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145. Difficulties Met With By Shamanism

There are three kinds of difficulties met with by shamanism, namely : (1) the opposition to shamanism met with among the Tungus groups themselves; (2) the disintegration of shamanism under the pressure of a conflict with other complexes; (3) pressure produced by other ethnical groups. It should be noted that these difficulties have always existed, so that we must not look at them as at a new condition of the existence of shamanism. However, our knowledge of the facts of earlier periods is either lacking altogether or quite insufficient. So, in order to study the mechanism of the maintaining of shamanism, we must go into the details observed at the present time.

TUNGUS OPPOSITION TO SHAMANISM. It would be erroneous to believe that the Tungus, and the Manchus as well, blindly accept shamanism. On different occasions I have already shown that the Tungus, before accepting a new hypothesis or theory, submit it to analysis, and it cannot be accepted if it is in direct conflict with the existing complex. The same way be stated in reference to shamanism as a whole — it can be accepted only on certain conditions. In this respect the individual character of a Tungus is of the greatest importance.

In one of the former sections I have given a (Birarchen) case of a criticism undermining the foundations of shamanism by the analysis of the problem of the soul (vide supra, p. 119). Such a theoretical approach to the problem is not frequent, but it is met with. In such a case every detail will be scrutinized and nothing will be accepted without a criticism. The chief objection as to the practice of shamanism among the Birarchen is that the spirits produce harm to the people. Therefore, it is better, if possible, to send all the spirits away for ever. The question is only as to how to do it? As shown in a great number of instances, it is done by various means, some of which are quite effective, as e g. the methods of suggestion and inspiring assurance to the affected people that they will no more be harmed. If the theory of spirits is accepted, it is also noticed by the Tungus, the appearance of a new spirit may have an effect upon the whole population, i.e. partly through imitation and partly because of a similar psychic state of a great number of individuals. The way to remedy such a state is to send the spirit off, and even to deny its existence. This is also frequently done. Since it is supposed that the dona spirits are in general harmful, the Tungus oppose the shamans-masters of dona spirits and they oppose shamans of other ethnical groups practising among the Tungus. From this attitude to a denying of the necessity of having clan shamanism is only one step. Owing to this, among the Birarchen the use of prayers instead of shamanizing is becoming more and more common. If the prayers are effective — and they may be so in all cases when suggestion may help and naturally when the prayers are granted - they can quite successfully compete with shamanism.

Doubtless, in some instances the «bad-hearted» shamans do great harm to the people and to themselves. However, such a condition of the shaman may only partly be due to his psycho-mental character; but in some cases it is merely auto-suggestion, which is not controlled by the shaman, nor by the other people. In the Tungus mind it is represented as a spirits' activity which may be checked, if the spirits are not disturbed by the shaman himself. For this reason, the Birarchen may assume a quite hostile attitude towards shamanism in general.

Although shamanism, as shown, is quite interesting and sometimes attractive, its negative sides in the eyes of the Tungus may become more prominent, than the pleasure and real help produced by it, and they may give up shamanism or may oppose its spreading. The limitation of the shamans' competence may also be due to the analysis of cases in which the shamans fail to help suffering people, in consequence of which the importance of shamanism may also decrease.

There are cases of opposition to shamanism which arise without any pressure from outside and without any conflict within the existing Tungus complex. However, the analysis of a great number of cases shows that conflicts of complexes and alien influence are more frequently the cause of negative reactions than the «internal» conditions of shamanism.

Since the Reindeer Tungus are greatly influenced by the Russians and Buriats the negative reactions may be due to these influences, and to an evident disintegration of the Tungus complex.

Among the Manchus internal causes are also found. The chief of them is a gradual formalization of shamanism because of the existence of written records of spirits and of the ritualistic complex. In fact, as shown, shamanism loses its effectiveness, and it cannot compete with other methods of regulation of the psychomental complex [694]. I have met with Manchus who asserted that if there were a shaman in the clan, there would be more trouble with the people. Owing to this, a great number of clans have given up the «great shamans», and have preserved only the p'oyun saman. This negative attitude is greatly encouraged by the necessity of economy — shamanism requires great expense for sacrifices etc.

