someone who has been cursed. In another form of sasampui, small needles are used, together with a piece of paper with Malay words written on it, which cause the needles to fly into the heart of an enemy, resulting in a heart attack and death. In general, shamanic rituals are rarely communal celebrations. They are conducted in response to personal requests, often by the family of the sick. The sick person is either brought to the shaman’s house, or, the shaman makes a trip to the home of the sick person. In both kinds of shamanic ritual, chants or spells embodying supernatural power are involved. Shamans obtain the chants through dreams or direct personal communication, or even as a result of a monetary transaction. Chants mediate the shamanic power of the spirit guides, known to the some Muruts as jinx. These spirit guides of nature assume different forms, such as birds or fireflies, or even human forms. They reside in the shamans, and their power can be extended also to objects that they use. Moreover, the spirit guides give a kind



of magical power known to Muruts as amol that makes them invincible to any bodily harm, even to bullets. Shamans are able to transform themselves into animals and are able to revert back to their human forms when they deem fit. Murut shamans have experienced “privileged moments of election” when the spirit guides “visit” them, usually through dreams or when they engage in a batapa, a “quest” (Harris 1995, 82) in locations that are abundant in spirits, such as a graveyard or on top of a tall hill. Once shamans have been elected, the spirit guides act as their personal tutors. Unlike shamans of other regions, they do not become shamans as a consequence of an illness or a period of mental derangement (Winzeler 1993; Appell and Appell 1993). There is also a period of initial apprenticeship for those interested and initiated directly by the spirit guide or by a skilled shaman. After this period, the newly initiated are encouraged to memorize the chants. The well-intentioned shaman usually sternly forewarns them only to call upon the spirit guides for a well-founded reason, never to disclose the chants to anyone, not even their spouses, or to exhibit their latent power, lest these actions cause the spirit guides great displeasure, resulting in withdrawal of their power. Shamans are not regarded with awe and do not live far from people (Winzeler 1993, xxvi), unless they are persons of ill repute because they resort to ilmu hitam, a Malay term that literally means “black knowledge.” In such cases, they are feared and shunned. Murut shamans live in the midst of the villages and conduct their ordinary chores, such as collecting firewood, fishing, and mending their nets, like any other villager. Among the Semai, however, they live away from the village, usually at the fringe of the forest (Fung 2000, 191–192). Murut shamans are by no means only men. Living in a village called Scalaban is a woman known as Inang Urik. She is a shaman who uses a rock called babas (Harris 1995, 81) with a hole in the center to bring about healing of the sick or reverse a spell and inflict sickness on the originator. The stone is said to whistle, and the tune is only audible to persons who are destined to hear it. Garing bin Muntalan, a legendary living shaman, receives the spirit guide of water. The spirit guide came to him through his dreams when he was fourteen. At one point in his life,

he devoted himself to ten days of solitary living for further initiation by the spirit in a cave. Chants were communicated to him through personal interaction with the spirit guides. Each one of his spirit guides has a name, and the name is disclosed upon his request. They belong to a cohort, akin to a large family of elders and siblings. They live in a nearby cave with a stream flowing by. They can be seen on moonlit night as illuminated translucent beings in human forms. Yet their movement resembles that of the flight of spirits, and they can move to a destined place in a split second. During his interaction with them, he is privileged to see and hear them as friends to a friend. They will come to him in his room in the night. At other times, he meets and talks to them in the open field, at the entrance of the cave, even at certain spots somewhere downstream, at a short distance from the cave where they reside.

Subversive Shamanic Power Two well-known deceased shamans and heroes in the collective memory of the Muruts are Ontoros and Korom. The Muruts address them as guru na amul, teachers of amul (Harris 1995, 83). Ontoros’s spirit guide resided in his tung, a Murut term for a tobacco pipe. Korom was believed to be guided by the spirit of a plant. When he slept under a solitary bamboo tree, his spirit guide came to him in a dream in the form of a woman. She requested him to marry her as a prerequisite to initiating him in the art and knowledge of shamanism. Shamanic power has been deployed by Murut shamans for protecting themselves or their comrades in subversive activities, as shown in many narratives associated with Ontoros, Korom, and Garing, the legendary living shaman. Korom may serve as an example of the kind of feats that made these men into heroes. He was a rebel who fought against the Japanese during World War II. He was born blind, and that earned him his name, which means in Murut “his eyes were closed.” When he was young, a cobra, intended to suck his blood, turned away from him. He drank poison and broken glass, but he did not die. If he hit anyone with his hands, the person died immediately. In a boxing match, when he hit his opponent in the jawbone, it was severely damaged. If he put his hand to the earth in a sand hole, he would be


able to hear the sound of the wild boar. His shamanic power extended to his parang (a Malay term meaning “knife”). When it remained in the scabbard, it was short. But each time he drew out his parang to use it, it lengthened. During the Japanese occupation, he used it to kill three or four Japanese soldiers. When he was in prison, he could break out. When the Japanese captured him, he was chopped up and burned alive, but he turned into a log that was seen to be burning in the flame. During the British rule, he was put to the test. He was tied up in a sack and thrown into the middle of the sea. But to the utter amazement of witnesses, he was found later to be drinking in a coffee shop (Fung 2000, 188–190). Jojo M. Fung See also: Javanese Shamanism; Semai Shamanism (Borneo); Taman Shamanism (Borneo) References and further reading: Appell, George N., and Laura W. Appell. 1993. “To Do Battle with the Spirits: Bulusu’s Spirit Mediums.” Pp. 55–99 in The Seen and the Unseen: Shamanism, Mediumship and Possession in Borneo. Edited by Robert L. Winzeler. Williamsburg, VA: Borneo Research Council. Fung, Jojo M. 1998. “The Legendary Batu Punggul.” Sabah Society Journal 15: 59–73. ———. 2000. “Glimpses of Murut Shamanism.” Shaman 8, no. 2: 181–193. Harris, Annette Suzanne. 1995. “The Impact of Christianity on Power Relationships and Social Exchanges: A Case Study of Change among Tagal Murut, Sabah, Malaysia.” Ph.D. diss., Biola University. Winzeler, Robert L. 1993. “Shaman, Priest and Spirit Medium: Religious Specialists, Tradition and Innovation in Borneo.” Pp. xi–xxxiii in The Seen and the Unseen: Shamanism, Mediumship and Possession in Borneo. Edited by Robert L. Winzeler. Williamsburg, VA: Borneo Research Council.

SEMAI SHAMANISM (BORNEO) A shamanistic belief system with many of the traits of classic shamanism, particularly noticeable in the form of rituals, still exists among the


Semai and the Temiar, a people closely related to the Semai. The Semai are one of the eighteen subgroups of indigenous peoples in Peninsular Malaysia, frequently referred to by the Malaysian public as Orang Asli (Original Peoples). The Semai, also referred to as Seng-oi (Juli 1998, 2), constitute an Orang Asli ethnic subgroup, and they are part of the total population of 106,131 Orang Asli (Nicholas 2001, 3), spread out among eleven of the thirteen states in Peninsular Malaysia. The Semai and the Temiar belong to the Senoi category, which represents one of the three main groups (the other being Semang Negrito and Aboriginal Malay) of indigenous peoples in Peninsular Malaysia. The Senoi are a Mongoloid people who are the direct descendants of the Hoabinhians (ca. 9000 B.C.E., an inland group of hunter-gatherers in the Red River delta of Vietnam (Higham 1989, 35) and the Neolithic cultivators. They migrated to Peninsular Malaysia around 2,000 B.C.E., presumably from present-day Cambodia or Vietnam. The Semai live an essentially sedentary life in various locations on both sides of the main mountain range in Perak, Kelantan, and Pahang (Nicholas 2001, 4). Traditionally, they were swidden agriculturalists. Besides their main occupation, consisting of the cultivation of rice, they further engage in supplementary activities such as hunting and fishing (Juli 1998, 10). Some of them continue to cultivate the pieces of paddy land known as selai that they inherited from their ancestors. Traditionally, their land use has been dictated by a rotating cycle of “use and fallow,” an agricultural method that is environmentally sustainable. When the soil of the selai was no longer fertile, they moved on to the adjacent plot in groups known as gu, each of which is made up of one or two extended families (Dentan 1968), only to return to the same plot years later. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, these gu referred to the land for their permanent settlements, with the land around them, as dengri or lengri (Gomes 1990). In their contacts with outsiders, they have been known to be less shy than the Negritos. But as a people, they prefer to avoid conflict, as they prize nonviolence in their way of life. Faced with any threat, they withdraw deeper into the jungles. However, with the change of the times, some groups of Semai have been found to be fairly adaptable to



new experiences and challenges. It is not surprising that today they have taken to permanent agricultural settlements; some even manage their own rubber, oil palm, and cocoa estates, while others are employed on an unskilled, skilled, and even professional basis. The Semai believe that the universe is divided into the real world and the spiritual world (Dentan 1968; Juli 1998, 67). Living in the spiritual world are supernatural beings. Nyenang, or Jenang, is the name used for the highest supernatural being, a term that means “elder,” “owner,” or “master.” Names such as Tuhard, Uyaang, or Muyaang, and even Malay names such as Tuhan (God), are used to refer to Nyenang as well. As an ultimate power, Nyenang created the universe, and even became a human being with a ruwai (spirit, or headsoul). Nyenang sends plants to the earth, which possess ruwai as human beings do. Since Nyenang does not deal directly with human beings, the malikat (angels, supernatural beings) become Nyenang’s intermediaries with humankind. Jaja’ Bidat, Malikat Maut, and Pangkal Tiik (Juli 1998, 69) are the only three types of malikat that assist human beings, while the other malikat remain in heaven. Of the three, Malikat Maut is the most feared. Nyenang sends Sabit to earth to bring about death, and Maut is responsible for extracting life, nyawa’, from the dying body. Sometimes malikat are known as Mungkar and Nangkir or Sabit and Maut. They are given the task of returning the souls (kloog) of the dead to heaven. As the “root of the earth,” Pangkal Tiik, otherwise known as Pasak Tiik, Mai Dengri’, or simply Penyakit, is a guardian responsible for looking after the agricultural land of the seven main river tributaries where the Semai live. In the rituals, Pangkal Tiik is addressed as Datuk Keramat, or mai engra’ de be jaga’ dengri adeh, “elders who look after this plot of land,” otherwise known in Semai as dengri’. As a third category, the keramat are not believed to come from heaven, though they are supernatural beings (Juli 1998, 70–71). Human beings can become keramat too. A keramat has a human spirit, which takes on diverse forms of animals and plants, such as elephants, tigers, crocodiles, turtles, or snakes, especially pythons and dragons, and even fallen trees. Keramat live as a cohort in a small area, such as a river, a swamp, or a cave.

The supernatural beings in the final category are known as penyakit (Juli 1998, 72), with Ngkuu’ and Naga’ as two of the most well known among the Semai. They were both human beings who became bored with their existence. Upon their request, Nyenang transformed them into supernatural beings who watch over human behavior. Ngkuu’ looks like a gibbon, while Naga’ assumes the shape of a dragon snake with its scales shinning most of the time. When pets and disabled persons are being ridiculed, Ngkuu’s anger transforms its voice into terlaij (thunder) and its shining tooth into lightning. Naga brings about flood. Penyakit are deemed bad when they set themselves up as opponents of the hala’, a class of shamans, and enemies of the ruwai of human beings, which they devour as menghar (meat). Among the Semai, there are several kinds of shaman, known as pawang, hala’, malip, and bidat (Juli 1998, 62). Pawang are the highestranking shamans, for several reasons: Nyenang has given them betuah (extraordinary characteristics), they perform the Ngenggulang ritual, and they have a special relationship to the guardian spirits of the land. Pawang are given their kloog (souls) by the first shaman, known as Hala’ Asal (Original Shaman), now living in a section of the heaven only inhabited by the souls of the hala’. Besides, pawang must possess a cool ruwai (head-soul) and a cool broog (body) in order to have the power to deal with supernatural beings such as Pangkal Tiik, Pawang Tiik, or Mai Dengri’. Pawang must be able to harness the supernatural power of the guniggunig (spirits) as guides and helpers and work the different kinds of spells known as jenampi and chenagoh. In the performance of rituals, pawang must take care not to commit errors that annoy the Pangkal Tiik, whose flaring anger may bring an epidemic upon the villagers or death to the pawang. For this and other related reasons, pawang are few, limited to one in each village, with one or two would-be successors. The pressing demands on the pawang and their ability to manipulate supernatural power and shamanic knowledge for healing purposes make them revered persons in the community. When they no longer fulfill their duties as pawang, they will choose their successors, who are known as ie panku’ or ie penangku’. The chosen successors are required to undergo a rigorous process of apprenticeship. They will also undergo ritual


baths called muh bunga (flowery bath) to cool down their ruwai and broog in order to approach the Pangkal Tiik. Hala’ are ordinary persons who possess gunig (spirit guides) and knowledge of the spells known as jenampi and chenagoh for healing purposes (Juli 1998, 64). They only gain extraordinary characteristics when they become ie panku under a pawang. They become shamans in two ways: by apprenticeship under a skilled hala’ and by election through a dream, in which a gunig abandoned by a living hala’, or one who has died, comes to choose a person to be a hala’. The person is advised not to ignore the dream, for to do so will bring about illness. With the help of a skilled hala’, the chosen one establishes a relationship with the gunig through a singing ritual known as kebut, or lamur. During the healing rituals, the hala’ seeks the help of the gunig-gunig to find, and even rescue the lost ruwai of those people who are ill from the captivity of the bad penyakit, and bring the ruwai back to them. In some communities, hala’ have a considerable standing. In others, hala’ choose to be rather inconspicuous in the village. Malip are shamans who have only mastered jenampi and chenagoh but do not have the gunig (Juli 1998, 66). A strong ability to memorize and remember hundreds of jenampi and chenagoh is a prerequisite for becoming a malip. The malip obtain the knowledge of jenampi and chenagoh through a tedious learning process or through their dreams. The malip recite the jenampi over objects such as water and ointment, which are rubbed into the body or drunk by the sick for healing. Sometimes, the jenampi is recited over the affected parts of the body. The same jenampi is used for personal gain and to bring about harmonious or intimate relationship, the jenampi is recited over fragrant oil, which is then known as cenuai (love potion). A desperate man may use cenuai to entice a woman, and a politician, to regain his declining popularity. It is also used to rebuild a harmonious relation between husband and wife, or even the relationships within a whole family. On the other hand, chenagoh is used to seek help or protection from a supernatural guardian and to expel bad supernatural beings. Bidat (midwives) are exclusively women shamans (Juli 1998, 66–67). Bidat receive their skill from Jajag Bidat, believed to be the first


midwife on earth. Her kloog is said to be residing in that part of the heaven only inhabited by children since it is her duty to oversee them. She too assists all the bidat on earth. Upon the requests of the midwives, Bidat comes to earth frequently to look after the ruwai of children. Bidat are given the task of looking after pregnant women, delivering their babies, and looking after the health of the children of her community. Among the Semai’s kindred Senoi group, the Temiar, bidat are considered clever, brave, and filled with knowledge and steeped in experience; they are on a restricted diet all their lives (Jennings 1995, 140–141). Sewang gelap, a Malay term, is a shamanic ritual, literally a “ritual in the dark.” This ritual is often held some distance away from the village, but it is rarely held now. On the other hand, the Temiar have a number shamanic rituals, which have continued (Jennings 1995, 152–155). Play-dance is the simplest ritual, celebrated without any elaborate decoration, without even the intention of calling upon the spirit guides. Play-séance takes place with some measure of decoration and is accompanied by singing, dancing, and vigorous and less vigorous trancing. The shamans and trainees administer healing to the sick. As Sue Jennings put it, séance or trance-dance performance is “complete with decoration, ritual objects and healing elements” (Jennings 1995, 153). It is held either in the main house of the village for the sick who can attend or in the house of the sick person. The shamans in trance perform individual healing, with the patient lying or seated in the middle of the room, witnessed by all present. A ceremony known as “the bursting of the mourning” is a ritual held among the Temiar to conclude the mourning period. It lasts three nights. There is a big celebration in the village before the ritual. Gifts are presented to the visitors. On the first night, the music is played in a minor key, participants put on old clothes, and no makeup is allowed. The most solemn and significant ritual is known as the tiger-séance, which is held in darkness. A special shelter is made within a house, without any decoration at all. Its purpose is to contain the shaman, who becomes a tiger. The ritual is conducted to “heal sick persons but also to improve an ailing community” (Jennings 1995, 153). The better-known shamanic ritual among the Semai is known as sewang terang. The term



in Malay literally means a “ritual in the bright,” so called because it is conducted with lights on even though it is nighttime. Usually it lasts for five days, during which the sick people of the village are “doctored.” Participants who attend the shamanic ritual known as sewang terang are requested to strictly observe the rule that no question must be asked during the ritual. The account that follows is based on the author’s observation of several such rituals. Before the actual night of sewang terang, the living room where the ritual is to be held will be decorated with different items such as the jari lipan, ketupat, kemenyan, berteh, and mangkuk putih for the healing ritual. The jari lipan is a plaited string made from coconut palms. The Semai believe it acts as a channel for the descent movements of the gunig. The ketupat is a place for putting food for the gunig while they play and communicate with the shaman. The kemenyan is a kind of incense that is burned during the ritual. Its aim is to alert the gunig that the shamans intend to contact them for the healing ritual. The berteh is a kind of flower; these flowers are strung together into a chain around the stems of the leaves of red cassava. Finally, the mangkuk putih is a white bowl with water. Some women will already be in the kitchen, preparing different kinds of food for the night gathering. By about ten on the first night, some of the villagers are seated in the living room, with their backs leaning against the wall of the house. The hala’ also takes his seat among the crowd. When the time comes to begin the ritual, the young Semai women and men dance to the drumbeat made by beating a local instrument known as a gendang. They move counterclockwise in a circle in the living room, close behind each other. After about fifteen minutes the dance stops. The hala’ gets up from where he is seated and begins the prayerful chant. Normally assistants, consisting of a woman and a man, help the hala’. The language of the chant consists of ancient Semai phrases, which are occasionally interspersed with some Malay words. The two assistants join the hala’ in the chant. The hala’ begins the sewang terang with a prayer (bercagoh in Semai). The chant is offered to the guniggunig of the trees, animals, hills, flowers, and so on. Through the prayer, the hala’ informs the

gunig-gunig that a healing ritual is about to begin. As a hala’, he is seeking their guidance in curing the sick. At the same time, he petitions them to be present at the ceremony. At other points in the ritual, the hala’ alerts the spirit guides to the completion of the period of medication. The same prayer of the hala’ is also directed to the roh nenek-moyang (spirit of the ancestors), malikat (the angels from the four corners of the earth), and to the Nyenang (God). In the course of the ceremony, certain participants enter into a trance, and the others gather around to support the person in trance until the trance state is over. Sometimes, when the person in trance appears to run amok, a few strong young men wrestle with him and pin him down to the floor. They stay with him until he comes out of his trance. As the ceremony continues, the hala’ waves a leafy bundle made from the leaves of a plant known locally as cenau. When the bundle gets worn out, he takes a fresh one from the rack on which are placed other leafy bundles prepared earlier in the day. During the shamanic ritual, normally the hala’ and the assistants are in a state of trance, but they are still in control of themselves. As the hala’ chants, he “sees” the gunig-gunig descending from “above.” Occasionally, he makes “catching” gestures, which are intended to capture the gunig-gunig coming to his aid in the healing ceremony. The catching takes place at a time when he seeks the spirits’ guidance to diagnose the kind of sickness. The assistants have to wave incense around the hala’ and sprinkle him with water in order to cool down the gunig-gunig. The patients are requested to come to the center of the gathering. The hala’ noisily sucks through a clenched fist to bring out the sickness. Then he releases the gunig into the sick persons by touching the leafy brush to their backs. Sometimes, the hala’ blows the gunig through a clenched fist into the affected part of a patient. On the second day, the ritual continues with greater intensity. On the third day, the hala’ reminds the gunig-gunig to bring the necessary antidote for the cure of the sick. The hala’ also alerts them to gather the dew of the earth for the last day. The dew is used to bless the villagers and cool down the life in the village.


On the final day of the ritual, the room and all the utensils (such as earthenware, pails, and glasses) to be used for the healing ritual are decorated with strings of plaited coconut leaves. From the ceiling, in the middle of the living room, a balai (shelter) hangs down. It is made of wood and decorated with lovely fresh coconut braids. The outside is painted black and red. Glutinous rice and fried cakes, made from flour and wheat, are placed inside the balai. This food offering does not include the orange juice, glutinous rice, beef curry, eggs, and red flour that are offered on this final day to the gunig-gunig. Candles are lit inside the balai, offering light to the gunig-gunig. A second balai well decorated with coconut braids serves as a location for all the different buyung (metal jars). The mixture poured into one of the jars consists of rice flour (tepung beras) fried with lemon, a spice known locally as serai guntung, and leaves of an aromatic plant known locally as perawas. A special metal jar is filled with a type of scented wood known locally as lengak, or stow. This jar is offered by the sick to thank the gunig-gunig, and it serves as a place for the “pleasure and play” of the guniggunig. The rest of the jars are used for storage of the medicine brought by the gunig-gunig. These jars are filled with water, and the water serves as medicine for the sick and the general health of the villagers. A little boat is made by the menfolk from a stemless palm with edible fruits, called kelubi or ngentig in Semai. In it are seated the wax figures of two centipedes, two snakes, and two scorpions. Into these items, the hala’ discharges the misfortune of the sick from the village. Then the hala’ and his assistants remove and dispose of them in the nearby stream. As they leave, the participants in the healing ritual are prohibited from looking at them, or else the misfortune will return to the patients. On this final day, the hala’ dons a sawit (catlike attire made from berteh and the stems of cassava), songkok (headdress), and pedang (sword). Since the fourth day is the climax of the healing ritual, it lasts until early morning. The solemnity of the final night enjoins that the participants refrain from any form of jesting and laughter, lest this unruly behavior offend the gunig-gunig. At the ceremony, the hala’ prays with great earnestness to the gunig-


gunig to bring the necessary medicine for the cure of the sick. At the close of this final day of the ritual, the patients bathe themselves with the water from the jars. Even the villagers are requested to drink the water from the jars, while those who have finished taking their medication wash their faces with the water from the jars. The patients are obliged to refrain from any activity for a day because the gunig is no longer with them to accord them protection. Those under medication must rest themselves too so as not to alarm the gunig within them. They too must observe the necessary food taboos also; hot spicy food is forbidden. In addition, they are not allowed to be wet by the rain. This ritual, clearly shamanic in nature, still plays an important role in the lives of the Semai. Jojo M. Fung See also: Indonesian Shamanism; Javanese Shamanism; Malay Shamans and Healers; Murut Shamanism; Southeast Asian Shamanism; Taman Shamanism References and further reading: Carey, Iskandar. 1976. Orang Asli: The Aboriginal Tribes of Peninsular Malaysia. New York: Oxford University Press. Dentan, R. K. 1968. The Semai: A Nonviolent People of Malaya. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Gomes, A. 1990. “Confrontation and Continuity: Simple Commodity Production among the Orang Asli.” In Tribal Peoples and Development in Southeast Asia. Edited by L. Teck Ghee and A. Gomes. Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya. Higham, Charles. 1989. The Archaeology of Mainland Southeast Asia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Jennings, Sue. 1995. Theatre, Ritual and Transformation. London and New York: Routledge. Juli, Edo. 1998. “Claiming Our Ancestors’ Land: An Ethnohistorical Study of Seng-Oi Land Rights in Perak Malaysia.” Ph.D. diss., Australian National University. Nicholas, Colin. 2001. The Orang Asli and the Contest for Resources. Subang Jaya and Copenhagen: Center For Orang Asli Concerns and International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs.



Javanese shadow puppet. (Shelley Gazin/Corbis)

SHADOW PUPPETRY AND SHAMANISM (JAVA) Javanese shadow puppetry (in Javanese wayang kulit, “leather shadows”) is arguably the most elaborate form of shadow puppetry found anywhere in the world. Stories are drawn from the ancient Sanskrit epics the RGmGyana and the MahGbhGrata and from the myths of native Javanese animism (Van Ness and Prawirohardjo 1982). A close look at this art as practiced in Java reveals shamanistic elements. A full performance takes around nine hours, from sunset until dawn. Musical accompaniment is provided by a gamelan, an orchestra that may consist of anywhere from ten to forty

musicians, but the burden of performance rests on the puppeteer (in Javanese, dhalang, in Indonesian, dalang). The dhalang manipulates the puppets, provides them with voices, sings mood-setting songs, and directs the musicians. Working without a script, he must construct a nine-hour narrative according to a set pattern of scenes. Though most dhalangs drink sweet tea and smoke during the performance, the dhalang is not permitted to eat during the performance. The position in which the dhalang needs to sit—cross-legged, with the right leg cocked over the left to allow signals to the accompanying gamelan to be rapped out on the side of the puppet chest with a small mallet held between


the toes of the right foot—is extremely uncomfortable. Men who can do this (there are a few women dhalangs, but the overwhelming majority are male) are accordingly granted a special level of respect in Javanese society. The demands on stamina and memory alone are phenomenal, as is the range of skills and fields of knowledge a dhalang must master: puppet manipulation, gamelan music, singing, a firm grasp of the complex system of court linguistic etiquette, in-depth knowledge of the characters and plot lines of the stories of the repertoire, and the ability to vocalize dozens of characters. The origins of wayang are now lost, but are certainly very ancient indeed—a Javanese chronicle of around 1000 C.E. contains the first written mention of a performance (Zoetmulder 1974, 208–211). Javanese religion at this period appears to have been a blend of Hinduism and native animism, and the wayang probably represented a form of communion with ancestors. Although schools for training dhalangs do exist, these are a recent innovation, and very few (if any) successful dhalangs owe their skills solely to formal training. By tradition, dhalangs come from dhalang families. The craft is passed on from father to son, and dhalangs tend to marry the daughters of other dhalangs, women who are skilled in playing the gender—a gamelan instrument crucial in the accompaniment of song during the performance. Most great dhalangs are said to be possessed by their art. Some speak of their training as starting before birth: “I began my profession as a dalang before I was born. I say that because I am a possessed dalang. My grandfather and my father were dalangs. I only continue the culture that was passed down to me. I never went to a dalang school but obtained my skill, in playing the shadow puppets, from my elders” (cited in Williams 1991, 117) Becoming a dhalang involves many ritual or spiritual aspects besides learning the practicalities of the art of puppetry (in Javanese, pedhalangan). Many of these relate to the practice— widespread in Java—of asceticism to build up spiritual strength. It is a traditional belief that certain practices or exercises increase one’s store of spiritual energy (in Javanese, batin), while other practices (which include performing


wayang) drain or put a strain on batin. These ascetic practices include fasting (normally carried out on Mondays or Thursdays, or both), abstinence from sex, going without sleep, and performing meditation in particular places, including the mountains and the seashore, as well as while immersed in water up to the neck, this last practice being known as kunkum. That these practices are also followed by student dukun (dukun is a term that embraces witch doctors, faith healers, and practitioners of Javanese ritual magic) is no coincidence. Dhalangs were formerly seen as somewhere between magicians and priests in their communities. Since the coming of Islam to Java in the fourteenth century, much of the overtly theological element has disappeared from wayang performances. Nowadays, Javanese interpretations are more likely to focus on the ethical and moral aspects of the stories, with the characters of Hindu heroes and demigods being seen as archetypes, and their moral dilemmas as metaphors for the travails of everyday life. In this interpretation, the battles fought by heroes and demons represent the inner battles waged by the individual in the course of progress toward spiritual maturity. Traditionally, wayang performances are sponsored to mark notable events—the rice harvest, marriage, circumcision, and so forth. Although wayang performances to mark family events survive, many of the older traditional occasions for wayang performance have largely disappeared. These occasions were for the most part associated with a type of ritual known as ruwatan (from the Javanese verb ngruwat, “to release someone or something from a curse or evil spell”). Traditionally, misfortunes requiring a ruwatan could include breaking a grindstone or overturning a rice pot. Ruwatan might also be performed to release an individual from illness or misfortune caused (it was thought) by inauspicious circumstances surrounding their birth, or from having been given a name too “heavy” for the soul to bear. Such names commonly included those of major wayang heroes. In these cases, only the performance of the appropriate wayang story could release them. Such performances, though rarer now than in the past, are still carried out in Java today. The story in question is called Lakon Murwakala, and deals with the ogre Betara Kala (Yousouf 1994, 135).



The story relates that Betara Kala, son of Betara Guru (the Javanese name for the Hindu god S´iva), was born out of a flame that could not be extinguished until Betara Guru acknowledged paternity. This done, Betara Kala was married to Betari Durga, and given the right to prey upon man, subject to a complex and extensive list of prohibited victims. Those who do not appear on the list are the potential victims who can be protected from Betara Kala’s attentions by the performance of Lakon Murwakala. Two versions of Lakon Murwakala exist in the Javanese wayang repertory. In the first, any wayang story can be used in a normal all-night version, concluding before dawn. On the conclusion of this performance, the dhalang introduces the Betara Kala puppet and tricks it into eating rice in the belief that the rice is his intended victim (i.e., the boy for whom the ruwatan is being performed). Thus duped, Betara Kala will be unable to persecute the victim again. At the end of this performance, the dhalang and most of the principal guests drop offerings of money into a bowl of water scented with flowers. The second version of Lakon Murwakala is, unusually, staged during the daytime, beginning at around eight in the morning and concluding around one in the afternoon. In this version, the entire performance stages the Murwakala story instead of elements from it being added to the end of another story, as in the first version. One further shamanistic element still sometimes appears at ordinary wayang performances—the introduction of a single threedimensional rod puppet (wayang golek) at the end of a performance, to symbolize the return to reality from the two-dimensional world of the wayang kulit. Tim Byard-Jones See also: Dramatic Performance in Shamanism; Javanese Shamanism; Malay Shamans and Healers; Southeast Asian Shamanism References and further reading: Osnes, Beth. 2001. Acting: An International Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. Van Ness, Edward C., and Shita Prawirohardjo. 1982. Javanese Wayang Kulit: An Introduction. Kuala Lumpur, New York: Oxford University Press.

Williams, Walter L. 1991. Javanese Lives: Women and Men in Modern Indonesian Society. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Yousouf, Ghulam-Sarwar. 1994. Dictionary of South-East Asian Theatre. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press. Zoetmulder, P. J. 1974. Kalangwan: A Survey of Old Javanese Literature. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

SOUTHEAST ASIAN SHAMANISM Southeast Asia is one of the core areas of Old World shamanism. Indeed, given the absence of any evidence to the contrary, it seems likely that shamanism in Southeast Asia is as old as that of any other region of Asia. The fact that the term shaman derives from northern Asia does not mean that the practice or complex itself does. The occurrence of shamanism throughout this vast and complex region is broad but discontinuous, especially if shamanism is identified in terms of the “classic” features found among Siberian and Inner Asian peoples. Still, shamanism appears in both the mainland and insular areas and among all of the major language groups of Southeast Asia, has many of the same characteristics that it does in other regions of the world, and poses similar issues of definition and explanation. More specifically, much of what is known of classical shamanism concerns (1) the Hmong and other hill peoples of northern mainland Southeast Asia; (2) the Orang Asli, “original people” of the mountainous central region of the Malay peninsula; and (3) the interior and upland Austronesian groups of the insular regions, especially Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Borneo. Shamanism among these peoples is undergoing the same processes of decline or transformation that are occurring elsewhere, as the populations among which it occurs are brought under increasing control by postcolonial states and become subordinate and generally marginalized ethnic minority groups. Such peoples are now being attracted or pressured to convert to one of the world religions (Buddhism, Islam, or Christianity, depending in part on the country or region in question) and drawn into modern national and global processes of change.


Origins and Prehistory Archaeologically recovered and analyzed materials (including grave goods and Dong-Sonstyle bronze drums) have sometimes been taken to indicate shamanism in the past, a conclusion arrived at by reference to more recent ethnological information. Ethnological accounts, moreover, involving the Orang Asli of the Malay Peninsula mention that shamans are sometimes buried differently from others (Endicott 1979, 137–138). The use of historical linguistic analysis to reconstruct early terms for shamans and shamanistic practices (in Borneo including balian and dayung for example) would probably also yield interesting results, but these would likely be limited at most to particular areas or language families, and even then would be unlikely to differentiate shamans from other sorts of ritual practitioners. The origins of shamanism throughout Southeast Asia are probably ancient and beyond recovery through any of the techniques used by anthropologists and others to learn about the past. The evident origins of both present-day Southeast Asian populations and many Southeast Asian languages from more northern areas of Asia has given rise to the notion that shamanism in Southeast Asia is also derived from north, but this is a complicated matter. It can probably be said that the forms of shamanism practiced in the far northern areas of Southeast Asia are most directly and immediately connected to those of Inner Asian peoples. The Hmong and other hill peoples of this region trace their origins to Inner Asia, from which they have been moving southward for many centuries, until today they are spread over Yunan in China as well as the northern parts of the Southeast Asian countries. Much farther to the south the Mon-Khmer and other non-Austronesian languages spoken by many of the Orang Asli groups in the interior of the Malay Peninsula also link them to more northern populations, but the ties in this case are presumed to be much too ancient to suppose that their forms of shamanism also are linked to the north. The Austronesian versions of shamanism of Sumatra, Borneo, Sulawesi, and elsewhere probably do also have northern origins, in that the Austronesian peoples themselves are known to derive from the north, although the migrations concerned extend back over five thousand years or more (Bellwood


1979, 112–113). Although they probably brought their own version of shamanism with them, they could have adopted or borrowed parts of it from the modern humans who had already been living in Borneo and probably other areas of insular Southeast Asia for thirty or forty thousand years.

Shamanism as Narrowly and Broadly Conceived Observers do not always clearly distinguish shamans from other types of ritual practitioners, including priests (specialists who perform various rituals, often involving sacrifice, based on the routine learning of standardized knowledge and procedures) and especially spirit mediums (specialists through whom the spirits speak and who cure or solve other personal problems through exorcism); observers may not necessarily even think that such a distinction should be made. In reading accounts, therefore, it is necessary to not only note the use of the terms shaman and shamanism or their absence, but also to consider the descriptions of various kinds of ritual specialists and their activities. Scholars in general tend to take either a narrow or a broad view of shamanism, though in either case such views are often implied rather than stated explicitly. Those who take a narrow view tend to follow the lead of Mircea Eliade and see the phenomenon primarily in terms of its Siberian or Inner Asian features. Although such scholars do not produce identical lists of essential characteristics, they tend to stress the following: (1) the belief in a cosmos with many spiritual beings that can help or harm human beings, some of whom can be controlled or influenced by shamans, that is humans who have been chosen, initiated, and trained; (2) the belief that the cosmos itself consists of distinct levels that include, broadly, a spiritual Upper World, a Middle World that is experienced through the natural senses, and a spiritual Underworld that is also the realm of the dead; (3) the belief that humans have souls that leave the body during illness and dreams and permanently at death, but that can sometimes be overtaken and returned by the shaman with the assistance of spirit helpers; (4) the belief that even though shamanism may be hereditary, shamans do not seek their vocation and often resist it, but are called by the spirits who

Southeast Asian shamanism as broadly conceived: A Malay spirit medium performing at a sĂŠance in a coastal fishing village (in Bachok, Kelantan, northwestern Malayan Peninsula, 1966), to secure the good-will of the spirits of the sea. (Courtesy of Robert Winzeler)


wish to form a relationship with them, one that is sometimes thought to be sexual or marital in nature, this call involving either dreams or bouts of physical or mental illness that recur and resist other attempts to cure them, phenomena that are interpreted by trained shamans as a summons that must be accepted, refusal meaning death or permanent insanity; (5) the practice of initiation, during which shaman candidates undergo training by other shamans and participate in ceremonies through which they gain control over their familiar spirits; (6) the understanding that, although the shaman deals in ecstasy and trance and may be a medium, most importantly the shaman goes on spiritual journeys to recover lost souls, or in some instances to guide souls of the truly dead to the afterworld, or is able to send familiar spirits to do these things; 7) the acquirement by the shaman of various paraphernalia that are used in ritual activities, usually items of dress or adornment and other objects. (Shamanism has also often been linked with transvestism or androgyny.) Not every one of these characteristics alone would serve to differentiate shamans from other sorts of ritual specialists, but two in particular can be stressed. These are the beliefs that the shaman is chosen and called by the spirits and that once initiated the shaman has the ability to travel to other worlds, or at least to be able to send spirits to do so. Such basic features of course presuppose some of the other, less distinctly shamanistic ones, including the belief in spirits and in spiritual worlds. There are also mixed or marginal cases—ones in which one of these features is present but not the other. In Southeast Asia, shamanism defined along narrow lines occurs mainly among “tribal” societies—those that until recently were at or beyond the margins of state control or of adherence to any of the world religions (mainly Islam or Buddhism, or, more recently, Christianity) and for whom, therefore, shamanism is much more than a mode of curing or a peripheral cult for troubled or subordinate persons, but in fact a large part of the religion they practice. Such tribal peoples traditionally have much in common throughout Southeast Asia. A few of them live or previously lived by hunting and gathering and are nomadic, but most practice swidden cultivation and live in more permanent villages, often in longhouses in the past (and still


in some places today); many were headhunters. All of these practices set the tribal peoples apart from the lowland, or coastal, wet rice cultivating, single house dwelling, and permanently settled populations that have state political organization and adhere to one of the world religions. Shamanism more broadly conceived includes other practices involving ecstasy, trance, or altered states of consciousness. In particular, practices of spirit mediumship are regarded by some scholars as shamanism, especially when some of the spirits involved are believed to have been summoned by the medium and are under the medium’s control. Shamanism among Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese in East Asia, for example, is primarily interpreted in this way. In Southeast Asia, shamanism approached in broader terms occurs not only among the tribal peoples but also the lowland, state-controlled societies adhering to one or another world religions. Although the term shaman itself has not been widely used in regard to the latter groups, two well-known examples in which it has been used are the Buddhist Burmese and the Muslim Malays. In his study of Burmese village religion, Melford Spiro devotes a chapter to the nat kadaw (literally “nat’s wife”; sometimes spelled natkadaw and translated, “spouse who dances for a spirit lord) whom he labels a shaman (Spiro 1967, 205). But he explains that he does so simply “for want of a better term,” and goes on to say that the nat wife is not a shaman of the classical Siberian sort, since she does not ascend to the spirit world or perform other kinds of shamanistic supernatural feats or even cure illness. Another instance is that of Malay shamanism. As originally formulated by the British colonial scholar R. O. Winstedt in his book The Malay Magician, the interpretation is that Malay shamanism, usually involving spirit mediumship, séances, trance, and exorcism, has existed along with, but subordinate to, orthodox Islam over a long period of time in various forms throughout the states of the Malay peninsula. The argument is that shamanism as practiced by the modern Malay bomoh (magician) was originally brought by Malays long ago in their southward movement from China, and then overlaid first with Hindu Saivism (the worship of S´iva) and then Islamic Sufism. Whatever its possible origins, Malay trance performances

Southeast Asian shamanism as narrowly conceived: A Selako Dayak shaman in a curing seance in Lundu, western Sarawak, Borneo, 1989. (Courtesy of Robert Winzeler)


and spirit mediumship have continued to be reported as shamanism in more recent accounts (Endicott 1979; Laderman 1991). No absolute answer can be given to the question of why narrowly conceived shamanism is mainly lacking among Southeast Asian peoples with world religions and state organization. Probably, however, the combination of the cosmology of shamanism and the spiritual powers claimed by or attributed to shamans make them unacceptable to both the world religions and to the traditional rulers of the Southeast Asian states who also claim spiritual powers. The world religions of Southeast Asia are famous for their traditional tendency to absorb earlier beliefs and practices and to be tolerant of heterodox forms of religious expression. Supernatural curing, spirit beliefs, agricultural magic, exorcism, and the like were all widely tolerated and flourished within the boundaries of acceptability, at least until recently, so long as their practitioners also affirmed their loyalty to Islam, Buddhism, or Christianity, depending on the country in question. Shamanism in its classic form, however, was probably too much to digest until it was tamed or transformed into forms of magic and spirituality familiar and acceptable to the practitioners of the world religions and to the kings, princes, and chiefs who ruled in the name of these religions, and who often sought to monopolize or control spiritual powers, if never with complete success.

Characteristics of Southeast Asian Shamanism, with Special Reference to Borneo The cosmologies associated with Southeast Asia shamanism are broadly similar to those found elsewhere—a universe of three levels, and often many sublevels—but there are many local variations. In Borneo there is a widespread view that the Upper World is a male realm associated with life and birds, the most important of which is the hornbill, and is reached by traveling upriver, while the Lower World is a female realm associated with death, fish, and reptiles and presided over by the dragon, and is reached by traveling downriver. Travel to the spiritual realms, both by shamans and by the souls of the dead, is often by boat. As elsewhere, the idea of crossing boundaries between worlds is probably linked to the associ-


ation of shamanism with transvestism or intermediate sexuality that occurs in some instances. Among the Iban of Borneo the highest grade of shaman is the manang bali—the transformed shaman, one who has sought to change his identity from male to female, donning women’s dress and doing female things thereafter. Transvestite shamans have also been noted in Sulawesi (Eliade 1989). In general, however, shamans in Borneo and elsewhere in Southeast Asia are neither of transformed or intermediate gender nor sexually deviant in other ways. In most instances, therefore, shamans are either men or women, although this does not mean that they are equally likely to be one or the other in particular societies. The common pattern seems to be rather that they are predominantly men or women in each instance. Why this should be so is not so easily answered in a general way. In Borneo, for example, there are exclusively female versions of shamanism or spirit mediumship, but most societies with shamanism in Southeast Asia appear to have no formal cultural rules that specify gender. Instead, it is usually more a matter of tendencies or preferences and of offering practical reasons for why men or women are or are not apt to become shamans. Jane Atkinson thus reported being told by the Wana of Sulawesi in Indonesia that women were not prohibited from becoming shamans, but they were discouraged from doing so, since the practice involves extensive travel (Atkinson 1989, 280–282). Much the same thing might be expected in the case of the Iban of Borneo, among whom shamans are also mainly men. Here shamanism is similarly a traveling activity, renowned shamans often being called from long distances. This means also that among the Iban shamanism is one of several activities—others being headhunting in the past and trade and wage labor in distant places today—that are sources of male prestige because they involve travel. In contrast to priestly sorts of activities, which are more highly localized, shamanism itself seems to travel readily between ethnic groups as well as within them. Probably all over Southeast Asia members of one ethnic community regard the shamans of other groups as being especially effective for one reason or another. In both the Malay Peninsula and in Borneo, nomadic hunting and gathering groups are believed by others to have particu-



larly powerful shamans. In Borneo, shamans from Punan nomadic groups are sought out by the settled peoples because of their reputed efficacy—because the Punan are considered by their neighbors to be intermediate between humans and animals—even though their shamanistic practices are but rudimentary versions of those of the surrounding settled groups (Sellato 1994, 161, 205). Obviously, such observations about shamanism and travel do not explain the opposite pattern of female shamanism that prevails (in Borneo at least) in some places, the Taman of the interior of West Kalimantan as recently described in detail by Jay Bernstein (1997 and in the current volume) being a good example. Nor are the consequences or corollaries of female shamanism always clear in general terms. In some instances female versions of shamanism or spirit mediumship are prestigious roles for women, but in others they are not. The latter include several instances from Borneo, including the Baluy Kayan (Rousseau 1998, 119– 140) and the Ngaju, in which there are two kinds of shamans: one kind mainly female with lower status and limited to curing activities, one mainly male with higher status and political influence, which involves priestly as well as curing activities. It is also possible—and in the case of the Ngaju is in fact known to be so—that such a development is the result of change (Jay 1993).

