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Table of contents :
Series Editors’ Preface: Epistemological Blending In Anthropological Analysis.
Notes on Contributors
List of Figures
Human History as Disaster
The Disasters of the Anthropocene
2 “The War Has Just Begun.” Nature’s Fury Against Neocolonial “Spirit/s”: Shamanic Perceptions of Natural Disasters in Comparative Perspective
The Batek and the Tsunami
The Chepang, the Earthquake, and the Landslides
3 The Spirits of Extractivism: Non-Human Meddling, Shamanic Diplomacy, and Cosmo-Political Strategy Among the Urarina (Peruvian Amazon)
The Urarina and the History of Oil Exploitation in the Peruvian Amazon
Spills and Oil Spirits
Disaster and Loss of Words
4 Batek Cosmopolitics in the Early Twenty-First Century
Eco-Cosmologies and Cosmopolitics
Eco-Cosmologies and Landscape
Visions of the Future
Violence, Disease, and Shamanism
5 Jinn Pinn Dance in the Floods: Perceptions of Flood Disasters Among the Kalasha of Pakistan
Background of the Kalasha of Chitral
Kalasha in Post-colonial Pakistan
Pragata and Onjeshta
Ontological Issues, Terminology, and Kalasha Worldview
Wider Understanding of the Kalasha Ecology and Cosmology
The Uprooted Settlement of Siasat and Sadhu in Chizhina
Saras Kuru—The Ritual Offerings for the Bhut
Eggs of the Flood—Intergenerational Perceptions
Flooding, Impurity, and Violence
Deforestation, Modernity, and the State
6 Eco-Cosmologies: Renewable Energy
Ireland—Beltany Stone Circle1
Highlands, Papua New Guinea3
7 The Earth and the Tree in Alekh Shamanism in Koraput/Odisha
Brief Comparison of Socio-Religious Contexts of Mahima Dharma
Alekh Dharma or Alekh Shamanism in Koraput
Spread of Mahima Dharma
Conversion to the Alekh Religion
Contexts and Reasons for Initiation
Cultural Change and the Ascetic Ecstasy of Alekh-s
The Ethnography of Song
8 Sacred, Alive, Dangerous, and Endangered: Humans, Non-humans, and Landscape in the Himalayas
A Memory of Waters
Memories of Wars with the (Now) Invisible
Memories Set in Stone and Collapsing Buildings
9 Shamanism, Magic, and Indigenous Ontologies: Eco-Critical Perspectives on Environmental Changes in India
Ecocriticism and Indigenous Ontologies: An Introduction to South Asia
Case Study: Some Notes on the Fieldwork Among the Kondhs of Odisha
The Shadow Line of the Indigenous Knowledge of the Forest
Ontological Perception of Disasters
Conclusions and Future Perspectives: How to Be Modern and Related Ideological Conflicts
10 Unblocking the Blockage Between Earth and Heaven: Shamanic Space for Cultural Intimacy in China
The Legendary Blocking of the Passage Between Earth and Heaven
Analogical Shamanism: Family Resemblance1
Pan-Shamanic Practice: A Space of Cultural Intimacy
Shamanism in China: Technique of Negotiation and Compromise
11 Burying Gold, Digging the Past: Remembering Ma Bufang Regime in Qinghai (PRC)
Natural Disasters in a Tibetan Enclave Within a Muslim County
Gold Mining in Qinghai During the Ma Regime (1917–1949)
Tibetan Mining and gter ma: Digging Out, Burying Back, and Keeping in Treasures
Life and Death: Relatedness and Alienness in Gold Source
Conclusions: Eroded Mountains, Eroded Memories
PALGRAVE STUDIES IN DISASTER ANTHROPOLOGY
Dealing with Disasters Perspectives from Eco-Cosmologies
Edited by Diana Riboli · Pamela J. Stewart · Andrew J. Strathern · Davide Torri
Palgrave Studies in Disaster Anthropology
Series Editors Pamela J. Stewart Department of Anthropology University of Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, PA, USA Andrew J. Strathern Department of Anthropology University of Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, PA, USA
This book series addresses a timely and significant set of issues emergent from the study of Environmental [sometimes referred to as “natural”] disasters and the Series will also embrace works on Human-produced disasters (including both environmental and social impacts, e.g., migrations and displacements of humans). Topics such as climate change; social conflicts that result from forced re-settlement processes eventuating from environmental alterations, e.g., desertification shoreline loss, sinking islands, rising seas.
More information about this series at http://www.palgrave.com/gp/series/15359
Diana Riboli · Pamela J. Stewart · Andrew J. Strathern · Davide Torri Editors
Dealing with Disasters Perspectives from Eco-Cosmologies
Editors Diana Riboli Department of Social Anthropology Panteion University Athens, Greece Andrew J. Strathern Department of Anthropology University of Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Pamela J. Stewart Department of Anthropology University of Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, PA, USA Davide Torri Department SARAS (Storia Antropologia Religioni Arte e Spettacolo) Sapienza University of Rome Rome, Italy
Palgrave Studies in Disaster Anthropology ISBN 978-3-030-56103-1 ISBN 978-3-030-56104-8 (eBook) https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-56104-8 © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Cover illustration: Photography by Jason Gallant/Moment/Getty Images This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland
Series Editors’ Preface: Epistemological Blending In Anthropological Analysis.
Trends in anthropology tend to emerge from the blending together of emergent topics. The present volume owes its existence to this blending process, bringing together studies of environmental crisis and disasters with the ways in which people develop and adapt cosmological views of the world in response to such crises. Eco-cosmology is the outcome of this processual blending. What this topic reveals is that cosmologies, when examined closely, often exhibit a close connection with, or a development out of, ecological concerns that are fundamental to the long-term sustainability of people’s environmental practices. Cosmology folds into itself knowledge about the environment and rituals through which people affirm this knowledge and put it to work in the service of their daily livelihood. When environmental changes happen, the prevailing systems are thrown into instability. Efforts to recover may be phrased as a return to the past, or as the grasping of new worlds of opportunities. In either case, the crystallization of such processes is often marked by special forms of ritualized behavior, signaling that a new order of being is sought after. The emergence of such an order may be unproblematic but more likely it is marked by struggles and conflicts vested in the processes of obtaining a mode of living from the land or other available resources. Shamans or healing practitioners may be called on to mediate such conflicts, thereby conflating sicknesses in people’s individual bodies and the collective context of social life. By treating the individual level, v
SERIES EDITORS’ PREFACE: EPISTEMOLOGICAL BLENDING IN …
they may also endeavor to extend their influences over the other, collective, level. The ritual process is therefore also a political process. The underlying ecological aims of ritual help, then, to explain the important part that rituals play in circumstances of marked environmental change. The vibrant in-depth studies in this volume illustrate the application of theoretical themes such as we have just sketched. The combination of deep-ethnographic knowledge with a critical stance toward the actions of outsiders in the sphere of economies and the environment produces a rounded set of studies that invite the reader both into the world of indigenous meanings and imaginations and into the struggle of engagement with alien forces such as the impact of extractive industrial practices. These studies show the process of engagement with the outside world, and in doing so, they also show how people attempt to transform their lives by resisting the corrosive effects of capitalist enterprises, or, alternatively, how they are beaten down in these processes. In the background, there is always the environment itself, registering the effects of development on it and sending out warnings when these effects exceed a certain range. We have written about this topic in a number of venues, prior to the recent massive epiphany of problems stemming from the coronavirus. Themes in our work in three sites in the Papua New Guinea Highlands speak to this complex of topics. Among the Duna people of Hela Province, there is an explicit cultural concern with declining fertility of the land, and an elaborate ritual complex called rindi kiniya, “healing” the land, was developed in order to set the environment along productive lines again (Stewart and Strathern 2002a, Strathern and Stewart 2004). Underlying the specific concerns of loss of fertility of the soil or vitality of the population, the ever-present perceived need to make sacrifices of pigs to spirit categories, notably ancestors of the clan leaders, was what drove rituals forward, transforming ecological facts into the motivations of spirit entities and vice versa. The same process is discernible in the original stories of major religious festival complexes in the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea, where the story of how a major set of practices centered on a powerful Female Spirit began invariably focusses on the incidence of storms, floods, and bad weather destroying harvests of crops and eliciting a ritual response of sacrifice (Stewart and Strathern 1999, 2002b). Comparable concerns underlay practices among the Wiru of the Southern Highlands Province (Strathern and Stewart 1999).
SERIES EDITORS’ PREFACE: EPISTEMOLOGICAL BLENDING IN …
A concern with the environment appears also in small practices in folk contexts in Europe and even in improvised rituals that we have taken part in while running a course on ritual at the University of Augsburg in Germany in 2019. In one such ritual, a leader counselled all participants to remove their shoes and to feel the grass at their feet and then to get together and collectively improvise artistic representations with materials taken from parts of the environment. In another context, a specialist in healing by touch had us gathered together and conducted some prayers over us and then asked us to explain what we each had felt in this spiritual encounter. While this ritual was not especially about the environment as such, its intention was to connect us to the environment of our own selves so as to understand ourselves better and employ appropriate rituals to heal us of any ill-being and replace it with well-being. Illnesses may have massive collective effects if they turn into epidemics or pandemics, as has been the case with the 2020 pandemic of the coronavirus, COVID-19. Science-based rituals such as testing and socially based rituals such as staying at home or observing “social distancing” of 6 feet between people are all vulnerable to being ignored, and large-scale ritual responses have to wait the development of both therapies and vaccines. COVID-19 has caused a global planetary crisis, bringing about both ritual shutdowns and calls for opening up of international cooperation. Both medical research and ritual studies have significant future stakes in how that future will eventually turn out. Pittsburgh, USA
Andrew J. Strathern Pamela J. Stewart
References Stewart, Pamela J. and A. J. Strathern 1999. Female Spirit Cults as a Window on Gender Relations in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. [Sept. 1999] 5(3):345–360. Stewart, Pamela J. and Andrew Strathern 2002a. Remaking the World: Myth, Mining and Ritual Change among the Duna of Papua New Guinea. For, Smithsonian Series in Ethnographic Inquiry, Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
SERIES EDITORS’ PREFACE: EPISTEMOLOGICAL BLENDING IN …
Stewart, Pamela J. and A. Strathern 2002b. Gender, Song, and Sensibility: Folktales and Folksongs in the Highlands of New Guinea. Westport, CT and London: Praeger Publishers (Greenwood Publishing). Strathern, A. and Pamela J. Stewart 1999. ‘The Spirit is Coming!’ A PhotographicTextual Exposition of the Female Spirit Cult Performance in Mt. Hagen. Ritual Studies Monograph Series, Monograph No. 1. Pittsburgh. Strathern, Andrew and Pamela J. Stewart 2004. Empowering the Past, Confronting the Future, The Duna People of Papua New Guinea. For, Contemporary Anthropology of Religion Series, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Introduction Diana Riboli and Davide Torri
“The War Has Just Begun.” Nature’s Fury Against Neocolonial “Spirit/s”: Shamanic Perceptions of Natural Disasters in Comparative Perspective Diana Riboli
The Spirits of Extractivism: Non-Human Meddling, Shamanic Diplomacy, and Cosmo-Political Strategy Among the Urarina (Peruvian Amazon) Emanuele Fabiano Batek Cosmopolitics in the Early Twenty-First Century Ivan Tacey Jinn Pinn Dance in the Floods: Perceptions of Flood Disasters Among the Kalasha of Pakistan Taj Khan Kalash
Eco-Cosmologies: Renewable Energy Pamela J. Stewart and Andrew J. Strathern
The Earth and the Tree in Alekh Shamanism in Koraput/Odisha Lidia Guzy
Sacred, Alive, Dangerous, and Endangered: Humans, Non-humans, and Landscape in the Himalayas Davide Torri
Shamanism, Magic, and Indigenous Ontologies: Eco-Critical Perspectives on Environmental Changes in India Stefano Beggiora
Unblocking the Blockage Between Earth and Heaven: Shamanic Space for Cultural Intimacy in China Naran Bilik
Burying Gold, Digging the Past: Remembering Ma Bufang Regime in Qinghai (PRC) Valentina Punzi
Notes on Contributors
Stefano Beggiora is Associate Professor of History of India and Anthropology (Indian Tribal Religions and Society) at the University Ca’ Foscari Venice (Italy), where he received his Ph.D. in 2006. He conducted extensive fieldwork missions and specializes in South-Asian shamanism. Dr. Beggiora has published several articles, chapters, and books on Indian ¯ adiv¯ as¯ı (Saoras, Kondhs, Apatanis, etc.), colonial history, constitutional framework and laws for safeguarding the Scheduled Tribes and Castes, and Contemporary History of Political Movements in India. Naran Bilik is Distinguished Professor and Director of Center for National Minorities Studies at Fudan University, Ministry of Education Changjiang Scholar Chair Professor, Vice Chairman of China Anthropological & Ethnological Association, Vice Chairman of Association of Anthropology of Arts, and Jane & Raphael Bernstein Professor of Asian Studies and Anthropology, Carleton College (2005–2009). He has published 270 books, articles, reviews, and translations. Emanuele Fabiano is Researcher and Lecturer in the Faculty of Social Science at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (Lima), and the recipient of a postdoctoral scholarship from the international Geography of Philosophy project. He has done extended fieldwork among the Urarina of Peruvian Amazonia. Lidia Guzy is a social anthropologist and scientist of religions, specializing in the anthropology of religions and global indigenous studies. xi
NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS
She is a Director of the MA Anthropology Programme and of the Marginalised and Endangered Worldviews Study Centre (MEWSC), at University College Cork (UCC), National University of Ireland. Dr. Guzy has specialized in comparative anthropology with special interest in indigenous worldviews, eco-cosmologies, indigeneity, cultural heritage, cultural minorities, the politics of representation, and the arts. Taj Khan Kalash is an indigenous Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology, Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences. He worked as indigenous language consultant for development and publication of literacy materials for education in Kalasha language. Valentina Punzi received a double Ph.D. from University of Naples L’Orientale (Asian Studies) and Minzu University of China (Tibetan Studies). She was a Postdoctoral Fellow at L’Orientale University (2016– 2020) and currently a Ph.D. candidate in Folklore Studies at University of Tartu. Her research explores contemporary folk religion, sacred geography, and oral history among minority communities in western China. Diana Riboli is an Associate Professor at the Department of Social Anthropology, Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences, Athens, Greece. Since 2015 she is the President of the International Society for Academic Research on Shamanism (ISARS). She has been carrying out ethnographic researches in Nepal and Peninsular Malaysia. Her published works include Tunsuriban. Shamanism in the Chepang of Southern and Central Nepal (Mandala Book Point, 2000); Shamanism and Violence. Power, Repression and Suffering in Indigenous Religious Conflicts (edited with Davide Torri, Ashgate 2013); Consciousness and Indigenous Healing Systems: Between Indigenous Perceptions and Neuroscience (Nova Publishers, 2014). She is the author and co-author of numerous articles and essays on shamanism, indigenous concepts of health and illnesses, altered states of consciousness and strategies of resistance of indigenous cultures. Pamela J. Stewart (Strathern) and Andrew J. Strathern are a wifeand-husband research team who are based in the Department of Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh, and co-direct the Cromie Burn Research Unit. They are frequently invited international lecturers and have worked with a number of museums to assist them with their collections. Stewart
NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS
and Strathern have published over 50 books, over 80 prefaces to influential books, over 200 articles, book chapters, and essays on their research in the Pacific (mainly Papua New Guinea, primarily the Mount Hagen, Duna, and Wiru areas) and the South-West Pacific region (e.g., Samoa, Cook Islands, and Fiji); Asia (mainly Taiwan, and also including Mainland China and Inner Mongolia, and Japan); Europe (primarily Scotland, Ireland, Germany, and the European Union countries in general); and New Zealand and Australia. One of their strengths is that, unlike some others working in Mount Hagen among the Hagen people, they learned the language, Melpa, and used it to understand the lives of the local people. Their most recent co-authored books include Witchcraft, Sorcery, Rumors, and Gossip (Cambridge University Press, 2004); Kinship in Action: Self and Group (Prentice Hall, 2011); Peace-Making and the Imagination: Papua New Guinea Perspectives (University of Queensland Press with Penguin Australia, 2011); Ritual: Key Concepts in Religion (Bloomsbury Academic Publications, 2014); Working in the Field: Anthropological Experiences Across the World (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014); Breaking the Frames: Anthropological Conundrums (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017); Sacred Revenge in Oceania (Cambridge University Press, 2019); Sustainability, Conservation, and Creativity: Ethnographic Learning from Small-scale Practices. (Routledge Publishing, 2019); and Language and Culture in Dialogue (Bloomsbury Academic Publishing, 2019). Their recent co-edited books include Research Companion to Anthropology (Routledge Publishing, 2016, originally published in 2015); Exchange and Sacrifice (Carolina Academic Press, 2008); and Religious and Ritual Change: Cosmologies and Histories (Carolina Academic Press, 2009), along with the updated and revised Chinese version (Taipei, Taiwan: Linking Publishing, 2010). Stewart and Strathern’s current research includes the topics of Eco-Cosmological Landscapes; Ritual Studies; Political Peace-making; Comparative Anthropological Studies of Disasters and Climatic Change; Language, Culture and Cognitive Science; and Scottish and Irish Studies. For many years, they served as Associate Editor and General Editor (respectively) for the Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania book series and they are Co-Series Editors for the Anthropology and Cultural History in Asia and the Indo-Pacific book series. They also currently serve as Co-Editors of four-book series: Ritual Studies, Medical Anthropology, European Anthropology, and Disaster Anthropology, and they are the long-standing Co-Editors of the Journal of Ritual Studies (on Facebook: at facebook. com/ritualstudies). Their webpages, listing
NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS
publications and other scholarly activities, are: http://www.pitt.edu/~str ather/ and http://www.StewartStrathern.pitt.edu/. Ivan Tacey has conducted anthropological research among Batek hunter-gatherers of Peninsular Malaysia since 2006. His research explores how interconnectivity, environmental change, and socio-political marginalization have led to realignments of indigenous peoples’ religious practices and lifeworlds. He currently lectures in anthropology at the University of Plymouth. Davide Torri is Senior Researcher at the Department of History, Anthropology, Religions and Performing Arts, Sapienza University of Rome, Italy. He is the author of Landscape, Ritual and Identity among the Hyolmo of Nepal (2020).
List of Figures
Fig. 2.1 Fig. 2.2 Fig. 2.3 Fig. 3.1
Hala’-tiger Macang (Photo D. Riboli, Taman Negara, Malaysia, 2006) Nay¯am Bast¯ı (Photo D. Riboli, Nepal, 2018) Chepang pande Bisnu Maya beating her drum (Photo D. Riboli, Nepal, 2019) The pipeline is integrated into the domestic space, Urarina community of Nueva Unión, Chambira river 2019 (Source Photo by Emanuele Fabiano) Chambira basin and Nor-Oriente pipeline, region of Loreto, Peru (Source Map elaborated by Miguel Angel Uquichi Campos, 2019) Two Urarina women return to their homes after buying oil and soda from an itinerant merchant (Source Urarina community of Nueva Unión, Chambira river, 2019. Photo by Emanuele Fabiano) During the dry season the pipeline becomes a route for land communication (Source Urarina community of Nuevo Perú, Chambira river, 2016. Photo by Emanuele Fabiano) Young Urarina women chatting sitting on the pipeline (Source Urarina community of Nueva Unión, Chambira river, 2019. Photo by Emanuele Fabiano) Sacrificial blood of a cow being poured on juniper smoke (saras ) in Krakal Grom Gha (Photo Taj Khan Kalash)
25 27 32
LIST OF FIGURES
Fig. 5.2 Fig. 5.3
Fig. 5.4 Fig. 5.5 Fig. 7.1 Fig. 7.2 Fig. 7.3 Fig. 7.4 Fig. 10.1
Moc natek—funerary farewell dance in Batrik village for Elder Taron (Photo Taj Khan Kalash, 2017) Eggs of the Daran Mumuret Valley two years after the floods and the eggs of floods (daran) (Photo Taj Khan Kalash) Portrait of Siasat in Bruan (Photo Taj Khan Kalash) Tren dance at Uchau rites in Mumuret Valley (Photo Taj Khan Kalash, 2010) Alekh gurumai playing instrument dudunga in trance (Source Photo L. Guzy, Koraput 2000) Alekh gurumai in trance (Source Photo L. Guzy, Koraput 2002) Exterior of the eco-cosmological village sacred grove (hundi) (Source Photo L. Guzy, Koraput, January, 2020) The interior of the eco-cosmological sacred grove (hundi) (Source Photo L. Guzy, Koraput January, 2020) Activities organized by the An Shan Society for the Study of Shamanic Folk Culture (Source Photo by Naran Bilik)
118 119 122 149 150 151 152 222
Introduction Diana Riboli and Davide Torri
The writing and editing of this volume took place during in uncertain times. By the end of 2019, the virus named Covid-19 spread to all continents, regardless of national borders and political regimes. Behind the more or less scientific or fictitious fanciful theories about the possible causes of the pandemic, one fundamental question lies: Was the newborn (?) virus and/or its spread caused by or linked to anthropogenic factors? The same question recurs in most of the scientific analyses and debates on the alarming increase of natural disasters worldwide. The more and more frequent appearance of epidemics and pathogenic agents seems to be connected to environmental changes such as deforestation, pollution, human overpopulation, exploitation of natural resources and climate change (Singer 2009, 201). Despite the fact that it seems possible that Covid-19 may have evolved from an older animal-infecting coronavirus and transmitted to a human host via a spillover process, the
D. Riboli (B) Department of Social Anthropology, Panteion University, Athens, Greece D. Torri Department SARAS (Storia Antropologia Religioni Arte e Spettacolo), Sapienza University of Rome, Rome, Italy e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2021 D. Riboli et al. (eds.), Dealing with Disasters, Palgrave Studies in Disaster Anthropology, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-56104-8_1
D. RIBOLI AND D. TORRI
more or less direct connections between health and environmental crises are multiple and complex. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) around eighty percent of the world’s population experiences some level of water scarcity, while just one in four healthcare facilities worldwide lacks basic water services.1 Considering the fact that, up to now, the most effective prevention is to practice basic hygiene, the lack of (safe) water—one of the most evident consequences of climate change— put at risk about six billions people worldwide with 1.1 billion of people totally lacking access to water. A recent study conducted at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health demonstrated the relationship between air pollution and coronavirus in the United States. According to the results of this study, even an increase of just one microgram of fine particulate matter known as PM2.5 per cubic meter corresponds to a 8% increase in Covid-19 deaths (Wu and Nethery 2020). The study reveals that poor, minority communities run a much higher risk of developing serious conditions and complications from Covid-19 in part due to air pollution caused by white Americans’ consumption practices. The pandemic represents a major threat for indigenous communities the world over, urging the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations to ask Member States and the international community to include “the specific needs and priorities of indigenous people in addressing the global outbreak of Covid-19.”2 After centuries of colonial domination, the more recent neocolonial intrusion equipped with increasingly powerful technological means continues to devastate and radically transform most of the ancestral territories to which indigenous culture and eco-cosmologies are linked. The process of industrial extraction and exploitation of natural resources already deprived many indigenous communities and vulnerable minorities of fundamental human rights for secure livelihood and preserved ecosystems. The consequences of climate change are amplified by the destruction of many ecosystems: violent floods and landslides cancel in minutes human settlements and cultivated fields in deforested areas. Wildfires are becoming extremely frequent worldwide, from Siberia to the Amazonian forest, as droughts cause the forest fuels—the organic matter that burns and spread wildfires—to be much drier than in the past. The earth is not only “angry” (Oliver-Smith and Hoffman 1999) but also deeply wounded. Risks of potential disasters on a local and global level arise from each wound.
It seems strange to think that merely a couple of decades ago, the dimension of risk was recognized as a prerogative of the so-called risk societies (Beck 1992 ) or capitalistic societies living in “high modernity” (Giddens 1991). Nowadays, risks and anxieties about hazards took the stage, often in the role of protagonists, in indigenous and minorities’ worldviews and eco-cosmological philosophies. In the words of Jakob Arnoldi: Risks are not actual but rather potential dangers…risk is the opposite of pure chance, because it involves human agency. For the same reason it is also the opposite of random acts of nature. What we often refer to as natural causes is something that suspends human responsibility…But when humans can be held responsible, risk emerges. (Arnoldi 2009, 8–9)
It is increasingly complex to distinguish natural from man-made disasters as natural forces become particularly destructive when combined with man-made environmental modifications. Anthony Oliver-Smith highlighted the complexity of what we define as a disaster and the difficulties in finding an exhaustive definition for the term. His analysis focuses on the multidimensionality of disasters as “physical and social event(s)/process(es)” (Oliver-Smith 2002, 24–25). Despite the fact that the study of disasters is a field of growing importance in anthropology, there is still a certain lack of studies focused on indigenous perceptions and strategies of resistance adopted by indigenous communities in dealing with catastrophic environmental events. Not only dangers but also risks play an important role in indigenous’ worldviews as well as in processes of cultural change and adaptation. An important further step is to study the multidimensional ways in which potential risks and catastrophes are understood and experienced. In her interesting study on the 1991 Oakland (California) firestorm, Susanna Hoffman analyzes the symbolic dimension of natural disasters in societies that recognize a division between nature and culture. In this case, through a process of embodiment, nature is described as a benign entity, a Mother, while the disaster is disembodied and becomes a “monster” (Hoffmann 2002). On the contrary, as the majority of the chapters in this volume demonstrate, in indigenous eco-cosmological views and in animistic complexes in particular, nature and natural forces are not understood as two different entities. This is probably in part due to the fact that
D. RIBOLI AND D. TORRI
the same elusive and abstract concept of nature (at least in the contemporary way most eurocentric cultures define it), as well as the term itself are absent from many indigenous philosophies and languages (Ducarme and Couvet 2020; Descola 2005). It is noteworthy that, at least on a symbolic and spiritual level indigenous communities and religious specialists placed emphasis on to the human factors behind natural disasters, somewhat earlier than contemporary scientists. In cosmological views where the cosmos is multidimensional and inhabited by other-than-human beings with souls and personality (animals, plants, spirits, atmospheric phenomena, and elements of the landscape), humans represent just a link in the chain. Angela Roothaan discussing the indigenous, modern, and postcolonial relationship with nature highlights that in non-indigenous perceptions the earth becomes a “free playground for mankind” as the modern approach “frees human agents from fear of other beings with soul.” Therefore, aside from the anxiety surrounding the potential of aggression of other men, the only fear left is that “forces of nature may cause natural disaster, disease and death” (Roothaan 2019, 45). On the other hand, in cultures deeply linked to specific territories and natural environments and groups that have experienced many forms of direct, structural and cultural violence perpetrated against them by other humans, causes of natural disasters are often attributed not to nature itself, but to human misbehaviors, moral corruption, egoism, and greed instead. This does not mean that the mythological frameworks in which indigenous discourses about disasters take place are completely divided by the practical and empirical one. A good dose of “indigenous realism” is always present and perfectly complementary. The Yuchi scholar Daniel Wildcat discusses indigenous realism in terms of people accepting their responsibilities as members of the planet’s complex life system (Wildcat 2009). Indigenous peoples around the world are of course perfectly able to understand that a landslide or a flood may assume catastrophic proportions and have even more disastrous consequences because of rampant deforestation and climate change, but these events are also interpreted as a punishment or revenge of other-than-human beings. On a practical level, people living in contact with nature of course know the consequences that the lack of trees and roots may have in the event of violent downpours. In this case, extreme climatic phenomena are perceived as means by which other-than-human beings manifest their discontent for the environmental damage. Therefore, the real and primary cause which gives rise
to catastrophe revolves around human behavior and actions. In this sense, basically indigenous and scholarly interpretations of many natural disasters often converge despite through different paths: bulldozers cut the forests, mining activities and pollution cause climate change/non-human beings’ wrath and their disastrous consequences. Most of the times in indigenous perceptions chaos and disorder originated from human harmful and/or inconsiderate acts hurt and offend the Earth, a powerful deity in many cultures, or other spirits connected with atmospheric phenomena and the sacred landscape. Of course, the symbolic dimension of disasters plays a fundamental role not only in indigenous mythologies and ontologies, but in most of the religious and philosophical traditions of the globe.
Human History as Disaster In a sense, we are all survivors. Our life-worlds are just accretions on the rubbles of previous cataclysmic events, as in the famous image of the angel of history, the Angelus Novus by Paul Klee, interpreted by Walter Benjamin (1940). Human collectivities have survived, and kept track of, catastrophic events and disasters. Religious traditions sometimes have enshrined them, in connection with a framework interpreting them as divine intervention. Creation myths, for example, make ample use of disaster imagery to describe the magmatic and transformative process bringing a life-world to existence. Recursive disasters mark the progress of time, from one age to the other, i.e., the four yugas of the Indian traditions or the five suns of Mesoamerican mythologies, where every segment of the creation is destroyed in order to bring forth the next one. In some contexts, disasters occur when deities are angered or displeased, as in the biblical accounts. In others, the calamity is perceived as the effect of some cosmic, and almost automatic, movement, as expressed by the etymology, for example, of the word disaster: “In the English speaking world all of these phenomena are generally called disasters. This word has an equivalent in German (Desaster, Unstern, meaning ‘under the wrong star’) and in the Romance languages (French desastre, Italian disastro, Spanish desastre)” (Schenk 2007, 12). Disasters do not belong to the past only. There is a consistent literature of several religious traditions dealing explicitly with the fateful events allegedly waiting for us at “the end of time.” Eschatology, or the study of the last things (Gr. ta eskhata), is a branch of
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religious knowledge literally bathed in cataclysmic imagery, describing a time of extreme cosmic events foreboding the end of the present world(s). If we consider the notion of disaster beyond its purely mechanistic aspects, i.e., “a great calamity, an event occurring abruptly with serious consequences like the harming or loss of life for humans and animals, material damage and large-scale destruction” (Schenk 2007, 12), we can easily recognize that disasters are also experienced and imagined as momentous events. As a caesura in the passing of time, which several collectivities interpreted in various ways to meaningfully incorporate it into their memories and ontologies, a disaster entails also the possibility of reconfiguration on various levels. As such, they equate to turning points, or radical upheaval moments (Gr. katastrophé, literally “overturning”), enabling to overcome preexisting structural assets and paving the way to different worlds. In this sense, a disaster is also a possibility, disorder being the source of creative processes: “granted that disorder spoils pattern, it also provides the materials of pattern. Order implies restriction; from all possible materials, a limited selection has been made and from all possible relations a limited set has been used. So disorder by implication is unlimited, no pattern has been realized in it, but its potential for patterning is indefinite. This is why, though we seek to create order, we do not simply condemn disorder. We recognize that it is destructive to existing patterns; also that it has potentiality. It symbolizes both danger and power” (Douglas 1966, 95). There is an inherent danger in trespassing from one world to the next, and it is of course possible to get lost in the process, as testified by many written and oral mythic narratives, including shamanic ritual narratives. While this book will prevalently deal with indigenous eco-cosmological ontologies and their views, interpretations and responses to disasters, we cannot but acknowledge how contemporary concerns regarding the climate change and others catastrophic events unfolding in the so-called Anthropocene seem to show a convergence of sort. Some of the solutions to the present constellation of crises could come from the long dismissed voices of the indigenous peoples, who, despite being historically the less culpable for the depletion of the ecosystems of the biosphere, are in fact at the forefront of its backlashes.
The Disasters of the Anthropocene The age of human beings is an epoch of great disasters, we know that. And we know it precisely because we, as a species, learned how to keep memories of it, and to discuss it. To tell the truth, we are not the only ones to keep track of past events. Eventful moments are also recorded in tree rings, geological strata and ice, just to mention a few. But Anthropocene is also the age when we realized that humans (with different degrees of responsibility) could well be considered the disaster. While there is no agreement on that yet, the term Anthropocene was originally proposed by Eugene Stoermer in the 1980s, and later employed by Paul Crutzen in his paper Geology of Mankind (2002). It is now amply used to indicate the current age of human beings as the main geological force, whose activities are massively impacting the other processes of the biosphere. A similar idea was already proposed by the geologist Angelo Stoppani (1824–1891), who coined the expression era antropozoica (Anthropozoic era). Notions toward the formulation of the concept of a planetary unified system which included organic and inorganic forms of life were included also in the so-called Gaia hypothesis of James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis (Lovelock 2000 ; Lovelock and Margulis 1974). Particularly important for the Gaia hypothesis were the notions of symbiosis, synergy, and co-evolutionary processes, stressing the relevance for a holistic approach in order to decipher and understand complex patterns characterizing human and non-human interactions on a planetary scale. The growing impact of the human beings as a species on the ecosystems is being monitored by several agencies, including the Anthropocene Working Group, established since 2009, and, prior to that, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), established in 1988. While there is still no consensus on the official adoption of the term Anthropocene to indicate a new geological phase on planet earth, there is a growing acknowledgment that several of the factors being monitored indicate a time of fast changes potentially leading to massive loss of biodiversity in a relatively short amount of time. The overarching paradigm of modernity, i.e., “man” as a rational species conquering and harnessing the powers of “nature” for his own benefits and progress, is turning into its opposite: Human beings are apparently undermining the basis for their own survival and that of countless other species, survival. In addition, the holistic approach blurs the boundaries between human and non-human,
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thus erasing another tenet of modern thought, based on the essential division between the reified notions of “man” and “nature.” We are, it seems, on the verge of a huge epistemic gap, predicated upon the recognition that such binary crystallizations (human being vs. nature) are not universally and equally shared by human collectivities. In his seminal work Par-delà nature et culture (Beyond Nature and Culture), Philippe Descola highlights how the naturalist approach, grounded on objectification, is but one of the possible ontologies, together with animism, totemism, and analogism. While Descola claims to be indebted with the Achuar people of the Amazonian forest and their shamans, he appears to be equally indebted with Michel Foucault’s four similitudes, i.e., the operative frameworks through which the world was represented through the ages (Foucault 1966, 32–59). Descola pursues his main argument, that human beings, as it seems, do not experience and live the world the same way, and thus multiple worlds exist altogether, in later works too (Descola and Pálsson 1996; Descola and Ingold; Descola 2011, 2014). Moreover, the blurring of the boundary between human and nonhuman brings the human exceptionalism on a grinding halt. With the end of this dichotomy, we finally face the rise of hybrid networks, and the resulting collapse of binary systems. This hermeneutical collapse brings back the rhizome theory of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1980), combined with the tentacular visions of Donna Haraway’s Chthulhucene (2016). Evoked by Bruno Latour lectures on Gaia, non-humans confront human beings as an assemblage of discomforting data showing the depth and breadth of an unfolding disaster not only indifferent, but even hostile to human life, a new climatic regime to which we, as species, have to come to terms with before annihilation (Latour 2017). As shown by the data collected by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, between 1750 and 2010 several processes underwent a sharp rise. Collectively termed the great acceleration, several parameters show unprecedented depletion and loss of renewable resources and the concomitant growth of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane, stratospheric ozone, surface temperature, ocean acidification, aquaculture, devastation of coastal zones, loss of tropical forest, increase of domesticated land. These processes lead to relevant loss of biodiversity potentially escalating into the sixth mass extinction, and the general degradation of the biosphere (http://www.igbp.net/globalchange/climatechangeindex. 4.56b5e28e137d8d8c09380002241.html, retrieved 15 May 2020). The
scale of the process is so massive that it eludes or, better said, transcends our everyday epistemological grasp, qualifying as a hyperobject (Morton 2013). Debates and discussion on the Anthropocene issues also blurred the disciplinary boundaries between natural sciences, philosophy, and social sciences. One of the most interesting effort to investigate the entanglements between human and non-humans is the work of the AURA (Aarhus University Research on the Anthropocene) team, where the focus on interconnections pervades and animates several researches. Anna L. Tsing, Nils Bubandt, and others, whose attention is particularly drawn to explore disturbed landscapes, haunted by the intrinsic violence of modernity (Tsing et al. 2017). Coming back to indigenous eco-cosmologies, it goes without saying that their landscapes have been recursively disturbed by modernity’s disasters. In fact, in addition to the usual number of calamities, several groups have witnessed the end of their worlds happening again and again, and have spent the last few centuries on the verge of annihilation (Viveiros de Castro and Danowski 2017). The very same annihilation we seem to face now collectively as a species. It is not by coincidence, in fact, that in the past few years we have seen the resurgence of environmentalist movements on an unprecedented scale: After a phase of growth during the 1980s—and especially after the Chernobyl incident—they seemed to enter a declining phase only to reappear in virulent forms, with links with alternative or anti-capitalist global movements. In many different countries, in fact, indigenous movements appear at the forefront of environmentalist mobilization processes and struggles. While the issues are almost invariably locals, the perspective is undoubtedly global. The Zapatista movement could be identified as anticipating some of these trends, in bridging the gap between different ontological dimensions: The local and the global, the economic and the social, the indigenous and the international, and even the human and the non-human appear in fact considerably intertwined in many of their public statements broadcasted and diffused since 1994. In the Fourth Declaration from the Selva Lacandona, the then Subcomandante Marcos stated: There are words and worlds which are lies and injustices. There are words and worlds which are truths and truthful. We make true words. We have been made from true words. In the world of the powerful there is no space for anyone but themselves and their servants. In the
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world we want everyone fits. In the world we want many worlds to fit. (Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos Indigenous Clandestine Revolutionary Committee General Command of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation Mexico, January of 1996)
It is not only, or no more, a political issue only. It is a matter of cosmopolitics: Human and non-human beings discover themselves as intimately connected in previously unimagined ways (Stengers 2010, 2011). Recent anthropological and ethnographical enquiries have focused on the entanglement between thinking forests (Kohn 2013), earth-beings (de la Cadena 2015), and humans living with them in a “world of many worlds” (de la Cadena and Blaser 2018). The multiplicity of relations established between different actors in and between different worlds calls also for a re-appreciation of the role of indigenous shamans as brokers, mediators, and translators. It is not by chance that, on the anthropological side of the ontological turn, we find primarily scholars who have been engaging with shamans for years, as in the case of Viveiros de Castro, Descola, de la Cadena among others. It could be also worth recalling the framework offered by the revisitation of animism as a relational epistemology (Bird-David 1999). Anthropocene, eco-cosmology, and disasters appear compounded in the autobiographical account of Davi Kopenawa (Kopenawa and Albert 2013), where the recent history of the Yanomami people is retold against the background of a massive economic, social, and spiritual assault on the Amazon. The life-story of the Yanomami shaman becomes a powerful reflection not only on the inner process leading to (shamanic) awareness of the surrounding, but also reveals the intrinsic ecological value of some indigenous thinking. In addition, it reconfigures past events and current crisis in a discursive way, framed in prophetic, eschatological language, successfully transforming the autobiography in a major outcry, and a sharp critique, against the constellation of practices of environmental and social exploitation which could lead to the definitive disaster, the falling sky (the end of the world). The message is very clear and simple: You cannot fill your belly by clearing and burning all the forest! This only attracts Ohiri, the hunger spirit, and the man- eater beings of the epidemics, nothing else. If we mistreat the forest, it will become our enemy. (Kopenawa and Albert 2013, 398)
The current Covid-19 pandemic is just one more hint that there is actually no separation between the human and the non-human, and that unseen, yet material, agents have the power to smash the once-presumed primacy of human beings over the biosphere: The spread of the virus sparked a major global economic, social, sanitary, and political crisis. It started, as it seems as we write, as a zoonotic disease spilling over from a reservoir animal (rumors say a bat, or a pangolin) into a novel host species. Some analysts proposed the Wuhan wet-market as the ideal place for the spillover to take place. Interestingly, if we think as the wet-market as a place where multiple worlds collapse one into each other (the human and the non-human, the wild and the domesticated, the rural and the urban, the subsistence economy of the countryside and the bourgeoisie culinary diet, the exploiters and the exploited, etc.), it is easy to see it as epitomizing many of the conflicts we were hinting at in the previous paragraph. Reflecting on Mary Douglas’ notions of purity and danger (1966), we could say too many borders have been transgressed, and each liminal threshold entails dangerous outcomes. These are times for disasters, and full of dire consequences, but, as in the famous Hölderlin’s poem Patmos (1803), “where there is danger, salvation grows too.”
Chapters overview3 In her chapter, Diana Riboli discusses the interpretations and perceptions of natural disasters among the Chepang of Central and Southern Nepal and the Batek of Peninsular Malaysia. Both these groups maintain deep links with the world of the forest and its creatures. The narratives of the Batek about the tsunami, which started from Sumatra in 2015 and the interpretations of earthquakes, floods, and landslides among the Chepang have many points in common. The other-than-human beings’ rage caused by the destruction of the environment and wild exploitation of natural resources transcends local boundaries assuming global proportions. In both case-studies, religious specialists—whose authority is particularly affected by economic, cultural, and religious transnational neocolonialism and State policies—are called to restore the eco-cosmological order and balance. Widespread logging and extractivism have seriously disrupted the lives of many indigenous communities worldwide. Emanuele Fabiano analyzes how the Urarina of Chambira basin (Peruvian Amazon) cope with environmental disasters caused by oil spills and neo-extractivist
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entrepreneurship in the last decade. The chapter describes in vivid detail the emblematic interpretation provided by shamans to territory devastation. The perception is that evil spirits associated with contagious disease and neocolonial politics entered into an alliance with the “whites,” the State, and executives of extractive companies. Therefore, Urarina shamans must find new cosmopolitical strategies to deal with these treacherous non-human beings who are moving to the interior of the Urarina territory using the oil pipelines. The examination of indigenous eco-cosmologies and cosmopolitical relations with other-than-human beings continues in Ivan Tacey’s chapter. Through a careful analysis, the author explores how Bateks (Peninsular Malaysia) have reconfigured their eco-cosmologies, relations with other-than-human beings and discourses about their shamanic practices as extractive industries have rapidly and radically transformed their formerly-forested environments. The forest periphery is a site of complex interconnection with a variety of actors and agencies of the forest and the local and larger national and globalized human environment. From this peripheral location, Batek shamans have reassembled relations with other-than-human beings and built new discourses about environmental changes. The chapter by Taj Khan Kalash is a relevant contribution to the studies of the Kalasha of Hindu Kash. As a Native scholar, the author offers a very detailed and sensitive ethnographic description of the major floods occurred in the area in 2010–2015. Kalasha eco-cosmology and worldview are based on the dichotomization of the world in ritually pure (onjehsta) and ritually impure (pragata), and the belief in a multitude of non-human beings who interact with the human world. The author reminds us that in Kalasha language there is no word for “nature” and that the Kalasha do not feel superior to other-than-human beings. The plant, animal, and human spheres as well as spirits are interrelated and indispensable to each other. Perceptions about natural disasters are discussed in relation to the complex past and present relationships between the Kalasha and the Islamic State, the political economic transformations and the problems caused by resource extraction. Stewart and Strathern’s chapter discusses the importance of ecological renewal rituals comparing two very different cultures and geographically distant sites. In their analysis, they demonstrate that the megalithic monuments in the County Donegal (Republic of Ireland) and two renewal rituals celebrated in the past by the Duna and the Hagen in
the Highlands of Papua New Guinea had very similar meanings and purposes. In all the case-studies, fertility, ecological renewal, and solutions of crisis were sought through ritualized healing practices celebrated in sites of particular cosmological relevance. It is noteworthy that recently a group of the Minembi tribe in Papua New Guinea began the reconstruction of the sacred site for one of the two rituals (Amb Kor) not only as part of cultural revival, but also with the aim to contribute to ecological awareness. The chapter of Lidia Guzy explores the entanglements between new religions, conversion processes, and the environment, in Koraput district of Orissa (India). The Mahima Dharma, an ascetic religion spread through Orissa since the end of nineteenth century as a popular and antagonistic reaction of brahmanic hegemony. After the 1950s started to become popular also among the indigenous population of the Koraput district. Adapting to this new setting, the new religion had to adjust to a milieu marked by a strong interaction with the environment, mediated by shamans and shamanesses and entailing deep and long-lasting relationship with specific features of the landscape. Alekh Dharma, the local name given to the new religion in Koraput, seems to merge the ascetic with the ecstatic, resuming the traditional ecstatic performances of shamanic religious specialists and highlighting their organic connections with a sacred landscape, centered, as they are, around sacred groves and trees. Sacred or not, landscape is increasingly put under pressure by processes aiming at the exploitation of resources. Such dynamics often sparks tensions between local communities and the actual exploiters who, more often than not, come from outside. Davide Torri, in his chapter, explores Himalayan (mainly Buddhist and animist) notions on the complex relations between human beings and non-human entities inhabiting the cosmos, with examples drawn from mythological accounts and ethnographic field notes related to the ontologies of some indigenous (adivasi) groups of India and Nepal. Disturbances and turbulences at social level reverberate through the landscape, and are often interpreted as the anger of local numinous agents. Valentina Punzi’s contribution to this book deals with a similar situation in Quinghai (China), where a series of flooding, landslides, and hailstorms caused havoc in Jinyuan. Local interpretations seem to identify the root-cause of these disasters in the wrath of the local deities known in
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Tibetan as gzhi bdag, “owners of the land,” a class of supernatural entities. The reason of their wrath, as explained by Buddhist monks after the performance of geomantic rituals, was the existence of gold mines established by the plunderers at the orders of the Muslim warlord Ma Bufang during the 1930s–1940s. The gold-connection of the troublesome past with contemporary events exposes a web of past memories and present fears, where dramatic changes, migration processes, ghosts and workers, cosmological concerns and development issues appear as interwoven in a single, yet polyphonic, narrative. A similar topic resurfaces in Stefano Beggiora’s chapter, where he describes large-scale exploitative processes directly opposing the indigenous groups collectively known in the Indian subcontinent as adivasi. By taking into account the case of the Dongria Khonds of Orissa/Odisha (India), after a detailed examination of the historical relations between this group and the state and their worldview, he analyzes the cluster of issues revolving around the Niyamgiri hills and projects of bauxite mining of the Vedanta corporation. In this particular case, the actual establishment of the mining complex would have led not only to the physical destruction of the sacred landscape, but also to the actual cultural annihilation of the indigenous people, condemned to become cheap labor force, or to relocate elsewhere and thus losing their intimate connection with the ancestral landscape and their cultural memory. Drawing from the Chinese classics Shang Shu and Guo Yu, Naran Bilik explores the topic of social and natural disasters deriving from the separation between “nature” and “culture” as foretold in the legend of the separation between Heaven and Earth. Disasters of modern times, he argues, seem to derive from “ruthless development driven by the dominant ideology that embraces a binary, conceptual division between nature and culture on one hand, and nature and humankind on the other” (Naran Bilik, in this volume). Overcoming this binary hermeneutical system, shamanism—which is considered “folk culture” and not “religion” in China—as a source of ecological thinking could help us to redefine causes of disasters. The volume ends with an afterword by Andrew Strathern and Pamela Stewart, in which they sum up some final considerations regarding rituals and ritual specialists in times of disruptions and crisis. In a time or rising concerns over climate change and its consequences, and as the Covid-19 pandemic has shown on an unprecedented scale, economic welfare and health systems can be brought to a global halt in
relatively short times by environmental crisis. A clear sign that growth and profit should not be the main, if not the only, criterion to take into consideration to navigate the times ahead.
