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131. A Case Of Election Among The Manchus

I give in this section the description of a case which may bring some light as to the actual and present mechanism of shamanism. I give almost totally, only slightly retouched, my record from the diary, preceded by preliminary information relating to the history of the case and the participants, as well as to my own part in it.

The candidates, as well as the actor A, have already been described in the previous section under Case 3. The other important participants were: (1) the old shaman whom I knew rather well, and whom I observed many times in performances; (2) the member of the jury, Chuntin, who was not of the clan wujala, but who was one of the greatest authorities on shamanism (he was a p'oyun saman) and for this quality was asked to assist the case; (3) another member of the same jury called «an old man of wujala» whose opinion counted; (4) a third member of the jury, whose opinion was not of importance, — the man was too old; (5) an influential member of the community, E. The operation took place in January 1917, in the village Kalunsan (Oforo Tokso in Manchu). As shown before, the case was extremely difficult because of the hidden conditions of the female candidate C. The case was still more difficult, because the Chinese authorities did not permit the carrying out of the performance — shamanism being formally forbidden. Being on very friendly terms with most of the above indicated participants, A, Chuntin, the old shaman, E and D, and having had under my observation, for a period over a year, both candidates, I was not considered as a stranger. All these people were convinced of my competence as to the conditions, ritual and spirits of shamanism and the individuality of the candidates. In fact, on various occasions I could give good advice concerning the persons who suffered from the spirits, or who needed ordinary medical treatment (I used to send them with my note to a professional physician). Moreover being on «friendly relations» with the local authorities, I was fortunate to obtain the permission for carrying out this prohibited performance, which in its turn created still closer relations with the people and even the clans involved, and at last I was asked to join the jury as its fourth member. This permitted me to be in close contact with all participants and at the same time left me a certain freedom of action making me one of those who did not disturb the actors. It should also be noted that, by that time, I had already learnt the art of assistant shaman and, when necessary, I did perform such duties.

A few days before the beginning, a complete set of pictures (n'urgan), which represented all shamanistic spirits of the clan, was brought from a village situated on the sumbira (the Sun River). Two shaman costumes were needed for the candidates, one of them for the female candidate was supplied from my ethnographical collection, and another was found elsewhere. After spending a few days talking over the matter, I found out that the participants, and generally the «public opinion», were in favour of creating a new shaman. However, I found that some of these people wished most to have an interesting performance and the concomitant feasts, and some were joking about the event. Continuous discussions as to the nature of the spirits and their wishes were going on the whole time. Then a day for the performance was fixed and the people assembled. A, who was the husband of one of the candidates and the brother of another, was especially nervous about the coming event, so he always returned to discuss the matter with me, in general and in detail. The communications of A, who was supposed to be familiar with the spirits of his clan, were immediately communicated to the participants. The distribution of the participants is shown in Fig. below. The shaman and the candidate were moving. Four pictures were hung up on birch branches in front of them (vide supra) and two tables were put on the bed-stove. On the table of the wujala clan the following things could be seen: a sacrifice of 3 times 5, i.e. fifteen, rolls of Chinese bread and a chicken (with all parts uncut), a model of a Buddhistic shrine, with a Buddha inside, and four sticks of burning incense on top of it. This Buddha was employed by the old shaman as a mastered spirit fuch'k'i [648]. One of the four sticks of incense was especially assigned to Buddha. On the table of the old shaman there were 3 times 5, i.e. fifteen, rolls of Chinese bread and a large brass mirror in front of which three sticks of incense were burning.

By eight o'clock the jury and the old shaman had finished a copious dinner which consisted of a big dish — the xogoza (a kind of low samovar in which, at the choice of the guests, all kinds of meat and vegetables are cooked in an excellent chicken soup) — with a moderate libation, so that the mood of these people was rather good. About one hundred, or perhaps more, were attending the performance and gradually occupied their places. The secretary took his place at the table of the wujala clan to keep the record; the members of the jury occupied places near the tables and the ground for action, in order to be ready to come to the aid of candidates, if needed. A dozen, or thereabouts, of old men, very honourable persons, were sitting next to the jury. Nearer to the entrance, the places were occupied by the clansmen of a certain age in a number limited only by the size of the big room, perhaps twenty or thirty persons. Near to the entrance the ground was occupied by four permanent assistants. However, at critical moments of the performance, even members or the jury acted as assistants.

1. The old shaman, this time assisted by Chuntin, drummed and prayed to his spirits. The important spirit xele mava arrived and, through the shaman and in the interpretation of Chuntin, declared that it was necessary to produce a new shaman. The old shaman continued his praying to the spirits, asking them not to mingle with the spirits of wujala clan.