Shamanism and Change In Southeast Asia the establishment of colonial rule brought the beginning of changes that have often altered, marginalized, or eliminated shamanism. Colonial authorities seldom objected to shamanists or shamanism in the same way they did to indigenous practices of warfare, headhunting, or in Borneo occasional human sacrifice. Insofar as they were aware of it, they generally held shamanism to belong to the realm of local culture or lifeways that should not be disturbed, but if anything studied and written about as a contribution to ethnological knowledge. The missionaries who came with colonial rule generally took a different view. It is true that some of them also produced excellent and sympathetic scholarly accounts of indigenous shamanism as practiced by the peoples among whom they lived, but many or most regarded it as devil worship, or at least as

a form of paganism that would have to be eliminated. Postcolonial governments have often been much less reticent than colonial ones about interfering directly with the religious practices and traditions of indigenous peoples. Such governments are usually dominated by the lowland ethnic groups adhering to world religions that formed the traditional states: the Javanese, Malays, Thai, Khmer, Lao, Vietnamese, and Burmese. Such groups tend to regard the tribal peoples of the hills and interior areas as primitive and marginal, sometimes as disloyal or as outsiders altogether. In seeking to modernize and incorporate the tribal peoples, the modern governments of Southeast Asia have not focused on shamanism per se, about which they may have little knowledge, but rather religion and culture in general. For their part, the tribal minorities in predominantly Buddhist or Muslim countries in Southeast Asia often convert to Christianity, partly because of Christian missionary efforts among these groups, going back to the colonial period in many instances, and partly because Christianity enables them to be modern but separate from the dominant central, coastal, or lowland groups. In any case, the result is often the alteration or eventual elimination of shamanism, along with other religious practices that are held to be in conflict with Christian practice. Not everyone converts, or stays converted, but even where some do not, shamans tend to be marginalized as backward and traditional. Even in places where Christianity has been propagated for long periods without much success, or where large segments of a population continued to adhere to their own religious practices, it may have an effect on shamanism. In recent decades at least, those who have converted to Islam have probably been under the greatest pressure to abandon shamanistic practices and to separate themselves from those who still adhere to them. Even here, however, the policies and practices of the Southeast Asian governments of countries with dominant Muslim populations (Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia) vary in their inclination or ability to effect religious change among tribal or ethnic minorities. Like the government of Brunei, the Malaysian government has sought to promote the Islamicization of indigenous minorities, al-


though this effort has generally been resisted by the Orang Asli in the Malay Peninsular and by the various Dayak and other indigenous nonMuslim groups in Malaysian Borneo. However, the Orang Asli have been more vulnerable to government pressure to become Muslim and to assimilate to Malay Muslim society than have the Borneo groups, who are much more numerous, powerful, and independent. The shamanism and other religious practices of the Borneo groups are also protected by the legal guarantees accorded to adat, “customary practices.” At the same time, they have, throughout Malaysian Borneo, widely converted to Christianity, and although shamans—including ones who themselves have converted—may perhaps occasionally still practice in Christian villages, the likelihood that they will continue to do so and to pass their knowledge and practices on to new recruits does not seem great. The situation in Indonesia, including Kalimantan or Indonesian Borneo, has been different, although here also shamanistic practices as such have not been singled out or even identified, but rather affected by broader government attitudes and policies regarding the religion and cultural ways of the interior minority peoples. Although the Indonesian constitution guarantees religious freedom, this in effect refers to the practice of one or another of the world religions, including Hinduism as well as Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity. All of these religions are officially defined as being based on a “belief in one god,” adherence to which is the first of the five basic principles of the Indonesian state (Kip and Rodgers 1987, 17). Shamanism and other indigenous beliefs and rituals that are not based on monotheism are therefore “not yet religion” and not covered by guarantees of religious freedom. Such beliefs are not considered to be proper beliefs and practices for citizens of a modern Indonesia. Moreover, such definitions and requirements are not simply bureaucratic abstractions that have little effect on real religious practices. Religious identity is, among other things, indicated on the identity card that is required for many purposes and is a fundamental part of social identity. The effect of Indonesian government policies on shamanism has varied, however. In many or most regions of the interior, former tribal groups have by now formally converted to Christianity,


or, much less frequently, to Islam, with resulting differences. Among the Ngaju peoples of Central Kalimantan in the far south of Borneo, those who have become Muslims have withdrawn from any involvement with shamanistic ceremonies, including the great death rituals associated with secondary funeral practices (those held months or years after the initial funeral, which provide for and celebrate the final journey of the soul to the land of the afterlife). Some Ngaju Christian converts on the other hand, especially first-generation ones who live in villages and households in which some members have not converted, continue to participate in the shamanistic festivals (Jay 1993, 154). At the same time, such Ngaju shamanistic practices have themselves been transformed and gained official approval as a legitimately monotheistic religion. Faced with government pressure to adopt one or another form of monotheism, some Ngaju Dayak succeeded in having their own traditional religious beliefs, practices, and ritual specialists recognized as a form of Hinduism, similar to that practiced by the Balinese. Ngaju shamanism has thus been transformed, just as the religion itself has been, to better fit the model of monotheism (Schiller 1997). In the past Ngaju shamans were of two types, both of whom were essential participants in religious ceremonies: the female balian, who was a slave prostitute, both within and outside of ceremonial contexts, and the male basir, who was a transvestite or a hermaphrodite (Schärer 1963, 53–59). With the transformation of the “old religion” into Hindu-Kaharingan, the priestly role of female shamans was eliminated from the great life-and-death ceremonies and restricted to curing and to dealings with the downriver, Underworld spirits. The role of basir was retained and enhanced, but males who came to assume it are no longer sexually transformed or of intermediate gender but normal men, who assume the role by studying with established priests or by going to a school for priests (Jay 1993). Robert L. Winzeler See also: Buddhism and Shamanism; Burmese Spirit Lords and Their Mediums; CrossCultural Perspectives on Shamans; Gender in Shamanism; Hmong Shamanism; Indonesian Shamanism; Javanese Shamanism; Malay Shamans and Healers; Murut Shamanism;



Semai Shamanism; Taman Shamanism; Thai Spirit World and Spirit Mediums; Transvestism in Shamanism References and further reading: Atkinson, Jane Monnig. 1989. The Art and Politics of Wana Shamanism. Berkeley: University of California Press. Bellwood, Peter. 1979. Man’s Conquest of the Pacific: The Prehistory of Southeast Asia and the Pacific. New York: Oxford University Press. Bernstein, Jay H. 1997. Spirits Captured in Stone: Shamanism and Traditional Medicine among the Taman of Borneo. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner. Chindarsi, Nusit. 1976. The Religion of the Hmong Njua. Bangkok: Siam Society. Eliade, Mircea. 1989. Reprint. Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Translated from the French by Willard R. Trask. London: Penguin Arkana. Original edition, New York: Bollingen Foundation, 1964. Endicott, Kirk Michael. 1979. Batek Negrito Religion: The World-View and Rituals of a Hunting and Gathering People of Peninsular Malaysia. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Graham, Penelope. 1987. Iban Shamanism: An Analysis of the Ethnographic Literature. Occasional Paper of the Department of Anthropology, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia. Jay, Sian. 1993. “Canoes for the Spirits: Two Types of Spirit Mediumship in Central Kalimantan.” Pp. 151–168 in The Seen and the Unseen: Shamanism, Mediumism and Possession in Borneo. Edited by Robert L. Winzeler. Borneo Research Council Monograph Series, vol. 2. Williamsberg, VA: Borneo Research Council. Kershaw, Eva Maria. 2000. A Study of Brunei Dusun Religion: Ethnic Priesthood on a Frontier of Islam. Borneo Research Council, Monograph Series no. 4. Phillips, ME: Borneo Research Council. Kip, Rita Smith, and Susan Rodgers, eds. 1987. Indonesian Religion in Transition. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. Laderman, Carol 1991. Taming the Winds of Desire: Psychology, Medicine and Aesthetics in Malay Shamanistic Performance. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and Oxford: University of California Press.

Meñez, Herminia. 1996. Explorations in Philippine Folklore. Manila: Ateneo de Manila University Press. Rousseau, Jérôme. 1998. Kayan Religion: Ritual Life and Religious Reform in Central Borneo. Leiden: KITLV Press. Sather, Clifford. 2001. Seeds of Power, Words of Play. Kuching: Tun Jugah Foundation. Schärer, Hans. 1963. Ngaju Religion: The Conception of God among a South Borneo People. Translated by Rodney Needham. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff. Schiller, Anne. 1997. Small Sacrifices: Religious Change and Cultural Identity among the Ngaju of Indonesia. New York: Oxford University Press. Sellato, Bernard. 1994. Nomads of the Borneo Rainforest: The Economics, Politics and Ideology of Settling Down. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. Spiro, Melford E. 1967. Burmese Supernaturalism: A Study in the Explanation and Reduction of Suffering. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Winstedt, Richard. 1961. The Malay Magician: Being Shaman, Saiva and Sufi. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Winzeler, Robert L., ed. 1993. The Seen and the Unseen: Shamanism, Mediumism and Possession in Borneo. Borneo Research Council Monograph Series, vol. 2. Williamsberg, VA: Borneo Research Council.

TAMAN SHAMANISM (BORNEO) Among the Taman of Indonesia, a form of healing is still widely practiced that manifests some aspects of classic shamanism. Those who practice healing rely completely on their relationship with the spirits.

Background The Taman are a Dayak (non-Muslim Borneo indigene) ethnic group of 5,000 inhabiting ten small villages along the Kapuas, Mendalam, and Sibau Rivers upstream of Putussibau, the largest town in the Kapuas Hulu regency in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. The remoteness of the area contributes to the persistence of traditional ways of life, but its isolation has been


alleviated somewhat by the advent of a small airport in the 1970s and a paved road to Pontianak in the 1990s. With the Embaloh and Kalis peoples, the Taman form a larger ethnolinguistic entity called Maloh by outsiders, although some local scholars have recently recommended the appellation Banuaka as a preferable substitute. The Taman are believed to have lived in the Upper Kapuas at least since the seventeenth century; intriguing evidence from legends and research in the statistical study of their vocabulary suggests a much earlier link to Sulawesi, and specifically Bugis. Today, the Taman frequently interact with Chinese, Malay (Muslims, often Dayak converts to Islam), Iban, Kantu’, and Bukat people. The Taman economy is based on shifting rice cultivation, supplemented by the sale of produce and forest products in Putussibau’s morning bazaar, rubber tapping, and timber cutting. Fishing, hunting, and gardening also contribute to their subsistence. Christianity was introduced by Catholic Dutch pastors during the colonial period, and more recently through Protestant churches, notably the Evangelical Church. Mass conversions were carried out in the 1970s, and most Taman are Catholic, except in the villages on the Sibau River, which have a Protestant majority. Many Taman have converted to Islam, but with few exceptions they cease to identify themselves as Taman once they are Muslims. Relations are amicable between persons of all faiths.

The Centrality of Shamanism in Treating and Explaining Illness Despite its heterodoxy and unflattering association with idolatry, shamanism is extremely important for the Taman, since it is the remedy both of first resort, and in some cases, last resort in treating illness. Taman shamanic curing uses no medicine—its purpose is to treat illnesses (or those aspects thereof ) for which there is no medicine. More precisely, it treats illnesses resulting from the attack of a sai (spirit) on a person’s sumangat. The latter term refers to a person’s image, as in what one sees in a mirror, or something containing a person’s identity or essence. Unlike the English word soul, which will henceforth be used as a gloss for sumangat, it does not refer to psychological processes or personality structures. A person’s sumangat has


the same experiences as the person, but it can separate itself from the person’s body, travel, and materialize. An individual has eight sumangat. All but one “original” sumangat may leave the body, especially during sleep, as proved in dreams. The seven souls that can wander are not further individualized as to name, function, personality, or location in the body. The majority of dreams are considered harmless and normal, although all dreams are believed to contain important meanings, perhaps as omens or warnings, and are taken to emerge from actual journeys of the soul. Some dreams, however, signify special danger, such as interference with the recently deceased, and may require ritual actions or proscriptions. The further a sumangat wanders, and the longer it is absent, the more perilous the outcome. A sai is any animal or other nonhuman spirit unattached to a body. Sai are believed to live an unseen world and to be found outside the village: in the forest, in certain trees, especially banyans (Ficus), localities in a river, grottos, and the like. Sai are considered typically amoral, petulant, and vicious. They act impulsively as well as intentionally and out of revenge. They can cause illness by shooting an unseen object into a person’s soul. They may attack a soul by punching, spearing, biting, or clawing it. They can also cause illness by lodging themselves in a person’s soul. Most simple or body part illnesses are attributed to cuts inflicted on a soul. Infections and other more serious internal illnesses are attributed to a soul being stabbed or burned by a sai while outside a person’s body. These serious illnesses are believed to be caused out of vengeance on the part of a sai for some behavior attributed to a particular person. The victim of spirit attack may not have knowingly committed any action harmful or insulting to a sai but may innocently share the name of the offended sai.

Treatment by Shamans Taman shamans (called balien) are able to cure illnesses caused by sai in part because they are the only persons who can not only see them but have ongoing relationships with them. Few non-baliens report ever having seen a sai. The first stage of balien treatment is to rub certain stones over body parts, including but



not limited to the parts about which a complaint is made. The treatment is called bubut, which derives from a Malay word meaning “pluck” or “extract.” Bubut is conducted to treat simple illnesses caused by the attack of a sai, but is also the first and last step of all other balien cures. Certain highly polished stones, kept in a small kit woven from thatch, called a baranai, are used. The stones used in bubut are not ordinary stones but are thought to be solidified spirits that represent the souls of the persons in the balien’s household. Most are black, polished, and roundish (female spirits) or long and round (male spirits), in a size that fits easily in the hand. Some are oddly shaped but smooth. Before being rubbed on the person the stone is dipped into a decoction of a crushed, freshly cut ginger plant, usually the ground rhizome of tantamu (Curcuma xanthorrhiza), though saur (Kaempferia galanga) leaves may also be used, and are preferred in treating children. The balien not only strokes the wet stone over the skin but deeply squeezes and sometimes blows on the patient’s flesh. The cure is revealed in the removal of a small object, usually a tiny pebble, from under the stone (and purportedly the patient’s flesh), which drops audibly into a bowl held by the balien. This object must be “fed” to the bubut stones to prevent the extracted disease from flying into the balien’s body. The normal payment is a cup of uncooked rice. The next ceremony, mangait, involves calling back the patient’s absent soul. A balien is brought to the patient’s house in the evening, bringing not only bubut stones but a much larger basket, called a taiengen, containing stones called batu kait. Also used is a wooden pole fitted with a hooked metal tip, called a pangait. (The word kait, from which the words pangait and mangait derive, means “‘hook”). This pole is planted in or put next to the taiengen and is tied at the top to a house post facing eastward (the direction of the rising sun, symbolizing the living). The balien wears bracelets, called tauning, that are covered with cast iron bells that jingle when the balien pulls down on the pangait. In preparation for the ceremony the balien rubs her face and hands with a magical oil called polek mo, drinks a cup of palm wine that is offered to her, covers herself with a blanket or

a cloth called a kain burih (see illustration in Bernstein 1997, 122), and crouches while grasping the pangait. (The feminine pronoun is used in reference to baliens because about 90 percent of them are women.) As the balien chants, her soul is carried by the batu kait on a trip in a canoe manned by the batu bubut. She visits various spirit houses, searching for the patient’s missing soul. She may find that the soul is being held by a sai and may plead with it to return the soul in exchange for a small figurine called a sulekale, which is carved into a human shape (further illuminating the Taman soul concept). She then must make her way back, sometimes bringing the soul with her. The entire journey is narrated, usually in an archaic dialect little understood by those who are not baliens. After emerging from under the cloth, the balien advises the patient’s family as to the cause of the illness and may instruct a family member to present a second sulekale at a specified location to assure the release of sick person’s soul. The next level of therapy often involves two baliens working together. It begins early in the morning and is not finished until late in the afternoon. Besides baliens and family members, many guests will attend the ceremony and must be treated with hospitality. This ceremony, called a malai or a maniang, is similar to a mangait, but differs in that it requires the baliens after locating the missing soul to travel with a number of the patient’s kinsmen and supporters to the spot where the spirit has taken it. To catch the soul, they use their equipment as they did at the patient’s home, but for a different purpose. In a mangait they use the pangait and stones to enable their own souls to travel, but here they summon the spirits, bringing them near so they can snatch the patient’s soul from the spirit who holds it, capturing it in a vase, bringing it back, and reinserting it into the body of the patient, who has been home the whole time. An even more advanced technique, a menindoani, is a further elaboration of a mangait, in which the balien works at the patient’s house to locate his soul. It is the step taken after a malai, performed only when the patient’s soul is thought to be in great jeopardy, whether from illness or an inauspicious dream or death. A menindoani is the only ceremony a balien may


perform for a reason other than the treatment of illness or to initiate a neophyte balien. Whereas the previous two ceremonies involve travel on an earthly plane, a menindoani requires the further step to heavenly flight. A menindoani uses a specific chant, timang manik (“rising up” chant) and a specific stone, a batu bau (eagle stone), not used in previous ceremonies. The chant may last over two hours, as compared with twenty to forty minutes for a mangait. The balien performing a mangait induces through isolation under a cloth or blanket a “shamanic state of consciousness” (Harner 1990, 21–39), but in performing a menindoani the balien conforms to the defining criterion of a shaman as a person who employs “a trance state in which his soul is believed to leave his body and ascend to the sky or descend to the underworld” (Eliade 1964, 5). In another ceremony, tabak buse, the balien chants the timang manik but does not use a pangait, effecting soul travel instead through the beating of a drum on two consecutive nights. No firsthand, observational accounts of this ceremony exist. Tom Harrisson, whose report was based on the testimonies of three nonbaliens he interviewed in 1962, described a ceremony called belian maniang buluh ayu sera that corresponds with tabak buse, except that it was said to last for six nights (Harrisson 1965, 262–263). The name derives from the decorated bamboo poles used. Harrisson also mentioned a ceremony, no longer practiced by the 1980s, in which the provisions were doubled and two decorated bamboo poles were used instead of one. The next ceremony, mengadengi, is performed when an illness that may not be severe is thought to be the result of spirit victimization and may indicate that the person treated will have to become a balien. It involves two or more baliens and requires food offerings contained either in a tray placed on the floor or a platform made from wooden boards and suspended from a ceiling rafter draped with a cloth, functioning as an offering structure. Also used is an unripe areca palm blossom (mayang pinang) to determine whether the person will need to become a balien. Chants are made to invite spirits from the surrounding area. The baliens, wearing special blouses and other finery, dance around the offering structure, accompanied by percussion rhythms made on


bowls, gongs, and drums. The person being treated may join the dancing if he or she wishes. While dancing, each balien carries a bundle of leaves including one from the cordyline plant, or palm-lily (suri), in one hand and a bowl in the other hand. The baliens see the spirits as they descend and tap them with their leaves, at which time stones drop as if by magic into their bowls. These bowls are displayed, collected, and later given to the patient. At the end of the night the blossom is stroked with tantamu and is cracked open and examined (see Bernstein 1993, 196–197 for illustrations). If the tips are seen to be hook-shaped, it is a sign that the person must become a balien.

The Basis of Taman Shamanism The balien does not consciously choose her profession but is selected through a process of illness, treatment, and ceremonial induction. The process begins with an indistinct illness that could affect any person, and may include such symptoms as gastrointestinal disorders or an illness that seems to ‘travel’ from one part of the body to another. Over time, and as treatment continues, men and young people of both sexes usually select themselves out or get selected out of the process. Those who become baliens are mainly mature, often elderly women. Becoming a balien is considered a fate determined by sai. Balien status is not only not sought voluntarily but is avoided. In fact, anyone who wanted to be a balien would be consider inauthentic. (It is possible that some people desire to become baliens but do not admit it precisely for this reason.) Baliens’ intimate and familiar relationship with the spirit domain begins with illnesses and other experiences that are interpreted over time as disturbance from a spirit. Like ordinary illnesses, the balien’s predisposing condition is believed to have been sent by some spirit purposely, but not in order to harm them in the more ordinary sense, even though the target may suffer and may even die if not healed by becoming a balien. Instead, the spirit has selected the person for victimization out of a romantic preoccupation. Signs of these illnesses are recurring sexual dreams that continue to disturb and preoccupy the victim. The victim may long for the dreamed-of person or constantly see the imagi-



Baliens and candidate gathered for a group portrait during a menyarung ceremony, Sibau Hulu, August 1986. All women wear a baju kalawat, a blouse worn only by them. No such garment is worn by male baliens. (Courtesy of Jay H. Bernstein)

nary person in waking life, following it with no awareness of having wandered off. The victim may frequently faint, cry, or feel sad for no apparent reason. The balien’s initiation is an elaborate and expensive ceremony called menyarung. Because of the high cost of holding this ceremony, years may elapse between the mengadengi that indicated the candidate was to become a balien and the full initiation to finally resolve the condition. In the interim, the candidate cannot use the stones, though they may reveal their identities to the person through dreams. Up to ten baliens participate (see photo) in a menyarung, at least one of whom must be a man. It lasts for three days and nights, followed by a day and night of rest and a final night and day. The ceremony involves dancing and stonecatching as in the previous mengadengi ceremony, but is far more elaborate in its provisioning. It is a public event, attended by as many as one hundred guests at some times. The candidate must participate in some dancing and must catch a stone on the last night of the ceremony. All the stones collected become the property of the neophyte, for whom they become occult instruments for treating patients. The candidate is further initiated through the (symbolic) piercing of the fingertips with fish-

ing hooks (rabe), which are then embedded in the flesh to enable the novice to feel and remove sai, and similar piercing (though not embedding) of the outer eye tissue, to “clean” the eyes and enable the person to see sai. After the ceremony is complete, the person is formally authorized to be employed as a balien, though in practical terms she learns the various techniques one by one through apprenticeship, starting with the simplest, bubut. Practicing healing activities enables baliens over time to resolve their own difficulties. Since much of the balien’s work, including all of that performed by less experienced persons, involves no soul flight but only extractive magic, the balien does not fit the classic, primal model of the shaman embodied in Siberian, Inuit, and Central Asian practitioners. Indeed, only the most experienced baliens are able to execute the menindoani ceremony, which best satisfies the prototypical criteria of shamanism. The existence in many societies of healing regimes that include both shamanic and nonshamanic techniques led Michael Winkelman to introduce the term shaman/healer (Winkelman 2000, 73), which succinctly characterizes the balien. Baliens work together in certain ceremonies and are associated loosely through their traditions, but they have no other common interests binding them together. The origin of the whole balien tradition is attributed to Piang (Grandmother) Siunsun Amas, an ancestral goddess who had the power to revive a person who had died, and who guides souls to the land of the dead. She was the first balien and is said to have dictated the rules, methods, and customs followed by baliens to the present day. The domination of shamanic healing work among the Taman by women is intriguing to anthropologists, since it is not a peripheral cult of rebellion organized by a subaltern category of people, which is the usual explanation of such phenomena. It is possible that the key lies (at least in part) in the experiences of the sexual longing and sense of victimization often described as harbingers of their destiny by those who subsequently become baliens. It would be worthwhile to explore more deeply and compare mythologies about the origins of healing traditions among the Taman and other peoples to determine whether this female domination is part of a larger pattern. Jay H. Bernstein


See also: Indonesian Shamanism; Murut Shamanism; Semai Shamanism; Southeast Asian Shamanism References and further reading: Bernstein, Jay H. 1993. “The Shaman’s Destiny: Symptoms, Affliction, and the Reinterpretation of Illness among the Taman.” Pp. 171–206 in The Seen and the Unseen: Shamanism, Mediumship and Possession in Borneo. Edited by Robert L. Winzeler. Borneo Research Council Monograph Series, vol. 2. Williamsburg, VA: Borneo Research Council. ———. 1997. Spirits Captured in Stone: Shamanism and Traditional Medicine among the Taman of Borneo. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner. Eliade, Mircea. 1989. Reprint. Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Translated from the French by Willard R. Trask. London: Penguin Arkana. Original edition, New York: Bollingen Foundation, 1964. Harner, Michael. 1990. The Way of the Shaman: A Guide to Power and Healing. New York: Harper and Row. Harrisson, Tom. 1965. “The Malohs of Kalimantan: Ethnological Notes.” Sarawak Museum Journal 12: 236–350. King, Victor T. 1985. The Maloh of West Kalimantan: An Ethnographic Study of Social Inequality and Social Change among an Indonesian Borneo People. Verhandelingen van het Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, no. 108. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Foris. Winkelman, Michael. 2000. Shamanism: The Neural Ecology of Consciousness and Healing. Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey.

THAI SPIRIT WORLD AND SPIRIT MEDIUMS Thailand is a Buddhist country. The people of Thailand, like other Southeast Asian peoples, also practice an additional religion or ritual system that is centered around spirits. These spirits can be powerful protectors, and people go to them for protection from danger and help with worldly matters with which Buddhism does not much concern itself.


This ritual system has its roots in indigenous religions predating Buddhism in Southeast Asia. Having their roots in different societies, these religions were not identical to shamanism of the classic type found in Siberia. Nevertheless, in their dealings with the spirit world, Thai spirit mediums employ methods similar to those of the Siberian shaman, such as inviting the approach of the spirits and altered states of consciousness. Spirits (phi) are often the ghosts of dead humans, but they can also be the spirits of natural phenomena, such as trees and streams. Important spirits are usually the ghosts of known people, either historical or mythological, and stories are told about their histories. Indeed, the more important spirits can legitimately be called divinities. Sometimes the Vedic gods of India, such as Indra and Brahma, who are important in Buddhism, are installed as protective spirits. The Erawan Shrine (more properly the Brahma shrine) in Bangkok is a well-known example. The four-faced Vedic god Brahma is installed there as the protective divinity for the site of the Erawan Hotel and has become very popular with the public as a divine patron who can grant wishes. The spirit world is, from an orthodox Buddhist point of view, an ambiguous and potentially dangerous thing. The Thai have historically defined themselves as a Buddhist people, and Buddhism defines the spirit religion as morally troublesome, for it involves the killing of animals and is addressed to amoral supernatural forces. For instance, it is explicitly and strictly prohibited to make sacrifices to spirits during Buddhist Lent. The spirits of socially acceptable cults are thus generally said to be Buddhists or protectors of Buddhism. These spirits observe the Buddhist sabbath, defer to monks, and cannot receive sacrifices during Buddhist Lent. Furthermore, many of the important tutelary spirits of the traditional Thai state were said to be the spirits of deceased princes, whose political legitimacy rests in part on their personal religiosity. The Thai spirit hierarchy structurally parallels the traditional social hierarchy. Under the traditional system there was a global integration of state, territorial, and domestic cults within a single ritual-cum-political framework. Spirits can be classified by the type of thing they protect or rule. A preliminary classifica-



tion would distinguish three kinds: (1) spirits that protect physical spaces (territories, structures, and waters); (2) spirits that protect persons (kinship groups and individuals); and (3) spirits that are either malevolent (such as witchcraft spirits) or indifferent to humans (such as nature spirits), but capable of becoming dangerous if annoyed. This classification distinguishes spirits by their functions, but it is entirely possible for any given spirit to be both a protector of places and a protector of persons, in the sense that a territorial spirit may sometimes be adopted as a kinship spirit. Similarly, personal protective spirits are spirits who have established a reputation for effectiveness and are adopted by people seeking special protection, such as soldiers or workers going overseas.

Territorial Spirits Territorial spirits can be ranked according to the territory they protect, in a hierarchy that closely parallels the traditional political hierarchy. At the top are spirits that protect whole principalities. Below them are spirits that protect capital cities, such as those associated with city pillars. (City pillars are large free-standing pillars enshrined at the center of a walled city.) These first two are often the same. Then there are spirits that protect smaller towns and districts, down to village-protecting spirits. Below these spirits are the spirits of neighborhoods and individual house sites. A hierarchy of structure-protecting spirits parallels that of the territorial spirits, and the two hierarchies partially overlap. Essentially three types of structures are protected: (1) public works (such as palaces, city walls, and irrigation structures), (2) Buddhist temples, and (3) houses. At the top are spirits that protect royal palaces, city walls and gates, and the like. These spirits were sometimes made to order by the colorful custom of killing and burying people under the foundations of new structures. At an equal level of prestige, although outside the political hierarchy as such, are the spirits of the royal temples and great reliquaries, also sometimes made to order. For example, the chronicle of Wat Lampang Luang in northern Thailand recounts that four prisoners were beheaded and buried under the foundations of

the reliquary with their heads facing in the four directions. At a lower level are the spirits of ordinary houses (as opposed to house sites), which live in the master bedroom. The house itself is fairly crowded with spirits. In addition to the spirit of the whole house, there are spirits for the staircase, the threshold, the kitchen, and the rice pot, among others. At all levels these spirits, and the territorial spirits as well, serve to mark centers and boundaries. They are meant to protect and keep in what is wanted in a place and keep out what is not wanted, such as robbers, disease, and evil spirits. If the bedroom and kitchen are each in their own way the center of the home, then the front staircase and threshold are the boundary. If the city pillar and palace are each a center of the capital town, then the city walls are its boundaries. Territorial spirits of the political system are likewise found not only in capitals, but also high in the mountains at the frontiers, along the routes by which enemies invade. Individuals and communities interact with the spirits for various purposes on many occasions. Spirits that protect communities receive collective offerings. Individuals usually interact with spirits to ask their help with problems and challenges in life. Spirit priests and mediums, of course, interact with spirits as part of their duties. Spirits that protect communities receive offerings on a scale commensurate with the spirits’ status in the social and territorial hierarchy. When made collectively, these offerings are given to the spirit by a man known as a spirit priest, sometimes in cooperation with a spirit medium or shaman. Priests are men who have been trained in the proper rituals and means of addressing both their specific spirit and spirits in general. In villages, such priests are usually ordinary farmers. In large cities they are sometimes professionals who also act as healers and diviners. Local spirits receive frequent regular offerings that can be given by a priest acting alone, or by whole communities in large sacrificial rituals. These sacrifices are given in regular cycles of years. Some villages seal off their territory with sacred thread during their sacrifices, clearly protecting boundaries and defining the community. Individual houses have protective spirits in little shrines (spirit houses) on their sites. These spirits usually receive daily food offerings, given


by a woman of the household. The same spirits that receive collective offerings can also receive private offerings, and frequently do. An individual who needs help with some problem can make an offering to the spirit and ask for its help. It is common, for instance, at examination time to see the spirit shrine of a university covered with flowers offered by students asking for a little extra help in passing their exams. In the case of more serious problems, individuals will often approach a spirit through its priest or a medium, or both. This is especially true for spiritual healing, because illness can sometimes be a sign that a spirit has called someone to be his or her (usually his; most spirits are male) medium. The only way to avoid chronic illness, madness, or death is accept the spirit’s call. It is not at all clear, however, that the initial illness or the initial possession state is in any way related to any modern medical (particularly psychiatric) disorder.

Spirit Mediums Spirit mediums, practitioners who exhibit many shamanistic features, have a personal relationship with a specific spirit. They are usually women, and their spirits are almost always male. They are usually from peasant, workingclass, or lower-middle-class backgrounds. The medium acts as the spirit’s “riding horse” or “seat,” and is a kind of servant to the spirit. On the other hand, spirits will come at their mediums’ call. This gives mediums the possibility of acting as professionals. Professional mediums are popular at all levels of society and are consulted by many people seeking medical treatment, advice, and the location of lost objects, or wishing to confer with deceased family members. Mediums who serve as the seats of protective spirits play an important role in maintaining social solidarity and transmitting cultural knowledge. The social status of mediums varies, depending on the social status of the observer and the origins and role of the medium herself. In general terms, the lower one is in the social hierarchy, the higher the status of a medium appears to be. The higher the status of a medium’s spirit and the more prestigious a medium’s clientele, the higher the status of the medium. Other considerations include the religiosity and


modernity of an observer’s orientation. Buddhism regards spirit mediumship as a bad thing in and of itself. Pious people are therefore likely to regard mediums as people of bad character—not so much low in status as morally deficient. A person of consciously modern orientation is likely to regard mediumship as superstitious claptrap. On the other hand, many modernists—like many Buddhists—regard the whole spirit religion not as false, but as a waste of time. Spirit-possession rituals vary, but they all have certain basic features in common, which are similar aspects of shamanistic ritual. Namely, the medium enters a receptive state, invites the spirits, and has initial possession. Then the spirits interact with the people present. When the session involves a private audience of people seeking advice, the session is usually fairly calm and quiet. In the case of large-scale sacrifices, the rituals can be quite dramatic. The mediums dress in their spirits’ attire, which is that of traditional noblemen, in preparation for possession. Once they have entered their mediums, the spirits receive large, bloody offerings of sacrificed animals, such as buffaloes, pigs, and chickens. Activities are accompanied by traditional musical groups playing spirited music. Spirits (embodied in their mediums) can become very aggressive during a sacrifice, swaggering about with swords, threatening people present, and eating the raw meat of the sacrifice in bold displays of machismo, authority, and wildness.

Spirits as Guardians of Morality In addition to serving as protectors and benefactors, spirits can also be guardians of morality. As such, they punish people who engage in certain kinds of immoral conduct by making them sick or killing them. Household spirits are particularly concerned with sexual morality. If a member of the household engages in extramarital sex, the spirit will afflict him or her. This function is tied to the household spirits’ role as protectors of the family. Spirits of the fields and forest are usually not so particular about these things. The chronicles do tell, however, of a king who had an affair with a friend’s wife while visiting his court. To punish him, the forest spirits caused him to be drowned in a



stream as he returned home. Since he was the ruler, the king’s misconduct would upset the moral balance of his kingdom. What stands out in both these cases is firstly, that the spirits concern themselves with people at the spirits’ own level (household spirits oversee household members, territorial spirits govern territorial rulers), and secondly, that the spirits’ actions are aimed at maintaining social harmony by punishing those who violate the norms of social relationships.

Spirits of the Natural World Spirits of the natural world are another important type of spirit. Spirits inhabit the world of nature in great profusion. Most of them are unknown to humans, who rarely come into contact with them. Each intrusion into the world of nature, however, carries with it the risk of encountering and angering one of these spirits. Thus people do not like to go into wild forests, and when they do enter a forest, they take care not to engage in activities that might offend the spirits, such as urinating on them. An offended spirit will make its displeasure known by striking down the offender through illness or accident. Every human-inhabited space, however, was once a wild place, and as populations move and grow they intrude into new wild spaces, requiring the domestication of the spirits there. Thus, whenever a piece of woodland is cleared for cultivation or habitation, the person who clears it must make an offering to the spirits there and entreat them not to harm him. He then must beg them to stay on as protective spirits and erect a small shrine to them.

Malevolent Spirits Witchcraft spirits are found in areas that have ancestral spirits. They are a type of descent spirit gone bad. It is said that they are ancestral spirits that became malevolent because of the neglect of their lineages, who did not perform the necessary sacrifices to them. These spirits may go out and attack other people, eating their livers until they die. The matrilineal descent groups of people who have these spirits are sometimes ostracized from villages and live in separate communities. Witchcraft accusations historically served as a mechanism of social control, often of a political nature. There are also some other extremely unpleasant spirits, such as the spirits of people who have died violent deaths. Michael R. Rhum See also: Buddhism and Shamanism; Korean Shamanism; Southeast Asian Shamanism References and further reading: Bilmes, Jack. 1995. “On the Believability of Northern Thai Spirit Mediums.” Journal of the Siam Society 83: 231–238. Rhum, Michael R. 1994. The Ancestral Lords: Gender, Descent, and Spirits in a Northern Thai Village. De Kalb: Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Northern Illinois University. Tambiah, S. J. 1970. Buddhism and the Spirit Cults in North-East Thailand. Cambridge Studies in Social Anthropology, no. 2 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Turton, Andrew. 1984. “People of the Same Spirit: Local Matrikin Groups and Their Cults.” Mankind 14, no. 4: 272–285. Wijeyewardene, Gehan. 1986. Place and Emotion in Northern Thai Ritual Behavior. Bangkok: Pandora.





his regional section includes entries for shamanistic beliefs and practices of the people who speak mainly Austronesian (Malayo-Polynesian), Papuan, and Australian Aboriginal languages. Geographically it refers to the peoples who live in Micronesia, Melanesia, Polynesia, and Australia, as well as to Austronesian speakers in Taiwan. It covers numerous islands over a vast area in the Pacific and the Australian continent in the south.

Geography and Language Micronesia covers the Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, the Marshall Islands, and other island nations in the Pacific; Melanesia includes Fiji, New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Papua and Vanuatu. Polynesia consists of New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Easter Island, French Polynesia, Samoa, Tonga, Hawaii, and other islands. Located in the northern tip of this Oceanic region, the indigenous peoples of Taiwan such as Puyuma and other ethnic minorities are also included in this section, as they speak Austronesian tongues related to other Oceanic languages. Except for the languages of various peoples in New Guinea, Australia, and other nearby regions, the peoples of this vast Pacific region have a common Austronesian linguistic origin, although the variants number over a thousand. Australasia and Oceanic lands are covered by variety of terrain, such as tropical rain forests, deserts, delta plains, flat grasslands, and mangrove swamps. High humidity, hot temperatures, and severe weather are characteristics of this region. Moreover, malaria and land erosion are two major concerns of the people of some of these islands. Some members of these Pacific peoples are wage laborers in an urban environment, but the principal economic activities are subsistence farming and fishing. Many of them are good gardeners and grow breadfruit, taro, coconuts, bananas, yams, sweet potatoes, and other crops as the main staples, in addition to raising pigs for ceremonial reasons. Some ethnic groups are hunters and gatherers in remote regions. Their societies vary from small-scale bands and tribal groups of egalitarian social structure to chiefdoms, all existing today within various nation states.

History Based on the study of their languages and cultures, and material traces of their past, it is generally accepted that Australasian and Oceanic peoples originated from Southeast Asia, although there are still disputes about the origins of these people. People have been in Australia and New Guinea for at least 60,000 years, but spread to other parts of Oceania much more recently. Numerous tides of migrations by sea took place from prehistoric times on, and the various peoples developed languages and cultural characteristics over millennia as they lived in isolation on different islands. Since the sixteenth century, various European nations such as the Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch




dominated the region. The Australian continent was claimed for the United Kingdom in 1770 and first colonized in 1788. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, colonial powers such as the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the United States dominated the South Pacific, and later the Japanese joined in the colonial game. This colonial encounter eventually led to the Pacific war, or World War II, in which the Japanese and the United States confronted each other in the Pacific. The United States gained many islands in Micronesia after the Japanese lost the war, and many of them are still U.S. territories. Since the 1970s, if not before, many island nations have achieved independence, although these nations are still dependent to a large extent on former colonial powers for economic and military aid.

Religions During these centuries of European and American colonial encounter, most of the people adopted English or French as their national tongue and Christianity as their religion. As noted in the entry “Oceania: Rituals and Practitioners,” Islam is also present in Papua (western New Guinea) due to the immigration of Muslims from Java. As the British brought many South Asians to Fiji to work in the sugar industry, Hinduism also exists in the region. Moreover, the Japanese also brought Buddhism and Shinto to Micronesia during the Japanese occupation from 1920 to the 1940s. Nevertheless, none of these major religions, with the exception of Christianity, has managed to convert large numbers of indigenous people. Christian missionaries have been extremely active in providing material assistance; the price of this assistance, however, has often been discarding or at least drastically changing indigenous beliefs and practices. Most of the Christian denominations (including the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England, the Mormons, and the Methodists) have taken root in Australasia and Oceania. Christianity has introduced new symbols, which have had a profound effect on indigenous religious beliefs and practices, yet elements of traditional religion have blended with the new beliefs and still coexist with Christianity in religious practice. Despite these changes, indigenous religions have in various ways and to various extents survived to this day, and shamanistic elements can be detected in the myth, beliefs, and rituals of these peoples, as these entries demonstrate. As for the indigenous peoples in Taiwan, the conflict and coexistence between their traditional shamanistic beliefs and Buddhism were and still are apparent. Like the conversion to Christianity among the Australasians and Oceanic peoples in other regions, many Atayal and the Puyama in Taiwan had to adopt Buddhism, the religion of the colonizing Chinese, due to socioeconomic reasons as well as a part of the colonial assimilation policies. Yet Buddhism is an eclectic religion and these indigenous people managed to keep their spirit worship and other practices even after they became Buddhist. New religious movements in these regions have involved syncretism between indigenous religions and Christianity, which also have brought both spiritual and material culture from the West. For example, cargo cults, which embody a kind of millennialism, spread in Melanesia after contact with the colonial powers, as mentioned in the entry “Oceania: Rituals and Practitioners.” These movements, less influential today, seek to reconcile local egalitarian values of sharing and European inequality and capitalism through spiritual means. This kind of syncretism still continues, manifesting in various movements.

Shamanistic Practitioners Many Pacific societies have shamanistic figures, whether they are called healers, priests, witches, sorcerers, diviners, or mediums. These religious specialists either have positive functions in the community or cause harm to the people through the control of supernatural powers. Some religious specialists use soul journeys and communicate with spirits in dreams, as described in the entry “Dreams and Shamanism (Papua New Guinea).” Shamans among Australian Aboriginals are called “men of high degree,” “medicine men,” and “clever men” (or clever people, since women do play this role to some extent), as described in the entry “Australian Aboriginal Shamanism.” They



can commune with the dead, see spirits, fly through the air, and heal or harm, thus resembling in many ways shamans in other parts of the world. The tohunga (priest) among the Maori of New Zealand could be a specialist in magic, knowledge, or healing; in their functions as shamans they spoke as mediums, having received communications from the gods. In Oceania various practitioners such as healers, priests, mediums, and prophets have shamanistic functions. Spirit mediums in Tikopia in Polynesia enter into trance and serve as mouthpieces of gods or spirits of the dead, as noted in the entry “Oceania: Rituals and Practitioners.” Puyuma shamans in Taiwan, discussed in the entry “Puyuma Shamanism,” also function as therapists, exorcists, and sometimes soothsayers through their communication with the spirits. Thus the shaman figures of these societies in Australasia and Oceania utilize their supernatural powers and control spirits embedded in indigenous beliefs and practices. There are thousands of ethnic groups in the regions covered, and easy generalization would be misleading. Nevertheless, the shamanistic elements in their practices are strong enough that it makes sense to see these shaman figures as at least comparable to shamans in other parts of the world. Mariko Namba Walter

Introduction to the Entries In the entry on “Dreams and Shamanism (Papua New Guinea),” the major feature emphasized is the importance of dreams as sources of spiritual information and hence as an integral part of the shaman’s practice, from the initial vocational calling to analyzing the dreams of others to dream travel in search of information from ancestors. The author notes that for the people of Papua New Guinea, success in hunting, war, and gardening depends on good relationships with supernatural beings, and therefore “shamans,” those specialists who use dream work as a type of soul journey, are important for their ability to facilitate these relationships. It is also noted that there is a wide variation in religious belief systems among the many different peoples of Papua New Guinea, but that ancestors, ghosts, and other spirits who resemble human beings generally play a role, as do spirits associated with specific places; the belief in witches and sorcerers is a common theme, and in some areas totems and deities are accepted. The shaman is thus one of a number of religious specialists who may be called upon for good or for evil. Dreams are understood to be omens of the future, but they serve diagnostic as well as prophetic purposes; people believe in some areas that spirits of nature—trees, stones, and water—can cause illness and that the dream of a shaman can reveal which spirit has caused an illness and what the appropriate ceremony would be. As Christianity has spread throughout Papua New Guinea, it has been combined in various ways with local shamanic practices and beliefs. Among the Asabano, for example, there are now “Spirit women” who are in essence Christian shamans and whose practice includes various Christian artifacts and prayers; moreover, it is now the Holy Spirit who is the bestower of game and who appears in hunters’ dreams. The entry “Oceania: Rituals and Practitioners” includes a widespread area: Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia. Despite the great diversity of languages and cultures in this area, the entry brings out that there are certain religious themes in common. Primary among these is the relationship of the Oceania people to their land, attested to in myths and reinforced in ritual. As noted above in the entry on Papua New Guinea, relationships to spiritual beings, including ancestors, is important for fertility in gardening and other economic subsistence enterprises. Ritual specialists are necessary to ensure or to restore the health and well being of the land and the people. The author notes that throughout Oceania people have traditionally identified with a particular locale, and this relationship has been reflected in myths and rituals and ideas concerning gods and spirits. The importance of the relationship to the land has led to the maintenance of life-giving relationships and motivated participation in the rituals of traditional religion and Christianity, and more recently has led to the emergence of new religious movements. In Oceania there are a variety of rituals for crops, gardens, hunting, fishing, and healing, for which different types of practitioners are employed, such as healers and mediums. The healer is always a diviner who uses ritual, often including dreams and trance, to diagnose and treat illness.



Mediums, sometimes called shamans in the ethnographic literature, communicate with spirits and are able to enter into an altered state of consciousness. Moreover, their work, like that of many shamans in other cultures, is directed toward improving the well-being of the community as well as that of the individual. The entry “Australian Aboriginal Shamanism” continues some of the same themes noted in the previous entry. The term shaman is rarely used by those who study this area; rather the author describes a “clever” person who has shaman-like knowledge and special powers but does not go into trance nor have political power. “Clever” men (and sometimes women, though most of the literature up to this point has focused on men) have advanced psychic abilities, and only they can intervene between ordinary people and dangers of a supernatural kind. The clever person is described as “one who sees” and has a special relationship to the Rainbow Serpent, a prominent mythological figure in Aboriginal cosmology. Such a person therefore has special powers that the ordinary person does not have: They may hold off floodwaters, change shape, revive a corpse, send storms and floods, and the like. They have a training that is similar to shamans in Eurasia: Their special powers are noticed in childhood, and in their initiations they encounter a spirit or have special dreams and visions. They undergo a ritual “disembowelment” and have their insides replaced by magic substances, such as quartz crystals. After this death and disembowelment, the initiate will spend time alone in a deserted place, meditating. Elements in making a clever person in southeastern Australia include going into a cave and meeting supernatural beings, the growth of feathers, a sky flight, quartz crystals rubbed or inserted into the body, and a magic rope used to climb into the sky. (In Eurasia, a classic concept of shamanism is the cosmic tree, connecting the three worlds, used for the ascent of the shaman, particularly during initiation). There is some question in the literature whether the clever person is also a sorcerer, or whether they are separate specialists. Among some Aboriginal peoples a clear distinction is made, and one way of making a clear distinction is that, though clever people may sometimes do harm, their main function is to heal. Substance insertion and substance extraction are major practices of these healers; they can retrieve lost souls with the aid of spirit helpers, they see with the inner eye, they go on journeys while asleep, and they can even travel on a spider’s web. Clever people thus exhibit many of the properties of “shamans,” including the practices of initiation, soul journeying, divination, clairvoyance, seeing diseases in the body, and healing. However, they do not go into altered states of consciousness, though some do use dreams (as in Papua New Guinea) to follow a sick person’s spirit, catch it, and return it to the body. The New Zealand Maori, covered in the entry “Maori Religion,” were a Polynesian people who began to arrive in New Zealand, about a thousand years ago according to myth and legends. Yet it wasn’t until around the middle of the fourteenth century that fleets of Maori arrived and settled. They based their social organization on the belief that they descended from those who came in a “great fleet,” which arrived at that time. The deities worshipped by the Maori are found among other Polynesian tribal groups, and in contrast to Australian Aboriginals, their traditional religion was polytheistic, not totemic. Membership in the Maori tribe is by tradition based on common ancestry, and this basis is reflected in the Maori worldview, which connects everything through ancestors. Traditionally, the concept of tapu (holy) has permeated their religious life; objects (and people) could become tapu once in contact with supernatural beings or aspects of the supernatural. For this reason priests have had very strong tapu, which also gave them mana, the power over fate as mana is a concept where power is combined with sacredness. Mythology and stories about cultural heroes kept these concepts alive. The ‘tohunga, “priest,” was a specialist in art, knowledge, magic, and healing. The tohunga were able to diagnose the sources of adverse events often due to witchcraft or the breaking of a tapu. In their capacity as healers, they were mediums of their own local gods (atua), and in a shamanistic manner they relayed messages from these deities, who communicated by whistling. As elsewhere, Christianity made inroads into Maori religious life, and several syncretic religious developments have resulted. Nevertheless, kinship and the concept of tapu are still important parts of Maori religious life.



The Puyuma are an aboriginal group living in the southeast area of the island of Taiwan. They speak an Austronesian language and are divided into two groups; the village of Puyuma, where the group lives called “born of a bamboo,” is described in the entry “Puyuma Shamanism.” In the entry, a distinction is made between “religious practitioners,” who are bound up with mythical founding ancestors and attached to their territory and who perform those rituals that recur every year, and “shamans.” Shamans, who currently are always women, play the role of therapists, exorcists, and sometimes soothsayers. There are three categories of birua (spirits): the kaqisatan (On High), the kaqaulasan (the Aulas), and the “homeless.” Only the shamans have access to the kaqaulasan, allowing them to invoke the spirits of their ancestors and of dead shamans, as well as their elector spirits. The shaman candidate undergoes the usual initiatory process: visions, dreams, illness. Her investiture is a kind of death and rebirth. A shrine is built by the men of the shaman’s household; it holds among other cult objects a special bag with a rattle that is used to communicate with the birua and to recall a soul. There is no formal training, since it is said that invocations come to the initiate while she sleeps, but there is a period of apprenticeship. At the end of the nineteenth century, hunting was the major occupation of men, and shamanism was built around this activity, with men as shamans, providing spiritual support for this activity. With the change from hunting to agriculture and the influences of Japanese colonization, men now do the community rites, whereas women are the shaman healers. Today, the author notes, the shamanistic practices of the Puyuma can be seen as falling somewhere in the middle between classic shamanism and a possession cult. When Puyuma shamanism was shaped by hunting, it shared features with Siberian shamanism as observed in the nineteenth century; the current form is closer to the possession cult that characterizes Korean shamanism. The entry “Atayal Shamanism” discusses another one of the Taiwan aboriginal tribes who focus their religious practice on ancestor worship, with the ancestors as a source of moral authority, propitiated with prayers and sacrifices. Again there are two types of religious specialists involved: the gaga chief, male, who acts as a priest, responsible for rituals, and the “shaman,” female, who performs exorcisms, makes rituals for weather-related problems, and most importantly diagnoses and treats illnesses. The healing functions of the shaman, including the recovery of lost souls and exorcism of evil spirits who are creating illness, are made possible by the shaman’s ability to communicate with ancestor spirits. Head-hunting is also an important part of Atayal ancestor worship because it is believed that head-hunting adds to the soul substance of the village, increasing its fertility and viability for the future. If a member of the head-hunting expedition party is killed, it is believed that the enemy now controls his spirit, and hence it is a source of danger; the local shaman is called upon to perform an exorcism to prevent his spirit from entering the village. Although shamans are not as powerful as gaga priests, these practitioners contribute to the health and safety of their community. Eva Jane N. Fridman

2 ATAYAL SHAMANISM (TAIWAN) The Taiwan (Formosan) aborigines, an indigenous people who number around 400,000 people (less than 2 percent of the entire population), inhabit the Central Mountains, the Eastern Coastal Region, and Botel Tobago Island (Government Information Office 2001). These tribal groups are the Atayal, Saisiyat, Sedeq, Ami, Bunun, Tsou, Kanakanabu, Saaroa, Rukai, Puyuma, Paiwan, and Yami (Mabuchi 1953). They were called Takasago People by the Japanese (Takasago is an old Japanese name for Taiwan), Mountain People by the Nationalists, and simply “nonsinicized people” by the Manchu of the Ching dynasty (1644–1911 C.E.). Physically, they are considered to be of Southern Mongoloid stock. Their language belongs to the family of Austronesian languages, but culturally they are Indonesian. Their primary subsistence pattern is slash-andburn agriculture, based principally on the cultivation of cereals and root crops. Hunting and fishing are supplemental activities. In this entry, the Atayal are discussed as representative of these aboriginal groups in their head-hunting and shamanistic practices, which are major aspects of their religious belief system (Ho 1956). The source of the account of shamanic rituals is an interview by the author in March 2003 with a seventy-four-year-old Presbyterian minister named Watan-Tanga who lived in Taoyen Hsien, Fushin Hsiang, Tsojin Tsun.