Notes 1. https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-on-climate-change-andcovid-19. 2. https://www.un.org/development/desa/indigenouspeoples/covid-19. html. 3. The majority of the contributions were presented as papers during the international workshop “Shamanism and Eco-cosmologies. A Cross-cultural Perspective,” held at Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences (Athens, Greece) in 2017.
Bibliography Arnoldi, Jakob. 2009. Risk: An Introduction. Cambridge: Polity Press. Beck, Ulrich. 1992 . Risk Societies: Toward a New Modernity. London: Sage. Bird-David, Nurit. 1999. “‘Animism’ Revisited: Personhood, Environment, and Relational Epistemology.” Current Anthropology 40 (1) (February): 67–S91. Douglas, Mary. 1966. Purity and Danger. An Analysis of Concept of Pollution and Taboo. New York: Routledge. de la Cadena, Marisol. 2015. Earth Beings. Ecologies of Practice Across Andean Worlds. Durham: Duke University Press. de la Cadena, Marisol and Mario Blaser (eds). 2018. A World of Many Worlds. Durham: Duke University Press. Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. 1980. Mille Plateaux: Capitalisme et Schizophrénie. Paris: Éditions de Minuit. Descola, Philippe. 2005. Par-delà Nature et Culture. Paris: Collection Bibliothèque des Sciences Humaines, Gallimard. Descola, Philippe. 2011. L’Écologie des Autres. L’Anthropologie et la Question de la Nature. Paris: Éditions Quae. Descola, Philippe. 2014. La Composition des Mondes. Entretiens avec Pierre Charbonnier. Paris: Collection Sciences Humaines, Flammarion. Descola, Philippe, and Gísli Pálsson, eds. 1996. Nature and Society: Anthropological Perspectives. London and New York: Routledge. Ducarme, Frédéric, and Denis Couvet. 2020. “What Does ‘Nature’ Mean?” Palgrave Communication 6 (14). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-0200390-y.
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Foucault, Michel. 1966. Les Mots et les Choses. Une Archeologie des Sciences Humaines. Paris: Gallimard. Giddens, Anthony. 1991. Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Cambridge: Polity Press. Haraway, Donna. 2016. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham: Duke University Press. Hoffman, Susanna M. 2002. “The Monster and the Mother: The Symbolism of Disaster.” In Catastrophe and Culture: The Anthropology of Disaster, edited by Susanna M. Hoffman and Anthony Oliver-Smith, 23–47. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press. Kohn, Eduardo. 2013. How Forests Think. Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human. Berkeley and London: University of California Press. Kopenawa, David, and Bruce Albert. 2013. The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman. USA: Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press. Latour, Bruno. 2017 . Facing Gaia: Eight Lectures on the New Climatic Regime. Cambridge, UK and Medford, MA: Polity Press. Lovelock, James. 2000 . Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Lovelock, James, and Lynn Margulis. 1974. “Atmospheric Homeostasis by and for the Biosphere: The Gaia Hypothesis.” Tellus 26 (1–2): 2–10. Morton, Timothy. 2013. Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World. Minneapolis and London: University Of Minnesota Press. Oliver-Smith, Anthony. 2002. “Theorizing Disasters: Nature, Power, and Culture.” In Catastrophe and Culture. The Anthropology of Disaster, edited by Susanna M. Hoffman and Anthony Oliver-Smith, 23–47. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press. Oliver-Smith, Anthony, and Susanna M. Hoffman, eds. 1999. The Angry Earth. Disaster in Anthropological Perspective. New York and London: Routledge. Roothaan, Angela. 2019. Indigenous, Modern and Postcolonial Relations to Nature. Oxon and New York: Routledge. Schenk, Gerrit J. 2007. “Historical Disaster Research. State of Research, Concepts, Methods and Case Studies.” Historical Social Research 32 (3): 9–31. Singer, Merrill. 2009. “Pathogens Gone Wild? Medical Anthropology and the ‘Swine-Flu’ Pandemic.” Medical Anthropology 28 (3): 199–206. Stengers, Isabelle. 2010. Cosmopolitics I . Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press. Stengers, Isabelle. 2011. Cosmopolitics II . Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press. Tsing, Anna L., Neils Bubandt, Elaine Gan, and Anne Swanson, eds. 2017. Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.
Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo, and Déborah Danowski. 2017. The Ends of the World. Cambridge, UK and Malden, MA, USA: Polity Press. Wildcat, Daniel R. 2009. Red Alert. Saving the Planet with Indigenous Knowledge. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishers. Wu, Xiao, and Rachel C. Nethery. 2020. “Exposure to Air Pollution and COVID-19 Mortality in the United States: A Nation-wide Cross-sectional Study.” MedRxiv (Article in preprint). https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.04. 05.20054502.
“The War Has Just Begun.” Nature’s Fury Against Neocolonial “Spirit/s”: Shamanic Perceptions of Natural Disasters in Comparative Perspective Diana Riboli
Introduction This chapter discusses the interpretations and perceptions of natural disasters among the Chepang of Central and Southern Nepal and the Batek of Peninsular Malaysia. In particular, the study aims to describe how the religious specialists Chepang pande and Batek hala’, thanks to their privileged relationship with other-than-human persons and their ability to travel to other cosmic zones, make sense of disasters and explain them to other members of the group. Despite their geographical distance, cultural variation, and the different social, religious, and political situations in Nepal and Malaysia, respectively, the two ethnic groups’ eco-cosmological and religious beliefs have much in common. The Chepang, whose origin is still uncertain, were
D. Riboli (B) Department of Social Anthropology, Panteion University, Athens, Greece © The Author(s) 2021 D. Riboli et al. (eds.), Dealing with Disasters, Palgrave Studies in Disaster Anthropology, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-56104-8_2
among the last peoples in Nepal to abandon—approximately five to six decades ago—the nomadic lifestyle (Riboli 2000; Gurung 1989). Considered to pertain to the Semang-Negrito subgroup,1 most of the Batek were forcibly resettled in villages under the control of Malaysian government during the past forty years. However, approximately five hundreds of them are still hunter-gatherer forest dwellers in Taman Negara national park. Both groups maintain a highly egalitarian social structure and their economic and ritual activities, as well as their mythologies and traditional knowledge, are deeply connected with the forests and the non-human beings inhabiting them. Due to different historical circumstances, the Chepang and Batek also share a dramatic past of slavery and exploitation. Nowadays, they continue to be among the most marginalized and poorest groups in Nepal and Malaysia, respectively, while they experience continuous discrimination. Despite the fact that most of the Chepang claim to be Hindu2 and many Batek Muslim, their original religions are animistic and their religious specialists—still key-figures in the communities—can be subsumed in the broad category of spiritual leaders defined as shamans by social sciences and humanities. Like many other indigenous peoples worldwide, the Chepang and Batek have to face the devastating consequences of natural disasters such as floods, landslides, very violent storms, earthquakes, and tsunamis. These challenges are exacerbated by the fact that their daily activities and spiritual life still depend upon the natural environment. A wide range of economic studies have demonstrated the nexus between geophysical (e.g., earthquakes), hydrological (e.g., floods), climatological (e.g., droughts) and meteorological (e.g., storms) hazards, poverty, and vulnerability (Sawada and Takasaki 2012; Asthana 2014; Julca 2012; Strömberg 2007). According to seismology, meteorology, and a number of other environmental sciences, in the past natural disasters took place alongside with the development of natural trends, and were therefore part of natural processes. However—starting from the nineteenth century—their dynamics seem to be heavily influenced by anthropogenic factors. This is more than evident in Nepal where, since the 1950s, rampant deforestation has been a very serious issue as well as in Malaysia, where intense logging and extractivism have had disastrous consequences on the environment. The atmospheric physicists Kondratyev, Krapivin, and Varotsos underlined that Nature (N) and Human Society (H) are a single planetary system and having hierarchical structures (|N|, |H|) interact, each with the aims of its own (N, H).
“THE WAR HAS JUST BEGUN.” NATURE’S FURY …
This interaction can be expressed in three ways: cooperative behavior (+), antagonistic relationship (−), and indifferent behavior (0) (Kondratyev et al. 2006, 32). After numerous anthropological and philosophical debates focused on the Nature/Culture dichotomy hard sciences remind us that human societies and nature are, in fact, just a single planetary system. This approach offers a very different interpretational framework. Shifting this discussion to anthropological studies, we could immediately notice that the unity between society and nature is the fundamental conceptual pillar of many indigenous cultures. Moreover, particularly the first two kinds of interaction between H and N—cooperative behavior vs antagonistic relationship—in fact express two fundamental and very different ways of thinking and being in the world. Indigenous cultures the world over greatly differ from capitalistic and neoliberal systems mostly because are based on cooperative and not antagonistic relationship with nature. Anna Tsing highlighted the fact that by the end of the Cold War, huge areas in Africa, as well as in South America and Asia (the so called under developing or—what sounds more politically correct—“developing” or “low income” countries) were being opened up to rampant and uncontrolled “frontier capitalism” (Tsing 2005, 27–50) through free trade agreements and structural adjustment programs pushed by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization. Colonialism or better neo(colonial)liberalism, the Capital’s Second Coming according to the Comaroff and Comaroff (2000), is becoming more and more aggressive and much more elusive as it is not so visible and evident as in the past, and, in many cases, it happens with apparent indigenous consent. The destruction and degradation of many ecosystems go hand in hand with the violent physical and cultural repression of sustainable and alternative ways of living and thinking and of other moral systems adopting eco-cosmological principles based on the collaboration with nature and not on its illogical and violent exploitation. Natural disasters are phenomena of global proportions, hitting many different peoples and countries worldwide, irrespectively of social hierarchies and national borders. Atmospheric physics studies demonstrated that “the scale of natural disasters increases both in frequency of occurrence and in damage caused” (Kondratyev et al. 2006, 50). The increase of natural disasters seems to be related to anthropogenic factors, primarily
as a consequence of global capitalism, neocolonial and neoliberal biopolitics. The interaction between society and nature depends on the technological level of development of each country: Rich countries are of course much more responsible for environmental damages, but are also more prepared to foresee and face them while poor countries and/or impoverished communities, despite having less responsibilities, suffer the greater damages in economic terms and human losses. In the last decades, anthropologists have engaged in discussions about the “local” and the “global” both from a theoretical and a methodological point of view. But does the “local” truly exist anymore? As highlighted by Henrietta Moore “the local/global debate suggests that partiality may not always be truly partial!…Partiality becomes part of a part/whole relationship” (Moore 2004, 78). All over the world, indigenous knowledge and shamanic knowledge in particular, although deeply rooted and linked in specific ancestral territories in different geographical areas, were never confined just to a “local” reality. Shamans are powerful healers, spiritual leaders, and political figures in charge of maintaining and, in many cases, restoring the cosmic (global) balance. They travel to different cosmic zones and are privy to close, non-hierarchical connection and relationship with nature and other-thanhuman beings. Shamans in Peninsular Malaysia and in Nepal feel they are facing a new and extremely dangerous situation. A furious revenge of natural forces, Earth and other-than-human beings who declared war to what could be defined as neocolonial and neoliberal “spirits.” Like me, other anthropologists are now witnessing very similar cases.3 Extremely worried about the swift and dramatic consequences of climate change and natural disasters, Batek and Chepang spiritual leaders—expanding their interpretational framework well beyond the ethnic boundaries or the national borders—explain them as a global punishment. While the ancestral territory of the Batek has been polluted and devastated by logging and extractivism, the Chepang—especially after the earthquakes which hit Nepal in 2015 and frequent devastating floods and landslides—are facing major social changes and intra-ethnic conflicts mainly due to the massive entrance of Christian organizations in Nepal and therefore of a new ideology which declared war to shamans’ “superstitions” and “backwardness.”
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The Batek and the Tsunami With a population of 1447 individuals (JAKOA 2012), most of the Batek were resettled by the Malaysian government and live in villages at the edges of the pluvial forest, between the boundaries of vast palm-oil plantations. Nevertheless, it is estimated that about 500 Batek still lead a nomadic life in the biggest Malaysian national park (Taman Negara). Their culture and a large part of economic activity are very much tied to the rainforest and other-than-human persons related to it (animals, plants, atmospheric phenomena, and various elements of their sacred landscape as certain caves, rocks and rivers) (Endicott 1979; Riboli 2009, 2011, 2013; Tacey 2013, 2016, 2018; Lye 2000, 2002, 2004). Therefore, they are particularly affected by the climatic variations and by the environmental and water pollution caused by pesticides, logging, and mining activities.4 The well-being and the very existence of the Batek, as occurs with most of the Semang-Negrito, are seriously threatened by a wide range of national and transnational agents (Riboli 2016a; Subramaniam 2016; Tacey 2016). The destruction of their natural habitat along with the governmental Islamization campaigns and efforts to assimilate them to the Malay culture and way of life in the name of development and modernity (Endicott 2016; Nobuta 2009; Tacey and Riboli 2014) hints at an uncertain future. Poverty and lack of resources push more and more Batek to migrate abroad, in particular to Arab countries, usually joining low cost labor force. As an acephalous group that maintains an egalitarian social structure, the Batek attribute unlucky events, epidemics, and sicknesses mostly to the gob, the outsiders, while devastation resulting from violent thunderstorms and floods are interpreted as punishments sent by the most powerful being of the ultra-human world: Gobar, the Lord of Thunder. Gobar, known by a number of names among different groups (Tacey 2018, 90–94; Riboli 2013, 139–142; Dentan 2009, 68; Gomes 2007, 38–39; Roseman 1991, 137; Howell 1984, 79; Endicott 1979, 163– 168), is believed to live in solitude in the sky or—according to other versions—on the peak of a mountain. He is a distant and irascible god, a punisher who manifests his anger by sending violent thunderstorms to the humans. Although the Batek deeply respect and fear the Lord of Thunder, they do not consider him an evil being and sometimes they even mock him. Having an enormous amount of power, Gobar is believed to be unable to control his feelings and this is the reason why sometimes he blows his punishments out of proportions, in forms of thunderstorms. It
is noteworthy that in the past Gobar’s punishments were meant mostly for Batek who had violated one of the numerous taboos regulating their social life. Nowadays, and as we will see in the account about the tsunami which I discuss below, Gobar’s rage seems to address not only dangerous national, but also transnational agents and enemies responsible of injustices, vicious violence, and environmental degradation. Similarly, in the past the term gob, the outsiders, when used in a negative way,5 was mostly referred to the Muslim Malay, who hold the political power since Malaysia’s independence from the British colonial domination (1957). Nevertheless, nowadays among the most dangerous gob the Batek include the foreign poachers and traffickers roaming in the forests, the national and foreign owners and workers of mining and logging companies and plantations as well as peoples and politicians from other countries believed to be aggressive and dangerous for the entire world because, first of all, of their greed. Quite frequently the Batek listen to the news, since even the nomad or semi-nomad groups have radios powered with batteries, televisions, and electric generators. The alarming and frequent reports provided by journalists on violence and sexual crimes against Asian migrant workers in Arab countries have created the belief that Arabs are generally dangerous and violent among the population. As we will see, this particular perception played a significant role in the interpretations of the tsunami wave which started from Indonesia in 2004. Despite the fact that the number of hala’ (shamans) is decreasing, many Batek still feel they have an intimate and privileged relationship with non-human beings who, as mentioned earlier, are related to the natural, wild world, who is now in agony. Even Gobar, mostly described as an anthropomorphic or animal-like figure (Tacey 2018, 93), in reality is the personification of the most powerful and frightening atmospheric phenomenon: thunder, but also rain. Once, one of the last hala’-tigers of the rainforest told me that there are different opinions about Gobar’s appearance and places where he lives, just because in reality Gobar is everywhere and, especially when it is raining, Gobar is in every single raindrop. One and multiple at the same time (Fig. 2.1). The earthquake of 9.3 magnitude which struck Sumatra on the 26th of December 2004 creating a devastating tsunami wave which killed over 230,000 people worldwide was a shocking event, despite the fact that the Batek, since they live far away from Malaysian coastal areas and islands, were not directly affected. In 2005, during a project with nomads Batek in Taman Negara, I inquired about their perceptions of the causes of the
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Fig. 2.1 Hala’-tiger Macang (Photo D. Riboli, Taman Negara, Malaysia, 2006)
tsunami (Riboli 2013, 145–146). In the group I was living with, a young hala’ during a dream-like state had gotten the explanation of what had happened: The tsunami, somehow perceived as a giant flood, was Gobar’s punishment for the worst of all infractions: the pouring of menstrual blood into the seawater or a river. The story is extremely interesting, with a transnational and global plot. According to the hala’, in an Arab country—probably Dubai or Saudi Arabia—a rich family had hired a poor Indonesian girl as a housemaid. Due to the constant physical, psychological, and sexual abuse perpetrated against her by her employer,6 the girl
had decided to take revenge preparing a magical concoction containing her own menstrual blood and throwing it into the sea. In Malaysia, Indonesian women are commonly believed to be skilled in black magic and the aim of the girl was to make her cruel employer suffer and probably even kill him. But when the concoction touched the seawater, soon things got out of control as the powerful mix of blood and magic spells tried to go back to Sumatra, where the girl was born. When the small magic bundle transported by the sea currents was close to the Malaysian coast, Gobar perceived the girl’s pain and suffering and smelled the repulsive odor of her menstrual blood. The Lord of Thunder’s rage together with the menstrual blood became a devastating force which exploded once arrived in Sumatra giving rise to a gigantic wave which hit fourteen different countries from Southeast Asia to Africa. The young hala’ and other members of the community told me that the night before the earthquake hit Sumatra, they had understood that something very serious was going to happen as the peacock-pheasants (Polyprecton malacense)—usually living in remote areas of the jungle— had come to the edges of the forest and cried all night. Nobody slept that night and the hala’ in particular was worried about what he thought could have been a sign that the entire world would have been destroyed. The fact that Batek shamans’ concerns, perceptions, and actions are not confined to a local reality is even more evident in the story Ivan Tacey collected among the Manya’—also known as Batek Tanum—about the village hala’ ’s soul-journey to Japan after the tsunami of 2011 which caused the nuclear accidents of Fukushima. While traveling inside the earth in a dream or altered state of consciousness, the hala’ waved and tied the cosmic threads given to him by the spirits of the Underworld and the upper world in order to hold the underground rainbow snake (Baji’) in place and repair/heal the damaged earth (Tacey 2018, 3–4). After the hala’ ’s intervention of cosmic reconstruction, the Batek were expecting that Japan would have economically aided their village. Therefore, I agree with Tacey who argues that hala’ and other-than-human beings’ activities and behaviors are not exclusively related to the local environment. On the contrary, “they are understood as central to a much wider cosmo-political realm” (Tacey 2018, 4).
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The Chepang, the Earthquake, and the Landslides In May 2018, walking in a forest in Parsa Wildlife Reserve (Makwanpur District, Nepal) to reach a Chepang village, on the bank of Rapti river I came across a large encampment comprised of tents and wooden shelters. The spectacle was bleak and depressing: More than a hundred temporary huts made out of plastic sheets, branches, and pieces of wood scattered under the tall trees, a dozen of goats, skinny chickens, mangy dogs, and a group of women, young kids and a few elders sitting in the sun, visibly worn out because of the extreme poverty and sicknesses. In surprise, I joined the group. One of the elders told me that the name of the place was Nay¯am Bast¯ı, the New Settlement (Fig. 2.2). The settlement comprised of more than one hundred and fifty families. Approximately 80% were Chepang and the remainder were Tamang. They all lived in desperate conditions after the terrible floods which devastated many areas in Southern Nepal in August 2017 and a consequent massive
Fig. 2.2 Nay¯am Bast¯ı (Photo D. Riboli, Nepal, 2018)
landslide which had canceled four villages and the fields located on the slopes of a nearby hill. According to the population, the landslide occurred in the middle of the night when everybody was sleeping. Luckily, most of the people managed to run away without having the time to take anything with them, with the exception of just few goats. In the camp, there was no water except that of the very polluted river. As a result, most of the adults and children were sick. Later, I found out that the most frequent causes of death and sicknesses were hepatitis, TB, typhoid fever, parasitic diseases, dysentery, skin infections, snakes and centipedes’ bites, pneumonia and flu. Tents and shelters were exposed to the rain, cold, poisonous, and wild animals. Tigers had already entered the settlement several times, attracted by the smell of goats and chickens. Just few days after my visit, a tiger attacked and killed a young woman and her son who were grazing their two goats not far from the settlement. The men’s absence was due to the fact that every morning most of them left the camp walking up to three hours in the hope to be hired for a ridiculously meager salary as wage laborers in roads construction. In the weeks following the landslide, the government, UNICEF and Christian organizations, had provided sacks of food, clothes, a few toilets, plastic and corrugated iron sheets, but all kind of help had soon stopped. The government wanted to relocate the families in an area that the latter didn’t consider suitable, as—in their opinion— it was too close to the river bank and therefore at high risk of flooding during the rainy season which every year seems to be more unpredictable and severe in Nepal as elsewhere in South Asia. I guess that the reason behind the cessation of aid was that the occupation of a portion of the national park for housing purposes is illegal. The population of Nay¯am Bast¯ı, still traumatized by the two devastating earthquakes which hit the country in 2015, considered the landslide—occurred almost two years later—a direct consequence not only of the violent downpours but also of the seismic activity itself. After the earthquakes, the number of landslides has increased. Nepal is undoubtedly a disaster-prone country sitting in a very seismic location on the boundary of Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates from the collision of which the Himalayan range was built about twenty million years ago. But more frequent than earthquakes are geo-hydraulic hazards such as floods, landslides, and avalanches which are increasing and becoming more devastating, because of climate change. These hazards and the
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melting glaciers are coupled with anthropogenic factors such as deforestation, road construction, unplanned urbanization, increasing population, and land degradation (Pant 2016; Qiu 2016; CDPS 2016). The Chepang, with a population estimated around sixty-eight thousand (Bureau of Statistic, Government of Nepal 2012), are one of the most impoverished and marginalized groups of the country with 88.16% of the people living below the poverty level (Haughton and Khandker 2009). They inhabit mostly inhospitable lands on the slopes of Mah¯abh¯arat range which do not allow for adequate production of crops to the annual needs. Therefore, for about five months in a year the Chepang depend on wage labor and, at least in some communities, on the forest for sustenance. Many young Chepang, most of whom are totally or almost illiterate, migrate to Arab countries, Malaysia, and India most frequently trusting intermediaries who promise them, or their parents, significant profits. Many of them will never return as the Chepang are also one of the most vulnerable groups in terms of human trafficking and child labor, two plagues that dramatically increased after the earthquakes.7 Despite the fact that in Nepal natural resources are limited, in order to understand the involvement of transnational agents, we should not forget that human and organ trafficking as well as illegal trade of drugs and weapons make the country very vulnerable to all kinds of exploitation. An additional recently, destabilizing factor of transnational nature is the massive entrance in the country of numerous Christian organizations, offering educational opportunities and health care to disadvantaged populations. During the Panch¯ayat partyless system, imposed by King Mahendra in 1960 and dissolved by King Birendra in 1990 after a popular uprising, proselytism and conversion were illegal and Christians were relentlessly persecuted by the government. Despite the fact that— even during the Panch¯ayat—some Christian missionaries continued to proselytize in secret in remote areas of Nepal, paradoxically they had easier access to the country during the Maoist revolution and subsequent Maoist government. In fact, Maoism and Christian ideology attracted many people belonging to marginalized groups and lower castes, using a very similar message preaching modernization, social justice, gender equality, and abolition of the caste-system (Riboli 2016b; Zharkevich 2016). In 1963, the legal code Muluki Ain was amended and discrimination on the basis of caste was declared illegal. In May 2011, all practices regarding untouchability were legally prohibited both in the public and private spheres.8 However, the Dalits (approximately 13% of the Nepali
population) and minorities such as the Chepang experience ongoing discrimination. In the last decade, after the abolishment of the Hindu monarchy in 2008 and the proclamation of Nepal as a secular (dharmanirapeksha) country (Gellner et al. 2016), the number of Christians has more than tripled (Toffin 2016, 117). The Chepang together with the Dalit and other marginalized groups are one of the fastest growing Christian populations not only in the Himalayan region but—according to Christian organizations and the World Christian Database9 —in the entire world. Proselytism and in general to entice someone to convert to another religion is still forbidden by the Nepali constitution and punished with five years in prison. The government officially only recognizes Hindu religious establishments and Buddhist monasteries. Therefore, Christian groups must register in the country as Non-Governmental Organizations. The number of Christian NGOs, mostly Protestant and Catholic, increased enormously after the 2015 earthquakes reaching even remote areas, providing relief and medical care but also distributing bibles, financing the construction of churches, and informing the populations about Christian ideology. Elsewhere, I discussed the numerous and complex reasons which lead many Chepang to convert (Riboli 2016b). The Chepang and pandes ’ (shaman/s) perceptions about the increasing of natural disasters are mostly shaped by and somehow mirror the sociopolitical tensions and sense of uncertainty within the group, as well as in relation with other groups and casts. The rifts in the social fabric are quite evident. These are tangibly visible since in villages Christian Chepang houses—usually richer and made out of bricks—are at a distance from those of unconverted Chepang, which in contrast are poor shelters built with uneven pieces of wood. Families are divided and the relations between Christian and non-Christian Chepang are often not particularly friendly. The spiritual leadership, once entirely held by the pande, is now contested between the latter and the increasing number of young men who decide to become pastors (Tanaka 2013, 73). Antagonism manifests itself in reciprocal accusations of impurity and antisocial behavior. There is much debate regarding funds sent to pastors from abroad: In particular, pande accuse pastors of being greedy and not to share the money and goods with their unconverted companions, while the pastors accuse the pande of being cheaters and addicted to alcohol and drugs. One of the most common mutual accusations fiercely sustained by both actors
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is that of improper sexual behavior and incest. On a ritual level, pastors forbid their followers to take part in rites of passage other than Christian and to worship ancestors, while pande sustain that the decrease of ritual offers to ancestors, spirits, and deities as well as greed provoke gods and goddesses’ rage and punishments in form of violent storms, earthquakes, and landslides. In particular, in the Makwanpur District—the main area of my present research—since the 2015 earthquakes, pande declare that Bh¯umi is at war, determined to take her revenge. This goddess, whose name is derived from the Sanskrit bhumi, is quite neglected by the Hindus of high cast (Lecomte-Tilouine 2010, 19) although I believe she is becoming more and more important for the Chepang. Her name is often mentioned together with Shimi. In other groups and especially among the Magar, Shimi, whose name means “the one from muddy ground, from the source” (Lecomte-Tilouine 2010, 25) and Bh¯umi (or Bh¯ume) are the divinities of the dry and wet land, respectively (de Sales 1996, 59; Lecomte-Tilouine 2010). The Chepang of Makwanpur believe they are a married couple formed by Mother Earth (Bh¯ umi) and Father Tree (Shimi). In Chepang tradition, Shimi does not seem to be directly connected with water but with the forest instead. Most of the pandes ’ narratives about floods and landslides focus on the idea of human sins, immoral behavior, and greed (accused formulated mostly against Christians), although they also mention deforestation and environmental pollution as main causes of Shimi-Bh¯ umi and other nonhuman beings’ rage and thirst for revenge. During one of my last projects in Makwanpur District, the old and very powerful woman pande Bisnu Maya talking about the earthquakes, the floods, and the landslides used a very powerful image: In ancient times, Bh¯umi was happy and light, dressed in lush forests, cleaned and refreshed by the water of many rivers and satisfied by what humans were offering her during shamanic rituals. But humans became more and more greedy, dirty, and sinful. They started to throw garbage in the rivers, to cut the forests and to defecate and urinate everywhere. They became jealous and selfish, sexually promiscuous, interested only in making money, neglecting Bh¯umi and other non-human beings. The many sins and impurity made the Earth heavier and heavier and for this reason she is now trying to get rid of humans, shaking off them from her body as they were annoying flies on a person’s skin. Bh¯umi’s shaking can be felt in the form of very violent earthquakes
although, during the rainy season, she also tries to wash off human settlements allowing the river to flood villages and covering them with mud during landslides. Therefore, according to Bisnu Maya, landslides, floods, and earthquakes are direct consequences of human greed which she also considers one of the main reasons leading many Chepang to convert to Christianity (Fig. 2.3). The explanations that the Chepang pande give to other members of the group about the increase of natural disasters, in most of the cases, refer to both practical and spiritual causes, which are related to each other: environmental degradation and other-than-human beings’ discontent and rage. In 2017, in the periphery of a small town not far from the Indian border, two very respected pande told me that just few weeks before the 2015 earthquakes, the construction of a new road had started and was later quickly abandoned. The work was financed mainly by foreign investors and commissioned by the government in the frame of a plan
Fig. 2.3 Chepang pande Bisnu Maya beating her drum (Photo D. Riboli, Nepal, 2019)
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for the development of rural areas. The construction project involved the clearance of a forest area in which the most important shrine dedicated to Shimi-Bh¯umi is located. In the world of pande Moan Bahadur: According to Chepang culture when a baby is born we talk with ShimiBh¯ umi, rivers, insects, birds, forests and snakes. We also talk with the Sun and the soil and we walk with them. Before the earthquake, workers came with big machines. They wanted to destroy our village shrine for ShimiBh¯ umi. Shimi-Bh¯ umi are like a father and a mother to us. The seven unmarried snakes who live in the Underworld managed to cause great damage to the machines, which could not work for seven days. [After repairing the machines] they tried again and the earth began to shake. The seven snakes had warned us [the pande]. They had told us that the entire world will be destroyed. This is because of the offense to the shrine but also because Christians say that our tradition is fake. They say that stones are just stones and that they should be destroyed.10 So this is the reason why the stones and Shimi-Bh¯ umi got angry.
Another pande, Th¯ul¯o Kancha who was one of my most important collaborators during my research in the 1990s, while explaining his perceptions about the 2015 earthquakes and the 2017 landslides to me, made indirect reference to organ and drug trafficking. Similarly to what stated by other pande and not converted Chepang, Th¯ul¯o Kanchha attributed the increase of devastating natural disasters to other-than-human beings’ wrath the consequences of which, in his opinion, will soon lead to the annihilation of mankind worldwide. Talking about the relation between natural disasters and the massive Chepang conversion to Christianity, one of his main concerns was related to funeral customs. In his words: …The earthquake happened because Chepang gods are angry since people turn to Christianity. In ancient times earthquakes happened only when the big fish who lives in the patal [Underworld] moved the [cosmic] pillar from one shoulder to the other… …People change their religion because is convenient. If you are Christian you do not need a funeral. It is enough to say “hallelujah”. There is no need to sacrifice a goat, no need to cry. They [the Christians] bury the corpse in a wooden box [coffin] with a cross and after seven days they unbury it, they break the wood, cut the head of the dead person and sell it together with the kidneys. I do not know to who they sell the brain and the kidneys. Rich people in USA and Europe want them. They [the
Christians] make a drug out of the human brain, then they roll it using a banknote and they smoke it to get drunk.
Despite the fact that in the past the Chepang used to bury the corpse of their deceased companions in the forest, for decades now they follow the Hindu tradition and therefore the rite of cremation, although the funeral is still celebrated by pande and not by Hindu priests (Riboli 2000, 46). The Christian burial custom is viewed with suspicion: The fact that corpses are placed in a coffin and not directly in contact with the soil seems strange. This gave rise to speculations and fantasies, the main one being that Christians aim to preserve the corpse for a certain period of time just in order to use—after few days—parts of it for illegal trafficking of organs and drugs. As in the case of the Batek, news broadcasted by radio and television as well as the strong images used in awareness campaigns against human, organs, and drug trafficking overlap with the ethnic/culture bound ones. Other pande and unconverted Chepang maintain that one of the main causes of earthquakes, floods, and landslides is that Christians kill snakes considering them evil beings. This sinful act provokes the rage of the N¯ aga, the serpentine non-human beings living in the Underworld venerated in Nepali Hindu, Buddhist as well as animistic complexes (Handa 2004). In Indian, Tibetan, and Nepali cultures some N¯ aga are believed to control the rain and therefore to be able to cause floods (Vargas 2006, 222). Moreover, most of the Chepang collaborating with me during my research mentioned the fact that—because of the disappearance of the forests and the persecution of snakes perpetrated by Christians—the gigantic N¯ aga as well as other non-human beings living in the Underworld are now in such distress that they move relentlessly causing the earth to tremble. One of them is D¯anav,11 a terrifying and very powerful divine being living in the Underworld with the head covered by huge horns. Dan¯av, feeling outraged and orphaned, bangs his head on the walls of the Underworld causing the earth shaking. Most of the people I met in Nay¯am Bast¯ı—the settlement in the forest I described above—had very similar opinions about the calamity that had affected them in such a violent way. Deforestation, sinful behaviors, and the intrusion of destabilizing transnational agents creating intra- and inter-ethnic conflictual situations were perceived as the main causes of the landslides but also as a warning foreshadowing the impellent destruction and disappearance of the humankind from the planet. Just few minutes
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before my departure from the encampment, a Chepang elder whispered to me: “It is too late. Gods and goddesses will not give us any more time. The pande know it already.”
Conclusions In both case studies, I have discussed the perceptions about the increase of natural disasters is by no means limited or related just to a “local” reality and the various interpretations unfailingly make reference both to local and global dimensions and issues. The predominant indigenous eco-cosmological and cosmo-political perception is that planet earth and humankind are in great danger. Behind the various interpretations and narratives about natural disasters which are expressed in a mythological frame lies what Wildcat defined as “indigenous realism” (Wildcat 2009, 9). The destruction of the natural environment, loss of ancestral territories, and exploitation of resources as well as the subsequent social inequalities, injustices, and conflicts are framed in a spiritual context, although without ever forgetting or forgiving human agency and therefore the anthropogenic factors behind global climate change and environmental destruction. Most of the problems are caused by or linked to the degradation and pollution of the natural environment, loss of ancestral territories, social exclusion, and many other forms of physical, psychological, cultural, structural, and environmental violence. It is noteworthy that other-than-human beings and the Earth are not any more acting just in a specific cultural and geographical context. The rage of the Malaysian Batek’s Lord of Thunder Gobar hit many different countries in various continents and even the protagonists of the story (a poor Indonesian housemaid and her cruel employer in an Arab country) were not Batek and not even indigenous. In Nepal, Shimi-Bh¯ umi, the N¯ aga and D¯anav, outraged by local as well as foreign individuals’ behaviors, brought on two massive earthquakes and more and more often they flood huge areas in South Asia, causing landslides which wipe out villages, cultivated fields, cattle, and humans in a few minutes. In the past Gobar as well as D¯anav, the N¯ aga and Shimi-Bh¯umi were considered to be mostly divine punishers who sent illness and misfortune to the Batek and Chepang transgressing the moral code and the social rules of their groups. Nowadays, they seem to play the role of global punishers, a quite recent development in indigenous worldviews.
Despite their different history, the Batek and Chepang share—as many other indigenous cultures the world over—a past of violent and traumatic experiences as well as a sense of deep uncertainty about the future. Moreover, they also share the pressure to convert to monotheistic written world religions—Islam for the Batek and Christianity for the Chepang— based on different moral codes and cultural values in comparison with their animistic traditions. Stewart and Strathern highlight that “physical and ‘mystical’ killings can form historical chains in people’s mind” (Stewart and Strathern 2002, 6). In Chepang and Batek accounts, the Earth and natural forces are at war and in this state of warfare mystical and physical violence join forces together, one becoming the consequence of the other. In shamans’ narratives, there are three main protagonists: the Earth/natural forces and their army of other-than-human persons; the neocolonial, capitalistic, and neoliberal “spirit/s,” described by Neil Whitehead as a “Cannibal WarMachine” (Whitehead 2013,149) with their national and transnational army of bureaucrats, missionaries, politicians, IMF, World Bank, NGOs, traffickers of all sorts, and—last but not least—the shamans themselves who—like heroes in an ancient Greek myth—try to restore the eco-cosmic balance dealing with the consequences of natural, divine, and human violent acts. I perceive the aforementioned situation as a “cosmic drama” which, similarly to what happens during shamanic séances, is staged on different cosmic spheres and where past, present, and future events intertwine without following a linear pattern. The main theme of this drama seems to be the state of open warfare but the end still appears to be uncertain. “Things went too far…The war has just begun” the Chepang pande Purna told me after a healing ceremony for a woman tormented by the spirits of her relatives who died during the earthquake. Natural forces, the Earth, and other-than-human beings are reacting to the “postcolonial imbalance” (Langford 2002) caused by neoliberalistic politics, neocolonial exploitation, and various forms of national and transnational violence. Indigenous eschatologies are assuming more apocalyptic dimensions, although shamans playing various roles on the cosmo-political stage which range from diplomacy to attack strategies, keep fighting to re-establish the precarious cosmic balance.
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Notes 1. The indigenous populations of Peninsular Malaysia known as “Orang Asli” (Original People) are divided in three subgroups: the Senoi, the Aboriginal-Malay, and the Semang-Negrito (Dentan et al. 1997; Nicholas 2000). 2. In the last decade and in particular with the end of the civil war in Nepal, many Chepang—considered by Hindus to belong to the lower castes or even as Untouchables—converted to Christianity, attracted by the Christian ideology preaching equality and social justice, as well as by the hope to improve their dramatic economic situation (Rai 2018; Riboli 2016b). 3. See, for example, the volume in which Laurel Kendall describes how Korean shamans deal with the effects of the austerity measures imposed by the International Monetary Fund in the country (Kendall 2009). 4. In July 2019, in the Batek village of Kuala Koh, many mysterious deaths occurred. Despite the fact that the Malaysian Ministry of Health declared measles as the cause of death, there is a well-founded suspicion that the real cause is pollution from pesticides and detritus from a nearby manganese mine. The case was reported in the international press (Ellis-Petersen 2019). 5. The term gob is not always used in a negative way. Gob is any foreigner and whoever does not belong to the Batek group or, in some cases, to the Orang Asli in general. 6. According to a survey conducted by Sayiadaty (a sister publication of Arab News), in 2011 three millions of maids were abused in the Gulf region and Egypt (http://www.arabnews.com/node/ 365880). In 2015, Indonesia banned its citizens from working in twenty-one Middle Eastern countries after two Indonesian housemaids who killed their employer in self-defense were executed in Saudi Arabia (https://www.newsdeeply.com/refugees/articles/2017/10/24/ indonesia-ban-hasnt-stopped-horrors-of-migrant-work-in-the-gulf). 7. Personal communications with officers working in Hetauda, Makwanpur District, at the NGO Maiti Nepal—dedicated to prevent human trafficking and to organize rescue operations, the Child Welfare Society, and the Police Headquarters. 8. Caste-based Discrimination and Untouchability Crime Elimination and Punishment Act, 24 May 2011. 9. The 2011 census recorded 375,000 Christians in Nepal (1.4% of the population), but current estimates by Christian Associations indicate that Christian constitute 3–7% of the population. (https://onechristianvoice. com/nepalis-christian-population-rise/; https://www.worldchristiandata base.org). According to the International Religious Freedom Report for 2017 of the United States Department, Christian groups report difficulties
registering NGOs and conflicts between Christian and Hindu population are increasing. 10. Stones play a very important role in the Chepang belief system. In the past, most of the Chepang believed they originated from stones. This perception probably changed when the Chepang began living in close contact with other groups and mostly to avoid being teased by higher casts (Rai 1985; Riboli 2000). 11. In Hindu mythology, the D¯anava are a group of Asura.
