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73. Clan Priest - P'oyun Saman

The greatest growth of the complex managing souls of dead people, as we have seen, is found amongst the Manchus. There is no doubt that the idea of a regular managing of souls of dead people has been received by them from the Chinese, but it has also received its particular forms owing to the original Manchu conceptions. Amongst the Manchus the clan system and «ancestor worship» are so intimately connected that one cannot be understood without another. Yet, the Manchus used the institution of shamans for creation of a special kind of clan officials dealing with the souls of dead clansmen. These are p'oyun saman, poixun saman (Manchu Sp.), boigon saman (Manchu Writ.), who are not usually the shamans, as they will be later treated, but who may be better regarded as clan officials whose function is that of THE CLAN PRIESTS. I have already shown that the «sha-mans» described in the medere vechere kooli bitxe and other official documents are not shamans but «priests». In the Imperial Family, where no factor of poverty might arrest the growth of this institution, but the factor of almost limitless wealth did influence the overgrowth of this institution, there was little by little created a special social group whose function was to carry on sacrifices. Indeed, it was neither typical nor historically justified in the Manchu complex as a whole, but it has grown because of the need to create something original, different from what was known amongst the Chinese, and to support the governmental organization from the point of view of its connexion with the world of spirits.

The Manchu clan population, as shown in my work on social organisation, was not numerous, so the clans did not need to have a special social group of priests, and owing to the same condition they could not afford to have such a group.

The souls of dead people used to reach the other world without any special intervention on the part of the shamans, yet the p'oyun saman had very little to do with it. The intervention of the shamans was needed only in the case of a reappearance of the souls in the form of spirits, and in the case when the souls of ancestors were already settled in the other world, but needed some attention on the part of living people.

Every clan (mokun) must have a p'oyun saman. The p'oyun saman is appointed by the clan meeting, the candidate being selected amongst the clansmen familiar with the ritual and traditions of the clan. When the Manchus say saman they understand it as «real shaman»; therefore they always use the compound term p'oyun saman. However, there may be several p'oyun saman, even ten and twelve of them, but only one of them would perform functions of clan priest; he would be called ta saman (Manchu Sp.) [da saman (Manchu Writ.)]. Ta saman is elected at the time of the autumnal sacrifice (bolori amsun, — vide infra Section 74), if the old ta saman should refuse to serve his clan or should have died.

Ritualistic tradition is transmitted by ta saman, for young p'oyun saman learn from the experienced ones and under the direction of ta saman. Usually the ta samon opens and concludes the performance. He is always present in all clan sacrifices and he observes that all clan rites be correctly performed. In this function he is like sunga mafa who is defined wuxer'i baitabe alif'i antxozib'e tagilara n'alma e.i. «the man who is attending to all business and guests», in social functions such as, for instance, a wedding ceremony. The functions of ta saman are considered a great honour. One may become p'oyun saman by devotion, as it is common with the women, also in the case of sickness. Here I give an instance which is rather typical. In spite of the fact that the last pig was eaten as a sacrifice to the p'oyun vochko, a young boy died. The father decided to become p'oyun saman and for this purpose he had to spend about fifty dollars for buying pigs, etc. since he had no money (he had no work for a long time!), he borrowed money from other people.

Amongst the New-Manchus the functions of ta saman are performed by the bao ejen, i.e. «the chief of the house-family». Amongst the Chinese (Nikan) there is no p'oyun saman. On the other hand in some old Manchu clans the p'oyun saman introduce into themselves spirits and act like the «real shamans» do. Such is, for instance, the case of narn xala (Nara clan), where the p'oyun saman is even assisted by regular assistant-shamans. The women may also become p'oyun saman. The dress of p'oyun saman consists of a skirt, s'isa, a special head-dress, and drum, in the clans where the spirit may be introduced into p'oyun saman, but the costume may be reduced to a small drum about thirty-five centimetres in diameter, as is usually seen in New-Manchu clans. Details regarding shaman's costume will be discussed later. The p'oyun saman never interferes with diseases and other cases where the «real shaman» is acting. The chief and continuous function of the p'oyun saman is to look after the regularity of sacrifices and prayers to the ancestors, and to preserve purity of rites and prayers. With spreading of written language they began to make books of rites and prayers. However, most of these were imitations of the books of the Imperial clan. After the boxer movement many Manchu clans lost their books and owing to the decrease of knowledge of the Manchu language no restoration was undertaken. In my time, I have seen some books (in manuscripts) of prayers, but found none on detailed description of rites. So that at the present time these are transmitted only through the oral tradition. The rites of clans present great variations as well as the placings for spirits (vide supra). The functions of ta saman and that of p'oyun saman may be reduced to a silent genuflexion and kneeling in front of the placings for spirits, also burning of incense, and the performance may develop into a complex of rites and acts covering days. Some rites will be described later. Naturally the p'oyun saman must keep in secret the number of spirits and rites, for the people belonging to other clans may use their knowledge against the interests of the clan, e.g. by calling spirits and influencing them, «bribing» by sacrifices, etc. This makes of p'oyun saman more than a clan official, but indirectly protector from the clan enemies.

The functions of p'oyun saman naturally extend farther than the simple problem of clan spirits. In fact, they do decide upon the question of division of the clan, for before exogamy can be restricted there must be performed a division of clan spirits, p'oyun vochko. So the usual way of division of the clan is the division of spirits. As shown, when the clan is numerous, division may begin from the division of the placings for spirits, after which there will be a division of spirits and later on a complete division of two clans and permission of intermarriage. This is an interesting case of a social function which must take «religious form» before being effective. Therefore the division of clan may be called merely sorgun fachaxa xaia — «the silk placing split clan», i.e. the clan which has already split the spirits. In this case the p'oyun saman have to decide whether the splitting of the clan is possible or not, whether the marriage between two clans is admitted or not.

Another complex problem faced by the p'oyun saman is regulation of relations between the clan spirits p'oyun vochko and other spirits, particularly shamanistic spirits. We have already seen that sometimes spirits' activity of the shaman may be resented by the clan spirits. Yet, the spirits of outsiders may sometimes mix with the clan spirits when benevolent activity of the clan spirits may be entirely neutralized. It also happens that the spirits of outsiders consume sacrifices given to the clan spirits. Thus the p'oyun saman and especially ta saman must carefully look after the interests of the clan spirits. In the clans where the clan spirits may introduce themselves into the clansmen the functions of the p'oyun saman extend still more for they must help the shaman to bring out the spirit without offending other clan spirits. All these questions being extremely complex, require a great knowledge as to the manifestations of the clan and outside spirits. In case the clan spirits should become very harmful the p'oyun saman cannot help and the «real sha-man» is invited to help. However, the p'oyun saman would take on himself great responsibility when the clansmen invite a «real shaman». This aspect of the clan spirits activity will be discussed later.

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