Shamanism In the religious beliefs of the Atayal, the ancestral spirits are the most important group of deities. They are the objects of prayer and sacrifice. In community-based rituals, such as headhunting and agricultural rites, the gaga chief, the leader of ritual groups, acts as a priest. He is in charge of most of the rites. Shamans (phgup), on the other hand, are involved in exorcisms for a victim’s family and handle weather-related disasters. Shamans are very active in the diagnosis of causes of illness, treat-

ment of illness, recovering of lost souls, and exorcism of evil spirits associated with family or individual affairs. The gaga priests are men only, whereas the shamans are women. The gaga priests’ function is on a permanent basis and consists of regular ritual activity. The shaman’s performance is only temporary and for specific reasons. It is moderately difficult to become a shaman. A woman must take lessons from a master. The student pays the master a tuition fee, in the form of strings of shell beads. After the training, if she passes the examination, she will become a shaman. Therefore the social status of shamans is not as high as that of gaga priests. The shamans treat any kind of sickness, such as headache, stomach problems, or even toothache. There is no trance, nor helping spirits; only ancestor spirits are involved. The shamans do receive payment for their work. The form of the payment is a string of shell beads, sometimes a “bundle” (ten strings of shell beads), sometimes a skirt (five bundles, or fifty strings), depending on how long and how hard the work is. Shamans are like doctors in that their main function is to cure sickness. They communicate with the ancestor spirits, using prayers and divination to ask whether a sickness can be cured, the cause of the sickness, and the nature of the sickness. The ancestor spirit answers only yes or no. The shaman has a device made of a piece of bamboo stick and a wooden board, to which a glass ball (ureyanan) is attached. When the ball falls it means “no”; when the ball stays on the joining point of the bamboo and the wooden board, it means “yes.” For healing sickness, shamans use a variety of natural items such as the gall of a bear, leaves of a peach tree, the tender branches of a vine, mugwort or artemisia leaves, and calamus roots. Shamans have special power in dealing with other sicknesses. For example, in the case of a very sick person, who is about to die, they tie a string between the sick person’s hand and the foot of a chicken. They kill the chicken by beating it to death. It is said that the life of the chicken will go into the body of the sick person, who will then survive.




Head-hunting trophies were permanently preserved in the public head shelf of the Ulai village, a Saqoleq subgroup of the Atayal. (The Album of the Customs of the Taiwan Aborigines, vol. 1, plate 50, Ushinosuke Mori)

If a farmer finds that someone is stealing his crops, he asks a shaman to come and say a special prayer. After the prayer, the thief ’s hands and feet will become numb and not able to move, and therefore he will no longer be able to come to the farmer’s field to steal. The same method is used to prevent birds or beasts from eating the crops. Shamans are also called upon in weather-related emergencies; when a drought happens, they butcher a pig, letting its blood flow into the river. People then jump into the river and splash the water with their hands, symbolizing raining.

Head-Hunting As noted, the most important spirits for the Atayal are the ancestral spirits, ancestor worship being the core of the Atayal religion. The ancestor spirits are the sources of moral authority

and the object of prayers and sacrifices. The Atayal called head-hunting megaga, which means “to follow the rules and demands of the ancestral spirits.” Hence, head-hunting by the Atayal people was motivated by their belief in the soul and the spirit world. Early research records mentioned that in some subgroups of the Ataya, human heads were needed at sowing, harvesting, and thanksgiving rituals— demanded as a sacrifice to promote the fertility of crops and the prosperity of the human population (Kojima 1915, 61). Head-hunting also added to the soul substance of the village, as newly acquired heads were believed to increase the power of resistance to disease and encourage the fertility of the villagers as well as agricultural fertility. Moreover, it was believed that the soul of the head one has taken will serve the hunter in the next world as a slave. A case is known in which


a person who wanted to die went head-hunting before his suicide so that he would have a slave in the next life. When the need for head-hunting arose, it was customary to organize a head-hunting party, usually consisting of a dozen men. A man of experience was chosen as a party leader for the expedition. He would visit the village chief to get permission for an expedition and borrow a village-owned good luck amulet (tsinetto). This amulet was a bag made of leather containing the enemy’s hair, fire-making tools, and a water container made from a gourd to use for headhunting rituals. After permission was granted, the men discussed their head-hunting strategy and performed a ritual to form a party. Then the participants prepared the hunting weapon, head-carrying sack, and other items, and returned to base camp. That night they would consult an oracle through a dream (mita-supi). The dream was regarded as a revelation from the ancestors. When the men dreamed of receiving gifts from others, young girls coming to visit, or drinking wine, these were considered good omens. On the other hand, giving gifts to others, breaking things, or teeth falling out were seen as bad omens. A person who received a bad omen might drop out of the expedition. Next morning, all the men who had received good omens performed a purification rite. In front of the shed, the leader faced the person holding a water container in the left hand, and a camphor branch in the right hand. He prayed to the spirits of ancestor, “Please let us have a good bird omen.” On the way to the destination, the bird omen (mita-sileq) was consulted for the expedition. The Atayal regarded the bird called the sileq bird as a divine messenger who could foretell good and bad luck. It was a good omen when a sileq bird flew in front of the expedition, keeping a certain distance, and called out with a smooth cry. On the other hand, if the bird was flying on one side alone, calling with a harsh cry, or cut across the march of the expedition, these were bad omens. When they arrived near their destination, all members faced in the direction of home in order to pray to the spirits of the ancestors, “Blessing us return in triumph.” After the attack and gaining a head from a nearby settlement, they quickly went home. The headhunting feast followed with songs and dance,


encircling the head itself as if they were welcoming a new spirit. After one or two days of celebration, the head would be moved to the public head shelf. A village-wide memorial service would be held there. Every family brought their best offering to the spirits of the victims, and the village chief addressed the spirits of the victims saying, “Please stay here. We will treat you the best. Tell your relatives and friends this is a wonderful place to stay. Ask them to join you.” After the ritual was completed, members of the head-hunting party would perform the last head-hunting dance to end the celebration. Next day, the headhunters and all the villagers would go together to hunt. When they catch game, part of the game would be offered to the spirits of the heads on the public shelf. After this hunt, the head-hunting expedition was officially completed, and people would return to their normal life. When a member of the head-hunting party was killed during the raid, the head of the victim had to be cut off and discarded at the outskirts of the village in the dark. The villagers had to destroy the house and belongings of their slain comrade, because the enemy, who inevitably will do evil things to the villagers, controlled his spirit. At this point the village shaman was invited to perform an exorcism. Both the gaga priests and the shamans exhausted every means to stop a killed person coming back into the community. Presently in Taiwan, the practice of headhunting is completely outlawed. Instead of human head-hunting, youth hunt animals in “games” to exhibit their skill and bravery. These Australasian people maintain their communities and live among themselves in special regions or on tribal reservations in Taiwan. These reservations were strictly maintained for the tribal peoples before 1945 by the Japanese administration but are now open to other people. They maintain their tribal identity—in practices such as costume—only in festivals or special occasions, such as the New Year celebration. These people, especially those who are over fifty years old, still speak their own language as well as Chinese (Mandarin). The majority has converted to Presbyterianism but a small portion of the population, especially the old, still keep their religious identities. Only a very small percentage of the population believes in Buddhism or Daoism. There is no signifi-



cant revival of traditional, tribal beliefs and ritual except for songs and dances. John Ting Jui Ho See also: Dark Shamanism; Puyuma Shamanism References and further reading: Government Information Office. The Republic of China at Glance—Taiwan 2001. Taipei: Government Information Office. Ho, Ting Jui. 1956. “Tai Ya zu Leihto Hsisu chih Yen Chiu” [A Study of the Atayal HeadHunters of Taiwan]. Bulletin of the College of Arts, National Taiwan University 7, no. 4: 151–208. Kojima, Yoshimichi Ed. 1915. The Survey Reports on the Customs of Formosan Aborigines, vol. 1. Taipei: Taiwan S∫tokutu. Mabuchi Toichi. 1953. “Takasago zoku no bunrui: Gakushi teki Kaiko” [Retrospect on the Classification of the Formosan Aborigines]. Minzokugaku Kenkyu [The Study of Ethnography] 18, no. 3: 1–2. Mori, Ushinosuke. 1917. Ethnography of the Formosan Aborigines, vol. 1. Taipei: Rinji Taiwanky‹kan Ch∫sakai.

AUSTRALIAN ABORIGINAL SHAMANISM Many of the techniques that a person acquires in order to become a recognized shaman are similar cross-culturally: the ability to enter an altered state of consciousness, to act as intermediary between the seen and the unseen worlds, to be a “supernatural specialist,” to wield power, and to bring back knowledge from other realms. Both healing and harming are qualities attributed to the shaman, making the shaman a person of high degree in a special sense. With regard to Aboriginal Australia, there is some debate about whether the term shaman should be employed, and in fact the term is rarely used. A. P. Elkin (1977) called them “men of high degree” and used “medicine man,” “doctor man,” and “clever man” interchangeably with “man of high degree.” He

wrote, however, that the man of high degree is not peculiar to Australia, and likened him to the Amerindian “man of power.” Other Australian aboriginalists have stated adamantly that “clever” men are not shamans. The reasons they give mainly center on the definition of shamanism as incorporating ecstatic possession, the role of the shaman as specialist, the shaman’s connection with political power, and the perception that shamans are in some way abnormal. The Australian clever person possesses a high degree of normality according to the mores of the group, does not become ecstatically possessed, and has no political power. Although he must undergo a life of self-discipline, training, and social responsibility, he enjoys no extra privileges and, apart from his special powers, leads a life like anyone else in his group. Also, “clever” powers are possessed to some degree by many people and are sometimes spotted in children as inherently present. Some actions, such as pulling certain plants out of the ground, or killing a living creature such as a bat, can create heavy winds and rain without the intervention of a clever person. A more recent objection to the term is that shamanism is linked with the New Age, and any such association may pave the way for possible trivialization of Aboriginal culture and the subsequent neglect of important contemporary social and political issues concerning indigenous rights. Nevertheless, most agree that clever people display shaman-like knowledge, skills, and qualities. They can commune with the dead, see spirits, bilocate, shape-shift, fly through the air, and learn what is happening at a faraway location, and they have the ability to heal and to harm. A person is clever and of high degree because he has been admitted to secrets not disclosed to the ordinary person. In some places, clever people are called upon to interpret dreams, recover missing objects, predict future events, explain unusual phenomena, and protect people from psychic attack. This type of access to information is not considered extraordinary, but only clever people are considered experts on such subjects. Where clever men differ from others is in their more advanced psychic abilities and their heightened perception and awareness of the world around them.



Uluru, formerly Ayers Rock, Australia. (Corel Corporation)

Although the literature emphasizes men of high degree, and thus the pronoun he has been used so far, this may be a narrow and restricted view of clever people. Women can also be clever (Bell 1998; Payne 1993; Reid 1983). Indeed, women possess curative knowledge for the benefit of both males and females and have other abilities similar to those of men, a fact that eluded earlier studies conducted by male researchers. In the areas of Australia where there are reports of clever women or doctor women, women’s expertise is thought to be principally concerned with women’s business, midwifery and menstruation, though also with the practice of healing and love magic. Although most Aboriginal people are conversant with various bush medicines, and women have the most consistent responsibility for their preparation and application, only a clever person can intervene between ordinary people and dangers of a supernatural kind. A powerful person, operating primarily at a spiritual and social level, is usually only called upon to treat ill-

nesses that do not respond to the bush medications. The ability of powerful people to cure comes from the possession of spiritual powers or from powerful objects given to them by spirit beings, as well as from their astute knowledge of events and relationships within the community. Regional names for clever people vary according to linguistic groupings (Hume 2002). In the Western district of New South Wales they are called karajji, in central western New South Wales, wireenan or walamira; in Queensland, wingirin; in Victoria, south of the Murray, they are known as kuldukke. In the Kimberley area of northwestern Australia they are known as banman or barnmarn, in the Western Desert as mabarn, in northeastern Arnhem Land as marrngitj, and in western Arnhem land as margidjbu. In southeastern Australia, the Dieri call them kunki, and the Wiimbaio call them mekigar (from meki, “eye,” “to see”— “one who sees’). The Wiradjeri refer to such a man as wiringan (powerful man), or buginja



(spirit, or spirit of the whirlwind), or walamira (clever person). He is clever in the sense that he has intellect and shrewdness, but he also has the ability to receive help via spirit and psychic agencies. The clever man also has a special relationship with the Rainbow Serpent (a prominent mythological figure in Aboriginal cosmology) and its powers. Whenever clever people appear in myth they have power beyond that of most other figures mentioned. These powers include keeping floodwaters at bay temporarily, changing shape more rapidly than any other characters in the story, reviving corpses, knowing what is happening at a distance, sending storms and floods to punish people, and summoning their personal magic snake to either protect themselves or to harm others.

Becoming “Clever” The training of clever people varies from one region to another. One can become clever in several ways: by inheriting powers (although individuals still have to prove themselves equal to the task), being “made” by another clever person, by a personal quest, a psychic experience, or being “called” by the spirits of the dead. Whatever the way, however, a reputation for special powers is essential. The making of a clever person can be a long and complex process. Other clever people might keep their eyes on a promising young candidate who has psychic abilities or experiences, or on a child with a reflective nature and a more than passing interest in tribal lore. By the age of ten or twelve years, someone who shows promise might be taken to an isolated spot and have his assistant totem or spirit companion “sung” into him and be taught how to use it. But it is more common for a young man with power to be required to pass through some of the stages of initiation before another clever man assists him to release his power. This, again, may vary from one region to another. A potential clever man might have his vocation confirmed by significant dreams or visions, or by encountering a spirit. Such experiences might be further encouraged by sleeping in isolated places or near the grave of a deceased clever man. The procedure for the making of a clever man mirrors shamanic procedures in other cul-

tures. Typically, he is taken by a spirit into another realm where he undergoes disembowelment and his insides are replaced, usually by substances such as quartz crystals (Elkin 1977). Alternatively, objects may be magically “hammered into his body” by a group of older medicine men. Thus transformed, he has the ability to use the power in these new innards to do his magical work. Quartz crystals and other magical substances such as a magical cord are usually put inside a medicine man during his “making,” sometimes physically and sometimes metaphysically. In eastern Australia, it was reported that magical substances such as quartz, pearl shell (both closely associated with the Rainbow Serpent), and special stones were inserted into a novice through an abdominal incision or a hole made in his head, or were rubbed or pressed and sung into his body and limbs. Among the Gunwinggu of western Arnhem Land, a clever man obtains his power mainly from spirits of the dead. A deceased relative inserts into his head a small thin rod, like a bamboo spear, and breathes power into all his body apertures, telling him to use this for healing purposes. Only a man thus transformed by the spirits could survive such insertions. When the clever man “sends” these things to others, they become very ill and die, unless countermagic is used. Generally, except in the case of clever men, insertion leads to illness, and extraction leads to cure. After a ritual disembowelment and “death” at the hands of the spirits, the clever man might spend lengthy sojourns in the desert or the bush in order to meditate alone and develop his psychic powers. He may acquire a spirit familiar or a spirit assistant. Djiburu, an Arnhem Land clever man, said that his powers came from spirits called gulun, who stupefied him for five days and operated on him while he was asleep, inserting a kangaroo fibula into his thigh, then rubbing away the wound with water. When he awoke, he recognized that he had been “made” because of his ability to see through objects. The clever man’s knowledge and powers would become more fully developed over many years, during which time he was given instruction by others in the art of bone-pointing, sorcery, diagnostic techniques, the cure of illness, and psychic healing, as well as how to use his quartz crystals most effectively.


In other places the postulant is sometimes swallowed by a water snake and spat out, or by the Rainbow Snake and vomited out. In the North Kimberley region of western Australia, Ungur, another local name for the Rainbow Serpent, is believed to live in a pool. On top of the pool floats scum that is said to be Ungur’s spittle. When a boy is selected for training, his induction includes the magical insertion of a ball of the pool scum into his navel. The ball is Ungur’s egg, which hatches in the boy’s belly. While it grows, the boy neither drinks nor eats anything hot, for fear of disturbing it. Once the boy is “made,” Ungur endows him with special powers that enable him to summon the snake to do his bidding. In northwestern Arnhem Land, the Rainbow Serpent is known as Ngalyod and is the bringer of life and the creative expression of continuing life. Some clever people are said to possess a ngalyod (a private rainbow serpent usually located in the stomach region), and its power is very potent for those clever enough to harness or control it. It can also be sent out of the body to penetrate other people. Essential elements in the making of clever men in the southeastern part of Australia involve going down into a bright cave and meeting supernatural beings, the growth of feathers, a flight into the sky or among the stars, quartz crystals being inserted into or rubbed against the body, and possession of a magic rope by which the person is able to climb upward to the sky. A fully qualified clever person can travel through the air or under the ground, cure illness, see with a “strong eye,” and even transmogrify (Berndt and Berndt 1977). Characteristically, an Aboriginal clever man has his own spirit familiars, or personal totems that act as his assistants. A Walbiri (central Australia) clever man has an assistant called a mabanba, a small being the size of a thumbnail that lives in his body. In this area, being a clever man is dependent on the possession of a mabanba, and it is usually inherited from the father. The mabanba is said to be transparent as glass and soft as rubber, and although it is invisible to the uninitiated, it appears to the medicine man as clear or white—the color of quartz crystals. The mabanba makes a ticking sound that anyone may be able to hear, but only the clever man understands its message. It can choose to leave the man’s body and travel about


freely at great speeds, either through the air or under the ground, and its resting-place is in the man’s belly, arms, chest, or head. The mabanba can be “pulled out” of the physical body to be sent on diagnostic errands or used for healing purposes. Clever men may apply their mabanba directly by rubbing or inserting it into a patient’s body (Cawte 1974). Overcoming fear is a necessary prerequisite in achieving mastery of the power, and not everyone is even a candidate for being clever. To be able to gain knowledge, transfer thought, see visions, and send out power to bring life and death, one must face terrors and dangers of a psychic nature. Becoming clever requires much practice, courage, and perseverance.

Healing and Harming There is some ambivalence in the literature about whether or not a clever person is also a sorcerer. Some say that the function of the clever man or woman is to heal rather than harm, and to withdraw evil magic rather than promote it. But there is evidence to suggest that the clever man has the power to perform acts that both heal and harm. In some places, different names are conferred upon the two, helping to delineate their separate roles. For example, in eastern Arnhem Land, a medicine man is called marrngitj, and a sorcerer is known as kalka. The main role of the kalka is to injure or bring about the death of a person. The role of the marrngitj on the other hand, is to attempt to diagnose and cure illness, which often has been caused by a sorcerer (Berndt and Berndt 1977). Substance insertion and substance extraction play a large part in both magical healing and sorcery, and are mentioned repeatedly in the literature as being powerful tools of the clever person. Sometimes a magical object is extracted from a clever man’s own body and used on the patient as part of a cure. Or patients may have an object extracted from their bodies that has been sent by a sorcerer. Traditional curing techniques also include sucking (the most common healing method in many areas), biting, massaging (or rubbing), squeezing, pinching, and pressing various parts of the body, as well as the magical extraction of objects such as bone, stone, or charcoal. Sometimes the patient may be smoked, or objects



such as quartz, pearl shell, and stones may be placed on the affected part. Other cures might necessitate retrieving lost souls with the aid of spirit helpers. The clever man might go into a trance and send out his spirit familiars to locate and return an object that has been removed from the patient’s body. Singing or chanting accompanies most methods. Sometimes evil magic can be sucked out as a mouthful of wind and blown away, or a medicine man might pass his own power to that of the sick person, then suck the affected part and draw out his own power along with the patient’s pain. Massaging a patient with bare hands or a rag (or kangaroo skin pads) smeared with fat or oil is believed to be efficacious in some areas, as is brushing an affected part with feathers. Another method employed to alleviate pain is to place hands on the affected part of the body. Sometimes several methods are used on the same patient. The work is said to require much energy and concentration, and a man may say at times that his power is light, or weak. Some clever men have more power than others; a man “heavy with power” can follow a sick person’s spirit in a dream, catch it, and return it to his body. Although sucking and massaging are common procedures for getting rid of illness, sometimes a clever man’s powers are believed to have become so strong in his later life that he might dispense with techniques such as sucking. Clever people throughout Australia consistently use human body fat, especially gall or kidney fat, to magically harm a person. A bunch of emu feathers soaked in a dead person’s fat could make a person unconscious if waved over him by a sorcerer. Fat was considered lucky, and the eater of human fat gained strength through its consumption. Smearing a spear with a dead person’s fat was considered to give it a magical quality. Other bodily excretions—feces, urine, phlegm, or spittle—were used in sorcery. Urine sorcery created bladder troubles; phlegm or saliva sorcery caused severe colds or chest pains.

Seeing with the Inner Eye, Spirit Flight, and Other Powers One attribute of clever people is the ability to “see with the inner eye,” or “strong eye,” and locate the site of an illness. Aboriginals compare the strong eye to an X-ray machine; the

person possessing such sight can see parts of the body such as the liver and the intestines and establish whether or not they are diseased. R. M. Berndt and C. H. Berndt (1977) wrote that a clever man was noticeably different from others because of the light radiating from his eyes. He could also see through trees and other objects, and was able to detect a psychic light moving about a dead man’s grave for up to three days after death. Clever people can go on journeys while their physical bodies are asleep. The person’s spirit might exit through the navel and fly away. During these journeys a person might find himself at a ceremony where he is both a witness to and a participant in events and learns important songs and other information. In 1937, Norman Tindale noted that a man could “travel as a whirlwind,” leave the supine body, and fly on a spider web. A hair cord is reported in some areas as the means by which one might fly into the sky world. In the Northern Territory, clever men might fly through the air astride the rainbow. This is achieved by a self-induced trance and is called traveling in a clever way. The abilities of clever people also include: divining, clairvoyance, thought-reading and thought-transference, seeing what is happening at a distance, seeing visions of the past, present, and future, making themselves invisible (or transforming themselves into other shapes), fast traveling, communicating with spirits, control over the weather (especially rainmaking), and the conquest of space and time. All these powers can be lost if clever people fail to maintain strict self-discipline such as adhering to food restrictions or, more recently, avoiding excessive alcohol consumption. Illness and age can weaken their powers as well, either temporarily or permanently. Clever people are not all-powerful, especially when it comes to combating sorcery, and some have more power than others. A person of high degree has great power, but others are credited with only a little power. Nowadays, Aboriginal people use the facilities of Western medical health clinics and Western medicine, but they do not abandon bush medicines and the assistance of clever men if they are available. Indeed, some Western medical practitioners recognize the importance of traditional healers and allow them to work with their patients. In the mid-1970s an elderly Aboriginal nursing aide who was also a medicine man was


employed by the Yuendumu (central Australia) Hospital and encouraged to use techniques such as massaging, sucking, and withdrawing substances alongside Western methods of health care. Not all clever people respond to requests for their services, and some are called upon more frequently than others. Increasing urbanization and less interest shown in traditional culture by Aboriginal youth has resulted in a diminishing number of clever people. Lynne Hume See also: Extraction; Fire and Hearth; Healing and Shamanism; Initiation; Rock Art and Shamanism References and further reading: Bell, Diane. 1998. Ngarrindjeri Wurruwarrin: A World That Is, Was, and Will Be. Melbourne: Spinifex Press. Berndt, R. M., and C. H. Berndt. 1977. The World of the First Australians. Sydney: Ure Smith. Cawte, John. 1974. Medicine is the Law. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii. Charlesworth, Max, ed. 1998. Religious Business: Essays on Australian Aboriginal Spirituality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Elkin, A. P. 1977 [1945]. Aboriginal Men of High Degree. St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press. Howitt, A. W. 1996. Reprint. The Native Tribes of South-East Australia. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press. Original edition, 1904. Hume, Lynne. 2002. Ancestral Power: The Dreaming, Consciousness and Aboriginal Australians. Carlton, Victoria: Melbourne University Press. Payne, Helen. 1993. “The Presence of the Possessed: A Parameter in the Performance Practice of the Music of Australian Aboriginal Women.” In Rediscovering the Muses: Women’s Musical Traditions. Edited by K. Marshall. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press. Reid, Janice. 1983. Sorcerers and Healing Spirits. Canberra: Australian National University Press. Rose, Deborah Bird. 1992. Dingo Makes Us Human: Life and Land in an Aboriginal Australian Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Stanner, W. E. H. 1966. On Aboriginal Religion. Oceania monograph 36. Sydney: University of Sydney.


Tindale, Norman B. 1937. “Native Songs of South-East Australia,” Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia 61: 107–120.

DREAMS AND SHAMANISM (PAPUA NEW GUINEA) Introduction Papua New Guinea (PNG), a Melanesian country north of Australia in the Western Pacific, is home to hundreds of distinct peoples, many of whom see dreams as a source of spiritual information and a venue for shamanic action. In this tropical land of vast forests, rugged mountains, impenetrable swamps, and scattered islands, people experience dreams as nightly soul-travels in which people can see their own and others’ hidden intentions and actions. As most societies in Papua New Guinea emphasize human equality, anyone can exploit dreams to discern causes of misfortune, produce magical effects, and communicate with supernatural beings. Nevertheless, some individuals specialize in these and other shamanic endeavors.

Papua New Guinea’s Cultural Diversity Comprising the eastern half of New Guinea and surrounding islands, Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally diverse regions on Earth, with approximately 760 language groups. Even the homogenizing effects of outside political, economic, and religious contacts do not override Papua New Guinea’s human diversity. Sustained interactions with outsiders began at different points in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, under the aegis of German, British, Australian, and since 1975, independent Papua New Guinea administrations. The hundreds of indigenous religious traditions have been combined with numerous missionintroduced Christian sects. These influences add new cultural variation to the mix, so that generalizing about Papua New Guinea is even more perilous. Papua New Guinea’s indigenous peoples remain the vast majority and control their own land. Ethnic groups have from tens to thousands of members, with traditional economies



based on gardening, pig raising, foraging, and fishing. Social structures include egalitarian bands, tribes led by “big men,” and chiefdoms. Villages typically number in the tens or hundreds of residents, and in some places men and women reside separately. In the twentieth century, colonial powers established cities and governments associated with states and world system economics. These now coexist with traditional villages and social institutions. Religious belief systems vary widely as well, though they usually concern ancestors, ghosts, human-like sprites, place spirits, witches and sorcerers, and in some places, totems and deities. Some religious traditions emphasize secrecy and initiations, often with men being privy to special foods and maintaining sacred houses off limits to women and children. Many societies have “shamans”—healers who use soul journeys in dreams and trance to counteract supernatural causes of illness. However, anthropologists use various labels to describe practitioners of shamanic arts in Papua New Guinea, such as “sorcerer,” “witch,” “diviner,” and “medium.” Which term is used depends on what activities practitioners undertake in the various societies. “Shamans” not only heal, but can also attack people as “sorcerers” or “witches.” Sorcerers purposely manipulate supernatural powers to harm or kill, and occupy a socially accepted role. Witches are unable to control their powers and destroy their own people, resulting in social disapproval. Of course, whether an action is for good or ill depends on perspective. In most Papua New Guinea societies, illness and death are understood to ultimately result from sorcery, witchcraft, or the action of spirits rather than simple physical causes. Therefore, to heal one person is to thwart another. Depending on the society, any of these roles can be occupied by either men or women or both. Numerous references attest to shamans using dreams as a source of information for healing and other pragmatic concerns in both traditional religions and in localized forms of Christianity. For Papua New Guinea peoples, success in gardening, war, and hunting, like health, depends on robust relationships with supernatural beings. Shamanic practices that heavily emphasize dream work serve these relationships because of the widespread belief that dream experiences are not mere fantasy, but soul journeying.

Shamanic Uses of Dreams Dreams aid every stage in the shaman’s career, from the initial vocational calling, to analyzing the dreams of others, to dream-travels in search of information from the dead and other supernatural beings. Shamans use dreams of patients, interested others, or themselves to divine disease causes, intervene with spirits, or determine actions for waking life. For example, M. J. Meggitt observed among the highland Mae Enga that “diviners” and “mediums” see and communicate with ghosts in dreams (1965, 110). Many Papua New Guinea peoples recognize an affinity between dreaming and death, as among the Gimi of the highlands, who experience dreams as a kind of reversible demise, in which the person’s life departs from the body (Gillison 1994). Not only is one’s own deathexistence envisioned in dreams, but one may also encounter those already deceased and learn from them, as among the highland Melpa (Strathern 1989). Here, seeing the dead in a dream can portend one’s own death because one is in effect reestablishing a close relationship with them—risky, because they can pull one to the other side. However, it can also be an opportunity to seek assistance, for the dead are regarded as having an understanding of hidden actions and intentions that the living lack. The shaman can thus temporarily die and acquire the insight of the ancestors. Among most Papua New Guinea peoples, there is a strong sense that neither illness, death, nor success are accidental, but rather flow from the hidden intentions of human or humanlike beings who can be witnessed in dreams and trance. For example, the Mekeo of southern coastal New Guinea see dreams as a realm in which sorcerers’ hidden selves operate to both kill and heal. People can also become ill or die when they dream of spirits whose interest in them causes distress or physical maladies. For example, Michele Stephen described a Mekeo woman who suffered back pain after recurrent dreams in which a water spirit in the form of a European man took her dream self as a lover. In her subsequent dreams, other water spirits prescribed certain medicines. Upon applying these in waking life, her pain dissolved (1996, 476–479). Among the highland Sambia, dreams are frequently understood to be omens, and shamans share their own dreams and later reinterpret


them in line with events to give the impression of prophecy (Herdt 1987, 65). In one fascinatingly convoluted case, Gilbert Herdt reported that a shaman dreamed he hit his wife. When his stepmother subsequently fell ill, he feared that his dream actions had caused her condition. A second shaman’s trance quest produced a reinterpretation, changing the identities of the characters in the dream: The first shaman’s dream-self had not in fact hit his wife’s dreamself; rather, his familiar had attacked his stepmother’s spirit. Accepting this interpretation, the first shaman performed a cure that involved tethering his familiar to prevent further attacks (1989, 99–101). These Sambia shamans saw dreams as venues in which people cause, diagnose, and heal illness. Illnesses could also be treated through reentering dreamlike awareness in trance. Maurice Godelier reported that the Baruya of the highlands consider shamans distinctive from ordinary people based on the actions of their spirits during sleep. Instead of merely wandering at random, like most dreamer’s spirits, male shamans’ spirits transform into birds, and female shamans’ spirits change into frogs. They assemble nightly at the boundaries of the group’s territory to stand sentry, protecting Baruya spirits who may be led astray by malevolent beings. In healing rituals, following a diagnostic visit to the patient, shamans seek a course of action in their own dreams based on the cause of the sickness that has been revealed. To allow greater control than is possible while dreaming, shamans undertake the actual cure while in a tobacco-enhanced trance, rescuing the patient’s spirit from its captor and restoring it to the body. Shamans then seek and appear to remove an illness-causing object from the body, hurling it toward the enemy territory to project its harmful effects there. Godelier pointed out that here we have a link between shamanism and warfare, which illustrates that the shaman’s role as healer includes the ability, or even the necessity, to harm as well (1986, 115–117).

Dream Shamanism and Religious Change: The Asabano Case Missionary work has resulted in spiraling cultural change—most of Papua New Guinea is now Christian. Typically, Christianity has simply been superimposed upon indigenous be-


Asabano people don traditional finery for a celebratory dance, 1994. The woman in the foreground is a spirit woman named Maka, who described her own shamanic dreaming as follows: "I don't see traditional spirits. I see only the good Spirit of the Lord. I do spirit work and the Lord shows me indications that people from far away will come, and tells me to get food to offer at church. I just see this in dreams and the Lord tells me to do no wrong. The Lord gives me [prophetic hunting] dreams and then my husband takes a gun and kills animals. [When I get sick,] I pray and sleep, and then I dream and get better. I saw a dream in which the Lord told me where to make a garden and showed me that plenty of food would grow. I planted there and harvested plenty of food. I just hear talking in dreams; I don't see a face. I see dreams and think they are true [prophetic] dreams that the Lord gives me." (Courtesy of Roger Lohmann)

liefs, so that local spirits find themselves demoted to created beings, likened at best to angels, and at worst to demons. Nevertheless, shamanic dreaming remains vital, though transformed in many areas.



Roger Lohmann (2000b) described a case in which shamanic dreams of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and angels compelled the Asabano of the highlands fringe to convert to Christianity. The Asabano discontinued their traditional initiations for men and women and abandoned the traditional food taboos that had maintained the religious order. Further dreams clarified and established the supernatural authority of the Bible and writing, transforming the social structure (Lohmann 2001). Traditionally, Asabano shamans, who were usually male, used tobacco trance and dream encounters with spirits to diagnose illness and prescribe cures. The people believed (and still believe) that tree, stone, and water spirits cause some illnesses by holding onto the souls of passers-by. Dreams indicated which spirits had caused a particular illness and made possible an appropriate offering and curing ceremony to retrieve the soul. Asabano say that witches also cause sickness by mystically cannibalizing their victims. Dreams, together with other indicators, revealed the identities and actions of “witches,” who were then executed. Asabano hunters also used dreams to communicate with benevolent forest sprites believed to control access to wild game. Conversion saw the advent of Christian shamans, called Spirit women because they are usually female. Spirit women say they communicate with the Holy Spirit in dreams and during prayer-induced trance to discover the spirits and witches responsible for illnesses. Rather than executing or making offerings to the revealed culprits as in former times, Spirit women prescribe various prayers to God, including the new practice of planting a wooden cross bearing a Bible verse in the path supposed to have been taken by the culprit. This practice itself originated in a Spirit woman’s shamanic contact with the Holy Spirit (Lohmann 2000a, 264). The Holy Spirit now appears in hunters’ dreams as well, having replaced forest sprites as the bestower of wild animals. Even peoples like the Asabano who depict Christianity as the antithesis of traditional religion retain the widespread notion that in dreams one’s soul may encounter and influence supernatural beings. Dream travels by people adept at communing with the new god provide a cure for the uncertainty and unease that comes with the overthrow of familiar beliefs

and the adoption of foreign ones. This, too, is a kind of dream shamanism, to heal whole societies as they move from one set of religious assumptions to another. Roger Ivar Lohmann See also: Christianity and Shamanism; Dreams and Visions; Oceania: Rituals and Practitioners References and further reading: Gillison, Gillian. 1994. “Les rêves, la mort et le désir d’immortalité: Une étude des Gimi des haute-terres de Papouasie-Nouvelle-Guinée” [Dreams, death, and the wish for immortality: A study of the Gimi of highland Papua New Guinea]. Anthropologie et Sociétés 18, no. 2: 91–104. Godelier, Maurice. 1986. The Making of Great Men: Male Domination and Power among the New Guinea Baruya. Translated from the French by Rupert Swyer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Herdt, Gilbert. 1987. “Selfhood and Discourse in Sambia Dream Sharing.” Pp. 55–85 in Dreaming: Anthropological and Psychological Interpretations. Edited by Barbara Tedlock. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ———. 1989. “Spirit Familiars in the Religious Imagination of Sambia Shamans.” Pp. 99–121 in The Religious Imagination in New Guinea. Edited by Michele Stephen and Gilbert Herdt. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. Lohmann, Roger Ivar. 2000a. “Cultural Reception in the Contact and Conversion History of the Asabano of Papua New Guinea.” Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin–Madison. ———. 2000b. “The Role of Dreams in Religious Enculturation among the Asabano of Papua New Guinea.” Ethos 28, no. 1: 75–102. ———. 2001. “Introduced Writing and Christianity: Differential Access to Religious Knowledge among the Asabano.” Ethnology 40, no. 2: 93–111. Meggitt, M. J. 1965. “The Mae Enga of the Western Highlands.” Pp. 105–131 in Gods Ghosts and Men in Melanesia. Edited by P. Lawrence and M. J. Meggitt. London: Oxford University Press. Stephen, Michele. 1996. “Dreams and SelfKnowledge among the Mekeo of Papua New Guinea.” Ethos 24, no. 3: 465–490.


Strathern, Andrew. 1989. “Melpa Dream Interpretation and the Concept of Hidden Truth.” Ethnology 28, no. 4: 301–315.

MAORI RELIGION The Maori, a people of Polynesian descent who inhabit New Zealand, maintain a worldview of the cosmos and a religious outlook that goes back to the earliest development of their culture. Shamanism, which involves a close association with the natural landscape, such as mountains, rivers, and ocean, and the maintenance of sacred sites and sacred areas within each tribe’s stewardship, has continued as a vital aspect of Maori culture to this day. Previously under the care of the tohunga (a shaman-like priest), currently the concern of elders or specialists, the recovery and maintenance of land is a major component of any discussion of Maori identity and religion.

Background Drawing on myth and legend, together with other evidence, Western historians have assigned a date of around 1350 C.E. when the first peoples migrated from an island known as Hawaiki lying in a northerly direction from New Zealand (Shortland 1856, 1–30). It is thought that a civil war had broken out on the island, and therefore they embarked for the coast of New Zealand in seven large seagoing canoes, the most famous of which were named Tainui and Te Arawa: They came to land in Waitemata harbor (Simmons 1976, 103–108). Significantly, a sperm whale (paraoa) was discovered beached at that location, and hence the harbor was called Wanga-paraoa, “Whale-port” (Shortland 1856, 2). The memory and significance of this early voyage remained central to Maori traditions, and the sperm whale continued to be an important source of food, while its bones were used for weapons, and the teeth of the whale valued as neck pendants. There is a legend concerning the god of fishes and whales, Tinirau, who sent the tohunga (priest) Kae home on the back of his pet whale, Tutunui, after he had baptized Tinirau’s son (Reed 1966, 183). For the Maori, the mythological past is


peopled with deities; it is brought to mind through religious ceremonies and practices, enabling them to trace their descent from the ancestors who arrived by canoes and holding a sacred relationship to their land and ocean. Once settled in New Zealand, the Maori organized into descent groups of tribes, subtribes, and families, each tribe occupying a large area; and the various subtribes and families cooperated in warfare and ceremonial gatherings. Men usually emphasized their descent from their paternal ancestor, although they occasionally gave allegiance to their matrilineal line of descent (Salmond 1976, 12). The descent continuity of a group, the role of chief, and the respect and awe due to ancestors were, particularly in the past, important components of Maori culture.

Cosmology and World Order Maori history is considered to begin in the time before even the birth of the land of Hawaiki, both a real and an imagined, mythological place. This place, distant ancestrally, is linked with the spirit world and hence is part of the Maori concept of the cosmos. Once Hawaiki (the spiritual cosmic place) came into being, the gods, Rangi the Sky Father and Papa-tua-nuku, the Earth Mother, were created. From their embrace, many children were created, who then populated the sea, winds, woods, and other plants, and who were also progenitors of human beings. According to this version of the creation myth, the children, living in darkness with their parents, decided to separate themselves and create a world of light. One of the children, Tane, the spirit of the forest, separated Sky Father from Earth Mother, and hence the (earthly) New World (Te whenua Hawaiki) arose (Henare 2001, 202). Joseph Campbell (1949, 283n) recounted this narrative, quoting from George Grey’s 1855 Polynesian Mythology and Ancient Traditional History of the New Zealand Race, as Furnished by their Priests and Chiefs. According to Grey’s version of the story, Tane rejected the suggestion of one of the other children to kill their parents: “Then spake Tanemahuta, the father of the forests and of all things that inhabit them, or that are constructed from trees, ‘Nay, not so. It is better to rend them apart, and to let the heaven stand far



above us, and the earth lie under our feet. Let the sky become a stranger to us, but the earth remain close to us as our nursing mother’” (Campbell 1949, 282). This was the beginning of life in the world—birds, animals, and fish, including humans. A contemporary Maori scholar, looking at the creation myth from a philosophical point of view, wrote that the cosmos was thought to have started with a burst of primal energy (Henare 2001, 202–203). Oral historical sources recounted the crossing of the Ocean of Kiwa by the partly human, partly spirit hero Maui, who was said to have tamed the sun, captured fire, and tried to conquer death. His great achievement, however, was to bring up from the ocean depth, using his grandmother’s jawbone, the Great Fish of Maui (Te-Ika-a-Maui), now the North Island of Aotearoa (the Maori name for New Zealand). The Polynesian explorer Kupe sighted the land, which looked like a long white cloud, and named it Aotearoa—Land of the Long White Cloud (Henare 2001, 203). It is important to note that the fundamental religious and philosophical concepts of the Maori did not originate in Aotearoa, but such concepts as tapu, mana, and other aspects of their religious thinking were brought to Aotearoa from the original Polynesian homeland. One of these concepts, which was found in Polynesia and had its later echoes in Aotearoa, was the idea of the creation of the universe, seen as an egg that contained Te Tumu and Te Papa; after the egg burst they remained on the lowest of three levels and created humans, animals, and plants. The first two men were incomplete, but after the creation of Hoatea (Sky-space) and Hoatu (Earth fruitfulness), the human race descended from them. This concept of the creation of the universe and the human race as deriving from a cosmic egg, known to many mythologies worldwide, emphasizes “the fertile seed-power within [that] typifies the inexhaustible life dynamism of nature” (Campbell 1949, 277)—a concept fundamental to Maori religion. The Maori myth has the narrative of the egg dropped into the sea by a bird; when it burst, a man, woman, boy, girl, pig, dog, and canoe came out. They all got into the canoe, arriving in New Zealand (Campbell 1949, 274–275, 292).

Nature and Deities The children of Sky and Earth were the gods (atua), who were closely connected to various aspects of nature. Tane, the god of the forest, created all vegetation, and the trees of his forests reach toward the sky, making that spiritual connection between the levels of sky and earth. Rongo was the god of peace and agriculture; Tangaroa was the god of the ocean. Rain bound earth and sky together again, in their sorrow over their separation. The elements of nature thus, like the human beings, were linked in kinship; the Maori world order was seen as genealogically connected (Parrinder 1967, 50). Respect for and love of the land are still part of the spiritual outlook of the Maori. The land is conceived of as a sacred gift passed on from the ancestors to the present generation, a gift that needs to be cared for. The memory of the mythic history of the people links the Maori to the environment, and to the deities associated with it. Other important atua are the house-dwelling gods (atua noho-whare), the spirits of the seeds of the unborn infants; their importance clearly relates to the respect paid to the line of ancestry and descent, past and future (Shortland 1882, 35). Edward Shortland noted that the Maori addressed karakia (invocations) to the Powers or Deities of Nature, considered as their own original ancestors. Moreover, they had forms of invocation (karakia) addressed to the spirits of their dead ancestors (Shortland 1882, 10, 11). This offering of incantations to deities of nature as well as to ancestral spirits shows great similarity to shamanic forms of invocation and worship in Eurasia, specifically in Siberia and Mongolia. This is not to suggest that there is any connection or diffusion between shamanic cosmology and forms of religious invocations between Siberia and the Maori, but simply to note that very similar outlooks and forms of worship prevailed.

Mauri, Tapu, Mana, Hau, Wairua Tapu is defined as the cosmic power with which all things—persons, places, objects—were imbued at the time of creation; hence all are in a sacred state. The power or potency within a thing or person is defined as mana. In the concept of mana, the idea of power is combined


with a sense of sacredness that leads to awe and respect, and the separation of the sacred from daily life. Hence the idea of tapu as a system of prohibitions, but its real meaning is related to the concept of sacredness, which may be applied to children, houses, gardens, rivers, lakes, and often whole ecosystems. Balance and harmony is brought about by respect, whereas abuse leads to disharmony and imbalance. Mauri is defined as the vital spark, or life force, once possessed by Io, the Supreme Cosmic Being. Since mauri may be abused by improper usage or lack of respect, the proper rituals, prayer forms and incantations need to be offered to reestablish the balance of life again. Wairua is the spirit within the body that is implanted in the embryo and needs to remain in the body for its continued existence. The wairua can move away from the body but must return to it for life to continue. The hau, on the other hand, a cosmic power that is embedded in the embryo and is often called the breath of life, or the wind, “is called up by the priestly leader at birth and bound in humans” (Henare 2001, 210). Together with the tapu and mana of the child’s ancestors, which are present at conception, these life forces are vital essences for the human being (Henare 2001, 207–210).

Karakia and Makutu Ceremonies Religious rituals play an important role in reestablishing and protecting the hau of the natural world, feeding it by making offerings to the waters and the forest. Religious rites of the Maori are essentially oriented toward correcting breaches of the laws of tapu. According to Shortland, the sacred essence of an atua could be communicated to objects that he touched; this sacred essence could then be transmitted to something else, and hence it was necessary to make the object containing the sacred essence of the atua tapu to protect it from pollution. To this purpose, various karakia would be chanted. A karakia was a prayer, an invocation of ancestral spirits in genealogical order, or a combination of prayer and invocation (Shortland 1882, 25, 28). Karakia were chanted at a variety of situations and life stages. Karakia were recited for childbirth, for grown men going into battle, for


eels, for birds, and for makutu (sorcery). A special karakia was recited at the birth of a child; Shortland noted that, among the Arawa tribe, in the case of a difficult birth, this karakia was used (Shortland 1882, 30). Moreover, in such cases it was assumed that the mother had committed a breach of tapu, which had to be discovered by the matakite, “seer.” The father of the child had to plunge into the river while the karakia was recited; during this time the child would be born. Once the child was born, if the mother had difficulty nursing, the tohunga was called; he brought the mother and child to the water, sprinkling the mother and dipping the child in the water. The tohunga then repeated a powerful karakia, which brought the power of the water to the breast of the mother and caused her milk to flow. Disease was considered to be caused by a spirit having taken possession of the body of the ill person. Any neglect or violation of the laws of tapu could bring about the anger of the family atua, who then would send an infant spirit to feed on some part of the patient’s body. Infant spirits were used because of their short time on earth; they would have lesser attachment to their relatives and be less inclined to show mercy in their feeding on the bodies of the guilty. Sick people needed to consult the matakite and a tohunga in order to understand what offense they had committed and what ceremonies were necessary to appease the atua and restore health. In addition, there was a dark science called makutu that could make a person violate tapu and offend the atua without the person being aware of it. The person wishing to use makutu just had to obtain some of the person’s spit or some part of the person’s food, in order to change it so as to anger the family atua and bring about illness (Shortland 1882, 31). There was a very strong belief in the power of makutu among the Maori. Even in instances of petty theft, the power of makutu in the words of the tohunga was used to bring about the image of the thief and curse him with death threats. As among other peoples with shamanic practitioners, forms and curses of makutu were used to counteract the makutu of a more powerful tohunga, someone whose mana came from a more powerful atua (Shortland 1882, 34–35).