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The Spirits of Extractivism: Non-Human Meddling, Shamanic Diplomacy, and Cosmo-Political Strategy Among the Urarina (Peruvian Amazon) Emanuele Fabiano
In the last decades the incorporation of the Amazonian territories into the productive sector has led to an intense process of colonization and to the presence of economic mining extractive and agro-industrial fronts constant growth from capital investment exploitation of natural resources environmental impact and coercive forms of inclusion. In the Peruvian Amazon the result has been an increasingly intense and complex interaction between the contemporary Amazonian indigenous societies and the many non-indigenous representatives—including the State and international markets. This has had important impacts on the contemporary indigenous definition of territory property resources and their uses and even on ritual life and social reproduction processes. In this context the
E. Fabiano (B) Grupo de Antropología Amazónica (GAA), Pontificia Universidad Católica Del Perú (PUCP), Lima, Peru © The Author(s) 2021 D. Riboli et al. (eds.), Dealing with Disasters, Palgrave Studies in Disaster Anthropology, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-56104-8_3
case of the Urarina of Chambira basin (Peruvian Amazon) represents a paradigmatic example of how the shamanic discourse interprets and manages the changes that involve community life—especially when it is significantly modified by intensification of resources exploitation such as wood and oil. I will analyze how the level of conflict between the Urarina and non-indigenous societies characterizes their relations with specific categories of non-human people. Usually associated with contagious diseases evil spirits metamorphic beings and predators—whose diffusion is due to the neocolonial politics or to the greater circulation of money and industrial goods—the non-human people are often seen as allies of “whites” the State or representatives of extractive enterprises. For this reason it is believed that these entities move to the interior of the Urarina territory using the oil pipelines have factories and traffic in human slaves to keep their production lines active in underground plants—activities that shaman discourse associated with events of great ecological impact such as oil spills or climate change. This implies a shamanic intervention for the re-composition of a specific “communicative field” and the definition of a new diplomacy a precise “cosmo-political” strategy whereby it is possible to redefine alliances between humans and non-humans to strengthen relations to recognize areas of intervention and collaboration
Introduction The last decades have witnessed a day-by-day increase in the attention paid to the effects of extractivist exploitation in the Amazon. Research about this area has acknowledged the benefits originated in the wild ecosystemic services and their importance, both at a local and a global level, and has identified this biome as one of the key factors for humanity in a context of climate change and ecological disaster, inasmuch as it would guarantee the preservation of biodiversity, absorption of CO2 , quality of water, and protection of the soil (see, e.g., Bawa and Seidler 1998; Silver et al. 2000; Cernusak et al. 2013; Foley et al. 2007; Fearnside 1997; Batjes and Sombroek 1997). To these, we can add the great social value for urban and rural tropical communities and their relevance; whether in terms of economic development as in terms of health and human well-being (Gardner et al. 2009; Darr et al. 2014). Jungle ecosystems have thus gone from being considered as only a source of raw materials to one of key elements to protect human and animal life (Wardle
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et al. 2003). Simultaneously, greater attention to ecological disasters, which are a result of the expansion of extractive borders, and their impact at a global level, had the effect of rethinking many of the issues–social, economic, and ecologic–debated nowadays in regards to Amazonian territories, and of seeing in them the main challenges that contemporary indigenous societies that inhabit them face (Stetson 2012). Nonetheless, even though it’s true that many studies have focused on the ecologic, social, economic, and political implications of the extractive industry in Amazonian countries (van Teijlingen and Hogenboom 2016), it is also true that there hasn’t been the same degree of interest for the relationships that contemporary Amazonian societies establish with extractive processes, and how these contribute to stimulating development at the local level of knowledges, practices, and discourses to accommodate the recurrent perturbations. Despite the relevance of the topic, only the last years has the study of the relationship between human being and the complex Amazonian biome has been included in the debate about the impact of social and socioeconomic processes connected to extractive industries (see, among others, Burchardt and Dietz 2014; Anthias 2018; Finer et al. 2008). This allowed to recognize the importance of cultural and social aspects of the lasting relationship that contemporary Amazonian societies have established with their own surroundings, through the comprehension of the implications related to this relation of mutual dependence (Byron and Arnold 1999). Due to their history, as well as their socioeconomic and cultural characteristics, the ethnographic case that I will now analyze represents a paradigmatic example for the kind of study proposed here. Through the analysis of the discourse of the Urarina, a contemporary indigenous society of the Peruvian Amazon, I will offer a description (from the point of view of local perspectives, representations, and experiences) of the effects produced by the large-scale environmental disasters that, during the last decade, have been caused in the basin of the Chambira river by oil spills and neoextractivist entrepreneurship. Finally, I will analyze how my interlocutors link the non-indigenous world with a specific typology of non-human entities associated with oil, often considered allies of whites, the State, or the representatives of the extractive company, and whose “awakening” is manifested via the spills that are affecting the region and in the greater incidence of diseases as a result of their nighttime attacks.
What’s more, recent theoretical contributions in anthropology and, in particular, those that originated in the ethnographic studies of low LatinAmerican lands, besides feeding into a fertile regional anthropology, have promoted the introduction of new instruments to include, under an operational perspective, indigenous knowledges in the elaboration of proposals of intervention in contexts of high conflictivity (Blaser 2013). In this framework, several authors have suggested the need for renouncing to an anthropocentric occidental posture in favor of a greater opening toward local eco-cosmologies and indigenous ontologies which are profoundly relational (Mickey 2018), though often these interpretations contrast with the findings of data measured instrumentally, or the analysis provided external institutions (NGOs, ministerial teams, etc.). The sense of the proposals, then, is contained in the effort for encouraging a greater valuation of the different indigenous perspective, not only in what concerns the explanation of the complex relationships that theses populations have with their surroundings, but also in the possibility that these generate socioecological resilience models through the development of confrontation and multifaceted adaptation strategies (Santos-Granero and Barclay 2011; Espinosa 2019).
The Urarina and the History of Oil Exploitation in the Peruvian Amazon The economic expansion and diversification process which Peru is currently going through has implied an intensification of the extraction of non-renewable resources and an increase in the already severe socioecological inequalities for regions in the Amazon. The contradictions between economic growth and the defense of the environment have sharpened noticeably, inasmuch these have been seriously affected by the prevailing style of development. Oil, wood, mining, and liquefied gas have played an important role in the economy of the region, next to an incipient agroindustry. The Peruvian Amazon constitutes 60.6% of the territory of the country, being the least inhabitated, with only 13.9% of the population of Peru (INEI 2018). This is an ethnically and linguistically diverse territory, which contains 60 of the 76 ethnic groups of the country (INDEPA 2010). Access to these areas is often difficult, and the provision of basic health, education, water, and sewage services continues to be an important challenge. As well, given the increasing integration of
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the Amazonian region into the national economy through the exploitation of raw material, colonization and the development of large-scale government projects, a series of distortions have emerged, notoriously, which affect their ecological balance and have a direct influence in the lives of indigenous societies. Currently, the great ecological perturbations force us to look in greater detail into the connections of the ecosystem-culture relationship, as into the tensions that exist between the preservation of biodiversity and cultural diversity, being necessary not only to focus our attention toward judicial formal mechanisms that already exist, but also toward social dynamics that are occurring at a local level. Nonetheless, this call for a more effective implementation of new politics of protection and safeguarding has been constantly ignored. According to the data provided by the Ministry of Environment of Peru (MINAM 2018), during the period of 2001–2017, the Peruvian Amazon lost 2,130,123 hectares of forest covering, and saw an increase in the number of social and environmental conflicts as well as in the strength of informal economies related to logging and mining, which, next to formal extractive economies, including oil extraction, are the main environmental threats in certain areas. Often, national policies have ignored the socioeconomic and cultural reality of these regions when exclusively entrusting the state’s institutions with the function of decreasing the effect of the environmental disasters that affect indigenous societies, through the judicial and social regulation of extractive activities, or favoring the presence of foreign institutions, which promote a model of “sustainable development.” The result has been a minimization of the role of local communities, offering them only a marginal function and emphasizing their vulnerability. Under this perspective, the socioecologic conflicts encouraged by the neoextractivist policies are a result of the incapacity of local communities of absorbing, through self-adjustment, the effects of a specific change in their environment (Wilches-Chaux 1993, 17). This passive vision finds its justification in the inveterate imaginary of the “frontier,” according to which the Amazon continues to be vacant land, and in which indigenous groups only exist as subjects lacking the capacity to make decisions about their development (Fig. 3.1). Within the context that has just been described, the case of the Urarina communities of the Chambira river is emblematic, not only due to its characteristics but also due to the answer that the community gave in
Fig. 3.1 The pipeline is integrated into the domestic space, Urarina community of Nueva Unión, Chambira river 2019 (Source Photo by Emanuele Fabiano)
regards to the historic connection with the processes of oil exploitation. The Urarina are located in the basin of the Chambira-Urituyacu, a spacious area of humid tropical forest north of the Marañon river. The census information for this group is incomplete, but the population estimate ranges from 4000 to 6000 people (Walker 2013; Dean 2009).
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For many years, the natives of this area, that call themselves the Uraricuru, but are commonly known by the ethnonym of Urarina, have been frequently associated to linguistic groups that inhabit the neighboring areas. Only thanks to recent studies, linguists have arrived at the conclusion that the Urarina language (cacha eje) is an autonomous tongue that has no filiation with any other known linguistic family (Olawsky 2002; Cajas Rojas et al. 1993). Despite its long history of contact and relationships with Peruvian society, the Urarina people have sustained a very strong ethnic identity. The Urarina language, which is still very vital and often used to speak in everyday life, is used only in the Chambira basin; while Spanish has a use circumscribed to the commercial relationships with the river communities and regional institutions. During the first half of the twentieth century, there was an increase of small estates, managed as small agro-extractive possessions under the control of patrones (bosses), which in many cases settled along the Chambira river. Labor exploitation according to the model known as “habilitation” continued to flourish until the end of the decade of the 1970s, when the system of the boss-client relationship began to decrease without completely disappearing. Nowadays, said exploitation structure has been in part redimensioned due to the expansion of a growing competitive mercantilism, in which “small bosses” and itinerant traders negotiate directly with the community. To this situation, one should add that, in the last two years, the many spills that have occurred throughout Line A of the Corrientes-Saramuro Oil Pipeline of the North-Peruvian Pipeline, located in the district of Urarinas, and which has affected and continues to affect the indigenous and riverside communities. Against what many Urarinas from the Chambira perceive as a recent presence, oil has been and continues to be strongly linked to actual economic and social dynamics, and to the history of this area of the Peruvian Amazon (Orta-Martínez and Finer 2010). The oil industry in Peru begins its activities with the perforation of the first well in Zorritos, November 2nd of 1863, four years after the first perforation in the history of humanity; it marked the beginning of the discoveries of oil in Peruvian subsoil. In 1967, the discovery of oil in Ecuatorian Amazon regions was considered a potential threat to the Peruvian control of the portion of Loreto located north of the Marañón-Amazon axis. This drove, in 1970, the promulgation, by the military government (1968–1975), of a new law to attract more reliable investments in the regions of the Amazon that had been intended for the revitalization of oil exploration. The
law exonerated foreign companies from income and production taxes, in exchange for their commitment to sharing half of their production with the government (Pérez-Taiman 2009). The “Peruvian Model,” as it was later called, didn’t immediately give the expected results. Only a year after the announcement of the discovery of an oilfield in the district of Trompeteros (Corrientes river) by the public company Petroperu, 1972, onward, was there an increase in the demand of concessions by foreign companies.1 The discovery was a landmark in the oil history of the Peruvian jungle, and, without a doubt, it determined the beginning of a new stage in the oil cycle of the region of Loreto.2 The burgeoning extractive industry began its operations with the exploitation of two blocks. The first one, number 8, included a portion of the territory that corresponds grosso modo with the middle and lower sections of the basin of the Corrientes river and an area located within the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve.3 The second one, block 1-A, was concessioned in 1971 to the Occidental Petroleum Corporation of Peru— OXY, which in 1978 signed a contract to also exploit the 1-B block. Both blocks would then be renamed block 1-AB (today Block 192), which is located in the upper part of the Pastaza, Corrientes, and Tigre rivers (Barclay 2002). Due to its active participation and the conspicuous economic investment, the government promoted the construction of an oil pipeline that would allow the oil to reach the seaports located in the northern coast of the country. The construction of the North-Peruvian Pipeline ended in 1977, year of its inauguration, with the beginning of activity in its two main stretches: the first one, with an extension of 306 kilometers, joins Stations 1 and 5; while the second one, which is 548 kilometers long, joins Station 5 and the Bayovar terminal. It wasn’t until later that the system was extended by building the Northern Branch, 252 kilometers long, which functions as a secondary pipeline for the transportation of what’s produced in the fields of the 1-AB Block, in the left riverbank of the Pastaza, close to the locality of Andoas, which then continues toward the southwest up to Station 5, where it joins the main stretch. Likewise, for the recollection of oil from Block 8, which is originated in the fields of Payayacu, Corrientes, Capirona, Yanayacu, Chambira, Valencia, and Nueva Esperanza, secondary pipelines were built, with their corresponding storage plant and pumping stations, which come to an end at the Pumping Station 1 of the North-Peruvian Pipeline, in San José de Saramuro, Marañon river (Guerra and García 2008).
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The Urarina territory is crossed by the Line A of the CorrientesSaramuro pipeline, currently managed by the company Pluspetrol Norte S.A., after leaving the district of Trompeteros, crosses the actual territory of the Urarina and riverside communities of Nueva Alianza, La Petrolera, bellavista, Santa Teresa, San Pedro de Patoyaquillo, located in the Patoyacu ravine, and those of Nuevo Progreso, Nueva Unión, Nuevo Perú, Nuevo San Juan and Ollanta in the area of the lower Chambira (Fig. 3.2). This explains why the stories about the processes of oil exploitation are limited to a few precise events linked to the first explorations and, successively, to the commissioning of the pipeline. Thus, Custodio, a man originally from the Tigrillo ravine, talks about the probing and exploration operations he witnessed in his youth: Nobody knew about the oil. We would hear the plane coming and then, landing in the river, it would take its time. [The engineers] would walk
Fig. 3.2 Chambira basin and Nor-Oriente pipeline, region of Loreto, Peru (Source Map elaborated by Miguel Angel Uquichi Campos, 2019)
around. After a month came the men, the engineers, with Mister Raul Marín, a boss, and they began to mark out some locations. One day the boss came to my uncle’s house, a new house, and said: “These men have come to look for work, not to harm. Don’t be scared, they are coming to look for a good job and that’s why they’re marking down each kilometer in order to later work with the oil”. The workers also came by boat and they opened paths, painted sticks and stuck them in the forest. The people said they were coming to work [the] oil, but not now, at some other time, after years passed. They would say this. And they would also say that there was nothing for the people in this moment, but with time, our children would also go to work with the company. The engineers would tell us: “You are going to be authorities and have your land. That’s why we’re here! For now it is us who are taking advantage of this, but the day will come in which even the Urarina will be judges and go to vote as well”. This they would say. And then they disappeared.
Due to the characteristics of the wells, and the quality and quantity of oil exploited in this region, the pipeline has never been exploited at its maximum pumping capacity. The reasons are many. Without a doubt, the economic crisis of the 80s, the privatization of Petroperu at the beginning of the 90s, and the drop in the international price of oil at the ends of said decade motivated a progressive decrease in its production. To this, we can add the low quality of the oil extracted from these blocks, which have a low rentability that hasn’t motivated further investment that would finance the improvement and extension of this stretch of pipeline, which, nowadays, is a severe state of disrepair. Indeed, throughout the 45 years of operations, there hasn’t been a thorough change of the pipelines, which has produced a large number of spills that have affected, and continue to affect, both Urarina communities as well as many other indigenous and non-indigenous communities, which are in the basin of the Chambira and in the Marañon river. The quantity and frequency of the spills are still hard to estimate.4 Nonetheless, the rise of the oil economy in the region of Corrientes attracted several Urarina families which, throughout several decades, decided to move, initially only temporally, and then permanently, toward the basin of the Corrientes river, with the goal of benefiting from the opportunities offered by being closer to the infrastructure near the Trompeteros well, the possibility of salaried work as construction workers, less difficulties for transportation and access to industrial goods. Even so, Urarina participation during the central years of the exploitation of oil has
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been marginal. To this day, the geographic remoteness, or the distance perceived as such, from the operation centers of the Corrientes river and the reduced number of Urarina communities involved, managed to feed the erroneous perception that oil extraction was an activity that had a minimal and very localized impact. Only a few years ago, due to the lack of intercommunity coordination, said perception resulted, in some cases, in a complete lack of interest of the communities that weren’t directly involved, which became an optimal condition for Pluspetrol Norte S.A. to arrange directly with community authorities the payment of eventual compensations due to spills or compensations due to the use of communal lands (Witzig and Ascencios 1999, 64–65). Nowadays, many of the young men that live in the communities troubled by the spills are hired as workers by Pluspetrol or its concessionaries, such that they themselves, in exchange for a construction worker salary, are in charge of cleaning and recovering the areas damaged and collecting the spilled oil. This condition turns the communities that are affected into both victims and beneficiaries of the oil company. This seduction strategy shows how corporative practices are ever more professional in terms of obtaining “social permits,” replacing the spaces in which the state acts, and orchestrating positive relationships with the communities, such that the agreements brokered are now a part of the management instruments employed by not only extractive industries but also government institutions in indigenous territories (Larsen 2016, 196; Gudynas 2014, 152). Only in recent years, this phenomenon has experienced a rapid acceleration due to new compensation strategies which, through employment contracts, seek the formal incorporation of the Urarina population through a process defined as “affiliation.” Salaried work, labor shifts that move young men away from community life, and a larger income, are some of the elements introducing a major transformation of the social and political life of some communities. What is more surprising is how rapidly all this is happening. Moreover, there is a process of marginalization of traditional forms of production and communal work, accompanied by new forms of monetary payment for the preparation of gardens, construction of houses, etc. There is also a reorganization of family activities and specific activities by gender, and important changes in decision-making processes at community level. The conversion of the community into an institutionalized residential and productive unit becomes an easy way to gain access to consumer goods and market networks, further increasing
the indigenous’ condition of dependence. Even so, these normalizing mechanisms do not impact in a unilinear way at the local level, but rather they open up a multiplicity of responses, reactions, results, and possible inventions in a flexible process of resistance-adaptation to regulatory frameworks. Nevertheless, it is possible to record a rapid development of new symbolic boundaries, of new identifications and organizational forms, all of which are territorially registered through the production of structured roles under the hegemony of cash money and a greater availability of consumer goods. Nonetheless, the severe environmental emergencies originated by the oil spills of the last ten years and the presence of the state encouraged an unprecedented though fragmentary process of organization that has channeled the demands of the Urarina people while integrating new political-cultural elements. Nonetheless, the search for greater autonomy and direct control over their own territory, in some cases incarnates the desire of many communities to exercise direct control over the resources, and have direct access to the economic benefits that could derive from their commercialization. To a certain degree, this has not only strengthened the political discourse and practices of the communities and the different local indigenous organizations, but it has also shaped new sets of problems that have a focus on the control of natural resources and the need to rethink the logic and practices of development. Within this process of receptiveness, desired by many of my interlocutors, the possibility of overcoming a condition of isolation is proposed, which would take advantage of the possibilities of approaching the market and government institutions (Fig. 3.3). Under this logic, representatives and social institutions associated to the non-indigenous world, whose emergence and public complaints about the oil spills have occurred simultaneously, play an ambiguous role, being both valuable allies and instigators of conflict. Thus, the oil spills have become in many cases a resource and a money-making opportunity for many communities and, at the same time, another instrument in the hands of the oil company, which in this way succeeds in linking its activities in the region with the lives of the communities, which often are unaware of the negative impact of the spills. Therefore, they can carry out these negotiations within a relationship of power and dependence (Witzig and Ascencios 1999).
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Fig. 3.3 Two Urarina women return to their homes after buying oil and soda from an itinerant merchant (Source Urarina community of Nueva Unión, Chambira river, 2019. Photo by Emanuele Fabiano)
Spills and Oil Spirits For most of the Urarina that live in the basin of the Chambira and its affluents, once the pipeline was built, it disappeared from day-to-day life. If, on the one hand, it was actually made invisible as result of the outgrowth of forest throughout the route of the pipeline; on the other hand, its presence was normalized, to the point that the infrastructure has become an element of the landscape, perfectly naturalized. During the dry season, the stretches of the surface become extensions of the domestic space, or physical points of spatial reference that are inscribed in jungle surroundings. The pipelines then become stational land pathways, employed to cover long distances and, thus, avoid, as much as possible, unnecessary investments of time and fuel for long river trips (Fig. 3.4). This practice has become fixed to the point that the stretch that joins the Patoyacu ravine with the Corrientes river is commonly used to reach the Villa Trompeteros town, and obtaining access to the services offered
Fig. 3.4 During the dry season the pipeline becomes a route for land communication (Source Urarina community of Nuevo Perú, Chambira river, 2016. Photo by Emanuele Fabiano)
by the presence of the oil station, where they can exchange or buy products. Also, it is likely that the movement of many Urarina families from the basin of the Chambira to the basin of the Corrientes has been manageable thanks to this species of tubular highway. For some of my interlocutors, even the areas of the woods that surround the pickup and pumping points
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(petruliu trarera) are known for having characteristic that seem to contradict the usual experience associated with oil and its contaminating effects. For example, Vicente, a man that lives with his family in the community of N.U., located in the lower Chambira, efficiently sheds light on this topic: People say there are very meek animals, and that if you try to come close to these places at night, you no longer come back. They say there are meek paca that live and eat food waste, but aren’t raised. It isn’t really known why, but people do not want to go there, even though there are many animals. They say people disappear and nobody knows where.
It isn’t uncommon to listen to stories that even positively value these places, and offer details on their exceptional amount of fish and animals (lenune nenaja). As they say, the relative sanctity of these spaces has meant that very few people have been able to take advantage of this area so rich in animals for hunting. Even so, everything seems to indicate that the difficulties are greater, by far, than the possible gains, which disencourages those who wish to look for them. This is due to the ambiguous location and the safety measures in place for its protection; for example, the tall mud walls that surround its perimeter, built by enormous colonies of ants that are in charge of hiding and defending the access way from undesired human visitors. Notwithstanding, it is known that the existence of these places, even when they aren’t visible, is revealed by a persistent sound, similar to the vibrations that are produced by striking a metallic tube, that has the characteristic of drawing in fish and animals. These sounds are due to the flow, through the pipes, of non-human entities associated with the oil (petruliu nijniaeene), which use the pipeline (tuubu) to move through the Urarina territory. Unlike the other nijniaeene, the spirits of the oil recognize as referents and privileged interlocutors not the Urarina, but the “people from the city,” the engineers and the non-indigenous government workers, that is, the “possessors of other words.” Nonetheless, not all of these entities are a threat. If their passage isn’t prevented, by taking away the oil in which they are immersed or perforating the pipeline, many of the smaller ones are indifferent to the presence of humans, and even have a collaborating attitude with the other nijniaeene of the surface. There are good and bad oil nijniaene. That’s why the nijniaene of this soil, here in which we stand, live and befriend the oil nijniaene. They
can become compañeros, that’s how they live. That’s why there’s a whole variety: good and bad. The oil nijniaene is like edara [people that live underwater] and lives in the oil, that’s how it moves. When they pass through the pipes they produce a sound that calls other nijniaene and attracts all kinds of animals, birds and fish. Some say it’s their voice.
If the main knots through which the oil pipeline is articulated are just locations through which these entities pass through, the larger storage structures favor, on the contrary, the concentration of a great number of nijniaene. Turned into meeting points, the storage tanks or the boats used to transport the petroleum summon the most aggressive and dangerous ones, that, being in a reduced space, become even more aggressive and obtain the ability to extend their range of action, stipulate new alliances with spirits of the same species and move beyond the limits of the space to which they are bound, reaching even nearby rivers and ravines. Manuel, an Urarina former worker, explains it this way: Where the oil [station] is people get lost and nobody knows where they go. They’ve told us that they don’t even accept to go through a ravine that’s in from of the main station of Saramuro. They say that there are tanks there and more nijniaene that under the soil, where the oil is. And that they’re stronger than the normal oil nijniaene. These larger and more powerful nijniaene command the other oil nijniaene. This is why the company doesn’t allow the workers to bathe, and build showers so that people don’t go to the river.
In the surroundings of these places, the possibility of becoming the victim of an attack increases considerably. The oil nijniaene could answer to what they would interpret as an invasion, acting with violence, even though in many cases their attacks have no reason or a trespassing by the humans. The oil disease (petruliu janai), a result of these attacks, mainly affects children and shows itself, initially, through terrifying dreams, and only later does it induce the apparition of large red spots. These marks, similar to burns, are located in specific areas of the body, such as the limbs or the abdomen, and without appropriate care they continue to expand until they cause death. The oil disease is often one of the concerns associated with the work of cleaning the spill areas. Jacinto, a young man that worked in the recovery and sanitation of an area affected by a spill, describes in this way the disease that affected his son:
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I didn’t know what disease it was, until I understood that it was oil. The skin would swell, burn and then become black. Afterwards, I’ve come to understand that it had been the oil. When I asked an ayahuasquero 5 if it was a simple burn, he said no, but he hasn’t told me how he knew. And afterwards he managed to heal the child, before the disease was too serious. This oil [disease] isn’t used by anyone [to harm someone], even the sorcer (benane) know that their nijniaeene is bad and gets angry for no reason. They know it gets angry anytime the [oil] company does anything.
The pattern of the attack of a nijniaeene isn’t different from that of other nijniaeene. Nonetheless, the ones that are more exposed are the men that are constantly near places that are considered dangerous due to the high concentration of these spirits, or those that are construction workers in the oil company. The direct and everyday contact with oil favors the encounter with these entities, which have the faculty of perceiving the smell that children leave in the bodies of their parents. Once the worker returns home, even if it occurs weeks after the encounter with the spirit, the nijniaeene will track the odorous clue left by the man, and silently introduce itself in the house to choose its victim. Given the symptoms, many argue that this spirit has the ability of turning its own body in a kind of oily stain. Afterward, it takes advantage of the plastic abilities of its body to curl itself (nebaluaa) around the body of the child and squeeze it in such a way that the stronger the pressure, the greater the heat (ajaarutuua) it produces, which result in the striking skin burns (kari mukuua). Therefore, even when it wears Western clothes and “city” accessories, the nijniaeene still resembles the substance in which it lives and from which it feeds, especially because it concerns its adhesive capacities and its ability to emit heat through combustion. Indeed, even when these spirits act far from their place of origin, oil continues to be a vehicle, a medium through which the nijniaeene can move through the surface and at the same time a substance that allows them to grow, a “breeding stock” that nourishes them and makes them stronger. What’s more, Urarina discourse shows how oil production underlies a process of growth and maturation (katalaa), and makes this substance similar to the sap of plants, giving it similar characteristics to its vegetable counterpart. Like the different stages of growth of a fruit and, more generally, any organic body, oil also goes through a slow process of maturation.6 Analogously, oil is called üjüari, that is, “green,” when it hasn’t yet reached its complete maturation, when it finally becomes a black and
viscous (mamaleti) substances. As well, within this same logic, just like any other vegetable, the life cycle of oil is articulated in a production, growth, and maturation process linked to lunar phases. According to Urarina cosmological discourse, oil is a substance constantly secreted by the soil and necessary for the functioning of the world, inasmuch as it ensures the alternation between day and night, that is, the alternating movement of the sun and the moon through the surface of the Earth (atane chuaji): Oil is useful. It is as if it were in a machine that has [non-petrol] oil (aseite), when [the sun and the moon] turn around, [the Earth] doesn’t malfunction because it has oil and this is why they say this world turns and moves. For this same reason, here it is daytime and in the other side, under the earth, it is nighttime: it is the petroleum that stops the wear (niquiaa) of the Earth. Petroleum isn’t under the soil for nothing, and that’s why it will never run out, even if it has been extracted for years.
Even though they appear as a change in the visible illuminated portion of the Moon, the different lunar phases (etene kujuinakaaürü) would actually mark the effects of its daily immersion inside an enormous lake of underground petrol. Each phase recognized by the Urarina lunar calendar corresponds thus to a change in the physical properties recognized in the oil, while the visible illuminated portion of the Moon decreases with each immersion, while the oil reaches its point of greatest maturation. Thanks to the heat received by the contact with the Sun, which during nighttime is underground, the gradual increase of viscosity occurs, responsible for the greater adherence of the substances to the Moon’s surface. When the Moon got lost, they’d say it was giving light to the people of the world below [the soil]. They’d say that the world is like a wasp nest (enaürü üküüa) and that inside there are many things that can’t be seen and that we don’t understand why they are hidden. The world is like a wasp nest and it’s made of layers. There’s everything [below the soil] and the Sun and the Moon when they disappear they give light to these [subterranean] places. [The Sun and the Moon] enter the oil lake and come out each day. The Sun gives heat and melts [the oil] as if it were tar, while on top of the cold Moon it sticks.
Even though my interlocutors claim that the ancient Urarina already knew about the existence of oil, it is only with the beginning of the extractive
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phase that the more aggressive nijniaeene have begun to themselves in the surface, with the purpose of expanding their territory. Nonetheless, their place of origin remains hidden, inaccessible to human being, as an enormous underground city: The oil nijniaeene are there like many people that live in the river banks. The oil is in large lake and that’s where the nijniaeene are. They seem to be swimming when they’re in their city, but they don’t live inside the oil, but to the side of the rivers, the ravines, like us. The streets of their cities are close there, that’s how the oil nijniaeene lives. But this cannot be seen, everything seems to be oil. What they indeed do is use to move around, like fish that travel in a river.
The greater incidence of spills, then, greatly depends on the action of these entities. The concentration of a large number of large nijniaeene, and the everyday more frequent use of the pipeline by this spirits in order to move, would determine an increase in the pressure of the oil that runs inside them, and, thus, the rupture of the pipeline. The greater the anger of the nijniaeene, fostered by the extractive activities within their land, the greater the amount of oil expelled in each spill and their incidence of their attacks in human workers. The shamans (cha kuitüküera) are sure that inside the soil there is a great cavity that has the same extension as the Earth’s surface. What prevents the upper part of the dome from collapsing–sinking into what’s known as “our land” (kane atane), that is, in the Earth’s surface are thousands of stone columns (ajeri banesija) that stay constantly immersed in oil. Nonetheless, even though this substance has lubricating properties, If too much is extracted they start to wear down or crack. That’s why it’s wrong to extract oil. Here in the Earth[‘s surface] it is also useful for whoever knows how to use it, but it will never run out. Even though you hear that oil may run out, it isn’t so, because this is how the stone columns of the houses of the nijniaeene keep the land separated from what’s below. If [the stone columns] fall down or wear down, everything falls down.
Indeed, the alternation between day and night affects these structures, and generates a continuous wear that, even though it doesn’t succeed in completely cracking the columns, it does become visible when the water level of the rivers decreases and leaves the holes and fissures of the subterranean structures exposed. Every time wear is produced, some
of the pillars is in danger, an army of small crabs (anisiri) comes to the affected location and takes care of filling in the holes. These small crabs are useful because they go in the holes of the worn-out stone and fill in the hole, and fix it. The Urarina do not eat this kind of crab. Nobody bothers them because people say no one knows what they’re doing, and are afraid of them. The Urarina also do not touch them. These little crabs live in the oil, and know when the columns of the house of the nijniaeene wear out and their job is to fill them in again, so nothing is worn-out.
Guarded by this efficient maintenance system, the city of the oil nijniaeene harbors a great number of factories (pabrika) and machines (maquinaa) which produce all sorts of artifacts of the best quality (rukuele kauacha). The only way of accessing this place is through a pipeline, a large channel as wide as a person, which, from an island located in the middle of an enormous lake or sea, is known as “the origin of the rivers” or just as “the origin” (kana temüra), a structure is located, a store (rukuele nenjatabai) that can be reached only by traveling in an enormous boat whose mission is to collect spirits (kurii) of affected people, which after a process of hiring will be sold in exchange of objects and industrial artifacts. The elders have told us that, inside the earth, where oil is stored, there are factories for all sorts of things: the best fabrics, every object. I have come to know that from there comes to fabric that doesn’t lose its color, the most resistant tools. In the middle of the great ocean there’s a small house, in its door they stick letters, lists and when a great boat comes you can see that from this store they would ask for men in exchange for products.
Only the captain-spirit of this enormous boat (vapuru tabai), with the help of his crew of evil spirits of different contagious diseases, has the right to carry out the exchange and ask for the products he needs, placing a list (quiricha) in the door of the store. When the boat travels upriver (couataen) the oil spirits that rule the ship pick up crippled or sick people (bakusa), which join the workforce for the subterranean production plants. On the other hand, the nijniaeene and his crew receive objects
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that, after leaving the Urarina territory, they will be able to sell (nekuritiaa) to the people of the city in exchange for a considerable amount of money. The large boat gathers crippled people (kacha baasu): people with a limp, with no arms, people like that; then it leaves them in the store. It leaves the malfunctioning people in the store and takes the good stuff. From there all the good objects come: fabric, pants, red beads. Only the boss of the boat sticks the letter in the door of the store asking, and then he takes the stuff. He leaves the people and takes the stuff. There are factories in this world, but there aren’t good things like these. When the boat is traveling upstream, the oil nijniaeene requests people and takes them so that they work in their factories, and these people disappear. When furrowing, they leave a piece of paper in the store and they give them good things so that they take them to Peru. And those are expensive things that they sell in the stores of the city. These are very expensive things.
Each boat has an organized crew according to a rigid hierarchy, which ensures that all the spirits respect the authority of a boss, usually a more powerful spirit that, according to the Urarina, lives at the end of the pipeline. The crew is composed by a variable number of spirits, many of them associated to the contagious diseases (kunai tabai) like malaria (ajaa), measles (sarampi), smallpox (neresona), among others. The danger in such contagious diseases, besides being associated with extreme aggressiveness and the speed of their pathogenic processes, is also related to the attitude that said conditions—and their eponymous harmful spirits—possess in order to adapt successfully to the social and economic transformations that affect the region.7 In many cases, the specificity of such non-human agents consists precisely in the updating of their own attack patterns, integrating them with new strategies and technological knowledge that come from urban contexts. The spirits are characterized by being ruthless, avid, very aggressive, and closer to the world of non-indigenous people and the inhabitants of the city that in the jungle environment shared by the Urarina, to the point that even their clothing (worker helmet, shorts, belt) and their possessions are useful to express this proximity.
Disaster and Loss of Words The oil spirits aren’t the only entities of the nijniaeene type that inhabit the Urarina environment; nonetheless, according to the shamans, these would be the only ones with which it is impossible to communicate, because “they speak another language” (Akaaürü te leeucha erenaa küüane ere). Indeed, the behavior pattern of these spirits is characterized for being arbitrary, given that their attacks to humans occurred due to the simple pleasure of exercising violence or for economic interests, violating in this way any obligation of reciprocity by not sharing the abundance of their lands or harming the activities of human being. The radical remoteness of the Urarina social values that seems to be materialized in these spirits is manifested, thus, in the adoption of a repertoire of behaviors and attitudes that my interlocutors attribute to non-indigenous people, the children of mixed couples or of a relationship forbidden due to incest, the diffusion of which would represent the signal of a downfall in the state of our world (kana atane), that is, “the world of humans.” As authors that have also worked with them clearly point out, shamanic Urarina discourse seems to be characterized by their emphasis on apocalyptic catastrophism (Dean 2009, 235–239; Walker 2019). Nonetheless, I suggest that the notion of an “end of the world,” janunaa besaüte, shouldn’t be interpreted as a scatological perspective in an apocalyptic sense, but rather a contingent event, the result of an interruption, always reversible, of an articulated communicative field that is originated in an unstable equilibrium, which has limits and possibilities that are defined through a constant dialogue between humans and non-humans. Therefore, the expression “kana janunaa satunu,” which can be translated as “our world is ending”—where “world” is specifically the “human world”—refers more precisely to the end of humanity, as we know it, with its languages, knowledge, and conventions, etc. Even so, the same expression can be translated as “our time is coming to an end,” which means the time of the human beings of today, to which a new age would follow, populated by a renewed humankind, though physically identical to the previous one. The term satunu commonly evokes the meaning of “exhaustion” (satunutiia) or “consumption” (saa), and the expression “satuua!”, literally “it’s over!”, and is employed when finishing a beverage that can be poured again in the same container, and is also useful to announce the end of an activity or a party. In coherence with his meaning, if relate this
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term with the end of the “human time,” we wouldn’t be indicating its conclusion, and thus a condition of irreversibility, a destiny, as much as a transitory and provisional condition. Therefore, it speaks of an “end of the world” that is characterized for being cyclical, reversible and at the same time it is cause and effect of the deterioration of communicative processes that directly involve human beings. Before we analyze how the interruption of this “communicative field”—within which the relationship between humans and non-humans is defined—is related to both atmospheric events of particular intensity and large-scale environmental disasters, it could be illuminating to pause in the analysis of the meaning that Urarina shamanic discourse attributes to the concepts of “cyclicity” and “reversibility” (jelai kuaiteetejeein). What’s more, as has been mentioned before, my Urarina interlocutors don’t refer to the concept of cycle or cyclicity, deriving them from a biological or historic conception of time that forces an eternal repetition of its essential elements. Therefore, one cannot speak of a “golden age” of humanity or a pristine time of the ancient ones (inuaaelü) to which it is possible to come back or from which, thanks to a slow but unavoidable process, we move away gradually up to annihilation. The actual world is the result of a dialogue, of a mediation that wasn’t produced through a lineal series of destructions and reconstructions, but rather in the rupture of the intercommunicative fabric of humans and non-humans, and their constant composition one step away from disaster. Due to this very reason, the suspension of productive activities, such as tending to family orchards or hunting, the lack of knowledge about the Urarina language and, above all, violations of the ritual prescriptions or the disappearance of shamanic wisdom, determines the impossibility of “bringing food to the land” (atane ke lenune türae) and the induction of a generalized state of disease (Fabiano 2019). The abandonment of these practices is thought to induce in human beings, and more evidently in shamans, a corporal transformation (Fabiano 2017) and the loss of the capacity for learning the “words” through which it is possible to communicate with many of the non-human entities, especially the arara, the people of the sky, allies in the acquisition of knowledge and initiators of therapeutic practices. The variations in the annual cycle of rains or the extraordinary intensity of specific atmospheric events, along with the modifications in the behavioral models of the many animal species would be only some of the events interpreted as indicators of the interruption of this dialogue that fertilizes the world. Accordingly, it isn’t unusual for
the oil spills of the last few years to be a paradigmatic example of the increase in seriousness of these fractures. If this condition of incommunicability weakens the physical and social health of humans, the opposite gives greater strength to the spirits of oil than, without the control of the cha kuitüküera or more generally of the wise people (cha inaera). They travel the pipeline tirelessly causing sufficient pressure to break the welds, drill the metal in a deliberate attempt to expand their territories (Fig. 3.5). Even so, this does not mean that the Urarina ignore that the dramatic environmental emergency that some of the communities are living through are a direct consequence of the neglect and the lack of investment for the modernization of the pipeline. Especially in the dry season, when water courses decrease in volume, the presence of oil sediments becomes more evident. These residues produce long-term disturbances in the affected areas, which Urarina dwellers measure through the decrease of aquatic fauna or through the ways in which river water consumption impacts their health. Among the most common health impacts are headaches, skin irritation, and dysentery, even in areas far from the point of spillage. It is well known that exposure to these toxic substances is not limited to the immediate area near to the contaminated places due to its spread by the different water currents. Even though the responsibilities of the oil company are evident, Urarina shamanic discourse offers an alternate ideological framework, through which it is possible to read new economic and political scenarios as key factors in the promotion of conflictivity, greed, and individualism.
Conclusions The spills that have had an effect on the basin of the Chambira in the last decade, and which are still endangering the health of the Urarina population of this region, have also caused a profound impact in several aspects of the lives of these communities. The larger presence of the state and of the oil company has produced a quite accelerated redefinition of the socioeconomic Urarina context. This has favored the integration of political-cultural elements previously unheard of into the demands of the affected communities, which has become intertwined with new values, the quest for more effective economic inclusion and the desire for a greater access to money and goods. If in a certain measure this opening has strengthened the search for a real articulation with political discourses
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Fig. 3.5 Young Urarina women chatting sitting on the pipeline (Source Urarina community of Nueva Unión, Chambira river, 2019. Photo by Emanuele Fabiano)
and practices of other indigenous realities, at the same it has strengthened the already existing alliances and the dependence links with the non-indigenous world. This has shaped new problems that put an accent on the loss of autonomy and the need to submit to logics and practices of local development introduced by foreign actors. The social effects, a result of the negotiation carried out with the representatives of Pluspetrol
and of governmental institutions have turned the company into a central and ineludible interlocutor, which has an influence that has extended into the material reproduction practices of the communities, favoring a condition of dependence and increasing the level of inter- and intracommunity conflicts. In this context, the appearance, among the Urarina, of the very aggressive oil spirits materializes a logic of conflict associated to manifestations, both of the large-scale environmental problems as well as the social, political, and economic effects that oil exploitation still has at a local level. For this reason, as in the case analyzed by F. Santos-Granero and F. Barclay (2011), the emergence of these spirits represents a form of aggression whose goal seems to be that of subjugating the indigenous population or favoring their destruction. Nonetheless, the “end of the world” evoked by Urarina shamanic discourse, often related to the greater presence in the territory of non-indigenous actors allied to harmful spirits, is interpreted as the direct consequence of a diplomatic failure. If we assume that for the Urarina the shamanic practice intervenes as a possible, and perhaps chief, form of mediation within the relationship between humans and non-humans, as well as an attempt to establish, or preserve, a communicative field (Sztutman 2005, 24), the dialectic calling of shamanism and the communicative possibilities that it grants are not only desirable but also necessary, inasmuch as they provide the faculty of accumulating relationships, acting and producing effects in the world and in others (Sztutman 2005, 378). Thus, shamanic activity exists above all as a task that requires prudence. Communication with the alterity, with any kind of alterity, be it human or non-human, propitiated by shamanism, could always trigger conflictive events and favor the dissolution of the dialogue, that is, it could become the antithesis of the obligations associated with a same function. Under this very logic, the shaman and, more generally, the Urarina shamanic practice, are in danger the very moment in which they disregard their main mandate, that is, that of operating as point of contact between worlds. Environmental disasters with a large impact, such as spills or unusual meteorological phenomena, exist within a relational and communicative field. Therefore, it is this very field that which determines the conditions for its own dissolution or, alternatively, for the contention of the risks associated to its dissolution. Urarina shamanic discourse reveals, then, the amplitude of the ideologies associated to a cosmo-political thought (Stengers 2005; de la Cadena
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2010), which has the peculiarity of extending the field of relations into a quite articulated and plural socio-cosmological non-anthropocentric plan (Sztutman 2012, 101). This shows that the representations of the effects of environmental disasters function at the same time as adaptation and preservation strategies employed by indigenous communities, even though these do not always coincide with what government and international organisms identify as priority instruments of intervention. What’s more, Urarina discourse associates a series of factors of great impact for the lives of these communities, such as water contamination, change in the use of the land or business individualism, with the effects of a break in a cosmic diplomacy model that deteriorates human ways of thinking, communicating, and acting. The signs of the seriousness of the state of these fractures are revealed precisely not only in the frequency or magnitude with which these effects associated with the activity of non-human entities are presented but also in the passive adoption, by humans, of the behaviors that are considered a threat to communal life and social life, factors that accelerate the loss of the right “words” and feed a condition of disaster, constantly about to be irreversible. Acknowledgements This text is the result of the study “Sustainable development, traditional ecological knowledge and social inequality in the region of the Chambira river in Loreto,” carried out between June and November of 2018, financed by a post-doctoral grant of trAndeS (for its initials in Spanish)—Graduate Program in Sustainable Development and Inequalities. The author thanks Oscar A. Espinosa and Nurit Matuk for their valuable help in the revision, correction, and translation phases of this text.
