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80. Mafarism

Amongst the Dahurs and Manchus the mafa are frequently met with. The Dahurs for their designation use the term mafa, which is a loan-word, I suppose, from Manchu. In Manchu they are termed axa mafa, or simply mafa—>mava in plural mavar'i, where the original meaning of mafa is «grandfather», and axa — «slave», «servant», etc. However, mafa ~mava is also applied to a class of spirits already described (vide supra) and dealt with by mafar'i, so that the term for this class of specialists is perhaps connected with this class of spirits. By this term there are designated persons who can deal with some spirits and who possess a special art of divination and partial mastering of spirits by threatening, neutralizing and even destroying them. As methods of influence they use sacrifice, prayers, and transportation of spirits; yet, in some cases they introduce into themselves spirits mafa, and owing to this they are called by the name of spirits, and distinguished from the shamans. The mafa have no shamanistic paraphernalia for their work, no special dress. However, amongst the Manchus they sometimes use drums borrowed from the p'oyun saman or other shamans, if the performance happens to take place in a house where there are drums. On the other hand, they have some professional paraphernalia, of Chinese origin, — from the Chinese doctors, monks and jugglers.

Amongst the Manchus the mafa are supposed to be in intimate relations with the mustela solongo, and perhaps with the hare. These animals after living a very long time, «one thousand years», or «ten thousand years» become «spirit like» and help the mafa. However, the spirits vochko never help the mafa, so that they are usually competent only in what they have practiced and learnt from other mafa. At the present time the Manchus very often use the mafa's talents for a modest remuneration. At the request of the public, at the meeting, they may produce any kind of wine, bread, fruit, by special «supernatural means» which are mere juggler's tricks; they may perform expelling of xutu by a very complex method; they may satisfy with a sacrifice some spirits, e.g. ilxa mama amongst the Manchus; they may deal with various spirits unknown amongst the common people; they may speak, with the help of mafa spirits, any language they wish which gives a particular power in dealing with foreign spirits; they may produce various kinds of tricks which cannot be done by the common people, but which are known to the Chinese travelling jugglers.

From the psychological point of view there is a great difference between the mafa and the shamans; namely, the mafa have any kind of extasy, they do not bring up the audience or themselves to the state of a passionate contact with the spirits. The mafa are not believers in their own art, — they are professionals who live on their profession without any sign of sincerity.

Among the Dahurs the mafa are supposed to be connected with the spirits formed from very old foxes, «one» or «ten thousand years». Here it may be remembered that mustelidiae, foxes, perhaps hare also rats alternate among the groups here discussed. Some mafas have also spirits of sheep, also very old individuals, so that when the mafa wants to predict the future he calls this spirit and imitates the sheep's bleat. The mafas use the same methods both among the Manchus and Dahurs.