The Tohunga Tohunga in Maori language means “expert.” Various kinds of experts in the Maori community were known as tohunga: tohunga-whakairo (expert in carving), tohunga-moko (expert in tattooing), and tohunga-karakia (expert in charms and incantations). It was the tohungakarakia who had many of the duties of a priest and was, in many respects, a shamanic person (Andersen 1948, 1), and to whom this entry refers simply as a tohunga. The tohunga was able to make the body of a dead warrior move as though it were alive, as an omen of future victory for the tribe (Andersen 1948, 38–39). Original notes taken by S. Percy Smith, published in 1899 in the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, are the basis of description of the tohunga by Johannes Andersen (1948). S. Percy Smith had noted that ancient traditions of this priesthood were recounted among the Polynesians in the Rarotonga traditions. These priests were active in the selection of ruling chiefs and performed many other magical and astrological functions. They were seers, poets, historians, and most importantly, navigators with knowledge of astronomy. As a historian, the tohunga performed a most important function, knowledgeable in tribal history orally handed down from father to son. Their knowledge extended to ancient songs and karakia, which had to be performed correctly. Expeditions of war were a part of Maori life; the tohunga could lead an expedition, or function as a matakite (seer) to foretell the outcome. Since everything connected with war was tapu, the tohunga, considered the representative of the deity Tu-matauenga, god of war, needed to be engaged in every aspect of warfare, from the preparations of war to the return of the warriors after blood had been shed, since shedding blood was a violation of tapu. The tohunga was involved in all ceremonies of Maori life and life-stages: naming of the newborn child, sicknesses, handling the infringement of laws of tapu, and counteracting makutu thrown by an enemy. Marriage and death were ceremonies at which karakias intoned by the tohunga were necessary, and indeed, it is noted that more karakias connected with death have been preserved than any other type (Andersen 1948, 18–20). The powers of the tohunga were transmitted from father to son, across many generations.

The father or grandfather would teach the son; occasionally, the young acolyte went to a tohunga in another family or tribe. However, some knowledge and certain karakias were the property of a particular family or tribe. Young boys, starting at age twelve, were taught in the whare-maire, the special building with carvings of ancestors and ancestral lore. They were taught by recitation the origins and the history of the tribe, the entire genealogy of the ancestors, and other tribal lore. Initiation ceremonies with special karakias were used, and care was taken not to mention the name of the Supreme Deity, Io, as well as other sacred karakias, taught only to prospective tohungas. Karakias were supposed to be learned perfectly after one session; a single mistake could ruin the efficacy of the incantation and even cause the death of the tohunga (Andersen 1948, 21–25). There were various tests and ordeals to which the young initiate had to submit. The Arawa tribe had the pupil brought by the tohunga to the altar (tuahu), a tall upright stone, which he was supposed to hit with a small flat pebble. If he succeeded in not breaking the small stone, then he was further tested, using a karakia called a hoa (an exertion of willpower), to break the stone into fragments without damaging his hand. A further test was to try these powers on an animate object, such as a flying bird, causing its instant death. A final test is noted, whereby the tauira (pupil) showed his powers by willing the death of a near relative (not a child or parent), to demonstrate that the powers of the tohunga were greater than all other emotion and needs (Andersen 1948, 26–28). The tohunga were used as mediums in all situations where communication between humans and deities was necessary. It was thought that the called-upon deity entered the body of the tohunga, who then uttered oracular words intended for the guidance of the people. Often the tohunga would be in a state of trance, urua, and in this state he was described as “like a furious raging madman, his body and limbs convulsed, his eyes protruded, foaming at the mouth, giving utterance to strange tongues; sometimes rolling on the ground, at others rushing hither and thither with furious grimaces and frantic cries. These fits gradually died away, and were succeeded by a long period of prostration” (Andersen 1948, 34). This description is like that of the classic shaman of


Siberia, and although the term shaman is not used in accounts of Maori religion, it is quite clear that the tohunga can be thought of as such a personage, starting with the ancestral line, the passing through various ordeals and tests, his functions, and indeed, his ability to go into trance (altered state of consciousness) while communicating with the atua of the world above.

Current Adaptations Though tohunga was the name historically given to the person who acted as a shaman for his tribal group, currently the term tohunga is not used for such a personage. In accounts of the important nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century Maori leaders Te Kooti, founder of the Ringatu faith, and his successor, Rua Kenana, the term is not used, though both were heirs of famous tohungas. One can see, however, despite the predominance of Christianity in their teachings, the continuing importance of land and landownership as an intrinsic aspect of these religious leaders’ messages and activities (Binney 1997; Binney, Chaplin, and Wallace 1990). Although Rua cast aside all traditional Maori practices in favor of new forms associated with Christianity and spoke of himself as the promised messiah, he was greatly concerned with more modernized systems of landownership and land usage, organized on a strong communal basis but at the same time emphasizing family ownership of land (Binney, Chaplin, and Wallace 1990, 9). In his focus on land, despite the Christian framework of his religious ideology, older, more traditional forms of shamanic thinking still prevailed. Present-day shamanistic practices connect very strongly to land and its stewardship. A major focus of current practitioners, who are called specialists, is the guardianship and care of sacred sites. They look after land, mountains, and rivers. Each subtribe has a symbol that represents a mountain, river, lake, harbor, or ocean. When the subtribe moves within or outside its own territory, it takes on the mountains or rivers of these new lands and those associated deities. Specialists are asked to go to sacred areas that have been disturbed and deal with the problems that have arisen. This could be an ordinary person from the family, or, if it is a serious tapu, people will


ask someone who has special powers to take away the difficulty on the land. In present-day situations and since the nineteenth century, many issues have arisen relative to resource management, treaty claims, and land usage— issues that are of vital importance to the identity and continuity of Maori life. In this context, these spiritual specialists have great importance, and it is in fact thought that prophets and spiritual leaders receive much of their power from these sacred sites. The specialists, who may be either male or female, have inherited their gifts from their ancestors and can see the future as well as the past. The task of the specialist varies from tribe to tribe. Trance, which used to happen, no longer does; it is considered that specialists have access to spiritual powers by virtue of their ability and hence do not need trance for access. The old term matakite, “seer,” is used for those among these specialists who are known to see things, to foresee and foretell; they may occur within a family. There are usually a range of people who can do things within the tribal group. These specialists are called upon to heal those illnesses known as Maori sicknesses, or “things of the Maori world,” such as witchcraft. For Western-type illnesses people seek out Western medicine and doctors. Faith healers, as noted above in the historical account, do karakia rituals in order to heal; it is not usual for them to fall into an altered state of consciousness. People in urban areas who are less connected to the land still use traditional healers and may need the attention of a specialist; they will go to an elder who has practice dealing with these issues. Despite the strong influence of missionizing Christianity and the modernization of life in the twentieth century, Maori traditions have continued, at least within some families. Eva Jane N. Fridman See also: Oceania: Rituals and Practitioners; Siberian Shamanism References and further reading: Andersen, Johannes C. 1977. Reprint. The Maori Tohunga and His Spirit World. New York: AMS Press. Original edition 1948. Binney, Judith. 1997. Redemption Songs. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. Binney, Judith, Gillian Chaplin, and Craig Wallace. 1990. Mihaia: The Prophet Rua



Kenana and His Community at Maungapohatu. Auckland: Auckland University Press. Campbell, Joseph. 1949. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. New York: Bollingen Foundation. Henare, Manuka. 2001. “Tapu, Mana, Mauri, Hau, Wairua: A Mäori Philosophy of Vitalism and Cosmos.” Pp. 197–221 in Indigenous Traditions and Ecology. Edited by John A. Grim. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Parrinder, Edward Geoffrey. 1967. A Book of World Religions. Chester Springs, PA: Dufuor Editions. ———. 1983. World Religions: From Ancient History to the Present. New York: Facts on File. Original edition 1971. Reed, A. W. 1966. An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Maori Life. Wellington, Auckland, Sydney: A. H. and A. W. Reed. Original edition 1963. Salmond, Anne. 1976. HUI, A Study of Maori Ceremonial Gatherings. Wellington, Sydney, London: A. H. and A. W. Reed. Shortland, Edward. 1856. Traditions and Superstitions of the New Zealanders. London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans and Roberts. ———. 1882. Maori Religion and Mythology. London: Longmans, Green. Simmons, David R. 1976. The Great New Zealand Myth. Wellington, Sydney, London: A. H. and A. W. Reed.

OCEANIA: RITUALS AND PRACTITIONERS In the widest sense Oceania embraces the region between Asia and the Americas, but this article is concerned only with the religious traditions of Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia. The shamanistic traditions of Australia and New Zealand are discussed in other articles. Micronesia in the northwest, Melanesia in the south, and Polynesia in the east are distinguished from each other partly on geographic and partly on cultural grounds. Inhabitants of Polynesia are thought to derive from a historically interrelated group of communities. Micronesia is more a geographic than a cultural notion and, moreover, has relationships with

Asian neighbors. The region named Melanesia, with more than a thousand distinct languages, is even more culturally diverse and ecologically varied. Despite the great linguistic and cultural variation in these island regions of Oceania, there are common religious themes. Throughout Oceania, people’s relationship to the land, attested to in myths and reinforced in rituals, is basic to subsistence and to religious practice. Myth and ritual support social structures that vary considerably—in some cases employing matrilineage and in others patrilineage, in some cases designating castes and hereditary chiefs and in others advocating egalitarian forms of organization. Relationships with numinous beings, including ancestors, are cultivated in order to achieve fruitful outcomes and to avoid possible afflictions. A concern with fertility pervades ritual “work” for gardens and for other economic enterprises. Ritual specialists are engaged to ensure, or to restore, the health and well-being of land and people. Today the large majority of the peoples of Oceania are Christian, and indigenous traditions and Christianity coexist in religious practice. Islam is present in Irian Jaya as a result of the immigration of Muslims from other parts of Indonesia, and Hinduism is represented in Fiji as a result of nineteenth-century British-sponsored immigration of Indians to work in the sugar industry. However, only a small number of the indigenous peoples of Oceania have joined these religions; most have become Christians. Throughout traditional Oceania people identified with a particular habitat. Even today the relationship to a particular location is strong, although in some places, such as New Caledonia and Irian Jaya, large amounts of land were removed from traditional tenure and assigned to colonists or migrants. The relationship to a particular landscape is reflected in myths and rituals and in ideas concerning gods and spirits. Although some of the peoples of Oceania are today urban dwellers dependent on wage labor and a cash economy, most remain subsistence horticulturalists, supplementing a diet of tubers and green vegetables with game or fish. A minority engage primarily in hunting and gathering. Many raise pigs for ceremonial purposes. Most participate to some extent in the monetary economy through production of cash crops or occasional wage labor.


A concern with the maintenance of life-giving relationships pervades the manner in which people interact with other people, with numinous beings, and with the environment. The desire to ensure health and wealth and good relationships motivates participation in both the rituals of traditional religion and the practices of Christianity. In the contexts of colonialism and modernity, this desire has led to the emergence of new religious movements. The terms religion and shamanism are outsider’s categories that do not closely match areas of Oceanian life. One definition of religion that would accommodate the cosmologies and rituals of Oceania suggests that religion is the nonempirical part of the total cosmic order (Lawrence and Meggitt 1965, 7). This nonOceanian working definition is only partly satisfactory and illustrates a common problem in religious studies. It does not say what counts as empirical, and it does not leave room for taking the insider’s claims seriously. To the traditionalist Pacific Islander, as to many an adherent of world religions, visions and ghosts, for example, are a real part of human experience. Shamanism, in the sense of a religious tradition centered on practitioners who enter into trances and go on soul journeys in which contact is made with spirits, is not dominant in Oceania. Nevertheless, the region is home to a variety of ritual practitioners who seek to empower life, and some of whom, like classic shamans, enter into trances and communicate with spirits.

Cosmology Oceanian societies have conceived of the world as consisting of communities of human beings, numinous beings, and animal and plant beings, each community inhabiting its own place but with beings from one community traveling from time to time to the locations of another. In parts of the highlands of Papua New Guinea, for instance, the cosmos includes a distant world of sky people, forests inhabited by various kinds of spirits, settlements where the ghosts of the dead carry on a life similar in many ways to that of the living, and the hamlet or village of the living community. In contrast, in parts of Micronesia the sky world is home not only to celestial beings but also to the spirits of the dead. Like human beings, animal,


bird, and fish populations may be described as carrying on their community life in a particular habitat. Each person negotiates relationships with the beings who dwell in the realms into which he or she must venture as a matter of daily life, and ritual specialists interact with the beings who may visit the living, or be visited by them, on ritual occasions. Writing of numinous beings in traditional Tikopia, a Polynesian society, Raymond Firth noted, “Alongside the highly formal worship of gods and ancestors through the agency of lineage heads as hereditary priests was the operation of a spirit medium cult, with practitioners primarily self-selected for their capacity to enter into trance and serve as mouthpieces of gods or spirits of the dead” (Firth 1996, 157). The variously conceptualized gods and spirits of Oceanian societies are upholders of a morality that is based in relationships to kin, community, and land. Culture heroes and gods are responsible for the creation and regulation of the world. They are said to have given rise to the physical and social world of today, having shaped mountains and planted trees and instituted marriage and exchange relationships. Some gods and heroes are more significant in mythology than in ritual practice. Brother heroes, such as Kilibob and Manup in the myths of the Madang area of New Guinea (Lawrence 1964), typically portray contrasting ways of life and behavior. Land spirits inhabit forests, grasslands, mountains, and swamps. These spirits may be simply imagined as the inhabitants of particular trees or caves, or they may be construed as tricksters, monsters, or ogres, at least capricious and potentially malevolent. People usually perform rituals or observe taboos, or both, when venturing into dangerous and isolated places where spirits are said to shoot arrows of affliction into trespassers and to trip up those who disturb them. Before making a change to their environment, such as felling a tree, people will placate spirits with gifts and politely entreat them to move to another place. It is considered that the dead dwell in settlements separate from those of the living—under the ground, in the sea, in the sky—to which they travel after death and from which they may from time to time return to visit the settlements of their living relatives. At death, rituals mark the transition from life in the domain of the living to life in the domain of the ghosts.



Traditional mortuary customs vary considerably, from burial in the family house to exposure on platforms in the forest or burial at sea. They are more elaborate for people of high rank, as in traditional Hawaii, where chiefs were considered to become gods after death. Today bodies of the dead are usually buried in cemeteries or at individual burial sites. Further rituals periodically sustain and nourish the relationship between living human beings and the dead. Some rituals are for individual ghosts and others are for the ghosts collectively. These rituals usually involve the killing of animals, most often pigs, and the sharing of food between living and dead. They also include speeches, singing, and dancing. The presence of ghosts invited to festivals is signified by the use of masks, costumes, drums, and flutes. People appeal to dead relatives for assistance in times of need. When ancestors as a group are invited to participate in ceremonies, carved figures and masks may be produced to represent them. In some places temples or cult houses are, or were in the past, built as places in which to entertain gods or ancestors. Often mentioned in studies of Polynesian religion are the related concepts of mana (power), tabu (taboo), and atua (god). Analogous notions are also to be found in Melanesia and Micronesia. In fact the first sustained treatment of mana in written accounts came from the work of the Anglican missionary Robert H. Codrington in eastern Melanesia. Mana is understood as the power to effect results in the various enterprises of life and may be acquired through contact with the atua. In the cultures of Polynesia and eastern Melanesia, the chief is considered to possess mana by virtue of his relationship to the atua. Although notions about gods and spirits vary across Oceania, the practice of cultivating relationships with them is universal. Such cultivation includes not only engaging the spirits and gods in pursuit of human ends but also showing due respect for them. Thus each person employs a repertoire of taboos or avoidance behaviors with regard to spirits, just as he or she also exercises taboos in relationships with the living. Oral traditions—in the form of songs, spells, and narratives—tell of the relationship of a community to a particular habitat. Stories narrate the exploits of historical people, of mythic ancestors, and of gods and culture heroes. Traditional narratives of events

that took place in particular places serve to transmit a system of land tenure, and they designate places of power where people should perform rituals.

Rituals Oceanians employ ritual action and spoken words to sustain a fruitful interaction of people with land and with ancestors. The practical work of gardening, hunting, fishing, and animal husbandry is accompanied by ritual work that enacts desired abundant outcomes. There are rituals for weather, gardening, child raising, attracting members of the opposite sex, hunting, fishing, tool manufacture, pig husbandry, trade, warfare, and healing. Most societies do not have full-time ritual officiants but employ a variety of healers, mediums, and other practitioners who devote part of their time to ritual practice. Everyone knows some rituals, such as for gardening and healing, but the specialist has a greater repertoire. Ritual is not a substitute for work but is a kind of work. Gardeners with a good knowledge of plants and soils and seasons are still dependent on the weather and are at the mercy of insect pests. Aware of the precariousness of the human hold on life, they express their desires for their gardens and their commitment to the work of gardening in ritual. Garden spells invite the sun and rain to visit the garden and direct insects and disease to depart. Some communities prohibit sex during a crop’s growing period; others expect a couple to have sexual relations in their new garden. Thus, practices of ritual and spoken language magic connect the fertility of the couple with the fertility of the garden. Rituals are employed to encourage the health and well-being of humans and to send away the forces that inhibit a good life. If a person is sick, a ghost, a land spirit, or a sorcerer or witch is blamed. Healers frequently combine the works of healing and sorcery. They are engaged to divine the causes of illness, to prescribe remedies, which may be herbal or ritual or some combination of the two, and to carry out sorcery and countersorcery. They seek to promote the life of their community and to destroy the forces that threaten it. Some ritual practitioners, who are occasionally described in English as shamans, enter into trances and consult spirits for assistance in divining the cause



Baining Mask, East New Britain, Papua New Guinea, 1994. (Chris Rainier/Corbis)

of illness and in recovering souls that have left their bodies and not found the way back. Ritual renews and reinforces social structures. For example, in areas with hereditary chiefs, firstfruits ceremonies celebrate the people’s relationship to a particular crop such as yams and also summarize the structure of the society. In several societies yams are eaten in turn by priest, chief, men, women, and children, and exchanges of yams take place between individuals and lineages. The pattern of eating and exchanges mirrors the pattern of the society. Similarly, in the highlands of New

Guinea, where leadership is not hereditary and is periodically changed, ritual exchange in events such as the large-scale killing of pigs and transactions of pork and shells provides opportunity for renewal of community and cosmos. Rituals mark transitions in the lives of both individuals and communities.

Practitioners While everyone carries out some rituals, so that we could say that every person is a magician or a ritual practitioner, there are a variety of spe-



cialists who preside over seasonal rituals or are called upon in times of need. Their titles have been represented in English by terms such as healer, sorcerer, witch, magician, diviner, priest, prophet, cult leader, medium, and shaman. In many cases the roles of specialists overlap, and an individual practitioner may carry out the functions of two or more practitioner types. Healers, priests, mediums, and prophets are significant types of ritual practitioner in Oceania. Today these traditional practitioners are supplemented, and sometimes usurped, by a variety of Christian officiants, such as pastors, prayer leaders, and catechists, and by modern medical practitioners. The traditional roles are not constrained by tight job descriptions but are responsive to the needs of local communities. Healers who employ a variety of pharmacological, surgical, and ritual cures are found in all Oceanian societies. Most are men, but there are a significant number of women healers. The healer is nearly always a diviner who uses ritual—including in some cases dream and trance—to determine the cause of illness, and also a sorcerer who uses ritual processes not only to heal patients but also to harm enemies. In many cases of illness it is considered that someone—a living person or a ghost—is afflicting the sick person, and through the sick person, punishing the group. Victims’ relatives consult a healer-diviner to find out who is responsible for afflictions that have befallen them. The specialist’s role is to determine who is causing the illness and to propose a course of action that will cause the person to desist. Such a course of action could, for instance, involve making overdue marriage payments or offering food to an aggrieved ghost. In general traditional healers are not opposed to modern medicine, but they see it as treating the symptoms rather than the causes of illness. Whereas healers are to be found everywhere in Oceania, the priest is more prominent in hierarchically organized societies. As in Tikopia, the priest may be a lineage head or may be in the service of a chief. Presiding over an established ritual system that emphasizes the continuity of the chiefly families and the prosperity of land and community, he tends to support the political status quo. Hereditary priests receive training, which is usually imparted in stages. The leaders of local cults in societies where leadership is ascribed rather than inher-

ited are akin to priests, in that they preside over established rites directed to the welfare of the community. In the ethnographic literature, specialists who communicate with spirits are usually called mediums and are sometimes referred to as shamans. However, given the large corpus of Oceanian ethnography, the term shaman is not common and when used is employed in a broad sense. Mediums who conduct séances facilitate interactions with the spirit inhabitants of Oceania. They may be possessed by spirits or dramatically enact conversations with spirits, obtaining information about what enemies have done, seeking advice on actions clients ought take, and finding and retrieving lost souls. They employ fasting, ingestion of hallucinogenic substances, chanting, drumming, and shaking of rattles to induce trance. Their work is directed to enhancing the situation of individuals and of the local community and is responsive to changing social situations. Like mediums, prophets are bearers of messages. There may well have been practitioners of the prophet type in traditional Oceania; in modern Oceania prophets have emerged as leaders of the so-called cargo cults and other renewal movements. Modern prophets such as the Solomon Islander Silas Eto, a traditional chief and Methodist pastor who founded the Christian Fellowship Church, and Yali, leader of a movement in the Southern Madang area (Lawrence 1964), have sought to address changing social and religious circumstances and to institute rituals for new communities. Oceanian healers and mediums, to a greater extent, and Oceanian priests and prophets, to a lesser extent, share some of the characteristics of shamans, particularly the shamanic responsiveness to the needs of a local community.

Religious Change In Oceania both Christianity and indigenous traditions are part of contemporary religious practice. Moreover, religion is constantly changing. It is likely that even prior to colonial and missionary contact considerable change occurred in indigenous religions. Oral traditions from Melanesia tell of cults imported from one area to another, and it is likely that events such as the arrival of pigs from Asia some 5,000 to 6,000 years ago and the introduction of the sweet potato several hundred years ago affected


people’s ways of relating to their environment and of conceptualizing the numinous. Similarly, one may speculate that Micronesian and Polynesian migrants who left behind the sacred places of their families adjusted ritually as well as economically to their new habitats. In the colonial period, Pacific Islanders were recruited for labor in mines, plantations, offices, and factories, and workers from diverse cultures came in contact with traditions that differed from their own. During this period, Christianity in a variety of denominations began to be introduced to the region, beginning in the Marianas in 1668, in Tahiti in 1797, and in Hawaii in 1820, and reaching New Guinea in the late nineteenth century. The colonial powers in the region were Christian nations, which saw missions as their allies in the spread of civilization. Both Protestant and Catholic missions in Oceania became involved in the work of health and education. Studies of Christian conversion indicate that those to whom the first missionaries preached assumed that biblical stories and Christian rituals worked in ways similar to indigenous myth and ritual. Religious movements drawing on both indigenous traditions and Christianity have developed in the Pacific. In Melanesia, movements in which participants await the arrival of an abundance of goods or anticipate a social utopia, were reported following colonial contact; from the mid-1940s they came to be known as cargo cults. The cults need to be understood in relation to wealth rituals and exchange activities that were part of precolonial Melanesia. These movements, which take elements from both indigenous religions and Christianity, seek to attain a lifestyle characterized by wealth and good relationships. Classic cargo cults, which have generally been understood as a response to colonialism and capitalism, have waned in Melanesia. However, a plethora of religious movements and new churches continue to respond to changing circumstances. Today most Pacific Islanders are Christians, and the style of Christianity varies from place to place depending on the nature of local traditions and the denomination that sent missionaries to the particular area. Indeed, in Oceania the relationship of Christianity and indigenous traditions is a matter of ongoing conversation. Mary N. MacDonald


See also: Australian Aboriginal Shamanism; Christianity and Shamanism; CrossCultural Perspectives on Shamans; Dreams and Shamanism; Indonesian Shamanism; Maori Religion; Murut Shamanism; Semai Shamanism; Taman Shamanism References and further reading: Barker, John, ed. 1990. Christianity in Oceania: Ethnographic Perspectives. Lanham, MD: University Press of America. Codrington, R. H. 1891. The Melanesians: Studies in Their Folklore and Anthropology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Firth, Raymond. 1967. The Work of the Gods in Tikopia. London: Athlone. ———. 1996. Religion: A Humanist Interpretation. London and New York: Routledge. Herdt, Gilbert, and Michele Stephen, eds. 1989. The Religious Imagination in New Guinea. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. Katz, Richard. 1999. The Straight Path of the Spirit: Ancestral Wisdom and Healing Traditions in Fiji. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press. Lawrence, Peter. 1964. Road Belong Cargo. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press. Lawrence, Peter, and M. J. Meggitt, eds. 1965. Gods, Ghosts and Men in Melanesia. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press. Leenhardt, Maurice. 1979. Do Kamo: Person and Myth in the Melanesian World. Trans. by B. M. Gulati. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Lessa, W. A. 1961. Tales from Ulithi Atoll. Berkeley: University of California Press. MacDonald, Mary N. 2002. “The Study of Shamanism: Local and Universal Dimensions.” Journal of Ritual Studies 16: 2, 88–107. Mageo, Jeannette M., and Alan Howard, eds. 1996. Spirits in Culture, History, and Mind. New York and London: Routledge. Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1948. Magic, Science, and Religion, and Other Essays. Boston: Beacon Press. Oliver, Douglas L. 1989. Oceania: The Native Cultures of Australia and the Pacific Islands. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. Trompf, Garry W. 1991. Melanesian Religion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Valeri, Valerio. 1985. Kingship and Sacrifice: Ritual and Society in Ancient Hawaii. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.



Shamans building a stone altar for a ritual. (Courtesy of Josiane Cauquelin)

PUYUMA SHAMANISM (TAIWAN) In Taiwan, shamanism still flourishes among the Austronesian people known as the Puyuma. The author’s work among this people provides an interesting picture of a shamanistic tradition that has been transformed by outside influences but has managed to adapt and thrive.

Background The Puyuma inhabit the Taitung plain in the southeast of the island of Taiwan. They speak an Austronesian language and are divided into two dialectal groups: the group “born of a stone,” and the one “born of a bamboo.” The first comprises seven villages, the second the single village of Puyuma (Nanwang village). The Nanwang Puyama, the focus of this article, occupies an area five kilometers from the town of Taitung. Society in Puyuma has undergone violent upheavals, caused first by Japanese colonization in 1895, then by the new Chinese government

set up in 1950. Until the Japanese arrived on the island, the Puyuma’s lives were entirely directed toward the northern mountains, and the group existed by horticulture, hunting, and gathering. But with the prohibition of hunting, farming became more important for the economy. Men had to take part in the agricultural work, which up till then had been done by women. The foreign administration also made schooling in Japanese compulsory, introduced fatigue duties, harassed female shamans, and forbade hunting, including head-hunting rites. From 1950 onwards, Chang Kai-shek’s government continued the destruction initiated by the Japanese administration. In the 1960s, the Puyuma began to sell their lands in order to acquire consumer goods. Today, there are only a few peasant families left, and young people leave the village to work in the island’s big cities. Nevertheless, the old structures have not entirely disappeared. The population of the village is divided into two moities for purposes of ceremony, known as the upper moiety and the lower moiety. Opposition exists between na-


tives and nonnatives, and between religious power and political power. Until the 1930s, each moiety of the village contained three households stocked with provisions, and three men’s houses, the latter being attached to three hunting grounds. Each moiety also had an adolescents’ house. Today, the village has only one men’s house and one adolescents’ house. Social organization is based on residential units resulting from the division of the six founding households. At the beginning of the twentieth century, residence was predominantly with the wife’s family, but since the 1930s, the trend has been toward living with the husband’s family. The children are attached to the household where the parents resided at the time of their birth. Village endogamy was formerly strictly applied; that is, young people were required to marry within the village. Puyuma society is characterized by an age system. During their lives, males pass through four well-defined stages: “children,” “adolescents awaiting initiation,” “virile warriors,” and “elders.” Ritual functions are assumed by soothsayers, religious practitioners, and shamans. Soothsayers (all men) consult bamboo splinters. Male religious practitioners are in charge of the sociocosmic unity of the entire society, performing the regular cyclical rites concerning the life of the group. Through their relationship with the mythical founding ancestors of the group, religious practitioners are attached to their territory. In December the practitioners perform all the rites of the yearly ceremonial cycle, mangayaw, which ensures the restoration of harmony. The entire society is involved. Shamans (currently all women) intervene on a day-today basis. They are concerned with immediate social relations between people, and they play the role of therapist, exorcist, and sometimes soothsayer. Shamanistic ritual is performed according to the needs of the moment, and so an altar is set up at each intervention. Religion is the key element of Puyuma identity. No Puyuma is insensitive to the manifestations of birua (spirits), which are classified in three categories according to the spaces they inhabit: the kaqisatan, literally, “On High”; the kaqaulasan, literally “the Aulas” (world of the spirits); and the third category, which seems to be “homeless” (Cauquelin 1995, 190). The men and women in charge of religious activities


play an important role in the whole of Puyuma society. Shamans, some of whom do not even speak the national language, can be seen getting into planes with their ustensils and their long miscanthus stems, to perform rituals at the homes of Puyuma living in a block of flats in Taipei or Kaoshiung. All men and shamans, but not ordinary women, can intervene with “homeless” spirits, and the innumerable beings from “On High,” but only shamans have access to the kaqaulasan. In the kaqaulasan, another imprecise but completely different place, shamans invoke the hosts of their ancestors, all the dead shamans, and their elector spirits (the spirits who have chosen individual shamans). All these ancestors are the shamans’ auxiliary spirits.

Becoming a Shaman It is impossible for a woman to become a shaman unless she has shaman ancestors, one of whom becomes the elector spirit, the principal birua who will help her in her work. The elected one cannot refuse, but it is she who chooses to reveal the call of the birua that she has experienced. Her charisma is based solely on her heredity and this election. The shaman has no choice, the people say. She cannot avoid being chosen; some try to gain time by making offerings, but the elector spirit never gives up. Her situation is irreversible; she is no freer to abandon the call than she was to choose it. The belief that the shaman must answer the call is deeply rooted in the belief system. Transmission is on the father’s or the mother’s side, sometimes skipping a generation, but sometimes occurring in two siblings. As part of her initiation, the candidate undergoes some kind of uncommon experience: visions, dreams, profound and painful internal disorders, accidents, fertility problems (perhaps the death of a child in the womb or of a very young child). There is no average age of investiture, but it tends to happen at two different periods, either around the age of thirty or between forty and fifty. Investiture introduces the novice into the shaman community. The ceremony lasts five days. On the first day, the soul leaves the body: “The elector spirit has come for me,” says the shaman, so it is a kind of death. On the second day the soothsayer designates the place where the



Male practitioners in the house of the founding ancestors. (Courtesy of Josiane Cauquelin)

shaman’s shrine will be built; on the third day the shrine is erected. At dawn on the fourth day, the shaman places the protective spirit in the shrine. In the evening the entire shaman community prepares the novice’s ritual objects (bag, bell, and the rest), and the same evening the novice’s instructor places the bag on the new recruit’s left shoulder; the soul which left on the first evening is recalled, and reinstated in the top of the head (this is perceived as a rebirth). The ceremony ends on the fifth day with the ritual of the novice’s admission into the group. The shrine is built by men from the newly elected shaman’s household, her father, brothers, and husband; her husband moves into the new building. The bag and all the other accessories are made by the other shamans, so two social categories are concerned: her household and her new colleagues. The shrine is a holy place, not in the sense that it is forbidden but because it is the place where the shaman lives in perfect harmony with her auxiliary spirits and where she keeps her cult objects. The walls are covered with knick-knacks.

The bag “makes” the shaman. The rattle is kept in the bag and enables communication with the birua in the kaqaulasan to take place. This Pierrot-headed object (a white-faced clown) is only taken out of the bag for important ceremonies such as the voyage to the Aulas, or the recall of a soul. It cannot be bought in a shop; it belonged to the electing ancestor, and it is acquired for a considerable sum from his or her descendants. Among the accessories, there is rope braided from banyan root, and a little calabash bottle containing lime for binding restless birua. The young novice becomes a shaman at the precise moment when the instructor places the bag on her left shoulder during the investiture ceremony. When she leaves her house to perform a rite at a patient’s home, the shaman ties the strings of her little apron behind her back, and places a crown of flowers on her head, nothing more. There is no formal training. The new recruit receives no verbal instruction. Training is of a practical kind: The shaman assists her instructor and imitates her. But she denies this, since


it is held that invocations “fall into the novice’s head while she is asleep.” The mistress of ceremonies, the shaman who was her instructor during the ceremony, sleeps in the novice’s bed for a month after the investiture ceremony. This woman has, for many years, been surrounded by shaman ancestors, and she shows them the way to the new shrine. The new shaman must be gifted and able to memorize and improvise. Learning how to perform rites, and know the arrangement of a ritual, naturally makes it necessary to follow another shaman, to take notes and make sketches.

Changes in Shamanism Religious practices in Puyuma have been undergoing a dynamic recomposition process for many years. The study of ritual in Puyuma, that is, the study of the distribution of activities, and the analysis of myths, shows an initial change, which took place at about the time when hunting was abandoned for rice-growing, around the end of the nineteenth century, when men left shamanistic practices to women, but continued to perform community rites. Puyuma society was probably once a shamanistic hunting society, whose religious practitioners were men, before becoming a shamanistic society whose religious practitioners are women. The Puyuma used to hunt any game provided by the mountain. All aspects of hunting were important, and society was of a communal type. The game captured was eaten by all the men in the men’s house, and shared among their households. In hunting societies, the primary function of the male shaman is the transaction with the spirit (or spirits) known as the “master of the hunt” in order to obtain luck in hunting during the year (Hamayon 1990a and 1990b). Each year, the men of the upper moiety in Puyuma performed the ritual of “feeding the mountain,” also known as the “Takio ritual,” to thank the masters of the hunt in hope of obtaining their favors once more. Among the many legends, one tells of the rice cake thief, Takio, who crossed a bridge of creepers to reach an island and hunt game, but who returned empty-handed mounted on an aquatic creature. Takio, a shaman, tried to make the rice cakes vanish, since they would deprive him of his function, which, in a hunting society, is the cap-


ture of game. Another legend tells the story of the hunter, a father, who killed his daughter’s lover, who, in the form of a stag, was guarding the crops in the field. The transition from one type of society to another, marked during the transition period by an attempt to unite farming and hunting, can only be completed through death—the death of the useless old stag is brought about by the girl’s father, a useless old hunter who kills the object of his envy. Takio is the worthless shaman, whose role of emptyhanded hunter throws scorn on the shaman’s very function. Both the stag and the hunter are useless participants in a farming society. A second change in practices took place at the time of Japanese colonization. The legend of Samguan, in addition to showing modifications in ritual practices and speeches among the shamans themselves, proves that a change took place as the result of an upheaval, caused by the prohibition of religious practices imposed by the colonial administration. In the legend, Samguan, an effeminate man, is described as the first shaman, whereas in the final chant of the shamanistic journey (yaulas, literally “being in the aulas world”) a woman appears— Udekaw with her favorite son, Tuben—and she is there described as the first “true” shaman. The story of the election of Samguan, aged about twenty-five when the Japanese arrived, tells us that he was working in the fields when the “spirits who loved him” invested him and dropped at his feet a bag full of attributes. This story implies that, after a complete interruption, shamanistic practices resumed in secret, but in a different form. Samguan is supposed to have restored these practices and simultaneously renovated them. He converted the first, uncontrolled appearance of the spirits into ritualized manifestations. The bag used by shamans today is made exactly the same as the bag that fell from the sky at Samguan’s feet when his election took place in the fields. Today, shamanistic practices are situated within a shaman–possession cult continuum. Integration into the colonial state set shamanism back. The institutional link between the organization of the household and shamanism was broken and traits considered characteristic of possession cults were acquired.

Josiane Cauquelin Translated by Caroline Charras-Wheeler



See also: Atayal Shamanism; Dreams and Shamanism; Oceania: Rituals and Practitioners; Siberian Shamanism References and further reading: Cauquelin, Josiane. 1992.“La ritualité puyuma,” BEFEO 79, no. 2: 67–101. ———. 1993. “The Impact of Japanese Colonialism on Puyuma (Taiwan) Shamanism.” Pp. 97–110 in Shamans and Cultures. Edited by M. Mihály Hoppál and K. D. Howard. Los Angeles, CA: International Society for Trans-Oceanic Research, ISTOR books. ———. 1995. “The Puyuma’s ‘Language of the Spirits.’” Pp. 189–196 in Shamanism in Performing Arts. Edited by Tae-gon Kim and Mihály Hoppál, with the assistance of Otto J. von Sadovszky. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiaodóo.

———. 2000. “Passage d’une société chamaniste à une société à chamanes, l’exemple des Puyuma de Taiwan” [Passage from a shamanist society to a society of the example of the Puyuma of Taiwan]. Pp. 35–50 in La politique des esprits, Chamanismes et religions universalistes [The politics of spirits, shamanisms and universalist religions]. Nanterre: Université de Paris. Hamayon, Roberte. 1990a. La chasse à l’âme: Esquisse d’une théorie du chamanisme sibérien. Nanterre: Société d’Ethnologie. ———. 1990b. “Pragmatisme et ritualisation dans le chamanisme.” Pp. 149–169 in Essais sur le rituel. Edited by A-M. Blondeau and K. Schipper. Vol. 2. Louvain-Paris: Peeters (Bibliothèque de l’École des hautes études, Sciences religieuses).





frica is indeed a big continent, populated by 800 million people—comprising thousands of ethnic and linguistic groups—and second only to Asia in terms of total area. The ecology and geography of Africa vary a great deal. Stretching from the Atlantic in the west to the Red Sea in the east, the Sahara divides Mediterranean North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, which consists of West, East, Central, and southern Africa. In addition to the deserts, rain forests, and grassland savannas for which Africa is known, mountainous regions can be found to the north and east of the continent, as well as in the interior of the Sahara. Most of the current geopolitical boundaries of African nation-states were either the creation of European powers dominant in Africa in the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth century or, alternatively, the result of the decolonization process. Thus the outlines of many African nations do not reflect actual and continued cultural, religious, or historical regions. Historically, migration, circulation, trade, warfare, and social stratification have contributed to the ongoing redefinitions of ethnic groups and what constitutes them. Africa exhibits markedly differing types of societies, both in terms of scale and organization. Social organizations ranging from large regional empires based on trade, to pastoral nomads, to hunter-gatherer groups living in the forests or deserts can all be found in Africa. Political organization varies as well. Despite overt and increasing attempts on the part of many nations to extend the reach of centralized governmental authority, kinship and religion are still influential idioms. Many of the newer political developments, in fact, are couched in religious, not wholly secular, terms.

Interaction and Systems of Belief in Africa Africa has been home to a rich variety of indigenous belief systems from before ancient Egypt to the present. Ancient Egyptian religious practices were extremely complicated systems of belief, incorporating animal symbolism, various sorts of ritual specialists, elaborate funerary practices, and above all multiple deities. In most instances at the present time, the systems of beliefs coexist or articulate with scriptural religions, the most widespread of which are Christianity and Islam. Religious pluralism on the African continent is not, however, a new phenomenon. Whereas the spread of Christianity to most parts of Africa is embedded in the colonial project, either as a direct intent or in some cases as an unanticipated end, Christianity existed in North Africa early in the first millennium and spread to Ethiopia soon thereafter. Islam first moved to North Africa in the seventh century. From this point onward, trade networks spread Islam to interior areas, most notably perhaps West Africa, where towns like Tombouctou became centers of learning in the early middle ages. Mercantile activities along the eastern coast of Africa also played an important role in bringing Islam in from the coastal towns.




Yet Islam did not enter the tropical forests and the East and Central African interiors until recent times. The increased spread and ensuing influences of Islam and Christianity did not eradicate indigenous religions; rather it brought about changes within them or opened up possibilities of religious conflict. The incorporation of Christian or Islamic symbolic content at times augmented religious life, introducing new syncretic tendencies. The slave trade represents another significant development in the historiography of African systems of belief. The movements of great numbers of Africans to North America brought African religious practice to the Caribbean and the American South (as well as to northern states) and prompted the creation of new sorts of spiritual practices, as demonstrated in the entry on Voudou in New Orleans, in the North America section. Such syntheses are also seen in Brazil, as seen in the entry “Afro-Brazilian Shamanism,” in the Central and South America section. A common view at present is that indigenous beliefs are represented and defined within “traditional” structures of social organization in Africa. Yet the issue is more complex; the areas where African systems of belief are made manifest at present are not simply rural areas or “traditional” enclaves; rather, ritual practice can be seen in urban areas as well (see entry “Zarma Spirit Mediums” for example) and alongside scriptural religion. Syncretic tendencies—the adoption and incorporation of new religious practices—have been apparent for some time and are becoming more so in various parts of Africa, especially those that are religiously plural (see entries on “Swahili Healers and Spirit Cult” and “Zulu Shamanism”). Noah Butler

African Shamanism Mircea Eliade defined a shaman strictly as an ecstatic whose soul leaves his body and ascends to the sky or descends to the Underworld. If this trait were not present, said Eliade, the person was not a shaman but a healer or magician (Eliade 1989, 5, 507). This definition excluded African spirit practitioners from the category of shamans and had a delaying effect on the exploration of the spirituality of African healing and ritual. Eliade’s criterion was firmly linked to that of a belief of the people in a Supreme Being (507), and he maintained that spirit possession in healing— common in Africa—was developed later in history. However, since the time of his book, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, first published (in French) in 1951, new studies of what is clearly shamanic work in Africa, documented in detail and often reported by experiencers, have been added to the literature, and have even outpaced the ethnography of shamanism in Eurasia. African indigenous prophets and prophetesses have indeed been in touch with a Supreme Being. Scholars’ understanding of the level of consciousness that gives East African initiates their sense of equiprimordiality—oneness—is developing, as described, for instance, by Stephen Friedson (1996) and Roy Willis et al. (1999) in their studies of African spirit ritual. The sense of oneness is very close to the sense of God. The question arises frequently in African ethnography. For instance, where were the souls of the Mbuti pygmies as they sang their “making good” songs in the Ituri forest of Congo? The anthropologist Colin Turnbull knew, but could not fully put the matter into words. “The bodies [of the singers] were empty”—they were gone (Turnbull 1990, 56). Turnbull said that the Mbuti’s songs and their sense of the forest very definitely included whatever is implied by God and Spirit. Furthermore, in a study of the healing dances of the !Kung bushmen of the Kalahari, Richard Katz quoted the words of the healer Kinachau: “During the death of full kia [an altered state of consciousness] the soul leaves the healers’ body through their head. The soul goes to encounter god and the spirits of the dead ancestors. It pleads for protection for the !Kung back at the dance” (Katz 1982, 100). Back at the dance the singers call out for the soul to return. They too know it has gone. Other examples exist. For many reasons it is time to establish the inclusion of African and African American spirit practitioners in the category of shamans, indeed, that of mystics.



General Characteristics of Shamanism in Africa From the following overview of the shamanic craft of Africa, something of the richness and deep spirituality of the shamans’ work will be recognized. In the understanding of most Africans, God created the world and then gave the most active part of the work of the world to spirits. The spirits are the beings who are most frequently responsive and efficacious. Ancestor spirits are constantly present among the living and are deeply concerned in their doings. At death, a person journeys to the land of the ancestors, and also, after death, the soul may be reborn in a new child. This metempsychosis, the soul’s power to migrate, can occur when a tribal king sits on the throne of the ancestor whose death occasioned his succession. He then becomes that ancestor. For most Africans, illness is caused not only by infections and other medical conditions but by spiritual trouble, brought about by the dissatisfaction of the ancestors (still spiritually alive and active) with the ways of the living, especially when hatreds tear a family, or when the spirits see disrespect in the attitude of the living toward those who have gone before and who gave them life. The other major cause of illness is the action of jealous or inimical persons, witches or sorcerers, who perform occult acts to harm their enemies, “eating” their vitality. Village Africans frequently hold rituals of healing to counteract these dangers. The rituals draw together descent groups or wider village attendance to carry out the rites, which are led by a spirit doctor, or shaman. The ritual consists of song, drumming, clapping, dance, the use of medicines, and a variety of performances to bring the spirit strongly into the midst of the people so that it is able to help, not harm. These acts insure the necessary connection with the spirit world. The entities, having begun by afflicting a person, when recognized for what they are and are respected, will give good health, good fortune, and, for some individuals, a call to the life of a shaman. The person destined to be a shaman is sometimes a person with an unusual birth, such as being born a twin, or born in a caul. The first sign of a vocation in the young person may be in the form of a dream about the person’s own dead ancestors, often a parent. Thus it is an ancestor or power spirit that takes the initiative in leading a shaman to his or her career. It guides the budding shaman into the spiritual way of life, teaches him or her through dreams, and when the person is initiated gives powers of healing and also of knowing which herbs to gather and how to treat the sick. It enables the shaman to communicate with others from afar, to meet the ancestors through dreams and visions, to tell the future, find lost objects, and help hunters to find animals. During the first intimations of change the incipient shaman is at first in two worlds, that of the spirits and that of village life. He or she often suffers confusion at this point, runs wild, and may fall in trance. A rite of sacrifice may occur at the height of the initiation when the new shaman is shaken by the intense drumming and laid low by the spirit. The killing of an animal in sacrifice sends a message of power to the spirit—death being the membrane between mortals and spirituality. The blood, the result of the penetration of that membrane, will cool and quiet the perturbation of the novice. This may become the moment of breakthrough when the gift arrives. The spirit is taking control; then, with the aid of full initiation by older practitioners along with music and community help, the shamanic gift is accepted, confirmed, and becomes of use to humans. The shaman’s initiation may include a test of his new divinatory powers, sometimes in the form of finding hidden objects. Such a test is a common feature of African shaman initiation. A new shaman sometimes says that the experience was life changing. A shaman has wisdom, and is able to “tune in” and intuit the nature of an illness and the state of the sick person. The shaman has modesty and does not claim responsibility for cures, but ascribes them to the spirits concerned. Shamans are commonly marginal people in some way in the village. They are rarely headmen or kings. A shaman often keeps a container in some sacred place—a bag, a basket, a jar, or even a “doctor’s black bag”—holding divining objects, various objects of power, medicines possessing homeopathic, contagious, or sympathetic virtue, or maybe a conch shell to serve as a spiritual telephone. The medicines and rituals used by shamans have been shown to them by their spirits. Part of the power of the herbal substances derives from their spiritual quality and part from what the West may recognize as their medicinal value. The two values are blended in one. As for the divining objects, shaman-diviners, who are often specialists, make use of a variety of objects or even random



marks of nature that hook their attention. The objects may be collections of bones, figurines, or palm nuts, the naturally formed footprints of wild animals, or the appearance of the internal organs of a hunter’s newly caught quarry. The random pushing of a pole along the ground may also be a divining test. These objects or circumstances tell the diviner the nature of the trouble the sick person is suffering, whether it is from ancestor affliction or from witchcraft, what steps the relatives should take, or whether they should undertake a ritual appealing to the ancestor spirits or an antiwitchcraft ritual or herbal treatment. In divination, the practitioner feels a shaking or burning, a great sensitiveness to disturbance, and a sense of his or her tutelary spirit taking over. In a state of heightened awareness, the practitioner will put pertinent questions about the trouble in question. The diviner in the sacred state is able to reverse a downward trend in a person’s life. In some cases the diviner (or oracle) may not remember anything about the séance afterwards. The diviners, therefore, are shamans; they perform extractions of harmful intrusions, reconcile a person’s ancestor spirit to make him or her a guardian and protector, and may heal with herbs or physical treatments. Above all they have knowledge. As for whether African shamans make spirit journeys, examples of these have been briefly mentioned. Full descriptions are only just becoming available.

