Panel 3:

SHAMANIC INFLUENCES AND TRANSFORMATION IN CULTURE, IDENTITY, AND TRADITION

Chair: Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer


A Woman of Virtue?: Transformation of Gender Roles and Power of Thao Shamans

Mitsuda, Yayoi

Institute of Anthropology, National Chi Nan University

Globalism has spread western ideas so widely during the past several decades that traditional ideas such as the self, gender and family are drastically transforming in Taiwan including indigenous communities. Although the Thao people, who are Austronesian-speaking indigenes living at Sun Moon Lake, preserve their traditional religious beliefs and practices, the transformation is very obvious even in religious specialists’ performances.
As religious specialists, Thao shamans are very important figures in Thao culture and society. They are the cores of traditional worship of ancestor spirits and also preserve tribal memories and texts of prayers in the Thao language. There are three qualifications for a Thao shaman, and one of them is an idea of a “person/woman of virtue.” Since current Thao people/women have different perceptions of gender differences and roles, it seems to cause some conflicts between female shamans and (male) elders, especially in the political domain. Obviously, Thao elders have a very different idea of an “ideal Thao/woman.” This paper examines the Thao traditional idea of personhood and gender and analyzes the transforming concept of a “woman of virtue.”


Cultural Exchange, Identity and Memory in the Shamanisms of the Hills of Eastern Nepal

Mousa, Raphael

MA student, South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University

The Kiranti are considered to be the indigenous people of the eastern hills of Nepal. Less than two hundred years ago an immigration of Indo-Aryan Hindus and Tibeto-Burmese peoples from central and western Nepal started. Nowadays the region is multiethnic and Kiranti culture, particularly the oral shamanic tradition, is heavily influenced by dominant Hinduism and Buddhism. But there is also bilateral cultural exchange between the shamanic traditions of different groups. In contemporary Nepal the shaman becomes an important symbol for the representation of ethnic groups and their traditions, often opposed to Hinduism and Buddhism. Hence, shamanism is a domain of cultural exchange, influenced by power relations, on the one hand, and cultural distinction, discrimination and identity-building on the other.
How did immigration influence the shamanism of the Kiranti and how did theirs influence the shamanism of immigrated groups? What are differences in the shamanisms of the Kiranti and the immigrated groups? What role does shamanism play in the building of distinct ethnic identities?
Significant answers to these questions are found in the relation of the shamans and their people to landscape and local spirits. In nocturnal rituals, shamans are possessed by guiding spirits and their souls go on journeys that lead through the material environment of the area. These ritual performances reveal important information about cultural differences, identities and memories among the various groups of the area. I will conduct research in the settlement area of the Kiranti sub-group of the Nachhering Rai in the north-eastern Khotang district of Nepal.


The Making and Unmaking of sacred places. The Case of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia)

Zola, Lia

Research Fellow, University of Turin, Italy

The whole area of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) is characterized by a good number of sacred places referring in particular to lakes, rivers, trees, mountains, hills, plains. They are normally indicated with the sakha words Ytyk (sacred) and Èhè, Èbè (grandpa, grandma). Èhè, for instance, stands for the Lena river, as the word Lena is never uttered. Male and female shamans’ graves, which are generally placed deep into the woods, are also considered sacred places. Almost every Sakha, before crossing a river or passing by a sacred tree or a shaman’s grave, leaves food offerings, but also cigarettes, cds, dvds, small presents and avoids speaking loudly in order to prevent attacks from the spirits or the dead shamans’ souls resting there.
In the past ten years, a growing number of travel agencies started to propose package tours to Kihillèèkh, a rocky mountain complex in the northern end of the Sakha Republic, some 700km from the capital-city, Yakutsk.
The tourists, generally of Sakha origin, start their ascent at a nearby basecamp, then walk to and sleep at the foot of the mountains, and come back after a week. Tourism in Kihillèèkh mountains has recently raised many doubts and controversies. The most debated point rests on the question whether Kihillèèkh was a sacred place turned into a touristic spot or viceversa. Some native scholars and journalists argue that sacred places are not for many, therefore the mountains, sooner or later, will take their revenge; others state that the mountains possess healing powers: the amount of people who actually improved their health conditions after being at Kihillèèkh is increasing.
My paper wishes to assess the creation of sacred places, their meaning and the politics of revival of shamanic culture in the Sakha Republic.


Ṭumbura and the cult of the Banda Tree: Spirit Possession in the Contemporary Sudan

Makris, Gerasimos P.

Professor, Panteion University

The Sudanese ṭumbura spirit possession cult has been traditionally practiced by descendants of slaves and other subalterns in the low-class neighbourhoods of the big urban centres. Guided by a female leader, the ecstatic devotees dance in the rhythm of drums and the rabāba lyre, singing songs which celebrate an alternative positive self-identity. Today, ṭumbura is also combating witchcraft-related threats and other ills associated with economic uncertainty, thus attracting members of the middle classes and even foreigners.
In this paper I discuss a particular line of descent which shows that since the very beginning of the 20th century certain ṭumbura groups in the area of Khartoum integrated with another type of practices with distinctive characteristics of classical ancestral cults as well as shamanistic qualities. For lack of a better name, I refer to this side of the ṭumbura spiritual universe as ‘the cult of the Banda sacred tree’, focusing on the cultic practices surrounding a huge tree in Burrī Abū Ḥashīsh, a low-class neighbourhood near the banks of the Blue Nile. The tree is seen as the abode of the black snake Kundé, a manifestation of Azraq Banda, a Muslim shaykh allegedly buried nearby. At the same time, Azraq Banda is a quasi-ancestral sprit associated with the Banda tribe, the initial inhabitants of the area who had been settled there as manumitted slaves around 1900. Until today, the ‘lady of the tree’ offers libations to the snake, effects cures for the patients who visit her, walks on the waters of the Nile up to the Red Sea 800 km away and communicates with the spirits via two sacred sticks and a cell-phone. Witchcraft, shamanism, spirit possession and the Muslim cult of the saints are all intertwined in a complex cult that straddles the dawn of Sudanese modernity with is neo-liberal presence.


