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137. Character And Ability Of The Shaman

I have already pointed out, on different occasions, that the personal character and the individual ability of the shaman are of great importance. From among the candidates the more intelligent and skilful would be elected. The character of the candidate is also taken into consideration. If the candidate has a «good heart», he may be allowed to become shaman, but if he manifests bad inclinations, he will be rejected. However, sometimes a «bad heart» shows itself only after the election. In fact, the Tungus recognize that there are good and bad-natured acting shamans. However, the situation is complicated by the fact that the shaman may act under the influence of the spirits, some of which may be very bad. So personally some shamans may be very good, but as shamans not sufficiently powerful, they are unable to prevent the spirits from doing harm to the people. The same is true with reference to the personal ability of the shaman, which may be attributed to the spirits [skilful spirits are in this respect called balbuka (Bir. vide supra)] and not to the shaman personally. Thus, in this respect, there is no definite idea as to the relation between the shaman and the spirit. I had sometimes the impression that in the Tungus mind both the shaman and the spirit are the same. This ought to be understood in the following sense there is no question as to the personal ability of the shaman, but the question is about the spirits which have been mastered by him; thus the spirit are nothing else but an alter ego of the shaman himself. Another point of view is that the shaman and the spirits exist independently. In the latter stating of the problem the individual moral and intellectual character of the shaman ought to be taken into consideration. An intelligent person may better manage the spirits and direct their activity as desired.

The idea of bad natured shamans is especially in vogue among the Birarchen. They believe that almost all dona shamans are harmful and bad persons, while an exception is made for the clan shamans. However, even the clan shamans may be bad persons, but they can harm only alien people, i.e. outside o the clan, for the clan spirits would not harm the clan people. The shamans of other groups are considered as dangerous and usually bad natured persons. I shall revert to this question later when the Tungus attitude towards the shamans is discussed.

What is symbolized by the Tungus as the possession of good spirits is the shaman's personal talent in dealing with the situations which confront him. We have seen that he must be a good observer and psychologist when he makes his diagnosis. A good shaman may better define whether his interference can help or not, while a poor shaman will act according to the ritual, trying different methods. The art of diagnostics is attributed to the spirits. However, some shamans whom I have seen and known rather intimately were considered as good, while I was unable to notice any special manifestations of their intelligence. On the other hand, I have met with some shamans who were rather superior in their intelligence, in a common sense of the word, but they were not good shamans. To come to a correct definition of the intellectual ability of a Tungus is not an easy task, and in the shamans practice the chief method is perhaps not that which results from the intelligence as it is manifested in dealing with common phenomena.

Those shamans who were considered as having a bad heart, as far as I could find out from the concrete cases described and from shamans whom I knew personally, were affected by some psychoses, in which state they might commit acts of hostility towards other people. Such shamans are accused of plotting against the people and domesticated animals, in the same way as it was described in the preceding section.

Here I will give some facts gathered among the Birarchen.

A young man, a good hunter, failed to kill animals. He went a second time. His father, an old and rather rich man (he had some savings and twenty horses) reasoned so: there must be some malicious shamans who interfere by means of their spirits, for the son is an excellent hunter. The old man even knows a shaman who is jealous of his son's success in hunting, so the old man said to me in joke: «It would be good if you would take with you all spirits.»

Here I give a typical story, recorded among the Birarchen, about a bad-hearted shaman. «In the clan dunankan there was an old shaman who had a very «bad heart». He used to play bad tricks on people, some of whom lost their horses, others their children. Then four shamans decided to exterminate him. Once he went out to collect birch bark. He left his canoe and went to the outskirts of the forest. When he approached the first trees he saw a bear and a tiger which immediately attacked him (the bear and the tiger were spirits sent by the four shamans). With his axe he could defend himself and even fight these two animals, and he retreated to his canoe. When he was near it, he said: 'Well, now I shall exterminate all of them (the people).' When he reached his wigwam, he put on himself his shamanistic costume and shamanized three days and three nights, after which he suddenly died. However, before his death he said to the people who were near him: 'All the same! All of you will follow me!' Indeed, such a death was very bad, for the spirit had remained after the shaman and was travelling from one family to another, and all clansmen suffered. The spirit could not be taken in by other people, for it did not want to have any other master besides the deceased shaman.»