Notes 1. The economic interests for this activity in the northern part of Loreto (provinces of Alto Amazonas and Loreto) grew larger when, shortly after, the Occidental Petroleum Co. (OXY) found oil in this área. Nonetheless, only a few years later, between 1975 and 1976, most of the fourteen companies that operated in the area, seeing they were unable to reach the success of Petroperu and OXY, abandoned the area (Santos and Barclay 2002, 320–321). 2. As F. Santos-Granero and F. Barclay (2002, 273) point out, there was a first stage the oil history of the Peruvian Amazon that stretches back into the decade of the 20s of the twentieth century, when, in 1920, oil was found near the town of Condamana, in the riverbank of the Ucayali river,
which was then a part of the Department of Loreto. Again, in 1934, oil was found in the confluence of the Pachitea and Ucayali rivers. Three years later, between 1937 and 1938, the Ganso Azul Co., a subsidiary of Sinclair Oil Co., initiated a small-scale extraction operation in the area of Aguas Calientes (see also, Gabelman 1959, 14). In 1996, the state company transferred its operations in this block to a consortium led by the Argentinian company Pluspetrol Norte S.A. Between 1998 and 2006, an approximate of 6619.7 barrels of oil were spilled. In the period from 2007 to 2011, the territorial watch programs have reported 112 oil spills, of which 82 occurred in Block 1AB/192, and 30 in Block 8, 89.3% were spills in the Corrientes river. From 2011 onward, multiple spills have occurred in the area, of which we can mention the following: a spill of 2011 in Trompeteros, of 150 barrels in Block 8 due to a rupture in the North-Peruvian Pipeline; and dos spills in the same block in 2014, of about 140 and 93 barrels. The spill of Cuninico, also in this block, had a magnitude of about 2000 barrels. In regional Spanish, the term is used to identify the person who prepares and takes ayahuasca. A similar idea is present in the thought processes of the Cofan people, where an ontologic analogy is proposed, between the blood of an underground being called Coancoan and petrol. The subject has encouraged a debate about the possibilities that the relevance granted to ontological questions could depart from ethnographies, exoticizing or providing a romantic image of indigenous thought about oil exploitation and its consequences (see, among others, Cepek 2016; Krøijer 2019; Rogers 2015, 373–374). For more information about the incidence and the effects of diseases, like measles and malaria, among the Urarina and their link with oil extraction activities, see Witzig (1996) and Witzig and Ascencios (1998).
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Batek Cosmopolitics in the Early Twenty-First Century Ivan Tacey
Introduction This chapter explores the politics of indigenous cosmologies and shamanic practices in the early twenty-first century, a period marked by rampant environment destruction and climatic change. To do so, I draw upon long-term ethnographic fieldwork conducted between 2006 and 2019 among the Batek Dè’ and Batek Maia, two groups of hunter-gatherertraders and post-foragers living on the periphery of what remains of the rainforest in central Peninsular Malaysia. The chapter seeks to address the political dimensions of animists’ relations with non-human others and thus constitutes what I have termed cosmopolitics. The word Batek means ‘human,’ ‘person,’ or ‘people’ in Batek languages and is used as an autonym by several linguistically related groups who live within, and on the peripheries of, the rapidly diminishing forests of Kelantan, Pahang, and Terengganu in Peninsular Malaysia. The largest and most well-known Batek group now predominantly speak the
I. Tacey (B) University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2021 D. Riboli et al. (eds.), Dealing with Disasters, Palgrave Studies in Disaster Anthropology, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-56104-8_4
Batek Dè’ language and number around 2000 individuals. The term Maia (or Manya’1 ) is the historical autonym of a much smaller group living at the western edges of Batek Dè’ territory and who have their own language, history and traditions and identify as a separate ethnic group (Lye 2004, xx; Tacey 2018). According to my informants, they began identifying as Bateks, rather than Maia following a series of violent encounters with Malays who had moved into their traditional territories in the early twentieth century. Adopting Batek identity was supposedly an effort to conceal their true identity from Malays. Bateks are classified by anthropologists and the Malaysian government as ‘Orang Asli’ (Malay for ‘original people’); a broad ethnic category which is used to refer to at least 18 linguistically and culturally distinct indigenous peoples living in Peninsular Malaysia. Neither the state nor federal governments of Malaysia recognize Batek land rights; a situation which is unfortunately shared by most other Orang Asli groups (Nicholas 2000; Subramaniam 2016). As Subramaniam and Edo have underlined, “prior to 1997, Orang Asli were thought to have no legal rights to their customary territories beyond that of a tenant at will partly due to the fact that the statutory power whether or not to protect or excise such lands lay at the discretion of the individual State Authority” (2016, 86–87). This has meant that the Orang Asli have been dramatically affected by the ‘development’ of their traditional territories, which has primarily involved the replacement of forests with large-scale agricultural projects and the opening of mines and quarries to extract mineral resources (Toshihiro 2008; Endicott and Dentan 2004; Dentan et al. 1997). Profits from logging, plantation agriculture, and resource extraction within Batek territories have enriched outsiders while Bateks have been pushed off their lands and into poverty within resettlement villages. Fortunately, large parts of Batek territories lie within the protected Taman Negara national park thus allowing some continuation of a forest-based lifestyle for a part of the population. Around 500 Batek Dè’ live fairly nomadic lives within Taman Negara, while the rest of the population follow lifestyles in a continuum from semi-nomadism on the park’s edges, to predominantly settled lifestyles at resettlement villages. The current Batek Maia population numbers around 300 individuals most of whom were living settled lives in three villages (Kg Batu Jalang, MarEm, and Paya Keladi) on the western edge of Taman Negara. In resettlement villages, Bateks are pushed to assimilate to the numerically and politically dominant Malay sector of society through being coerced to adopt Islam, taking
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up agriculture and through the education of children in government run schools. The environmental devastation of Batek landscapes, alongside accompanying socioeconomic and political changes, has caused considerable anguish which reverberates through Batek cosmologies and religious practices. In order to assert any rights to their customary lands, Orang Asli claimants “must establish that they are a distinct tribal division of Orang Asli as characterized by culture, language or social organization, speak an Orang Asli language and habitually follow an Orang Asli way of life and customs and beliefs” (Subramaniam and Edo 2016, 88). Shamans often play vital roles in establishing “whether the community concerned observes an aboriginal way of life and concomitant customs and beliefs, and accordingly, can be categorized as “aboriginal” for the purposes of a customary land rights claim” (ibid.). Land claims thus have important cosmopolitical dimensions that transcend ontological differences between Malaysia’s indigenous peoples and State. Emplaced and embodied knowledge including myths anchored in local environments, spirits residing in landscape features, shamanic dream-songs obtained from these spirits, observation of customs handed down from creator beings, and healing practices, can all constitute central elements of land claims. More-thanhuman worlds and eco-cosmologies should not be just thought of as aspects of a particular ‘culture,’ ‘ontology,’ or ‘worldview,’ they constitute a form of cosmopolitics or ontopolitics (Scott 2011) that transcends ontological difference.
Eco-Cosmologies and Cosmopolitics Batek relations with non-human others, their hunting rules, their corpus of myths and historical stories, and even their complex sets of taboos and prohibitions are embedded within the local environment (Tacey 2018, 67–104). As such they clearly constitute what, in this volume, we term ‘eco-cosmologies.’ In my usage of this term, I refer to sets of concepts, practices, and beliefs relating to the ‘order or arrangement’ (Greek kosmos ) of the universe that are embedded within local ecological systems, the wider environment and weather systems, and which shape praxis and people’s understanding of their proper place in the world. Batek eco-cosmologies pertain especially to the maintenance of relations with a variety of non-human entities that include spirits of animals, ancestors, places, meteorological phenomena, and the underworld.
The non-human agencies that Bateks most commonly interact with include a powerful chthonic world creating rainbow serpent known as naga’ (Batek Dè’) or Baji’ (Batek Maia), her counterpart the sky-dwelling thunder deity known as Gobar (Batek Dè’) or Karei (Batek Maia), benevolent spirits (Batek Dè’: hala’ ‘asal; Batek Maia: ‘ai djum) and a host of predatory beings that feast upon Batek bodies and souls. As we shall see in this chapter, the relations that Bateks have with these different classes of non-humans, as well as the forms and behaviors of these beings, have clearly been shaped through long-term interactions with powerful outsiders. Furthermore, Bateks have interpreted recent experiences of local landscape degradation as well as catastrophes in faraway places through the lens of their eco-cosmologies (Riboli 2013; Tacey and Riboli 2014). In some instances, this has spurred Batek shamans to perform heroic transnational feats to prevent further calamity (Tacey 2016, 2018) For example, Batek Maia living at Kampung Batu Jalang related to me how one of their shamans had journeyed to Japan following the 2011 tsunami in order to rebuild the damaged structure of the underworld and to constrain the underworld naga’ whose writhing had caused the earthquake and tsunami (Tacey 2016). Local-global dichotomies are irrevocably irrelevant for shamans who are specialists in maintaining relations with entities distributed throughout the cosmos from local hills, mountains, forest, and riverine sites to sky worlds and the chthonic underworld. By cosmopolitics, I follow Isabelle Stengers (2005) and Bruno Latour’s (2004) usage of the term to refer to an inclusive more-than-human politics which includes all human and non-human entities or phenomena with the capacity for agency. This differs radically from the human-centric ‘citizen of the world’ type cosmopolitanism propounded by the Cynics, Stoics or more recently by the sociologist Ulrich Beck (2006) As Latour writes, The presence of cosmos in cosmopolitics resists the tendency of politics to mean the give-and-take in an exclusive human club. The presence of politics in cosmopolitics resists the tendency of cosmos to mean a finite list of entities that must be taken into account. Cosmos protects against the premature closure of politics, and politics against the premature closure of cosmos. (Latour 2004, 454)
BATEK COSMOPOLITICS IN THE EARLY TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
Even in its most scientific manifestations, cosmopolitics includes a host of ‘agents’ acting in various forms of association at multiple interlocking scales; from the symbiotic relations between microscopic entities such as bacteria, viruses, and micropollutants and their hosts/microenvironments; to the complex relations between plants, animals, fungi and a variety of human and non-human agents at the level of local ecosystems; to the interactions between these agents and ecosystems at regional and global scales; right up to planetary movements and celestial mechanics. Association is of central importance for a cosmopolitical vision that stands in radical opposition to a Cartesian or atomistic view of reality. Cosmopolitics is committed to more-than human relationality. In the social sciences, its intellectual history stretches from Gabriel Tarde’s vision of sociologies of “every thing” (Tarde 1895, 58), through philosopher Alfred North Whitehead’s notion of “stellar societies” (Whitehead 1959, 61), biologist Lynn Margulis’ explorations of endosymbiosis (Margulis 1999) and James Lovelock’s Gaia theory (Lovelock 1979), to recent ontological approaches in anthropology (BirdDavid 1990; Ingold 2011; Viveiros De Castro 1998; Descola 2013; Kohn 2013), Science and Technology Studies (Latour 1990; Mol 2014) and multispecies ethnographies (Van Dooren 2014; Rose 2011; Kirksey and Helmreich 2010; Miller 2019). It is important to note that nonindigenous cosmologies are anything but monolithic; not all scientists and philosophers are committed to an atomistic ontology and the kinds of simplistic dualisms between subject-object, human-animal, and natureculture that Philippe Descola (2013) has argued constitute the hallmark of naturalism “the cosmology of modernity.” As Margulis has argued, “we are all symbionts on a symbiotic planet, and if we care to, we can find symbiosis everywhere” (Margulis 1999, 5). Animism is, by default, cosmopolitical, in that, besides humans, a vast array of other living things and phenomena are considered to have the capacity for consciousness, subjectivity, intentionality, and agency. Animists are well aware of the importance of association and symbiotic relations that Western scientists only began studying in the last 150 years or so. For Bateks, cosmopolitical life encompasses animals, plants, wind, thunder, the dead, spirits, and landscape features; of whom have the potential for qualities of personhood and must be related to appropriately (Endicott 1979; Tacey 2018). Batek relations with non-humans shape everything from hunting and gathering practices, to food and sexual taboos, healing ceremonies, movement through the forest and shamanic
soul-journeying. In recent years, numerous anthropological studies have shown the ubiquity of humans’ social relations with non-human agencies in the Americas (Descola 2013; Viveiros De Castro 1998; Costa and Fausto 2010), South India (Bird-David 1999), Southeast Asia (Roseman 1998; Dentan 2008; Howell 1984), and Inner Asia (Pedersen 2001; Willerslev 2007). Batek understandings of the complex associations between different plants, animals, and humans are not purely animistic; they are also informed by more naturalistic perspectives. From a young age, Batek children begin accumulating an encyclopedic knowledge of flora and fauna and are able to recognize the habitats, life-cycles, anatomies, morphologies, behaviors, tracks, calls, and odors of a vast number of animal and plant species (Cf. Lye 2004, 123–145). This type of ecological learning takes place alongside the acquisition of other types of knowledge—myths, shamanic lore, techniques of entering into altered states, songs, prohibitions, and so on—which constitute a different, but complementary way of thinking about and relating to animals and the environment. Different types of knowledge are not separated into distinctive domains, they mutually inform each other. For example, ecological knowledge is contained within myths, myths are often emplaced within specific locations in the landscape with distinctive ecologies, and animals’ behaviors may signify ecological changes or cosmic activities.
Eco-Cosmologies and Landscape Numerous locations across the Batek Maia landscape mark places where the two most powerful non-humans in Batek cosmologies, Karei (the thunder lord) and Baji’ (the rainbow snake), are said to have punished humans for breaking prohibitions. The landscape surrounding the village of Batu Jalang, the largest Batek Maia settlement, is densely filled with cosmological and historical significance. During my fieldwork, villagers from the village took me around the area to explore numerous limestone karsts, each of which are associated with specific myths and stories. One particularly potent site we visited in this area was a magnificent limestone karst known as Batu Tebogn. Standing in a grassy area surrounded by fruit and rubber trees a few hundred meters in front of the karst, ‘ey Wauh recounted the following story about this place to me in May 2013.
BATEK COSMOPOLITICS IN THE EARLY TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
Batu Tebogn has a very old story but I am frightened to tell you. I’m frightened [laughs nervously] but I will tell you. Long ago, people were camped here. One day, when most of the people had gone to the forest a man stayed here in his lean-to. He was making his blowpipe (bђlaw) and his poisoned darts (tђŋlac). His niece (bEr) also stayed here at her lean-to. After some time, the man got itchy. He wanted her. He wanted to have sex with her straight away. He was itching for sex! [‘ey Wauh scratches his body excitedly and laughs]. But Karei was watching them from above. He could see the two of them. He could see they were having sex. He flew down and took the couple. He took them up to the top of the rock. [‘ey Wauh points to the top of the rock]. He took them up there, that is where they died. Their blood (yap) now stains the rock. You can see it there today [points at red marks on the karst]. Their souls now live within the rock. We cannot climb this rock otherwise we will die too.
Certain details of this story need contextualization. The man being described as making a blowpipe at camp possibly hints at his sexual desires. Blowpipes are often joked about and used as metaphors for penises and the mouthpiece (tamam) at the end of a blowpipe is sometimes referred to as lõ ’ (penis). ‘ey Wauh expressed his fears about the locale before recounting the myth and the rules about avoidance of the site (specifically climbing) make it another topophobic locale. The reddish-orange marks on Batu Tebogn which are seen to be the blood of the incestuous couple also function as a signifier of danger. Batek Maia (and other Bateks) have very strict rules pertaining to sexual relations between closely related members of the opposite sex (albeit less strict than other Semang groups) and the relationship between the man and his niece at Batu Tebogn transgressed accepted limits. The events recounted in the above story can be illuminated through some further background information about the thunder deity. A good starting point concerns how he initially became associated with this role. The following story told to me at Kampung Batu Jalang details this event. Long ago, Karei (thunder) lived with his brother Leway (the honeybee) and their mother Capoi (the earth deity) here on earth. When he lived on earth, Karei cultivated various crops such as bananas, cassava, yams and rice. He lived just like a Malay. His brother, Leway was different, he lived like a Batek. One day when Leway was out hunting, Karei became sexually aroused and raped his mother Capoi. When Leway returned and discovered what had happened he became furious. As they began fighting,
Karei took a torch and tried to burn his brother. Leway fled but then returned and repeatedly flew about stinging Karei [metamorphosing into his bee form]. Karei fled and took his current abode in the sky-world. Leway also ascended to the celestial realm but to a separate place than his brother. Their mother Capoi descended into the subterranean depths and became the earth deity.
Although he is the principal deity associated with the punishment of incest, this myth shows that Karei himself incestuously raped his own mother while living on earth. Indeed, it is a consequence of this act which led to him becoming the thunder lord and the events that are recorded at Batu Tebogn clearly mirror this act. Alongside explaining the origins of these powerful non-humans, this myth connects Karei with Malays who are the emblematic groups which Bateks construct their identity against. In the past, Malay political power was frequently exercised through direct violence against Bateks in slave raids and massacres which only ended in the early twentieth century (Endicott 1983, 1988; Tacey and Riboli 2014). Even today, Malays hold considerable political power over Batek communities. Batek Maia living at Kampung Batu Jalang are still extremely wary of their Malay neighbors and often complain of threats of violence, both direct physical violence and supernatural violence in the form of curses and spells to cause sickness. The power of the thunder lord mirrors that of the Malays, and to a certain degree he can be seen as an embodiment of the uncontrollable and inescapable violence of the past and present (Cf. Dentan 2002). The myth of Karei, Leway, and Capoi’s origin is intriguing in that relatedness and separation are instantiated simultaneously. While the three form a close kin unit formed of two brothers and their mother, Karei and Leway are associated with two different ethnicities and modes of sociality, Karei with Malays, and Leway with Bateks. Furthermore, each character ends up in a separate realm; Capoi in the underworld, and the two brothers in separate domains of the celestial world. The simultaneous relatedness and separatedness of Leway and Karei mirrors Batek relations with Malays; although both live side-by-side and interact regularly, they identify with quite different environments and embody quintessential alterity for each other. Bateks generally describe the thunder deity as an incredibly powerful, vengeful but somewhat ridiculous entity living somewhere in the sky. The Batek Maia term for him Karei has cognates across the Malay Peninsula, Borneo, and the Philippines (Carey 1976, 100; Blust 2013, 409–410)
BATEK COSMOPOLITICS IN THE EARLY TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
suggesting an ancient pre-Austro-Asiatic origin (Blust 2013). Batek Dè’ refer to him as god Gobar, a term which is derived from the Malay term gobar meaning ‘gloomy’ or ‘overcast’ (Wilkinson 1901, 580). There is no real agreement about the thunder deity’s current appearance; his identity is highly fluid. When I asked people from Batu Jalang to describe him to me they claimed he normally resembles a human when calm but transforms into a terrifying theriocephalic being when angered—a human with the head of a siamang, gibbon, bear, elephant, or tiger. In Batek Maia origin myths, he is often said to resemble a Malay when in his human form. Similarly, Mendriqs claim that when Karei makes thunder he has the form of a gibbon but when sending disease he looks like a Malay (Evans 1937, 184).2 Some Batek Dè’ say Gobar resembles a giant monkey-like creature while others say he is impossible to see due to blinding flashes of lightning which continually shoot out of his eyes. His identity and appearance are manifestly elusive and shifting. The thunder lord’s ambiguity is also reflected in his character; he is both greatly feared as the destructive embodiment of thunder but he is also a trickster and a hilarious figure who can be mocked (Lye 2004, 155; Endicott 1979, 167–168). Again, this ambiguity is reflective of the Bateks’ relations with Malays. Like the thunder lord, Malays are greatly feared but behind their backs they are also frequently mocked and derided. While Batek Maia say the thunder lord lives somewhere alone in the celestial world, many Batek Dè say he now lives atop a mountain or within a cave high up on a limestone karst at the center of the world where he guards flower blossoms and bees (Endicott 1979, 42–45). At the bottom of this huge karst, which Endicott names as Batu Balok, is said to be a large cave which is the home of powerful hala’-tigers (original creator beings) who some people claim that Batek shamans join after death (Endicott 1979, 137–138). Cosmological imagery of Batu Balok also draws from foreign sources; in some descriptions of this place above the tiger’s residence are said to be smaller caves containing seasonal fruit blossoms and bees that are stocked “like goods on a shop shelf” (Endicott 1979, 44). The thunder lord’s associations with giant apes, tigers, and Malays equate him with Otherness, that of formidable and highly salient forest animals and the potency of Malay polities. This “incorporation of the Outside, the Beyond” is common in the qualities of monstrous entities in a variety of cultures (Cohen 1996, 7). The alternating appearance of the thunder lord as a normal human of Malay appearance when calm and
terrifying animals when angered mirrors the episodic violence that punctuated Batek-Malay relations. Historically, during times of peace, Bateks traded forest products with Malays and relationships were, for the most part, amicable but when violence erupted, Bateks fled to the forest or were massacred in incidents of devastating violence (Endicott 1983; Tacey and Riboli 2014). Even today, the Maia and other Bateks will flee to the forest at the drop of a hat if they perceive they are threatened by Malays. Robert Dentan has argued that the long period during which the Orang Asli were subjected to extreme violence by slave raiders made an indelible mark on their cosmologies and hence the destructive power of the thunder lord should be seen as an embodiment of the violent slave-raiding state (Dentan 2002). However, the thunder lord’s behavior and characteristics is not only an incorporation or embodiment of external power and violence, it is also a transformation of power and violence into reproductive potentiality. Alongside his role as a punisher for transgressive behavior, the thunder lord is also intimately connected with the seasonal fruit and honey cycles. His thunderous rumblings in February and March are said to signal the creator beings to send down fruit blossoms and bees to earth at the correct time of year (Endicott 1979, 56). Bateks do not see the thunder god as embodying evil, the punishments he metes out to humans for transgressions are only aimed at those who transgress established modes of behavior. Furthermore, his wrath is increasingly aimed at non-Bateks who destroy the environment and act violently. In this guise, he also acts as a protector of the Bateks’ cherished way of life as a forest people. Throughout my fieldwork, catastrophic disasters in the local area and in a variety of locations right across the planet were consistently attributed to the thunder lord and the underground rainbow serpent’s anger at humans breaking prohibitions classified as lawac in the Batek Dè’ language and tailine in Batek Maia. While Bateks are particularly anxious about local landscape degradation of forests and landscape features associated with powerful non-human beings, they are also worried about the numerous global catastrophes they hear about through global media. For example, the Japanese tsunami of 2011 was often interpreted as being caused by the subterranean rainbow snakes (naga’ or baji’) who had been angered by Japanese dressing up animals as humans: a serious transgression. Most Bateks believe the 2004 tsunami that devastated Indonesia had been initially caused by Indonesians breaking prohibitions, thus causing the wrath of non-humans. The movement of the powerful rainbow snakes
BATEK COSMOPOLITICS IN THE EARLY TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
living in the subterranean realm is generally considered fairly predictable; every year it causes the seasonal monsoons. But, occasionally, when the thrashing of these gigantic serpents is particularly powerful, it results in earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or tsunamis. There is nonetheless considerable internal diversity in the exact details of such interpretations of catastrophes. Many Batek Dè’ said the Indonesian tsunami was provoked by the thunder deity Gobar (see Riboli in this volume), while several Maia claimed that it was caused by thousands of mischievous human-like frog spirits (cangkai) who transformed themselves into the devastating oceanic force. Despite these variations, among both groups, any transgressions of prohibitions or moral norms are said to be punished by powerful nonhumans, most commonly the underground rainbow snake that causes upwelling floods and the ferocious thunder deity who releases powerful storms. In everyday life, people are usually extremely careful not to break taboos or behave in ways that could anger these beings.
Visions of the Future The forest periphery, where most Bateks now live, is a site of complex interconnection with a variety of actors and agencies of the forest and the local and larger national and globalized human environment. Economic and sociopolitical marginalization, particularly a lack of rights to land and political and cultural autonomy, alongside environmental degradation and increased connectivity with the outside world, has played a powerful role in shaping Batek eco-cosmologies and shamanism. The modalities of interconnection that conjoin Bateks with the outside world frequently shift between two rather different cosmopolitical visions of the future. On the one hand, there is a dark apocalyptic outlook that the now outof-control destruction of the environment will result in enraging the powerful chthonic naga’ (rainbow snake) to such an extent that her rocking and writhing will cause a world-ending flood that would engulf the planet (Lye 2004; Tacey 2018). On the other hand, people expressed a somewhat unrealistic and weakly supported hope that logging would end, their political rights would be granted, and catastrophe would be averted. At Batu Jalang, these rather different visions emerged most clearly. Many villagers told me that a catastrophic deluge (tsunami) was sure to occur in the near future and was part of a long-term cosmic cycle of birth and destruction. These ideas are clearly reminiscent of, and undoubtedly
influenced by, Hindu-Buddhist cosmologies. Many villagers told me that in the near future the world would be turned upside down, waters would rise uncontrollably, and colossal waves would engulf the land. Although the entire world would be destroyed, my informants were fairly confident that the Batek Maia would escape by entering a large cave located at huge limestone karst known as Batu Bidan which would be protected from the floods. This karst takes its name from the powerful and ancient spirit which inhabits the place (bidan means ‘old person’ in the Maia language) and which is perceived as a guardian of the surrounding area. Many Batek Maia claim their ancestors had previously sought refuge at this cave during an earlier world-destroying deluge which had left the dead bodies of animals and humans scattered across the landscape. Among the dead had been “birds, gibbons, common banded leaf monkeys, dusky leaf monkeys, crocodiles, fish” as well as “Malays, Chinese and white people”.3 If another ‘tsunami’ occurred the villagers told me they would enter Batu Bidan and journey into the underworld where they would be protected by the resident ‘ai djum (a class of benevolent spirits) until the floods had receded.4 Similar ideas about benevolent chthonic non-humans aiding marginalized indigenous peoples have been described by Judith Bovensiepen (2011, 2014) in Timor-Leste and Michael Scott in the Southeast Solomon Islands (2011). Bovensiepen describes historical stories from the Laclubar region of Timor-Leste which detail how autochthonous ‘spirit troops’ were raised from the ground in potent lulik areas (places imbued with spiritual potency) to defend ancestral territories from neighboring groups as well as more recent stories in which similar chthonic armies were raised to protect local inhabitants from Indonesian troops during the 1999 struggle for independence (Bovensiepen 2011, 56–58). Michael Scott describes comparable ideas on the island of Makira about an underground army “equipped with super-normal technology devised by Euro-Americans with the aid of dwarf-like Makiran autochthons called kakamora” which “are the guardians of a pure Makiran language and kastom (tradition or custom) that has become obscured and depleted among Makirans in the surface world” (2011, 197). These accounts clearly highlight similarities between Southeast Asian and Melanesian cosmologies. More importantly, they demonstrate the complex entanglements of ontology and politics. Such imbroglios are drawn from local cosmologies which are fused with wider historical and foreign sources.
BATEK COSMOPOLITICS IN THE EARLY TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
Alongside these apocalyptic visions, many Batek Maia from Kampung Batu Jalang also expressed a fantastical belief that the American government would intervene to protect them from Malays, end their marginalization and establish relations with them based on equality. These hopes emanated from a series of dream revelations received by numerous villagers in which President Obama communicated that he would soon be coming to Malaysia to help the Batek Maia. Various informants told me that ‘everyone’ living at the village was receiving dreams in which Obama was encountered in a similar way to benevolent ‘ai djum spirits who the Batek Maia relate to as allies, guides, and helpers. In the dreams, Obama told individuals that Americans would establish collaborative mining or logging ventures with the Batek in which profits would be equally shared, that they would expel Malays from Batek territories, and even assume governance of Malaysia and establish a new political order in which the Orang Asli were treated with respect. People supported the validity of their dreams by referring to news events seen on television offering “proof” of Obama’s imminent arrival. Similar findings have been reported by Danilyn Rutherford for the Biak people of West Papua who both fetishize and domesticate foreign powers in their emancipatory struggles against the Indonesian state (Rutherford 2002). Although Batek Maia dream revelations may seem naïve at first glance, they took place alongside more concrete attempts to establish political alliances. On the very first day I arrived at Kampung Batu Jalang, I was shown piles of letters addressed to various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and human rights groups—including the Malaysian Human Rights Commission and the Malaysian Bar Council—and also to foreign governments and their leaders in which people expressed their desires for change. Letters outlined an array of requests: the granting of political autonomy from the Malaysian government, help in gaining recognition of their ancestral lands, and collaboration on equal terms with international partners to develop local resources. In the marginal and interconnected context of the forest periphery, dreams provided immediate subjective responses to the demands and aspirations expressed within these letters. Transnational media flows were thus entangled within a recognized mode of relating to non-human persons with the goal of establishing political alliances. Although President Obama never came to aid the Batek Maia, their calls for help from different Malaysian NGOs were taken seriously. Similarities between Batek cosmopolitical struggles and those described in Rutherford (2002), Bovensiepen (2011, 2014), and Scott’s (2011)
ethnographies are clear. Of particular interest is how ontological politics frame not only the ways in which myth and history influence the present day, but also how they shape future possibilities in what could be seen as developing a form of indigenous-eco-futurism.
Violence, Disease, and Shamanism Alongside affecting Batek economic practices and shaping Batek nonviolent forms of sociality (Tacey and Riboli 2014), encounters with violent outsiders have left an indelible mark on Batek cosmologies. While Batek modes of relating to benevolent non-humans tend to be homologous to in-group forms of sociality, their relations with predatory beings and monsters are more akin to relations with powerful, and often violent, outsiders. The largest group of predatory non-humans in Batek Maia cosmologies are known as penyakit (a Malay term meaning disease). These monstrous disease-causing entities are classified into two major subgroups: the penyakit batak which are human-like beings said to dwell in caves and trees within the forest; and, the penyakit djinn who are described as gigantic entities which lurk in rivers (tom), swamps, and marshes (paya). Penyakit spirits are considered one of the principal causes of disease by the Batek Maia and the illnesses they cause can only be cured through the activities of shamans. They are sharply distinguished from the other principal categories of non-human persons—benevolent ‘ai djum and langoi spirit guides and cenil ancestors. Penyakit never function as spirit guides for shamans in the way that ‘ai djum and langoi do. In the descriptions I was given of them, penyakit were only ever described as agents of disease who prey upon the souls of humans for sustenance. The violent historical relations between the Batek Maia and outsiders (Malays, Bataks, Thais, and others) are central to understanding their relationships with penyakit. Attacks by local Malays resulted in the massacres of several Batek communities while those perpetrated by Bataks purportedly also involved cannibalism. The Batek Maia’s employment of the Malay-Arabic terms penyakit batak and penyakit djinn for soul devouring beings suggests profound historical connectivity. Batak is a collective ethnonym used for several groups from the lake Toba area in Sumatra, Indonesia, who were infamous for practicing ritual cannibalism and slave raiding on other ethnic groups across the Indo-Malaysian world (Marsden 1783). Villagers living at Kampung Batu Jalang claim that historic attacks by cannibalistic Bataks were recorded by their ancestors in a series of cave
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paintings in limestone karsts in the local area. It is possible that claims of Batak cannibalism might have been later added to embellish the experiences of slave raiding attacks and other local experiences of violence. However, Batek Maia claims of slave raids and violence should be taken seriously, regardless of whether or not they were victims of cannibalism. The colonial literature is rife with descriptions of Malays, Thais, Rawas, and other dominant ethnic groups hunting down Orang Aslis—labeled as sakais (slaves) or kafirs (infidels)—like animals (see Endicott 1983 for an overview). The violent outsiders who attacked Bateks would have been described in monstrous, predatory terms by any survivors. As lived experiences informed the altered states of dreams and trances, violent outsiders were transformed into disease-causing penyakit. Penyakit spirits attack and carry out violence upon human souls in much the same way Malays and Bataks historically attacked the Batek physical bodies. In a mirroring of the Bataks historical hunting and consumption of humans, the penyakit batak carry out their predatory cannibalistic acts on souls (semangat ) rather than bodies. Many Batek Maia claim that in the past their shamans would fight off would be attackers through employing magical means. For example, some stories detail how entire groups of Batek Maia would use shamanic powers to transform into tigers to frighten away Malays. Other stories detail people making daring escapes from slave raiders. Today, Batek Maia shamans enlist the help of their ai djum allies to combat disease-causing penyakit batak. This strategy not only functions as a means of alleviating illness but serves as a means for shamans to use violence through the proxy of their ‘ai djum spirit guides. Batek Maia say that penyakit inhabit the invisible world (linung ) and, like other spirits, can only be seen by shamans. Penyakit are said to have grotesque and abnormal features, long bodily hair, claws, and fangs. However, like benevolent ‘ai djum who serve as shamans allies, they are considered as persons (batek). They are typical incarnations of monstrosity in both their forms and behaviors. During my fieldwork, people often compared them to the monsters depicted in popular Thai and Indonesian horror films. Penyakit are predators par excellence; they consume human souls because they perceive human souls as game and people often explicitly compared penyakit predation upon human souls to their own hunting and consumption of animals. As one of my informants explained to me, anyone can be attacked by these monsters during the daylight hours as they move through the forest, or during dreams when their souls
(semangat ) wander the local environment. However, because penyakit are invisible to all humans except shamans, individuals only know if they have been attacked if they begin suffering from an illness and a shaman determines that a penyakit is responsible. To cure illnesses that are suspected to result from the actions of penyakit spirits, a Batek Maia shaman must retrieve the lost soul of the inflicted person and combat the penyakit responsible for the attack. Although such styles of curing are fairly typical in Southeast Asia (Skeat 1900; Sillander 2015; Herrmans 2015), they are markedly absent among the Batek Dè’. To recover the soul of an individual which has been taken by a penyakit, a shaman calls down his spirit allies (‘ai djum) through burning fragrant woods and incense and singing (penloin). As the ceremony progresses, he enters a trance state by rhythmically rocking backwards and forwards (teween). Trancing is usually accompanied by a shaman’s wife strumming a cungud (a two-stringed bamboo tube) to create a droning sound. Once in a trance state, the shaman’s spirit-guides travel down multi-colored threads and enter houses (hayã) located within the shaman’s head and heart. Once sufficient numbers of ‘ai djum spirits have entered his body, the shaman causes his soul (semangat ) to leave his body. During the trance state, the different ‘ai djum spirits incorporated into the shaman’s body sing through him. The shaman’s soul then journeys through the local environment with his ‘ai djum allies and searches for the penyakit responsible for the person’s illness. Once he has discovered its location, he then battles the being to recover the lost soul. Rather than combating the penyakit directly, the shaman sends his ‘ai djum to fight on his behalf who attack and kill the penyakit by blowing magical darts at them. The shaman then recuperates the human soul that the penyakit had taken to devour and returns it to the sick individual and finally leaves his trance state as he re-enters his own body. If a shaman does not intervene in this way, the penyakit is thought to completely devour the soul of a sick individual, causing his or her death. Batek Maia conceptions of diseases being caused by spirits are clearly related to Malay ideas of disease-causing spirits termed (penyakit ), ghosts (hantu), or genii (djinn) (Sandbukt 1984, 90; Gimlette 1913, 30; Skeat 1900, 64–65, 94; Endicott 1970, 53–56). Djinn are a Malay term which originates from Arabic and literally means ‘hidden from sight.’ In the Koran, djinn have shapeshifting powers and can take the appearance of humans, animals, or dragons but are often described as living in societies like humans where they marry, have children, and so on. In Batek
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Maia usage, the term djinn is only used in conjunction with penyakit and penyakit djinn are always considered to be dangerous entities. The semiotic shifting of Malay and Arabic terms for forest peoples onto monstrous entities and the association of Malays, Bataks, or other violent outsiders with these entities has been described by numerous ethnographers working in Southeast Asia. Several Orang Asli groups use local versions of the Malay-Arabic term iblis meaning ‘devil’ or ‘Satan’ to refer to disease-causing entities which have similar characteristics to penyakit (Jah Huts bes; Chewongs bas; Batek Nongs bès ). Variations of iblis are also common in Borneo, for example, the Luangan of Kalimantan use the term blis for spirits when acting malevolently (Herrmans 2015, 54). Øyvind Sandbukt (1984, 87–88) and Ramsey Elkholy (2016, 177) describe a class of similar disease-causing entities among the Orang Rimba (Kubu) of Sumatra who are known as orang me-layu and who “are said to dress like Malays and live in Malay-like villages particularly associated with swampy and palm-rich indentations in the terrain” (Sandbukt 1984, 88). Similar to Batek Maia ideas of penyakit, Orang Rimba notions of the orang me-layu and Orang kapir exemplify how “subaltern” cosmopolitical strategies may emerge from within positions of subordination through eclectic blending of different cosmological frameworks coexisting at the political margins
Conclusions Increased interconnectivity has meant that many contemporary events and processes, in the local landscape as well as faraway places, are now understood to anger these beings who may potentially react with apocalyptic wrath. In an increasingly interconnected world in which globalized media imagery flows into their communities, Bateks experience what seems to them like a dramatic increase of ecological catastrophes. This imagery then combines with local experiences of massive landscape change and rapidly deteriorating environmental conditions. Locally, it was considered that shamans could prevent, or at least calm, the fury of the non-humans causing catastrophes. Situating themselves as transnational agents or negotiators serves as an empowering strategy to cope with both political and economic marginalization. Bateks frequently interpret earthquakes, tsunamis, storms, and floods as punishments meted out by powerful ancestral beings when humans transgress prohibitions and ethical norms. Shamans among both groups
consider themselves as specialists in preventing such catastrophes and repairing damage to the cosmos following such events. Like Urarina shamans in Peru, they may appropriately be seen to engage in what could be seen as a kind of climate politics (Walker 2013, 180–181, 212). The cosmic struggles of contemporary Batek and Urarina shamans are often described as methods of holding off the upcoming apocalypse, which is signaled by a scarcity of game animals, a decline in powerful shamans and, for Bateks, the destruction of the local environment. Markedly absent in most recent studies of animism is any discussion or analysis of the role of historical experiences of violence, contemporary experiences of climatic change, environmental degradation and sociopolitical subordination in shaping cosmologies, relations with non-humans and shamanistic forms. As I have argued in this chapter and in previous publications (Tacey 2013, 2016, 2018; Tacey and Riboli 2014), alongside economic and sociopolitical forms and practices, Batek animism has been shaped through long-term interconnectivity with other places and peoples and contemporary experiences of rapid environmental change and social, economic and political marginalization. The idea that landscapes are filled with powerful non-human presence and potent locales is common in Southeast Asia and has received increasing attention in recent years (Allerton 2009; Aragon 2003; Bovensiepen 2014; Guillou 2017; Jonsson 2005; Telle 2009). As many of these studies demonstrate, indigenous people’s animistic practices and place-making activities have, without a doubt, been shaped through historical and contemporary interconnections with other peoples and places. To downplay or avoid discussion of these exchanges results in impoverished ethnographic descriptions that portray indigenous peoples as exotic others living in worlds separated from other groups by vast sociological and ontological divides. Ontological relations forms and praxis, whether in the Malaysian rainforest (Tacey 2018; Dentan 2008; Roseman 2012), or biological laboratory (Mol 2014) emerge through what Marilyn Strathern terms ‘partial connections’ (1991). This point has been stressed by Dutch ethnographer, Annemarie Mol, who suggests something similar in her claim that “ontologies are not exclusive. They allow for interferences, partial connections. Sharing practices” (Mol 2014). Bateks, and other indigenous peoples, do not live in an ontological world separated by incommensurable difference from their Malay neighbors, Euro-Americans, or any other social groups. Pretending they do, is not only inaccurate and misleading, it severely hampers our understanding of animism
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and shamanism and results in exoticized representations of indigenous animists that continue to employ worn clichés of the ‘noble savage.’ One feature of the ontological approaches of the so-called New Animists (Harvey 2005) is their way of examining animism as a unifying principle for ‘an anthropology beyond the human’ (Ingold 2013; Kohn 2013; Descola 2013; Harvey 2005). However, these approaches have frequently focused on constructions of distributed agency and personhood within local environments while downplaying, or even ignoring, complex historical and contemporary interactions between indigenous peoples and other social groups. Furthermore, many ontological approaches to animism have relied upon examinations of cosmologies, cosmogonies, and shamanisms while disregarding politics of exclusion, environmental degradation, and marginalization (Bessire and Bond 2014). Life on the forest edge is wrought with frictions and conflicts which, as Pamela Stewart and Andrew Strathern’s argue, operate as “crucial transducers whereby the local, national and global are brought into mutual alignment; or as providing sites where conflicts between these influences are played out” (2003, 3). Batek eco-cosmologies and cosmopolitics should be understood as resulting from these kinds of connections and ruptures that alternately entangle and sever the ties between themselves and various beings and places in the local environment as well as peoples and places from the wider world. Shamanic practices and the activities of other-than-human beings do not only relate to the local environment; they are central to a much wider cosmopolitical realm that extends across the known world and invisible realms inhabited by spirits and gods in the wider cosmos. In the current era of the Anthropocene, characterized by cataclysmic changes to the planets ecological and meteorological systems, we would be well advised to take heed of the Batek’s and other indigenous peoples’ warnings (Cf. Kopenawa and Albert 2013). We live in a world that is interconnected on multiple levels, ecologically, politically, socially, and ontologically. Like Batek shamans, it is clear that if we want to avoid catastrophe, we must maintain and rebuild damaged relations with the other agents and entities we share our planet with.
Notes 1. The term Maia is probably related to the Jahai and Mendriq term mnra’ meaning ‘person’ or ‘people’. Batek Maia have previously been referred
to in ethnographic literature as either Mintils (Benjamin 1976) or Batek Tanums (Lye 2004). The autonym Maia /maIђ/, rhymes with the English ‘buyer’ /baIђ/or hire /haIђ/. Linguist, Niclas Burenhult, assures me that there is an almost unheard medial consonant in the word, a palatal nasal /ñ/ or nasalized glide /y/, and it was likely that the term ended in a glottal stop /’/. The consonant /r/ seems to be systematically replaced by /y/ in medial positions in Northern Aslian languages and the two /a/ sounds in the autonym are both nasalized, thus resulting in the phonetic transcription [mãñã’ ] and the phonemic transcription /manya’ /. The term Maia is rarely used as an autonym today although people say this is their ‘real’ name. Following lengthy discussions with Batek Maia villagers living at Kg Batu Jalang, I have chosen to use the ethnonym Batek Maia in my writings to clearly distinguish this group from the Batek Dè.’ 2. Neighboring Semai people often describe him as “a mammoth black animal, a ghastly sun bear, a giant pig-tailed macaque, leaf monkey or siamang” (Dentan 2008, 70). As noted by Endicott (1979, 165), one of his names in the Batek Dè’ language, Mawas, evokes images of giant apes in the Malay. Batek Nongs call him Jawac and say he looks like a pig-tailed macaque (B. bawac; L. Macacus nemestrinus ). Menriq, Jahai, and Lanoh descriptions of him alternate between a giant ape and a Malay or a Malay prince (Evans 1937, 184–188; Schebesta 1928, 185; 1957, 13–14, 24; Endicott 1979, 174). Versions of his name used by Temiars (‘1ŋkããy) and Semai (Ngku) are cognate with the Malay word tengku meaning ‘Prince’ or ‘Lord’ (Dentan 2002, 163). 3. This information was obtained during a group interview with village headman ‘ey Wauh, three adult men from the village, Mayam, Um, and Akoi, in the presence of around ten other villagers from Kampung Batu Jalang on June 4, 2013. 4. Earlier in my fieldwork, Batek Dè’ living at Post Lebir in Kelantan told me similar stories. In their versions, their ancestors had escaped catastrophic flooding by climbing up the mountains that divide Pahang and Kelantan and they told me one of the reasons they lived in this area was so to be able to climb nearby mountains to escape from any future deluge.
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Jinn Pinn Dance in the Floods: Perceptions of Flood Disasters Among the Kalasha of Pakistan Taj Khan Kalash
Introduction The devastating climate-change-induced floods of 2010 in Pakistan affected some 14–20 million people. It is estimated that one-fifth of the country underwent damage because of the floodwaters (WFP 2010). Climate scientists have projected that in the coming decades global warming and the receding of the Hindu Kush-Karakoram-Himalayan (HKH) glaciers in Pakistan will have severe consequences for the entire ecological system (IPCC 2013). The floods of 2010 were followed by another even more disastrous wave in 2015 which shocked and devastated the Kalasha, a minority population dwelling in the Pakistan section of the Hindu Kush Mountains. In this chapter, I will contextualize these two floods within the religious cosmology of the Kalasha people, in order to explore Kalasha views
T. K. Kalash (B) Department of Social Anthropology, Panteion University Athens, Athens, Greece © The Author(s) 2021 D. Riboli et al. (eds.), Dealing with Disasters, Palgrave Studies in Disaster Anthropology, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-56104-8_5
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and responses to flood disasters in general. The devastation caused by these two floods combined was so unprecedented in the Kalash Valleys that it has challenged their existing means of conceptualizing environmental damage. Explanations were sought, both established and new. Those derived from the Kalasha’s cosmological models were supplemented by explanations drawn from the pragmatic reality of deforestation, ensuing ecological crises, and anxieties related to the decline of indigenous religion and culture and increasing shift to Islam and the effects of globalization.