We have some hints as to the history of this profession. First of all, it ought to be pointed out that the spirits mafa~mava are a new group introduced into the Manchu complex, whence it reached the Dahurs and furthermore some of the Northern Tungus. It may be supposed that the spirits of this group did not yet exist at the moment when the above discussed Ritual of the Imperial family was composed, i.e. in the eighteenth century. The spirits fuchixi were originally dealt with by the Buddhist monks, but later on the managing of fuch'k'i was undertaken by the mafas. Some elements of the mafa complex definitely point to the Chinese influence, if not even origin. Yet, the Buddhistic and other Chinese monks, - half-medicine men, half-«sorcerers», and generally a professional group, - might originally have no place in the genuine Manchu organization based upon the strictly outlined clan system. There is no little doubt that they were introduced among the Manchus at a very recent time. This new complex has gradually become an indispensable element of the Manchu complex, but it has also been adapted and modified by the Manchus. In the meantime the Buddhistic monks' influence has decreased among the Manchus and these monks have ceased to frequent the Manchus as much as they used to do, — the Manchus have learnt themselves the art of managing fuch'k'i and mafa, as well as other spirits introduced amongst them by the monks and foreigners. It may be supposed that the Manchu specialists had begun by learning methods of dealing with mafa spirit, — whence their designations originated, — afterwards they mastered the art of dealing with Buddhistic spirits. When this art was assimilated, the Manchus began to propagate it amongst their neighbours. It may be thus said that the system in question has resulted from the introduction, adoption and adaptation of a foreign complex within at most the last two centuries, or safer to say, within the last two or three generations. The analysis of the process of assimilation of this system by the Tungus makes still clearer the mechanism of its formation among the Manchus and Dahurs, to which question I shall return a few page's later. Owing to a special character of this complex it ought decidedly to be distinguished from shamanism and the complex used by the common people. Indeed, the persons possessing this art may be called sorcerers, but at the same time, the complex outlined has some characteristic elements of distinction which incline to call the whole system by a special term, namely, mafarism. In fact, mafarism is an evident opposition to shamanism, even a by-product of a negative reaction on shamanism, but at the same time it is based upon the fundamental principle of animism and even voluntary introduction of a spirit (mafa) into the performer which is typical of shamanism. Thus, in mafarism there may be distinguished elements of alien origin such as the jugglers' methods and the professional character of the specialists; the Manchu-Dahur elements, such as prayers, needs, etc.; and on the whole, — shamanistic pattern, — the introduction of spirits.

* * *

For illustration I shall now give some cases of mafarism which I have observed [450].

1. In the Birarchen village Chelu a Dahur speaking his own language, Mongol, Manchu, local Tungus dialect, Chinese, and a little Russian appeared for some performances of mafarism. The meeting was held at night in a Tungus house of Chinese type. The purpose was finding of the cause of sickness of one of members of the family. The mafa was sitting in the middle of the room in complete darkness, by the side of the sick man. Three men were holding the door closed with a rope. Then suddenly fox-mafa spirit arrived and through the performer, who took the pulse of the sick man, began to speak in a low voice. The spirit gave some insignificant advice and the stance was over. After the performance the mafa told stories in different languages.

2. Another case in the same place. An old blind Dahur, -who was styled mafa and even s'en'san (Chinese!) arrived with the purpose of attending several sick people. The people gathered in a house. The mafa ordered the door closed and held so with a rope. Then he put on the table several bottles of «red wine» (coloured Chinese gaolan wine), some nuts, dates, etc. and began to call the mafa spirit. Mafa came with a great noise, suddenly opened the door so that the people who held the door with the rope fell down, and it began to roar and scream. Then the spirit was invited to have a drink, but it produced noises indicating anger and taking possession of a bottle by an experienced movement of slapping the bottom of the bottle with the palm, got the cork out and could be heard to empty the bottle into its mouth. This operation was going on in absolute darkness. Then the blind Dahur began to wrestle with mafa-spirit until the latter became silent. Then another mafa arrived by the same way, from the region of Lungdur kadar (Lundur rock in the neighbourhood of the town Mergen); he began drinking «red wine» and roaring and screaming and repeating in «pidgin-Russian»: «vodka dai, vodka dai, vyp'ju xochu!» («Give wine, I want to drink!»). He also repeated some words in Mongol and Tungus. After this appearance the mafa-performer introduced into the abdomen of the sick man several needles ten centimetres long, one of which was red-hot. When the performance was over the mafa told several stories in different languages [451].

The second performance was not running in a smooth way. Before the performance a Tungus by the name of Daurko wanted to verify whether mafa-spirit would be really present or not, so he promised to light a match during the performance. However, when the time came for the mafa-spirit to arrive the mafa-performer asked:

«Who did want to light a match?»

Nobody answered, so the mafa continued:

«Daurko, come here!»

Daurko had to obey; he approached the Dahur who struck him with a stick three times and ordered him to kneel and to knock his forehead on the ground. Daurko again obeyed and the next morning he had on his head a mark, an evidence of the experience of the disobedience and inquisitiveness of the previous night. I do not need to say that Daurko's intention was communicated to the Dahur mafa before the performance.