However, the factor of disintegration of shamanism, as seen in the conflict of the Tungus complexes, seems to be stronger than the internal causes. In fact, the case of the Reindeer Tungus of Manchuria who have already lost their clan organization is a good illustration — the shamans have no milieu, no clans with which they would be connected. If the process of disintegration of the clan organization proceeds at a high rate of speed, the ethnical unit has no time to readapt shamanism as a function in the regional units, and it may perish together with the clan organization. Another case is that of assimilation of new theories, as, for instance, that of a special burkan which cannot be managed by the shamans (e.g. ain'i burkan with its seventy-two manifestations); in this case a new theory comes into a conflict with the theory of sever), and the competence of shamanism decreases. Among the Birarchen many people decidedly avoid the shamans and prefer prayers (buachin), by analogy with successful experiments with burkan. The same situation is created owing to the spreading of mafarism, as it is observed among the Manchus, so the shaman's competence is more and more curtailed. In the last two cases there is a substitution for shamanism, because of remodeling of the whole complex.

Among the Manchus there are persons who are so critical that they say: «Shamanism is a complete nonsense; it is only a great expenditure with no effect.» There is another movement, quite marked, which regards shamanism as a sign of backwardness. Such people say: «Shamanism is an old, backward faith.» The penetration of the Chinese complex is greatly responsible for this. A Manchu, for instance, was inclined to adopt Confucianism, which he understood as the worship of ancestors, and he asserted that his Confucianism may help in everything, for, in his opinion, all troubles come from the ancestors. There are even persons who absolutely deny shamanism, but still they take their part in the performances, if not as actors, then as spectators. Some Manchus say that they have nothing against the real old shamanism and shamans like Nisan Saman; but they are against the new shamans who are dishonest people. However, cases of coming back to shamanism are also observed. For instance, I knew a man who used to have a good position under the Manchu Dynasty and who did not practise shamanism; after having lost his position and after having been befallen by all kinds of misfortunes, he became a very prominent adept of shamanism. When I knew him, he and his wife, who was a Chinese (n'ikan), had already sacrificed almost all their chickens and all their pigs, except one which survived. Such delayed revival of shamanistic feelings and practices was occasionally observed.

A great factor in the decrease of shamanism among the Manchus was also the loss of written records and of shamanistic paraphernalia during the Boxer troubles. In fact, since shamanism had already been formalized, the Manchus were not certain whether the lists of spirits and the ritualism restored from memory might be actually effective, or not. Since the shamans were not immediately restored and nothing particularly bad had happened (the Manchus were busy with the restoration of their farming and houses, and later they were deeply affected by the loss of their political position), a great number of shamans were not restored. The same happened with the paraphernalia. As shown in the Manchu complex, these were not cheap and had to be made by specialists. They required a great expenditure. After their destruction they could not be immediately restored, because of the general poverty. When the economic position of the Manchus was a little stabilized and they could afford a restoration of the paraphernalia, the need of them was not as great as it had been before, for a great number of clans had no shamans it all and some other clans, who had shamans, could not yet afford a great expenditure. With their great esteem for the ritualism, the wooden substitutes for iron paraphernalia and the poorly ornamented costumes produced on the Manchus the impression of a decline of shamanism and of the importance of the shamans under the new conditions of life.

* * *

An important source of difficulties encountered by shamanism is the pressure produced by other ethnical groups. This pressure takes two forms, namely, sharp criticism in its various forms, usually connected with an introduction of new complexes and a direct prohibition of shamanism. The first form, in so far as it is accepted by the Tungus, is a particular case of conflict of complexes; while the second form is possible only under the condition of loss of ethnical independence, total or partial. These two forms are usually combined.

Among the Tungus of Transbaikalia two periods of persecution of the shamans can be distinguished. During the early period of forced Christianization of the Tungus, the missionaries persecuted the shamans — themselves, or with the assistance of the local authorities; sometimes they seized the shamans and their paraphernalia and had the latter destroyed. The second period was that when the missionaries abstained from the forcible conversion of the Tungus to Christianity, but continued their propaganda against the shamans. The first period, in so far as I could gather from various sources, lasted up to the beginning of the last century. Finally the Tungus were left alone, and during my investigations among them (1912-1913) they were free to perform shamanism — the authorities and official representatives did not interfere with the shamanistic practices. The change of policy towards shamanism took place in the middle of the last century.