Children of the Land: Displacement, Dis(-)ease, and Boarding Schools

Varvarezou, Dimitra Mari

PhD Candidate, Arizona State University

This paper examines the role of boarding schools in the construction of Diné (Navajo) cultural identity and social personhood. Closely tied to traumatic events of colonization (for example, war, displacement, and disease), boarding schools have had a tremendous emotional and physical effect not only on those who have attended but also on the group as a whole. Recent literature suggests that boarding schools are a focal point in triggering and sustaining Historical Trauma (H.T). My fieldwork reveals that the boarding school experience is still discussed to this day, often drawing upon the colonization era to explain contemporary social ills and suffering. I explore these tensions in relation to the primary concept of Diné well-being, namely hozhó (harmony through balance). The experience of boarding schools has been tantamount in redefining Diné constructions of traditional personhood and wellbeing, not only due to the loss of language and traditions, but also because it challenges Diné understandings of embodied balance. The Diné connect the practices of forceful transformation of the body and its practices (e.g. cutting of hair) in boarding schools to violence and disruption of harmony that is extended to the landscape.


Shamanic-Mystic-Syncretic Islam and Shadow Puppet Shamans in Javanese Traditions and Beliefs

Hee Sook Lee-Niinioja

Independent Scholar

Islam was remodelled by regional traditions to comply with religious-philosophical ideas since the advent to Java in the 15th century. The fundamental patterns of ancestral, shamanic, mythical belief and Hindu-Buddhism were integrated within Sufi Islam, and the Sufi principle of “universal toleration” negotiated with pre-Islamic culture to affirm the “oneness of God”, transforming it in accordance with Islam.
According to Javanese Muslims, the multi-tiered roof symbolises the mythical path to God, based on Sufis’ view, while four columns signify the spiritual context of the vertical unity between God and them, continued from the Hindu belief in the identity of self and the universal soul. In spiritual rituals, the water channel represents new creatures that will fill the void of the universe with life.
A characteristic of Javanese mosques is a veranda where shadow puppet (wayang) plays were performed. In earlier Islamisation, mystic Sufis modified Hindu epics in order to convert pagans, and these were played by wayang on verandas. Moreover, Javanese Muslims believe that the soul of ancestors was disguised as shadows to solve their problems in life. Consequently, the shadow puppet was a propagator for non-Muslims; a mediator to invoke ancestors by sacred rituals.
Physically, in Sufi’s mysticism, a veranda delimits the boundaries between the sacred and secular world. Its location around water implies Muslims’ purification before entering the sacred mosque, derived from the Cosmos Mountain, Meru where Hindu gods were surrounded by oceans.
My paper questions of shamanic-mystic-syncretic Islam, and shadow puppet shamans through tangible, intangible ideas and forms in different beliefs and traditions in Java.


Shamanism as/in ‘New Age’: transforming religious tradition in southern Europe

Roussou, Eugenia

CRIA/FCSH-New University of Lisbon

New forms of spirituality, which belong to the so-called ‘New Age’ phenomenon, have in recent years claimed a strong position within the religioscape of Europe. As a result, traditional forms of religiosity, especially those of Christian orientation (as Christianity is still considered to be the predominant religion of southern Europe), are challenged and transformed at the level of everyday practice. In the context of these broader changes, shamanism plays a central role as it is adopted and readapted to fit contemporary religious and sociocultural needs, especially with reference to new forms of spirituality. Drawing on anthropological fieldwork in Portugal and Greece, this paper aims to cast special attention on the transformation and renegotiation of shamanism in these two countries, as the latter escapes its traditional connotations and constitutes part of the ‘New Age’ spiritual movement. More particularly, and through specific case-study ethnographic examples, I want to show how a ‘new age’ of shamanism, or a ‘neo-shamanism’ as it is popularly defined, is perceived and practised by spiritual healers in Lisbon and Athens; and how, ultimately, the creative adaptations of traditional shamanic practice can lead to a redefinition of religious identity in a largely pluralized spiritual marketplace


The Ecological Moral Concepts in Manchu Family Ritual Activities

He Xiaofang & Lu Ping

Professors, East China Normal University, Changchun Normal University, Jilin Normal University

There is an important tradition of thought about history in China, namely ritual activities and power are the most important aspects of state affairs, which means that the ancient Chinese combined respect for the world, gods, nature, and the ancestors with the worship of conquest by force. The Manchu rose from the Liao-Shen area. During the course of its stabilizing the Jurchen and fighting with the Ming dynasty, the Manchu inherited the Chinese traditional moral concepts which respected the ancestor while worshipping force. Nuerhachu offered sacrifices to Tangzi whenever he went out to the battle front. However, with the establishment of a unity government, Manchu became the nationality in a position of authority, whose political position and living conditions changed dramatically, so the family ritual activities gradually united respecting the ancestor and worshipping gods of heaven and earth into one, and the ecological moral concepts of fearing nature and maintaining harmony with it became the mainstream. In this paper, I illustrate these main points by using the ritual activities of theGuar Jia family as an example