Introduction to the Entries In the entry “Ancient Egyptian Shamanism,” many shamanic features are noted, for instance, the spirit qualities of bulls and jackals, the part-human, part-animal nature of gods, and the dismemberment and rebirth theme of the god Osiris. There existed knowledge of multiple souls, along with the practice of trance by priests, which brought them gifts like those of shamans. The spirit journey was well attested. The entry “Igbo Shamanism” notes how the primary spirit entity, Agwü, empowers the “man of knowledge” (dibïa) in his craft, and how a deceased dibïa grandfather will teach a new dibïa in his dreams. At present the dibïas (now frequently women) do not treat disease so much as disorders due to lifestyle, corruption, dishonesty, and abuse. “Hausa Shamanistic Practices” describes how Bori spirit doctors in Nigeria owe the efficacy of their healing and wisdom to the spirits. Among the Hausa, Muslim and non-Muslim practices sometimes intermingle and are sometimes in opposition. In the Gungawa section of the Hausa region, shamanic mediums, often benign or trickster figures, are held in high repute, while at the same time displays of power by any of them are frowned on. The entry “Ndembu Shamanism” points out that the shaman-diviner attains all the typical powers of universal shamanism: healing, interacting with the dead and other spirits, finding lost objects, bringing animals to the hunter, changing the weather, and speaking from insight and foreknowledge. The author of “Ancestor Worship in Africa” notes that African piety toward ancestors was respected by the Greeks of the classical era as a good example to be followed. For the Akan in Ghana, humans are descended from spirits who are descended from God. The priest-mediums of the ancestor cults are called to their work by supernatural agents. In their initiation there occurs a temporary paralysis, like trance. These attributes are noted in the entry “Asante Shamanism”; the okomfo or priest is possessed by spirits of nature who impart the knowledge for the okomfo to cure illnesses and assist people in other ways. Similarly, in the entry “Cape Nguni Shamanism,” the healer-diviners are described as called to their professions by the ancestors. More women than men become mediums in this region of Africa. Another entry, on the West African shamanism known as the “Mami Wata Religion” (mother of water), focuses on a deity who inhabits bodies of water and is revered, along with water spirits, in the West African coastal area. Initiates are called to the priesthood through signs of being drawn to water. They then set up unique individualistic shrines to Mami Wata, incorporating non-African images and objects that were brought into West Africa by European and Indian trade and cultural contact since the fifteenth century. The entry “Swahili Healers and Spirit Cult” shows the intermingling of Islamic and pre-Islamic ways of understanding healing at all levels of the craft: contacting and treating spirits, divination, astrology, geomancy, and magic. For healing, Qur’anic passages are written on a cup or plate, washed with wa-



ter, and the water given to the patient to drink. Possessing spirits will use humans as their “chair”; the spirits are ambitious and desire fine things. The entry “Yaka Shamanistic Divination” describes a religious view based on an awareness of the world in which everything is alive and an ecstatic communion can take place between humans, spirits, and the life world. Yaka diviners often operate within the framework of a healing church. In “Zarma Spirit Mediums,” the zima is described as a holy man who variously combines spirit possession, healing, and magic through ritual in an effort to manipulate spirits. In “Marabouts and Magic,” it is noted that the marabout variously combines divination, magic, healing, spirit manipulation, and ecstatic prayer. The entry on “Cape Nguni Shamanism” emphasizes the role of the diviner, who interprets the messages of ancestors in order to heal the patient. Herbalists also have knowledge of magic, but do not possess the occult powers of the diviner. The author notes that certain aspects of Xhosa ecstatic divination may be derived from the cosmology and shamanic practices of the !Kung—such as the ecstatic healing dance. The entry “!Kung Healing, Ritual, and Possession” describes this cosmology as a universe defined in terms of creation and destruction, with important animal and ancestor spirits. Shamans are spiritual specialists—healers who protect people from evil spirits by entering into trance. A major feature of !Kung shamanic practices is the ritual trance dance, also practiced by the Xhosa, a ceremony entered into in order to placate malevolent deities; music is a key factor in the !Kung trance dances. In the entry “African Traditional Medicine,” reference is made to the development of healers’ associations such as the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers’ Association, formed to support traditional medical culture. The differences between African healing skills and those of modern medicine are outlined. The entry “Twin Cult of the Akan” gives the sacred cosmology of this Ghanaian people and includes the ritual to draw the deity into twins, showing how the twins are tested, fall into trance, and are finally purified. “Witchcraft in Africa” discusses anthropological theories of witchcraft, including Max Marwick’s theory that “witchcraft is a conservative force” (Marwick 1967), meaning that both the complexities of witchcraft and the defenses against it have the function of giving support to the existing social system. Many details of intentional witchcraft and also evils done without the witch’s intention are included here. Edith Turner References and further reading: Eliade, Mircea. 1989. Reprint. Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Translated from the French by Willard R. Trask. London: Penguin Arkana. Original edition, New York: Bollingen Foundation, 1964. Friedson, Stephen M. 1996. Dancing Prophets. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Katz, Richard. 1982. Boiling Energy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Marwick, Max. 1967. “The Sociology of Sorcery in a Central African Tribe.” Pp. 101–126 in Magic, Witchcraft, and Curing. Edited by John Middleton. Garden City, NJ: Natural History Press. Turnbull, Colin. 1990. “Luminosity: A Synthesis of Subjective and Objective Experience.” Pp. 50–81 in By Means of Performance: Intercultural Studies of Theatre and Ritual. Edited by Richard Chechen and Willa Appel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Willis, Roy, with K. B. S. Chisanga, H. M. K. Sikazwe, Kapembwa B. Sikazwe, and Sylvia Nanyangwe. 1999. Some Spirits Heal, Others Only Dance: A Journey into Human Selfhood in an African Village. Oxford: Berg.

2 !KUNG HEALING, RITUAL, AND POSSESSION The phenomenon that might be described as shamanism among the !Kung involves healers who, during rituals, enter a trance state and transmit power from the spirits. Despite recent changes in !Kung life, these people still play a central role

Background Residing along the intersections of the borders of Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Angola, !Kung have lived historically as hunter-gatherers. For many, the terms !Kung and Bushmen are synonymous. Indeed, various bodies of literature have used them interchangeably, with Bushmen—an Anglicization of the Dutch bosjesmans (Lee 2003, 9)—employed as a generic descriptive term for various southern African hunter-gatherer groups. Use of the term Bushmen has been abandoned altogether by the social sciences, as it is vague and obviously outdated, if not blatantly derogatory. Anthropologists, for instance, prefer calling these groups what they call themselves. But sometimes this is no less problematic. The term San (viz. !Kung San) frequently used in place of Bushmen comes from the Nama word saan (plural) or saa (singular), which has the same meaning of “bush dweller(s).” Ju/’hoansi (pronounced zhut-wasi) is the term by which most !Kung refer to themselves (Lee 2003, x); nonetheless, Ju/’hoansi is seen but rarely in the literature. One of the most common remarks about the !Kung is that an ethos of egalitarianism pervades most facets of their social life. This is not to say that a division of labor does not exist; quite the contrary; men hunt, and women gather. The products of their efforts, however, are distributed with attention to sharing. Estimates of the number of !Kung vary from 35,000 to 100,000, depending on whether settled people or only hunter-gatherers are counted. Consisting of thirty or so related individuals, a band is the predominant unit of !Kung hunter-

gatherer social organization (Lee 2003, 59ff.). !Kung migrate with the seasons. In the dry season when water is at a premium, larger camps with more substantial shelter spring up around established water holes. During the rainy season, !Kung tend to circulate much more freely since they have no need to stay settled near durable water holes because the rains give birth to numerous new ones (Lee 2003, 33ff.). Yet not all !Kung live nomadic lives. Indeed, many are settled. In part due to the introduction of reservations in the 1970s, in addition to restrictive policies of land tenure by some nations, !Kung lifestyle, modes of subsistence, and social organization have changed drastically. Sedentary life introduced new sets of concerns, not the least of which was a money economy. Many !Kung, especially men, turned to wage labor, working for their neighbors (the Herero, Tswana, and others) as herders or farmhands. Still other !Kung, men and women alike, migrated to less rural areas, taking various sorts of jobs there. Adaptations to changing ecology and political economy are not new phenomena to !Kung. Initially, the twelfth-century migration into the area of Bantu-speaking pastoralists and horticulturalists and then the movement of Europeans since the seventeenth century drastically altered !Kung life. Initial efforts to control !Kung territory, compounded with later political maneuvers to limit their access to it, have made it difficult for !Kung to continue hunting and gathering with the same alacrity as in the past (Lee 2003, 168ff.).

!Kung Belief Systems In contrast to the egalitarian ethic of !Kung social life, !Kung cosmology is hierarchical. !Kung believe that a grand deity created the universe. What they call this deity varies, although coincidentally a good many !Kung call their creator !Kung as well. There were two separate phases of creation. First, the universe was brought into existence. In the beginning, there were no distinctions between animals and people; both were human (cf. Lee 2003, 128–129). During




this stretch of time, the basic structures of !Kung society were established. A second stage of creation differentiated people from animals, leaving them to live together in the same world but as different sorts of beings. The second moment of creation, therefore, established the current natural and social order of things. !Kung people maintain that presently their creator resides in the eastern sky and has power over another lesser deity, Gauwa the trickster, or death-giver, who lives in the western sky. Thus !Kung cosmology recognizes the nature of the universe in terms of creation and destruction, made manifest by competing deities of life (!Kung) and death (Gauwa). The contrast between life and death, creation and destruction, is hinted at further by the cardinal points: !Kung the creator lives with the rising sun, whereas Gauwa the death-giver resides where the sun sets. !Kung the creator has power not only over Gauwa but also over other malevolent forces aligned with this death-giver. Animal and ancestral spirits occupy a central place in !Kung cosmology as well. Although they are not nearly so powerful as the !Kung deities, these spirits affect individuals and the community directly. Ancestral spirits may be indifferent, benevolent, or malevolent; in particular they are respected because of their ability to inform human affairs positively or negatively (Lee 2003, 125ff.). While the nature of the afterlife is not clear, it is the ancestors who serve to enforce basic principles of !Kung belief and behavior, since they may cause illness as retribution for violating community norms. Moreover, the fact that ancestors can cause illness suggests that the !Kung believe in the survival of the soul, or spirit.

Healers Shamans are defined as part-time spiritual specialists; the !Kung refer to such people as healers (n/um k”ausi, literally “medicine owners”) (Lee 2003, 120). !Kung ritual life is centered on the efficacy of these healers, who enter into trance to heal people and protect them from malevolent spirits responsible for causing illness and misfortune. Additionally, healers have a supernatural potency (n/um) within them that enables them to see the future, control the weather, and perform a whole host of other services, including ensuring good hunting and

generally looking after the well-being of their group (Lee 2003, 125–140). Among the !Kung, nearly half the men and one-third of the women have acted as healers in trance dances at one time or another (Lee 2003, 13, 82–83).

Ritual and (Trance) Dance One of the central functions of healers is to organize and participate in trance dances. Such dances may be performed at any time, although they are most commonly staged during the dry season, for several reasons. First, during the dry season the community is most likely to be threatened with food shortage; hence ritual ceremonies are one way of placating malevolent forces and beseeching the spirits for assistance in times of scarcity. Second, because camps are larger in the dry season, since people must move to established water holes and stay there until the rains come, more people are able to participate in the trance dances. Some communities hold trance dances upwards of two or three times a week, while others stage but a few in the course of a season. Dances begin in the evening and last through the night. There is a clear division of labor in dance. Women sit around a fire at the center of the dance area singing, shaking rattles, and playing other instruments, while men dance (Lee 2003, 132–132). But not all dances incorporate both sexes. Depending on the function of the dance, there may be men’s and women’s variants. Alternately, some dances invert roles: Men provide the music while women dance to enter trance. Apparently these dances are a newer innovation (Lee 2003, 135–137). Music is perhaps the most significant factor in all !Kung trance dances. Despite the fact that modern instruments are readily available, !Kung prefer to use traditional instruments such as the thumb piano, mono-chord violin, harp, bow, and rattle to provide rich and complex accompaniments. !Kung weave four or more background melodies together, over which vocals are laid. Songs take various forms: At times singers use wordless streams of vowels in a fashion akin to jazz scat singers; at other times they may imitate animals or each other in song, while the dancers mimic the subject’s gait; and, of course, there are songs with established lyrics in addition to ones where the lyrics are created ad hoc.


Possession and Its Functions Possession and spirit mediumship—qualities made manifest and manipulated through trance—are central concerns of healers. While in a trance (altered state of consciousness), the healer may address a variety of issues affecting either individuals or the community as a whole. Trance dance, then, serves multiple functions, some of the most common of which are (1) healing, (2) choosing future healers, (3) contacting the ancestors, and (4) ensuring subsistence.

Healing Trance activates healing n/um (medicine). !Kung believe that trance results when a person pleases a spirit or deity and is subsequently (and temporarily) absorbed into that spirit or deity. When people attain spiritual connection in this way, their personal healing n/um can be used to heal others (Lee 2003, 125–130). It is at this point that the actual healing ritual begins. Physical contact between healer and patient enables the healer to feel the sickness. Once a healer has located the problem, he figures out its cause. After discerning the location and nature of the problem, the healer uses ritual paraphernalia (e.g., tortoise-shell rattles, herb bundles, charms, beads, various tradegoods) to fight the illness. Ultimately, by laying hands on the patient, the healer is able to “pull” sickness out (Lee 2003, 96), taking it into his own body and then expelling it (cf. Katz 1982, 1993). If, however, someone in a state of trance fails to find someone to heal, then the wouldbe healer falls into a swoon. In trance dances, healers transmit energy to each other (a phenomenon Richard Katz, in his 1982 book, Boiling Energy, called boiling; see also Katz 1993; Lee 1984; Marshall 1969; 1999). N/um is not confined to men, nor to dancers; women’s singing and music may activate their own personal healing energy, setting off screams in lieu of vocals. Their screams are a sign for male healers to begin going around the circle touching the sick people brought to the dance for their attention (Lee 2003, 131). The male healers draw power from the women’s songs, relying on hyperventilation and intense concentration as well as the rhythm of dance to enter a state of trance. Therefore, women play an essential role in their efforts to bring on a healer’s trance. Even the rhythmic shaking of


rattles that accompanies the dancers’ steps is said to be a hypnotic action.

Choosing Future Healers In addition to healing ailing community members, healers also use the trance dance to identify future healers. They look for young people with particular qualities: namely, reliability, responsibility, and an ability and desire to aid the community. Once healers have identified these qualities in young people, they begin to provide them with n/um at trance dances. This transference of power leads to a training period, in which healers train youth in songs and dances appropriate to trance ceremonies. They provide supplementary n/um to them as appropriate to their stage of development in becoming healers. Healers also counsel all youth in appropriate behavior in the community, reminding them (and adults as well!) to remember the ancestors, honor them, and attend to community expectations. In so doing, senior healers teach novices how to tell what is wrong in the community in general, and with certain individuals in particular, and to provide solutions for those wrongs.

Contacting the Ancestors The ancestors are believed to play a dominant role when it comes to enforcing community ideology and moral standards. They reiterate the importance of !Kung ethics of sharing and modesty by causing sickness in the selfish. For example, if a person kills more than his share of game and distributes it wastefully or avariciously, the ancestors will bring about illness. The healer ought to know the reason for the illness and, furthermore, to make this fact known to the community. After curing the patient, the healer will warn the community that the ancestors are angry and that they have punished the patient because the patient or a relative has killed more animals than the community actually needs. Literally, the healer makes the ancestors’ wishes known. Thus, in a sense, healers act as conduits through whom the ancestors communicate.

Subsistence Rituals Because they are hunter-gatherers, !Kung subsistence is unpredictable. Since they must



demonstrate acute awareness of their means of subsistence, healers are in a prime position to advise people on their interaction with the environment. Although periods of serious scarcity are infrequent, temporary food shortages are a painful reality. Healers are charged with preventing such shortages. Trance dances summon animal spirits so that they may be communicated with and convinced to follow certain courses of action. Acting here as spirit mediums, healers beseech the animal spirits to make the actual animals come closer to the camp. While entranced, the healer undergoes a personal transformation in which he forges spiritual bonds of understanding between himself as hunter qua healer and the types of game that sustain the community. Thus in addition to the latent function of ensuring food stuffs, there are more manifest reasons for holding a trance dance: namely, curing people, rainmaking, controlling and finding animals for the hunt—all of which contribute to !Kung subsistence, some more directly than others.

Change and Continuity By nature of their geographic location, !Kung are in a somewhat precarious position, compounded further by the nature of the history of their territory. As mentioned above, !Kung reside at the intersections of five different national borders. Predictably, political policies and land access regulations differ between these nations, and by extension, so do lifeways differ between people of the same ethnic group once united by a shared lifestyle and some common sets of ethics. Indeed, for a variety of reasons, many !Kung no longer continue living as hunter-gatherers. Trance dances are currently used as a means of cultural revitalization in some !Kung communities. They are reminders of the past and the means of reasserting !Kung cultural identity and promoting group solidarity. New dances have emerged in the face of new problems and new ways of living. With their emergence, new practices are performed by new healers aware of the new concerns of their communities and cognizant of some of the pressures generated by the uncertainties in social life. In some communities, healing has

emerged as a profession, as a service that is now paid for in cash or kind (cf. Lee 2003, 139–140). Healing has become a livelihood in and of itself; a means to live outside of the requirements of cooperation. Not all healers charge for their services, but some are now profiting as individuals from what was once a distinct community practice. Noah Butler Frank Salamone See also: Ancestor Worship in Africa; Animal Symbolism (Africa); Cape Nguni Shamanism; Entoptic Images; Initiation; Rock Art and Shamanism; Trance Dance References and further reading: Gordon, Robert. 1992. The Bushman Myth: The Making of a Namibian Underclass. Boulder: Westview Press. Guenther, Mathias. 1976. “The San Trance Dance: Ritual and Revitalization among the Farm Bushmen of Ghanzi District, Republic of Botswana.” Journal of South West African Scientific Society 30: 45–55. ———. 1999. Tricksters and Trancers: Bushman Religion and Society. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Katz, Richard. 1982. Boiling Energy: Community Healing among the Kalahari !Kung. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ———. 1993. “The !Kung Approach to Healing: Spiritual Balance through Dance.” Parabola 18: 72–81. Lee, Richard. 1968. “The Sociology of !Kung Bushman Trance Performances.” Pp. 35–54 in Trance and Possession States. Edited by Raymond Prince. Montreal: Raymond M. Bucke Memorial Society. ———. 1984. The Dobe !Kung. Toronto: Wadsworth. ———. 2003. The Dobe Ju/’hoansi. 2d ed. of The Dobe !Kung. Toronto: Wadsworth. Lee, Richard, and Irven De Vore, eds. 1984. Man the Hunter. New York: Aldine Publishing. Marshall, Lorna. 1969. “The Medicine Dance of the !Kung Bushmen.” Africa 39: 347–381. ———. 1999. Nyae Nyae !Kung Beliefs and Rites. Boston: Peabody Museum Press. Shostak, Marjorie. 1981. Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.


AFRICAN TRADITIONAL MEDICINE This entry is compiled from the work of Gloria M. Waite on African traditional medicine, a subject about which she wrote extensively, and which she strongly felt deserves the kind of recognition hitherto reserved for Chinese and Indian traditional medicine. Although she did not specifically discuss the shamanistic elements in this medicine, the reader will find some shamanistic elements, as in most traditional religions. Most obviously, there is the belief in spirit possession and in the power of spirit mediums to heal problems caused by spirits. There are, moreover, other sources that deal with this material; citations of them will be found in Waite’s writings listed in the references. African traditional medical systems, in common with medical systems throughout the world, comprise several interrelated components. These include specialists, techniques for diagnosis and treatment, classification of illness types, and theories that make the system intelligible and weld its component parts together. Unlike modern medicine, traditional medical systems take a holistic approach to health, based as they are on a unity of social and biological forces. According to many African traditional beliefs, anything that makes a person or community dysfunctional or weak places that individual or community at risk. For example, puberty is likened to physical illness, in that uncircumcised youth represents a weakness or dangerous state in the community. The community is strengthened when young people are circumcised and admitted to adulthood. Menstruation, too, is often regarded as an illness because it is a time during which a woman is not supposed to perform some of her normal activities, such as salting the soup. Her routine has been disrupted, placing her in a socially dysfunctional state: Her condition is believed to make certain other people susceptible to illness. Newborn babies are also believed to be in a state of danger. They, however, are not the ones who cause the danger; rather, they are vulnerable to illness on account of their parents’ negligence. People considered at risk are often protected by taboos (Waite 1992). In the traditional belief system, chronic illness, sudden malaise, and misfortune are often


attributed to malevolent forces, which are usually called witchcraft or sorcery. The activities of sorcerers are of medical concern because they are deemed to threaten the health of individuals and, ultimately, entire communities. Moreover, sorcery is detected and eliminated through medical techniques (Waite 1992). Diseases of metaphysical or social origins are not, of course, the only ones known to African traditional medical systems. But since modern medicine recognizes only biological causation, Westerners (Europeans and North Americans) often exaggerate the metaphysical aspects of African medicine. Yet African medical systems link numerous diseases to biological processes, and historically Africans have recognized a biological basis for any number of maladies, such as sleeping sickness, smallpox, leprosy, and numerous others. Still, the belief that nonbiological forces are a basis of disease causality is an important difference between traditional medicines, including African traditional medicine, and modern medicine. Modern medicine focuses primarily on microbes to explain illness, giving little or no attention to the social milieu. Yet like their modern medical counterparts, African traditional doctors are not at the mercy of personal forces, any more than modern doctors are at the mercy of impersonal ones. Both groups of practitioners try to control, or at least influence, the course of disease and illness. African traditional health-care systems, unlike those in the modern Western world, are not monopolized by a professional class. Rather, treatment may be provided by specialists or laypersons. The traditional systems, to be sure, require a limited number of specialists; but these individuals supplement rather than provide all the health care. The choice of whether to rely on a layperson or consult a practitioner depends on the nature of the malaise and how serious it is. Traditionally, most adult villagers knew a good deal about their environment and what plants to use for common ailments and conditions, and many still do (Waite 1992). Under traditional systems of medicine, most individual health problems were taken care of within the household. In many parts of Africa, however, some medical conditions were considered public and therefore required state intervention or that of ruling elites.



Queen Ntuli, A Zulu sangoma, or traditional healer, points with her divining stick at the shells and bones that she has thrown for a client, April 2000, Durban, South Africa. She is active among traditional healers helping to educate them about HIV and AIDS and believes that they cannot cure AIDS, but can help with many of the symptoms of the disease. She believes that traditional healers are very influential within their communities and need to be taken more seriously by the medical establishment as key people in the fight against the disease. (Gideon Mendel/Corbis)

Such a public sphere of medicine existed in east-central Africa, among other parts of the continent. The societies of east-central Africa—a region that encompasses all or parts of the modern countries of Tanzania, Congo, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe—share a common set of medical traditions, so much so that they may be said to constitute a single medical system. This is especially true of the region’s Bantu-speaking people, whose ancestors began settling there some 2,000 years ago. (Bantu refers to a family of languages; most of the languages spoken in the southern third of Africa are Bantu languages.) In the traditional medical history of east-central Africa, there were two medical conditions that required the intervention of ruling elites: those caused by spirits and those caused by sorcery (Waite 1987).

Spirit causation is a significant part of most traditional medical systems. In the traditional system, spirits are believed to bring certain kinds of illnesses and other afflictions to individuals, families, and entire communities. When an illness is of unknown origin or a calamity strikes a whole community, people consult doctors who divine the cause of the problem, using either their own spirits for inspiration or mechanical devices. If the doctor diagnoses the problem as being caused by neglect of ancestral spirits, then people generally undertake propitiation of those spirits by visiting specially selected sites and making gifts of food or goods to the spirits, who are called upon to hear the complaint and minister to the need (Waite 1987). Sorcery, which involves antisocial, nefarious acts, was the second medical condition that re-


quired the intervention of the state or ruling elites. Generally, sorcery was suspected when people died suddenly or had an illness that was unexplainable or progressed rapidly. Sorcery was not a family or private matter. From the outset, sorcery accusations were usually made in public. Historically, ruling elites, whether priestly or chiefly, intervened and “medicized” conflicts involving sorcery. “Medicized” is an appropriate description because the techniques used to identify sorcerers—such as inspiration from the spirits or poison ordeal—along with the medicines used to counter sorcery, were deployed in strictly medical contexts (Waite 1987). The authorities who controlled traditional public health institutions were priestly, chiefly, and kingly figures, or they combined both chiefly and priestly roles. These authorities, like the spirits they evoked, were guardians of the land and all that dwelt therein. They derived their power and authority from their ancestral spirits and from their knowledge of medicines. In some instances, there would be competition or even conflict between priests and kings, since both groups claimed the same power and authority. Nevertheless, the control exercised by elites—whether priestly or chiefly—over healthcare institutions set them apart, as a group, from the rest of the population (Waite 1987). Whether in the public sphere or in the more private domain of the family or household, practitioners and consumers of African traditional medicine had access to a vast pharmacopoeia—drugs derived from barks, leaves, roots, mineral springs, and other natural products. Historically, plant knowledge was passed from one generation to another, from older to younger people. (This did not, of course, preclude acquisition of such knowledge from nonfamilial sources.) Some traditional doctors claimed to receive knowledge of plant application through inspiration while sleeping. Most plant knowledge, however, was acquired through apprenticeship, usually to an older family member. The therapeutic value of a plant is determined in part by the active principle(s) it contains. Principles are compounds that form in a plant that, when used in medicines, act upon the body’s structure or functions. New principles are constantly being discovered. There are still thousands of plant species about which little or nothing is known.


Though perhaps unfamiliar with modern scientific terms like “principles,” traditional doctors used plants and herbs in ways that indicate considerable knowledge of their pharmacological actions. Through selection, traditional doctors also took their medicines through what is known in modern medicine as clinical trials. Consider the genus called Albizia, which is widely used throughout east-central Africa. Scientific studies indicate that it contains a saponin called musennin. Saponins have an expectorant quality, for they cause increased secretion in respiratory passages and loosen mucus. It is no doubt for this action that the species has long been used as a remedy for cough in the region (Waite 1988). There is also the species crossopteryx, which derives its name from an early association with antifever activity. Though its efficacy against fever is disputed, the plant is used as an abortifacient in parts of east-central Africa. Research shows that it contains alkaloids, though the particular kind is debated. Alkaloids, by their nature, promote menstrual discharge. There is thus scientific evidence to confirm, if only tentatively, the value of crossopteryx as an abortifacient (Waite 1988). In sum, medicines played a prominent role in African traditional health care. They were used to restore and disrupt health, to protect households from sorcerers, to safeguard gardens from thieves, and to shield people in their enterprises and help them succeed. Medicines could be taken internally, rubbed into specially made cuts in specific parts of the body, rubbed unto the body itself, inhaled through steam, planted in the garden, or worn around the body. The action required by the medicine determined the method of application. European colonialism had a marked impact on African traditional medicine. In most of Africa, the colonial powers—Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, Portugal, Italy, Spain—imposed their authority in the later nineteenth century through a series of conquests. Colonialism brought new institutions and cultural formations to Africa, including new technologies and new forms of economic, political, and social organization, along with new social relations and ideologies. The colonialists also introduced new health personnel and trained a small number of the colonized people in the new science of biotechnology.



Colonial health policies and programs reflected the economic and political demands of colonialism. The European conquest led to population dislocation and disequilibrium in the disease environment between people and animals. Accordingly, some of the first public health measures put in place by the Europeans were aimed at controlling the epidemics brought on by the conquests. Colonial health policies and programs were aimed, first and foremost, at increasing worker productivity. The result was the emergence of public health programs to control vector-borne diseases (such as sleeping sickness and malaria), and to provide maternal and infant care, urban sanitation, and public education. It bears emphasizing, however, that these programs were not altogether successful, or even widespread. Indeed, health—like education and social welfare generally—received only small portions of the colonial budgets. The exceptions were those colonies (like South Africa and Zimbabwe) in which Europeans settled in relatively large numbers, in which case the great bulk of the expenditures on items like health were earmarked for the welfare of the settlers rather than that of the colonized Africans. As the colonialists introduced new medical institutions, they also attempted to suppress the existing ones. The colonialists denounced African medical systems as quackery and superstition, and, in many instances, set out to destroy them. In Zimbabwe, for instance, the colonial authorities sought to suppress sorcery. The Witchcraft Suppression Act of 1899 made it a crime even to accuse someone of practicing sorcery, while “witch-finding” was proscribed. Public control of sorcery thus came to an end, or at least decreased significantly, though popular belief in its existence remained widespread (Waite 2000). In certain African countries, independence, an end to European colonialism, brought with it a reassessment of traditional medicine. Some independent African governments attempted to revive institutions and traditions that had been suppressed or debased by the colonialists. However, since the African elites who assumed power at independence generally were deeply attached to the European way of doing things, they were uncertain as to what aspects of tradition, including traditional medicine, to revive.

Zimbabwe—which became independent in 1980, some two decades after most African colonies had emerged from under the colonial yoke—went further than most African governments in engaging traditional medicine. Indeed, the connection between anticolonial agitation and traditional medicine was especially close in Zimbabwe. At the dawn of colonial rule in the 1890s, Africans in Zimbabwe (then called Southern Rhodesia) went into revolt against foreign domination, an event in which the spirit mediums played a central role. Some seventy years later, when Zimbabweans again resorted to armed struggle in their fight against colonialism, the spirit mediums once more became involved. Consequently, the independence festivities in 1980 included celebrations of some of the major “spirits of the nation.” One particular medium, Mbuya Nehanda, was lauded as “the grandmother of all ancestors.” Nehanda had been hanged by the colonialists for her role in the uprising of the 1890s, though not before prophesying that she would return to help drive the Europeans out. The advent of independence was seen by some as fulfillment of that promise (Waite 2000). There was thus strong symbolic support for traditional medical culture in the new Zimbabwe. Initially, it appeared as if this symbolism would translate into substance. When, three months after independence, 1,500 traditional healers rallied in the capital, they were greeted by the minister of health, Herbert Ushewokunze, who lauded their contribution to the liberation struggle. Within days, the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers’ Association (ZINATHA) was founded at a meeting organized and attended by Ushewokunze. The founding of ZINATHA was no small matter. The medical establishment, then still dominated by members of the country’s small white minority, expressed alarm, as did some Christian churches, especially the Catholic hierarchy. Even the government-run media, now controlled by the triumphant African nationalists, showed far less enthusiasm for traditional medicine than did the minister of health (Waite 2000). A major issue faced by ZINATHA soon after its founding was that of continuous access to traditional medicines. Already, some practitioners were beginning to travel outside the country in search of medicines, while others were be-


lieved to be hoarding medicines made from species that had become extinct. To address these concerns, ZINATHA instituted a program to grow herbs and trees on a plot at a research center it had established. ZINATHA and its members also faced financial challenges. Many traditional doctors, for instance, complained that they needed help to build larger facilities for their growing practices. One particular category of practitioners, traditional midwives, wanted the same treatment as that accorded midwives in modern, Western-style clinics, namely government compensation for their services. In support of these demands, ZINATHA pointed to the large number of people—estimated at 80 to 90 percent of the population—who continued to consult traditional practitioners and use traditional medicines. This argument, however, increasingly came to fall on deaf ears, as ZINATHA and traditional medicine more generally lost support within the counsels of government. The most dramatic sign of this diminishing influence was the removal of Ushewokunze from his position as minister of health just over a year after he took office, partly on account of the fallout from his advocacy of traditional medicine (Waite 2000). Still, others sought to continue the work begun by Ushewokunze and ZINATHA. In Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city, a new phenomenon emerged. A traditional practitioner established several clinics that attempted to combine the best of both traditional and Western medicines, not to integrate them, but rather to let them complement each other. Even without official support, and often in the face of indifference or even outright hostility in high places, traditional medicine continues to thrive, often in new ways. In the past decade, as ordinary Zimbabweans have been driven into greater poverty, and in the face of the AIDS pandemic that has ravished their country, they have increasingly turned to traditional medicine and its practitioners, not least because of the lower costs in relation to modern medicine. Affordability and accessibility, if nothing else, will likely ensure the continued success and vitality of traditional medicine in Zimbabwe and much of the rest of Africa for a long time to come.

Gloria M. Waite Compiled by Michael O. West


See also: Afro-Brazilian Shamanism; Ancestor Worship in Africa; Cape Nguni Shamanism; Igbo Shamanism; Mami Wata Religion; Ndembu Shamanism; Witchcraft in Africa; Zarma Spirit Mediums; Zulu Shamanism References and further reading: Waite, Gloria. 1987. “Public Health in PreColonial East-Central Africa.” Social Science Medicine, 24, no. 3: 197–208. ———. 1988. “Some Useful Plants in EastCentral Africa: A Cross-Cultural Ethnobotanical Survey.” Pp. 423–428 in Modern Systematic Studies in African Botany. Edited by Peter Goldblatt and Porter P. Lowry II. Monographs in Systematic Botany, Missouri Botanical Garden, no. 25. St. Louis: The Garden. ———. 1992. A History of Traditional Medicine and Health Care in Pre-Colonial East-Central Africa. Lewiston, ME: Edwin Mellon. ———. 2000. “Traditional Medicine and the Quest for National Identity in Zimbabwe.” 2000. Zambezia 27, no. 2: 235–268.

ANCESTOR WORSHIP IN AFRICA Modern Ghana is located on the West African coast. It comprises the Akan kingdoms, including the Asante, and has become well known for its royal stools and other regalia and objects of power. Funerary caskets and statuary were important objects, linking people to their ancestors in the afterlife. Ancestor worship in Ghana is based on the belief that the human being is a spiritual entity originating in the ancestral world (called Samanadzi, Asamando, or Nsamankyir, according to the Akan of Ghana), born into the ordinary human world to be morally and ethically concerned with existential and metaphysical issues, and destined to return to the ancestral world after death as an ancestor. Teleologically, therefore, the religion of ancestor worship is concerned with universal salvation for adherents, who must follow culturally defined ritual processes to ensure its efficacy. Ancestor worship seeks to commemorate the birth, life, death, resurrection, and vindication in the ancestral realm of a remote ancestor by



living descendants, through festivals, sacrifices, rites, and use of symbols and images. These activities are consistent with ancient African religious practices; according to the Greeks not only were Africans “the first of all men,” but that they “were the first to be taught to honor the gods and to hold sacrifices and processions and festivals and other rites by which men honor the deity, . . . and it is generally held that the sacrifices practiced among the Ethiopians . . . are those which are the most pleasing to heaven” (Davidson 1991, 61–62). Following their forebears, contemporary Africans still cherish the memories of their loved ones long after their deaths. But, as rightly noted by the ancient authorities, the gods or deities are indispensable to ancestor worship.

The Deities (Abosom) A deity, or what the Akan of Ghana call an obosom (singular of abosom) is an invisible spiritual agent, power, or force with strange features, endowed with phenomenal capabilities, a force that, when invoked under certain psychological conditions, can take possession of a medium. Ontologically, the deities (abosom) are thought of as the first offspring of God, created in God’s own image and endowed with ethereal attributes comparable to God, although they are not God. These attributes enable them to assume human properties during divination rites. Furthermore, their strangely powerful features cause any human who might see them in their natural forms to die immediately, for no human gazes upon the face of a deity and lives to tell it (Rattray 1927, 46). From the spiritual standpoint, therefore, the meaningful way to experience a deity is through the process of divination, when the divine manifests itself in a human subject and brings him or her under its dictates. The deities were the first to occupy the earth and subsequently controlled the universe and everything in it, including humans. They did so by competing for the best suitable spots— rocks, seas, mountains, rivers, and trees. Aware that nature is imbued with spiritual powers, the Africans developed a special sacred rapport with nature, knowing full well that the environment must be treated reverently in order to win the benevolence of the deities. More is involved

than just a symbiotic relationship with nature; humans are indeed the offspring of the deities acting in the ordinary world through human fathers (Ephirim-Donkor 1997, 49–53). Consequently, many African parents seek out the spiritual progenitors of their children in order to bring the children under their aegis. Obviously, then, ancestor worship is more than a simple commemoration of defunct relatives by the living: It entails the recognition of the hierarchical structure inherent in the religion. That is, God is at the apex, and under him are the deities, then the ancestors, and then the living elders. Moreover, ancestor worship is based on the concept of mediation: The elders intercede with the ancestors on behalf of their posterity, and the ancestors intercede with the deities on behalf of their descendents. As God is not directly involved in the affairs of the world, temporal and metaphysical matters are in the hands of the elders, and through them of the ancestors and deities. Deities may be owned exclusively by lineages or clans, but the same could not be said about God; God is a universal entity claimed collectively, hence the irrelevance of temples or priests in African religious practices. The ancestors and deities do have shrines, priests, and devotees, which often leads to the mistaken assumption that the objects in which the ancestors and deities are manifested are in themselves the focus of worship (Sarpong 1974, 14). On the contrary, worshipers clearly understand the difference between those inanimate objects and mediums who are possessed during divination.

The Ruler On earth the king is the eldest among elders, a member of a royal family who has been duly nominated and elected to the highest sociopolitical and spiritual office. The queen mother was the symbolic mother and sister of the king and the primary kingmaker. She could become ruler-in-residence upon the absence of the king. The ruler’s authority and sanctity is invested in him by installation rites, culminating in the act of seating the ruler on the throne of the ancestors (Ephirim-Donkor 2000). Transformed thus, the ruler embodies his predecessors, entrusted with sacred traditions, which he must preserve and protect for posterity. As the personification of the ancestral rulers, the king


is a living ancestor, on the threshold between the world of the ancestors and the world of the living, and therefore accorded the same praise and worship as his predecessors. Deriving his divine and temporal authority from a long continuum of rulers, the king exercises religiopolitical and psychological control over his people, his pronouncements having powerful effect on them. Accordingly he addresses his subjects indirectly through mediators, and he observes many taboos and prohibitions, which he must follow in order to preserve his divinity. The mediators mitigate the potency of the king’s pronouncements, and they also attest to the veracity of words emanating from him, verifying that the king never errs. Cross-culturally, this royal discourse has been contextualized in the Black diaspora, taking on a unique life of its own in the form of call and response during Black religious ceremonies. In the absence of the king in the diaspora, the clergy usurped the role of the divine king and continued the call and response mediation, when an address or sermon is authenticated through a rhythmic congregational response. Paradigmatically, the Black diaspora perceives their clergy as “kings” and above reproach. Yet another vivid diasporic manifestation of ancestor religion is found in the Candomblé and Voudou practices of South and Central America. During these religious expressions, the diaspora is clearly linked up with the African religious rapture displayed in the original practices. Cosmically, ancestor worship has the greatest effect when the king leads the community periodically in sacrifices designed to propitiate the ancestors and deities and to insure existential and metaphysical balance. Either walking or carried in a palanquin in a procession of his people, the king dances to martial or royal music during festivities marking the founding of the state by his ancestors. Summoned home, the ancestors and deities partake of the ambrosia of fruits and vegetables, meals, wine, and animal sacrifices offered to them by their representative on earth, the king. Socially, the festivities serve a didactic function when the history and heroism of the ancestors are dramatically recalled. In their exuberance, the people affirm their faith in the ancestors and gain greater hope for the future, believing that the nation has been purified and brought into


the right homeostatic relationship with the ancestors.

The Medium (Okomfo) Assisting the king ritually are members of the clergy—priests, doctors, and prophets—in their role as mediums. They perform purification rites, sacrifices, and preparation of sacred meals (to), which are scattered at sacred sites on behalf of the king. But most importantly, the mediums are possessed by the spirits of ancestors, dead kings, and deities, who through them commend the ruler, or even admonish the ruler or the community for not properly carrying out a ritual process. Among the Akan, the akomfo (prophets) in particular feature prominently during these periodic celebrations because they receive specialized training as mediums. These prophets are tied to the kingship, in that every ruler has his own group of prophets, who, as instruments of the ancestors (nsamanfo; also asamanfo) and deities, make known divine pronouncements to the king. To be a medium one must be a twin or be born into a family of priests, both of which are felt to convey unique, even divine, status. The process begins with a call, which James Christensen (1959) describes as the “supreme religious experience,” when an individual is periodically visited by a supernatural agent of some sort, who alters the psychological profile of the individual in order to bring the subject under its influence. An interview is subsequently sought with an adept to ascertain the authenticity of the phenomenon and, most importantly, the name of the deity seeking a medium (Rattray 1927, 40–41). The next step is becoming a novice (okomfoba) for a number of years, during which time the novice is clad in red cloth, with hair in locks, and walks barefooted. The novice is taught many esoterica, including how to perceive his or her deity and the ancestors, study of archaic languages and songs, public dancing, breathing techniques when possessed, herbal discernment and application, diagnostic and healing techniques, and above all, divination rites (ebisadzi). Often the difficult period of training is compensated for by the graduation. The ceremonies commence at night, when all members of the clergy converge for the final sacred rites for admission into this ancient clerical vocation. Now clad in white



medium and the assembled clergy to celebrate one of their own. At about midmorning the new medium is escorted to his or her community to put on a public display of spiritual prowess. From a king’s perspective a medium is an indispensable part of the kingship as s/he is the direct line of communications between the ruler and his predecessors and deities. In the wider social context, however, anyone may engage the services of a medium. Although many symbols are used as objects in which the sacred is manifested, water is the most common element used, collected in a specially made earthen pot, calabash, or small brass tray for hierophany. R. S. Rattray described the process in 1927 as follows: after water was drawn from a river, the pot was placed on special vines, and prayers were offered as some form of alcoholic beverage was poured into the “energized” water. Then the medium began to ring a bell or bring into play some other communicative symbol recognized by the ancestors (the bell serving as a telepathic line to the ancestors). The most anxious and certainly the most spectacular moment during rites of divination was when an ancestor or deity was making its entry into the medium. As it approached, the ringing of the bell became faster and louder, and suddenly the medium was possessed. Every hierophany is unique and may engender a momentary disorientation for the medium. Invariably the first words spoken by a deity or ancestor are “My peace to you,” followed by “How are you.” Following the greetings, the cause of the summons is then ascertained. Some ancestors not summoned may intermittently intervene to deliver messages to their loved ones, while others may appear in the water for the chance to speak to the living. There are those deities who merely pass on messages Ancestor wood fetish from Mossi Tribe. (Burstein to their loved ones without actually possessing Collection/Corbis) the medium. To receive these messages, a medium continues to ring the bell intermittently. But unlike the faces of the deities, the faces of ancestors in the water can be looked at clothes or raffia skirt the medium-to-be is led by the medium without incurring any adverse into the forest for the final rites pertaining to effects. While all these communications may the order. Finally the medium-to-be jumps take place in private, occasionally a medium three times over a huge bonfire, each time be- may be possessed at a public forum in order to ing caught on the other end by a family mem- convey a message to the public. Often a ber to prevent falling. The rest of the night is medium will dance until s/he enters into a devoted to drumming and dancing by the new trance and becomes possessed.


Equally dramatic is the departure of the ancestors and deities. After bidding farewell to a seeker they leave suddenly, and there is a sense of the seeker traveling into deep space with the ancestors or deities until the echo disappears after them. Free of possession, the medium drops the bell, unless another ancestor or deity possesses the medium again. The phenomenon is very exhausting, as the medium literally carries each ancestor or deity during the entire period of divination, causing the medium momentary loss of consciousness. After regaining consciousness mediums ascertain from a seeker what messages were communicated. Based on that information they are able to determine if follow-up rites are necessary.

Non–Medium-Assisted Worship Ancestor worship does not always involve mediums; members of a lineage or a clan meeting as a group or kings and their councils of elders invoke the ancestors whenever they convene meetings. An individual or a family may offer prayers and offerings of money, cola nuts, and eggs to the ancestors anywhere. Furthermore, anyone may put food to be eaten on the ground or in a plate and set it aside in a house for an ancestor. The practice may also be repeated outside a home for both benign and malign ancestors (or spirits). Among the Effutu, a Guan subgroup in Ghana, memorial services for the dead are held annually during the harvest festival in August. At dawn women in the female households wail and sing dirges and then proceed to their respective pramma, the agnatic and spiritual households of the various lineages, to awaken their male counterparts. Thus awakened, the elders offer libations with wine brought along for that purpose, imploring the dead to return home and feast. In the afternoon the women return again with sumptuous meals, which, once they have been offered to the dead, are feasted upon by the residents. The most common expression of ancestor worship among the Akan is the practice of pouring a drink of wine on the ground and then inviting the ancestors to share in it. Customarily, after arriving from a journey a visitor is first offered cola nut fruit or water to drink, but not before the visitor has poured some liba-


tion to the ground for the ancestors who accompanied the visitor safely on the journey. When elders formally convene a meeting, invariably prayers are said before proceedings begin. These prayers are in acknowledgment of God, the deities, and the ancestors. The hierarchy of God’s creativity and sovereignty are acknowledged by simply raising the cup of wine toward the sky. Moreover, priests may sometimes throw a remainder of the wine into the sky after prayers. Then local deities are acknowledged by name. Finally the elders invoke the ancestors—some by name—imploring them to take their honored place among the living. Symbolically, when two or more elders are brought together, the ancestors are thought to be in their midst, authorizing the elders to proceed with their earthly jurisprudence. To show utmost reverence before the ancestors an intercessor lowers his cloth to the shoulder or waist level with either both or one sandal removed. Accompanying the intercessor is an assistant who attests to the truthfulness of the prayers. Before commencing, however, the intercessor seeks permission from the elders to invoke the ancestors, to which they respond in the affirmative if there are no dissenting voices. Attention is thus drawn to the prayers about to be offered. The assistant opens a bottle of wine and pours three drops of the wine to the ground. Or he may gently touch the tip of the intercessor’s cup with the bottle of wine three times, pour some into the cup and drink it first, then refill the cup partially and hand it over to the intercessor. The assistant then fills the cup to the brim. At this juncture the intercessor may again call for order by saying “Agoo!” Usually the response to this expression is “Amen,” but since at this point it is directed toward the ancestors, silence follows. The intercessor pours an equal amount of wine into an earthen pot or tray containing medicated water or directly on the ground as s/he prays to the ancestors. In a style reminiscent of a king and his orator, whenever the intercessor utters a word, the assistant responds affirmatively by saying “Yes, true, let it flow, go on,” while still holding on to the bottle of wine for intermittent refills. The intercessor first implores the ancestors for their continued blessings and protection of the community. Then the reason for their invocation is offered, fol-



lowed by prayers for the success and well-being of the elders and their endeavors, and finally the agenda to be adjudicated or deliberated upon is summarized for them. Immediately after prayers, the intercessor is congratulated by the elders, after which the assistant fills a cup with wine, drinks from it, and pours the rest on the ground for the ancestors. The assistant then proceeds to share the wine with all present, and even if one does not wish to drink, one must taste it or pour it on the ground. In this way, all the elders partake of the same wine as the ancestors. The exceptions, however, are rulers, whose wine is poured in front of their feet because they do not drink in public, and, moreover, are living ancestors. Finally, the remainder of the wine is set down for those who may arrive later and for closure. The ancestors at this point are believed to have emerged from the ground, figuratively speaking, to dwell among the living. When finally the meeting is over, the remainder of the wine from the opening of adjudication is now used in closure. First, the ancestors are dismissed in the same way as they were invoked by offering them another libation. Next, if there were rulers among the elders, then they rise first before the assistant adjourns the meeting. The symbolic participation of the ancestors reinforces a sense of social responsibility and accountability in the elders about the decisions they render. Collectively the elders do not err, since they derive their mandate from the ancestors to adjudicate and preserve their memory. Consequently, what is legal on earth is also binding in the ancestral world, because the ancestors took part in the affairs of their posterity.