2. One man brought the news that a spirit had come into the candidate C. The old shaman and some other people went to her. Before the performance she had been in a state o great excitement. Now she was in the adjacent house, lying on the stove bed and making «arch» from time to time; her pulse was 92, her breathing irregular and her eye closed. Before our coming she had told her mother-in-law that the deceased shaman [who had been her lover (vide supra Section 128, Case 3), the husband of the old woman (mother-in-law) and the father of her husband] had come to her. The old woman, a sister of the candidate and the second candidate's wife, sat near her crying. The old shaman spoke to the candidate and wished first to establish friendly relations between the spirits, because the spirits of her native clan and those of his own clan used always to be friendly and were of common origin. Then he invited C to go to the other house and very carefully lead her forward repeating something rapidly and in a low voice. Candidate C was trembling violently all over. She was taken (to the upper left-hand corner) and put on the stove-bed under the pictures, as shown in Fig. above. The «arch» continued and the eyes were closed showing distinct photophobia. The shaman sat by her side, calling the spirits and speaking to them, in the meantime I noticed among the persons present one who fell into extasy. Fiercely howling in rhythm with the assistants (he was almost speechless) he cried out incoherently (he had also some other physical defects). Suddenly the candidate C sat up on the stove-bed and firmly declared that the performance must be quickly carried out, that everything must be finished on the morrow, instead of in five days, as it was intended. Then a meeting of the jury and the old shaman was held. After a long deliberation, it was decided to ask cholo and, if she could tell it, to make of her a shaman. While the preparations were made, it was possible to inquire as to the attitude of the audience.

The opinion was in favour of candidate C. Even a great friend, Chuntin, whose daughter had a love-affair with A (the latter usually slept in Chuntin 's house, especially when the daughter was visiting her mother) showed a favourable attitude towards C, in spite of the fact that A himself did not wish his legal wife to become a shaman. However, how sincere Chuntin was I do not know; he had occupied a small official position with the Manchu government for a long time, so he must have been familiar with cunning tricks. He now advanced the idea that it is easy to find out, whether a candidate really has a spirit, or is simply feigning; it is sufficient to prick the candidate with a needle, if a spirit is present, the candidate will not feel any pain: if she refuses to be pricked, it will be indicative that, either there is a «sickness», or the candidate is trying to fool the people. On this occasion Chuntin related a case from his own experience. A shaman pretended to have a spirit; however, Chuntin asked him various questions, as to the details and especially the implements used by the spirit, which the impostor failed to answer; then Chuntin took from the shaman a written obligation to attend to Chuntin's needs during ten years without any remuneration, even if assistance to a dying chicken or pig should be needed.

The authoritative man E, as well as the member of the jury D, were in favour of the candidate C. I naturally joined the opinion of these authorities, although A seemed to be discouraged and the candidate B looked gloomy. The hidden reason seemed to be that the brothers did not wish their father to become a vochko, which would happen if the candidate C became a shaman (and this possibility is even denied on theoretical grounds: the soul of a man, whose head was cut of, cannot become vochko), for the new spirit will not be favourable to the brothers who did not fulfill their duties of filial piety (Chinese complex!).

3. Since it had been decided by the jury to proceed with the trial of candidate C, she was prepared for the performance. The old shaman prayed to his spirits and to those of the wujala clan. The wujala clansmen fell on their knees in front of the picture, beat the ground with their foreheads, set up burning incense and prayed to the spirits. The same was done by the candidate C. She was evidently afraid of the coming trial and was trembling, although no signs of a hysterical fit were seen. The women arranged her hair, as it is done for girls, in two long plaits [649]; the skirt and belt with long conical trinkets (s'isha) were put on. When she was dressed, she was almost unable to go out of the house to the spot where a kind of long table with a great number of burning sticks of incense had been prepared. She was helped by many people, including the old shaman, and was almost carried out on the arms of these people. Held up in a standing position by two men. her mouth wide open, she breathed the smoke of incense. The old shaman called the spirits. Then the spirit mama saman (vide supra) came. However, the man who was holding her asserted that there was no spirit, the candidate was not trembling as much as she should be in the presence of a spirit like mama saman. The old shaman was furiously jumping and dancing around her, urging her by his movements to come into the house. Hesitating and artlessly drumming, she entered. The old shaman, always in a rhythmic «dancing», began to push her from all sides with his sides and back. The impact was so strong that sometimes both of them fell back in opposite directions. The old shaman took the candidate in his arms and turned her about in the middle of the room. One man held her by the belt. Still no extasy came and she could not fail down on the ground (which is required by the ritual); several times she tried to do it, but she could not fall, and at last dropped down on the rug in a semi-sitting position instead of falling backward «like a stick», being supported by a man. I surmised that perhaps the man who was helping her was not of those who wished to make her a shaman and intentionally did not give her his assistance to prevent her being hurt in failing. Therefore, I pushed away the man and occupied his place holding the candidate by the belt from behind. From this position I could much better follow her and could observe her reactions in the performance.