Methodology This disaster ethnography partly embodies my own lived experience of the floods as a member of the Kalasha community. It also draws on discussions, following both floods, with Kalasha informants. My informants kindly provided me with oral ethno-religious data and follow-up replies to my questions. This enabled me to put together contemporary Kalasha conceptualizations of ecological catastrophes and environmental degradation. Kalasha views are further compared and contrasted in light of existing anthropological literature about the Kalash religion and culture. I spent most of my time in Mumuret Valley which is the largest of the two Kalasha valleys. I have visited the other valleys and villages and spoken to about 133 Kalasha regarding the floods. My primary data on floods was collected from Chizhina, a Kalasha settlement by the river which was swept away in the floods. The settlement came into being in the late 1960s, established by Siasat and Sadhu. They were among the oldest Kalasha in Mumuret. Their life history was the inspiration for this transcript.
Background of the Kalasha of Chitral The Kalasha people are the last followers of a pre-Islamic pattern of beliefs. Similar systems were once observed across what is today northeastern Afghanistan and northern Pakistan (Cacopardo and Cacopardo 2001). Until the closing years of the nineteenth century, the Kalasha were part of a much larger region of non-Muslim communities to their east. Following a violent jihad led by Abdur Rahman, the then Emir of Kabul, these communities converted around 1900. The conversion was marked by a name change: While Muslims had called the region
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Kafiristan or “Land of the Unbelievers,” following the jihad, the name became Nuristan or “Land of Light” (Katz 1982; Jettmar 1986; Kakar 1971). Some of the Kafirs with their families fled the religious and cultural persecution. They crossed the Durand Line border and sought refuge in the British-controlled Principality of Chitral, among the Kalash Kafirs (Afzal Khan 1975; Alder 1963). The fall of Kafiristan and subsequent religious conversions of several ethnic groups to Islam put extra conversion pressure to convert on the last of the non-believers, the Kalash Kafirs in Chitral. It was believed they would also follow suit. The ancient belief system of Kafiristan, however, has survived with the Kalasha in today’s Pakistan, despite its precarious contact with Islamic neighbors and the pressure of modern civilization. At the turn of the twentieth century, there were five distinct Kalasha valleys in Chitral populated predominantly by the Kalasha themselves. These valleys constituted a Kafir Kalash territory within the Chitral state. The Kalasha paid tributary tax, thangi, on their subsistence agricultural and pastoral produce to the mehtar (king) of Chitral. A male member of each family was required to perform unrewarded labor for the mehtar.
Kalasha in Post-colonial Pakistan The end of British rule of the Indian-subcontinent, in 1947, resulted in its partition into two countries. The Kalasha were now no longer in British India. The Muslim Principality of Chitral became part of Pakistan in 1969, and the indigenous Kalasha people of Chitral became religiousminority citizens of Pakistan. Since then, the Kalasha people as the last Kafirs or pagans of Hindu Kush have generated a lot of curiosity and attention from outsiders about their non-Islamic culture. The Kalasha have shown resistance to religious and cultural conversion to Islam in the past seven centuries and continue to practice their ancestral, indigenous religion within Muslim-majority Pakistan. Two persistent theories drive outsiders’ imaginations of the Kalasha, prompted by racial speculation of the presence of white skin, blonde hair and green/blue eyes among the population. First, that they are the descendants of the early Aryans tribes who settled and remained isolated in the Hindu Kush Mountains. Second, that they are descendants of Alexander the Great’s soldiers, of Macedonian origin (Burnes 1833; Leitner 1894; Raverty 1859). A lot of ink has been spilled over these perceived genetic origins and culture connecting them to ancient
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Caucasians, and this has created an aura of mystery and enigma around the Kalasha (Trail 1996; Cacopardo 2011; Murtaza 1962). These outsider theories and views about Kalasha race and religion which proliferate in print, in film, even in social media have started to make their way to the Kalasha themselves. They now have a growing awareness of these ideas, due to increasing literacy and the number of visitors coming to the Kalasha valleys who are keen to see them and discuss these matters with the Kalasha themselves (Kalash and Heegård 2016). The outsiders’ obsession with Kalasha origins and comparisons to paganism has baffled many Kalasha, but now they have settled-in to enjoy the attention they receive, after centuries of slavery and mistreatment at the hands of the Muslim rulers’ of Chitral and local communities. Further discussion will detract us from the main focus of the chapter, which aims to deal with the Kalasha perceptions and responses to flood disaster. The Kalasha population numbers around 4000 today. The three Kalasha valleys (Biriu, Mumuret, Rukmu) are situated in the Eastern Hindu Kush Range in northern Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan. The position of the Kalasha settlements, located at the elevation of 1800– 2000 meters, with pastures at 3000–5000 meters, makes them especially vulnerable to torrential flooding in the summer months, due to monsoon rains and glacial melts. The Kalasha have adapted to the physiognomy of the mountains and the climatic conditions and hazards over the centuries of their presence and survival in the mountains. These major floods, however, are typically viewed with deep ecological concern, as they fundamentally relate to the survival of the Kalasha indigenous religion and food security.
Pragata and Onjeshta The religious cosmology and symbolic system of the Kalasha is formed around the idea of two contrasting realms, namely, in the ritual sense, onjeshta “pure” and pragata “impure.” This dualism is configured conceptually as well as spatially, as it is applied to a division of labor between men and women, affecting subsistence agriculture and livestock husbandry, as it relates to various zones in the landscape. The pragata zones encompass burial grounds (mandau jaw), menstruation and maternity houses (bashali), roads, shops, lower ends of the valleys, Muslim settlements, chickens, eggs, and outsiders. The areas above the Kalasha villages are onjeshta and include the goat, bees, stables, the shrines, altars,
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and the alpine pastures. The mountain pastures and peaks constitute the territories of supernatural beings called suchi (Lourde and Lièvre 1988). Kalasha believe that these beings are the progenitors of the Kalasha mortuary traditions and goat pastoralism. The religious social economical aspect of this dualism in the Kalasha cosmology divides the Kalasha males and females into proscribed genderspecific roles and separate cult values (Parkes 1987). The Kalasha males are onjeshta ritually, and members of the community of pastoral hunters and herders and therefore of the pure cult, whereas the females are considered pragata, of ritually impure cult, by birth, hearth, and agriculture. Most significantly, all women are identified as pragata for their biological monthly cycle of menstruation as well as during childbirth. During this period, all Kalasha women physically and socially distance themselves from the family and the village. They create separate agency based on their common qualities as women, separate from the pastoral group identity of men (Maggi 2001). They are isolated during menstruation but they are together in group and childbirth in a community house called bashali. During this period men, women, and children from the village can’t approach them. They have no responsibilities for daily chores and food is brought for them. The ritual impurity of women does not in any way create a lower status or discrimination against them (Maggi 2001). Women choose their own life partners and leave them for another man if the marriage is unhappy. The pragata rule also specifically forbids intimate relationships within a certain number of generations of family: Marrying someone within seven generations down the paternal side and within five generations down the mother’s lineage is nerawa (ritually nonpermissible). People marrying in such close relation are considered impure and are banned from conducting and attending many rituals at the sacred altars. Menstrual pollution is contained in the bashali and its grounds lest it spread into the onjeshta zone. Maintaining this separation is important in preventing disaster. In the past, less dramatic environmental issues such as landslides or minor floods were accounted for largely by the understanding that there had been a lapse in keeping onjeshta and pragata separate. Often goats, the most sacred animal to the Kalasha, were sacrificed to supernatural beings in order to try and make amends for the assumed transgression of the spheres (Fig. 5.1). The concept of sharing and distribution is a fundamental characteristic of the Kalasha cosmology (Parkes 1992) and is also necessary to prevent
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Fig. 5.1 Sacrificial blood of a cow being poured on juniper smoke (saras ) in Krakal Grom Gha (Photo Taj Khan Kalash)
misfortune. Another category of spirits, bhut , reside within the springs. Kinship relations are often established with these minor spirits for the benefit of individuals or families. As I will describe at length later in this chapter, a Kalasha family may have their own bhut and ritually feed it its share. The Kalasha title for their gods is Bas Zhuaw, meaning “portioneater” or “share-eater.” The share portion must be ritually offered to these guardian spirits, or they will withdraw their support and blessings of abundance and fertility. The withdrawal of support may endanger the survival of the families in these self-supporting communities. The Kalasha supernatural beings are less concerned about sins and morality, but they are initiators of collective punishment through floods in the case of ritual pollution.
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Ontological Issues, Terminology, and Kalasha Worldview One of the issues of describing nature and natural phenomena is translation and finding equally compatible ontologies for the Kalasha conceptualization in the natural environment. Therefore, many Kalasha words, terms, and phrases are transcribed and used excessively to portray and account for the Kalasha cultural perspectives. For instance, there is no Kalasha word for Nature as a separate entity but it is conceived in terms of relative interrelationships with living things and supernatural agencies. How Kalasha imagined their relation to, and relationship with, entities like sun, moon, living creatures and the spirit world are apparent in the solstice songs. A chaumos winter solstice hymn addresses the sun. It may be a metaphorical rhetoric but it is interesting to see how this relationship is being imagined and contextualized within Kalasha agro-pastoralism. The sun is being taunted for setting away hastily in the winter; with a passive threat that “I will wed my daughter to the moon’s son instead and create a kinship with the moon.” This theme of creating kinship (dari hik) with unrelated people and with interspecies and supernatural is further reflected in Kalasha culture and ritual performances. The cloud (menj jamou, “cloud bridegroom/brother-in-law”) is referred to with kinship term jamou attached its name, further projecting and establishing familial relationship with the natural world. Within the Kalasha cosmology, there are several groups of supernatural beings. The Kalasha suchi are equivalent to the pari or fairies and the other group of spirit beings are called bhut , dandik, rhuzi, bala which are understood as jinns, giants, monsters, demons, ghosts, or evil spirits. Kalasha perceive the fairies and jinns only wear a cloak of invisibility but are mortal, sentient creatures. At times they can drop the cloak of invisibility and can be seen by humans. They also communicate with the humans through the very onjeshta person, the dehar (shamans) (Siiger 1963). They mix with the Kalasha in blood and death. The Kalasha suchi, bhut , dandik spirits of Kalasha Desh (land) act and behave like humans. However, rhuzi and dandik are believed to be cannibals. The suchi spirits and monsters fight, make peace, and engage in all human behaviors; often being mischievous, playing tricks on men in the high pastures, falling in love with them, and having suchi human children. Also giants and monsters may kidnap, rape, and impregnate women, who then give birth to part-human and part-monsters. So there are naturally
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good and benevolent spirit beings, as well as malevolent demon/monster spirits, which can transform, shapeshifting into cats, sheep, and cows. When one becomes mixed with the suchi or bhut , they bring fortune and prosperity. The spirit-creatures also appear to reward and strike without a rule depending on the fate of a person. For instance, when someone arrives at the sacred glacial lakes in the high alpine pastures, if the lake turns white like chir (milk) the person lives and becomes prosperous, but if the lake waters turn red like l’ui (blood) it is a sign of misfortune and death. The concept of pure milk (clear waters) and impure blood (floods) pervades the environment and the Kalasha ritual system. Along the center of the length of each of the three valleys there runs the predominant landform, the gha, the ravine, where the river constantly flows, full and fast, or wide and slow, according to the seasons and the shape of the surrounding landscape. Ritual purity is generally graded and this grading is applied to all domains, including that of place, and importantly, the landscape, for example. Each valley is characterized by the presence of flowing waters, the downstream passing flow of all the waters from the rains, the mountain snows and glaciers, and the springs. Onjeshta, pure, are the water, the snow-melt, and the snow. However, the water of the springs is purer than the water of the stream. Likewise, the snow is pure but when it melts, it becomes less pure in the process and the murky, soiled waters of the flood represent its highest impure state. The village place is regarded as in the middle of this ritual purity grading, so men are less pure when they are in the village but become purer when they are in the goat stables and pastures. Intrinsically, females are in the impure domain, due to menstruation. The grading of relative pureness is also applied in the female-domain with various conceptualizations of states of purity. For example, women become less pragata when they are not in the menses and childbirth phases. In the female domain, the landscape is connected to the impurity grading too. The floods are metaphorically linked to the natural monthly periods of females. Women during the state of menses are on the extreme of the impurity scale until they lessen the impurity by bathing themselves and all their clothes, before they return to the village, which is a purer zone than the bashali, menstrual house. In most of the Kalasha interpretation or exegesis of natural disasters gathered, the themes of association and mirroring between the phenomenon in the natural environment to human body and social
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world regularly appear, such as the direct association of deforestation with starvation and mhal, curse, of the living things. The notions of whal and mhal are deeply embedded in the thought process when conceptualizing the current ecological crises. Whal in the Kalasha language relates to pity, mercy, and compassion, to feeling the suffering of living things. Children from an early age are told not to stamp or beat the earth because “zemin mhal kariu,” the suffering curses the land. Wal is a negative action and mhal is the reaction to, or consequence of whal: When an organism that is put under stress or suffering, it has the ability to curse (mhal ). The Kalasha say that the cutting of forests deprives birds and animals of food sources. The screams of hunger and suffering send shock waves in the mountains for justice. The birds and animals thus suffer whal, then as a reaction, mhal, or bring down a curse, which brings the floods. The Kalasha, while explaining events, also provided a vision of their reciprocal relationships with all living beings including the trees, animals, and birds. Gha (gorges, stream banks) in Kalasha cosmology are also the travel route of all the spirits. Many personal stories of encounters and crossing paths with ancestral spirits result in anger strikes, including sightings of suchi bathing in streams, and killing of another elusive lake monster that is called ashjar (azdha, monster, a lizard, and snake-like creature that engulfs birds and animals). The presence of ashajar monsters was also believed to be a sign of flash floods. Many people accidentally fall into sickness after trespassing into spirit paths and sites. They only recover after going through specific reconciliatory offerings and purification rites, but some people may not recover. The services of spirit-diviners are needed to find the spirit that has been wronged. The male spirit-diviners are called thom phuchaw, “bow oracle” where the female spirit-diviners are called iste’ ~ik phuchaw, “bangle oracle.” These spirit-diviners find the cause of sickness coming from the ancestral spirits and other spirits (Loude 1996). The encounters with spirits have a variety of outcomes resulting from the nature of interaction. Someone killing animals that belong to the spirits—like the markhors or snow leopards—gets possessed and tortured by the spirits. The suchi are female spirits that live in the Kalasha landscape. Many personal accounts of suchi sights and encounters exist among the Kalasha. It’s believed the suchi bathe with their long hanging breasts thrown over their shoulders. In other parts of Chitral, the same suchi are imagined as females with feet turned backwards. If a person encounters
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a suchi, they may throw themselves onto the ground and seek forgiveness. This act is called “breastmilk forgiveness.” The intruder is spared and adopted as their “milk-children,” or they become mixed with the spirits. The suchi provide benefits to such individuals and may make them prosper. As stated above, the suchi spirits and demons of the Kalasha cosmology represent human qualities and attributes. These indigenous vernacular traditions and conceptualization of Kalasha put them at odds with the Islamic view of them. Kalasha despise being called Kafirs, non-believers, or infidels by Muslims as at times these terms are intentionally used to berate their beliefs, traumatize, dominate, and humiliate them. The Kafir label haunts Kalasha with painful memories over the centuries of their subjugation, racism, and prejudices about their ritual practices and conceptions. Probably, in order to find common grounds and a new co-existence with non-Kalasha, a distant celestial creator god of the Kalash cosmology called D’izaw with no shrine, altar, or direct involvement in Kalasha affairs has come to the foreground in the contemporary Kalasha imagination (Cacopardo 2006). He’s also called D’izil’a D’izaw identified as Paidagaraw, creator, or equated also with Khoday (Lord, Persian), Khoda (Urdu), from monotheistic religions. The Kalasha tutelary deities called Bas Zhuaw (share takers) or Dewaloks; Balamain, Mahadev, Sajigor, Varin, Ingaw, Jac (female), Jes’tak (female), and others are increasingly imagined to be messengers, angels, prophets, and subordinates of the creator Khodai. The belief and perception in such spirit beings is a common feature of many religions. Despite cultural differences between the Kalasha religion and Islam, the spirit beings in the Kalasha cosmology are not outside the scope of Islam. The beliefs in the existence of jinns (giants) have special mention in the Quran. However, these jinns and fairies are demonic creatures and as the Kalasha perceive them, don’t hold theistic power and position. In the Islamic view, the jinns and fairies are subordinate creatures and can be captured and controlled by powerful religious men. The northern areas of Pakistan (Kashmir, Gilgit, Swat, Chitral, Hunza, and Kohistan) are in general covered with mountains, lakes, and meadows. In the popular folk traditions, all these mountain regions are collectively imagined as Peristan (the abode of fairies). The highest peak Trichmir (7708 meters) in Chitral is considered the “seat of the fairy king.” Today in the Northern areas, especially Chitral, a strict Islamic orthodoxy of “Burqa” prevails. The sight of unveiled “Kafir Kalash”
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women without a male guardian walking in the bazaars is evocative of Peristan but also provocative as it runs counter to the Islamic religious precepts. On the other hand, in the Kalasha perception of religiosity, the lower end of the valleys and the roads that lead to bazaars and shops and the world outside the Kalasha valleys are ritually impure and polluted. Kalasha culture intrinsically defines natural sites and areas as embedded with spiritual meanings and beings. The Kalash do not feel superior in strength to spirits, animals, and other creatures. The Kalasha perspective does not regard the world of spirits as separate or disconnected. Rather, they perceive an entangled co-existence and engagement with the spirits of the dead and other organisms in their landscape. This makes them treat disasters and other phenomena that occur in nature as somehow able to be responded to, influenced or controlled. The Kalasha find resilience and a pathway forward through their eco-mythological narratives, ritual action, and organization of spaces for their recovery and sustenance. All these supernatural beings discussed above have presence and are felt to be proactive agents in the ecological system within which they use their autochthonous powers. The ecological landscape is thus categorized, divided, and distributed across the spectrum of the two opposites onjeshta-pragata. There is strong expectation of severe consequences if unnecessary suffering of living organisms or trespassing across these designated dangerous paths and sites of the spirits occurs without caution. Particular kinds of spirits are associated with catastrophic events. The phrase “jinn pinn dance in the floods” is repeated by many Kalasha when talking about the floods. The word jin is etymologically of Arabic and Persian origin and is, therefore, a loan word in the Kalasha language. The other word that Kalasha used to refer to the same spirits was aphat bala which is a combination of two separate words; aphat means evil, disaster, trouble, misfortune, sickness, and spiritual harm, whereas bala means evil spirit or demon creature similar to the jinn. Bala in Kalasha language can also be used in the sense of “trouble” or “calamity” as in the utterance, “what a great calamity (bala) has occurred in the weather. It keeps raining and raining ” (Trail and Cooper 1999).
Wider Understanding of the Kalasha Ecology and Cosmology Kalasha have been fully engaged with the environment for their survival as an agro-pastoral society well over a millennia, practicing horticulture and the movement of their livestock based on both the solar and lunar calendars, and other climatic conditions and elements in nature.
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The sun is observed during chusmos mastruk, or citramasa, the December winter solstice celebrations of the Kalasha (Loude and Lièvre 1988). The suri jagek, sun-watching, imagines the sun as sitting in the nest or womb. The sun sits down in the nest every year, and then three types of possibilities are predicted for the year ahead. These predictions are based on the days the sun comes out from the same spot; the sunrise is inversely thought of as sitting in the mo’ (nest or womb). If the sun sits for five days in the same spot, the year ahead is predicted to be a prolonged summer with increased temperatures that will result in glacier lake outbursts leading to floods. The seven-day sit-ins of the sun predict an ideal year. The nine days sit-in forecasts a cold year with freezing temperatures and frost resulting in crop failure and famine. There is a memory of the main river of Chitral being completely frozen and a long winter that resulted in crop failures and famine. The Kalasha relationship with the natural environment is expressed in metaphorical terms, and ritual dramatization. At the end of the winter solstice, a person appointed to the role of roi moc (ritual leader) performs rituals associated with agriculture, goat husbandry, and weather anomalies. An additional group of guardians called den whal were appointed to foresee mountain pastures restricted for grazing and enforce a ban on fruit picking before their ripening times (Parkes 1992). Nowadays the traditional Kalasha ecological rules are inapplicable in a habitat shared with non-Kalasha communities and the state agencies control over its environmental management. Nonetheless, the Kalasha maintain these traditions as the symbolic characteristic and guiding principles of their religion. Exceptionally, the theatrical mock exodus of females “Yashi parik” is a form of protest against catastrophic weather. This further highlights and dramatizes their relationship with natural phenomena and entities. When the rainfall, during the sowing and harvest season, does not tend to stop, the Kalasha women put on a show of migrating downstream from the valleys. They put old clothes in their baskets and leave the villages calling on a spirit, “O Yashi, parik!” “Oh Yashi, we are leaving the country (as the weather has become unbearable).” The women must be implored and convinced by the men to return before they reach the rhuzi bat (witch stone) at the end of the valley. If they pass that stone they will disappear. The Kalasha men follow them in groups and beg them to return as they will make all the required rituals to the spirit world to bring back the sun. Kalasha cosmology and conceptualization thus transcends a view of association with the environment and their role of being a small part of
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the cosmos where other entities and creatures have a say. At times during the intensifying floods, the culmination of these eco-cosmological views were expressed in apocalyptic terms such as “dunyia akher zaman hawau” (end times of the world have arrived) with direct references to prime notions of whal, the innate quality in living beings to feel pain and mahl, the ability in all living organisms as victims to curse the cause. After the floods, the restoring ritual notions relate to rule of rawadari (permissible) and narawa (non-permissible) corresponding to the existing dualism of purity and impurity inherent in the Kalasha religion. In the remainder of this chapter, I discuss a disastrous flood that descended upon the settlement of Chizhina, before discussing how people relate such catastrophes to social, religious, and economic transformations.
The Uprooted Settlement of Siasat and Sadhu in Chizhina The settlement of Chizhina was named in the 1960s after two towering pine trees (chizhin mut’ ) on the mountain slope. It is located across the south side of the river opposite the main Kalasha village of Bruan, in the largest of three Kalasha valleys. On the upper slopes above the pine trees are patches of holly-oak forest that descend into the spring meadows surrounded by cultivation land at the lower end. The settlement consisted of seven houses and three pragata (ritually impure) stables, two onjeshta (ritually impure) goat stables. Two springs of spiritual and ritual reverence bubble out behind the houses. Their waters poured out in two little streams that were channeled to the fields by women for crops. These houses facing the riverbed were located at varying distances of fifty to five hundred paces from each other. A wide boulderland is scattered between a little stream and then about 300 meters away from the furthest house on the bank of the main valley river. The river then suddenly turns its course around the boulder filled land (daro) like a coiled snake coming dangerously close to eroding the land at about 50 meters from the houses and meadow farm of Sadhu and Siasat, two of the founders of the settlement. In 2010, more than 45 individuals lived in Chizhina. They were all descendants of three Kalasha families. Siasat and Sadhu’s life stories, recounted below, provide a broader perspective on how social and environmental decision-making has taken place in Chizhina over the last sixty years.
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Sadhu recalled the partition of India in 1947, when he was an adventurous teenager who supported Mr. Jinnah (the founder of Pakistan) and the growing Muslim League movement in Chitral for the creation of Pakistan. For Sadhu, the creation of Pakistan meant freedom from serfdom and thangi (tax). After independence, Sadhu volunteered in the peace-keeping force of the National Guard of Pakistan. Even though Chitral was not yet fully administered under the laws of the new Pakistani republic, the Kator dynasty’s oppressive control over its Chitrali subjects was wearing thin. The turbulent times following independence turned out to be dangerous for the fate of Kalasha ritual traditions. The Mehtars could not uphold the “leave the Kalash Kafirs alone” policy and control over access to their Kalash Kafiristan. The Kalasha were being swarmed by neighboring Muslim communities who were coercing Kalasha to give up on what they viewed as backward, unethical and unacceptable funerary customs; particularly the mortuary rite moc natek (dance for the dead men) performed in honor of Kalasha men before the corpse is disposed of in wooden coffins at the designated impure site called mandau jau (literally, “jungle of the dead”). The Kalasha were also being pressured to perform earth burials instead of their centuries-old tradition of open-air burials (Fig. 5.2). Sadhu prided himself on being one of the first Kalasha to go to the unknown world outside the valleys. He crossed over the Lowari pass (3118 meters) on foot for approximately 400 km before finding a railway track. He took the train to the fabled city of Lahore in Punjab. After a short stint as pantry butler for the last gora sahibs (white Mister, British in India) and further travels to other urban cities, he returned back to his ancestral village of Bruan. Siasat, the godmother of Chizhina, mostly known with the title role as Gada Aya or Chir Aya (Big Mother or Milk Mother, a respected title for midwifery) is a respected herbalist and avid tree planter. There were more than 100 different types and varieties of large and small mixed fruit trees of mulberry, pears, apples, apricot, peach, raspberries, and grapes in her meadow farm with several walnut trees up the hill near the oak forest. Siasat recalled her early years being a brave shepherdess to her father’s flocks when she dared to stay in the jungle on her own with an axe. She was near in age to Sadhu and remembered some events under the formal principality. One day the men of the Mehtar (King) arrived on horses and threw her in with a group of Kalash men and women to walk to the court
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Fig. 5.2 Moc natek—funerary farewell dance in Batrik village for Elder Taron (Photo Taj Khan Kalash, 2017)
of the Mehtar to be exhibited to state guests as the Kafirs and perform their indigenous dancing. The long journey (approx. 50 km) through the mountain passes to Chitral town was arduous and unbearable on bare feet. When her father heard about it in the pastures, he left the goats to go astray, and went to her rescue, carrying her on his back to the valley. Most of the Kalasha in former times did not prefer wearing shoes, or it was not an easily available commodity. Many Kalasha associate being barefoot with their impoverished conditions at the time. Siasat still proudly remains barefoot most of the time. Barefoot watering and hoeing in the fields by the women is still valued as an auspicious ritual of nourishment. Siasat left her first husband and her toddler son after a physical fight broke out between them. She had beaten the man and fearing reprisal returned to her father’s house in Bruan village. She found the right person in Sadhu and decided to elope with him. But Sadhu and Siasat shared a common ancestor within their past four paternal generations, a close kin according to Kalasha rules. Their marriage raised eyebrows in the
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village for breaching a traditional Kalasha code of ritual impurity. But Sadhu and Siasat were determined to start a new lineage together. They named their first child Mister Jinnah after the founder of Pakistan and their daughter Multan after the famous city of Multan in Punjab which Sadhu had visited. In 2010, they had 31 grandchildren from three daughters and a son. They gradually moved from Bruan and decided to build their own settlement in the late 1960s. They recalled the mountain stream flowing approximately 400 hundred meters away from their summer house in Chizhina. Their engagement with the landscape and the views they held about floods provide a view of a Kalasha experience of life. They had witnessed and experienced several floods coming closer over the years but nothing matched the severity and devastation of the new floods. The factors that made Siasat and Sadhu to move from the Bruan village to Chizhina involved practical decision-making. A shared house in village with three brothers and their wives, a choice between living winter months in the shady, snowy side of the valley and sunny village or the relentless amount of work involved in carrying loads of grains, fodder, livestock, firewood for the winter from Chizhina to the village across the river at 1000 meters height. According to them, minor floods came once or twice in summer but did not pose a threat to them as they honored the Kalasha rituals and traditions. They would move to Bruan for the duration of the winter solstice ceremonies and ritual offerings and then return to their Chizhina house and stables. Siasat and other Kalasha females of Chizhina would head to the communal Bashali on the other side of the river, during their menstruation periods
Saras Kuru---The Ritual Offerings for the Bhut The new settlement was pragmatic. It was modeled on the Kalasha onjeshta-pragata distinctions and distributions, and did not impact their Kalasha ritual behavior. Sadhu ritually fed a bhut that he and his family believed lived in the spring behind his house. “The bhut is my friend and is here to guard me.” The spring creature had appeared to family members as a mischievous cow munching the crops. When they ran to scare it away the cow disappeared from their sight. Sadhu referred to the bhut , not as a deity but as a friend and the original dweller from whom they sought permission, and protection from the disastrous dance of the flood jinn pin (demon
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spirits). Sadhu performed saras (ritual offerings in juniper smoke) on the stone above the spring about every three months or when necessary. He would ritually wash his hands in the spring water and become onjeshta, ritually untouchable for conducting the offering. He then would light a stack of pine wood on a stone and gently place the juniper branch (saras ) over the fire. He then placed his offerings of butter or fruits, grain, wine on the smoking juniper. Sadhu described this as “offering the Bhut his share.” The theme of giving due shares to all, both living family members and spirits, appears throughout the Kalasha system. The dead relatives are ritually fed through kushurik histik (throwing small bread cakes) ritual and large feast, Jire, is offered to attendees at funerals. The mortuary feast for the dead thus symbolizes giving back their share and honoring their life’s hard work in fields and pastures. The ancestral spirits gada bashara as a group are called upon madahik for a meatless banquet at the winter solstice, chaumos while ritual sacrificial blood of goats are offered to Kalasha spirits who are also called bas zhuaw, the share-eaters. Similarly the bhut spirits are remembered through the ceremony of bhut misharek (mixing with bhut ). The Kalasha eco-cosmology thus conceptualizes an organic grid of spaces with pragata and onjeshta meanings and slots which are teeming with energy of living things and powerful forces that must be recognized and offered their due respect and shares through saras kuru rituals (Fig. 5.3).
Eggs of the Flood---Intergenerational Perceptions Siasat and Sadhu believed floods are a natural phenomenon which result from the rains and melting glaciers, but many Kalasha rules of engagement with the environment and supernatural agencies influence their outcome. Siasat remarked “the round boulders are eggs of daran (flood)” and “it comes searching for them and lays new ones to mark its territory.” Although there are no gender specifications in the Kalasha language but her view of floods having a female persona furthers the association of floods with menstrual blood in the Kalasha cosmology. Sadhu described a supernatural entity tasked with destruction who appears riding a horse in front of the torrents and behind him the group of dancing jinn pinn followed. Kalasha people perform the “spirit dance’’ at their funerals for the males. It’s called moc nat’ek which literally means “dancing for the dead men.” The image of the dance of the jinn pin in front of the floods
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Fig. 5.3 Eggs of the Daran Mumuret Valley two years after the floods and the eggs of floods (daran) (Photo Taj Khan Kalash)
may well be partly inspired by moc nat’ek. The dance has peculiar choreography, rhythm, and objects. The hand movements are only reserved for this dance. Making such dance moves outside of funeral is considered inviting or projecting death. The props include drums, axes, red flags, bows, shields, swords, sticks, spears, and feathers. Nowadays, rifles and automatic weapons are also fired during the dance or when a new group of mourners arrive. It is an ecstatic dance of death and has a heavy sadness to it, those who watch it and perform it are reminded that nothing will remain the same. The floods of 2015 were the biggest Siasat had seen in her lifetime. The inhabitants of Chizhina were struck with horror at the sight of a dark monstrous flood approaching them with uprooted trees and massive boulders colliding and thundering. It swept through the Chizhina settlement, taking away houses, fields, animals, and all the fruit trees of Siasat. She refused to leave the flood site and was forcefully evacuated by her relatives (Fig. 5.4).
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Fig. 5.4 Portrait of Siasat in Bruan (Photo Taj Khan Kalash)
A year later, when I visited Siasat, she had moved up on the mountain slope near the pine trees and a new house was being built by her grandson. She remarked: “constructing a new shelter is a matter of gathering and stacking wooden beams and stone upon each other. I have lost all the trees I had planted and looked after during my lifetime. The fruit trees were my mark for my descendants so that they would eat the fruits of my mushakati (long labor) and remember me. The flood has taken away the signs of my life’s labor and my memory.” There was no sign of Siasat’s trees and fields, earned through a generation of physical toil and hard work. They had vanished, leaving behind deep heartache and a waste-land of round boulders. The spring of bhut had also disappeared. After Sadhu passed away in 2013, she said there
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had been no enthusiasm in the younger generation for taking up feeding the bhut , thus discontinuing the old ways. The Kalasha women leave to their offspring a tangible inheritance of trees and fields, whereas men are celebrated for leaving behind a pastoral legacy of livestock. Agriculture and planting are considered as the female domain, whereas animal husbandry is regarded as the male domain. There is a clear distinction of the domains, placed on the pragata-onjeshta spectrum. In 2010, Siasat associated the irregular weather patterns and increasing rains in the valleys over the years with the new insatiable greed and resulting change in human behavior. According to her: “human behaviour is changing over the years. Their bellies are full but their eyes remain starved with deep hunger. Human actions now are unacceptable to all other living creatures. In older times, we behaved differently; we waited before other living creatures had their share. Now humans reach out for unripe fruits and use uria (fertilisers) to get larger shares for themselves. Who will pay for the blood and suffering of those living creatures?” There was a clear divide between the youth and the elderly in the Kalasha conception of the floods. Unlike the older generations, the youth did not see menstrual blood and ancestral bones as connected to a divine cause of floods. Instead, like many non-Kalasha, they resorted to more natural causal explanations and convenient views of the floods as a punishment for sins from the God of monotheistic religions. They believed these sins to be sodomy and the secret burial, near the riverbeds, of children born out of extra-marital affairs.
Flooding, Impurity, and Violence Despite this intergenerational gap, both the old and young connected recent floods to shifts in moral behaviors, and supernatural as well as natural causes. As well as Kalasha cosmology, we need to understand these explanations in relation to the history of political subordination, and violent attempts to convert Kalasha to Islam. The Kalasha are conscious of how they are viewed by Muslims—as avatars of the Pre-Islamic Arab heathens or non-believers (Nelson 2009). The negative stereotype of Kalasha as Kafirs permeates their society and daily life. The Kalasha altars and sanctuaries’ protruding from mountain slopes with wooden horseheads are scrutinized for their belief in stones and animals. In the course of time, many of the honorary ancestral effigies that the Kalasha erected
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for their dead after the great mortuary feasts were destroyed or smuggled out and sold to collectors and museums. Similarly, the floods were viewed in the hindsight of the historical, socioeconomical injustices, and the anxieties of a declining non-Muslim culture. A Kalasha elder and ritual expert named Kadrik, whom I interviewed in 2006, had made a statement about floods and religious conversion to Islam: “If we convert to Islam by our own wish, then our conversion will be accepted by God. If we are forced into religious conversion through cruelty, this landscape will not rest: floods will come and destroy everything” (Hickey and Laureen 2006). The story of Kalasha religious conversion through threats as an impure act of cruelty was brought up again as well in more recent discussions concerning the causes of the floods. A story was raised relating to the fourth Kalash Valley of Shishi Ku. Late in the nineteenth century, they were attacked, so the story goes, during their spring rites and festival of Joshi. The mob of local rulers demanded their conversion through violence, which they managed to achieve at the time. A group of young Kalasha men and women, however, asked them for the chance to dance one last time before religious conversion. They assembled for the tren nat (chain dance), forming a long human chain by putting hands on each other’s shoulders. While hustling back and forth, they suddenly made a big giant leap into the river committing suicide, and ending the Kalasha culture in Shishi Ku. Since then, the valley is famous for its chronic flooding. The Kalasha perceive that the death of the people was a cruel and impure act and that the demons have taken over the valley as the spirits are now devoid of their Kalasha ritual offerings. The conversion of Kafiristan in 1896 through bloodshed was also considered an impure act. As a result, in this view, war and misery continues in Afghanistan (Fig. 5.5).
Deforestation, Modernity, and the State It is also important to contextualize these events, and Kalasha explanations of them, in relation to wider political economic transformations, and resource extraction. Since the late 1970s, access to the Kalash Valleys has been made possible through government-built roads, which have opened access to the landscape for exploitation of natural resources, particularly timber. Timber-logging stands out to be the most detrimental to the mountain ecology of the valleys (Roopali 1994). The environmental
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Fig. 5.5 Tren dance at Uchau rites in Mumuret Valley (Photo Taj Khan Kalash, 2010)
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degradation due to deforestation in the Kalasha valleys was already at its peak at the end of the last century (Alauddin 1992; Lines 1996). A steady flow of non-Kalasha settlers over the past century have brought the total population of the three valleys to approximately fifteen thousand, thus making the Kalasha a minority in the valleys. The increase in the population has put pressure on the natural resources, especially the dependency on the forest for fuel (wood) and food for the livestock. The magnitude of destruction caused by flash floods and landslides also points toward deforestation as its main cause, as a consequence of population pressure and dwindling natural resources. Many Kalasha I have spoken to stressed the link between deforestation and the magnitude of damage caused by each landslide and flood. The awareness of climate change and global warming and their role in floods was a lesser concern to the majority of the Kalasha and this has not currently become a significant part of their views about the floods. Kalasha indigenous knowledge and adaptability to the mountain’s climate is very much reflected in the construction and distribution of the villages along the steep hillsides (Fentz 2011). Agro-pastoralism and the culture around goats can be viewed as an ecological and natural way to live in the mountain ecosystem. Although the Kalasha have become a minority within their own valleys, their intimate environmental knowledge did not, on average, result in significantly less property losses compared with the non-Kalasha settlers in the three valleys during the flood catastrophes. The non-Kalasha settlers have mostly acquired lands near the roads in order to build shops and hotels, often catering to tourists visiting the Kalasha. Many of these infrastructures were carried away or damaged in the floods. These flood damages often receive governmental and NGO support and funding, whereas damage to the Kalasha pastoral economy due to deforestation, landslides, and excessive rains were not part of these post-flood recovery programs. The inherent cultural differences and tensions between Islamic and Kalasha worldviews surface especially during calamities and crises such as the floods. A Muslim cleric in the Chitral region, in which the Kalasha reside, blamed the floods on the Kalasha’s un-Islamic and “immoral” way of life (Express Tribune 2015). Kalasha are accused of enticing or offering local Muslims and Muslim Pakistani tourists wine (which the Kalasha produce), dance, and debauchery. The Kalasha in turn retaliate with their conception of the ritual impurity of the presence of Muslim settlers and tourists in Kalasha territory. They also bring up the issue of tourists
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trespassing on forbidden zones, thus creating impure sites and thereby spreading ritual pollution. Of particular concern are the regular visits of tourists to Kalasha graveyards and the touching of human bones, both acts which are considered to be highly polluting in Kalasha cosmology and religion. Due to the unparalleled fame of the Kalasha in Pakistan, and because of the exotic and distinctive visual culture in the valleys, the state has started to capitalize on the Kalasha heritage as a cultural asset. Kalasha religion is officially recognized in Pakistan and deemed worthy of protection and celebration. This move can be considered an euphemism, and one that suits Kalasha in a supranational military state, as opposed to the accusation of using militant groups as strategic assets in regional conflicts. The state of Pakistan guards the Kalasha from religious extremism coming from Afghanistan and at times intervenes to protect the Kalasha from militant attacks (BBC 2011). Under the pretext of protecting the Kalasha, an imposing army house was constructed in the middle of the Mumuret Valley in 2008. In comparison with the other parts of Pakistan where terrorism and religious intolerance had spread intensely, Chitral is considered a haven of relative tolerance. Isolated mountain cultures, kinships, and tourism in Chitral also contribute to a more favorable view of the Chitrali Muslims toward the Kalasha. Pakistan has been keen to showcase the Kalasha as an ancient living heritage museum to outsiders (Kalash and Heegård 2016). This development and increased national and international interest in the Kalasha valleys has led to unrestricted movement and the purchase of land by non-Kalasha and the construction of hotels and shops owned by nonKalasha. All of this major infrastructure along with roads were, however, swept away in the floods. Thus, this particular manifestation of the flood damage is associated with terrorism, the influx of new settlers and the processes of modernity and state-building more generally.
Concluding Remarks In this chapter, I have discussed the recent floods in Kalasha valleys by situating them inside the multi-dimensional polarity of the Kalasha ecocosmology. The traditional Kalasha interpretations of the flood devastations are based on a discourse of negligence in or during the performance of the rites of purification after death, birth and menstruation and bloodshed. Kalasha thus combine eco-cosmological and socio-historical events
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in their exegesis of the floods, relating them to the maintenance, or lack thereof, of the boundary between pragata and onjeshta. Explanations derived from a variety of other phenomena include deforestation, the incorporation of the Kalash Valleys into the state of Pakistan and the market economy, Muslim immigration and religious conversion. While explanations which focus on pragata and onjeshta tend to be favored by elder Kalasha, explanations which draw on more “tangible” experiences tend to be popular with younger informants. Furthermore, explanations varied a great deal between informants, each producing their own personalized understanding of why and how the floods came to be. Since Kalasha culture is oral, one can also be confident that explanations will rapidly develop and change as circumstances mutate. Thus, the Kalasha understanding and perception of the floods are very much an ongoing story. A recurring theme in descriptions of the 2010 and 2015 disasters is that of a group of demon spirits or jinn pinn who appear dancing in front of the floods, directing the destruction. This illustration of the inevitability of change seems very appropriate for the floods. Their unprecedented power of destruction and the related incessant challenges posed by the varied forces of modernity perhaps can only be conceptualized through an image of the all-consuming hunger of change.
References Afzal Khan, Mohammed. 1975. Chitral and Kafiristan. Peshawar: Ferozsons. Agence France Press. 2015. “Earthquake Was Allah’s Wrath for Kalash Community’s Immoral Ways.” Express Tribune, November 10. https://tribune.com. pk/story/988585/earthquake-was-allahs-wrath-for-kalash-communitys-imm oral-ways/. Accessed 2 May 2020. Alauddin. 1992. Kalash: The Paradise Lost. Lahore: Progressive Publishers. Alder, G. J. 1963. British India’s Northern Frontier 1865–95: A Study in Imperial Policy. London: Longmans. BBC News. 2011. “Pakistan: Kalash Valley of Wine and Festivals Under Threat.” BBC News, May 21. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-southasia-13466250. Accessed 2 May 2020. Burnes, Alexander. 1833. “On the Reputed Descendants of Alexander the Great in the Valley of the Oxus.” Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 2: 305–307. Cacopardo, Augusto S. 2006. “Anthropomorphic Representations of Divinities Among the Kalasha of Chitral (Pakistan).” Acta Orientalia 67: 127–158.