From the first period the Tungus preserved the remembrance of violence on the part of the missionaries. There is a story which was intended to show the real power of the shamans:

«In olden days — it runs — the Russian priests captured a shaman. They began to burn him. They made a fire and throw the shaman's coat into it. The fire died out immediately. Then they did this a second time and the fire died out again. The coat itself became like water. Then the priests left the shaman alone and did no more harm.» But even after the refusal of the Tungus to submit to the influence of the missionaries by these means, shamanism was only tolerated and it was required from the baptized Tungus to abstain from using shamans.

In the territory of Manchuria the situation was not very favourable for maintaining shamanism. Even during the Manchu political control the Manchu authorities supported the clan organization and tolerated p'oyun saman, but were not in favour of amba saman. The situation became very unfavourable after the Manchus had lost their power. Since the establishment of the new Chinese control, shamanism has been formally prohibited, as the Manchus told me, because of the harmful effect of shamanism on the population, according to the opinion of the enlightened new authorities. In reality the local authorities could not make these new regulations effective and in a great number of cases they were simply turned into a new source of income for the local policemen who used to make all sorts of objections, even when the shamanizing was permitted by the local high authorities. For instance, such was the case, when the local governor, on my request, permitted the election of a new shaman to be carried out, but the local policemen wanted some compensation from the Manchus, and this was at last settled. For every shamanistic performance special permission must be obtained from the local police. The Manchus told me that sometimes the administrative zeal went very far, and the shamans, even p'oyun saman, were sometimes arrested. (1) A petty district official (in the Aigun region), with a group of soldiers, «attacked» the p 'oyun saman of the nara clan, destroyed all paraphernalia (placings for spirits and clan list, as well as the costume) by fire, and badly beat the performers. (2) Another petty official in a village (Kalunshan) forced a shaman to go from house to house to shamanize; when the shaman was shamanizing the official beat him and asked: «Where is the spirit?» His paraphernalia as well as that of other shamans were seized and thrown into the Amur River. However, I could not verify these statements. Moreover, the shamans were faced, though rarely, with opposition on the part of private persons.

Among the Tungus of Manchuria in the places where there are officials, shamanizing is admitted only by special request and with the permission of the local yamen. However, during my stay in Chelu, the absent chief was replaced by his relative -a Manchu — who was a shaman or, better to say, pretended to be one. One day he shamanized himself in the office of this important place. The local Chinese merchants were rather indifferent to the shamanistic performances; but as I have shown, the local Chinese teacher was quite active in the extermination of shamanism, and it may be assumed, with the best of motives.

As a matter of fact, from time to time there are accidents with Manchu shamans, especially those inclined to use various tricks with fire, sharp weapons etc. According to the Manchus, shamanism was prohibited after the following accident: a Chinese was seriously ill, a shaman was invited to attend him but he failed, one after another four more shamans were invited, but they could not help. The sixth one, being invited, decided to apply a drastic measure — the operation with the straw-cutter. (The latter is a heavy knife, over eighty centimeters long, one end of which has a handle and the other moves over a block of wood with a groove in which the blade of the knife enters, the straw is put on the wooden block under the lifted knife. The implement is very strong and formidable). The sixth shaman decided to put the man in the place of the straw and to frighten the spirit with the knife, threatening to cut the body. (The psychological effect of such an operation is evident.) However, the other five shamans, being afraid of losing their influence [more exactly their spirits], surrounded the sick man who was lying on the straw-cutter under the knife and influenced the acting sixth shaman in such a way that he vigorously pressed the knife down and cut the man into two halves. Since that time shamanism has been prohibited.» The fact itself is not incredible, but if ever it took place, it might have been the last drop which caused the overflow of the accumulated dissatisfaction of the authorities with shamanism.

Besides the direct prohibition of shamanism, the Tungus and Manchus are very sensitive to the jokes that are made, e.g. by the Russians and Chinese, about their adhesion to the «old faith». Owing to this, the shamanists, who live by the side of these ethnical groups, usually carry out their shamanistic performances in secret, which greatly restricts the practising of shamanism in general and diverts the Tungus and Manchus to new complexes.

694. Cf. the criticism concerning the list of spirits etc. made by one of the opponents of a new shaman (vide supra).

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