When I was among this group, the question of sending off this spirit was discussed, it was said that a good (strong) shaman might send it off in three or at most five years, but only with difficulty. Indeed, they discussed, it would be good to send the spirit to a region, where there are no dunankan clansmen. But even for a temporary exile of the spirit a copious sacrifice of a pig; a roe-deer and wood-cocks, besides the services of a good shaman, would be required. A year before my visit one of the sons of one of the clansmen, in spite of a copious sacrifice, had died, because of this spirit. However, this time the wrong was with the father who did not fulfil the prescription: instead of two roe-deer and three wood-cocks, he gave only one roe-deer and two wood-cocks. The father did feel somewhat wrong in having reduced this required sacrifice.

The bad-natured shamans do harm without any reason. Their power is sometimes so strong that they kill animals, even domesticated animals, merely by pointing at them with a finger. The trace of this is a dark spot on the skin.

Among the Manchus «bad-natured» shamans are also found. A great number of the above-mentioned cases (vide supra) saman'i joyun are troubles produced by the shamans. However, it is not likely that within the clan any trouble would be produced by the shaman who belongs to this clan [677].

The shamans who have good voices, who dance well, and drum with variations and in an expressive manner, are considered as good shamans. In so far as the performance is concerned. From the description of performance we have seen how important their technique is. It is thus natural that the good technicians are appreciated, although it would perhaps not be realized what is appreciated, namely, the art of keeping up extasy and a definite behaviour of the audience.

From the observation of a great number of cases, I have come to the conclusion that sincerity of the shaman and his disinterested carrying out of his function may also be a good compensation for a lack of experience, When the shamans are sincere and disinterested persons, their influence on the audience is much greater, and thus their activity is more effective. However, an artful use of various methods learnt from others is also noticed by the Tungus who would say: «The shaman has actually no spirit, but he knows how to perform.» Therefore his influence upon those who understand the shaman's technique cannot be very great. A disinterested performing of a shamanistic function may be affected by two conditions, namely, (1) some shamans possess too great a feeling of their dependence upon the other people, for whose approval they look and thus unwillingly adapt themselves to the public opinion — so they lose their function as «leaders»; (2) some shamans try to have material profit from their functions. The first case is rather characteristic of some Tungus groups in which some freedom, in the sense of personal advancement among the clansmen, is allowed. Naturally, young shamans are more susceptible to this influence, and thus some of them may become a mere source of distraction of the audience. In spite of a temporary success, such shamans gradually lose their power of influencing people, and then they are not considered as good shamans. I have observed among the Northern Tungus no cases of material interest in the shamans.

It is different with the Manchus. The element of personal interest is very strong, either in the form of an increase of influence, which results in demagogic methods of dealing with the clansmen and outsiders, and thus in the subsequent loss of personal influence, or in the form of material benefits resulting from this function. This is especially true of the amba saman who are not clan shamans. The actual stimulus of their activity is a profit which may be produced by these functions. Such shamans use all kinds of tricks in order to attract clients who would support them, and they naturally lose their sincerity and real devotion to their clients. They become pure and simple professionals, living on shamanism and they seldom enjoy real influence among the Manchus. Such shamans even find themselves in a difficult position when they come in contact with the groups like the Northern Tungus who do not believe them able to do any good to people looking for their help.

Apparently among the Dahurs this type of almost professional shamans has reached a further stage, namely, they sometimes travel from one place to another competing with the local shamans, Chinese doctors, and Manchu mafar'i. Among the Chinese the shamans are nothing but professionals who compete with other professionals and who live solely upon their trade. As a matter of fact, all of them, whom I saw, were of this type, and the Manchus and Tungus say the same. In the eyes of the Tungus and Manchus these Chinese shamans do not differ much from «mafar'i» and «doctors», and their specific shamanistic power is denied.

In the Tungus mind these different types of shamans seem to be classified according to the «quality of their heart», i.e. honesty. Since this condition may greatly affect the practical effect of shamanism on the clansmen, the personal honesty of the candidate is always considered, before he is allowed to become an acting shaman. The candidate may even be entirely rejected on this ground. A really good shaman must be a honest person, serving his clansmen and other people without any idea of making any personal profit from his functions.

677. The method of sending off the spirits sent by the shaman, is to make a «tree», and a «shaman» dressed in a paper costume armed with a paper drum etc. The operation is similar to that for sending off mafa.

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