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Cacopardo, Augusto S. 2011. Are the Kalasha Really of Greek Origin? The Legend of Alexander the Great and the Pre-Islamic World of the Hindu Kush. Acta Orientalia 73: 47–92. Cacopardo, Alberto M., and Augusto S. Cacopardo. 2001. Gates of Peristan: History, Religion, and Society in the Hindu Kush. Rome: Instituto Italiano per l’Africa e l’Oriente. Fentz, Mytte. 2011. The Kalasha: Mountain People of the Hindu Kush. Copenhagen: Rhodos. Hickey, Cameron, and Feeney Laureen. 2006. The Alphabet Book. New York: Pattern Films. IPCC Summary for Policy Maker of Climate Change. 2013. The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group 1 to Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Jettmar, Karl. 1986. The Religions of the Hindukush. Vol. I. The Religion of the Kafirs. The Pre-Islamic Heritage of Afghan Nuristan. Warminster: Aris and Phillips Ltd. Kakar, Hasan. 1971. Afghanistan, a Study in Internal Political Developments, 1880–1896. Lahore: Educational Press. Kalash, Taj Khan, and Jan Heegård. 2016. “Dynamics of Cultural Survival of the Kalasha.” In In the Footsteps of Halfdan Siiger—Danish Research in Central Asia, edited by By Ulrik Høj Johnsen, Armin W. Geertz, Svend Castenfeldt, and Peter B. Andersen, 115–136. Aarhus: Moesgaard Museum. Katz, David. 1982. Kafir to Afghan: Religious Conversion, Political Incorporation, and Ethnicity in the Vaygal Valley, Nuristan. University of California at Los Angeles. Doctoral dissertation. Leitner, Gottlieb W. 1894. Dardistan in 1866, 1886 and 1893. New Delhi: Manjusri Publishing House. Lines, M. 1996. “A Sad Legacy: Environmental Problems in the Kalash Valleys.” In Proceeding of the Second International Hindu Kush Cultural Conference, edited by E. Bashir and Israr-ud-Din, 439–451. Karachi: Oxford University Press. Loude, Jean-Yves. 1996. “The Kalash Shamans’ Practice of Exorcism.” In Proceeding of the Second International Hindu Kush Cultural Conference, edited by E. Bashir and Israr-ud-Din, 329–335. Karachi: Oxford University Press. Loude, Jean-Yves, and Viviane Lièvre. 1988. Kalash Solstice: Winter Feasts of the Kalash of North Pakistan. Islamabad: Lok Virsa. Maggi, Wynne R. 2001. Our Women Are Free: Gender and Ethnicity in the Hindukush. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
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Murtaza, Mirza Ghulam. 1982 . New History of Chitral (Nai Tarikh, Chitral ). Translated from the Urdu version into English by Wazir Ali Shah. Unpublished manuscript. Nelson, Dean. 2009. “Taliban Targets Descendants of Alexander the Great.” Telegraph, September 21. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/6214794/Tal iban-targets-descendants-of-Alexander-the-Great.html. Accessed 2 May 2020. Parkes, Peter. 1987. “Livestock Symbolism and Pastoral Ideology Among the Kafirs of the Hindu Kush.” Man 22: 637–660. Parkes, Peter. 1992. “Reciprocity and Redistribution in Kalasha Prestige Feasts.” Anthropozoologica 16: 37–45. Raverty, Henri G. 1859. “Notes on Kafiristan.” Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 28: 213–268. Roopali, Rhadke. 1994. “Kalash Struggle to Protect Ancestral Lands.” Cultural Survival Quarterly Magazine, June 1994. Siiger, Haldfan. 1963. “Shamanism Among the Kalash Kafirs of Chitral.” Folk 5: 295–303. Trail G. H. 1996. “Tsyam Revisited: A Study of Kalasha Origins.” In Proceeding of the Second International Hindu Kush Cultural Conference, edited by E. Bashir and Israr-ud-Din, 359–376. Karachi: Oxford University Press. Trail, R. L., & G. R. Cooper. 1999. Kalasha Dictionary. Summer Institute of Linguistics and National Institute of Pakistan Studies. Islamabad. WFP, World Food Programme. 2010. Pakistan Flood Impact Assessment. September 2010. https://www.wfp.org/publications/pakistan-flood-impactassessment-september-2010. Accessed 2 May 2020.
Eco-Cosmologies: Renewable Energy Pamela J. Stewart and Andrew J. Strathern
This chapter explores environmental healing practices in two very different case studies: County Donegal, in the Republic of Ireland, and secondarily Highlands Papua New Guinea. The basis of the comparison is the idea that some major ritual complexes are designed to cope with or align with macro-events such as seasonal perturbations, generational changes, and the overall relationships between the living and past generations, requiring a renewal of positive cosmic energy to rebalance fertility of crops, animals, and people. In the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, the Duna people had a traditional practice of renewing the fertility of the land called rindi kiniya, involving elaborate sacrifices of pigs and calls to ancestors to help renew the cosmos, triggered by a sense of environmental decline over generations. Also, the Hagen people of Highlands Papua New Guinea had a similar cyclical renewal ritual called the Amb Kor ritual. In County Donegal, the prehistoric stone monuments known as stone circles appear to encapsulate a comparable concern with environmental renewal connected with the passage of ritual time, seasonality, and the summer and winter equinoxes. The Beltany Stone Circle near to
P. J. Stewart (B) · A. J. Strathern Department of Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2021 D. Riboli et al. (eds.), Dealing with Disasters, Palgrave Studies in Disaster Anthropology, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-56104-8_6
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the town of Raphoe is an impressive example of such edifices, belonging to an extensive sacred landscape of megalithic tombs in the vicinity, and possibly linking the burial places of chiefly leaders to the maintenance of the power and fertility of the land, achieved through sacrificial acts.
Ireland---Beltany Stone Circle1 Megalithic monuments, large standing stones arranged in circles on hilltops and dating from Neolithic times onward, can be seen as containing eco-cosmological stories. They stood for the changing seasons and human attempts to stimulate and recover fertility of the earth. The people who raised these monuments lived lives that were closely aligned with, and dependent on, the seasons, both for their crops and for their livestock. Megalithic structures were sometimes the tombs of prominent persons within the group, a point that must be understood also in ecological terms. Tombs can be thought of as centers of power and their placement in a landscape may be considered important for the re-stimulation of fertility and productivity of the soil in which the tombs are laid. Megalithic sites in Europe characteristically take the forms of stone circles or of large passage graves, or portal tombs, marked by the erection of stone pillars and slabs that indicate the presence of the graves below them. These two forms are sometimes combined, when a stone circle surrounds a grave site in its center. Such sites, further, are to be found especially in prominent hilltop locations, with a broad view across a landscape, including other sacred sites that may be aligned with it and form a ritual field of eco-cosmological energy corresponding to the domains of prominent human community groups, potentially chiefly families whose members were also buried in the tombs. The circles of stones contributed to this landscape of power, since they were emblematic of the enclosing power of the prominent groups, and the stones might be aligned with patterns of the rise and fall of the sun over different seasonal times, acting like ancient calendars. The circles and the graves thus can be interpreted as constituting an amalgam of time and space, a map of cosmic links within an order of society inscribed on the land itself. When we consider the huge mobilization of human effort that was necessary to drag such heavy stones to their locations and set them up firmly within the ground, it becomes evident that these sites were designed as long-term power centers where the creative energy of the land was harnessed and renewed.
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The interpretive remarks we have made here are speculative attempts to understand and explain the striking phenomenon of these large stone structures set into, but standing out from, a surrounding topography. One such structure is found close to the town of Raphoe in County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland. This is the Beltany Stone Circle set on a hilltop overlooking connected sites such as the Croaghan Hill where there is evidence of earlier Neolithic burials in stone structures.2 The circle is dated by archeological work as probably Bronze Age, with some indications that it may also have been the location of earlier Neolithic passage graves. It is often the case with sacred landscapes that successive generations build and rebuild structures in the same place, each generation making some changes while renewing its access to a deep source of sacred power. Beltany is also close to Kilmonaster, where there was formerly a passage tomb, as well as commanding a view of Croaghan Hill. There are 64 standing stones in the circle, but originally there were perhaps 80. Some stones have ‘cup’ marks on them, and others seem to have been incised with what look like maps of star constellations. Oral testimony from local people indicated that in the 1700s onward the stones over the graves within the center of the circle had been removed for stone fence building nearby. At this time, the site must have lost some of its sacred character. One wonders whether the act of removing the stones may also have been precipitated by some shifts in patterns of practical land use and the making of field boundaries. The circle itself remained in ritual use. Its location on Tops Hill indicates that the site was used for the ceremonial lighting of torches at times of the Celtic year, divided into four periods. Beltane fell into May, and the name Beltany derives from this festival, Bealtaine in Irish Gaelic. The name Tops is itself an anglicized version of a Gaelic phrase that means ‘to light a torch,’ and here lies our best clue to the main ritual significance of the site, that it was used to greet the change of season in May by the lighting of torches to greet and stimulate the warmth of the sun. Sir James Frazer in his monumental work ‘The Golden Bough’ discussed the ‘fire-festivals of Europe’ in his Chapter 62 (Frazer, first published in 1890, https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Golden_ Bough/The_Fire-Festivals_of_Europe). Frazer notes that these seasonal lightings of bonfires were widespread in Europe, dating to pre-Christian times. He notes further that such festivals most commonly took place at spring and midsummer, but sometimes also in winter (echoing here the
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four divisions of the Celtic year). The detailed data that Frazer presents from different folk contexts in Europe contain variations on a theme of ritual efforts to deploy bonfires and torches in order to cosmologically stimulate harvests of grain or fruit or to secure the health of livestock. One source says that cats used to be held over the lighted fires and ‘when they were burning the shepherds drove their flocks through the smoke and flames as a sure means of guarding them against sickness or witchcraft’ (Frazer, loc. cit.). (On witchcraft and scapegoating see Stewart and Strathern 2004.) Recurrent ritual elements appear in the various accounts that Frazer gathered; dancing round a bonfire, asking for good crops or fruit yields, asking for happy marriages, preparing and burning straw torches to make the fields fertile. The roles of young people, and the prevailing emphasis on fertility and fires as an agent of fertility, plus the communal gathering of bonfire materials as a part of collective ritual solidarity: These themes appear repeatedly in the accounts. Frazer records that in Swabia (southern Bavaria) in Germany, a figure made from rags was placed on a pole and called ‘the witch’ and then burnt. The ashes of the figure were taken and spread on fields of flax. This kind of action was also apotropaic, to turn away sickness and blight. Rituals called ‘burning Death’ had a similar purpose, to take away all evil or unpropitious forces and secure positive fertility and prosperity. The rituals described belonged to folk calendars that fell on the first Sunday in Lent in the Christian calendar. Comparable acts of ritual burning took place on Easter Saturdays. Sticks of oak, walnut, and beech were lighted at a bonfire near to the church and the charred sticks were carried to every house and to the fields, there to ward of future ills and bring fertility. In places, ashes from such fires were planted along with seeds when these were sown. In Hesse, Germany, Frazer tells us, ‘brands taken from the bonfires preserve houses from being struck by lightning, and the ashes increase the fertility of the fields, protect them from mice, and mixed with the drinking water of cattle make the animals thrive and ensure them against plague. As the flames die down, young and old leap over them, and cattle are sometimes driven through the smoldering embers’ (Frazer, Chapter 62). Often in these accounts, it is emphasized that the ritual bonfires were made on the top of hills and kindled at night when they could be clearly seen all over an area. The feature of fire-lighting on hills is paralleled by traditions of the Beltany fires, and Frazer switches his discussion of this tradition to Scotland, drawing his materials from the Celtic Highlands, where Beltane fires were kindled on the first of May. Accounts of this practice were linked
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to Druidical traditions by some writers. The first phase of the ritual was to extinguish all fires in the community and next morning a new set of fires was lit with an ancient kind of friction device and tree-moss to catch the sparks. Fire lit in this way had special virtues attributed to it: ‘they esteemed it a preservative against witchcraft, and a sovereign remedy against malignant disease, both in the human species and in cattle, and by it the strongest poisons were supposed to have their nature changed’ (cited in Frazer, Chapter 62, from the writings of John Ramsay). Frazer goes on to explain (Chapter 62) that after the fires were kindled, the villagers consumed a meal and then sang and danced. The person acting as master of ceremonies then produced a large cake baked with eggs, known as the Beltane Cake, and distributed a piece of it to everyone present. One recipient was designated the ‘carline’ (‘witch’) and a pretense was made of burning him in the fires. In another ritual the youths of a community went out on hillsides and made a cake of oatmeal and eggs and again marked one participant to be sacrificed, this then being commuted to requiring the chosen one to leap three times across the fire they had lit. The designated scapegoat was then spared and purification was obtained instead by his acts of leaping through the fire. Numbers of Frazer’s examples come from places in Perthshire in Scotland, such as Callander, Logierait, and Kirkmichael, and the descriptions come largely from eighteenth-century sources. The rituals were held on May 1 and were said to be for Beltain (Beltane). Recurrent features of these rituals were the lighting of a fire in the fields, the baking of a cake with milk and eggs, the sharing of its pieces, and the offering of them as a sacrifice while asking for good crops and healthy stock. Another element which appears in different forms is divination, the prognosis of the future, and perhaps originally the designation of who was to be supposedly sacrificed as the ‘carline’ or witch. Further north in Scotland, Beltane rituals were held on the second of May, bonfires were lit and rowan tree and woodbine branches were laid on the doorways of byres (cowsheds) to ward off witches, and people ran about holding blazing flames on pitchforks, telling the fire to burn the witches. A big oatcake was rolled in the fire and its ashes were then scattered, to spread protection and fertility. In the Hebrides, before Beltane, all individual fires were ceremonially put out, and a large communal fire was built on a hill and the herds of cattle were driven through it in the direction followed by the sun in its daily course. Afterward, all took home a piece of fire in order to re-kindle their own hearth fires. Frazer notes further that in Ireland on Beltaine or
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May-day two fires might be lit and cattle driven between them to prevent sickness in the herd. These Beltain-day rituals were similar to ones enacted at the summer solstice, also with a significant divinatory package of materials tied to a blazing wheel and rolled down a hill. If the burning wheel reached its destination in a river below, there would be a good harvest. If the ritual was not performed the cattle would suffer from convulsions, they said. (The example is taken from the Moselle area of France where the grape harvest was at stake.) The practice of driving cattle through the flame of ritual fires was widespread in Upper Bavaria until the mid-nineteenth century. Frazer writes that ‘cattle were driven through the fire to cure the sick animals and to guard such as were sound against plague and harm of every kind through the year’ (Frazer, Chapter 62). It was also said that in the fields the flax would grow as high as the bonfire itself or as high as the youths leaped over it and the leapers would not suffer from aching backs at the harvest work. The ritual act of driving the cattle through fires is frequently referred to by Frazer, and he points out that this reflects the central importance of the pastoral practices in Europe (Frazer, Chapter 62). The Beltane May 1 festival marked the time when cattle might be driven out into the fields, after being kept inside during the winter. Hallowe’en, on October 31, marked the onset of colder weather, after which the herd would be brought back into their sheds. In the old Celtic calendar, Hallowe’en was also the first day of the New Year, when important omens and auguries were consulted. The Beltany Circle belongs to this great cycle of rituals described by Frazer. However, in all of Frazer’s examples that we have noted, prehistoric stone circles are not mentioned as integral to the rituals. We do not know at what time the Circle gained the name ‘Beltany’; however, its location at the top of a notable hill with views to all direction indicates its importance as a locus of power. Moreover, the one association that contemporary people could readily cite for it in conversation with us was that cattle were driven through it when fires were lit, to keep the cattle free of sickness. This point is sufficient to link the Beltany Circle with the old ritual cycles of Europe that Frazer laid out in such detail. The name ‘Beltany’ also links the site clearly to May-day festival traditions in Frazer’s accounts. What we have apparently, then, is a conjunction of Celtic seasonal traditions of rituals and a possibly Bronze Age megalithic monument with
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further links to Neolithic times. We cannot say from this whether the rituals of lighting bonfires on this hilltop coincided in time depth with the creation of the Circle. We can say, however, that the concurrence of ritual practices within sites of cosmological significance is a familiar phenomenon. At a broader level, again, we can recognize that the kinds of rituals Frazer carefully surveys are essentially concerned with ecological issues and are deeply bound up with the practical problems people expressed in making their living on the land through raising livestock and growing crops. The rituals were triggered by regular calendrical calculations and by ecological crises, in which the people sought ritual means of ensuring that their resources would not disappear, as well, no doubt, in mundane methods of feeding and treating stock with medicines. In this regard, also, we cannot fail to be struck by the importance of fire as an instrument of purification and renewal, and the use of ashes as residues of fire employed for the renewal of fertility of the land. The theme of renewal and re-energizing of life is seen also in the roles of young people in making the bonfires, tossing the fire around, and especially by leaping over the fire itself in an ordeal and ritual test of their energy. Finally, renewal is tied up with divination ritual, the attempt proleptically to determine by signs how fruitful the next seasonal round of activity will be. Driving cattle through the smoke of the fires was an act of ‘securitization’ for their health, especially important no doubt because of the value of the cattle and their potential vulnerability to diseases and death, in the absence of an elaborate veterinary set of practices. This observation enables us further to suggest a reason why a sacred circle of power such as the Beltany Stone Circle could have been made the venue for apotropaic rituals on behalf of crops, animals, and humans themselves in a seamless cosmos of life. The Circle was an enclosure of power. Driving cattle into and out of it would be a rite of initiation of the cattle into this enclosure and its connection with the ancestors and the land. We must wonder whether stone circles elsewhere were similarly put to work for this kind of purpose. This cosmogenic landscape with views to the four directions still is a place that humans come to in order to celebrate the energy of the place in a now-time that connects with an ancestral past of the place and a hopeful gaze to an imagined future of place and space. At the widest level, the fire festivals fall into the same class of renewal rituals that are found in other pas of the world. A notable parallel can
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be found with the historical rituals created by the Highlands peoples of Papua New Guinea to deal with ecological fluctuations in their world.
Highlands, Papua New Guinea3 Among the Duna people of Hela Province, an ecological renewal ritual complex was called rindi kiniya, repairing or renewing the world (see, Stewart and Strathern 2002a, b; Strathern and Stewart 2004a). This ritual complex would be entered into periodically when there was a perception that the fertility of the land was declining (rindi itaraiya). A prominent part of the ritual was concerned with bringing out the skulls of ancestors, setting them up in a specially built house for a ritual of feeding them with overripe bananas, and asking them to re-stimulate the growth of crops and animals. Duna cosmology postulated that after a period of fourteen generations from a starting point, the fertility of the land would be depleted and had to be renewed by an array of rituals, central to which would be the killing of many pigs as sacrifices to the ancestors of the group. At the core of each parish group of cognatically related kin, a set of agnatically related men sponsored the staging of such rituals of renewal. One such ritual was called the Kira (or Kiria) Pulu, another was the Liru. Ritual experts were hired to organize activities for both of these major complexes, and these experts were paid with cowrie shells. This is an interesting point. Such shells were traded into the Duna area and were important for numbers of transactions. According to Duna stories, however, cowries were first obtained as gift from a wild spirit of nature (a tsiri) belonging to a particular corner of territory. That is, a trading item was symbolically converted into an autochthonous source, becoming a part of a series of ways of ritual renewal of the ground. Agnatic males of the parish were also responsible for gathering together the skulls of ancestors, both agnates and cognates, belonging to the parish and placing them into a custom-built ritual house preparatory to the act of ‘feeding’ them, and sacrificing pigs. Skulls going back as far as thirteen generations might be put together for this purpose. The ritual thus brought together all the different sections in the parish. In addition to the skull-house, the ritualists brought together numbers of round black volcanic stones that were said to be the petrified hearts of ancestors, such as were kept in small shrines by particular sets of living kin. These stones were collected, like the skulls, in a special house. Men would put them
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together in this way and said they were making them ‘hot,’ i.e., productive of fertility in the same way as the eggs in a bower bird’s nest. The participants killed pigs to honor both the skulls and the stones. The aim of the ritual was to revive environmental abundance in pigs, fruits, and garden crops. The stones were described as auwi, repositories of ancestral powers. Overall these practices can be seen as rites of renewal or rites of turning back death, or decline, into life and growth. Rituals were brought into play to jump-start fertility through the sacrifice of pigs, the death of the pigs involved being seen as releasing new life for the group of the performers. The ritual actions were thus an amalgam of an offering to the spirits and an expectation that they would as a result give back worldly prosperity, in the same basic ways as participants envisioned for the May Day Beltane rituals in Ireland. Here we are taking what may be called an ‘ethno-functionalist’ viewpoint, enabling us to align rituals whose surface forms are very different but whose underlying intentional meanings, situated in ritualized process, are similar in existential ways. The Duna Kira and Liru complexes, seen in this light, are comparable to numbers of rituals found in the Hagen area that are centered on a Female Spirit (Amb Kor), or on other high spirits of ‘nature’ (i.e., not ancestor spirits but cosmic beings of the lived environment) (see, Stewart and Strathern 1999, 2002b; Strathern and Stewart 1999). It seems that these practices diffused northwards into Hagen from the high altitude Tambul area at above 7000 feet above sea level where ecological conditions could be difficult. An origin story of the Female Spirit explicitly declares that the rituals in her honor derived from a time of storms and ravaging of crops, in which the spirit appeared in dreams to a local man and instructed him in procedures and sacrifices to recover fertility for the gardens. A central feature of the practices is the collection of powerful stones in the shape of prehistoric mortars, pestles, and animal forms in stone and their gathering within a special enclosure of cane walls. The Spirit is said to reveal these stones by making them visible to a group leader or leaders. The Spirit herself also appears in dreams to leaders as a young woman from the Tambul area, with all the accessories of ceremonial dress of that area, including a long apron of dried reeds and a special digging stick. She is said to come to the group as a new bride. The origin myth and imagery, then, of this practice links the formation of a symbolic marriage tie to a practice of renewing cosmic fertility in
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general, and its beginnings are told of as stemming from an ecological crisis in which fertility was interrupted. In other words, the Amb Kor in its essentials is an ‘ecological practice,’ adjusting people to their material life-worlds. It is in line with other comparable circulating ritual complexes in Highlands Papua New Guinea (see, on ecological renewal rituals in Highlands Papua New Guinea, Strathern and Stewart 2004b). After a wave of linked performances of the Amb Kor rituals that made their way in the 1960s through to the early 1980s among clan groups in the Dei Council area north of Hagen town, the rituals came to a halt. Each group felt that they had made the outlays of wealth needed to secure the ritual advantages for prosperity that the Spirit offered and they observed a long interim time in which the Spirit’s stones were expected to remain dormant, buried in the earth and slowly releasing their powers of fertility until a generation later it would be advantageous to repeat the whole exercise and re-stimulate fertility. In the meantime, many changes took place, with universal Christianity, with cash cropping and road transport, and with the spread of standardized education in schools and the use of the English language and its globalizing influences. No group in Dei Council showed any intention to hold the ritual again. However, in 2018 one group among the large Minembi tribe in Dei began to reconstruct a traditional Amb Kor site, with a mixture of aims, including cultural revival and an idea of attracting tourists to come and see the ritual site and any performances that might be staged at it. Also, there was an idea that environmental awareness could be heightened through such ritual practices from the past, incorporating a new generation of local people. The location of the site is forbidding, high on a mountain side where a performance took place in the earlier times (1970s). Men of this group constructed the woven cane fences and gathered spirit stones and did the work of laying them out. In 2019, they were looking for further help with developing the site. We sent some money to encourage them in their work. It remains to be seen how this initiative will play out. The Amb Kor ritual is expensive because of the pigs that must be sacrificed for the great distribution of pork that used to be a climactic part of it. The group attempting a form of revival for this is isolated, without reliable road access, and it has little access to economic development. It was just these kinds of groups that are said to have started practicing the ritual in earlier times, in high altitude Tambul. The ecological imperative is still there, but the times are different and the
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cultural background has shifted. The future for the Amb Kor has yet to be charted.
Conclusion In both of our case studies, Ireland and Papua New Guinea, we see people coping with environmental challenges through rituals and ritualized practices. As more people around the world realize the extent to which the human species is impacting the environment, more senses of connectedness to ecological emplacement and the repair of environmental zones are imperative for survival. Acknowledgements We would like to thank the many people that we have worked with us in our global traverses, stays, and movements. In particular, we express our thanks to all the people who have collaborated with us in the field and at institutions where we have been based while conducting research and lecturing around the globe, especially in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Highlands Papua New Guinea; sections of this manuscript were composed while staying in the Hagen area of Papua New Guinea (January–February 2020). We thank the University of Pittsburgh for hosting our webpages, listing our scholarly activities: https://www.pitt.edu/~strather/sandspublicat.htm and http://www. stewartstrathern.pitt.edu/.
Notes 1. The following internet sites informed portions of the ‘Ireland—Beltany Stone Circle’ section: Https://En.Wikipedia.Org/Wiki/Beltany_Stone_C ircle, Https://En.Wikipedia.Org/Wiki/Beltane, Https://En.Wikisource. Org/Wiki/the_Golden_Bough/the_Fire-Festivals_of_Europe. 2. We have been staying and working in Ireland for several decades, visiting nearly every year and staying with local Donegal families as well as traveling to various other parts of both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The Beltany Stone Circle is a place that we have frequently visited over the years and we have discussed its history, use, and meanings with many local people. 3. We have been staying and working in Papua New Guinea for decades, primarily in Highlands areas such as Hela Province, Western Highlands Province, and Southern Highlands Province. One of our strengths in working in Highlands, Papua New Guinea is that, unlike some others working in these areas, local vernacular languages were used in conducting and informing our research (see, e.g., Stewart and Strathern 2014).
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References Frazer, James. First published in 1890. The Golden Bough: A Study of Magic and Religion. London: Macmillan. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Golden_ Bough/Ttthe_Fire-Festivals_of_Europe. Stewart, Pamela J., and Andrew J. Strathern. 1999. “Female Spirit Cults as a Window on Gender Relations in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea”. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 5 (3) (September): 345–360. Stewart, Pamela J., and Andrew J. Strathern. 2002a. Remaking the World: Myth, Mining and Ritual Change Among the Duna of Papua New Guinea. For, Smithsonian Series in Ethnographic Inquiry. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press. Stewart, Pamela J., and Andrew J. Strathern. 2002b. Gender, Song, and Sensibility: Folktales and Folksongs in the Highlands of New Guinea. Westport, CT and London: Praeger Publishers (Greenwood Publishing). Stewart, Pamela J., and Andrew J. Strathern. 2004. Witchcraft, Sorcery, Rumors, and Gossip. For, New Departures in Anthropology Series. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Stewart, Pamela J., and Andrew Strathern. 2014. Working in the Field: Anthropological Experiences Across the World. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Strathern, Andrew J., and Pamela J. Stewart. 1999. The Spirit Is Coming! A Photographic-Textual Exposition of the Female Spirit Cult Performance in Mt. Hagen. Ritual Studies Monograph Series, Monograph No. 1. Pittsburgh. Strathern, Andrew J., and Pamela J. Stewart. 2004a. Empowering the Past, Confronting the Future, The Duna People of Papua New Guinea. For, Contemporary Anthropology of Religion Series. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Strathern, Andrew J., and Pamela J. Stewart. 2004b. “Cults, Closures, Collaborations”. In Women as Unseen Characters. Male Ritual in Papua New Guinea. For Social Anthropology in Oceania Monograph Series, edited by Pascale Bonnemere, 120–138. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.
The Earth and the Tree in Alekh Shamanism in Koraput/Odisha Lidia Guzy
“Who knows God? Who knows the creator? Who knows how all this Came into existence? Your fate and mine. God will bring them together. Don’ t cry, don’ t cry ! Oh, You!
Some aspects of this paper have been published in the article entitled “Negative Ecstasy or the Singers of the Divine. Voices from the Periphery of Mahima Dharma.” 2007. In Periphery and Centre: Studies in Orissan History, Religion and in Anthropology, edited by G. Pfeffer, 105–130. Delhi: Manohar. L. Guzy (B) University College Cork, Cork, Ireland e-mail: [email protected] National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland © The Author(s) 2021 D. Riboli et al. (eds.), Dealing with Disasters, Palgrave Studies in Disaster Anthropology, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-56104-8_7
The large and the length of earth! I will hold you And purify With the dust of the earth.”1
Introduction The following article concentrates on local patterns of Mahima Dharma, a new ascetic religion in Orissa, which recently proselytized in the Koraput region. This paper presents some extracts from fieldwork research,2 based on 12 months of comparative fieldwork conducted among ascetics and devotees in the district of Dhenkanal (September 1999–February 2000) and Koraput (October 2000–March 2001). The article covers the second phase of my research and discusses the cultural resilience of an ecocosmological worldview in the context of conversion. As eco-cosmologies, I understand worldviews and life-worlds relating intrinsically the human with the non-human, the cosmos and the other-than-human sphere such as trees, animals, rivers, and mountains. This relatedness between the human and non-human sphere is mainly mediated by a ritual ecstatic specialist, a shaman, connecting through visions and dreams the living world with an animated ecological landscape. With the ecological destruction most valuable local knowledge resources and eco-cosmological worldviews disappear and have to adopt to dramatic landscape changes. These worldviews and local knowledge systems transmitted through ecstatic songs, shamanic dreams, and ecological ritual practices however could be a key for finding local and global solutions for a sustainable and philanthropic global world of cultural and eco-biological diversity and mutuality. In this article, I argue that religious change in form of conversion seemingly endangering an eco-cosmological worldview has an enormous paradoxical power of cultural resilience. The spread of the new ascetic religion in Koraput—where a high percentage of the total population are of indigenous/tribal/3 origin4 —might exemplify processes of social and religious change and continuity relevant for the whole of indigenous India see (see Guzy and Cuffe 2015). By reference to selected records of ecstatic song compositions, the article also illustrates some data from an “ethnography of song.” During six months of my stay in Koraput I witnessed over a hundred of ecstatic song séances of Alekh gurumai, the ritual specialists/shaman of the
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new religion and the traditional shamanic mediumship. I collected and recorded more than one hundred of them and my Indian colleague, Sunita Dolai, translated them from Desya5 into English. The presentation of some extracts of this work intends to illustrate the oral creativity of local cultures. Mahima Dharma Mahima Dharma, literally “the glorious dharma 6 ”, consists of monks and laymen. The monastic organization is represented by two brotherhoods of monks, the Balkaldhari and the Kaupindhari, mostly dispersed throughout central Odisha (Dhenkanal). These two ascetic groups are organized around a network of local centers7 with its institutional axis in the holy city of Joranda (Dhenkanal). The laymen followers mainly come from the rural and, only recently, also from the indigenous population in Odisha.8 There are no official statistics concerning the number of monks and devotees. According to informal accounts9 approximately 100 ascetics live permanently in Joranda; another 900 move from one holy center to another. Around 10,000 registered devotees in Joranda are responsible for the livelihood of the ascetics and the financing of the various monastic centers. We can assume less than 1% of the total population of Odisha10 defining themselves as members of Mahima Dharma. The main features of this new religion are asceticism, vegetarian diet, a denial of caste. Mahima Dharmis worship Mahima Alekh as the highest, unwritten (a-lekh),11 indescribable, and only God. Mahima Alekh is conceived to be sunya—the void—all and nothing. This God can only be approached by meditation, an ascetic life-style and ritual practices, and is thus opposed to idol worship. The concepts and values go back to the founder of the religion, Mahima Gosvami, who lived at the beginning of the nineteenth century. His origin is unknown, but for his devotees, Mahima Gosvami is considered to be the incarnation of Mahima Alekh. According to legends, Mahima Gosvami came from the Himalayas and appeared at Puri in 1826 where he began his religious mission throughout Orissa. For the next 24 years, Mahima Gosvami is said to have meditated in the Kapilas Hills of Dhenkanal. There he lived for the first 12 years on fruits and roots of the forest delivered to him daily by a Savara12 chief. During the following 12 years Raja Bhagirathi Mahindra Bahadur, the king of Dhenkanal, used to supply Mahima Gosvami with a daily ration of milk. After a long period of meditative preparation, Mahima Gosvami
is said to have started his religious teachings in the Feudatory States of Orissa.13 The legends further tell that Bhima Bhoi, a blind poet from Kondh origin, became the first enthusiastic propagator of this religion.14 Earlier historical and indological investigations by Eschmann emphasized that Mahima Dharma is to be seen as “an autochthonous Hindu reform movement” deriving “its criticism of the Hindu tradition directly from the tradition itself”.15 Eschmann’s main work concerned the dynamics of indigenous regional traditions in correspondence with panIndian forms and ideas. Dube later investigated the historical development of Mahima Dharma as a sect, contesting dominant structures in the nineteenth century16 and undergoing changes within the processes of institutionalization.17 Dube found that Mahima Dharma is to be seen as a “transformation of a subaltern religiosity” into “an institutionalised religious order.”18 My own research focused upon the comparative anthropological analysis of the diverse religious features within Mahima Dharma. I will attempt to grasp the sociological phenomena of emerging new religions in terms of their structures and the social change. Brief Comparison of Socio-Religious Contexts of Mahima Dharma A brief regional comparison of Mahima Dharma in Dhenkanal, the region of the origin and propagation of the ascetic tradition, and Koraput may be viewed as an introduction into the topic: Dhenkanal Predominant is the monastic, polycentric structure. The monastic organization is always connected with local ruling elites who provide for the ascetics (baba-s). Asceticism of Mahima Dharma reflects the patronage system between local leaders and ascetics (baba-s). The local tradition of otherworldly asceticism in rural Dhenkanal can only be seen in relation to local patrons. By sponsoring the holy men, rituals as well as the places of worship, worldly patrons gain religious meritsa
Koraput Professional ascetics are rare, appearing once a year to initiate new devotees (dikhya). In their place local specialists—the Alekh gurumai—perform all rituals in terms of ecstaticb singing. Following Kakarc , Vitebskyd , Vargyase , and Atkinsonf , I will call these local religious specialists “Alekh-shamans.” Apart from the dikhya ceremony, they are self-sufficient. In their therapeutic, ecstatic and prophetic functions they transport a rich oral culture and poetry
a For more details see Guzy (2000, 326–327) b The term ‘ecstasy’ derives from the Greek origin ekstasis, translated as an alienation
from external reality. By reference to psychoanalytical and sociological approaches Zinser
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(1988, 274–284) offers various definitions of ecstasy as “abnormal” or “altered state of consciousness.” The terms “ecstatic” or “ecstasy” refer to an altered state of consciousness here following Lewis (1971) c Kakar (1984 , 92–121). By reference to the crucial work of Lévi-Strauss on “the effectiveness of symbols”, Kakar classifies local Indian healing specialists as shamans. They, in terms of Lévi-Strauss, give a symbolic language to their suffering clients. Kakar’s descriptions of the therapeutic and ritual specialists of the Oraon tribe (95–111) correspond with my own ethnographic observations among the Alekh-s of the Koraput d In his book Vitebsky (1993) deals with Sora shamanism. He describes Sora cosmological concepts, personality and specific ideas of continuity structured around dialogues with the dead. In his analysis, the oral polyphonic character plays a crucial role during shamanic sessions. Later (Vitebsky 1995) he establishes a general description of different features of the unsystematised shamanic religion e Vargyas (1993, 120–127; ibid. 1994, 123–175). Vargyas’ studies in South East Asia emphasizes the oral literary character of shamanic phenomena f Atkinson (1992, 307–330). In her review article Atkinson refers to the different topics within the scholarly constructed models of ‘shamanism’. Aware of the criticism concerning the western category, she postulates a change to the plural form “shamanisms.” A single narrow concept is thus substituted “in favour of close scrutiny of local practices embedded in particular historical, cultural, and social contexts” (p. 321). In order to cultivate interdisciplinary dialogues beyond local ethnographic results, Atkinson argues for preserving the studies on shamanisms
The two different regions and social contexts depict two facets of asceticism. In Dhenkanal, we face the Hindu version of institutionalized world renunciation closely tied to the patronage of local rulers. Such a link between local leaders and ascetics is in accord with a well-known model of Indian kingship19 as described, for instance, by Bouillier20 and discussed extensively by Quigley.21 Asceticism of Mahima Dharma in Dhenkanal seems to represent patterns of Indian kingship at a local level. In this context, male ascetics (baba-s) ritually interact with various worldly patrons who historically were tied to “Little Kings” of Orissa and who exercise a local political influence to this day.22 Monastic asceticism of Mahima Dharma might also be comparable to Buddhist structures of monasticism where kings are closely allied with ascetics.23 In Koraput the character of Mahima Dharma seems to be completely different. In Koraput, the percentage of the Mahima Dharma adherents can be assessed to 10% of the local (Desya) population. Here asceticism results in ecstasy, but is featured by permanent “negative rules”24 of conduct labeled “ascetic ecstasy” by me. Ecstasy can thus be attained through ascetic techniques of fasting, vegetarian diet and abstention from alcohol. In Koraput such an ascetic ethic is new and popularized by female and male shamans. In contrast to male ascetics (baba-s) of Dhenkanal, ecstatic female and male gurumai become the religious specialists in the
monastic periphery of Koraput. There the structural feature of the new religion does not lie in an institutionalized set of values and ideas, but rather in the non-systemic expression of ecstatic singing. My analysis will use the contested terms shamanism/shaman25 since avoiding them would not lead to “more conceptual precision”.26 Shamanism as a religious phenomenon which—contrary to its “ism”—does not indicate any institutionalized structures of literary, canonized religions.27 It is rather to be understood as culturally diversified “forms of inspirational religious practice”28 found in indigenous societies without centralized sociopolitical powers. As such, Alekh shamanism seems to me an operational term for describing unsystematic structures of ecstasy within a new religious tradition.
Alekh Dharma or Alekh Shamanism in Koraput Prologue Mahima Dharma in Koraput is known as Alekh dharma or as “Alekhs.” Alekh-s wear gerua-colored clothes; worship the God Mahima Alekh and the earth goddess Basmati or Basudha. Alekhs use a symbolic code in their dress. The color of their clothes (gerua) is the same as the color of the red anthills, local manifestations of the earth goddess. A symbolic identification with the goddess makes Alekh-s as holy as the earth. Alekh specialists become ecstatic Alekh gurumai and, as such, capable of divine communication when they during ritual festivities might climb on trees while in trance. As oracles, as husbands, or wives of the earth goddess or other male and female Hindu deities, Alekh gurumai become virtuoso singers of the Divine. Spread of Mahima Dharma In the last decade, proselytizing ascetics from Dhenkanal (baba-s) spread the religion among the population of Koraput.29 The statistics compiled by the Tribal Research Bureau in 1968/6930 indicate an existence of the religion since the 1950s in areas of Odisha predominantly populated by the indigenous population. Through several interviews with ascetics of Mahima Dharma during my field research in Dhenkanal (1999/2000), proselytizing activities of the baba-s in Koraput could be confirmed during the tyagi-wandering-period of every ascetic.31 According to my
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observations in Koraput, similar activities by baba-s from Dhenkanal could only be observed during the annual initiation time (dikhya) in February/March (phalguno). Temporal proselytizing activities can thus be assumed to have existed in the region for the last sixty years. The initiations performed by baba-s from Dhenkanal are conducted in local places of worship where locally popular Alekh gurumai (shamans) have established their own centers frequented by their own circles of devotees for pilgrimages at the local level. In the form of an “Identity Card”32 received by the new devotees, the recent adherents are statistically registered as belonging to the Mahima Dharma community. Identity Cards are handed over to the converts after payments of the necessary fees to the baba-s.33 I have found two generations of converts to Mahima Dharma in Koraput. They mostly represent aged persons (50–60 years) whose adult (20–35) children took the initiation (dikhya) during the last ten years. The annual initiation ritual (dikhya) involves approximately 2000–3000 new adherents, with a rising tendency in every year. Conversion to the Alekh Religion Conversion is conceptualized in terms of initiation (dikhya) into the new religion. The procedure contains a generalized and a specialized complex and thus establishes two categories of devotees: (1) the common Alekh-s and (2) the specialized Alekh gurumai. 1. In order to become an Alekh one has to undergo the initiation either conducted either by a baba from Dhenkanal or by an “elder brother” of a local Alekh center. The latter is authorized by monks from Dhenkanal to perform his ritual functions. The initiation involves “taking” the sacred clothes, or “colours,” and taking an oath to God to adhere strictly to the religious rules (niyam) of Mahima Dharma. Alekh-s define themselves via a strict ascetic ethic based upon the negative rules of conduct. They abstain from meat as well as from alcohol and refuse to participate actively in traditional blood sacrifices. As such, they are a new and contrasting ascetic category within the Desya, since the latter are reputed for their “pleasure complex,”34 characterized by a variety of ceremonies, general intoxication and a preference for meat.
2. The new religious specialists of Alekhs are the Alekh gurumai. They perform séances of ecstatic singing for purposes of divination, labeled here shamanic practices. The Alekh gurumai—female or male, but mostly female—communicate with the Divine while singing with the one-stringed instrument dudunga.35 They proceed on a spiritual journey while being in trance and cure patients by questioning the supernatural. To become an Alekh gurumai, it is necessary to convince the community that he or she had no choice but to undergo the Alekh dikhya. Alekh gurumai often relate their prolonged suffering, destructive dreams and attacks of insanity (baya) before being compelled to undergo dikhya. Had they refused, they insist, they would have died. Only by receiving the gerua clothes were they able to be cured. In this way, their destructive madness (baya) was transformed into its contrary, the capacity to heal and communicate with the supernatural, or what is called “good” baya. The next step in becoming a socially respected and sought after religious and therapeutic specialist consists of a symbolic marriage—the alekh biba—with a favored god or goddess. After an elaborate and costly marriage ceremony, the worldly Alekh bride or bridegroom—as among Vitebsky’s Sora—will meet her or his spouse while going “baya.” The altered state of consciousness36 is preceded by long fasting and will finally culminate in a dialogue with the divine spouse (Fig. 7.1). Thereafter, the Alekh gurumai’s utterances and singing will heal individual and collective ailments. Accompanied by the sound of the dudunga, the new shaman will utter prophecies and give advice to suffering clients (Fig. 7.2). 3. During ecstatic ritual stances, the Alekh gurumai will sometimes climb in trance on trees of the village altar, which is a sacred place encircled by old, large trees. The tree altar outside the village represents a sacred grove of holy trees and stones (hundi), where the Alekh gurumai will utter her songs during village ceremonies (Figs. 7.3 and 7.4). In contrast to the worldly human marriage practices of the Desya, allowing divorce is a culturally accepted pattern of conduct, the Alekh
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Fig. 7.1 Alekh gurumai playing instrument dudunga in trance (Source Photo L. Guzy, Koraput 2000)
spiritual marriage cannot be dissolved. Once an Alekh has followed her or his call, the path is no longer reversible. Only through the idiom of the affinity does the Alekh become an Alekh-shaman, the female or male “Alekh-gurumai.” Concerning the category “gurumai,” it is important to note that it literally means “the bride (mai 37 ) of her husband (guru).” Irrespective of gender, both Alekh bride and bridegroom are classified as brides of the chosen deity. Whether male or female, all gurumai enact the female role of the Alekh marriage. In trance, however, the gurumai can transform the gender into male or female, as becomes apparent in different forms of ritual speech. A similar phenomenon is known from devotional religious traditions such as Sufism38 and bhakti.39 The idiom of the Alekh marriage represents the crucial social values
Fig. 7.2 Alekh gurumai in trance (Source Photo L. Guzy, Koraput 2002)
of worldly marriages, since the bride stands for alliance and systems of exchange between local descent groups embodying the fait social total 40 of marriage. The spiritual marriage of the Alekhs implies the alliance between the spheres of gods and humans. After the Alekh-wedding, the shamans will heal with their words and voices. Alekh-shamanism is thus deeply inscribed in the traditional shamanic gurumai and astrologer dissari 41 tradition42 revealing both local healing practices of the Desya population. Contexts and Reasons for Initiation The motivation for taking dikhya to join the Alekh religion is closely connected with the sociological principle of seniority within the patrilineal clan-system of the Desya in Koraput.43 Social status is largely determined by this principle. Whether a Desya is the junior or the senior element of
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Fig. 7.3 Exterior of the eco-cosmological village sacred grove (hundi) (Source Photo L. Guzy, Koraput, January, 2020)
a social relation is the most frequent source of quarrels and rivalries (see also Berger 2002). Under these conditions, it was striking to observe that mostly junior brothers or junior segments of descent groups were initiated into Alekh religion, senior brothers being generally held responsible for performing the traditional ritual obligations for the earth goddess. These rituals are of crucial importance. In case of neglect, unhappiness, misfortune, or illness would befall family and descent group. Thus compared to the seniors’ pre-eminence in traditional religion, juniors were of lower status. They were, however, free to experiment with new cults. Seniors, pre-occupied, and privileged by traditional ritual obligations seemed to abstain from experiments with religion, while social juniors gained an option for modifying their traditional status. By an ascetic conduct they were able to differentiating themselves from others and obtain a new kind of religious seniority improving their self-esteem and their social status in general. The initiation into the new religious practice, therefore, seems to have coincided with specific social features of local hierarchies.