It may be here noted that both performances are of the same type: the closed door kept with a rope, required darkness, and speaking different languages. It may be also noted that the performance was carried out with an evident naivety of impressing the Tungus with very simple tricks of cooperation with the assistants who performed spirits' part in the setting of the program. Yet, some Tungus seemingly remained skeptical up to the end. Such a character of mafarism is rather typical, in so far as I could find out from the inquiry of the Tungus.

* * *

Among the Manchus I have seen several performances of the same, or nearly the same, type, also praying and sacrifices which are not interesting enough to be related here in detail. However, there is one of some importance which I shall now give in detail.

XUASEN FUDERE MAFAR'I («flowery tree bringing out specialist») is a night performance which aims to send away the spirits producing trouble. It consists of several parts, of which the first one is called: ajen n’imeku domb’e, — «which sickness descends», or «the finding of cause of sickness». For finding it, the mafar’i, provided he consents to the performance, takes three incense sticks and a cup of wine. Holding in his hand the incense sticks the mafa looks through them into the wine for finding out whether it is a xutu, or mafa, or endur'i who are responsible for sickness. For sending away a xutu, the method xuasen fudemb'e is used. Xuasen is a willow branch with leaves taken off. Instead of leaves there are attached artificial flowers made of paper (white, red, yellow, black and blue) and artificial branches of the tree with leaves all made of paper. Such «beautiful trees» exist in the other (lower) world and they are attractive for xutu. This «tree» is put into a special receptacle x'jaza, wooden and of large size [452] filled up with black or red beans. A model of a shrine, made of birch bark, and a certain number of anthropomorphic «placings», — about ten or thirteen centimetres high, — made of straw are put under the «tree». The number of placings depends on the number of xutu responsible and discovered by mafa. In addition to them there may be made straw-horses on which the xutu is supposed to go away. Behind the «tree» a low table for sacrifice is put on the ground. The sacrifice consists of a boiled cock, «five kinds of fruits» (sun’ja xachin tu bixe jaka) (cf. supra) one of which may be Chinese candies, from fifteen to twenty-five rolls of Chinese bread (mantou) and pieces (about seventy-five centimetres long) of red, white and black cotton tissue. Mafa sitting on an ordinary seat occupies his position behind the table with the sacrifice. He may hold a drum, if such one can be found in the house or in that of neighbours. His aim is to call the xutu and to compel it to accept the sacrifice. When xutu arrives, it takes a place in the anthropomorphic placing made of straw. After a long admonition of xutu, the «tree» and placings are brought out and thrown on a public road. During the transportation of xutu, the mafa and people following him must not look back at the house just left. The xutu is supposed to take the road and leave again for another world. Since the cock and the pieces of cotton tissue are remuneration for the mafa's work, they are handed over to him after the performance. Sometimes mafa may be assisted by the voluntary assistants, as it is with the shamans.

It is different when the troubles come from an endur’i, which cannot be «expelled». In this case endur’i must receive a sacrifice (after the performance handed over to the mafa) offered in day time and endur’i must be admonished to leave the person affected. It ought to be remembered that the only endur'i which produces sickness is apka endur'i, which is also the principal one. The prayers are very elaborate and constitute a special art and individual achievement of mafa, but they are not mere improvisation made ad hoc. However, the ethnographic contents of these prayers is not very rich: — they are compositions of conventional, formalistic expressions. Experienced assistant shamans can carry out some of methods used by axa-mafa, as well. The same can be done by any one who is sure of the sequence of rites to be performed and addresses to be recited.