4. The old shaman asked her to start the cob (list of spirits) during which the spirits are supposed to come, one by one. The candidate was trembling slightly, but in all parts of the body. However, for a very long time she could not start her reciting. As a matter of fact, the drum was wet (not dry enough and barely dried), the husband A was continually interfering with his remarks and other persons were laughing at her. I noticed a man who was even pushing her and evidently provoking acts which are unforeseen by the ritual. I did my beat to protect her and asked for a fresh drum. Chuntin was furious — he insulted and threatened her. Finally, after three hours from the beginning of her fit, she began to introduce into herself, one by one, manifestations of the mama saman row. One after another the series of female vochko came. She could describe them; they declared that they had no master; the old shaman (her lover) had not used them for performances; they felt themselves offended by this attitude of the late shaman. Instead of going ahead with the other spirits, the deceased shaman was allowed to come again. He declared that his image must be made, that various inscriptions and «money» (in paper as used in the Chinese complex) must be burned on his tomb, for he was executed without being guilty; his soul could not find peace, but might attain it, if everything was done which he had required. In spite of this valuable information and steps later undertaken accordingly, the audience became furious that the candidate C could not go ahead with cob. She was immediately accused of making a joke out of a serious matter. Chuntin said that when a man is treated, some minor cheating is allowed, but if the question concerns clan spirits, one must be strict and careful, and perfectly honest and sincere, for the matter of clan spirits is the greatest matter which exists. A was desperate. He said that he had organized everything on his own responsibility, without formally consulting his clansmen (actually the clansmen had been privately consulted before the performance) [650] therefore such a scandalous issue would not affect the clan, but only A alone and personally. The jury was called again, as well as the old shaman and other seniors. From the discussions it was clear that the general desire of the influential persons was that (candidate C should not become a shaman. They said that the female spirits had refused to have a female shaman and that the male spirits did not want to have a male shaman, and furthermore, since the chief spirit xele mafa was a male, there must be a male shaman. However, there were voices in favour of candidate C. So the influential man E said that the candidate C was a sincere and good person, and that she had a spirit, in order to clear up some more details I maintained his opinion by bringing evidences of her having had spirits, of the unreliability of the cholo test, the fact that the drum had been bad etc. This discussion helped to clear up some uncertain points. After the discussion the husband A took me aside and told me all the details of his family tragedy which, in fact. I knew only in part and from other persons. The situation was clear; the candidate C was rejected and by her husband's frank declaration, in a state of great excitement, I could no longer maintain my position. The influential man E, being informed of the family affairs still maintained his former opinion.

At the beginning of the discussion the spirit was «called back» and she was left alone in another room, permitted me to continue my observation: the nervous fit was not over. After one hour of rest she again dressed her hair, and returned to the room, where the performance was going on. She was exhausted, very sad and depressed, but she was memorizing every word of cob, at that moment already started by her competitor, candidate B. But it was too late to learn the cholo, as had been done by the candidate B before the decisive day of trial.