The Ancestors Theoretically, a king never dies, according to African socioreligious and political thought, because he is a living ancestor. But the existential reality is that all living things die, and when a king finally dies, the corpse is given the same ritual preparation as his predecessors, aimed at transforming the defunct ruler into an ultimate ancestor and deity. An ancestor must have first been an elder, led an ideal existence, mastered the art of living, and bequeathed to succeeding generations wisdom about life’s vicissitudes; after death, that elder becomes one of the eternal saints.

After the corpse is ritually bathed, it is adorned in the most expensive and finest apparel and jewelry and then laid in state for viewing. Traditionally, the final ritual preparation is interpreted as the ultimate homecoming, the homecoming to the ancestral world, therefore the deceased must put on the opulence of that world. In the same way as a baby is given a shower after it is born, among the Akan and their kindred peoples, the children and daughters-in-law of the deceased give a shower (eguradzi) for the deceased. Gifts given at the shower may include the most expensive apparel and cosmetics used to adorn the corpse. The most important element in the deceased’s ostentatious journey to the ancestral world is the coffin. Among the Akan, the question often asked is how aesthetically beautiful, expensive, and unusual or unique the coffin was. These qualities are meant to convey to the larger community the dead person’s sociopolitical, religious, or economic standing in society. The irony is that many old people die from neglect and poverty, and even ignominiously, in spite of their accomplishments in life. The point, however, is not necessarily how one died, but what one bequeaths to his or her lineage, including, of course, children. In the coffin is put evidence of the dead person’s earthly possessions: various gifts of money, clothing, and items of sentimental value. Wailing and dirges are an integral part of ancestor worship, especially during funerals. On such an important journey society offers its final farewell address through dirges and gesticulations, occasionally hiring professional mourners to dramatize the poignancy of social grief. First, mourners express their repugnance toward death by directing their dirge to the corpse and demanding answers about the enigma of death. Next, they show their deep sense of communal loss by affirming death’s inevitability. And finally, after the initial shock and denial of death and then acceptance of death as an existential reality, a central component of the obsequies commences. Waves of dirges known as nkra (message/s) are recited to the corpse. As God bestows nkrabea (destiny) on every soul before it embarks on its mundane existence, so too the deceased is about to embark upon the final idealized existence and is therefore given messages by the living about its


destiny as an ancestor. These messages tell of God’s accompaniment of the spiritual personality (osaman) on its journey, of perpetual bliss and peace, omniscience and ubiquity, and the ability to bestow blessings on the living from the panoramic vantage point of the ancestral world. After burial the spiritual personality lingers in the earthly world for a transitional period of up to forty days, during which time apparitions are believed to be common. On the fortieth day the deceased is again mourned and remembered, thus setting the stage for the spiritual personality to depart from this human plane, taking along personalized nkra from the living. Just as no human being can alter an individual’s destiny (nkrabea), so the spiritual personality cannot alter the messages that it carries into the world of the ancestors. And, in the same way as the soul is the bearer of destiny from God, the spiritual personality is the bearer of earthly messages that shape its destiny in the world of the ancestors. The journey to the ancestral world is an arduous one. The spiritual personality must cross a huge river by paying the ferryman some of the money in its possession. Next, the spiritual personality climbs a ladder. The traffic on this ladder is so voluminous that it gives rise to the saying among the Akan that the ladder of death is ascended by many. When the spiritual personality finally reaches the ancestral world it is welcomed in accordance with tradition. Where then is the ideal world of the ancestors? In the first place, the ancestral world is thought of as beneath and below, for the simple reason that the dead are buried in the ground. Consequently, the ground becomes the focal point during libations or prayers, which are aimed at offering sacrifices and drinks to the ancestors. Secondly, the ancestral world is above and beyond, because everything tangible is below and beneath, while intangibles are above and beyond human perception, and now that the ancestors are believed to be spirits, they are thought to reside in a world above and beyond the temporal. The Akan names for the ancestral world, Samanadzi, Nsamankyir, and Asamando, clearly point to a definite place, kingdom, sky, or heaven that is above and beyond and different from the tangible world. But far from being different, it is the same as the tangible world ex-


cept that in the ancestral world the impermanence of the human plane is nonexistent, and it is where all spiritual personalities ultimately return. From this place, the ancestors watch over their descendants, and what better place to have a panoramic view than from above. Finally, the ancestral world is both within and without. It is an inner phenomenon that exists wherever an individual is found. In other words, people carry their worldviews along with them wherever they reside. In the same way, when an individual offers a libation or prays, the efficacy of the ritual is immutable regardless of where it is performed. At the same time, it is never simply inner; rather the ancestral world is a shared belief and conveys clearly defined meaning for those who share ancestor worship. Distinguished in jurisprudence as elders, the ancestors are sages, intercessors, mediators, and ultimately judges, as they judge all spiritual personalities upon their arrival in the ancestral world. However, these attributes undergo an etherealization that is consistent with their new idealized existence. Having lived, died, and been resurrected and vindicated in the ancestral world, the ancestors have achieved something that no human being has—immortality. At the same time, they continue to influence affairs of the world because they have achieved immortal existence after first achieving perfection as elders, but they now constitute a pristine community of eternal saints whose lives are commemorated periodically. Yet immortality should not be construed as final or as a state of stagnation; rather, the ancestors serve to replenish the human plane through the phenomenon of reincarnation. Anthony Ephirim-Donkor See also: !Kung Healing, Ritual, and Possession; African Traditional Medicine; Afro-Brazilian Shamanism; Asante Shamananism; Cape Nguni Shamanism; Divination; Igbo Shamanism; Ndembu Shamanism; Santería; Spirit Possession; Trance Dance; Twin Cult of the Akan; New Orleans Voudou; Yaka Shamanistic Divination; Zulu Shamanism References and further reading: Bastide, Roger. 1978. The African Religions of Brazil. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.



Budge, E. A. Wallis. 1967. The Egyptian Book of the Dead. New York: Dover. Christensen, James Boyd. 1959. “The Adaptive Functions of Fanti Priesthood.” Pp. 257–278 in Continuity and Change in African Culture. Edited by William Bascom and Melville Herskovitz. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Davidson, Basil. 1991. African Civilizations Revisited: From Antiquity to Modern Times. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press. Ephirim-Donkor, Anthony. 1997. African Spirituality: On Becoming Ancestors. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press. ————. 2000. The Making of an African King: Patrilineal & Matrilineal Struggle among the Effutu of Ghana. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press. Geest, Sjaak van der. 2000. “Funerals for the Living: Conversations with Elderly People in Kwahu, Ghana.” African Studies Review 43, no. 3: 103–129. Nketia, J. H. 1955. Funeral Dirges of the Akan. Ghana: Achimota. Rattray, R. S. 1927. Religion and Art in Ashanti. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Sarpong, Peter. 1974. Ghana in Retrospect: Some Aspects of Ghanaian Culture. Tema: Ghana Publishing.

ANCIENT EGYPTIAN SHAMANISM Ancient Egyptian mythology, concepts of multiple souls, and some functions of the various priests and healers show clear shamanistic elements. Spirit possession, ritual dance performance, some healing practices, and initiation ceremonies all provide additional evidence of these elements. Ancient Egypt refers here to the dynastic era from the time of the first king, Narmer (Menes) (ca. 3000 B.C.E.) to the conquest of Alexander the Great in 332 B.C.E. However, even before the dynastic era, indeed as early as 4000 B.C.E., early animal worship can be traced in the burials of bulls, jackals, and other animals. Egyptian religion existed for several millennia; the last temple of the Goddess Auset (Isis) was closed on the island of Philae in the mid-sixth century C.E. Most of the evidence for

the shamanistic beliefs and practices of the ancient Egyptians derives from various texts and inscriptions found in the tombs and temples, and is thus funerary in character. The oldest of such texts are the Pyramid Texts, which were hieroglyphic writings dealing with the king’s afterlife. Egyptian theology, rituals, and mythology can be deduced from such texts. The earliest examples are the inscribed texts on the interior walls of King Wenis’s pyramid at Saqqara, dated 2350 B.C.E. The Coffin Texts, found in tombs, were written on sarcophagi and rolls of papyrus and date roughly from the Middle Kingdom (2050–1786 B.C.E.). The Book of the Dead, written on papyrus with color illustrations, tells of both royal and nonroyal religion. Temple inscriptions, many of which were inscribed on stelae, contain hymns to the gods and mythological tales of the later period.

Egyptian Religion Each region of Egypt had its own god(s), manifested in the form of particular animals. These totemic animal figures symbolized particular tribal groups, and members of the ruling elite tended to pay special homage to them. In addition to zoomorphic deities, cosmic elements such as the moon, storm, wind, and, especially, the sun were later included in the Egyptian pantheon. During the dynastic periods, animal gods began to have more anthropomorphic forms, such as ram-headed Amun, lion-headed Sakhment, and Hathor (cow goddess). In the myths of that time, these gods had human emotions and lived and died like human beings. A creation myth recorded in a text found in Heliopolis explains how the creator god Atum separated air (Shu), the sky (Nut), and the earth (Geb) from the darkness of the primordial chaos of waters. From the union of the sky and the earth four children were born: Osiris (Ausares), Auset (Isis), Seth, and Nephtys. Of them, Osiris and Auset became the central figures of the Osiris worship that spread all over the Egyptian kingdom in the late Old Kingdom in relation to funerary mythology and rituals. The myth of Osiris includes shamanic transformations of both Osiris and Auset. According to the myth, Osiris was a living king of Egypt killed by his brother, Seth, who was jealous of his power. Seth cut Osiris’s body into pieces


and scattered them throughout Egypt. Auset transformed herself to a bird and collected the pieces of Osiris’s body, which she revived by magic spells. This motif of death and resurrection resembles elements of shamanic initiation in North Asia and elsewhere: ritual dismemberment of the initiate’s body and subsequent rebirth as a fully initiated shaman. Osiris eventually became a ruler over the dead, and the dead pharaoh was always identified with Osiris. Wallis Budge argued that the ancient Egyptians had both polytheistic and monotheistic tendencies coexisting from the Archaic period (Budge 1969, 1: 353). Kheper tchesef (self-produced being) is equivalent to the Judeo-Christian concept of God, the Creator of all beings. Nevertheless, multiple gods of all functions and shapes called neteru were the more prominent in Egyptian religion. Neteru could appear on earth as men, women, animals, birds, reptiles, trees, plants, and the like. They were more powerful and more intelligent than men but had emotions and suffered like common mortals, often marrying and having offspring.

The Egyptian Concept of Multiple Souls Ancient Egyptians developed complicated ideas of multiple souls and spirits, identifying three kinds of souls relating to the body of each person: a Ka, “double,” Sa-h.u, “spirit body,” and Khaibit, “shadow.” Every normal Egyptian was born with a Ka, which dwelt in the figure of the dead person after death. The Ka might go wherever it wished but preferred to enter the figure and reside there (Budge 1911, 2: 118). The Ka required food offerings from family members to survive. Through repeated ceremonies and offerings the Ka could be elevated into the SGh.u, which was held to be incorruptible and everlasting. This spirit body could also travel everywhere in heaven or on earth. When the SGh.u was ready for resurrection, the body needed the shadow, the Khaibit, which functioned like a soul, in that it could harm other fellow shadows and go anywhere it wished. In addition to these body-related souls, there were at least two more spirit-oriented souls. They were the Ba, the spirit soul, and the Khu, which can be translated simply as “spirit.” The Ba, whose hieroglyphic character represents a bird with a bearded human head, is close to


“soul” in the modern Western sense. The Ba could take any form and was also free to travel throughout heaven and socialize with other Ba there. Due to the influence of evil spirits, a Ba might be prevented from rejoining its Ka and physical body. The Ba and Ka were to be rejoined in Heliopolis, where the soul of Osiris rejoined itself to the body of the god. King Unàs ruled all Khu, spirits of both humans and gods in heaven. The Khu lived somewhere in the body, but its nature was unchangeable, incorruptible, and immortal (Budge 1911, 1: 134). As part of funerary rituals, priests uttered spells so that the Khu could rise and reside in the elevated spirit body, which could then ascend to heaven to live with Osiris. Various texts and inscriptions indicate different ideas about where the dead go. According to some texts, spirits of the dead went to live in the bodies of animals and birds. Other texts indicate that they entered the stars or lived in the Boat of the Sun (Budge 1911, 1: 155). The more common Egyptian belief about the afterlife was that the dead went to the land of «uat, which is almost a duplicate of Egypt in its geographical features, but without the sun. People could reach this spirit world by climbing to the top of high mountains or using ladders.

Dance and Music Budge provides some evidence that spiritual dance was performed in front of a god, possibly Osiris, as an act of worship. An ebony plaque in the British Museum depicts King Semti (H . esepti), a king of the first dynasty, dancing before a god (Budge 1911, 1: 232). The king wore the Crown of the South and North and held a whip in his right hand and a paddle in his left—items that might relate to certain ceremonial functions. Pygmy dancers from Punt and other regions, “the Lands of the Spirits,” were particularly welcomed by these kings, according to the text in the Pyramid of Pepi I, which mentions the pygmy dancers of the god who “rejoice the heart of the god before the god’s great throne” (cited in Budge 1911, 1: 233). Another text extract shows that a king should dance in front of Osiris in the other world like a pygmy to cheer and strengthen the deity. Many illustrations of kings dancing in front of Osiris and other gods are found in the Egyptian bas-reliefs of all periods. It would



therefore appear that the ancient Egyptians incorporated the “spirit dance” of other parts of Africa into Osiris worship. Both men and women could participate in ceremonies as singers of sacred music at the temples. The singers’ roles became more and more important with time, and they maintained high status as religious officials. Women entered the temple as singers and eventually managed to become priestesses from the time of the Old Kingdom. The rank of priesthood was sometimes passed down from father to daughter (Sauneron 1960, 67).

The Priests and Trance The priests, Kher h.eb or Kheru hebet, were called servants of the god. According to Nunn, Kher h.eb means literally those in charge of the festival rolls and is usually translated as “lector priests,” low-ranking priests (1996, 98). At first they were appointed by the king, but in the New Kingdom, a priestly caste based on hereditary succession became the dominant office. There were many subdivisions according to function, but in general they performed rituals for the kings and the welfare of the people. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic writings show a wide range of shamanistic functions of the Kher h.eb as the official director of religious and magic ceremonies. The Kher h. eb knew how and when to recite spells, were able to draft incantations and magical formulae, could foretell the future, interpret dreams, reveal the causes of illnesses, and declare the name of the spirit of the dead who caused an illness (Budge 1911, 2: 170). These priestly figures had knowledge of the secret names of the gods and so knew how to cause death and to bring the dead to life. They could also dispense powerful medicines and transform themselves into animal shapes. Most priests wore linen clothes, but specialized priests and the high priests wore a panther skin (Sauneron 1960, 40), a practice like that of some shamans in other parts of Africa and South Asia who wear the hide of a wildcat. On some ritual occasions the Kher h.eb used possession to deliver the god’s divine words. In such a ritual, the spirits of the gods resided in the priest’s body temporarily, and all that the priest said on such occasions was inspired by divine beings and had divine authority (Budge

1911, 2: 171). Some examples of the spells to deliver the gods’ divine words according to The Book of the Dead, as quoted by Budge (1911, 2: 171–174). “My mouth hath power over the h.eka (magic power)” (Chapter XXXI). “I am Osiris, I am Horus, I am ∆npu. I am the priest in heaven” (Chapter XXXI). “I command the spirits . . . I recite his commands and announce his words” (Chapter XXXVIII). “My tongue is the tongue of ptah. [the creator god of Memphis]” (Chapter LXXXII). “I am the chosen one of millions of years, who cometh out of the «uat, whose name is unknown” (In magical papyrus—British Museum No. 10042) (Budge 1911, 2: 171–174). The words of spells were particularly important for the Egyptian priests. To make spells and magic rituals effective, the Kher h.eb had to be ritually pure: They had to wash and refrain from sex and eating meat or fish. Using the power of the words, the priests held various ceremonies to make the soul of the dead (the spirit soul) ascend into heaven in the form of Osiris or RG and to resurrect the spirit body. The Kher h. eb used his powers to effect the preservation of bodies and souls and united the spirit soul with the spirit body (Ka). Accordingly, the Kher h.eb, like a shaman, mediated between the spirits of the gods and the living. According to a report by the Roman monk Apulin (Sauneron 1960, 50), inducing trance was an important element in the initiation of young Egyptian monks. During the initiation ceremony, the monk Lucius was purified in a nearby pond after ten days of fasting. He was led to the most secluded part of the sanctuary and received revelations while in a trancelike state. Lucius was “carried beyond all the elements” and saw “the sun shine with a brilliant light in the middle of the night” after he “approached the limits of the dead.” Apulin explained that Lucius “approached the gods from below and from high and saw them face to face.” Lucius’s revelation showed his ritual death in this world and subsequent rebirth as a priest through mystical experience under trance. Serge Sauneron also described the use of trance by ascetic monks who had long hair and were half-naked, clothed in rags and chains. Due to their rigorous abstinence and practices of spiritual perfection, their bodies were emaci-


ated, and they pronounced oracles to visitors and pilgrims at sacred sites in a state of “divine madness” (Sauneron 1960, 75). Egyptians could also use magical power to harm people by bringing sickness or misfortune. For this purpose, a wax figure was created to harm the enemy of the sorcerer’s client. Some Greek writers of the Greco-Roman period reported that Egyptian sorcerers could send terrifying dreams to people to cause illicit love affairs, sickness, and death. These sorcerers could transform themselves into animals, birds, reptiles, and other beings, and control the powers of heaven and earth.


practiced magic together with conventional medicine. Magicians (sau) practiced medicine independently of conventional medicine (Nunn 1996, 99). In the Middle Kingdom, the word hekay (from Heka, the god of magic) was also used for magicians. The lector priests were also known for using magic for healing. According to the Ebers Papyri (855u), lector priests could use their magic in malignant ways to cause evil actions such as a failing heart. The priests of Serqet were also magicians and healers who prevented and treated attacks by poisonous snakes and scorpions, and wab priests of Sekhmet had roles as veterinary surgeons.

Healing in Egyptian Medicine There are various extant medical texts available to illuminate Egyptian healing practices. These medical papyrus texts include both magical cures and the “conventional medicine” of the day—that is, treatment without religious associations. John Nunn (1996, 25) listed a dozen such texts, including the Edwin Smith Papyri, the Ebers Papyri, and the Kahan Papyri. These were mostly written in hieratic (a cursive hieroglyphic writing system) and date from 1550 B.C.E. to 250 C.E. The content of these papyri books includes general medicine, gynecology, pediatrics, ophthalmology, and the treatment of rectal diseases and snakebite. According to these texts and other evidence, there were at least five different healing professions in ancient Egypt. There were doctors (swnw, pronounced sewnew), magicians (sau), lector priests (Kher h.eb), the priests of Serqet, and the wab priests of Sekhmet, the lionheaded goddess. Swnw were to some extent like Western allopathic physicians. They examined patients, diagnosed sickness, prepared a sacred herbal remedy, and performed surgery when necessary. Some doctors, however, carried priestly titles, or double titles as both doctor and magician. For example, Hery-shef-nakht of the Middle Kingdom was both a swnw and a wab priest of Sekhmet, and he was also an overseer of magicians. The title of the doctor was usually passed down from father to son; the son learned medicine from his father using these medical texts, which were transmitted through the family and were buried with the doctor when he died. These medical texts included many magical incantations, as doctors regularly

Treatment and Incantations Sickness was considered by the ancient Egyptians to be caused by demonic forces that entered the body from the outside. These sickness demons, wekhedu, were to be driven out by various remedies prescribed in the medical papyri (Nunn 1996, 104). As the medical texts indicate, the great varieties of incantations used for healing involved gods, disease demons, and drugs. The following is an example of an incantation against wekhedu. An incantation [against] wekhedu: . . . I trample Busiris; I throw down Mendes; I ascend to the sky to see what is done therein. Nothing will be done in Abydos until the driving out of the [evil] influence of a god, a goddess, male wekhedu, female wekhedut, and so on, and the influence and all evil things that are in this my body, in this my flesh and in these my limbs. . . . Words to be said four times and spat out over the site of the disease. Really effective: a million times. (cited in Nunn 1996, 105)

The Metternich stela also provides an example of a spell to be used when a deity is to be invoked for the treatment of snakebite: “Flow out, poison. Come forth. Go forth on to the ground. Horus will exorcise you. He will punish you. He will spit you out” (cited in Nunn 1996, 105). In addition to Horus, benevolent gods and goddesses such as Osiris, Nekhet, Auset (Isis), and Nephtys were to be addressed in the incantation. According to the spells, these deities would protect the patient. These



incantations were given at the time of drinking a remedy to reinforce its effects. The Book of the Dead also includes many incantations to avoid dangerous creatures in the other world such as crocodiles. The interpretation of dreams was also performed by priests as therapy. A patient slept in a temple or sacred dormitory and upon awakening next morning was asked to describe the dream to the priests. Amulets were also a popular means to protect a person in life and after death. These amulets were usually small figures depicting parts of the human body, deities, or animals that one desired to avoid.

Gloria Emeagwali Mariko Namba Walter References and further reading: Budge, Wallis. 1911. Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection. 2 vols. London and New York: P. L. Warner and G. P. Putnam’s Sons. ———. 1969. Reprint. The Gods of the Egyptians. Vol. 1. New York: Dover. Original edition, Chicago: Open Court, 1904. Bryan, Cyril P., trans. 1930. The Papyrus Ebers. London: G. Bles. Hornung, Eric, and Betsy Bryan, eds. 2002. The Quest for Immortality: Treasures of Ancient Egypt. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art. Nunn, John. 1996. Ancient Egyptian Medicine. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. Sauneron, Serge. 1960. Reprint. The Priests of Ancient Egypt. Translated by Ann Morrissett. New York: Grove Press. Distributed by Random House. Shaw, Ian. 2000. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Watterson, Barbara. 1997. The Peoples of Africa: The Egyptians. Oxford and Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.

ASANTE SHAMANISM (GHANA) Although shamanism in the classic sense is not practiced among the Asante, what is practiced is close enough that it should be considered essentially the same phenomenon. Moreover, it

has much in common with the practices of other indigenous religions in Africa as a whole. The Asante are part of the Akan people, the dominant ethnic group in Ghana. The word Akan is both a linguistic and cultural description of a group of people speaking distinct dialects of the same language and bound together by the same social structure. The unity of the group is manifested in similar clan names, in similar religious beliefs and practices, in matrilineal social organization (ebusua) that reckons descent and succession along female lines, and in political organization based on kinship. Other Akan people include the Fante, Akyem, Akuapem, Kwahu, Bono-Ahafo, Agona, Wassa, Sewfi (in southern Ghana), and Baule and Anyi (in the southeast corner of the Ivory Coast). The Akan migrated from the northern part of present-day Ghana, settling first in Takyiman in the Brong-Ahafo region, from where parts of the larger Akan people broke away to found new communities further south. The Asante settled in the forest belt, where they founded the town of Kumasi, their capital, in 1665 (Busia 1954). Occupationally, the Asante are generally farmers, producing the bulk of the cocoa that is Ghana’s main export commodity. They are also weavers, potters, and gold- and blacksmiths. They are famous for their Kente (woven) and Adinkra (stamped) cloths. The essential unifying factor among the Asante is the Golden Stool (Sikadwa), which is believed to have descended from heaven through the agency of the royal priest or shaman, called Okomfo Anokye. The Golden Stool contains the souls of all living Asante.

Akom, or Shamanism: Belief System and Practices Asante religion is based on belief in a spiritual world and a material world that are distinct yet constantly interacting. The interpenetration of these two worlds is understood as a venture in which the efforts of human beings and God are joined in a common enterprise (Rigby 1981, 106). Briefly, the Asante believe in a Supreme God called Onyame, or Onyankopon, creator and sustainer of all creation. They believe in a multitude of male and female spirits called abosom (singular, obosom), “deities”; in ever-vigilant ancestor spirits; and in good and evil spirits that can be exploited by human beings.


Shamanic duties in Asante religion are embodied in the office and functions of the priesthood, akom, which is associated with the abosom and the ancestors. The abosom are localized in natural phenomena such as trees, rocks, stones, hills, rivers, the sea, and some animals. The very essence and power of the deities originate from God. “They come from him and are part of him” (Busia 1954, 193). The mythological sources tell that God, or Onyankopon, whose abode is the sky, used to live closer to human beings. The sky was so close to earth then that whenever Aberewa, an old woman, pounded fufu (a staple meal of yam, cassava, or plantain) with mortar and pestle, the pestle hit God. After several unheeded complaints to the woman, God withdrew, with the sky, farther and farther upwards to the sky’s present position. When human attempts to reach God by piling all the mortars at their disposal failed, God sent his children, the abosom, to attend to human needs. Thus, most acts of religious devotion revolve around the abosom, who are also custodians of the moral order, rewarding good conduct and punishing wrong behavior. Among the most important deities in Asante are the spirits of the rivers Tano and Bea, and the spirit of Lake Bosomtwe. The abosom are approached by priests and priestesses called akomfo (singular, okomfo). The okomfo is outwardly distinguished from other people not only by name but also by official attire. Professed priests and priestesses wear white clothes on ritual days, and smear their bodies with white clay. On ceremonial occasions they may wear skirts made of raffia or cotton material and carry a short broom (Brookman-Amissah 1975, 5). Priests are also adorned with special black and white beads as insignia of their office and to distinguish them from ordinary people.

Functions of Akomfo as Shamans The akomfo are primarily intermediaries between divinity and human beings, transmitting divine revelations on to human beings and submitting human supplications to the deity (Sackey 1989, 19). The obosom possesses the okomfo, bringing him or her into the spirit world and imparting to her or him knowledge to cure a disease, find solutions to pressing human problems, restructure broken human rela-


tionships, recover lost articles, and interpret dreams. The okomfo also consults the dead on behalf of family members, intercedes on behalf of humans in times of calamity or danger such as famine, drought, epidemics, and presides over festivals for the deities and ancestors. Among the Asante and Akan, when a person becomes ill his okra (soul) is said to have run away, as reflected in the saying ne kra eguane (his soul has run away). The object of healing by the okomfo, therefore, is to find and restore the fugitive soul. Kofi Appiah-Kubi described the okomfo as “at once a friend, priestess, doctor, social worker, advisory bureau, psychologist, psychiatrist, and philanthropist” (1981, 30) Eliade described shamanism as “preeminently a religious phenomenon of Siberia and Inner Asia,” a restrictive application of the term based on an emphasis on ecstatic soul travel to the world of spirits (1987, 991). According to this definition, the shaman is distinguished by being able to control his helping spirits; he does not become their instrument, in contrast to mediums, who obtain access to the spirit world through possession. Although the modus operandi in some respects differs, there are more similarities than differences between the duties, call, and status of akomfo in Asante and those of shamans in Alaska, Siberia, and Asia. Even among these northern shamanistic societies there are differences; and the religious phenomenon occurs in different cultural matrixes so that terminologies vary. What is most important in both shamanism and akom is the goal of the shaman or okomfo—which is to solicit spiritual help to solve human problems in the physical world—rather than the mode of transmission to the spirit world, or the kind of agency.

The Call to Shamanism (Akom) As in shamanism, the ascension to the office of priesthood in Asante may be hereditary or by means of a calling, or vocation. In the case of the private hereditary office, there appears to be no specific “call,” and the most suitable member of the family succeeds the family okomfo who has died. The selection is made during the funeral of the deceased okomfo, whose spirit indicates which family member is most suitable to succeed him or her. A call into public service may be manifested by possession. A possessed



candidate goes through a series of mental and physical crises expressed apparently in paranoid behavior and sudden illness, which for a time may defy therapeutic treatment. In other words, the person behaves strangely, but this strangeness is regarded as normal because its symptoms are evidence of the call (BrookmanAmissah 1975, 7; Sackey 1989, 19). Sometimes a person may go to the forest and discover a flaming stone charged with power, the temporary dwelling place of a spirit. The discoverer becomes the priest of the deity that has thus revealed itself. He remains in the forest for several days, and when found, behaves strangely. Other symptoms of a call include intermittent fits, seizures, and convulsions similar to epilepsy. When a person is under such attack, he may tear off his clothes and cast them off, roll on the ground, groan, and moan. These symptoms may persist until the person consults a senior priest, who may interpret this condition as a sign that a deity would like to “marry” the person. Even though the call to the Asante priesthood is a divine obligation, some people reject it. For example, the parents and relatives of the possessed person may plead with the deity through the senior okomfo for her release. The deity may accept the plea, having been pacified by sacrifices from the supplicants. On the other hand, the deity may reject the plea, and then the person has no choice but to comply or face repercussions from the deity, which may include afflictions such as sterility, infertility, mental diseases, successive and inexplicable deaths in the person’s family, and even the person’s own death. Sometimes, a deity may not kill but will “spoil” the person; that is, from time to time the person may go into fits and experience some form of dementia (Sackey 2000). Whether selected by succession or a call, the candidate must undergo three years of training under stern discipline, observing certain taboos. According to Robert Rattray (1927, 40), the novitiate and training undergone by an Asante priest is a long, trying, and very serious business, and even when a person is fully qualified, the profession of priesthood is no sinecure.

Initiation The initiation into priesthood as a rite of passage has three distinct phases: separation, transi-

tion, and reincorporation. The separation phase involves initiates leaving their homes and going to reside with their instructors. If an initiate is married, he or she must leave his or her spouse, with whom he or she may no longer cohabit until the three years’ training has ended; if an initiate is unmarried, he or she must stay chaste for the three years. If the initiate is already married and his or her spouse does not wish to wait for three years, the initiate may obtain a divorce. An unmarried person may enter into marriage after the training. Virtues such as obedience and reliability are the hallmark of the initiate. The initiate is ritually cleansed and given a special hairstyle (braids, which are not shaved during the whole period of training). Clad in a red piece of cloth, the initiate is confined in a room for eight days. The training or transitional period begins after the eighth day. The first year of training of the new priests consists of ceremonial ablutions, or “bathing with medicine,” intended to strengthen them in akom techniques. Most importantly, some of the herbal medicines are meant to introduce the initiates to the spiritual world. The instructing priest will collect leaves from plants growing over some grave in the samanpow (thicket of the ghosts) and bring them to the shrine, where they are placed in a pot. Eggs and a fowl are then sacrificed upon them, and the pot is placed upon the grave from which the leaves were taken. The initiate is then ordered to go alone, in the middle of the night, to the thicket of the ghosts and bathe with the medicine for three successive nights, amidst beatings and harassment from the ghosts. The medicine in the pot on the grave is changed, and the initiate must wash with it for seven successive weeks (Rattray 1927, 41). In the second year the laws and taboos of the deity and social conduct are stressed. Some of the taboos, apart from celibacy, forbid drinking alcohol, eating sweet things or pork, and putting on footwear. The initiate must refrain from quarreling or any disgraceful acts. Initiates are taught drumming, singing, dancing, offering libation, and the like. During the third and final year, the initiate is taught water-gazing, healing, divination, necromancy, and witchcraft detection. The initiate learns how to impregnate charms (asuman) with various spirits, how to hear the voices of the trees, the streams, and other forest spirits,


and how to identify and know the secrets of herbs. The initiate studies psychology, theology, and dedication to service to the spirits and human worlds (Damuah n.d., 39–40, AppiahKubi 1981, 37–39).

Graduation The training ends with a private and public graduation in which the initiate is tested for proficiency. On the eve of the public ceremony, he or she is taken to a thick forest and left alone to undergo a spiritual test of endurance necessary to face the challenges of the spiritual world, which is part of the initiate’s akom duties. In a case study, an initiate reported that she encountered many deities, including the one that possessed her, spirits of some of the ancestors, and other ghosts. For the public graduation ceremony, she was shaved and dressed in a white cloth, besmeared with white clay, adorned with beads and charms, and seated before the akor, a pot containing water for the purposes of water-gazing, to test all she had learnt. As she gazed into the water, she could recognize all the spirits she had encountered the previous night. The final rite involved “fire dancing.” A bonfire was set up, and she danced through the fire without getting hurt. Only candidates who had broken some taboos during their training, especially sexual taboos, would get burnt. Going through the fire three times marked the end of her initiation, after which she was reincorporated into her family, not only as mother and wife but also as a full-fledged priestess in her community. Some of the cases she had treated include healing sick adults and children, curing infertility problems, restoring lost items, and training priestesses into the priesthood. She had trained over seventy priestesses. Later, she was elevated to become the chief priestess in her hometown. At the time of this writing, she is retired, and though she does not work she is possessed from time to time (Sackey 2000).

Coexistence with Other Religious Specialists and Religious Traditions In Asante, medical practitioners include the okomfo, the edurnsifo (herbalist), and the sumankwafo (expert in the production and control of protective charms). Unlike the okomfo,


the last two practitioners are always men. The work of the okomfo includes that of the other two; that is, he or she is at the same time herbalist and expert in charms, while the work of the edurnsifo and sumankwafo is limited to a specific expertise. Like all other people in Ghana, the Asante have been affected by social, political, economic, and religious changes. In the religious realm, the modern Asante state exhibits a religious pluralism, within which their ethnicbased indigenous religion exists in relative harmony with other religious traditions, including Islam, Christianity, and variants of new African religious movements such as African Independent Churches, Spiritual, Pentecostal, and Charismatic churches (Sackey 2001). Despite a relatively peaceful coexistence among the religions in Asante and Ghana generally, the concept of deities and akom, or shamanic, functions have always been a paramount cause of conflict between Christianity and indigenous African religions. Whereas Christianity sees worship of many deities as a violation of the first two of the Ten Commandments, indigenous religions regard the deities as an integral part of their religious system, without which the religions would be incomplete and meaningless (Sackey 1998). These differences notwithstanding, Christians generally seek the help of the akomfo when the afflictions of life, especially health, social, and financial problems, become insurmountable. Brigid M. Sackey See also: African Traditional Medicine; Ancestor Worship in Africa; Spirit Possession References and further reading: Appiah-Kubi, Kofi. 1981. Man Cures, God Heals: Religion and Medical Practice Among the Akans of Ghana. New Jersey: Allanheld, Osmun Publishers. Busia, Kofi A. 1954. “The Ashanti of the Gold Coast.” Pp. 190–200 in African Worlds. Edited by Daryll Forde. London: Oxford University Press. Brookman-Amissah, J. 1975. “The Traditional Education of Indigenous Priesthood in Ghana.” Occasional Paper. Faculty of Education, University of Cape Coast. Damuah, Osofo Okomfo. n.d. Miracle at the Shrine: Religious and Revolutionary Miracle in Ghana. n.p.



Eliade, Mircea. 1987. “Shamanism.” Pp. 991–992 in World Religions. Selections from the 16th Volume, Macmillan Compendium. New York: Simon and Schuster, Macmillan. Opoku, Kofi A. 1978. West African Traditional Religion. Jurong: FEP International Private Ltd. Rattray, Robert S. 1927. Religion and Art in Ashanti. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press. Rigby, Peter. 1981. “Pastors and Pastoralists: The Differential Penetration of Christianity among East African Cattle Herders.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 23: 96–129. Sackey, Brigid M. 1989. “Aspects of Continuity in the Religious Roles of Women in Spiritual Churches of Ghana.” Research Review 5, no. 2: 18–33. Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon. ———.1998. “Asafo and Christianity: Conflicts and Prospects.” Transactions of the Historical Society 1, no. 2. ———.2000. Interview with Maame Aba Tum, a okomfo in Enyan Abaasa, a Fante town in the Central Region of Ghana. October. ———.2001 “Charismatics, Independents, and Missions: Church Proliferation in Ghana.” Culture and Religion 2(1): 41–59.

CAPE NGUNI SHAMANISM (SOUTH AFRICA) The role of the diviner-healer among the Cape Nguni of South Africa is still a central one. It is filled by both women and men, though women are definitely in the majority.

Background The Xhosa-speaking peoples of the Eastern Cape of South Africa, together with the Zulu, make up the ethnic group commonly known as the Nguni. Oral evidence suggests that they were originally one people, at some period before they settled on the eastern seaboard of the southern part of Africa, the Zulu occupying that part of the continent between the Drakensberg Mountains and the Indian Ocean, while the Xhosa settled further south. In the course of time, the Xhosa people came to dom-

inate and incorporate the Mpondo, the Mpondomise, and the Bharca as well as the Hlubi, Zizi, Tolo, and Bhele peoples who migrated into the area in the nineteenth century. The latter immigrants subsequently became known as the Mfengu (Hirst 1990, 12). Collectively, the Xhosa-speaking peoples are known as the Cape Nguni. The Xhosa-speaking peoples, as a result of incorporation, are the dominant ethnic group in South Africa.

Cape Nguni Healer-Diviners The figure of the shaman is roughly equivalent to what is known among the Cape Nguni as the amagqira (a healer-diviner), or, to a lesser extent, the amaxhwele (essentially an herbalist). Although the generic terms igqirha and amaxhwele are the most commonly employed by the Cape Nguni, the media in South Africa typically use the Zulu designation izangoma to refer to both diviners and herbalists. The fully qualified diviner (amagqira) and the initiate (twasa) who is being trained to become an amagqira are distinct from the herbalist, the amaxhwele. The Cape Nguni herbalist shares with other herbalists worldwide a comprehensive knowledge of local plants and their properties, which can be learned by anyone who is interested. The herbalists are ordinary people who have acquired extensive knowledge of magical techniques, ritual artifacts, and botanical preparations, and who do not typically possess occult powers (Hammond-Tooke 1989). Nevertheless, their instruction and training, like that of the diviner, begins with a call from the ancestral spirits to undergo the necessary rites of passage under a practicing herbalist. Another kind of practitioner is the nolugxana, “the doctor of the medicine digging-stick”; these practitioners are uninitiated novice diviners (abakhwetha) who employ their acquired skills and knowledge as healers (Hirst 1990, 24). Cape Nguni specialist diviners include the izanuse (omniscient diviners), awemilozi (ventriloquists), ambululayo (revealers), awomhlahlo (appeal diviners), awamathambo (bone diviners), aqubulayo (extractors), and awezipili (mirror diviners) who exist for a variety of ailments and predicaments. Finally, witch finders, or witch smellers (igqirha elinukayo) specialize in scrutinizing a client’s social, business, or neighborhood associates for malign intent. The


awemvula, or igqirha levula, are rainmakers, and the amatola (or itola), war diviners. The itola were active during the Frontier Wars of 1846–1878, in which the English Empire and its colonial administration opposed the Xhosa peoples. Within these various forms of healing, then, methods, materials, and ritual are so interrelated that disputes in regards to clientele occasionally arise among practitioners. The development of charismatic Christianity among the Cape Nguni has also given rise to Zionist prophets (amaprofeti), “women of prayer” (abathandazeli), and ministers (abafundisi) of the established Christian churches in the predominantly Black townships. Though the healer-diviners of these newer groups owe their primary allegiance to the Christian churches, most also observe and accommodate reverential and placatory rituals directed to the shades of the ancestors and employ dreams, trance, and ecstatic healing methods.

The Cape Nguni Worldview Traditionally, the Cape Nguni worship a supreme being known as uThixo, Qamata, or uDali, who is seen as remote from the world of everyday life; thus they turn to the ancestral shades to intercede for them. These shades are known among the Xhosa proper as iminyanya, and as amathongo among the Mpondo and the Xesibe. The shades pervade almost every aspect of traditional Cape Nguni life and social space, supplying prosperity and protection, and withholding their blessings when angered. Occasionally, they afflict the disobedient with illnesses and other misfortunes (Kuckertz 1990), the most significant being pain, infertility, loss of property, and death (Lawuyi n.d.). Through dreams and omens, they communicate with and influence the lives of their descendants. Transitional life phases and instances of prosperity or crisis see the shades invoked and appeased as necessary. The Cape Nguni consider the dead (elemimoya) as spirit beings in the process of becoming spirit ancestors (moya: wind). The dead are buried in their own cattle byre, cattle being considered a vital medium of spiritual communication. (Not all ancestors, however, are equally revered.) The typical room is built to face the east, a tradition probably related to the


San belief that the power of good derives from the east. Rivers are also considered dwelling places of the ancestor spirits and sources of divine inspiration. Rivers are seen as possessing the potential for renewal and destruction (Lawuyi n.d., 8); thus their connection with the communal ancestor spirits called “abantu bomlambo” (People of the River). Pollution beliefs among the Cape Nguni attest to the existence of mystical forces that create conditions inimical to life. These forces emanate not from the ancestors or society, but from an individual’s “own contaminated position” resulting from “ritual impurity” (De Wet 1998, 92). In the more traditional areas, one finds a belief in the existence of witches (ubugqwirha), who use their innate psychic power for antisocial ends. Witches are considered to interact with familiars, variously symbolized in peculiar creatures. Lastly, there is a belief in bogeymen (ubuthakatha), who employ their unusual psychic power to create free-floating fear in the minds of others (Hirst 1990, 237). The Cape Nguni do recognize disease and illness due to “natural biological causes” and those that result from “natural degradation of bodily systems or environmental or genetic predisposition” (Hammond-Tooke 1989, 56–57). But their notion of illness and disease also incorporates whatever brings misfortune, creates imbalance in society, or poses an environmental threat (Hammond-Tooke 1989). The intermediaries between the spirit ancestors (or the supernatural realm) and the living are the healerdiviners, who are seen as having moral authority in the world of the shades, and thus the competence to initiate the restoration of order.

The Role of Cape Nguni Healer-Diviners in Society Cape Nguni diviners focus on diagnosing the inexplicable in society, which for the most part has to do with illness, misfortune, and social, physical, or spiritual imbalance. As servants of the ancestors, they analyze, through divination, the causes or origins of specific events and interpret their messages. Though their function is chiefly that of divination, they also provide medication for many of the problems they diagnose. The clients who consult healer-diviners come from socially diverse backgrounds; they include



educated Christians, elite professionals, and minimally educated traditionalists. Most nonliterate folk typically depend on the advice of diviners. Manton Hirst noted that white clients coming from diverse social, economic, and religious backgrounds occasionally consult healerdiviners (Hirst 1990, 70). Practitioners do not seem to exclude clients on the basis of social and racial background, nor do the religious beliefs of most clients interfere with their seeking a suitable and effective therapy for their ills from one of the many kinds of practitioners. The problems for which most clients would consult the range of herbalists, diviners, and faith healers, are often psychic, psychosomatic, or psychosocial. Conditions for which Western biomedical treatment offers no treatment, such as witchcraft, spirit possession, lineage sorcery, pollution, madness, hysteria, and fainting fits are susceptible to intervention by the healer-diviner. Reproductive dysfunctions such as impotence and sterility are quite commonly brought to the healer-diviner, as well as problems of uncertainty, fear of misfortune, addictive smoking, alcoholism, and unrestrained promiscuity. Through their practices, healer-diviners help in reintegrating families or social relations with the use of ritual, and in so doing, they resolve social conflicts and promote group cohesion and a sense of community. In this way, they bolster not only the client’s physical health, but also the psychological and social health of the patient. It is their aim to heal the broader kinship and community networks by means of their rituals and practices. Besides these intangible ills, some Cape Nguni healer-diviners treat a wide range of common physical illnesses and diseases, including for example colds, pneumonia, asthma, bronchitis, sprains, rheumatism, premenstrual pains, sexually transmitted diseases, blood poisoning, anemia, migraines, epilepsy, parasitic infections, skin problems, angina, and high blood pressure. Some also claim to treat tuberculosis, miners’ lung diseases, and AIDS. Herbalists and diviners also offer magical medicines, potions, or charms to clients, who desire them for various purposes: charms to traders to attract customers in a competitive trade; medicines to promote wealth, to ensure easy success in an election, or to win in commercial contests; charms or love portions; concoctions to help a criminal escape a policeman,

or to cause a magistrate to become confused in court; medicines to avert the need to pay bills, to render an enemy powerless, to make a person lose prestige, or to enhance the client’s social standing; magical medicines to ensure the faithfulness of a partner, to enable the unemployed to find employment, to protect oneself against witchcraft, to make oneself immaterial or invisible, and to enable urbanites to maintain contact with their lineage ancestors.

The Healer-Diviner’s Ritual Paraphernalia The contents of the healer-diviner’s medicinal bags vary from one region to another, as South Africa is made up of varying ecological areas supporting different kinds of plant and animal life. Typically, however, a Cape Nguni diviner’s paraphernalia consists of ritual goatskin bags containing herbs, barks, roots, leafy fronds, powders, horns, ivory tusks, teeth, claws, quills, and wild animal skins. Healing is effected through the use of otter and mongoose skins; hippo-hide switches, and preserved body parts of wild animals, all of which are imbued with medicinal or magical potency. Masilo Lamla (n.d.) observed healers making use of a number of plants: talinum caffrum (impunyu), alepidea amatymbica (amaqwili), crimum bulbispermum (inqwebeba), acokanthera, or cape aloes (isihlungu senamba), aconkanthera venenata (intlungunyembe), artemisia (um-honganye), obliquus (umuthunga), helichrysum appendiculatum (indlebe yemvu), bowiea volubilis (isicwe ugqogqa), and knowltonia cordata (isichwe), among others. Also available to healers and diviners are asbestos flint, washing soda, cloudy ammonium, permanganate of potash, and powdered cape aloes. Psychoactive plant substances contribute to healing rituals; sorghum beer, the foam (ubalawu) of which produces plentiful dreams (Hirst 1990, 64–66), constitutes perhaps the most common agent diviners use to alter consciousness. Herbalists and diviners often collect their medicinal products themselves; otherwise, they procure items from hunters or rely on one another to supplement their stores or replenish finished stocks. Those in the large urban centers obtain their products from the rural areas and the open countryside. In addition to their goatskin bags, the apparel of healer-diviners makes their vocation


visible to the community. This consists of a white headdress (umyekho) that falls to the shoulder blades. Besides this, the male healerdiviner typically wears a headdress made of white bird plumage. White beads symbolic of clarity decorate the diviner’s hair, which neither male nor female healer-diviners are allowed to cut. Beads also ring both hands just above and below the wrists. Goatskin shoulder bands (iminqwamba) and wristlets, as well as the diviner’s fly whisk (ishoba), said to be under the influence of ancestral spirits, complete the garb. Female novice diviners commonly walk the streets of the urban areas bare-footed, faces striped with white clay, adorned with beads, and dressed in white skirts.