Fig. 7.4 The interior of the eco-cosmological sacred grove (hundi) (Source Photo L. Guzy, Koraput January, 2020)
General initiation into Alekh dharma also implies testifying the powers of the new god. If a family suffers the death of a child, misfortune, or disease after having taken dikhya, the new adherents might soon revert to their traditional beliefs or turn to Christian sects introduced by Indian missionaries. The expectations and hopes connected with the new god Mahima Alekh would not have been fulfilled in such cases. Looking at the structure of conversion in Alekh dharma some preliminary conclusions may be drawn. We have seen two phases of initiation (dikhya): the general one in terms of Alekh-s and the specific in terms of the Alekh gurumai. The first one is reversible for general adherents; the other one irreversible for the specialists. This feature of (1) generalization on the one hand and (2) specialization on the other leads to the conclusion that issues of conversion should be approached in terms of initiation, rather than cultural change. The conversion process can rather be seen as a temporal, reversible way of religious pragmatics or—in case of specialization—as a feature of cultural resilience of the traditional knowledge system.
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Cultural Change and the Ascetic Ecstasy of Alekh-s Alekh-s permanently practice ascetic rules of behavior defined by Durkheim as “negative rules.” The new conduct of life transforms the traditional short-term form of ascetic custom in local Koraput Desya society. Traditionally, ritual specialists (gurumai, dissari) exercise a phase of temporary renunciation before performing any ritual activities, such as animal sacrifices, divinations, and shamanic mediations with the non-human sphere. Via fasting or other—personally modified— ascetic (negative) rules of diet, traditional gurumai and dissari qualify for communication with gods, ancestors, and spirits. The regular or temporal ascetic preparation finally leads to ecstasy during specific ritual séances. In this context, the altered state of consciousness is accompanied by the consumption of alcohol.44 In case of Alekh-s, the renunciation while preparing for ritual ecstasy, i.e., the traditional ascetic exercise, is transformed into a permanent religious ethic of abstention. The restrictive code of behavior represents an inverted set of the age-old ideas and values. Traditionally, everyone eats meat; Alekh-s do not. Traditionally, ritual ecstasy demands intoxication, but Alekh-s are abstinent. Traditionally, rituals require blood sacrifices; Alekh-s refuse to kill animals. At the same time, the formal morphology of religious practice is a negation of the common meaning. Perpetuating the ascetic rules represents a continuity of the traditional ritual formalism, however. In the Alekh religion, traditional temporality is transformed into a permanent code of conduct or ascetic ethic. The ritual séances remain ecstatic in form and continue to fulfill the same function of healing through the relatedness to eco-cosmological landscape represented by the sacred grove (hundi/gudi), but their character changes into abstinence to obtain a new meaning. In this manner, the traditional structure of ecstasy is recomposed through perpetuated asceticism. In Alekh religion, we discover a transformation from reversibility and temporality of traditional renunciation, i.e., ritual fasting, into a permanence of an ethical code, systematized by ascetic rules of behavior. Alekh-s view themselves as new voices of the Divine. A new religious identity indicates recent social change, perhaps comparable to ascetic developments in Christian societies. Weber,45 as is well-known, had linked particular ascetic tendencies with basic socioeconomic changes in Europe. In the same vein, the new tradition of Alekh asceticism, in terms of its ascetic ecstasy, may well lead to fundamental changes in south-western Orissa, however based on the continuation of the eco-cosmological perception of the other than human world.
The Ethnography of Song When night is falling in Desya villages of Koraput, the sound of Alekh gurumai’ s voices can be heard. Accompanied by their one-stringed dudunga—made out of melon and snake-skin—they sing. An Alekh gurumai, sitting on the ground with loose hair and the instrument in her46 hands, will keep her eyes closed. She is singing for herself and for the sake of those who suffer. Those who are sleepless or those who “carry some pain (dukho) in their heart”47 gather to listen to the voices of gods. “The gurumai is baya,” people explain. It is “good baya,” a good or divine “craziness.” Spontaneous songs and narrations of the Alekh gurumai, composed during her altered state of consciousness, represent khelo, the divine play. Baya and khelo are expressions of a “religious language”48 often characterized by a polyglot shift between several languages,49 through glossolalia, invocations and poetic fragments. This code, applied in divine communication, is expressing a holy otherness. Dialogues with the supernatural are formulated by incomprehensibility. The regular monotone, one-stringed music of the dudunga indicates the rhythm of the holy sphere into which the Alekh gurumai is immersing herself. Playing the dudunga she is airing the voices of gods. The séances of ecstatic, non-systemic singing will last two to three hours. After regaining consciousness, the Alekh gurumai will not even remember a single word expressed during her trance. The language of ecstasy consists of three elements: (1) the systematic preparation by the rules of the Alekh conduct, (2) the entry into an altered state of consciousness, and (3) the ritual temporality of the séance. The ritual grammar of baya and khelo is based upon the music of the dudunga. Repetitive and monotonous in its rhythm, the dudunga is directive for the development of the séance by inducing an altered state of consciousness; accompanying the divine singing and, finally, by terminating baya and khelo. The latter are attributes of a sacred temporality, lasting during ritual ecstasy only. The time of trance is sacred, expressed by a vocal “play” and continuing during the composition of the singing. A sacred “play” is characterized by its finality, its pauses. Divine appearance is that which ends. Holy time has its limits marked by the dudunga. Baya and khelo indicate an interwovenness between music, song compositions and the sphere of the conceptualized Divine.50 For Alekhs the Divine is the “crazy” (baya) “play” (khelo) of voices, words, and meanings. The sacred language of the Alekh gurumai is expressed by unsystematic song
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compositions, poetic epic fragments, and hymnal sequences. The narration is always impulsive, spontaneous, and situational of the specific mood of the Alekh gurumai. Her songs can be regarded as fragments of “inspirational religious practices” illustrating the creativity of a rich local oral culture. An exemplary transcription of one baya 51 and khelo, composed by an Alekh gurumai, shall textualize the structure of the divine speech. The local language of the Desya 52 was used. This baya was induced by the sound of the dudunga after a worried mother, with a child suddenly suffering from a disease, had consulted the Alekh gurumai. It lasted two hours. Some fragments of the baya are presented below. At the end, the Alekh gurumai sacrificed a coconut brought by the troubled mother for God Mahima Alekh and the earth goddess Basmati. Transcription of one baya dated 9th October 2000
“Oh, goddess Lamunda, oh Goddess Chamunda, Oh Lamunda temple!”
“Oh, mother! Oh, father! Dhenkanal, Joranda !”
“In Lamra [ local pilgrimage place], there is a Chamunda temple and there was an
Guru! I will give food for my
“God and sunya [ nothingness], oh
invisible God, oh Nirakara”.
for my Guru Mahima!” “In the temple of sunya you cure diseases “Hey Guru, Mahima Guru,
Invisible Guru! Mahima Alekha!
“Oh, invisible One, save me and him!”
Forehead of the invisible God!”
“Thirty two thrones! Your foot is like a lotus blossom!
“We will not tell you any lies!
I serve you!”
We will not pretend anything!” “Who knows, oh mother? “Bhima Bhoi and Gondas Baba!
Who knows, oh father?”
My door is open for you!” “Have Mercy, Oh Bhima Bhoi!” “Bhima Bhoi, give me an order I will give a message, oh
(Unknown language/polyglot glossolalia
in dialogical structure; mixture of some Oriya
“Oh, truthful Narayana,
I`ll give you a true message!” “My master, my father Mahima !
“Twelve years I remembered the name of
Who knows how I should worship you?
God! Twelve years I meditated!”
How should I do my fasting for you?” “Oh holy goddess of chastity! “Oh, Josudha Doimoti!
Oh my Earth, hear my words
The goddess of seven sisters of the
Goddesses Maybati, Chayabatti!
Save us from the destruction!”
“Oh god mother, oh my god father!
“I take rest in your feet!
Oh holy mother, oh holy father!
Oh mother, oh father!”
Goddess Basudha, holy Earth!” “All over the world I spread this message! “I`ve never seen your shape.
Rama Lakshmana, first mother!
Your heart is big I pray to you,
Puri Jagannatha, enter into my heart and
speak to me!”
You have no shape, you have no figure !”
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“Lamunda, Chamunda was born here. “Go away! 33 Millions of gods!
I need this type of temple which was built
I give you the order: away!”
“Tell I lies or tell I truth?
I`m telling you only the truth, I promise!”
You see the entire Universe! Oh Holy Mahima!”
“I give an order, without cheating! You know it!”
“As the god of the winds goes all over the world, I speak to you:
“You hear my words, oh God, oh God.”
Never worry, for what, about what?” “I`m wearing the type of clothes of the “Oh three times Indescribable One!
God, you save the mother! Oh Mother, you serve God in heaven!”
Parvati! Oh, invisible Nirakara!
I`m holding the stick in my hands and the whole world in it!”
“I` m also your mother, your father! I have no shape!”
“Oh, sacred place Kotinmala ! [ (place in A.P. ]
“How many brave men, leader and heroes
A temple is built there for you!”
were there! There was a big war but it did not destroy me!”
“Millions of fruits and flowers people give me for you”
“I give you this order! I am telling you the truth!
“I will give you this time an order:”
I do not tell any lies!”
(Glossolalia in dialogical structure)
“Oh, Ayodya, Puri, Cuttack, Baleshwar, Bhubaneshwar! Cabinet and the Minister!
I will give you the type of government of the time when Indira Gandhi was the
“I serve in your feet!”
“I am now in heaven! I am telling the truth!”
“I am not usual, I am the Earth” “I have no chastity and I am no goddess
“Do not tell me any lies, go away!”
like you !” “You are searching everywhere and you “Who knows the mother?
visit all places, also the places of the white
Who knows the father?
people and of the Muslims!”
Who knows the Earth?” “This type of government I will give you!” “When the war began, I saw it. I was there.
“When the earth will be destroyed,
My name is Adi Mata, the first mother!
Oh, Mother, I will see all the gods and
I am the Universal Beauty!
The Beauty of the Universe! My name is Basudha, the Earth!”
“ I am the Earth Medini
I am telling you only the truth!” “I have eaten only fruits “Indira, Chandra, Nakulo, Saha Devo,
and meditated 12 years”
Bhima Bhoi, Gondas Baba [ name of a local saint] !”
“Do not worry about it, I promise you. How many times have I served you?”
“I am always telling the truth! What are you worried about?”
“Oh, Mahima Brahma Guru Brahma Guru!
(Glossolalia in dialogues)
Vishnu, Jeipori, Basmati, the first mother, Seven hundred Snake Goddesses!
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“What are you worried about it?
Oh Tula Batti, Phulmati, Komla, Bhimla
I give you my promise, oh Guru Mahima!”
Radhika!” “Go away !”
“Guru Brahma Mahima Alekh, you the temple of the nothingness!”
“ I will give you all!
What are you
worried about?” “I give order to the Earth”. “Go away, I give you the order!” “Millions of invisible gods and goddess told: go away!
“Nirakara, You Invisible, Indescribable,
Go with fire!”
The transcription reveals the dialogical structure of the ecstatic song composition. The songs of the Alekh gurumai have a psalm character and can be compared to a prayer. Several invocations of the different names of God and holy places indicate that the conceptualized sacred is always associated with a locality. Holiness is local. Moreover, the fact that God is approached as the earth goddess Basudha or Basmati at times, but also as Jagannath, Shiva, Narayana, or Mahima Alekh, illustrates the different categories and concepts coexisting in a plurality of ideas about the sacred. God is female and male, but also nothing and the whole creation. The invocations of the various names of God also bring to mind adjuration and its exorcising quality. “My speech has power (shakti)” explained the Alekh gurumai after her séance. For herself as well as for her listeners the sound of her voice, the rhythms and words expressed during her singing séance are conceived as the power, voice, and speech of the Divine. As such, phases of incomprehensible passages indicate the speech of the supernatural, for what is not understandable for humans must be divine character. In this context, frequent shifts from understandable to incomprehensible passages show the temporal appearance of the sacred. The transcription also indicates a ritual transformation from the ritual subject (Alekh gurumai) into the ritual object (God). At the beginning, the human being approaches the conceptualized Divine by using the second person “you.” Later on, she transforms herself into Divinity and expressing it by the first person “I.” For the transformative character of the solo séance, the play of the dudunga is of greatest importance. Only
its sound will open her ecstatic singing and change her ritual personality during the ritual “play.” The music transforms the Alekh gurumai into a singing goddess.
Conclusion The new ascetic tradition in indigenous contexts of Koraput has a twofold profile. On the one hand, it consists of Alekhs, the common converts representing a new systematized abstinent and vegetarian conduct of life. On the other hand, it is characterized by the Alekh gurumai, the ecstatic mediating shamans and virtuoso singers of the Divine demonstrating the continuity of the non-systematized value of religious ecstasy within an eco-cosmological worldview. Alekh gurumai represent ritual specialists, shamans, and mediators perpetuating the traditional value of ecstasy and shamanic negotiation amidst this eco-cosmological world. This eco-cosmology relies on the meditating voices of the shamans and their capacity to connect with the other world represented in the spiritual connectedness with the sacred sphere of the sacred grove with its sacred trees. For the socially junior categories of the Desya in particular, the new and permanent restrictions of conduct create an option for the change of social status. Conversion to Alekh dharma implies agency and thus mobility within the traditional social structure. I suggest an interpretation of the cultural dynamics of Alekh shamanic tradition in terms of a cultural bricolage,53 or the creation of tradition by recomposing common elements in order to innovate. New protagonists create anew within a traditional eco-cosmological context. The Alekh gurumai creates new songs and other oral expressions during their solo séances. The extracts of recorded ecstatic songs of the new religious specialists present instances of artistic recompositions of cultural elements. Thus the concept of divinity is a cacophonic plurality. In this sense, song compositions of Alekh shamans can join the broad spectrum of the creativity of oral cultures in South Asia54 and their resilience in terms of retaining a cultural and ecological sustainability of an eco-cosmological worldview.
Notes 1. A spontaneous composition of an old Alekh gurumai, recorded in October 2000.
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2. My research project on Mahima Dharma was part a Orissa Research Programme (ORP) funded by the German Research Council (DFG/Deutsche Forschungsgesellschaft). I would like to thank the DFG for the generous grants without which the research could not be conducted. 3. For discussion on term indigenous in the Indian context: see Guzy et al. (2015, 12–20). Regarding the terminological problem and academic discussion with regard to the term “tribal” spanning decades, see Fortes and Evans-Pritchard (eds.) (1940) and Sahlins (1968); for discussion see Helm (ed.) (1971 ) and Kuper (1988); for comparative discussion see Pfeffer (2002). 4. See Senapati and Kuanr (1971, 19). 5. The local language of the Desya of Koraput. 6. This polysemic socio-religious concept of South-Asian ethics might be translated as “religious order”. For discussion see O’ Flaherty and Duncan Derrett (eds.) (1987). 7. At least five “official” centers (tirtha) exist: (1) Joranda, (2) Kamakhyanagar, (3) Angarabanda, (4) Jaka, and (5) Barambur. Beside these, Khaliapalli as the holy place of Bhima Bhoi, the popular poet, is of greatest importance; Topo Bono also represents a pilgrimage place. See also Beltz (2001)‚ Beltz (2002). 8. See Eschmann (1975, 9–220; ibid. 1986 , 386–387); T.R.B. 1968–9.52. My own observations during my fieldwork in the Koraput district confirm this statement. 9. This was derived from conversations with several ascetics who confidentially told me about the numbers. The access to internal information about the monastic organisation is reserved to monks only. 10. Total population of Orissa estimated in 2011 is 41,974,218 according to the 2011 governmental census of India, https://www.census2011.co.in/ census/state/districtlist/orissa.html. 11. a- lekha being explained to me as “not to write/ unwritten” refers to the everyday usage. In sanskrit, the term itself means “without writing” indicating a pejorative meaning. 12. Savara is the Sanskrit term for forest tribe. If also referred to as Soara/Saura or Sahara it is the name of a Scheduled Tribe in Orissa. See N. Senapati and P. Tripathy (eds.) (1972, 104). In Dhenkanal, the Savara people live especially in the neighborhood of the Malaygiri Hill (ibid., 48). Besides the Kondhs and the Gonds, they represent the aboriginal societies of the district of Dhenkanal (ibid., 422). Dhenkanal City, the capital of the district, is said to owe its name to the Savara Chief called Dhenkanal (ibid., 427). 13. For further information on the places of Mahima Gosvamis’ travelling in Orissa see Senapati (1972, 443–448).
14. Today Bhima Bhoi is the historical key poet of Mahima Dharma religion whose orally composed verses and songs became the literary basis of this religion. For more details see J. Beltz in this volume or: Mohapatra (1983). 15. Eschmann (1986 , 374–410). 16. Dube (2001, 149–178). 17. For this topic see also Deo (1999, 137–151). 18. Dube (1999, 98; 125). 19. See Cohn (1990 ), Dirks (1979), Galey (1989), and Schnepel (1997). 20. Bouillier (1997). 21. Quigley (1999). 22. For details see Guzy (2002). 23. Tambiah (1976). 24. By “negative rules” I refer to the classical Durkheimian definition of ritual practices. Durkheim differentiates between the “negative cult” and the “positive cult.” The “negative character” of a cult is represented by a system of restrictions, especially visible in ascetic rituals. He considers the “positive character” of a cult to be a sacrifice, connected with ceremonies (see Durkheim 1991 , third book, chapter I–IV, 510–649). 25. For discussion see M. Kuper (ed.) (1991). 26. Thomas and Humphrey (eds.) (1994, 3). 27. Vitebsky (1995, 11). 28. Thomas and Humphrey (1994, 1). 29. In Koraput the proselytising baba-s belong to the Kaupindhari brotherhood. 30. T.R.B. (1968/69, 43–76). The statistics were compiled in indigenous areas of the Puri, Cuttack, Sambalpur, and Kalahandi district. 31. The tyagi period is the 15-year long period of learning and wandering before taking the final decision to remain an itinerant for one’s whole life. 32. Original term. 33. The issues of religious identity, local places of pilgrimage, and bureaucratic structures will be discussed in a separate paper. For comparison see Lund (2001). 34. Orans (1965) has coined the term for the Santhal of Jharkhand, West Bengal and northern Orissa, but the same reputation is associated with the indigenous population of southern Orissa. 35. Apart from the ritual context of the Alekhs, the instrument is also used by the Joria, an indigenous group of Koraput. Here, the instrument is called jorunga (Personal communication with P. Berger). 36. Common meta-term for ecstatic states derived from the works of Lewis (1971) and Bourguignon (ed.) (1973).
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37. The Desya word “mai” is a polysemic term for three generations of inmarrying women meaning “mother,” “wife,” “bride” as well as “woman” in general. 38. See Schimmel (1975). The sufi mystic lives a love relationship with God. It is said that he is performing the feminine role of behavior (serving, devotion, emotion). 39. For the broad topic of bhakti as the medieval tradition of Hindu devotion see for instance Hawley and Juergensmeyer (1988) and Biardeau (1994). 40. Term borrowed from the work of Mauss (1923–24). 41. The term dissari stands for “astrologer” or another traditional healing expert. 42. For more details see Otten (2000, 347–356). 43. On the principle of seniority see Pfeffer (1997, 13–14). 44. Concerning this topic see Pfeffer (2000, 342–343). 45. Weber (1988 ). 46. Since there are empirically more female Alekh gurumai than male I use the female form for description. Males are included in the generalisation. 47. Free translation of an often used expression. 48. See Keane (1997, 47–71). 49. As for instance Desya, Orya, Kui, Gutob. 50. On the interwovenness between music, social structure, and academic terminologies see Lévi-Strauss (1964). 51. Recorded on 9 October 2000. 52. There are many other different languages also known by the Desya-Oriya speaker. Specific indigenous groups within the Desya population all have their own languages such as Gutob and Kui. The common language for communication between the different groups is Desya-Oriya. 53. Term borrowed from Lévi-Strauss (1962, Chap. I). 54. See Champion (éd.) (1996).
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Weber, Max. 1988 . Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Religionssoziologie I . Tübingen: J-C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck). Zinser, H. 1988. “Ekstase und Entfremdung.” In Religionswissenschaft. Eine Einführung, edited by H. Zinser, 274–284. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer Verlag.
Sacred, Alive, Dangerous, and Endangered: Humans, Non-humans, and Landscape in the Himalayas Davide Torri
Introduction The landscape we inhabit is haunted by its own past. In its present form, in fact, it is just the actual, and temporary, reconfiguration and re-positioning of its constitutive elements. Reconfiguration is the direct outcome of those transformative processes defined, in human terms, as calamities and disasters. In the Himalayas, according to indigenous ontological views, these recursive processes of reconfiguration allegedly happened at the hands of cosmic forces, gods and goddesses, sages and wizards of old, and are often thought of as reaction to human misbehavior. The category of human misbehavior may include active and mechanical processes of pollution and desecration, or more subtle dynamics of ethical and moral corruption. More often than not, among
D. Torri (B) Department SARAS (Storia Antropologia Religioni Arte e Spettacolo), Sapienza University of Rome, Rome, Italy e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2021 D. Riboli et al. (eds.), Dealing with Disasters, Palgrave Studies in Disaster Anthropology, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-56104-8_8
the indigenous collectivities of the Himalayas, these two dimensions appear to be strictly intertwined. The process is not over: minor adjustments continuously take place here and there, as automatic reactions set in motion by individual and collective, human and non-human, patterns of interaction. In recent times, a considerable degree of attention has been devoted to the impact of so-called climate change on the Himalayan ecosystems.1 When I say so-called climate change, I am in fact referring to a cloud—in the sense of a loose assemblage—of interconnected or parallel processes affecting the Himalayan biotopes: warming and loss of glaciers, erosion, loss of agricultural land, loss of biodiversity, growing urbanization, poaching, pollution, waste disposal, and so on. To these processes, we can surely add turbulent areas of political instability, unrest, and tense confrontations (i.e., border tension between India and Pakistan, India and China, unrest and counterinsurgency in Kashmir, Nepal Civil War 1996– 2006, etc.), leading to indiscriminate violence, humanitarian crisis, and the parallel increase of illegal activities. The Himalayan regions have often been defined as a bastion of biodiversity. It should be equally recognized that they are also a bastion for many indigenous groups, who have been living together with the aforementioned biodiversity, often taking care of the environment better than the nation-states in which they happen to live. In this chapter, I will explore at least some of the ideas and perceptions related to the environment that is possible to find among diverse Himalayan communities.2
A Memory of Waters There was a time when what we know now as the Himalayan mountain range lied at the bottom of the ocean.3 Curiously enough, many settlements here and there have preserved mythical memories of a watery past. The story of the Kathmandu Valley itself is an example of the intertwined dimensions of myth and geology. Geological research has in fact shown the area as being submerged by what is currently known as the Paleo-Kathmandu Lake.4 Mythical narratives tell us that the Kathmandu Valley was once covered with waters, until the bodhisattva Manjushri, the lord of compassion, striking the mountain range encircling it at one precise spot, let the waters flow downward. The place, up to this day, is known as Chobar. In a version of the story preserved in the so-called Paris Vamsavali (PV),5 it is told that the demon Danasura, during his
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1000 years reign, had blocked the waters of the valley at a place called Chobahala in order to create a lake for his daughter Prabhavati, so that she could have a water place where to play and refresh herself. After some time, a lotus flower appeared at the center of the lake, and all the deities gathered there. According to the nepalikabhuvamsavali, during the satya yuga 6 the valley was known as nagavasahrada (the lake where serpents live); the Buddha Vipasvi came to the place and sowed a lotus stalk in the lake. A lotus flower grew, and on its center, Svayambhu made his abode. Later on, in the Treta Yuga, the bodhisattva Manjushri came to pay homage to Svayambhu and cut an opening in the mountains encircling the lake, in order to drain the waters and release and disperse the serpents. The serpent king Karkotaka was appointed as the guardian of the place, in charge of all the wealth of the valley, and bound to reside in a pond (Bajracharya et al. 2015, 1–2). This story is perhaps reminiscent of the Vedic myth of Indra slaying the demon Vritra, who was holding back the water: Let me tell you the manly deeds of Indra, which he first accomplished, bolt-weaponed, He slew the serpent, opened up waters, cleft in twain the belly of mountains, ॥ 1।। He slew the serpent on the mountain, with heavenly bolt made by Tvastar, Like lowing cattle downward sped the waters, then flowed to the ocean. ॥ 2।।. (Rg Veda, 1.32, 1–2)
The hagiographic tales of Padmasambhava,7 describing his wondrous adventures in the effort to spread the dharma among the Himalayan valleys, similarly mention epic fights with serpentine entities of the underground, often defeated by draining the waters from their abodes. As a consequence, the land became fit for human settlement and agricultural practices. A parallel set of narratives describes similar fights with female deities/demonesses (Buffetrille 1994; Diemberger and Hazod 1999) belonging to diverse classes (i.e., bdud mo, srin mo, etc.). Not only the ophidic deities (Tib. klu) or the aforementioned demonesses were resisting the new religion: The whole hosts of the nonhumans of the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau were apparently on hostile terms with the teaching of the Buddha. This is the reason why Padmasambhava is known as the demon-tamer and exorcist par excellence of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. However, the demons he was confronting were not, as in other exorcistic accounts, affecting individuals
through possession. They were instead the pre-Buddhist reluctant deities and owners of the land that he had to defeat and convert, because they were hostile to the new religion he was bringing. Some of them, after being subjugated, were then recruited and bound to become protectors of the new religion, due to their military prowess and their fierce, terrific appearance.8 Even before the spiritual quest of Padmasambhava among peaks and valleys, Tibetan Buddhist mythology enshrines the mytheme of the animated, and perhaps hostile, environment in the narratives related to the supine demoness9 of the land allegedly pinned down by building temples on her vital spots, limbs, and junctures, at the time of Songtsen Gampo.10 According to a popular story, the Jokhang temple of Lhasa lies on the heart of the demoness. Where the temple is located, so the story goes, there was once a lake and, in the Jokhang, there is a stone allegedly covering a hole leading to its subterranean waters (Diemberger and Hazod 1999). These sets of narratives could potentially refer to a multiple, and complex, grid of overlapping layers of meaning: a social and economical one—enshrining tales of the passage from wild to domesticated, from pre-agricultural to agricultural economies; a political one—polities and communities being incorporated into larger political frameworks (i.e., the Tibetan polity), through (hierarchized) assimilation; a religious one, perhaps not disentangled from the previous dimensions—the merging of religious strands, or incorporation of indigenous and local deities into larger, overarching frameworks. It is in fact acknowledged that upon encroaching over the harsh terrain of the Himalayas, the political entities of the Indic plains and the Tibetan plateau encountered diverse specific cultures with whom they entertained relations of many different sorts, from peaceful trade to military conquests, but, according to Charles Ramble, in many cases these narratives bear witness to the organization of the landscape, from an initial state of disorder to a later stage of domestication: what is being conquered or tamed by skillful masters and religious adepts, says Ramble, is wilderness and wildlife (Ramble 1999, 15). However, when it comes to the incorporation of local communities into larger political frameworks, the very same narrative could express the loss of autonomy of the local dimension, in its human and not-human aspects (environment, flora, fauna, deities, etc.). The memory of a mythic war at the beginning of time, leading to a new organization of space, land, and beings, is very common in the
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Himalayas in the textual traditions of both Hindu and Buddhist communities, but also among the various indigenous groups of the whole area. Detailed stories about ancestral wars and feuds over the landscape are often embedded into the creation stories transmitted orally and often sung by shamans at the beginning of their rituals.
Memories of Wars with the (Now) Invisible The relationship between people and environment, in the Himalayas, is deep and complex. For the purpose of this chapter, I will take into account some founding myths related to two different yet intertwined sets of criteria: the interconnections between different species, or between humans and non-humans, and the conflictual dimension seemingly tied to the topics of coexistence and cohabitation. The relation between human and non-human persons in Himalayan indigenous system of thought is often depicted as becoming established, with a full set of norms and requirements, after a conflict. It is important to note that these particular conflicts are often involving members of the same kin. The environment appears to be shared, more or less equally, among the living beings. Disasters such as floods, earthquakes, famine, or epidemics are considered the result of a misbehavior of sort, as sanctions or retaliations. Narratives related to the conflict between human and nonhuman/environment are exemplified by the story of Gorapa and Serapa, the two primeval brothers always quarrelling and fighting until they decide once and for all to inhabit diverse domains of the landscape (Maskarinec 1995, 43–44). Therefore, the descendants of one of the brothers become—or better said, continue as—human beings as we know them, while the others become creatures of the wilderness: tigers, leopards, bees, wasps, deer, wild boars, and other-than-human entities residing or haunting inaccessible and dangerous places. As recorded in shamanic songs, they moved to their specific abodes literally transforming themselves into other-than-human beings: (…) Went to stay as honeybee stingers in hives, Went to stay as hornet stingers in leaves, Went to stay as bears and she-bears, Tigers and she-tigers in Sila Khagar, (…). (Maskarinec 1995, 43)
Another example of similar dynamics is the story collected among the Apatani of Arunachal Pradesh (India) by Stuart Blackburn, telling the story of the fight between Abo Tani, the Apatani cultural hero, and Doji, brother of his wife and spirit-lord of the forest. Even in this case, despite sharing the same longhouse, the two brothers-in-law continuously quarrel since, as hunters, they prey on each other cattle: When Abo Tani hunts in the forest, he is in fact preying over the domestic animals of Doji, while Doji hunts the domestic animals of Abo Tani: Abo Tani hunted all sorts of animals—deer, boars, rats, birds and monkeys. They were wild to Abo Tani, but to Doji they were domestic, almost like his relatives. At the same time, Doji hunted dogs, cows and mithuns, which were domestic to Abo Tani. The conflict between them was deep, but they lived in the same house. (Blackburn 2008, 74–75)
Incidentally, both these pieces of narratives become extremely clear when interpreted according to Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s theory of perspectivism (Viveiros de Castro 2015). In particular, in the case of Gorapa and Serapa, the conflict engenders a transformation and some beings become animals, since “the common condition of both humans and animals is not animality, but rather humanity” (Viveiros de Castro 2015, 229). It is in fact after being tricked into accepting the wilderness as their domain that according to the myth they “become” beings of the wilderness as we have seen in the passage quoted before. In the case of Abo Tani and Doji, instead, it is interesting to notice that the great structuralist gap between nature and culture dissolves, since domesticated and wild appear only as perspectival and perfectly symmetrical shifts: the domesticated animals of the one are wild only for the other. There are lessons to be learned through these myths. Firstly, diverse people inhabit the same cosmos, but they see it according to their own perspective. Secondly, the notion of people is extended to include both the humans and the nonhumans. Thirdly, relations between these agents have to be regulated, and the rules were established at the beginning of time. As a corollary to this, trespassing is invariably met with retaliation. Finally, some agents, i.e., shamans, can travel from one realm to the other in order to act as interpreters, mediums, and brokers between the humans and the non-humans, in order to re-establish more or less peaceful coexistence. The creation story of the Thulung Rai of eastern Nepal is similar to these ones, but I will quote it here since it seems to link the motif of
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the conflict between humans and non-humans with the topic addressed in the first section of this chapter, the primordial waters. According to the Thulung Rai creation myth, as reported by Nicholas J. Allen, in the beginning there was a lake, and on its surface, the wind blew some leaves. From the mass of moistened leaves and dust, a plant (probably a lotus) was born, and from that, Miyapma. When Miyapma became a maid, she fell in love with the star Rowasila (the planet Venus) and sent two birds to arrange a wedding, but they came back with the ugly Khomda (the planet Jupiter). Horrified, she fainted, and Khomda left, but first he pissed into a hollow trunk and going away he brought away all the waters with him. During the following drought, Miyapma found (or was given by one of her bird assistants) the liquid in the trunk and drank it. As a result, she became pregnant and started to give birth to different species: mountain thorny creeper, valley thorny creeper, tiger, bear, monkey, and finally, a human being called Mini Rai. Mini Rai was the only one to stay with her, as all the other brothers went to live by themselves in the jungle. Before leaving, tiger said to Miyapma never to go around him while he is hunting. But one day, they met in the jungle and tiger killed her. When Mini Rai found her corpse, he instructed bear and monkey to perform proper rituals, but they ended up eating their mother’s flesh. As a result, Mini sent them away: bear uphill, the monkey downhill, while the tiger retained the power to move across different domains (Allen 2012, 23– 42). Quite interestingly, we find the same complex relation between species that are, in fact, kin. The resolution of the “family” tensions, grounded on diverse dietary habits, determines a spatial distribution over the terrain: While Mini Rai occupies the central position, the bear relocates upward (which could indicate the north, or the high mountains), the monkey downward (lower hills, plains, south), and the tiger is enigmatically given the possibility to move “across” regions. The association of diverse species with ecological niches is certainly based on observation, and yet it provides a blueprint for the occupation of the right place into an ideal, if not ethical, framework, thus setting the ground for potential trespassing and mutual retaliation. Miyapma, the primordial ancestor of the species, was in fact killed by her own son tiger for trespassing on his hunting grounds (Allen 2012). Similarly, in a story collected among the Tamang of central Nepal by Ben Campbell, we find the same interconnections between humans and non-humans, i.e., the Tamang people and the other-than-human entities called tsen, entangled
through marriage alliance, breaking up after a misunderstanding—or a diverse perspective—engendering an incident related, again, to hunting activities: (…) a man married to a female tsen went hunting with his tsen brotherin-law. They arranged for the man to wait for the prey to be chased down to him. When it arrived, it was only a tiny bird, and the man took it home to his wife, throwing it in anger onto her lap. Then it transformed into a great hunk of carcass and broke his wife’s legs. This caused the rift with tsen affines, and the humans parted company, crossing nine ridges before it was no longer possible to see or hear the tsen. (Campbell 2013, 252–253)
The mythical trope that we see in action here is the separation of those two realms that previous (mainly Western) philosophies reified into the two categories of “man” (sic) and “nature.” After the ontological turn and the works of Philippe Descola (2013), it could be possible to argue that, more than separation, what these stories testify is in fact the entanglement and interconnectedness of life processes, and the parcelization of the cosmos into inter-related fields of forces. The cosmos becomes envisioned as a series of parallel lifeworlds, in communication with each other according to specific rules: trespassing boundaries has to be done carefully, and trespassing agents threads upon dangerous paths. But, as I wrote elsewhere: the boundary is not the one between “nature” and “culture”, but the one uniting, more than dividing, the domesticated and the wild: as in the examples from other areas of the Himalayas, the human and the nonhuman communities are entangled in a cosmopolitic process of reciprocity, mutuality and conflictual relationships. (Torri 2020, 68)
These topics appear also in a Bön11 canonical text, the gnyan’bum, where we find a creation myth describing how the world is partitioned by the gods among several classes of beings, including humans (Karmay 2010). Human beings find their parcel to be too small, unyielding and certainly not enough to feed them and their cattle. Calling for a new allocation of resources, human beings are given a little more, but they are tricked into thinking they can exploit the land as they please, hunting, digging, and cutting trees beyond measure, as boldly proclaimed by the first man:
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I will kill hundreds of thousands of the beasts of the white snow mountain. I will kill hundreds of thousands of snow cocks and grouse of the blue slate mountain. I will kill hundreds of thousands of beavers and otters of the rivers, I will cut the trees of the Nyen. Dig up the stones of the Nyen. I will plough the land of the Nyen as my field (…). (Karmay 2010, 63)
This behavior sparks conflict with the nyen, who rose in battle with their allies to counter the human offensive over the land. Confronted by the host of the non-human, human beings found themselves pretty soon close to defeat and annihilation, surrounded, chased around by spirits and wild animals, and struck by lethal plagues and fiery storms. It is at this point that their gshen (i.e., ritual specialists) receive precise ritual instructions on how to placate the nyen (Karmay 2010, 65). The ritual specialist probably chanted the myth, in the form of a song, during rites to be performed in case of environmental crisis interpreted as the action of enraged nyen, whose concerns and grievances they had to address in order to restore peaceful coexistence. The environment is not the background where humans and deities dwell, but it has agency in itself. On a certain level, we could say it is conceived as “anthropomorphic or animal like” (Gyatso 1987, 49) as in the already mentioned conception of the Tibetan plateau as the body of the demoness pinned down and stabilized through a network of sacred places literally holding her down. In the Himalayas, we find many instances of deities consubstantiated with mountains: the mountain is their dwelling place as much as one material manifestation of their presence. Several scholarly works have explored the topic of sacred mountains and mountain deities in the Himalayan context, and their importance in local ecosystems and ontologies (de Nebesky-Wojkowitz 1956; Buffetrille 1994; Blondeau and Steinkeller 1996; Diemberger 1996; Huber 1999; Ramble 1999; Pommaret 2004; Tautscher 2007). Mountain deities, often depicted as wrathful and warrior-like, once incorporated into the folder of Buddhism are bound to act as keepers and custodians of the place, country or region (Tib. yul lha), or protectors of the dharma (Tib. chos skyong ). As I wrote elsewhere:
In several instances, particular places can act as repositories of life forces, or bla gnas, (literally, “place of the life force”): vernacular beliefs maintain that individual or collective human life energies can be stored, hidden or tied to specific traits of the landscape, like tree (bla-shing ), stones (blardo) or even animals (bla-sems-can), or even mountains and lakes (Huber 1999). Any kind of contamination, damage, or pollution affecting the bla gnas will reverberate on its human counterpart. (Torri 2020, 56)
In addition, features of the environment in many Himalayan contexts could be assimilated into a socio-mythical kinship system. This assimilation makes them virtually embedded into a kin relation of sort, as in case of the Lepchas of Sikkim, whose mythology states that the first Lepcha couple was created with the snow of a sacred mountain and whose social structure posits every clan as intimately related to a snowy peak and a lake (Plaisier 2007). For this reason, recent battles to preserve environment in Sikkim have become crucially entangled with discourses about identity and welfare (Torri 2011; Little 2017).
Memories Set in Stone and Collapsing Buildings During my researches12 on landscape and religiosity in Helambu (Nepal), I was really interested into what appeared to me as the combination of two, intertwined, strands of thought providing an appreciation of the landscape as a living network, infused with the presence of multiple agents. The two strands of thought I am referring to are derived by the notions of the sacredness of the environment expressed by the Buddhist notion of beyul (secret land), combined with what I would term an animist approach. These two worldviews are exemplified also by the discourses, narratives, and ritual actions of two different religious specialists, i.e., the Buddhist lama and the shamanic bombo or pombo (see also Torri 2014). The notion of beyul is deeply connected with the hagiography of Padmasambhava: it is in fact known that, in the past, while travelling across the Himalaya mountain range, he sorted out some special places and sealed them. These secret valleys, filled with holy relics and sacred texts or treasures, were supposedly prepared for future times of danger and to be opened by highly qualified and spiritually advanced lamas. These lamas are said to receive mystical instructions on where to recover the key texts in order to open the secret valleys while in meditation, and
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only when the right times come for it. Regarding the Helambu valley, known in Tibetan as Yolmo and identified with Yolmo beyul, it is said that the valley possesses mystical qualities, rich in medicinal plants and waters, blissful forests and protected by mighty snowy peaks. The establishment of the beyul at the hands of Padmasambhava is also paired with his activities of taming and exorcizing. As we have seen in a previous paragraph, in fact, indigenous deities are vanquished, subjugated, and given a new role into the wider Buddhist pantheon, as local protectors in charge of safeguarding the land and the people incorporated into the folder of Tibetan Buddhism. The subjugation of non-human entities of the place (Huber 1999; Ramble 1999; Dalton 2004, 2011) and their conversion to Buddhism mirrors the diffusion and spread of Buddhism across the Himalayas. Local deities are assimilated as the influence of Buddhism spread over new territories. The buddhistization of the landscape is grounded on the theoretical tension between worldly and otherworldly, and the marginalization of the periphery according to the model of the mandala (Ruegg 2008). What is being subjugated is not local deities as such, but mainly “indigenous shamanism and shaman cosmological systems” (Lewis 1994, 29). The landscape of Helambu, according to the indigenous Hyolmo people, is pervaded by the sacred qualities infused therein by Padmasambhava. The traces of his activities are visible to those who know where to look: here and there in the valley, it is possible to see the marks left by his passage on the rocks and stones of the area. Footprints, mystical symbols, places of meditation, vanquished (in Buddhist terminology “liberated”) and petrified serpentine deities, monuments, and even books are to be found in different places, as stony witnesses of his spiritual adventures in the area. Altogether, they constitute a network of sacred places. According to Khenpo Nyima Dondrup (2010), there are 33 potent places, and the number includes meditation places of Padmasambhava and other Buddhist saints, caves, peaks and lakes, and the like. The whole area is then subjected to the protector of the valley, the goddess Ama Yangri (Mother Mountain of Prosperity). This goddess is also physically visible as the mountain (3771 meters above sea level) dominating the central area of the valley. As a territorial deity and keeper of the valley, she is assisted by three other deities: Dorje Legpa, Genyen Leru, and Jowo Chati. The three of them are associated with mountains surrounding Ama Yangri, and Jowo Chati is considered her consort. The marshy stretch of land connecting the mountain Ama Yangri with Jowo Chati is considered to
be the physical manifestation of her mount, a dragon. Here as elsewhere, apparently, there is a continuity “between the physical object and the local deity” (Lindhal 2010, 230). One day13 I was walking near the settlement of Timbu, when I saw some very old chorten,14 covered in moss. When I asked how old they were, nobody seemed to know exactly, but I was told an interesting story. The chorten were built to make the land stable and firm, because the area was constantly trembling, and landslides were occurring very often in the past, until a Chiri Lama came and built them to stabilize the land. Chiri Gompa is allegedly the oldest Buddhist temple of the valley. According to Hyolmo tradition, it was built by Shakya Zangpo, a Buddhist reincarnated lama and treasure-revealer who, upon receiving mystical instructions, opened the secret valley of Yolmo in the fifteenth century. The area of Timbu had to be stabilized. Even the story of the village name seems to be related to the outcomes of a confrontation between a Buddhist lama and some entities hostile to Buddhism: The three villages you see here all take their names from the tools of a hermit living on top of this mountain. One night, demons attacked him, but he was very strong and resisted them. Therefore, the demons made the mountain collapse. The villages were built in the places where the tools were found, and each got the name for the tool that was found therein. So, the highest village is called Embalama, from the word emba, a stone slab used to grind. Below is Dojum, from the wooden mortar, and finally Timbu, from the word for the small pestle. In this area there were always landslides and rockfalls. It was very unstable, until Chiri Lama came and made these chorten that you see there and there, to make the ground steady. (Torri 2020, 63)
While the Helambu landscape is embedded into an essentially Buddhist framework, the attitude toward the environment seems to rest on the kind of relational epistemology described as animism (Bird-David 1999). Human beings coexist side by side with a host of non-humans with whom they share the visible landscape and its subtler counterparts. In this cultural milieu, shamanic religious specialists have managed to carve for themselves a niche, avoiding annihilation at the hands of hegemonic religions of the Himalayan area. Because of this, many indigenous groups, despite formal adhesion to Buddhism or Hinduism, have preserved a local heritage grounded on an intimate relation with the landscape. Despite local variations, in fact, in the Himalayan context, several parallel religious
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complexes coexist with major religions, showing a marked consistency throughout the area when it comes to understanding the world and its mechanics. The cosmos is shared between diverse entities and beings, parceled and tiered. On a general level, we could say that there is a shared conception about its tripartite subdivision in sky, land, and underworld: with the gods high above, and the chthonic deities down below, and humans, animals, and landscape-related deities occupying the middle section. The landscape is in fact animated and it embodies a number of deities. According to Allen (1974), when we take into account the area where today Bodic languages are spoken, we find traces of a preBuddhist substratum characterized by the relevance of local, land-related deities, and the presence of a ritual specialist engaging in what is often referred to as ritual voyage or, in shamanic studies, magical flight. The practices of Himalayan shamans in fact often entail a sort of ritual journey across visible and invisible landscapes as testified by many ethnographic accounts (Mumford 1989; Holmberg 1989; Desjarlais 1992; Gaenszle 1994, 2002; de Sales 1991; Maskarinec 1995; Campbell 2013; Torri 2020). During my fieldwork, my impression was that people were intermittently paying attention to their invisible counterpart, i.e., the non-human persons with whom they shared the landscape. In their daily life, they were busy with their own activities, without bothering too much about the non-human world. Yet, there were times when they were very concerned about it, or when they felt exposed to some unwanted attentions for example in case of circumstances forcing them to change their routine, when engaging in travelling, or after some negative event. In these and other cases, the landscape became suddenly alive and teeming with potentially harmful agents. To ascertain the reasons behind some occurrences, or to foresee the possible outcomes of a certain somehow disruptive behavior, i.e., building a new house, or selecting a proper place for it, divination rituals were requested, to the bombo or another religious specialist. This was done in order to identify the offended or probably involved entities in charge of the land, disturbed by some human activity. Possible causes of disturbances were to be found in the breaking of taboos, neglecting worship of ancestors or clan-deities, trespassing onto the territory of a dangerous non-human entity, polluting waters, felling trees, and so on. One story collected in Helambu valley during my fieldwork in 2014 was related to the construction of the hydropower project to divert the
water of Yolmo Khola (river) building a tunnel in order to bring drinkable water to Kathmandu Valley. In the Buddhist monasteries of the valley, the lamas performed rituals to appease the klu (the serpentine deities in charge of waters), in order to avoid or prevent the consequences of their possible wrath. Some shamans told me of a female wrathful deity, whose abode is identified with a particular rock near the river, that was enraged with the construction for the hydropower project. Consequently, they said that there were many instances of swarms of insects like bees and wasps attacking the workers, and the building site was infested with snakes. In the end, the area had to be disinfested before the workers could resume their activities. From that moment on, I was told, the crops were yielding less and less. Quite interesting, and contrary to my expectations, when I came back to Nepal after the devastating 2015 earthquake which had a heavy impact on the region, I found no mention of a possible relation between human activities and retaliation by local deities. As one old shaman told me: “it was a natural event, you know there is a gigantic fish under the earth and, when it moves, we have earthquakes”.15
Conclusions While the elements analyzed in this paper draw from several diverse contexts, they show a degree of consistency in interpreting, decoding, and appreciating the environment as a field where multiple forces and agents are co-involved and entangled into symmetrical dynamics of exchange. Despite the breadth and width of the Himalayan region, its intrinsic level of diversity at several levels, including cultural, religious, and linguistic, it is possible to identify similar patterns of behavior and understanding when it comes to define the relations between human beings and the landscape they inhabit, or, as I have tried to argue, between human and other-than-human agents. In this chapter, I have limited myself to give a broad overview and examples of possible interactions between human and non-human persons related to the landscape among some Himalayan indigenous communities, with a special attention to shamanic religious complexes, whether included into the folder of Tibetan Buddhism or not. Some data comes directly from Tibetan literature, since many of the communities I was working with during my fieldwork experiences were under the direct or indirect influence of Tibetan Buddhism. In several of the examples here taken into account, non-human entities of the landscape share similar traits. Beyond the mere association with specific
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landmarks (crags and ridges, waterfalls, caves, mountains and lakes, etc.), they are to a certain degree consubstantiated with it and in charge of every dynamic involving the territory. Cosmopolitical conflict arises when one agent trespasses onto the domain of the other. In case of human beings, any action causing defilement or pollution, any form of misbehavior, negligence, or disrespect will cause a reaction. Reaction is usually in the form of disaster or disease, and different non-human agents are responsible for diverse conditions of sickness. Among the non-humans related to the landscape, it is also possible to include the victims of violent or untimely death. In many cases, they are thought to remain attached to specific points of the landscape, usually marked by the presence of ominous or sinister features (i.e., a dead tree, a peculiar rock, an abandoned house, a well, etc.) where they met their ill-fated and bitter ends (Torri 2019). Provoking, angering or even crossing path with them could be potentially harmful, since they too are able to strike humans with fatal fevers and deadly illnesses. It is, after all, a dangerous world the one we blindly thread upon, exposed to the effect of invisible entanglements that we are just learning to understand and, hopefully, respect.