5. During the discussion which continued a long time, while the old shaman was resting, it was decided that the candidate B should shamanize. I asked the candidate B, whether this time he would be successful or not, and he replied with a firm assurance: «there are spirits, and there is cholo ». This reply made me understand that he knew the list of spirits. However, I was informed by many persons, that the «grandfather» (which means one of the superior to the father's generation-clan) who was a keeper of tradition and who, according to my information, had been visited for the purpose of cholo, did not tell him the cholo. Of course, one can learn cob not only from the «grandfather», and the candidate B could do the same from other people who had attended the periodical sacrifices of the late shamans. From all these doubtful statements and the general behaviour of the participants it was evident that the clan leaders wanted candidate B to become shaman and they admitted as truth, perhaps sincerely believing in what they wished to be the truth. The candidate B with the air of an experienced man, smiling and behaving rather arrogantly, put on the skirt and belt (s'isha) and was ready for action. The old shaman prayed to his own spirits and the spirits of the wujala clan. The wujala clansmen knelt in front of the picture, put up burning incense and heartily prayed to the spirits, as had been done with the candidate C. The old shaman and candidate B both remained standing in front of the tables. The old shaman called his spirits and xele mava entered him. Then there was repeated, in the same order and without variations what has been described above in section 3. The only difference was that the candidate B behaved as an experienced performer: he drummed well. (The drum was always prepared by A and other assiduous assistants and when needed changed.) He made strong movements with his back (to produce s'isha noise), he danced well, strongly pushed the old shaman and, when he «felt down like a stick» (actually he sat down!). He was trembling much more intensively than the candidate C had trembled and the trembling occurred exactly when it was required by the ritual, while this was not so with the candidate C who had been trembling the whole time. According to the man who was holding the belt, «he was trembling but not very intensively; anyhow the spirit was there». Then the old shaman proceeded with the cholo. The candidate B successfully went on with nine spirits and suddenly stopped. Then it was found out that the p'oyun vochko had interfered with the performance. It was necessary to call them and pray them to allow the performance to continue. As soon as this difficulty was removed, the performance con-tinued. Slowly and not without difficulties, the candidate recited though in a very much abbreviated manner, all of the spirits. The participants greatly enjoyed this achievement. I was told that the detailed inquiry would be made later. The spirit was allowed to leave and the candidate, half unconscious, very tired with limp limbs, and wet with perspiration was carried to the k'ang. A kind of deep satisfaction filled the participants. Everything was good — the new shaman knew cholo; he could introduce spirits; he could drum and sing. The old shaman was proud. Then a ritual was carried out: thanksgiving to the spirits by the old shaman while the new shaman was soundly sleeping under the pictures. It was already 5 a.m. The performance had lasted nine hours. After a meal (a very late supper) the audience dispersed, in order to take a rest.

SECOND DAY. A visited the tomb of his father (shaman) in a village situated a few kilometers away where he burnt the image etc. i.e. did all that had been required as revealed through the candidate C the night before. A asked the grandfather mentioned before an old man of seventy-eight to come and participate in the performance. The old man was brought at nine p.m. when the performance was already going on and occupied a place by the side of the old shaman's table.

The performance began at 8 p.m. in the same disposition of the performers and audience. The same sacrifices were put on the tables and the same pictures were hung up. The performance began with a prayer to the spirits. The old shaman called the xele mava spirit which arrived. The old shaman was furiously drumming while the candidate B, after having put on the skirt and s'isha danced in front of the pictures. Little by little he reached a great excitement and rushed out. Standing in front of the table with the incense he breathed the smoke until the spirit xele mava (of the wujala clan) entered him. The old shaman tried to lead the candidate into the house, loudly drumming all the time making a great noise with the belt and rhythmically stamping the ground with his feet. The candidate came into the hall and showed signs of his intention to go back into the yard. The old shaman barred the entrance with his body and sometimes beating the candidate with the heavy trinkets of s'isha compelled him to enter the room of the performance. Then the dancing of the two shamans was performed, so that after changing their respective positions they bumped each other with their backs with great force which produced a loud noise from the s'isha. The dancing is supposed to go on until the candidate attains the state of extasy and falls down like a stick aided by a man who supported him. (However, apparently this did not occur, for one leg was not like a stick; the candidate supported himself with the leg which was not rigid at all.) This produced an impression and the audience began to bring the performer to his senses, because he might have died the soul being absent for too long a time.

Finally the candidate B sat down trembling. He made an attempt to run away, but a strong man caught him by the belt and kept him. The old shaman started his inquiry. At first the candidate replied inconsistently, but afterwards he began the enumeration of the spirits. The grandfather and jury were listening carefully to every word and the secretary was writing down what was said. An exchange of drinks was done: the spirit xele mava gave, on the drum, two small cups of Chinese wine to the grandfather who passed them to the candidate, who drank the wine without taking the cup into his hands. The candidate again made a mistake with the row of spirits. The spirit was sent off. Another spirit was introduced outside of the house and the candidate was brought back on the arms of several people who put him on the stove-bed. He «slept».