“Go-Twasa”: The Initiation of a Xhosa Diviner The initiation of a Cape Nguni diviner (as reported in Hirst 1990) begins with intwaso, a state akin to spirit possession. The individual is afflicted by personal problems or troubles (inkatazo) or somatic emotional states, such as various aches and pains, a sinking sensation in the solar plexus, palpitation of the heart, and fainting fits. The patient is overwhelmed by dreams (amathonga, amaphupha) and visions (imibono) featuring wild animals. He then develops healing powers (ubugqirha), occasionally deserts the homestead for the bush, and feels an impulse to physically immerse himself in a river or pool. Healer-diviners interpret these symptoms as the individual being “called under the river” by the ancestors. Go-twasa, the process of initiation, calls for the intervention of a diviner, who examines the patient, probes the patient’s life history and social situation, and scrutinizes the symptoms and recurrent nature of the patient’s troubles (inkatazo) in an attempt to determine his or her vocation. Many patients are known to have a history of intwaso from childhood (O’Connel n.d., 17), the symptoms often becoming more severe after puberty. Some psychiatrists have suggested that foreign spirit possession is involved, but research has now made it clear that the Nguni differentiate spirit possession from ukutwasa (ancestral dream communication). Refusal to accept the call often results in madness. Social maturity is a necessary condition for becoming a novice diviner. The male initiate,


twasa, must have undergone the ukwaluka circumcision rites, and the female, the intonjane puberty rites (Hirst 1990, 92). Ultimately, for an individual to enter a diviner’s school, the spirit ancestors must commit to resolving that person’s difficulties, and the individual must be willing to accept the “calling.” In the diviner’s school (umgongo), the initiate is given a new name and dance wands and is taught the practice and discipline of silence and how to hold the body (Fossback 1996, 48–51). The initiate is trained to search out the truth by questions (O’Connel n.d., 29–30), much as Western medical doctors interview patients to discover an array of symptoms pointing to an appropriate diagnosis. Initiates abstain from certain foods or drinks, sexual intercourse, and oversocialization with the rest of the community. They fraternize with one another and with other schools or networks. Learning to dream as well as to understand and interpret dreams (Fossback 1996, 82–90) is crucial to their development. Visionary dreaming is preceded by drinking visioninducing “entheogens” (psychotropic or psychoactive substances), which help the initiates to dream lucidly and to recollect their dreams in detail. They develop a repertoire of dreams and dream interpretation skills. Novice diviners accompany the tutelary diviner on trips, during which the tutelary diviner imparts to them practical knowledge of divination, healing, and training in herbal treatment. Central to their training is the observation of an official ecstatic ritual song and dance (the intlombe), which invokes the presence of the spirit ancestors, a sense of community, and thus healing therapy (Fossback 1996; Hirst 1990, 143, 148). To accommodate a patient (or initiate’s) troubling spirit, they dance in a hut until a trancelike state is reached (Hammond-Tooke 1998). Dancers go round the hearth (iziko) at the hut’s center, accompanied by hand clapping, during which the patient confesses. The induction of the twasa calls for the instructing diviner to officiate over the initiation ritual, which includes the mobilization of the candidate’s social network, offerings to the People of the River, and an announcement of the candidate’s readiness. The initiate is immersed in a river, physically or symbolically, followed by the diviner priest narrating to the



initiate in his divination hut the “timeless river’s myth” (Hirst 1990). Where the myth is not narrated to the initiate, it is implicit in the rite of immersion. The success of the initiation rite (known through propitious omens) breaks the general fasting that commenced before the rite. A white goat is ritually slaughtered and a thong (imtambo)—a symbol of restraint and sacrifice—is made for the fasting novice. The now purged novice shares in eating the meat. An intlombe dance ensues, during which the candidate narrates his or her troubles. This completes the rite. At the end, the ritual “takes home” the candidate diviner, while an ox or a bull is immolated. In the “feast of the multitudes,” the candidate “walks out” from the “neophyte” state, dressed in full diviner’s regalia of wild animal skins, with goatskin shoulder bands and wristlets, and armed with a hippohide switch, a black rod, and a spear. He or she performs a dance umhlahlo (associated in the past with witch finding) to the clapping of family, kinsmen, and friends assembled at the person’s own homestead (Hirst 1990, 150). All these rituals entreat and encourage the spirit ancestors to abide with the candidate, while drawing on the candidate’s network to make durable her newfound strength. The Zionist prophets and women of prayer also experience, through mystical dreams, a call to heal and to prophesy. Though their calls are said to come directly from God, they necessarily involve the shades. The calls often come with an illness, for which competent divinerherbalists are consulted. However, only another prophet can successfully treat the illness (Hirst 1990, 24) and officially baptize those that are called in a river.

Gender and Healing The balance is in favor of women in recruitment to healing and divination in Southern Africa, a development that for theoretical and practical purposes is worth investigating. In the 1930s, Monica Hunter pointed out the dominance of female diviners by a three to one ratio among the amaMpondo (Hunter 1979, 320). In the 1970s, David Hammond-Tooke noted that among the Bharca “it is almost invariably the maternal ancestors who summon the novice” (Hammond-Tooke 1974, 335). He

later observed male initiates among the Xhosa who adopted female dress and sometimes spoke in high-pitched voices (31). Hirst also reported that among the Xhosa diviners of Grahamstown the ratio of women to men was two to one (Hirst 1990, 26). Although this transvestite phenomena is mostly reported among amaZulu practitioners, more women appear to be recruited into both traditional and charismatic Christian healing in South Africa. As social phenomena occurring in societies that for the most part have maledominated institutions, these gender (and cross-gender) dynamics are signifying processes that shape contemporary consciousness through illness interpretation and knowledge production. The voices of these female healerdiviners therefore merit close study.

Contemporary Shamans The amagqira shamans enjoyed much power in the past for their ability to communicate with and interpret the will of the ancestors. They were very relevant to their communities, where the bonds of kinship were still strong and the influence of Western urban cultures not yet dominant. With the recent waves of massive urban migration, population explosion, and socioeconomic change, the status of the Cape Nguni healer-diviner has also shifted to accommodate new social contentions and economic patterns. Competition between healer-diviners can be fierce. More healer-diviners have moved to urban areas and attend to the health of the displaced urban populations. Globalization and the growing interest in ethnic or indigenous cultures, along with the end of apartheid, have led to a boom in popular interest in healing traditions. Because foreign tourists are interested in experiencing the magical aspects of traditional healing which many consider exotic, a number of township healer-diviners have turned to tourist visits for an income. Accordingly one finds divination chambers in the townships that have also become traditional museums, where tourists flock to have a feel of the healer-diviner’s ritual paraphernalia or to experience divination. Some argue that this development has rendered the practice voyeuristic. Healing and divination thrives in both the traditionally rural and urban areas of Southern Africa. As prophets and spirit healers, the Zion-


ist ministers and women of prayer perform a much needed role in healing, as well as reinforcing positive and healthy social relations among their populations. The increase in living costs resulting in social tensions, the rise of new diseases both of a psychosomatic and biomedical order—coupled with the limitations of the modern medical service—mean that the populations that require alternative and traditional forms of therapy can only increase. The drawbacks to divination and healing have to do with the want of proper regulation and control that would hold healers and diviners legally accountable for malpractice and would draw a line between trained healers and diviners on one side versus quacks and charlatans on the other. The impact has been evident in the past few years, with the rise in South African HIV/AIDS statistics. The highly reported cases of rape of female infants by HIV/AIDS patients, purportedly as a diagnostic treatment suggested by some healer-diviners, is a worrying development. A case can be made that the sources of this occurrence lie in the many false healers and diviners who have swelled the numbers in the profession. There has also been criticism of the stripping of the natural habitat of medicinal herbs and visionary plants on an extensive scale for the huge urban markets. The provincial authorities for nature and conservation, as well as the press, are quick to blame the “witch doctors”; healers and diviners place the responsibility on unscrupulous traders. Certainly, the multiplicity of modern health problems and social conflict calling for inexpensive holistic knowledge from healers and diviners, the want of recognition for their medical and therapeutic efforts, and the drive for money and profit on the part of opportunists are all factors likely to complicate the growth and legitimization of these endeavors.

San Influences On Cape Nguni Divination Taken as a complex group of practitioners, Nguni healer-diviners constitute an important class of alternative medical and spirit practitioners in today’s South Africa. Many aspects of Cape Nguni practice have been traced to the much earlier San (/Xam) language and culture. The cosmology and some practices of healing and divination are shared, according to


Hammond-Tooke and other scholars. The Xhosa language contains words, such as the term for the healer, gi:xa (medicine man, or holder of power) borrowed from the San (!Kung) language. The healing dance, the intlombe, which is a crucial element in the training of Nguni neophyte diviners, is thought to have originated with the San and has been incorporated into Nguni shamanistic practice. Finally, the association of wild animals with altered states of consciousness in Cape Nguni divination is an aspect central to the San (!Kung) (as it is, of course, to other huntergatherer spirit practices). Mircea Elaide’s definition of a “shaman” in the strict sense of the word excluded African spirit practitioners with the exception of the !Kung. However, it is now possible to find a connection between certain aspects of Xhosa ecstatic divination and San (!Kung) cosmology and shamanic practice. It is probable that the Xhosa not only borrowed the clicks of the San language (through contact) but also the ecstatic healing dance, the intlombe, which is part of the healing and initaitory ritual of Xhosa diviners. Another aspect the Xhosa incorporated into their cosmology is the linking of wild animals with altered states of consciousness. Hammond-Tooke (1999) recalls that shamanism is essentially the religion of hunter-gatherer societies, and the Xhosa’s relations with the San explain the strong differences between the Xhosa and other Southern Bantu divination systems. These differences illustrate Cape Nguni healing and divination as a complex amalgam of hunter-gatherer and traditionalist pastoral worldviews. It is also likely that the /Xam (San) term for shaman, gi:xa, was borrowed by the Xhosa to designate their diviners, igqirha. Ismaël Achirri Chi-Bikom See also: African Traditional Medicine; Ancestor Worship in Africa; Transvestism in Shamanism References and further reading: De Wet, Thea. 1998. “Doepa after Dark: Protective Medicines for Infants in Soweto in South Africa.” Ph.D. diss. Fossback, Ole-Bjorn. 1996. “Thwasa! Aspects of the Recruitment and Training of Sangoma Traditional Diviner-Healers in Mondoland, South Africa: An Embodied Approach.” Cand. Polit. Degree thesis, University of Tromso.



Hammond-Tooke, W. D. 1974. The BantuSpeaking Peoples of Southern Africa. London, Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul. ———. 1989. Rituals and Medicines. Indigenous Healing in South Africa. Johannesburg: Ad Donker. ———. 1998. “Selective Borrowing? The Possibility of San Shamanistic Influence in Southern Bantu Divination and Healing Practices.” Southern African Archeological Bulletin 53: 9–15. ———. 1999. “Divinatory Animals: Further Evidence of San/Nguni Borrowing?” Southern African Archeological Bulletin 54: 128–132. Hirst, Manton. 1990. The Healer’s Art: Cape Nguni Diviners in the Township of Grahamstown. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis in Anthropology. Rhodes University, Grahamstown. Hunter, Monica. 1979. Reaction to Conquest: Effects of Contact with Europeans on the Pondo of South Africa. Cape Town: David Philip. Originally published 1936. Kuckertz, Heinz. 1990. Creating Order: the Image of the Homestead in Mpondo Social Life. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press. Lamla, Masilo. n.d. “The Knowledge (Stock-inTrade) of a Traditional Healer.” Unpublished paper. Lawuyi, O. B. n.d. “The Healing Ancestors of Isinuka, South Africa.” Unpublished paper. O’Connel, M. D. n.d. “Spirit Possession and Role Stress among the Xesibe of the Eastern Transkei.” Unpublished paper.

HAUSA SHAMANISTIC PRACTICES (NIGERIA AND NIGER) There are about fifty million Hausa speakers in West Africa, primarily in northern Nigeria and southern Niger. Despite tribal variations within the Hausa, the present-day Hausa share a common culture and language; Hausa is a branch of the Chad group of the Afro-Asiatic language family, and it serves as a lingua franca in West Africa. Originally, the name Hausa referred only to the language of the Habe people of northern Nigeria. In the early nineteenth century, various Habe tribal states were conquered

by the Fulani, who established the Islamic Sokoto Caliphate. The Fulani, a pastoral people, were eventually “Hausaized” and became sedentary. Islam has been part of Hausa life since the sixteenth century, but the Fulani jihad gave it predominance in Hausa life. Thus Islam permeates the Hausa culture at every level, but there is a group of non-Muslim Hausa, the Maguzawa, who have retained the pre-Islamic religions of the indigenous people. These early religions include belief in spirits, or bori, and shamanic Bori doctors and diviners. The Maguzawa continue to follow traditional Hausa religious practices, oriented around a variety of good and bad spirits and involving sacrificial offerings to the spirits and spirit possession. These Bori cults are centered on the family rituals and healing practices, in which women and members of the lower strata of marginalized people participate. Muslim Hausa also take part in spirit possession cults, which though not identical seem to be related.

The Socioeconomic Background of the Hausa Muslim Hausa raise livestock, including horses, donkeys, goats, sheep, and poultry, but farming is not their main means of subsistence. NonMuslim Hausa, the Maguzawa, however, are full-time farmers, who grow millet, maize, Guinea corn, and rice during the May-October rainy season. The contrast between Muslim Hausa and the Maguzawa is apparent in many ways, such as social organization, marriage, and kin relations. Muslim Hausa society is based on a stratified social network of tight hierarchical relationships, dependent on occupation, wealth, birth, and patron-client ties. The Maguzawa are less stratified; they reside in small villages, comprised of exogamous patrilineal kin. As among the Muslims, each Maguzawa male may have four wives and as many concubines as he can support. The Maguzawa also prefer cousin marriage, on both the father’s side and the mother’s side.

The Interplay of Traditional Beliefs and Islam Faulkingham (1975) noted that the Muslim and “pagan” Hausa in the southern Niger village he studied believed in the same spirits. Both be-


lieved in the same origin myth for these spirits as well. According to the myth, Allah called Adama, “the woman,” and Adamu, “the man,” to Him and bade them to bring all their children. They hid some of their children. Allah asked them where their children were. They said that they had brought all their children to Him. He then told them that the hidden children would belong to the spirit world. Faulkingham stated that these spirits explain everything; the primary efficacy belongs to spirits. What Faulkingham noted for the Hausa in southern Niger and Murray Last (1991) for the Maguzawa is true of many other ethnic groups who live in what is now termed Hausa territory. The Hausa, therefore, share in the common Nigerian practice of maintaining systems of belief with ancient roots in the area alongside the universal religions of Islam or Christianity. These beliefs combine family spirits with relations to the primordial spirits of a particular site, providing supernatural sanction to claims on resources. Indigenous theology link dead ancestors to the spirits of place in a union that protects claims and relationships to the land. Spirits of place include trees, rock outcroppings, a river, snakes, and other animals and objects. Rituals celebrated for and prayers to the spirits of family and place reinforce loyalty to communal virtues and the authority of the elders in defending ancient beliefs and practices. In return for these prayers and rituals, the spirits offer their adherents protection from misfortune, adjudication, and divination through seers, or shamans. Evil is appropriately punished. Shamans, or diviners, work with the spirits to ensure good and counteract evil. Among the Hausa, individual participation in Islam varies according to a number of variables, including wealth and power. The more wealth and power one has, the stricter the adherence to Islam. The majority of Muslim Hausa who participate in the spirit possession cult, or Bori cult, are women and members of the lower classes. Guy Nicolas (1966) stated that most members of the spirit possession cult are women and prostitutes. In other words, they are socially marginal people. Michael Onwuejeogwu (1969) argued that Bori cults have homogeneity of organization and meaning throughout Hausaland. Moreover, they are, in his opinion, vestiges of Habe religion. Faulkingham (1975)


disagreed with these findings, noting that there is more diversity in Hausaland than Nicolas and Onwuejeogwu grant. Muslims and arna (pagans) believe in the same spirits, but Muslims claim that they do not need to perform rituals to these spirits. In fact, many do perform them, depending on the occasion, and consult the Bori doctor for aid. Faulkingham has given a list of the spirits in hierarchical order (1975, 13), from which the following is adapted: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

Allah Mala’iku, angels Annabawa, prophets Rafani, the bookkeepers Aljanu, close spirits Directional spirits Specifically evil spirits a. Local b. Elsewhere 8. Mushe spirits, soldiers 9. Bori, inheritable spirits It should be said that the participation of women in the Bori cult among the Muslim Hausa is not necessarily a sign of their lack of power. Zainab Sa’id Kabir (n.d.) stated that the status of women in early Hausa society was rather high. In his words, they were “not confined.” They interacted freely with men, marrying at a later age than is now common among the Muslim Hausa. They were able to own their own farms. They were also important members of the Bori cult. Furthermore, they had a significant role in domestic and clan religious rituals. Interestingly, some Hausa groups had matrilineal inheritance, and it was not uncommon for elite women to be queens or titleholders. The famous warrior queen Amina was but one of many famous Hausa queens. The Hausa even had a title for women in charge of the Bori, Bori Magadjiya.

The Bori Doctor among the Gungawa Just as Faulkingham and Last shed light on the Hausa expression of the Bori cult through examining its practice in related groups with ties to earlier pre-Islamic Hausa religion, so too the author wishes to shed light on Hausa practice by examining a shaman among the Gungawa, a people who have traditionally been seen as hav-



ing “become Hausa” over time (Salamone 1975). The uneasy relationship between the Bori doctor of the Gungawa and the official Islamic power structure, including those mallams (Hausa religious practitioners) who practice medicine and also deal with spirits, finds echoes in the writings of others who have studied the Bori cult. Some hint of the “original” Bori can be found among these minority people among the Hausa, as well as insight into the process of adaptation that marks Bori among the Hausa. Among the Gungawa, real power is masked in modesty, for the naked display of power is culturally condemned. Those people who possess power among the Gungawa are those who least appear to do so. Moreover, they must deny their influence. The truly powerful tend to make the least display of their power, dressing more simply than other Gungawa and living more modestly than those who seem to have power do. There is, additionally, a gentleness and benign humor among the truly powerful. This gentle quality is true of religious as well as political leaders. Medicine and those who practice it are held in high repute among Gungawa. Indeed, people from other ethnic groups come great distances to receive care from Gungawa doctors. The Gungawa are also noted for the skill of their Bori practitioners. Just as people confuse the Bori of the Maguzawa and rural Hausa who may be non-Muslims with the Hausa spirit possession cult, so, too, do people confuse the Bori of the Gungawa with that of surrounding Hausa. Interestingly, many, if not most, of the surrounding “Hausa” have Gungawa and other “pagan” ancestors. Gungawa doctors do not cause any spirits to possess people. They do, however, talk to the spirits on behalf of their clients and convey their responses. It is also important to note that spirits do not possess them and that the spirits do not speak through them. The client can hear the spirits just as the Bori shaman can, although perhaps more faintly. The spirits do tend to speak in an oracular fashion, demanding interpretation. The Gungawa Bori doctor is a benign trickster. Jugun Hella, whom the author knew well, was a man who emphasized his large belly, making it appear larger to draw laughs. Jugun

Hella enjoyed making people laugh and wore his green robe, a sign of office, loosely draped and purposely “sloppy.” At the same time he displayed his wrestling scars, a reminder of his early athletic prowess. Jugun Hella sought to draw people to him, cloaking his religious potency behind a shield of humor. He perceived his role as drawing all people to him, not simply Gungawa, but also Christians, Muslims, and people of all ethnic groups. There is deep significance in Jugun Hella’s statement that he never talked to Allah because Allah was too far away. He said he believed in him, but that Allah was too far away for the everyday problems of people. Belief in a god who has no effect on everyday life is naturally relatively emotionless, bloodless, and abstract. The spirit intermediaries, on the other hand, are seen as playful creatures who aid people in their approach to the sacred or whose bedevilment of people through adversity causes them to seek refuge in the sacred. Jugun Hella was open to all religions and quite knowledgeable about them. However, he was a threat to the Muslim power in the area. The mallams, who saw him as a competitor, were delighted when someone poisoned him in a fashion reserved for witches. At the time, people were reluctant to discuss his death. However, the finger of suspicion pointed to the ruling powers as being behind his murder. It is a situation that underscores the tension between Bori practitioners of any kind and the mallam healers (see Abdalla 1991.) Careful study of current Hausa Islamic practice and of Bori priests reveals significant insights into earlier Hausa religion and spirit possession practices. Certainly, earlier practices were more inclusive of women than current ones. They were also more community oriented, specific to what was happening locally. Families, as units, were more involved in the practice of religion. As the Hausa people became Muslims they had to accommodate traditional religious practices to a universal religion. Much that was particular to local customs and specific situations had to be given up or played down in light of the fervor of Muslim reformers. This provides but one example of what happens when local religions come into contact with the religion of fervent conquerors.


Other Aspects of Shamanism in Hausaland Diviners, functioning as shamans like other Bori practitioners, foretell the future and deal with personal problems. They fit into the scheme of religious specialists, a scheme that includes priests and magicians. The boundary among the categories is a shifting one at best. Diviners continue to play an important part in determining the causes of luck, in the shape of both good and bad fortune, including the nature and cause of disease. Among the Hausa it is necessary to point out that many of the Muslim holy men are themselves diviners of a sort; they make amulets, which include decoctions of the ink in which pious texts have been written. They also manipulate sand patterns or use the stars to tell the future. Some scholars have discussed the widespread perception that males who attend Bori rituals tend to be homosexuals. The Bori rituals among the Hausa appear to be rituals of inversion, and among the Hausa homosexuality is considered an inversion of appropriate male heterosexuality. The Bori cult is widely understood as being a refuge from the strongly patriarchal ideal of Hausa Islam. Thus it seems natural that both women and effeminate males would find some respite there. It is important to remember that although the Bori cult may be a “survival” from pre-Islamic Hausa religion, it differs among the Muslim Hausa from that which is practiced among related peoples, such as the Gungawa, or among non-Muslim Hausa, such as the Maguzawa. It has a different meaning for these Hausa. Thus, Fremont Besmer’s point that the spirit rides the possessed and that this is somehow a symbol of homosexuality (1983) does not necessarily apply to the Maguzawa, Gungawa, or other nonMuslim groups who have the Bori cult. Among the Muslim Hausa, homosexual transvestites, or Yan Dauda, play a prominent role. Dauda, a praise name for any Galadima, or person of rank, here specifically refers to the Prince, a Bori who is a handsome young man. These Yan Dauda sell various foods at ceremonies, mainly luxury foods such as fried chicken, and serve as pimps for prostitutes. Women who attend Hausa Bori rituals are deemed to be prostitutes. Renee Pittin (1979) listed three activities for Yan Dauda: procuring,


cooking, and prostitution. She argued that there was a close tie between prostitutes and Yan Dauda. Moreover, the Yan Dauda in combining male and female roles mediate between men and women, occupying an ambiguous category. Living among the prostitutes further provides a disguise for men seeking homosexual activity. Protection and discretion are provided through this arrangement. Certainly, the Bori cult provides a niche open to marginal people of all kinds, not simply women or homosexuals. Butchers, nightsoil workers, musicians, and poor farmers are welcome there. Mentally disturbed people of all classes similarly seek refuge among the Bori devotees. Murray Last (1991) noted that among the group of rural Hausa non-Muslims, whom he studied, there was an inherited obligation to appease particular spirits. For some, this obligation was to become a member of what is called the Yan Bori. Certain physical ailments may plague the chosen person. A headache is a common ailment. The diviner whose aid the beleaguered individual seeks will interpret the sign as a call to the Yan Bori. This group is headed by a shaman who is invested in that position by the younger sister of the sarki (emir). There is a great deal of continuity between traditional Habe religion and “folk” religion among the Muslim Hausa. In many ways, the mallams and the various Bori leaders are in a kind of complementary opposition. Although the mallams see “pagan” Bori doctors and Bori cult leaders, male and female, as threats to their position, they also appear generally powerless to stop them and profess belief in the same spirits as those honored by Bori devotees. Their interpretation, certainly, is at least subtly different but the mallams know that many Muslim Hausa consult these shamanic healers when their own magical practices fail. Jugun Hella, the Bori doctor whom the author knew best, stated that he was more powerful than all the other healers in Nigeria, for their people came to him to consult his spirits. He was ecumenical in his practice, turning no one in need away and asking no money in return for the use of his gift. Today, when the Bori has often become cheap TV entertainment, as Faulkingham indicated (1975), there is still behind all the versions of the Bori this



simple humanistic boast and ethos of Jugun Hella. The power to heal is given by a higher power and is sacred in itself. No matter how much current Bori practice has changed to survive in an increasingly fundamentalist Muslim Hausa world, it still provides glimpses into the powerful source from which it came. It is a link with other forms of Bori, which I. M. Lewis and his colleagues have shown stretch throughout a wide swath of Africa and the New World, and now even into Arabia, with the ease of travel for the pilgrimage to Mecca. The pull of old spirits whose existence is rooted in the nature of the people themselves is compelling, and it is a pull people often find irresistible. Frank A. Salamone See also: African Traditional Medicine; Ancestor Worship in Africa; “Magic,” Power, and Ritual in Shamanism; Marabouts and Magic References and further reading: Abdalla, Ismail H. 1991. “Neither Friend nor Foe: The Malam Practitioner–Yan Bori Relationship in Hausaland.” Pp. 37–48 in Women’s Medicine: The Zar-Bori Cult in Africa and Beyond. Edited by I. M. Lewis, Ahmed Al-Safi, and Sayyid Hurreiz. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Besmer, Fremont E. 1983. Horses, Musicians & Gods: The Hausa Cult of Possession-Trance. Westport, CT: Greenwood. Echerd, Nicole. 1991a. “Gender Relationships and Religion. Women in the Hausa Bori in Ader, Niger.” Pp. 207–220 in Hausa Women in the Twentieth Century. Edited by Catherine Coles and Beverly Mack. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. ———. 1991b. “The Hausa Bori Possession Cult in the Ader Region of Niger: Its Origins and Present-Day Function.” Pp. 64–80 in Women’s Medicine: The Zar-Bori Cult in Africa and Beyond. Edited by I. M. Lewis, Ahmed Al-Safi, and Sayyid Hurreiz. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Erlmann, Veit. 1982. “Trance and Music.” Ethno-Musicology 26, no. 1: 49–58. Faulkingham, Ralph N. 1975. “The Sprits and Their Cousins: Some Aspects of Belief, Ritual, and Social Organization in a Rural

Hausa Village in Niger.” Research Report Number 15. Department of Anthropology. University of Massachusetts, Amherst, October. Kabir, Zainab Sa’id. n.d. Triple Heritage: The Dilemma of the African Muslim Woman. HausaNet Article. http://biafranigeriaworld .com/ (accessed 30 October 2003). Last, Murray. 1991. “Spirit Possession as Therapy: Bori among Non-Muslims in Nigeria.” Pp. 49–63 in Women’s Medicine: The Zar-Bori Cult in Africa and Beyond. Edited by I. M. Lewis, Ahmed Al-Safi, and Sayyid Hurreiz. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Lewis, Ioan M., Ahmed Al-Safi, and Sayyid Hurreiz. 1991. Women’s Medicine: The ZarBori Cult in Africa and Beyond. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Masquelier, Adeline. 2001. Prayer Has Spoiled Everything: Possession, Power, and Identity in an Islamic Town in Niger. Durham: Duke University Press. Nicolas, Guy. 1966. “Essai sur les structures fondamentalle de l’espace dous la cosmologie Hausa.” Journal de la Societés des Africanistes 36, no. 1. Onwuejeogwu, Michael. 1969. “The Cult of the Bori Spirits among the Hausa.” In Man in Africa. Edited by M. Douglas and P. H. Raberry. London: Tavistock. Oppong, Christine, ed. 1983. Male and Female in West Africa. London: Allen and Unwin. (Includes Enid Schildkrout, “Dependence and Autonomy: The Economic Activities of Secluded Hausa Women in Kano”; Renee Pittin, “Houses of Women: A Focus in Alternative Life-Styles in Katsina City.”) Pittin, Renee. 1979. “Marriage and Alternative Strategies: Career Patterns of Hausa Women in Katsina City.” Ph.D. diss., School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Salamone, Frank A. 1975. Becoming Hausa— Contributions to a Theory of Cultural Pluralism.” Africa 45: 401–424. ———. 1977. “Religion as Play: Bori—A Friendly ‘Witchdoctor.’” Pp. 158–167 in The Study of Play: Problems and Prospects. Edited by David Lancy and B. Allan Tindall. West Point, NY: Leisure Press.



IGBO SHAMANISM (NIGERIA) The Igbo people are well known to scholars of African ritual and religion because of their spectacular masquerade performances and their religious and philosophical traditions, made famous by Chinua Achebe and other Igbo writers. Over 20 million Nigerians share Igbo culture and language (sometimes spelled Ibo in older literature). Igbo is classified as one of the eight major languages in the Benue-Congo group (Echeruo 1998, ix). The homeland of the Igbo people is in the tropical rainforests of southeastern Nigeria, where they farm using traditional techniques of shifting agriculture. Igbo social organization is characterized by politically autonomous village groups made up of many patrilineal descent groups. The practice of the Igbo shaman, or dibïa, is an occupational specialty inherited through certain of these patrilineal groups. Therefore, although there are exceptions, dibïa are born to the profession and learn the practice through apprenticeship with their father or some other patrilineal relative. Traditionally dibïa have been predominantly male, but female dibïa are becoming increasingly common. Historically, Igbo people played a role in the transatlantic slave trade, both as traders and as slaves. For this reason, practices similar to those of Igbo dibïa can be found among peoples of African descent living in the Caribbean. In general, scholars do not use the term shaman to refer to indigenous healers or ritual specialists in African societies; indigenous African medicine and divination rituals are often quite distinct from the complex of practices found in Central Asia and the Americas. Eliade’s (1989) discussion of the “techniques of ecstasy” central to his classic definition of shamanism suggests that those techniques have little in common with the practices of Igbo dibïa. The fundamental characteristics identified by Eliade, such as initiation by spirits through sickness and dreams (110) and the centrality of trance or possession states in the healing process, are not typical of dibïa practice. Igbo dibïa inherit their profession and utilize mechanical divinatory devices for communication with the spirit world rather than trance. For the sake of consistency with the literature on Igbo culture and West Africa in gen-

A dibïa ceremony called Ikoro Agwu, 1989. This festival celebrates the practical attainments of the celebrant, recognizing him as a seasoned professional. The dibïa in the photograph is wearing a knit cap adorned with clusters of cowry shells. This is typical attire for the Igbo dibïa. (Courtesy of John McCall)

eral, this entry uses the term dibïa rather than shaman to refer to Igbo practitioners. The term dibïa has no English equivalent. Attempts to gloss it as “herbalist” or “diviner” fail to do it justice (Umeh 1997, 76). A literal translation might be “master of knowledge.” In spite of their distinctive character, however, dibïa practices fall within the broader definition of shamanism employed for the purposes of this encyclopedia. For example, although the dibïa profession is inherited, and specialized knowledge of herbs and divination techniques are held within particular family lines, family members who choose not to practice sometimes fall ill or experience misfortune. Upon consulting a dibïa, they may learn that their misfortune can only be remedied by initiation



into their father’s profession. Such a call to vocation through illness is characteristic of shamanic practices worldwide. Any discussion of dibïa must begin with Agwü, the spiritual entity that empowers dibïa to see the spirit world, perform divination, conduct effective sacrifice, and make productive use of herbal knowledge. Communication with Agwü is established through initiation and maintained through divination and sacrifice. Many of the items in a dibïa’s toolkit can be understood to function in one manner or another as a means of interacting with Agwü or the dibïa’s ancestors. Because the profession is inherited, ancestors in the paternal line are important allies to the dibïa. These dibïa grandfathers continue to provide teaching long after their death by visiting their descendants in dreams. Every dibïa maintains a shrine to Agwü. The dibïa’s Agwü shrine is understood as a construction of human artifice that establishes a visible face for Agwü in the world of the living. Although every dibïa maintains an Agwü shrine somewhere in the paternal compound, dibïa descent groups also maintain shared shrines located outside residential space in the bush. These are used during important ceremonial events such as initiation ceremonies. Children in dibïa families who exhibit an interest in dibïa work are often initiated at an early age so that they can begin apprenticeship as a helper to the dibïa who will train them. Others are called later in life, alerted by misfortune or illness that Agwü desires their service. The initiation ceremony varies from region to region, but most last several days, culminating in the sacrifice of a dog, and a test to confirm divinatory ability. The initiation of a dibïa is said to open the initiate’s eyes, meaning that the process enables the dibïa to see things noninitiates cannot see. The author witnessed such a ceremony in the village of Akanu, Ohafia. When the dog had been killed, its eyes were removed and taken into the quarters where the initiate was sequestered. After a short time he was carried out, apparently unconscious, with blood-soaked leaves covering his face. It was explained that his eyes had been replaced by those of the dog so that “he will be able to see spirits just as dogs are able to see spirits.” The young initiate eventually ran back into the compound pursued by his initiators. After calming him, they tested the boy by

requiring him to guess the contents of a bundle of leaves. When he succeeded, the ritual was declared a success, and the feasting began (McCall 1993, 58–59). Initiation is only the beginning of a long period of apprenticeship, most often with the father or an uncle in the paternal line. Every dibïa family holds certain specialized knowledge that is passed on within the family, though such training can sometimes be acquired by dibïa from other families for a fee. When apprentices demonstrate adequate mastery of these specialized practices and knowledge they are allowed to practice independently. These novice practitioners are required, or at least strongly encouraged, to leave their natal villages and take their skills to other regions. At present, they often travel from the rural areas of their birth to any of various urban centers. A consultation with a dibïa is likely to begin with ïgba aja (divination). Most dibïa are skilled in several different methods of divination. Most methods involve specific divinatory devices such as chains of seed shells (afa) or divination tokens (okwe Agwu) (Cole and Aniakor 1984, 73). Though divination involves communication with the spirit world, trance or possession is not typically part of the procedure. Instead, the dibïa interrogates the divinatory device to discover the nature of the problem in question and, ultimately, its cause. Possible etiologies of maladies and misfortune might include the failure of the questioner to recognize and pursue his or her destiny, the maleficent machinations of another, or a fate negotiated prior to birth in the spirit world. Each of these would suggest different courses of action (McCall 2000, 145–147). Dreams are also considered important diagnostic tools. Some dibïa specialize in the interpretation of the dreams of patients and utilize a codified system of symbolic interpretation. Whether they are dream specialists or not, however, nearly all dibïa interpret some of their own dreams as communications from the spirit world and use them to make decisions in their own practice. Sacrifice (ïcü aja) is a fundamental practice in Igbo spiritual life, not only in the rites of dibïa but also those of shrine priests, lineage heads, and other ritual functionaries. Goats, roosters, chicks, yams, eggs, palm wine, and kola nuts are among the many things ritually


offered in various contexts. Offerings of kola nuts and palm wine to ancestors are everyday occurrences, always accompanied by requests for good fortune. But more precious sacrifices are required for the powerful spiritual entities interacted with by dibïa. Victor Uchendu noted that sacrifice must follow from any revelation of the divine will through divination (1965, 102). Thus, part of the diviner’s task is to identify the appropriate sacrifice. This frequently involves not only an offering by the questioner but mobilization of whole households or descent groups to rectify matters as instructed by the dibïa. A key component of dibïa practice is the manufacture and use of ögwü. Although ögwü can mean herbal medicine, the actual significance is broader. A literal translation might be “means to an end.” The dibïa’s production and use of ögwü is integrated within an esoteric technology that also involves indigenous psychology, social manipulations, and cosmological negotiation through sacrificial ritual and other means. The process operates on several fronts simultaneously to harmonize the physiological, psychological, social, and cosmological dimensions of the lifeworld of the person being treated. Some observers predicted that the spread of Christianity in Igboland, coupled with the ready availability of Western biomedicine, would lead to the extinction of dibïa practices. This has not been the case. The Igbo attitude toward change has traditionally been one of embrace rather than resistance. They have embraced change, however, by appropriating and adapting foreign influences. This led Simon Ottenberg to observe that of all Nigerian people the Igbo “have probably changed the least while changing the most” (1959, 142). Igbo dibïa have always maintained an open system of knowledge, and the acquisition of new and exotic practices increases the stature of a practitioner. Dibïa are flourishing in the social environment of modern Nigeria. Most are officially registered with the Nigerian government, and they maintain a national professional organization and various regional ones. Dibïa have largely abandoned treatment of infectious and parasitic diseases, which they readily acknowledge are more effectively treated by biomedical methods. Most now focus almost exclusively on what the author has called “existential dis-


orders” (McCall 2000, 152)—conditions such as excessive consumerism, corruption and dishonesty, substance abuse, neglect of family, and various forms of “madness”—serious problems that medical doctors cannot address. Healers argue that these disorders result primarily from the weakening of family and community structures under the economic and social pressures that constrain the lives of modern Nigerians. Like most Africans, Igbo people find themselves torn between the strictures of their cultural heritage and the pressures of an increasingly globalized culture and economy. In this environment, dibïa position themselves as mediators of modernity. They confront the pressures of consumerism, changing sexual mores, shifting paradigms of family and gender roles, and widespread corruption. Through the transformative power of ritual they reframe these potentially destabilizing forces in ways that make them intelligible in terms of a distinctly Igbo ethical view. A new generation of Igbo dibïa is now taking on leadership roles in the profession. These young practitioners are more cosmopolitan than their predecessors were. Their practices borrow from a global repertoire of shamanic and occult traditions. But close analysis reveals that they walk solidly in the footsteps of the forebears, addressing the needs of their communities by drawing on a rich cultural inheritance. John C. McCall See also: African Traditional Medicine; Ancestor Worship in Africa; Healing and Shamanism; Mami Wata Religion; Witchcraft in Africa References and further reading: Achebe, Chinua. 1958. Things Fall Apart. London: Heinemann. ———. 1975. Morning Yet on Creation Day: Essays. Garden City, NY: Doubleday. Cole, Herbert, and Chike Aniakor. 1984. Igbo Arts: Community and Cosmos. Los Angeles: Museum of Cultural History, University of California at Los Angeles. Echeruo, Michael J. C. 1998. Igbo-English Dictionary. New Haven: Yale University Press. Eliade, Mircea. 1989. Reprint. Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Translated from the French by Willard R. Trask. London: Penguin Arkana. Original edition, New York: Bollingen Foundation, 1964.



McCall, John C. 1993. “Making Peace with Agwü.” Anthropology and Humanism Quarterly 18, no. 2: 56–66. ———. 2000. Dancing Histories: Heuristic Ethnography with the Ohafia Igbo. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Ottenberg, Simon. 1959. “Ibo Receptivity to Change.” Pp. 130–143 in Continuity and Change in African Cultures. Edited by William R. Bascom and Melville J. Herskovits. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Uchendu, Victor C. 1965. The Igbo of Southeast Nigeria. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Umeh, John A. 1997. After God is Dibïa. London: Karnak House.

ISLAM AND SHAMANISM See South Asian Shamanism; Tajik Shamanism; Zarma Spirit Mediums

MAMI WATA RELIGION (WEST AFRICA) Mami Wata, a pidgin English term meaning “Mother of Water,” refers to a popular West African deity who inhabits local lakes, streams, and rivers, as well as the sea. Mami Wata is also sometimes used as a generic term to describe a host of beliefs and practices associated with water spirits. The Mami Wata shaman, or priest(ess), can be found all along the West African coast from Senegal to Zaire, particularly among groups whose cosmologies emphasize the centrality of water spirits and their ability to influence people’s everyday lives. These specialists are consulted by both men and women in the hopes that Mami Wata will bring them wealth, success, and children. Although Mami Wata practitioners can inherit their specialized knowledge from priests and priestesses who may or may not be family members, all have been “called,” or chosen by Mami Wata. This calling usually manifests itself in the form of an illness or affliction. A number of signs begin to emerge during a per-

son’s childhood indicating affinity with Mami Wata. The most common of these signs include being drawn to areas of water and swimming in one’s dreams. If an individual grows to adulthood without recognizing this calling, he or she may experience a number of misfortunes, including serious illness, infertility, the loss of a child, marital problems, and financial hardship. It is usually a diviner or Mami Wata specialist who determines whether a person has been chosen to serve the deity. Upon diagnosis the individual is instructed to make sacrifices to Mami Wata and to set up a personal shrine. This often requires an elaborate ceremony involving several days of sacrifices accompanied by ritual and musical performance and feasting. Depending on the region and ethnic group, the animals commonly used for sacrifice include horses, bulls, goats and chickens. The initiate, dressed in white, is escorted to a local river, stream, or the ocean carrying these sacrifices, along with food and other items, on his or her head. Upon reaching the waterside, the items are thrown directly into the water as offerings to the spirit. Once the ceremony is complete, the individual is said to be “married” to Mami Wata and must therefore continue to make periodic sacrifices and uphold certain vows to maintain a harmonious and reciprocal relationship with the spirit. Although Mami Wata can be very demanding, requiring her “spouses” to be celibate certain days of the week, along with various other rules and taboos, she also brings her devotees wealth, fertility, and overall success. Mami Wata shrine sculptures, pictures, and signboard paintings commonly depict her as an Indian snake charmer, a woman with long flowing hair and a large python coiled around her waist and neck. On other occasions she appears as a fair-skinned mermaid or as a Hindu deity. The predominance of non-African images in Mami Wata religious practices reflects the long history of cultural contact between West Africans and foreign explorers, traders, and missionaries beginning in the fifteenth century. These images, along with the variety of Western goods used in Mami Wata rituals, led Henry Drewal (1988) to argue that Mami Wata is a foreign deity who arose out of the need for West Africans to both mediate and represent their relationships with foreigners. Because Europeans and Indians brought wealth


from overseas, some Africans perceived them as belonging to the realm of water spirits and their riches. Yet, though it is true that images of mermaids and snake charmers have traditionally been associated with foreign wealth and power, they also resonated well with indigenous beliefs and practices surrounding water spirits. In many areas of the Niger Delta, for example, pythons and certain types of fish were once thought to be physical manifestations of water spirits and were therefore not killed. Mami Wata shrines are as unique as the individuals who create them. Some are located outside in close proximity to bodies of water; others are set up in a room within an individual’s compound. Many contain a table covered with white cloth and a host of items that are thought to attract Mami Wata. These include candles, incense, talcum powder, perfumes or fragrant oils, white chalk, bells, cowry shells, coins, mirrors, wooden and plastic dolls, eggs and foods considered to be sweet like biscuits, groundnuts, and bananas. Many of the items were introduced to West Africa by means of trade with Westerners. Cowry shells were brought from the Indian coast by the Portuguese in the fifteenth century and were used as a local form of currency in many parts of West Africa. In Nigeria, plastic dolls, mirrors, and perfumes were among the many trade goods introduced by British merchants and colonial officers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is also not uncommon for shrines to contain Christian iconography, including the crucifix and pictures of Jesus and Mary. In southern Togo and the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, shrines may also include clay mounds with a small hole on the top that serves as the “mouth” of the spirit, into which libations are poured. The pouring of libations and animal sacrifice are crucial in keeping the shrine active. Libations usually consist of locally distilled gin and Coke or orange Fanta, all of which are considered to be Mami Wata’s favorite drinks. A white chicken is usually the animal of preference for sacrificing to one’s shrine. White is an important color in Mami Wata worship. It symbolizes the coolness of the water and the delicate boundary between the world of humans and the world of spirits. It is commonly juxtaposed with red, the color of blood, which is used to signify life force and virility (Jell-Bahlsen 1997, 113). Strips of red


and white cloth are often tied to the top of wooden poles, which are set up just outside the shrine area to publicize Mami Wata’s presence (Jenkins 1984, 75). Whereas some Mami Wata devotees are content with simply maintaining their own shrines, others may choose to carry their worship a step further by becoming priests or priestesses. Initiation into priesthood is a long process; it begins with apprenticeship, usually to the very priest or priestess who first detected Mami Wata’s influence over the person. During this time, the initiate learns the techniques and practices associated with spirit mediumship, divination, and healing. Upon completion of the training, the initiate will have the ability to communicate with the spirit directly through dreams, visions, and possession trance. It is through these mediums that Mami Wata provides the priest(ess) with healing knowledge, which is then used in curing patients. After consulting Mami Wata, the healer may receive dreams or visions of certain herbs and roots, which are then collected and administered according to the instructions given. In other cases, Mami Wata may aid the healer in divining the cause of a particular patient’s illness. Mirrors are sometimes used during the divination process to help the healer see into the spirit world. Communication with Mami Wata through dreams and visions and occasionally during trance entails a journey to the spirit world, which is characteristic of all shamanic practices. Although many Mami Wata healers work independently as diviners and herbalists, others are members of local healing societies, which often meet once a week to collect membership dues and to honor Mami Wata through ritual, song, and dance. These groups are common in the riverine areas of southeastern Nigeria, particularly among women. Among the Cross River Igbo, for instance, women have their own Mami Wata healing society, known as Owummiri. This group is made up of priestesses and other initiates, all of whom were called and cured by Mami Wata. Although Owummiri priestesses treat and cure a variety of afflictions, they specialize in the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, infertility, and a condition known as ogbanje. Ogbanje is an Igbo term meaning “one who comes and goes.” It is used to describe a group of children who choose to die at an early age and re-



turn to the spirit world, where they are continuously reincarnated into the wombs of mothers. Ogbanje is a spiritual affliction that can be caused and cured by Mami Wata. During Owummiri meetings, the members dance to tranquilizing drum rhythms and perform motions of paddling and swimming. These movements help to invoke the spirit of Mami Wata by creating an aquatic atmosphere. In Igbo cosmology, the spirit world and the physical world are separated by a large body of water. Thus, this collective ritual is meant to evoke a journey to the spirit world, and possession trance is a common feature during these performances. When a member becomes possessed, her body stiffens, and she extends her arms forward, closes her eyes, and begins to flail about with little or no control. She is restrained and attended to by one of the priestesses, who proceeds to rub chalk on her face, sprinkle powder on her feet, and throw eggs on the ground in order to calm the spirit. Mami Wata healing societies such as Owummiri are centered around fertility and the protection and maintenance of human life. For this reason, they serve an important function, both for the individual and the community. In those areas of West Africa where Christianity is well established, Mami Wata healers have increasingly become the targets of negative representations and witchcraft accusations. The demonization of Mami Wata practices by Pentecostal churches, in particular, has had a profound impact on the way they are perceived in the Christian community. Rather than denying the existence and influence of Mami Wata, these churches have instead relegated her to the realm of evil spirits and use deliverance ceremonies to exorcise her from the host’s body. Other religions, however, have tended to be more accommodative. Among the Ewe and other groups of southern Togo and southeast Ghana, for instance, Mami Wata practices have been firmly integrated into the earlier traditions of Vodu in Africa (from which have come the various forms of “Voodoo,” especially Haitian Vodou and the Voudou of French Louisiana) (Kramer 1993, 235). And in Islam, Mami Wata has been incorporated into the category of jinn, a host of spirits created to serve Allah. It is perhaps the flexibility and adaptability of Mami Wata religious practices that has contributed to their growth and spread beyond West Africa.

Indeed, through the processes of transmigration, Mami Wata religion is becoming increasingly popular in other parts of the world, including the United States. Christey Carwile See also: African Traditional Medicine; Igbo Shamanism; New Orleans Voudou; Swahili Healers and Spirit Cult References and further reading: Drewal, Henry. 1988. “Performing the Other: Mami Wata Worship in Africa.” Drama Review 32, no. 2: 160–185. Gore, Charles, and Joseph Nevadomsky. 1997. “Practice and Agency in Mammy Wata Worship in Southern Nigeria.” African Arts 30, no. 3: 60–69, 95. Jell-Bahlsen, Sabine. 1997. “Eze Mmiri Di Egwu, The Water Monarch is Awesome: Reconsidering the Mammy Water Myths.” Pp.103–134 in Queens, Queen Mothers, Priestesses and Power: Case Studies in African Gender. Edited by Flora Kaplan. New York: New York Academy of Sciences. Jenkins, Della. 1984. “Mamy Wata.” Pp. 75–77 in Igbo Arts: Community and Cosmos. Edited by Herbert Cole and Chike Aniakor. Los Angeles: Museum of Cultural History, University of California. Kramer, Fritz. 1993. The Red Fez: Art and Spirit Possession in Africa. Translated from the German by Malcolm Green. London and New York: Verso. Wicker, Kathleen O’Brien. 2000. “Mami Water in African Religion and Spirituality.” Pp. 198–222 in African Spirituality: Forms, Meanings, and Expressions. Edited by Jacob Olupona. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company.

