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120. Assistant Of The Shaman

In the above given descriptions of particular cases of shamanizing and in the analysis of the technique we have already several times met with the active role of the assistants. In the matter of technique, a great part of the success of a performance depends upon the assistant. From a description of the assistant's functions the actual role of the assistant will be clear. As far as I know, there are two terms for the «assistant», namely, erow (Bir, Kum.) and jari (Bir. Kum. RTM, Manchu Sp.). The first one is perhaps connected with the verb er(u) (Turn. Mank.). — «to pull, to draw, to carry», etc.; in fact the erow is «pulling» the shaman, «helping» him. The second one is perhaps connected with jar, jara (RTM), — «the shaman's song»; jar'imbi; (Manchu Writ.), — «to sing prayers», etc. when the services are performed (Zax.) [Buddhistic and «shamanistic» (p'oyun saman, evidently)] [625]. The assistance of erow or jar; consists in helping the shaman to maintain his ecstasy and to find out what the spirit says and wants, when it is introduced into the shaman. Thus, the assistant, at the beginning of the performance, prepares the drum and helps the shaman to dress himself. During the performance he changes and dries the drum, if necessary, but this may be done by any one of the audience. When the shaman sings, the assistant must «help him with the repetition of the retrains, and usually other people follow the assistant. When the shaman can no longer do himself the drumming, the assistant carries on the drumming and in this way helps the shaman to maintain his extasy. The assistant may also maintain and enforce the state of extasy by rhythmically screaming and by exciting the shaman. When the spirit enters the shaman, the assistant asks various questions and even bargains and quarrels with the spirit, if necessary. When the shaman falls down unconsciousness the assistant watches him to know the moment when the shaman must be brought back to consciousness. When the shaman is in a state of extasy, the assistant takes the drum and continues the drumming, both for maintaining the shaman's state of extasy and for controlling the behaviour of the audience. These functions are very important for a successful carrying out of the whole performance as regards the result, the assurance of the smoothness of the performance and the shaman's personal safety. A good assistant, who is familiar with the shaman's character, his ways of performing, his language and complex of spirits etc., may make the performance easy and smooth, and would get out of it a much greater result, than an assistant who lacks the qualities and fitness. An assistant, who is not experienced in general and who does not know the shaman whom he is assisting, may turn the performance into a torture for the shaman and will lessen the results of the shamanizing. Thus there are good and bad assistants, and good assistants are rare. The quality of an assistant depends upon his familiarity with the shamanizing, his acquaintance with the shaman, and his general intelligence. No assistants are met with among some Tungus groups that have been investigated. For instance, among the Reindeer Tungus of Transbaikalia I have not heard of assistants, although there were some persons who usually helped the shamans by keeping time, singing refrains, etc. The Tungus of Manchuria told me that the institution of erow (Jar’i) is a recent one, and that originally there were no assistants. I admit that this statement is correct. According to the Manchus, the assistants were established by the first shaman, in fact Nisan Saman had a regular assistant ta jar'i, i.e. the chief assistant; so there were even several assistants.

During the performance of the annual sacrifice, when the spirits come one after another into the shaman, the latter asks the question: takam'i takaraku? — «do you recognize?» — which greatly abbreviates the performance, if the assistant can guess at once. When the assistant cannot guess, the shaman gives a hint by naming the row (faidan), and the assistant usually enumerates, one after another, the spirits, till he reaches the introduced spirit. Therefore the shamans like to have assistants experienced in the work. Usually ta jar'i knows by heart all the ritualistic recitals of spirits and the whole ritual. Some forms of shamanizing, as will be shown, may require several assistants, so that «leading assistants», as opposed to ordinary ones, are distinguished.

Any one may become assistant to a shaman: a man, a woman, a young or elderly person. However, among the Manchus, a woman does not perform the functions of an assistant. The shaman may have one and the same assistant, or he may have several assistants, or no assistant at all. The function of the assistant may as well be carried out by persons incidentally present [626]. Generally speaking assistants are not persons of fixed and definite social standing, but at the same time if there are several assistants, one of them may be preferred by the shaman. Such an assistant may thus assume a special social function, whence a special social position will distinguish him, or her. As a special characteristic of the assistants it should be noted that almost as a rule, they are not inclined to become themselves shamans. One of the reasons is perhaps that the assistant must not allow himself to be overcome by extasy, but must carefully follow the shaman, to observe and, when needed, to come to his assistance. There is a special selection of persons who are not susceptible to extasy, but who understand the essentials of the performance. If besides the performing shaman, there were another shaman, the latter might perform the duties of an assistant. As will be shown, the old shaman who is «teaching» a young one, may perform the duties of assistant too. As a matter of fact, in his first performances the new shaman is usually assisted by experienced shamans.

When a shaman is performing, helping is not confined to his assistant alone. When a shamanizing is difficult, the people present at the performance may assist the shaman, as well. Besides drying the drum, and especially in forming a sympathetic audience, help is, first of all, lent by the singing of refrains, in observing shamanizing, I have found out that the functions of assistants are usually performed by men, while a great number of females make up the chorus, among the Manchus the females are less active than males, and in some performances of clan shamanizing they are even not present. The institution of assistants in the complex of p'oyun saman is different. The assistants are clan officers and the females are not allowed to «help». The function of assistants is carried out by the saman, while the chief priest is ta saman.

625. The above given Tungus etymology of erow is perhaps not correct, in fact, the Mongol language may be the source of this word; cf. eriku to «investigate» [«demander, s'informer, prier» (Kow.)] eril — «demande, priere», etc. which render the meaning of erow as one who is investigating what the shaman says. The Tungus term has no great importance and the possibility of the omission of this term in other groups must be admitted, in fact, the Tungus use it very rarely, as will be clear from the description. Another term jar'i, ought perhaps to be also connected with a Mongol stem. In Manchu Writ, it has not been recorded, the verb jar'imbi is isolated, the jar'i («assistant») does not sing or pray. In Mongol we have the stem jar used in words expressing of the idea of «to serve, to send», etc. which corresponds to the function of jar'i. In Manchu Writ, jar'imbi may be of a secondary origin. Cf. Yakut stem jary in jarygyla, — «to busy one's self with the same, to attend, to investigate (e g. a sickness)», etc. (Pek. p. 795) which may be carried further to the stems met with in other languages, such as d'ar (V), etc. (V), etc. For these reasons I do not insist on the Tungus «origin» of these terms.

626. During my work among the Tungus and Manchus, when I was acquainted with the technique of shamanizing and especially the language, I sometimes performed the duties of an assistant. The first time when I ventured to do it, was an exceptional case among the Birarchen. The shaman had no assistant and was in a rather difficult position, the reason being that some Chinese were present who were very hostile to the shaman, so that the usual assistants did not do their duty, under the pressure of «public opinion». Since the case seemed to me exceptional, I began assisting, and as I did not disturb the shaman in shamanizing, it was very encouraging for me and did open new possibilities for my investigations, and especially for the penetration into the psychology of the shamans and into the technique of the performance.

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