A meeting of the jury was convoked. This time, with the participation of the «grandfather», a difficult problem was discussed, namely, what was to be done, since the candidate did not know the row of spirits just recited. The «grandfather» was very gloomy. Still more gloomy was A, who with a dry face and the corners of his mouth gone, was walking up and down the room. The «grandfather» was interviewed as to the points in which the candidate had failed. The old man explained that he thought the candidate could hear what was being talked about. The candidate was awakened and a new spirit was introduced. The candidate named, almost without an error the spirits of the new row and went again to «sleep». In the meantime the «grand-father» was again interviewed as to other rows of spirits; some point were especially emphasized by A and his mother who was in the room, when no spirits were acting. Once more the. candidate arose; this time the spirit xele mava came again and the candidate, glancing at the pictures, went on rather smoothly with the enumeration of the spirits although he omitted the biographical details which were required. Once more the spirit was changed and mama saman on which candidate C had failed arrived. It was not easy to call in mama saman which like all other great spirits will not come at once. She was called in for three quarters of an hour. This time Chuntin was helping by correcting the names and the candidate turned his eyes hopefully in Chuntin's direction.

I used this opportunity for making my inquiry as to the public opinion. There were persons who said that such a hopeless performance was entirely fault. He and his mother did not want candidate C to become shaman, but A wanted someone else to remove the spirits for ever. Chuntin thought that candidate B was a lazy and dishonest («he does not pay his debts», he said) man who wanted to be shaman. It was clear that the candidate was helped by other people and he would never be a good shaman, the other people said. Others said that one of the causes of such a situation was that the methods with the trial by fire (a pit with charcoal) or with a stick covered with oxen intestines (the candidate must be able to hold the stick. which is pulled by several strong men) and other good methods implied by introducing group buku and mangi had been given up in the wujala clan. Some people were much dissatisfied and left the performance before its conclusion. However, A said that although he (the candidate B) does not know all spirits he still knows something. Some persons supposed that A's idea was to make his brother shaman and then to rid himself of the trouble of looking after his wife who was sick from spirits and needed a treatment by the new amba saman of their clan. A was greatly criticized for this attitude. The influential man E supported his own point of view by criticizing the method of the trial with colo. He himself and Chuntin knew cholo by heart and they were practising assistants functions, so that they might easily have become shamans, if tried on Cholo; as to the trembling, it can be produced after a short training, so it is not convincing, therefore there must be something else. He said that A's wife had a «straight heart» and she might be a good shaman. There was, however, another point of view, namely, since the performance was carried out and the spirits had been named, though with the help of other persons, and since there was trembling, the candidate could be admitted, for everything required by cholo and kooli had been fulfilled. Such a formalization or shamanism is supported by the instances taken from the Mongol and Chinese complexes. In a somewhat depressed mood this day was finished with the usual thanksgivings to the spirits and the late supper after 5 a.m.

And so the performance continued for six nights. I shall not repeat the occurrences, but shall now point out some facts of interest. The spirit of the unfortunate father of the candidate B once entered him and expressed his great dissatisfaction with A, who did not show him any mark of esteem («piety complex»), and declared that he had become a spirit (vochko) of the clan (even though as shown above this possibility was at first rejected). The wrong was left with A. The latter promised to give a good sacrifice of a large pig to the spirits of the new shaman; naturally his intention was to build up a bridge for the restoration of relations between himself and his father's soul which was now a spirit. Indeed, he had already spent much money (two pigs — $39.00 incense and straw for the stoves $15.00 altogether more than $56.00), but he hoped that other clansmen, even those of his wife, would help him. Although the new shaman did not know all of the spirits and could name only part of them, he seemed to have reached extasy on the last day of the performance and fell down unconscious, «as white as paper, so that it was distressing to look at him», and the public opinion turned in his favour; he had «power» and for a long time there had not been such a good shaman. On the sixth night, a sacrifice was offered to the spirits of the old shaman — a cock and Chinese bread, and two pigs were eaten by the participants, as a sacrifice to the spirits of the new shaman.

In my diary I find my conclusive impression from this performance: «It is the crepuscule du chamanisme.» But that was only my impression, perhaps formed after very tiresome observations. This opinion I am inclined not to repeat, but to modify as follows; an interesting case or readaptation of shamanism to the new cultural complex, in consequence of a partial disintegration of the clan and of the ethnical disintegration of the Manchus.

648. Among the Manchu shamans the mastering of Buddha is a rare occurrence.

649. It should be noted that the reason for dressing the hair in girl's fashion cannot be theoretically explained. The woman with her high hair-dress cannot put on the shaman's head-dress (crown), and when she is performing, her hair would become disordered. By this remark, I do not mean to say that perhaps in some other ethnical groups she must be «girl-like». It is not so among the Manchus and Tungus.

650. In fact, A could not act in loco of his clan, for there were seniors who lege artis had to assemble and to decide what to do. But evidently they had refused to take the initiative and had allowed A to go ahead, without refusing to attend the meeting and consult as a clan body, and were now facing a fait accompli.

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