MARABOUTS AND MAGIC (WEST AFRICA) Marabouts are virtually an institution in Islamic West Africa. Marabout—a French rendering of the Arabic murabit, from the root rabat (to tie) (Geertz 1968, 43)—is a broad, inclusive term referring to Islamic holy men (and women) who specialize variously in teaching, counseling, scholarship and Qur’anic exegesis, jurisprudence, manipulation of spirits (djinn), healing,


ritual, divination, and magic. Of course not all marabouts combine all these practices, and some in fact are quite hostile to anything other than teaching, counseling, and scholarship. Muslims in West Africa tend to use specific Arabic terms to describe someone who does what shamans do: Such a person is termed a scholar, magician, mystic, ascetic, healer, and so forth. There is no broad term in Arabic (such as the word shaman) for someone who combines all these attributes. Yet the word marabout does refer to people who, like shamans, incorporate overlapping sets of practices. A majority of Muslims in West Africa are members of various Sufi “orders” (turoq, plural; tariqa, singular), among which the Tijaniyya, Qadiriyya, and Mouridyya are the most prevalent (see Trimingham 1959 for an overview). And all marabouts are Sufis. At a colloquial level, however, and especially recently, the term marabout has been increasingly popularized to refer to any person of learning (not always even Muslim). What follows focuses exclusively on Islamic magic and the means by which those marabouts who are specialists in Islamic magic ply their trade. Published accounts of marabouts in West Africa date to fifteenth-century European travel literature. For the most part these early works contained only obvious descriptions; remarks tended to be sketchy, superficial, or sensationalized, depicting marabouts as no more than magicians (cf. O’Brien 1971, 24). Portuguese explorer Diego Gomes’s summary of his voyage up the Gambia river, published in 1456, mentioned marabutu, and in so doing was perhaps the earliest European reference to marabouts (Monteil 1964, 122–125). Jobson’s 1623 account of his travels in West Africa was one of the first English sources that described the magical occupations of marabouts. He noted the importance of the talismans called “Gregories” (a certain derivation of gris-gris, “talismans”), which “Mary-buckes” manufacture. As he pointed out, the wearers believed that no harm could befall them as long as they wore one (as cited in Sanneh 1989, 208).

Baraka: Grace, Force, Power, Charisma, and Divine Blessing One of the reasons marabouts are esteemed is that they are believed to embody baraka. The


term baraka is commonly (and narrowly) defined as divine blessing (cf. Geertz 1968, 44). Muslims, however, use the term much more broadly to refer to qualities of spiritual grace, personal force, unique power, charisma, luck and success, all of which are subsumed within divine blessing. In many instances, magical ability is a sign of the possession of baraka; and conversely, those thought to have much baraka are expected to have at least some rudimentary supernatural abilities. Ironically, even denials of possession of baraka may be considered evidence that one does indeed have it, precisely because baraka is unintentional and not self-ascribed. That is, baraka is not a virtue to be refined or a habit to be practiced; rather it is attributed to a marabout by those around him, and that attribution is not necessarily permanent. Only actions and the effectiveness of these actions convince others that a marabout has baraka; possession of baraka must be demonstrated continually. Thus baraka is thought of as a supernatural power that must be practiced in the natural world.

Marabouts Because Islam lacks a central corporate body like the various Christian churches, marabouts are religious figures neither dependent on nor orchestrated into any type of clerical order. Practically, though, marabouts are viewed as closer to God (especially in tight situations) than ordinary human beings, due to their position in the community. Quite simply, marabouts are distinguishable from and appreciated by the populace due to their body of (esoteric) knowledge, and more importantly their uses of it. Like shamans, most marabouts are not fulltime practitioners of magic. Rather, they divide their time between work and religious specialization. Not all marabouts work, but this does not mean that they devote all their time to spiritual matters either. Students work for marabouts in exchange for schooling. Thus marabouts of particular renown with quite a few students have large labor forces at their disposal (cf. O’Brien 1971 Coulon 1981; Sanneh 1997). Particular esoteric abilities of marabouts include spirit manipulation, dream interpreta-



tion, clairvoyance, divination, and meditation. In parts of West Africa, the marabouts with the strongest reputations as practitioners of magic are those who control spirits (djinn). Since such an ability is thought to be rare, difficult, and dangerous, the capacity to safely control djinn demonstrates the baraka of the marabouts. In Islamic West Africa, dream interpretation is an ordinary task, especially in societies where dreams are believed to be portents of the future or channels of communication with ancestors. The interpretive process is a simple one: People describe their dreams, and marabouts interpret them, sometimes using various paraphernalia (e.g., tablets, texts, numerology charts, and especially the Qur’an). Clairvoyance and divination follow similar procedures, and marabouts employ the same types of paraphernalia. One of the most common ways to predict the future is by the esoteric interpretation of verses from the Qur’an. Because of their esoteric knowledge, marabouts are believed to be able to uncover the true meanings behind words and verses as they apply to a specific person’s life and future. Meditation (khalwa) is another maraboutic practice. Meditation takes place in solitude and serves one of two purposes. First, it leads to spiritual enlightenment and an increased connection with one’s own spiritual nature and, by extension, God. Thus meditation leads to the personal spiritual growth that marks one as a reputable marabout. Alternatively, marabouts may meditate on behalf of someone. That is, a client may make a request for a magic talisman, and meditation is often one of the steps in performing this task for the client. As with shamanic trance, it is through meditation that marabouts summon spirits (djinn), and this is the reason that meditation may serve magical ends. Marabouts assume leadership roles as well, directing members of Sufi turoq (brotherhood) in group recitation (dhikr). Dhikr is staged for various reasons, including religious holidays and to combat natural disasters (e.g., drought, flood, poor harvest) or social troubles (moral crisis, political instability, economic calamity). The marabout provides the litany (wird) in cases when it is not commonly known or when a special wird is called for (Monteil 1964, 138), and then supervises the dhikr. The participants sit in a circle, with the litany vocalized or silent. In some areas, the vocalization of the wird takes

the form of a chant accompanied by loud rhythmic drumming. In these situations, ecstatic trances may result, thus, say some Sufis, bringing one into closer union with God.

Magic, Talismans, and the Power of Words Talismans are one of the predominant forms of magic common throughout the world, and in Islamic West Africa their manufacture is sometimes the major occupation of a marabout. The general forms vary little; most are encased in leather, fabric, or metal. The interior contains texts (usually verses from the Qur’an), numbers considered significant in numerology, or a combination of the two. Texts tend to be handwritten, but increasingly printed versions are used when the rendition is an exceedingly complex one. Because Muslims believe that Arabic is the language spoken in heaven by Allah and the angels, Arabic words are thought to have unique and divine power in and of themselves. Marabouts, by way of their esoteric knowledge, manipulate words to release their inherent power, then direct the power toward certain ends. Usually this involves transcribing words into numbers or vice versa; and there are, as may be imagined, extremely intricate systems whereby the magical power of words is activated. The way people carry talismans on their persons varies, and there is no one rule whether they should be seen or unseen. Some are displayed around the neck or worn as bracelets or anklets. Others are kept secret, worn about the waist or strung diagonally across the chest hidden beneath clothes. The location of a talisman may also indicate a particular belief about secrecy: It may indicate that the wearer believes that talismans are things that ought to be displayed in public, revealing that one visits marabouts for magical purposes, or it may indicate the wearer’s belief that one’s relationship with marabouts and the services they provide is ultimately a personal matter that ought not to be made apparent in public at all. Both beliefs about objects are present throughout Africa and the world. Even though shamans assume public roles and personas, many of their dealings are conducted in private, cloaked in secrecy. Occasionally talismans incorporate decidedly non-Islamic local traditions. Natural ingredi-


ents, some marabouts explain, are needed in conjunction with the power of Arabic as a holy script in order to activate the words in the text. In addition, some talismans are constructed around natural things and as such look very different from the standard leather-bound varieties. Animal skulls, heads, horns, and other durable parts are stuffed with texts, sometimes partially wrapped in leather, sometimes left completely open. Such types of talismans, due to their ungainliness, are not mobile; they are not worn and tend to be used for the protection of things. (Generally, not even all ordinary talismans are worn; many protect one’s possessions, not one’s person.) The use of supplementary ingredients is not widely accepted; it is frequently contested on the grounds that the practice is not entirely Islamic and that words have power enough by themselves. Prohibitions about the use of talismans are strict. Marabouts explain that talismans must be removed in various situations, for example during bathing, premarital sex, and sometimes prayer. Failure to follow the prohibitions “dirties” a talisman and drastically reduces its power, if it does not destroy its capacity to function altogether. Because various prohibitions go along with talismans, some people prefer more durable, less maintenance-intensive forms of magic. Ingesting magical formulas, for example, is a permanent way to keep magic in one’s body. Marabouts write formulas on wooden tablets with vegetable-based ink; they then wash off the ink into a bowl and add various flavorings (e.g., honey, rose water, herbs), at which point, after a brief invocation, clients drink the water, washing their faces with the leftovers. Formulas written on chalkboards are popular for this as well, though people will wash their faces with this water rather than drink it. Magical formulas can also be incorporated into food in any number of ways. During the preparation of the meal, water from washed tablets may be used as an ingredient. More commonly, though, ashes of formulas that have been written on paper and then burned are added. Meat and poultry dishes are common, because the animal can be ritually killed—the same is not true of vegetables. Lastly, ordinary and inconspicuous material objects may be imbued with power by the marabout. Although this method is not nearly as


widespread as the others, some marabouts will bless jewelry, clothes, and other things with which the person is in constant contact. Ordinary by-products of marabouts such as spit, sweat, previously worn clothing, and the like are venerated by followers (in the Mouride order in Senegal, for instance), who consider these things holy due to the baraka inherent in them since they came from the marabout (cf. O’Brien 1971). These practices are at once unusual and happen when the marabouts are perceived as exceptionally holy.

The Present: Competition and Contest At the initial stages of the spread of Islam in parts of West Africa, it seems obvious that marabouts were esteemed due to their grasp of a new technology—writing. Indeed, where literacy is not the norm, to be literate is to be esteemed, powerful, or at least different. The fact that writing simplified and codified communication introduced pivotal considerations, not the least of which was that it represented a new, superior medium of magic (see Launay 1992; Sanneh 1997). At present, however, marabouts have increasingly come under fire by various anti-Sufi movements for acting as practitioners of magic. In West Africa, so-called Wahhabis— members of a reformist movement known as the Wahhabiyya that originated in Arabia and gained popularity in sub-Saharan Africa after World War II—are the most vocal critics of marabouts and their practices. Sufis and Wahhabis differ not only in terms of theology but also in terms of their conceptions of religious hierarchy. One of the ways these disagreements play out is around marabouts and their practices. Wahhabis argue that the only one capable of the miraculous is Allah, and accordingly marabouts’ claims to have supernatural abilities are a form of polytheism. Further, they contend that marabouts’ manipulation of the Arabic script is a sacrilege because the script itself is sacred. Wahhabis use terms such as sorcery and witchcraft to imply that maraboutic practice is non-Islamic and moreover that it is a residue of local “animist” systems of belief. The beliefs and practices that Wahhabis label “animist” are ostensibly related to African shamanism, which is extenively discussed in other entries within this regional section.



Of course, behind Wahhabi dissatisfaction with maraboutism lies extensive ideological problems with Sufism in general. Indeed, in the West African context, the intra-Islamic disagreement apparent between Wahhabis and Sufis involves larger and more pronounced doctrinal and exegetical differences; magic is by no means the central locus of debate. But the fact remains that whether their services are contested or lauded, whether they are criticized or frequented, marabouts are still an integral part of life for Muslims in West Africa. Noah Butler See also: African Traditional Medicine; Hausa Shamanistic Practices; “Magic,” Power, and Ritual in Shamanism; Sufism and Shamanism; Zarma Spirit Mediums References and further reading: Budge, Sir E. A. Wallis. 1970. Amulets and Talismans. New York: Collier Books. Originally published 1930. Coulon, Christian. 1981. Le marabout et le prince (Islam et pouvoir au Sénégal). Paris: A. Pedone. Geertz, Clifford. 1968. Islam Observed: Religious Development in Morocco and Indonesia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Gellner, Ernest. 1968. Saints of the Atlas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Khald‹n, Ibn. 1967. The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History. 2d ed. Translated from the Arabic by Franz Rosenthal. London: Routledge and K. Paul. Launay, Robert. 1992. Beyond the Stream: Islam and Society in a West African Town. Berkeley: University of California Press. Monteil, Vincent. 1964. L’Islam noir. Paris: Seuil. O’Brien, Donal Cruise. 1971. The Mourides of Senegal: The Political and Economic Organization of an Islamic Brotherhood. Oxford: Clarendon. Sanneh, Lamin. 1989. The Jahanke Muslim Clerics: A Religious and Historical Study of Islam in Senegambia. Lanham, MD, and London: University Press of America. ———. 1997. The Crown and the Turban: Muslims and West African Pluralism. Boulder: Westview Press. Trimingham, J. Spencer. 1959. Islam in West Africa. London: Oxford University Press.

NDEMBU SHAMANISM (ZAMBIA) The Ndembu people inhabit the western portion of Mwinilunga District in the northwestern province of Zambia, eleven degrees south of the equator. The name Ndembu refers to the people of the Kanongesha chiefdom within a much larger group, the Lunda. The Ndembu are sometimes called the Lunda-Ndembu. The Ndembu speak Lunda, which belongs to the Bantu language group. In the 1950s the Lunda-Ndembu group numbered 17,000. By 1985 the figure had nearly tripled. The Ndembu originated in the southern Congo; they were part of the Lunda peoples there. In the mid-seventeenth century, led by the chief who inherited the title “Kanongesha,” they migrated further south and settled in lands that are today divided by the international frontiers of Angola, Zambia, and the Congo. In the process they lost some of the centralized character of their political system and became a people of small villages, each with barely a dozen huts, surrounded by gardens producing cassava, the staple crop, a diet that was supplemented by bush meat. Strings of these villages and smallholdings are now dotted over areas of the Zambian bush, connected by trails and dirt roads. Women are the main food providers; accordingly the descent system has tended to be matrilineal, changing somewhat to patrilineal descent in the modern era. The area has suffered from Zambia’s economic troubles, which followed the large increase of population after independence in 1964. The religion has partly shifted in the direction of Christianity. By the 1950s 5 percent of the Ndembu were Christians, and in 1985 the figure was 40 percent (Turner 1992, 210). However, the shamanic nature of the prevailing types of divination and ritual has remained the same as in the Congo days. The people have a sense of an inactive creator god, Nzambe. The main feature of their religion is a close relationship with ancestor spirits, who call upon them to perform complex rituals in which the people approach the spirits and are able to engage their help. Altered states of consciousness are a familiar phenomenon, and it is possible that in earlier times reality was not seen as dualistic; rather, everything was imbued with spirit. Up to the present, scholars have rarely if ever used the term shaman for African medicine per-



A witch doctor from the Tonga, Zambia, sits in his grass hut, ca. 1950–1980. Various gourds, boxes, and other items are spread before him. (Paul Almasy/Corbis)

sons, but in fact the term is appropriate for those who do much the same work and have the same powers as the shamans where the term originated, among the Tungus of Siberia. Shamans’ powers consist of (1) healing, (2) interacting with the dead and other spirits, (3) finding lost objects and people, (4) bringing animals to the hunter, (5) changing the weather, (6) insight and foreknowledge, and (7) a sense of joy. Among the Ndembu in the 1950s there existed healers with shamanic char-

acteristics called ayimbuki (doctors), and diviners with their own shamanic powers who were called tutepa or mahong’u. The diviners were specialized for insight, prediction, or “reading” or “seeing” the right path to take. They were in touch with a personal spirit who enabled these powers to develop. Healers, under the direction of the diviners, would put the diviners’ message into action and engage with the spirits of the sick to heal or set to rights the troubles of afflicted people. Among the Ndembu three



decades later the roles of diviner and healer had roughly become one: It was the healer’s own tutelary spirit who both divined and healed. That situation has continued into the early twenty-first century. Ndembu medicine people in the 1950s tended to be marginal persons. Not being central members of any particular group, their loyalties were not narrowly partisan; their sympathies were broader, and their experience was richer and more varied than that of most Ndembu. In professional action they were likely to be aware, agile, and full of prescience and élan, with needle-sharp minds, sometimes with a smile of unusual sweetness and charm, sometimes with a streak of buffoonery, or with an outstanding gift of extrasensory perception (here was the power of insight and foreknowledge, the sixth power of the shaman). The compassionate side of medicine people was shown by the respect they gave to the luckless spirits whom Ndembu called ayikodjikodji, “mischief-makers.” These spirits were not neglected but were offered libations of food and beer like other spirits. The vocation of diviners began by their being afflicted by a spirit in what might be called “the mode of Kayong’u.” Kayong’u was the name of the illness peculiar to the shamanic gift, the name of the spirit that afflicts the aspirant, and the name of the curing ritual. The spirit was that of a person who had been a medicine person in this life. The Kayong’u spirit took the initiative and chose a person to be an African doctor. Women suffering from a sickness at the beginning of their divining careers might either be treated in the mode of Kayong’u, or in that of a similar ritual, Tukuka, in which the spirit involved might be an ancestor, a white person, or a bird such as an osprey. The initiatory ritual had two purposes: one to cure the illness and the other to prepare the patient to be a diviner. The initial affliction was painful, involving a heavy sickness in the body; persons chosen by the spirit found it hard to breathe. They described it as like being pricked by needles in the chest, and sometimes a person’s chest felt as though it has been blown up by a bicycle pump (Turner 1967, 142). The person could only mutter the exclamation “Boyi, boyi.” The ears of incipient diviners might be completely blocked up. They were like drunken people and might slip to the

ground in a fit (as in the break-up of the personality, sparagmos, in classic shamanism). They might be afflicted by a whole battery of spirits—not merely a single ancestor—singling them out for this arduous and dangerous profession. The experience would change a person’s life, and the process was remarkably similar to that of incipient shamans worldwide. The initiation when it occurred was complex. The afflicted person received treatment all night, sitting beside a ritual fire of green wood outside the huts with drumming in progress, while being attended by a Kayong’u member who washed the patient with medicine and administered herbal drinks. The medicine had a faint mind-altering power, but its focused spiritual power, which was strong and not well understood, predominated over any drug effect. The patient shuddered convulsively to the drum rhythm, now being open to the spirits. At the first faint light, the senior officiant, a hunter-diviner, brought a red rooster to the sacred site and held it up before the patient by its beak and legs. Kayong’u, like the hunting cults, was a “red” ritual, with the power of witchcraft in it. The initiate in a sudden spasm leaped on the rooster and bit through its neck, severing the head. Blood spouted out, and the initiate beat the bloody head on the heart to quiet the mind. This was done because a rooster awoke people from sleep. The Kayong’u spirit too awakened people it had caught. It made them emit a hoarse breathing, like a rooster or a goat. This also happened when an initiated diviner was about to shake the basket full of divining objects: The person’s voice changed and the person no longer used the Lunda language but spoke hoarsely in another tongue. Diviners might also make a deep wheezing noise in the course of ordinary conversation. This was the voice of the Kayong’u spirit inside them. When the Kayong’u spirit made a person kill a rooster by biting it, it made that person a little mad. When the initiate shuddered, it was like being drunk or epileptic, struck suddenly in the liver as if by lightning, as if beaten by a hoe-handle, stopped up. But all was opened when the rooster was killed. From the killed animal the diviner obtained wakefulness and heightened sensitivity, necessary for one who would seek out hidden things. At sunrise, the doctor took a hoe, a cupful of goat’s blood, the heart of the rooster, and vari-


ous sharp objects, and led a procession of the doctors from the village into the bush. They went to a fork in the path and kept straight on instead of following either path. They found the principal medicine tree of the ritual, a kapwipu tree, which stood in this context for initial misfortune followed by success. They prayed to the afflicting spirits and then heaped up a mound of earth at the foot of the tree roughly in the shape of a crocodile, with legs and tail. Next they concealed the various small objects, such as a knife, a razor, needles, a bracelet, and a string of beads, under the mound, at the head, tail, and sides. Before concealing the razor and needle, the big doctor pricked the rooster’s heart with them. When the new diviner started to divine, the sense of that pricking would return. It was the thing that told the diviner how to see—in the objects tossed in a basket—the cause of the client’s illness or bad luck, or how someone’s death was brought about by a witch or sorcerer. The diviner had to be sharp like the needle, cutting like the knife or like sharp teeth. The diviner went straight to the point in hidden matters. It was said that sharpness and the divining objects helped one another. Then the participants brought the drums and beat out the Kayong’u rhythm. The initiate was led out of the village to the crocodile image and seated upon it. The initiate had to divine where each of the objects had been concealed. The spirit guided the hand, and the initiate was completely successful, seeming to know just where everything was hidden. The new diviner now had this power to use whenever necessary. (Here the third shamanic power was shown, that of finding lost objects.) Meanwhile the accompanying adepts trilled their praises aloud, and the new diviner became extraordinarily happy. Everyone danced home. (This was the seventh attribute, the sense of joy.) Furthermore the new shaman had been cured of the malady, which had immediately disappeared. The spirits that once caused affliction henceforth helped the new diviner and gave protection from evil (the second shamanic power, communication with the spirits). Shortly after the performance, the initiate was apprenticed to an experienced diviner and learned the difficult manipulative and interpretive techniques of that profession. As for medicine people, usually male, they were the ones called on to conduct a drum rit-


ual for the healing of a sick village member (the first shamanic power, that of healing). The ritual required the help of neighbors to sing, clap their hands rhythmically, play instruments such as drums, rattles, rasps, and ax irons, sometimes go into trance with the patient, and come to a unity through the music. Under these circumstances the spirit effected the cure. To begin the ritual the doctor’s first act was to take a small party into the bush to collect herbal medicines. These plant objects were more than simple ingested remedies, for the first herb-bearing tree, one that was called the mother tree, was itself a shrine through which the doctor could communicate with his tutelary spirit and bring it to his aid. Thenceforth, during the ritual the doctor, though not in trance, was directed by the tutelary spirit as to his course of action. It had given him secret knowledge. It was said that just as hunters seek out hidden animals in the bush, the same insight and sensitivity were needed for both communicating with spirits and for the healing itself. For instance, in the highly shamanic curing ritual of Ihamba, the aim was to make the patient shake and fall in trance, thereby releasing the afflicting spirit, which would then become an ally. The medicine person was a willing catalyst in such a ritual. The Ndembu medicine man moved and acted under the instruction of his tutelary spirit during the ritual, sometimes verbally communicating with the spirit afflicting the patient, though he was not prone on the ground as was the patient at the climax. The medicine man became a kind of conduit or catalyst in the village to transmute dire effects into good fortune. Social matters were also resolved, for until they were, the harmful intrusion that had been the cause of the trouble could not be removed, and no cure can be effected. The people had the sense of an intervention of caring spirits, which required the cooperation of the villagers, the frankness and sincerity of the participants, and good neighborliness and peaceful relations. The resolution of conflict and the cure of poor morale were necessities in order to bring about the much desired physical healing and improved relations with the spirit concerned. The result of such village rituals was that morale and happiness vastly improved. A further notable shamanic feature of Ndembu life concerned hunters and was seen



in the hunter’s relationship to spirits. As in Kayong’u, the hunter was first afflicted before gaining help. In this case the trouble was lack of game. The hunter dreamed of a bush spirit called Mukaala, a hunter figure, spotted in appearance, with ridged fur. The afflicted one could also hear Mukaala in the bush, whistling and driving away the game. To win the spirit to his side the hunter purified a site in the village, then planted in the ground a forked stake with a stone at its foot, which was his shrine to Mukaala. He marked the stone, the ground, and himself with white clay, thus becoming connected with the spirit. He called on the spirit, asking for the gift of invisibility so that he might catch animals. He whistled, marking his identification with Mukaala, then went to the bush to hunt. On catching an animal he marked his shrine and the stone with the blood of the animal, and placed the animal’s head on the point of the forked stake (this was the fourth shamanic power, the power of catching animals). Thus in this type of shamanism the hunter did not have communication with the animal but with the animal-like human-helping spirit, which brought him good hunting. Invasive spirits, harmful intrusions, or witchcraft entities and poisons were dealt with by shamanistic medicine men in a ritual called Kaneng’a. The medicine man had to obtain from the graveyard the powerful substances needed to combat the entity, such as a spirit snake, created by a sorcerer. This entity could eat the lifesubstance of a villager. If the medicine man used the tibia of a dead person as a gun, he could shoot the spirit snake and restore the sufferer to health. The journey down to the graveyard and the land of spirits was a terrible thing that only a Kaneng’a doctor could do. A final capacity, which used to be exercised by Ndembu chiefs, was rainmaking (the fifth shaman power, changing the weather). This ritual, which the chief himself had to perform in time of drought, was called Musolu, and consisted of closing the two shells of a fruit amid appeals to the demigod Mweni. Edith L. B. Turner See also: African Traditional Medicine; Ancestor Worship in Africa; Divination; Hausa Shamanistic Practices; Siberian Shamanism; Spirits and Souls

References and further reading: Turner, Edith. 1987. “The Fish Eagle.” Pp. 88–108 in The Spirit and the Drum: A Memoir of Africa. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. Turner, Edith, with William Blodgett. 1992. Experiencing Ritual: A New Interpretation of African Healing. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Turner, Victor. 1967. “Muchona the Hornet, Interpreter of Religion.” In The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. ———. 1968. The Drums of Affliction: The Study of Religious Processes among the Ndembu of Zambia. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ———. 1975. “Ritual as Communication and Potency.” Pp. 58–81 in Symbols and Society: Essays on Belief Systems in Action.” Edited by Carole E. Hill. Athens, GA: Southern Anthropological Society.

SWAHILI HEALERS AND SPIRIT CULT (EAST AFRICA) The Swahili have their own distinctive form of healing, in which some of the healers function in a way that could be described as shamanistic. Their tradition draws on various sources, Islamic and non-Islamic, and is still very much alive despite recent changes in their society.

Background The term Swahili comes from the Arabic word sawahil, “coasts.” It refers to the narrow East African coastal strip from southern Somalia to northern Mozambique, where a distinctive language and culture developed as a dynamic synthesis of indigenous African and foreign elements. This synthesis resulted from a long history of maritime trade and urban settlement in prolonged contact with the wider world of the Indian Ocean, especially the Persian Gulf and later the southern Arabian Peninsula (Nurse and Spear 1985). Whereas some scholars restrict the term Swahili to the geographic area and language, it is also used for the distinctive coastal Islamic culture of the indigenous Swahili-speaking peoples. Although there has been much debate about whether the coastal


people themselves should be called Swahili, and if so how they should be defined, the Swahili people are best described as the various groups from the East African coast and nearby islands who speak Swahili as a first language and share the distinctive Muslim syncretic culture of the area (Eastman 1971). Today Swahili are mostly found in the nationstates of Kenya and Tanzania, where they are minorities. They are Sunni Muslims and live in rural villages as well as towns and cities of the coast, interspersed with other ethnic groups and religions. Neighboring African groups have often been heavily influenced by the Swahili, and many of their members have been incorporated into Swahili society through marriage and cultural assimilation.

Supernatural Beliefs and Ritual Specialists As in many Muslim African societies, the sources of Swahili beliefs about the supernatural include Islamic sources as well as pre-Islamic and non-Islamic sources in both the Middle East and Africa. These components are intertwined, and often not clearly distinguished. Middle Eastern practices of healing, contacting and treating spirits, divination, astrology, geomancy, and magic are found together with, and sometimes merged with, indigenous African practices (Pouwels 1987, 73–92 and 120–123) There are several different kinds of Swahili ritual specialists. Some are Islamic walimu (sing, mwalimu), literally “teachers,” although perhaps a better translation is “scholars,” that is, those who have knowledge of written Arabic texts on the mystical arts. Walimu often use prayers and Islamic texts, including passages from the Qur’an, in either spoken or written form. The latter includes the use of kombe (Qur’anic passages written on a plate or cup and then washed off and given the patient to drink or bathe with) and amulets. Amulets are also written using cabalistic formulas consisting of Arabic letters or numerals. In addition, walimu also use rosewater and incense and other fumigations, as well as other store-bought medicines. They frequently instruct clients to make sadaka, “offerings,” which help to purify them and obtain blessings (cf. Middleton 1992, 179–181). Other ritual specialists are known as waganga (sing, mganga), traditional healers/divin-


ers. Waganga themselves are divided into several basic types: waganga wa kitabu (“waganga of the book”); waganga wa pepo or shetani (“waganga of the spirits”), also known as waganga wa kichwa (“waganga of the head”—referring to the bodily location of possessive spirits); and waganga wa miti shamba, who use wild plants as medicines. Waganga wa kitabu are very similar to and often the same as walimu, since “the book” refers to the Qur’an and other Arabic texts. Waganga wa pepo call up, bargain with, and utilize spirits, often through ngoma—dancing, music, and drumming appropriate to particular spirit types. All three kinds of waganga, however, frequently overlap. Waganga wa pepo are generally also waganga wa miti shamba, and many waganga wa kitabu use wild medicinal plants in addition to their store-bought medicines. Waganga wa kitabu and waganga wa pepo also share many other similar practices, and some waganga practice as both. All three types of waganga can also be wachawi, “witches” or “sorcerers,” for if one has special powers, they can be used to harm as well as help, or for selfish as well as altruistic reasons. All waganga thus are potential wachawi (cf. Lienhardt 1968).

Spirit Beliefs and Practices Swahili beliefs about spirits are complex and sometimes contradictory. Islamic interpretations and Middle Eastern concepts have been adopted to varying degrees by local Swahili, depending on their literacy, Islamic training, or religious tolerance of the spirit world. Although orthodox Islam is extremely monotheistic, emphasizing the worship of one God (Allah), it does recognize the existence of spirits, known as jinn. Orthodox Islam condemns establishing relationships with spirits as shiriki, the grave sin of associating other beings with Allah. However, the presence of spirits who follow the Islamic religion, some of which are closely connected to Allah, makes the issue less clear-cut. Moreover, there is no consensus among the Swahili as to the approved methods of dealing with the various types of spirits (cf. Caplan 1975, 100). The Swahili commonly call spirits by several different terms—jini or shetani, both derived from Arabic, or they may use pepo, a Bantu word for “spirit” or “wind.” There is great variation in how these terms are used, and many Swahili use



them interchangeably. Moreover, they are used both as general terms and as specific types. The term shetani is especially misleading. Whereas the Arabic word shaitan means a demon, the Swahili often use it in a more neutral fashion (cf. Middleton 1992, 170–174, where a more rigid classification is attempted). Regardless of the terminology used, the key distinctions in spirit typology are whether the spirit is Muslim or pagan, and whether it is from the coast or the East African interior. Whereas all inland spirits are described as pagan and uncivilized, coastal spirits may be Muslim, pagan, or of a mixed character (cf. Caplan 1975, 100–101). Within these broad groups, spirits are further differentiated into more specific categories that are often the focus of particular spirit possession cults. Many possessive spirit categories correspond to various human ethnic groups, including Arabs, Masai, Mijikenda, Pemban (Swahili from the island of Pemba), Malagasy, and so on (cf. Topan 1971, 57–58). Although some spirits are always harmful, most are more ambiguous. Whether they are helpful or harmful depends on the relationship one has with them. Whereas some are used specifically for private gain or even sent to trouble other people, many can also be used for the benefit of the community, for healing, divination, protection, and the like. Moreover, some spirits are pious Muslims, and they demand that their human associates also observe Islamic practice and morality. Relationships with spirits can take several different forms. Some are possessive, whereas others are merely associations. Although the initial relationship is often started by the spirit, in some cases it is initiated by humans, generally using special ritual procedures. There are certain types of jini, in fact, that are purposefully kept and bred like domestic animals, because of the wealth and good fortune that they can bring. Most Swahili acquire spirits unintentionally, through inheritance, through the spirit’s attraction to, or anger with, them, or by having someone purposefully send the spirit to them for good or for ill. The spirit may manifest itself directly by possession, making the patient’s body its vehicle and sometimes speaking through the patient. In Swahili terminology, the spirit is said to “mount” or “climb” the person (a conception common in many African and Caribbean areas) and come into the head. Usually, however, the

spirit first manifests itself through illness, bad luck, barrenness, and other misfortunes. Diagnosis is generally made by a spirit medium or diviner, who may be a mwalimu, mganga wa kitabu, or mganga wa pepo. Once the spirit has been diagnosed, the diviner will send the patient to a mganga who can treat spirit cases (this may be the original diviner in some cases). Sometimes the spirit is exorcised, especially if Islamic methods are used, if the spirit is sent by witchcraft, or if it is deemed by its nature to be evil or useless. If it is a spirit that can enter into a useful relationship, however, it is often appeased. Such spirits may or may not be of the type that establishes long-term possessive relationships. If it is, the human may agree to become the regular mount of the spirit, that is, the “chair,” in Swahili terminology. In either case, the spirit may be enticed to possess the patient, or sometimes the ritual specialist, and explain why it has come and what it wants. Most often it will want an offering plate (of food and incense, and the like), an animal sacrifice, a certain type of cloth or ring to wear, or a special ceremony in its honor. If it is decided that the spirit will enter into a permanent relationship with the patient, certain offerings and ceremonies must be continued periodically in order to keep the relationship positive. Often such spirits are possessive, and they usually ask that the patient be initiated into a cult group (chama or kilinge). Initiation involves an elaborate and expensive ceremony, generally lasting from several days up to a week, depending on the type of spirit and local practice. At the conclusion, the spirit should possess the patient and start a cooperative relationship with the patient as its “chair,” including ceremonial possession during cult ceremonies. The spirit may want the initiate to advance to higher ranks within the cult, obtained through payment of fees, sponsoring the necessary ceremonies, and demonstrating greater competence in healing and other spirit matters (often through instruction). The highest rank is that of a mganga. Waganga of this kind have their own medicine bag, enabling them to possess the full range of spiritual skills, including divination and healing. They thus can attract their own clients and perhaps become the head of their own cult group (Giles 1987, 240–241; cf. Topan 1971).


Not all waganga wa pepo are associated with spirit possession cults. Some in fact might not have possessive relations with spirits, but other forms of association, including inheriting spirit abodes that give them access to the spirits living there. Spirits may merely help such waganga in their work, or they may actually communicate with them without possessing them, through dreams, telepathy, divination, or other signs. The title of mganga in such cases may be more descriptive than an official title. There are also people who act more as intermediaries with spirits or custodians of their abodes, without claiming any spiritual power themselves. These people are often not called waganga, but by other terms that vary according to locality, for example, ratibu, or wavyale. This position is often inherited. (On wavyale, see Gray 1966 and Trimingham 1964, 116–117.)

Differences and Similarities between Types of Spirit Specialists Walimu and waganga wa kitabu are usually viewed as fundamentally different from waganga wa pepo and similar types of spirit specialists. Whereas the former use Islamic means to try and exorcise spirits, the latter use more pagan means to placate and cultivate them. Waganga wa kitabu, as their name implies, acquire their skills from written texts (often in Arabic) and personal instruction. The primary means of acquiring skills and knowledge for waganga wa pepo and related spirit practitioners is through personal relationships with spirits, although considerable training may also be involved. These fundamental differences also relate to another distinction—whereas walimu and waganga wa kitabu are almost always male, waganga wa pepo and other spirit specialists can be either male or female (cf. Middleton 1992, 179–180). The opposition between these two basic types of ritual specialists, however, is not as pronounced as it first appears. In actual practice, their methods are often similar. Although their ceremonies are viewed mainly as exorcisms, waganga wa kitabu use many of the same procedures to attract and interact with spirits as waganga wa pepo, including covering the patient with an appropriately colored cloth, burning incense, and making offerings. Often they also call the spirit to possess the patient


and state what it wants in order to stop troubling the patient. Moreover, waganga wa kitabu often have spirit helpers that they call on for assistance. They may have sought these out, inherited them, been chosen by them, or even been possessed by them. Often these spirits are Middle Eastern jini, or more specifically ruhani, which are a special category of very powerful spirits that are highly Muslim in character and demand that their human partners lead an exemplary Muslim life. These jini, however, are otherwise much like other types of spirits. They cause illness or misfortune and demand offerings, cloths, and often sacrificial animals. They also require ritual celebrations in their honor, but these are the same ceremonies that would be used in other Islamic contexts, dhikri (repetitive chanting of words and formulas in praise of God with rhythmic breathing and body movements, often leading to trance) or maulidi (recitations and songs associated with the birth of the prophet Mohammed). If the relationship is a possessive one, it is often the reason why the person became a mganga wa kitabu in the first place, to please the spirit. Moreover, the spirit may also have required him to be initiated into a spirit cult. Some waganga wa kitabu also have relationships with non-Muslim spirits, although in this case they may resist initiation because the ceremony would be non-Islamic. On the other hand, waganga wa pepo use many of the same Islamic methods as waganga wa kitabu to deal with Islamic spirits. They utilize many of the same incenses and medicines, and ask Islamic specialists to come and read Qur’anic passages and perform dhikri or maulidi when calling such spirits. Also, waganga wa pepo and spirit cult members are usually themselves possessed by ruhani and other Islamic spirits in addition to non-Islamic ones. Hence regular cult ceremonies honoring members’ possessive spirits include Islamic ceremonies as well as ngoma, which are non-Islamic forms of dancing and music (Giles 1987, 246–247).

Changes in Spirit Practices At present, only a minority of the Swahili population is involved in spirit cults, whereas evidence from cult traditions and written accounts portray spirit cult activity as fairly common in the past. Increasing Westernization, orthodox



Islamic opposition, governmental interference, and worsening socioeconomic conditions (making ceremonies less affordable)—all these are factors. Also, the amount of male participation in spirit cults seems to have declined. Currently, the majority of clients and cult members are female (cf. Middleton 1992, 176–178). On the other hand, spirit cults still remain viable. They have adapted well to modern urban conditions. Members can be drawn from all segments of society, including some well-educated and Westernized individuals. Even those who have strong objections to spirit ceremonies or cult membership will participate if they believe it is necessary in order to get well. Furthermore, most Swahili, whether or not they participate in spirit activities, share the belief system, including belief in the possibility of possession. Many people visit spirit cult mediums when they need assistance, for divination, medicines, or spiritual intervention. Even more use the services of waganga wa kitabu. Much more decline is evident in the role of spirits and their various intermediaries in everyday activities, especially communal activities. In the recent past, spirit propitiation by individual hunters, fishermen, and cultivators was common, as well as communal spirit rituals associated with the monsoons, various stages in the agricultural cycle, and especially the Swahili New Year (Trimingham 1964, 117). Certain spirits also acted as general guardians of the community, with special huts erected for them and ceremonies dedicated to them several times a year. All of these rites were carried out by special spirit intermediaries such as the wavyale or ratibu. Remnants of these communal practices can still be found in the more isolated villages of the Tanzanian coast and Pemba, but elsewhere they have become the domain of the spirit cults and individual spirit practitioners (Giles 1995, 90–96). Linda L. Giles See also: Marabouts and Magic; Spirit Possession References and further reading: Caplan, Patricia. 1975. “The Socio-Religious Hierarchy: (2) Spirit Possession.” Pp. 100–123 in Choice and Constraint in a Swahili Community. Edited by Patricia Caplan. London: International African Institute, Oxford University Press.

Eastman, Carol M. 1971. “Who are the WaSwahili?” Africa 41, no. 3: 228–236. Giles, Linda L. 1987. “Possession Cults on the Swahili Coast: A Re-examination of Theories of Marginality.” Africa 57, no. 2: 234–258. ———. 1989. “Spirit Possession on the Swahili Coast: Peripheral Cults or Primary Texts?” Ph.D. diss., University of Texas at Austin. ———. 1995. “Sociocultural Change and Spirit Possession on the Swahili Coast of East Africa.” Anthropological Quarterly 68, no. 2: 89–106. ———. 1999. “Spirit Possession and the Symbolic Construction of Swahili Society.” Pp. 142–164 in Spirit Possession, Modernity, and Power in Africa. Edited by Heike Behrend and Ute Luig. Madison and Oxford: University of Wisconsin Press and James Currey. Gray, John M. 1966. “Nairuzi or Siku ya Mwaka.” Tanganyika Notes and Records 38: 1–22 and 41: 69–72. Lienhardt, Peter, ed. and trans. 1968. The Medicine Man. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Middleton, John. 1992. The World of the Swahili: An African Mercantile Civilization. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. Nurse, Derek, and Thomas Spear. 1985. The Swahili: Reconstructing the History and Language of an African Society, 800–1500. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Pouwels, Randall. 1987. Horn and Crescent: Cultural Change and Traditional Islam on the East African Coast, 800–1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Topan, Farouk Mohamedhussein T. 1971. “Oral Literature in a Ritual Setting: The Role of Spirit Songs in a Spirit-Mediumship Cult in Mombasa, Kenya.” Ph.D. diss., University of London. Trimingham, J. Spencer. 1964. “Popular Religion.” Pp. 112–125 in Islam in East Africa. Edited by J. Spencer Trimingham. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

TWIN CULT OF THE AKAN (GHANA) One aspect of the religious practice of the Akan is a special cult that centers on those who are born as twins. It is of particular interest in an encyclopedia like this one because it centers on



Okomfo Essoun completed her akom (priestess-medium) training in another town, and accompanied by a group of clergy (Akomfo) she was brought to Winneba and introduced to her people for the first time. Here, she is brought through town in a procession in a state of trance. Winneba, Ghana, 1998. (Courtesy of Anthony Ephirim-Donkor)

spirit possession, so often a central feature in shamanism.

Background The Akan are found in the modern nations of Ghana and the Ivory Coast. In Ghana they constitute about 50 percent of the population; the major groups that make up the Akan are the Asante, the Fante, the Akuapim, the Akyem, the Akwamu, the Khwahu, the Nzema, the Ahanta, the Wassa, the Bono, and the Safwi as the major groups. All the Akan share a common language, religion, and political ethos (Ephirim-Donkor 1997, 3). The Akan believe in a monotheistic creator God called Odomankoma Nyame. They adhere to a system of succession that operates within the ebusua, a uterine, blood-linear group of kin who congregate in order to bury their dead and share the funeral expenses, set the date for the final funeral rites, appoint a successor for the

deceased, and remember the dead periodically (Ephirim-Donkor 1997, 33). These beliefs have their origin in the Akan cosmogony, according to which the previously perfect coexistence between God and the primordial old woman, Aberewa, and her children was severed over arguments about food (fufu) preparation. The separation of heaven from earth created a void, which was filled by the abosom, “deities,” spiritual offspring of God who remained on earth, though capable of moving between the two worlds (Ephirim-Donkor 1994, 44–45). Naturally, the Akan began to worship the abosom (plural) and in the process developed elaborate rites, shrines, and codes governing existence (abra bo). Not everyone could approach the abosom; consequently a special class of clergy believed to be the children of the abosom themselves was born and taught the esoterica of the deities (Christensen 1959, 257–267). An obosom ba, “child of a deity,” is a person whose mother, after experiencing difficulties



conceiving, asks for a deity’s intervention and pledges to consecrate the child (or children) born in consequence of that intervention to the deity, together with certain prescribed rites of thanksgiving. A deity may will as many as five children; as an indication of their sacred nature, the hair of such children is kept uncut and unkempt, with strings of bead, cowry, or coin tied to the hair. The abosom’ba and their descendants, together with twins and those born under special conditions, are the only ones considered called into the clerical profession. There are three categories of clergy among the Akan, the priest, osofo, the prophetmedium, okomfo, and the doctor, oninsinye or obosomfo. Even though their roles overlap, each kind is unique in that each receives a specialized training. To be a member of the clergy one must be born into or must have descended from a priestly ancestry. That is, the original ancestor must have been an obosom ba, the offspring of a deity (Ephirim-Donkor 1994, 56). The process begins with a call by a deity and not by God, because God is worshipped through the deities. The call is critically examined by an experienced member of the clergy in order to authenticate the veracity of the phenomenon. Then the subject undergoes training for at least one year, during which time she or he learns about the secrets of the clerical vocation and of the deity that called her or him. Upon graduation as an okomfo, the new medium demonstrates her spiritual prowess in public by dancing herself into a trance and being taken over by a deity. Since God is not worshipped or approached directly, societal and individual problems are addressed to the deities via a medium in a trance; the deities in turn take the problems to God.

Twins and Possession The focus of this article is another special class of people among the Akan, twins—who, together with the abosom’ba, are considered to be divine, having a religion of their own. Twin religion (Nnta Abam) manifests itself as spirit possession when the special deity of twins, Abam Kofi, possesses twins (nntafo) during festivities honoring the deity. Twins are considered unique and therefore enjoy special recognition in Akan sociocultural and religious practices. Their uniqueness is

based on the oddity of their birth, which is interpreted as divine. The Akan believe, quite dogmatically, that twins are gifts from a deity who shows favor to some women, so that “mothers of twins or triplets are held in especial esteem . . . not only in life, but after death” (Rattray 1927, 66–67). Although the Akan are aware of the role heredity plays in twin births, they also believe in the arbitrariness of their births. Many, indeed, believe that twins are born to those who may not necessarily need them, i. e. the poor. Existentially, having twins is thought to be a test; the challenge lies in a couple’s ability to properly nurture them into adulthood before obtaining Abam Kofi’s beneficence. Traditionally, a set of twins, like a set of abosom’ba, comprises five children. The twins proper, Panyin and Kakara; then the first child born after the twins, Tawuah or Tawiah; the second, who also happens to share the same name as the deity, Abam; and finally, the third child born, Nyankomangor. Upon parturition the mother and neonates are sequestered for a culturally defined period of at least eight days before they are formally introduced to the extended family, culminating in a naming ceremony. On this day, special rites are also performed in honor of the twin deity, at which time a raffia twig is shaped into a doll. To invoke Abam Kofi to enter the doll, libations are offered, after which a chicken is slaughtered and its blood is poured on or around the doll. Then boiled eggs and two sacred meals called oto—one red and the other white—are placed on or around the doll to signify Abam Kofi’s acceptance of the ambrosia. Concealed under a white piece of cloth, the doll is then hung permanently on a wall. During the naming ceremony, the neonates also receive raffia-strung beads of white and black colors tied around their wrists to signify the fact that they too have been hung on a wall, figuratively. Sometimes a piece of gold is strung together with the black, but regardless of the addition, the rest of the beads on both sides must be white. Henceforth the twins wear the raffia-strung beads throughout their existence, unless they want themselves taken down from the wall where they have been figuratively hung. Situational rites are performed for twins who display neurotic tendencies in order to restore



Okomfo Essoun, Winneba, Ghana, 1998. (Courtesy of Anthony Ephirim-Donkor)

psychosomatic equilibrium. Otherwise, twins wait until the annual festival, which is held to coincide with the harvesting of crops when Abam Kofi is fed, who in turn possesses his offspring—the set of twins. The festivities begin early in the morning at participating twins’ households (EphirimDonkor 1994, 54). Ceremoniously, Abam Kofi is taken down and laid on specially prepared bedding. Meanwhile, food items, including yams, plantains, eggs, and a chicken or sheep are readied for a sumptuous meal. Then trays containing diluted seawater, in which are placed special vines believed to empower t