* * *

In addition to the art of dealing with these spirits the mafas are familiar with some methods of Chinese medical art. Indeed, how extensive is the knowledge of the mafa in this vast field, it is not of my competence to say, but I suppose their knowledge cannot be very deep, for the mafas are not good scholars and they receive no special preparation through a direct contact with the Chinese good doctors. What they assimilate is chiefly some tricks, manners, and fragments of knowledge carried by adventurers to the remote regions of the Aigun district. Yet, the mafas have also assimilated many tricks practiced by the travelling Chinese jugglers who from time to time visit Manchu villages and pretend to possess their art through the intermediary of spirits. The Buddhist and Taoist monks also are not free from methods of deception for impressing their professional influence over «barbarians» of Manchuria, including the Manchu villagers, — for by means of various tricks, known to the jugglers in China, they may be more impressive than by reciting of Chinese philosophers. Some of these tricks were assimilated as real tricks, and conventional performances, but in some cases they were assimilated as quite effective methods of managing spirits, — the point which could not be entirely destroyed by the foreign (Chinese) influence. The Manchu mafa when using various methods, evidently borrowed, did sincerely believe in the possibility of controlling spirits' activity. It may be also noted that in the process of adaptation of this complex the Manchus have introduced their own idea of «mastering» mafa-spirits by the specialists. Therefore from the Manchu point of view the difference between mafa-performers and shamans is that of difference of the mastered spirits, — mafa and vochko. One meets with this as a formulation of the difference, amongst the Manchus. We have seen that amongst the Dahurs these functions have been still increased with telling of stories in different languages which now forms a distinct character of this profession. So the entertainment of idle people has become one of the functions of mafa.

Since mafa-performers were quite successful in dealing with some spirits and in some special cases, the field of their potential activity has greatly increased. At the present time, they are called by the people in cases of need of fortune-telling, medical treatment, expelling of some spirits, praying to the spirits which are controlling children diseases, and many other occasions including the festivals when one wants to have a good entertainer to tell stories and to sing. It is also interesting at which historic moment, namely, the moment of an intensive contact with a foreign group, — with the Chinese, — it appeared amongst the Manchus; and in which social surrounding and organization its appearance was possible, — namely under the conditions of a further disintegration of the clan and social differentiation of the Manchu population. Yet, there is one more Interesting point; namely, the psychological type (including individual complex and ethnographical complex in which they are formed) which supplies the candidates for this profession. I have many a time observed amongst the Manchus. and it has also been confirmed by my observations amongst the Dahurs and Tungus, that the mafas are usually quite normal persons, somewhat lazy, in so far as regular and common work is concerned, very quick in the orientation in anew situation, self confident, greedy of personal gain (profit), inclined to disregard the choice of means for reaching their aims, on some occasion impertinent, on the other -cowardly, - i.e. what, in common language of city low class populations is called «clever», «smart», and «leaders». Indeed, a social type could grow only in the conditions in which the Manchus were already shaken in their interethnical and internal ethnical position. The same is true of the Dahurs and, as will be shown, of the Tungus. Such a monopolizing of various functions by the mafa and selection of individuals for this function is a very interesting phenomenon from the ethnological point of view, i.e. particularly the process of variations of ethnographical phenomena. Indeed, the existence of mafarism is quite ephemeral. It may be predicted that on the condition of preservation of the same course of the process, it will very soon disappear [453].

450. It is interesting to note that the mafas did not like my presence at their performances. In all cases I could attend the meetings only because of the Manchus and Tungus who wanted me to be present. So on their insistance I could attend them, even in spite of a certain opposition of mafas.

451. He told an interesting story about the first shaman. It may be pointed out that this story was considered as genuine and of good source for the Dahurs are versed in these questions, while the Tungus are not. The story was not textually recorded by me so I do not reproduce it here.

452. x'jaza corresponds to xijase of Manchu Writ, loaned from Chinese siadzy, according to P. P. Schmidt. However, it is not merely «Kiste, Kasten», as P. P. Schmidt translates, but it used to be a unit of measure for grain and beans, an important element of the Manchu complex.

453. Amongst the so-called civilized groups, especially those which do not possess great internal stability such a temporary monopolizing of various functions and very general success, amongst low classes of populations, are common, too. It may be seen, for instance, in an exeptional monopolizing for popular treatment of all branches of theatrical art and music, by the music-halls, movies and talkies.

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