Notes 1. See, for example, Devkota (2013), Eriksson et al. (2009), and Mathur (2015). 2. To these topics, I devoted also some of my previous works (Torri 2011, 2015, 2020). 3. Clift et al. (2002) and Shroder (2002). 4. See Sakai et al. (2002) and Paudyal et al. (2013). 5. That is a manuscript version of the vamsavali collected by Sylvain Lévi and kept at the College de France, hence the name. Generally, the term vamsavali refers to a narrative related to the ancestry and genealogy of some important lineages. In this case, the text I am referring to is the Nep¯alikabh¯ upa-vam . s´¯aval¯ı (Nepalikabhupa vamsavali), or the history of the kings of Nepal (Bajracharya et al. 2015). 6. Satya yuga, “the age of truth,” is the first age in a series of four, characterized by progressive deterioration of the conditions of life, the decrease of virtues, and culminating in the destruction of the world. The other ages are known as treta, dvapara, and kali yuga. After the annihilation of the world, a new creation starts and the cycle repeats itself. 7. Padmasambhava (eighth century) is a Buddhist master credited with the first dissemination of Buddhism in Tibet.
8. See, for example, Schrempf (1999), Dalton (2004, 2011), Cantwell and Mayer (2013), and Erschbamer (2019). 9. See Gyatso (1987), Mills (2007), and Miller (1998). 10. Songtsen Gampo (sixth/seventh century) was a king of Tibet and the founder of the Tibetan empire. 11. I use the term Bön here to refer to the pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet. 12. I did research in Helambu (Nepal) in the years 2006–2008 and then again in 2013–2016. 13. In September 2014. 14. A chorten is typical buddhist monument, in the shape of a mound. 15. S. Bombo, personal communication, Chuchepati (Nepal), September 2015.
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Pommaret, Françoise. 2004. “Yul and Yul lha: The Territory and Its Deity in Bhutan.” Bulletin of Tibetology 40 (1): 39–67. Ramble, Charles. 1999. “The Politics of Sacred Space in Bon and Tibetan Popular Tradition.” In Sacred Spaces and Powerful Places in Tibetan Culture, edited by Toni Huber, 3–33. Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives. Ruegg, David Seyforth. 2008. The Symbiosis of Buddhism with Brahmanism/Hinduism in South Asia and of Buddhism with “Local Cults” in Tibet and the Himalayan Region. Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Sakai, H., Fujii, R., and Kuwahara, Y. 2002. “Changes in the Depositional System of the Paleo-Kathmandu Lake Caused by Uplift of the Nepal Lesser Himalayas.” Journal of Asian Earth Sciences 20 (3): 267–276. Schrempf, Mona. 1999. “Taming the Earth, Controlling the Cosmos: Transformation of Space in Tibetan Buddhist and Bon-po Ritual Dance.” In Sacred Spaces and Powerful Places in Tibetan Culture, edited by Toni Huber, 198–224. Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives. Shroder Jr, J. F., ed. 2002. Himalaya to the Sea: Geology, Geomorphology and the Quaternary. London and New York: Routledge. Tautscher, Gabriele. 2007. Himalayan Mountain Cults: Sailung, Kalingchok, Gosainkund Territorial Rituals and Tamang Histories. Kathmandu: Vajra Publications. Torri, Davide. 2011. “In the Shadow of the Devil: Traditional Patterns of Lepcha Culture reinterpreted.” In Health and Religious Rituals in South Asia, edited by Fabrizio Ferrari, 173–190. London: Routledge. Torri, Davide. 2014. Il lama e il Bombo. Sciamanismo e Buddhismo tra gli Hyolmo del Nepal. Roma: Edizioni Nuova Cultura. Torri, Davide. 2015. “The Animated Landscape: Human and Non-human Communities in the Buddhist Himalayas.” Rivista degli Studi Orientali 88 (1/4/2): 251–268. Torri, Davide. 2019. “Of Shadows and Fears.” In Articulate Necrographies: Comparative Perspectives on the Voices and Silences of the Dead, edited by Diana Espirito Santo e Anastasios Panagiotopoulos, 205–226. New York and Oxford: Berghahn. Torri, Davide. 2020. Landscape, Ritual and Identity Among the Hyolmo of Nepal. London and New York: Routledge. Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo B. 2015. The Relative Native: Essays on Indigenous Conceptual Worlds. Chicago: Hau Books.
Shamanism, Magic, and Indigenous Ontologies: Eco-Critical Perspectives on Environmental Changes in India Stefano Beggiora
Ecocriticism and Indigenous Ontologies: An Introduction to South Asia In a global perspective, climatic degradation and the indiscriminate exploitation of soil and subsoil resources accelerate deforestation processes across the world. In South Asia, deforestation in particular constitutes a substantial threat to the survival and cultural integrity of ¯ adiv¯ as¯ıs, or forest peoples, living in the broad sub-Himalayan belt and in the many jungles of the sub-continental territories. After independence, India nationalized most forest areas that previously, during the colonial rule, gravitated under the zamindari system (Bandopadhyay 2010, 53–76). Over the decades, several laws were promulgated for the exploitation of resources and the protection of forests up to an apex in the 1980s, with the approval of the Conservation Act and
S. Beggiora (B) University Ca’ Foscari, Venice, Italy e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2021 D. Riboli et al. (eds.), Dealing with Disasters, Palgrave Studies in Disaster Anthropology, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-56104-8_9
the launch of the National Forest Policy of 1988, which is still operative today (Ravindranath and Nijavalli 2004). In recent decades, there has been a great debate over these issues, especially since many of the laws did not take into consideration the rights of indigenous peoples living in the forests and wholly dependent on them, given that the survival of special-status ethnic minorities (defined by the government as Scheduled Tribes ) substantially depended on the consumption of forest products, or was based on proto-agricultural techniques applied within such environment. It is interesting to note that the discourse on ecocriticism, or on how literature and culture play a fundamental role in the battle on environmental issues, has always been implicated in India in the debate on sustainability. In Indian sacred texts and folklore, the sacredness of the jungle is a literary topos: place of mystical visions for the sages (r..si), of hermitage for ascetics and pilgrims, scenario for the feats of the heroes of the Ramayana saga, place of amorous encounters in medieval poetry, and so on until the emblematic and obscure case of the blaze of the Khandava Forest which has a foundational if not a cosmogonic value (Gadgil and Guha 1993, 78–81). The Chipko Movement of the 1970s is the classic example of the consequences of this discourse in contemporary social movements. Grown as a non-violent movement inspired by the Gandhian ideals, it was intended to stop the felling of trees in today’s Uttarakhand. To save the Himalayan forest heritage, activists implemented a method of passive resistance with the highly symbolic gesture of embracing plants (Guha 2000). First of all, this example is interesting because the inhabitants of Garhwal villages and neighboring territories intertwined episodes of the religious tradition, i.e., of the Bh¯ agavata Pur¯ an.a, with the ongoing local dispute. The god Kr.s.n.a of the Bh¯agavata Pur¯an.a personifies the idyll of Braj; in other words, he’s a pastoral god embodying the bond between man and nature in a highly suggestive bucolic landscape—a bond that has been frequently used as an allegory for contents of a spiritual and transcendental nature. Driven by this inspiration, the movement spread to Himachal, Karnataka, Bihar, Rajasthan, and the Vindhya mountains and sought to large extent the agency of women (Dattaray and Sharma 2018, 2). But it is paradoxical to note that even in this case the movement did not take into consideration the reality experienced by many indigenous tribes that survived on the forest and needed to exploit it, although in a sustainable way.
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The acknowledgment of the fact that the indigenous communities of India are the repositories of ancient knowledge is a recent acquisition—precisely because they have lived in symbiosis with a complex environmental system such as the jungle (Kumar 2001, 2859–2869). It is a knowledge made of survival strategies, animal and plant awareness, a mastery of natural remedies and medicinal plants, which is generally called “indigenous knowledge on the forest.” The idea that a key to the solution of environmental issues in India can be found in ¯ adiv¯ as¯ı culture by virtue of their cosmology, and their worldview, has therefore come a long way in recent decades. The indigenous construction of myths about the forest reflects the depth of sacred relationship with the territory as it is perceived, assimilated, and enacted by local people (Guha 2000, 33). Although born from the study of the religiosity of the Amazonian indigenous communities, the so-called ontological turn in the anthropological milieu has been relevant for the maturing of this idea, which provides energy to the international debate also involving indigeneity (Descola 2005; Viveiros de Castro 1998). The issue has obviously interesting repercussions in South Asia (Snodgrass et al. 2008; Carrin 2016; Carrin and Lidia 2012). The idea of a specific physiognomy of indigenous cosmologies, proposed by Viveiros de Castro with the term “perspectivism,” is based on the criticism of the dominant epistemological model in scientific thought and on the questioning of classic distinctions between nature and culture, humans and non-humans, subject and object. In contrast to the classic model of scientific thought, according to which the multiplicity and diversity of cultures overlap with a unity of nature that constitutes its indisputable foundation, it is therefore legitimate to ask whether there is an alternative “multi-naturalist” indigenous perspective (Viveiros de Castro 2005, 36–37). Though the risk of generalization is always lurking, it has been observed that as well as among the Amerindians, even among other indigenous peoples, especially if depositaries of an animistic or shamanistic religiosity, a general tendency emerges to see the world as inhabited by different types of people, humans and non-humans, who perceive reality differently and reciprocally. In summary, men, plants, and animals are people, or look at themselves as people. This notion is virtually always associated with the idea that the visible form of each species is a shell (a kind of “dress”), hiding an inner human form that is normally visible only to the eyes of that particular species or to those special trans-specific beings that are the shamans (id., 38). These conceptions of indigenous
thought correspond not to simple metaphors and symbolic expressions, but are rooted in perceptive and sensory processes. However, these are not processes that belong to an ordinary way of looking at things. The hunter who enters the forest to find his prey does not expect to meet a village inhabited by animals or to see animals in their human appearance. At this point, the role of the shaman is crucial: He is the one who makes the passage from one plane to the other possible. “In any case, the shamans, masters of cosmic schematism (Taussig 1987, 462–63) and dedicated to communicating and administering these cross-perspectives, are always there to make concepts tangible and intuitions intelligible” (Viveiros de Castro 2005, 38). Indeed, Amerindian perspectivism is closely associated with two important characteristics: the symbolic enhancement of hunting and the importance of shamanism— two aspects that are strongly intertwined with one another: The ideology of the hunt—which does not only concern people surviving exclusively on hunting but also all those peoples who, while practicing forms of horticulture, continue to assign a significant role to hunting (which exceeds the economic dimension)—is essentially a shamanic ideology and is intimately associated with the practice and the experiences of shamanism. Amazonian shamanism can be defined as the attitude shown by certain individuals to cross corporeal boundaries and to adopt the perspective of allospecific subjectivity, in order to manage the relations between these beings and humans. Seeing non-human beings as they see themselves (as humans), shamans are able to play the role of active interlocutors in trans-specific dialogues (id., 42). I opted to summarize these guidelines of the “ontological turn,” although well-known and perhaps by now fashionable in the academia, to underline how some key elements are transposable to the ¯ adiv¯ as¯ı reality. Alongside the residual presence of hunting and gathering communities, a shamanic substratum is still present and fairly constant, even given all regional variations, from continental India to the Himalayan ridge (Maskarinec 2004, 741–743). On this basic assumption and given today’s debate on the importance of the indigenous perception of the territory, the Forest Rights Act of 2006 seemed to favor a decisive turning point, i.e., the inclusion of minorities in the management and protection of forest areas, and the devolvement of forest production to them (Dinesh 2010, 235– 256; Ministry of Tribal Affairs/UNDP 2014). Indeed, some experimental projects have been launched in India for the management of national
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parks and the use of biomasses of forest origin. So far these have had some success (Munshi 2015, Section IV, 205–238). Nonetheless, this was opposite to the imperatives of national production and the constantly growing economic boom. The identification of important resources in the subsoil, including areas that would have been included in safeguard projects, erases the progress made in both environmental matters and minority rights, with a single blow. For some indigenous groups, this was a true cultural apocalypse (Beggiora 2015b, 163–174). Land exploitation, displacement, pollution, and environmental devastation have resulted in the desacralization of tradition and the exploitation of tribal groups. Even where all this did not take place, side effects such as climate change, erosion, and deforestation of certain areas, as well as a modernity that led to a certain estrangement from the territory, led to the need of dealing with disasters and of rethinking new perspectives from eco-cosmologies. The present paper analyzes a case study from central India.
Case Study: Some Notes on the Fieldwork Among the Kondhs of Odisha The case study that I am going to present is related to the Scheduled Tribes of the Kondhs: This is one of the major indigenous groups of Odisha where I have been doing research since 2000. At that time, with the support of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Research and Training Institute (SCSTRTI) of Bhubaneswar and some local NGOs, the University of Venice was the pivot for a micro-project of development cooperation consisting in bringing drinking water to the dry areas of the interior districts. This gave me the opportunity to be present in the area, to study the tribal culture and in particular the shamanic religious traditions of the Kondhs for several years until 2014. First of all, it is important to clarify that according to the Census of India 2011 (Ministry of Tribal Affairs 2013, 142), the Kondhs as a whole are a minority of 1,628,501 people, divided into many subgroups allocated mainly in Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand, and Odisha; these groups have a certain mutual affinity, but customs and traditions can be very different from area to area. My fieldwork was mainly based in the jungles of the highlands near Phulbani (Kandhamal district), in the Tumudibandh Block, a subdivision and tahas¯ıl of Balliguda: This area displays a total of 68 settlements divided into the gr¯ am pañc¯ ayat of Belghar (36 villages) and Guma (32 villages).
Here, the indigenous majority is represented by the Kuttia subgroup which amounts to just over seven thousand individuals, but I also had the opportunity to do research among the much more consistent neighboring communities of Dongria and Desia Kondh. The dialects spoken in the areas of the Kuttias and Dongrias are Kui and Kuvi, respectively, two Dravidian languages descending from a south-central stock, classified as part of the Gondi-Kui family (Ethnologue, ISO: 639-3 kxu/kxv), while in many other areas the Odia, the national language of Odisha, is spoken. The Kondhs were known in colonial times for the infamous campaigns for the suppression of human sacrifice in Odisha (Meriah Wars 1836– 1862), quoted also by Sir James Frazer in his renowned Golden Bough (1941, 434). The army of the East India Company, progressing through the jungle in pursuit of the rebel mah¯ ar¯ aja of the principality of Ghumsur, discovered a wild unexplored region covered with forests and inhabited by potentially hostile tribal people. Weak accounts of human sacrifice (Meri¯ a ) celebrated in the indigenous villages became the pretext to unite the British colonial possessions, forcibly pacifying the tribes of the area. This is a dark and too often forgotten episode in the colonial history of India, during which many of the Kondh subgroups were brought to the brink of genocide (Campbell 1864; Macpherson 1865). In fact, the British underestimated the potential of alliance bonds between the kings of the jungle kingdoms and the local indigenous communities. While on the one hand the British army did not have much difficulty in isolating, destroying, and eventually annexing the individual potentates still scattered in Odisha in the first half of the nineteenth century, on the other hand it encountered strenuous resistance in the jungle, where the tribes set up a desperate and tenacious guerrilla resistance (van den Bosch 2007, 195–227). Today, it is clear that the campaigns for the suppression of human sacrifice were a mere excuse for waging war on ¯ adiv¯ as¯ıs and pacifying the hilly areas of the interior. Thus, when there was complete certainty that human sacrifices were not celebrated in a particular area, other pretexts were ad hoc created to impose military control, such as suppression of female infanticide or other practices considered “superstitious” by the R¯ aj (Padel 2000). While the military organization gradually gave way to missionary activity, the true logistics of colonial power, the Kondhs continued to fight for their own freedom, autonomy, and cultural identity for almost half a century (Patnaik 1992).
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It is certainly not my intention to maintain an apologetic attitude toward previous Kondh practices, but by their own admission the aforementioned officers Campbell and Mcpherson, together with the agents who served at the time, said there was never any direct evidence of such appalling crime. The documents generally report indirect evidence, i.e., second- and third-hand reconstructions. During their campaigns, the British did not witness these sacrifices. It is quite clear that, though human sacrifice was in fact practiced, British intervention was motivated by conquest under the pretext of a civilizing mission and of safeguarding tribal areas (Padel 2011). Officially, human sacrifice—which was always quite exceptional ritual— is deemed to have been extinguished; its suppression having occurred during Meriah Wars: Tribal leaders are assumed to have accepted the treaties proposed by the British, suspending the ritual activity or replacing it with buffalo sacrifice. The Kondh society—with all its relations with neighboring tribes and potentates in decline—suffered a moment of crisis (Beggiora 2010, 44). A crisis drastically accelerated by the impact of the colonial period leading to a transformation, or rather a simplification, of customs and traditions. The choice of the buffalo as a substitute appears not to be random since it plays a very important role in Kondh symbolism and myth. When I asked the villagers why the Kondhs had operated this kind of substitution, no one referred to legal matters or institutional impositions, but to reasons of mere practicality. But when I asked the same question to the custodians of the religious tradition, such as village priests and shamans, they stressed the ancient brotherhood between man and buffalo in the cosmogonic myth. The buffalo is the domesticated animal par excellence, and it contrasts with the wild and chaotic kingdom of nature. Also in most of India, the buffalo acts as a psychopomp. A shaman also said that the blood of man and buffalo are in a way consubstantial, having the same qualities. This would consecrate the animal as a perfect sacrificial victim for Dharani Pennu, a sort of nature/jungle goddess who embodies the idea of Mother Earth for the Kondhs. Incidentally, even today the buffalo has an important place in sacrificial practices in Asian societies, despite a heated debate with several animal rights contemporary movements. The discourse of the Kondhs, in my opinion, falls within a wide-ranging framework which one finds on the whole South Asia (Hiltebeitel 1988; Biardeau 1981), South East Asia
(Sprenger 2005), and Indonesia (Hoskins 1993). There is a vast scientific literature on the subject. An ancient Kuttia legend, narrated in the epic oral cycle of the Kui Gaani, tells of a sacred place in the forest, currently revered by the Kondhs in the hill of Sop¯angad.¯a, where creation would have taken place. It is a cosmogonic myth blending together the theme of the sacred mountain/sacred wood as the center of the world. The first beings, men and animals, would have come out from a hole in the ground as if it were a primordial uterine birth from “Earth,” mother of all her creatures. The myth is interesting—and I have discussed it elsewhere (Beggiora 2015a)— since it embodies kinship ties between the gochis, or the Kuttia clans, and the forest plants. There is a second myth I wish to mention here which concerns the birth of agriculture. It says that the first men were initially compelled to wander in an infinite arboreal expanse that covered the hills. Upon the recommendation of Dharani Pennu, they found the side of a hill as a suitable place for the settlement of the first villages and for the first subsistence activities. While males had the task of cleaning up the forest with their characteristic axes and of setting the fire, the women had the task of planting in the ashes the first seeds they had brought with them when they were born. The myth of the discovery of agriculture and of a “controlled” fire in the forest (which is a matrix of rebirth) is connected to the traditional tribal agricultural technique known in India as jhum cultivation, or slash and burn. Proto-agricultural practice, entailing a semipermanent lifestyle, has been strongly criticized by local institutions in the subcontinent as a wasteful, risky, ineffective, backward technique, above all because it tends to impoverish the forest land. The tribal movements of resistance to modernization have rebutted this criticism by asserting that these are traditional techniques, which have been used for centuries, and that the indigenous knowledge of the forest has always been guarantor of the respect of the times, of reforestation, and of environmental sustainability. The case of the Kondhs is paradigmatic since it is said that the authorization for such type of subsistence would have come directly from Dharani Pennu. The goddess would have granted them only some areas demarcated by four stones and a s¯ al tree (Shorea robusta): a divine sign recognized by the first men who then replicated it in the so-called kurumunda, an aniconic representation of the goddess and of the surrounding hills, within the villages. But the fertility of the land required a higher act of worship which was, depending on the versions of the myth, the first human or buffalo sacrifice. It is interesting to note that even today the
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sacrifice of the Meri¯a is celebrated right on the kurumundas or at the sacred hill of Sop¯angad.¯a. The festival lasts eight days and the auspicious date is calculated according to the lunar phases starting from the P¯ urn.im¯ a p¯ uj¯ a, before spring in the new year, and culminating with the celebration in the month of Chaitra (March/April). According to tradition, the ritual takes place every year, each time in a different village. The symbolism related to fertility is quite obvious, since the victim’s blood, as it once was, must be spread to the ground; the flesh is then cut and distributed among all local communities. It is buried in the fields while praying for the fertility of the coming year. This is clearly a spring ritual, which I have had the opportunity to document in all its complexity (Beggiora 2010). Although the two communities are clearly distinguishable particularly for the outward appearance of customs and some of uses, in the nearby area of the Dongria Kondhs we can find similar traditions. On analogy with Sop¯angad.¯a, another center of the world is the hill of Niyamgiri R¯aj¯a which has recently been on the center of attention for the attempt to exploit local mineral resources (I will provide some further data below). The indigenous resistance movement in defense of the sacred mountain was animated not only by religious concerns, as the site itself is a representation of the divine, but also because it embodies an ancestral bond with the ancestors of the clans. The Dongrias narrate a similar myth in which the ancestors of their lineages were born there, as well as the fertility of the territory and the abundance of its fruits, directly linked to the proxy of powers and to the knowledge that the Kondhs received from Dharani Pennu. To celebrate this union, the Dongrias perform thirteen main rituals per year including the aforementioned buffalo sacrifice, mainly in the dussehra period with the festival of Jura Parab, in the month of A´svin (September/October). The idea of a mutual embrace exemplifies this kind of relationship existing until recently with the territory. And the celebration of pujas —although with some variations from area to area—suggests a kind of obligation to reciprocate the initial offer of the gods. Actually, the cosmogonic myth unfolds an ontologically complex cosmology made up of multiple relationships with beings that populate an environment perceived as a sort of multiverse. Although the domesticated human space is distinguishable and only partially impermeable to the wild dimension of the forest, this dimension is such only if observed from the center of the village. The overlapping of the spaces of plants, spirits, men, and animals is structured around streams and rivers: There are many in
this area and they are seen as arteries or subtle channels through which the energy and life of the land (or of the sacred mountain as the case may be) flow. In India, such discourse is akin to the mystical physiology of yoga.
The Shadow Line of the Indigenous Knowledge of the Forest Although I do not have a background in botany or pharmaceuticals, often I happened to visit or to be invited in several centers for the study and cataloging of forest plants in India. In Bhubaneswar, capital of the state of Odisha, there are numerous governmental and university initiatives centered on the study and cataloging of plants and their derivatives that according to ¯ adiv¯ as¯ı pharmacopoeia have a medicinal use. These are complemented by the work of various non-governmental groups. With regard to the Kondh culture, the positive, therapeutic, psychotropic effects—or even negative ones—of plants are justified by the sacredness of the botanical dimension. Elsewhere (Beggiora 2015a, 59– 80) I have described in detail how the Kondhs recognize different types of forest: from the subtropical umbrella forest (kambani) that generally distinguishes sacred places, such as those of creation, to the tuleni wood of s¯ al tree, considered taboo since it is linked to the ancestors and the cult of the dead. In these traditions, we find types of wood considered suitable for the construction of houses such as the tala (Borassus flabellifer) and the hentala (Phoenix paludosa), plants used to obtain fermented products (as mohua / mahuli from Madhuca indica or salap / salpo from Caryota urens ), and so on. But undoubtedly the most interesting aspect of the indigenous knowledge of the forest is precisely the local pharmacopoeia that is handed down generation after generation by the depositaries of the Kondh tradition: among them stand shamanic figures like the kuttaka (f. kuttakad.u) for the Kuttias and the bejju (f. bejjuni) for the Dongria Kondhs, or the ordinary village priests known as jani and dissari. Until recently, the Kondh pharmacopoeia presented a truly amazing data archive, the result of a history of survival in the jungle in conditions of partial isolation. Some remedies are met with widely in Indian folklore, others are typical of this area and have recently been cataloged, others are still unknown. Just to mention a few: Acalypha indica (K: Indramarisha), macerated leaves
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for constipation, otalgia, and also used as vermifuge; Nyctanthes arbortristis (harsingar), decoction of leaves for coughs, colds, and malaria; Emblica officinalis (Aola), juice extracted from the fruit against dysentery; for the same purpose, the root powder of Hemidesmus indicus (sugandhi) is used; Adiantum lunulatum (raktakai), root paste applied in case of bone fractures; Bombax ceiba (simuli), secreted gum for menstrual pain; Alangium salvifolium (akel ), bark and roots against various types of poisoning; Lagerstoemia parviflora (senha), bark to heal wounds; and for the same use and skin disorders the stem of Shorea robusta (sal ) for topical use, etc. (Das et al. 2003, 165–227). In contemporary times, lifestyles are quickly changing. Even in the districts with an indigenous majority there is a decline of the traditional techniques, which are replaced by modern medicine and healthcare practices. But in most cases these fail to meet the real needs of the people, which still live in remote areas and in conditions of marginalization. This is why, even in a historical moment of crucial change, Kondh medicine resists and in some areas is the only alternative in case of medical necessity (Sharma et al. 2006, 60–70). Moreover, precisely for these reasons, this traditional knowledge would need a patronization, a valorization, and defense by the institutions (in addition to a formal and somewhat obvious recognition), which, however, is still late in coming. Another intriguing aspect, which I hope to have adequately clarified, is that this type of knowledge is ontologically essential given the ancestral link between the human and botanical dimensions, but above all because this kind of medicine is a social institution and a pillar of indigenous religiosity. Its loss, or any attempt to replace it with something else, would undoubtedly determine a profound cultural impact. In this regard, I present here an example from my own fieldwork. The installation of tube-wells in the early 2000s had required the considerable effort of transporting drilling equipment to the plateau. Furthermore, the workers who came from the cities refused to supply themselves in the local markets of the tribal areas, because these were mainly managed by the Panos, a group of Christianized untouchables. This had unnerved the local Kondh majority, which interpreted it as an excuse to delay the long-awaited works and as a further pretext for marginalization. In the end, although everyone was quite satisfied with the work done, some shamans told me that they would have preferred a seasonal medical dispensary and that this might have been a possible future request. This intrigued me greatly, since I was in the area for an ethnographic survey
concerning ethno-medicine. The explanations given by the kuttakas were very interesting: They emphasized an altogether coherent argument on the theme of viruses/bacteria and their possible connection with pathological illnesses. Evidently, there had recently been information programs about the basic hygiene standards to be adopted in villages, as it occasionally happened. Moreover, in treating cases, the kuttakas recognized that modern medicine was somehow more effective than traditional forest remedies or could integrate itself very well with it. When I asked what was the real usefulness of the presence of a shaman, it was explained to me with an elaborate reasoning that what we mean by the etiology of a disease or disorder is actually nothing but the effects of an imbalance to be sought upstream. This was very interesting to me because since in Central Asian shamanism, every illness or negativity is said to be caused in primis by a subtle or supernatural agent. In the case of the Kondhs, their main deity is Kamani Pennu (or Komani/Komati) which may be considered the tribal counterpart of T.h¯akur¯an¯ı, the goddess of the forests of Odisha but also the deity of diseases and their remedies. Within certain limits, we might consider ´ ıtal¯ her as having the function of M¯a S¯ a in Hindu India (Ferrari 2016, 132). Moreover, among the Kondhs Kamani, the black lady with the pure white dhot¯ı, is the power inspiring shamans during trance sessions and the deity who reveals to them the secrets of medicine during dreams. Another entity linked both to the forest and to the pathological etiology is Soru Pennu, god of the hills (Jena et al. 2006, 133–135). These deities— being themselves forms or emanations of Dharani, the earth, the forest, nature—are believed to spread diseases in particular times of crisis. The fact that this thought is not to be related to a sort of divine will, of providence or fate, common to other religions, but rather to a holistic perspective of harmony/disharmony with the environment, is justified by the fact that the causes of all negativities are always connected to a broken taboo and to an imbalance of the natural order. Aku saritei in Kui is the generic expression that indicates a sort of “overexposure” of the individual to the natural elements, a condition that underlies his weakening and the incipience of a pathology (id., 260ff ). Overexposure means that the humans have trespassed or interfered in an excessive manner with the non-humans or with a milieu beyond his control. The demographic growth of the villages and the consequent greater needs of the communities, the uncontrolled deforestation, the disturbance of the hunting territory of animals considered sacred or taboo, as we will
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see later, are classic examples of troubled natural order. Even through invisible ways, not obvious to man, this distress will bring about different types of negativity on the people and the environment. In the Kondh pantheon—a term that I cannot find fully appropriate since it applies a Western category to an indigenous system of ontological pluriverse— every subtle entity, spirit, or divinity is called pennu. The pennus, from neutral entities or at most benevolent, can turn into nefarious agents and become the vehicle of every fallout of a troubled order. In the next section, I will present some examples of this. But what seems important to me is to point out how, in the case of the Kondhs, the traditional shamanic perspective, though based on a worldview which is radically different from modern scientific thought, does not deny it and remains perfectly consistent with it. The attempt to explore the possibility of a coexistence of the two systems, as suggested by the kuttakas with regard to the medical dispensary project, is in my opinion a point which deserves utmost attention.
Ontological Perception of Disasters The Dongria Kondhs are therefore one of many such communities pitted against the totalizing logic of the Indian state. For the past decade or so, they have fought against Vedanta Resources, a London-based Indianowned multinational mining company listed on the Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 Index, which planned to turn the Niyamgiri sacred hill into a billion-dollar bauxite mine (Hazarika, cit., 147). The company collaborated with a state-owned mining company, the Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC), and accordingly, it was an arm of the state pushing for the mine, but in 2013, India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests finally rejected their proposal (Borde 2019, 167–181). A few years earlier, in August 2009, following a complaint filed by Survival International, India’s National Human Rights Commission wrote to the Government of Odisha demanding a full report of its joint venture mining project with Vedanta (Padel and Samarendra 2010). In April 2013, India’s Supreme Court upheld the ban on mining in the Niyamgiri hill range and ruled that the rights of the Dongria Kondh communities had to be taken into account in deciding whether the mining project should go ahead. In fact, it is illegal for “tribal” land, which is protected under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, to be transferred to a private company. Then, there were other issues disputed such as the debate
around the involvement of local populations or rather land alienation and displacement. The fact that the company did not comply with the correct protocol of information and involvement of the administrative units of the villages, the panchayats, was fully documented and had its weight in the controversy. The environmental impact is an issue under investigation. The digestion of bauxite with sodium hydroxide, necessary for the production of aluminum, produces a waste residue in the form of red mud. It has a high content of calcium and sodium hydroxide which makes it very caustic and a very dangerous source of pollution. The large orange spot that widens along the watercourses that cross a formally protected natural habitat is clearly visible from satellite photos as well as on the territory. Although so far an overall and exhaustive evaluation has not yet been made, in August 2013 all 12 tribal villages voted against the Vedanta’s project in the Niyamgiri hills. Consequently, in January 2014, the Ministry for Environment and Forests decided not to allow the mining project to go ahead. In April 2016, the Supreme Court blocked the attempt by the Odisha’s state government to begin mining in the Niyamgiri hills, the local government arguing that the 2013 referendum was flawed (Marszal 2016). Having to take stock, for the sake of synthesis, it is interesting to note that the victory of the Kondhs was possible thanks to a movement with a resilient internal cohesion and a vast support by various individuals and organizations, at a national and international level. The cause of the Kondhs has therefore become emblematic and highly symbolic of an indigenous world that fights against a capitalist logic that, all in all, goes well beyond the specific Indian scenario. Indeed, there is a lot of material on the Kondh issue, so much so that someone even compared the incident to the plot of James Cameron’s Avatar, the famous science fiction film of 2009 (Taylor 2013). But if one battle is won, the destiny of the conflict is anything but clear. The romanticized and medialized perspective on the Kondh issue has lost its appeal given that it’s just a drop in the sea: There are hundreds of similar scenarios in India, and many are little known or even ignored. These typically involve a mining activity and the alienation of the land of ¯ adiv¯ as¯ıs (Patnaik 2009, 187–204; Wang 2020: chapter IV). A low-intensity conflict such as the Naxalite resistance has been fought for a very long time, often leveraging on tribal consensus from below, but implying dynamics that go well beyond indigenous issues. On the other hand, Odisha is part of the so-called Red Corridor in which
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state institutions and the People Liberation Guerrilla Army compete for territorial control (Das 2018, 271–284; Kennedy 2015, 149–164). Indeed, although the case of the Kondhs seems to be clear enough, by deploying a struggle for indigenous rights vs. institutions, the risk of simplification is always looming. One has to keep in mind that in other similar scenarios in the Indian subcontinent there are several players at stake: It would therefore be necessary to distinguish between the main legal directives of the Indian state, the mediation of the federated states, and the activities of mining companies. The extraction activity of multinationals is one of the many responses to a policy, now more than twenty years old, of opening up markets aimed at attracting foreign direct investment, as well as a means of supporting the pressure of GDP in constant growth. The factors accelerating the implementation of MoUs, often resorting to illegality (Das and Mahapatra 2017, 64–72), are manifold and too complex to be analyzed here. But the fact that judiciary institutions often take sides in favor of local resilient movements, or at least try to slow down land exploitation, is a clear sign of a system whose complexity is short-circuited on itself (Kumar 2014, 196–206; Chandra 2019, 159–179). From an anthropological point of view, it is interesting to note that, through appropriate adaptation strategies, the Kondhs have survived their own history and have been able to keep up with the greatest economic empires. In the past, although subjugated by colonial power, they managed to maintain their identity and, at the sunset of the British R¯ aj and the ancient principalities, they resisted in their jungles, practicing the same rites to Mother Earth. In defense of Mother Earth today, they appear to be able to stand up to multinationals with great dignity. Whenever the institutions have tried to go against the religious identity of the people, they have always irretrievably lost. The example of the jhum cultivation mentioned above is most fitting. Their cosmogonic myth embodies a relationship of ancestry to the land which establishes their right to cultivate it. And this is precisely the secret knowledge that symbolically marks the boundary between sustainability and nonreversible exploitation. Every attempt to prove that slash & burn is a backward and potentially destructive method has run aground on the scenario of the hillsides, devastated by modern bauxite mines. Once again it is not my intention to romanticize the lifestyle of indigenous communities by claiming that it is wholly sustainable: It has been widely demonstrated that since the discovery of agriculture man has always tried
to change the environment for his own survival. On the other hand, the sustainability of this technique has been guaranteed by the fact that it was applied by small, often semi-sedentary groups; perhaps it is not conceivable in an era of strong demographic growth. Moreover, it is an extremely expensive method in terms of energy and resources. Nevertheless, so far it has worked. On the other hand, when the companies began to barter the ideological issue with concrete advantages, like offering salaries for wage labor in the plants—i.e., immediate and assured remuneration—the comparison with the fatigue and the precariousness of the jhum couldn’t compete. And it is true that over the last few years the ideal of change, development, and modernity, embodied as a chimera by the companies, has attracted the consensus of many tribals. Some leaders that once led the resistance movements now are promoters of mining interests among the villages. This fact is very interesting and presents a kind of conundrum. We are accustomed to a fifty-year time of criticism about the debate on tribal policies, on which the Indian government has constantly wavered. Nonetheless, such contradictions within tribal communities reveal a sort of unease and uncertainty, scarcely discussed in academia. Although it would perhaps be more correct to speak of bribery cases through waged work and other interventions in the area, these dynamics characterize the dilemmas of indigenous peoples in the face of “development” (Pandey 2018). The identity discourse is problematic: On one side, it lends itself to a certain kind of essentialism—which centers on the ¯ adiv¯ as¯ı cultural context based upon language and cosmogonic myths—and on the other, it fails to acknowledge its integrative potential with other cultures. Thus, we witness the fragmentation of the different indigenous causes, which are disconnected one from the other, by virtue of their distinctive ancestrality. It is a time of great change and certainty that the pressure exerted by the above on the small indigenous communities is creating a sense of general disorientation. Despite the temporary/tentative “victory” of the Kondh cause, it is the overall general context that is changing. Displacement practices are frequent also in the districts of neighboring states (Munshi 2015, Section V, 239–273). The growing demography of indigenous villages is nevertheless an objective result of the improvement of living conditions, even in difficult environments such as those of some ¯ adiv¯ as¯ıs. This has an inevitable impact on the environment and on the concept of sustainability itself. In addition to this, there are processes of transformation of
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the territory as a result of regional, if not global, phenomena, such as deforestation, climate change, and soil erosion, of which mining is one of the contributing factors. If, as it is wished by many, the Indian government will decide to eventually appoint the Kondh communities as managers of the territory, custodians of the forest reserves, and managers of the products and of the resulting exploitation, the institutions will in any case have won in radically changing the local mentality. That is, on the one hand, the natives will be proud of having a positive and important task, as happened elsewhere; however, on the other hand, the idea will prevail that they still do not own the land, nor do they have control of it. They shall be, as is now a general tendency, temporal managers of a jungle plot: In other words, they will become guests in what was once the territory of their fathers. The consequence on Kondh culture is that of an estrangement: There is thus a crucial dilemma on the future of these communities that feel they are somehow losing contact with a territory with which there was once a very strong relationship. Here, then, the imagination of the pennus spirits is increasingly tinged with gloomy shades: It represents a sense of despair for that ancestral relationship between man and the earth that man has not been able to preserve. And so nature takes its revenge. To give an example, the drastic reduction of the tuleni type of forest, sacred to the dead, is considered as the infringement of a taboo, even if not related to the action of an individual. This is the basis of a series of stories of fear about ghosts and souls in pain that from a liminal context start to “walk” in the places of the living, interfering with them. These are ancestral spirits generically related to trees, regardless of their species: They are called maara (tree) pennus (spirits/deities). In the event of some negativity or fault committed by the community, it is believed that they emanate a sort of psychic entity called boirbisa, which by flying or being carried by the wind in the same way as insects can attach itself to individuals causing them some disease. The shaman has the task of extracting the insect through a ritual which includes songs/singing—a procedure on the body of the patient: the performance of suction or the use of ritual weapons (see also Jena et al. 2006, 263), which will then be followed by an investigation to identify the type of plant and the real cause of the attack. What is interesting here is the idea that there exists a profound link between a person’s malaise and the trees. Something analogous happens with other evil spirits that cross the jungle, called kathi, apparently resembling the vet¯ ala, or the vampire of
the Hindu tradition, draining the blood and the vital energies of its victim. Similarly, Ganghi Pennu embodies the waters and streams that cross the hills: The case of river pollution is connected with the danger of the spirits in charge of the circulation of this element. Yam Pennu (perhaps a loan from Sanskrit Yama?) is a demon, or rather a multiplicity of nefarious entities that roam the forest spreading death and accidents of various kinds. On the animal realm, some years ago I published a work highlighting the same dynamics (Beggiora 2013, 93–107). For a long time, stories have been recorded throughout Odisha relating to were-tigers (p¯ alt.a b¯ agha) whose tradition seems to be especially rooted and articulated in the Kondh area (kr.¯ ad.i ml¯ıpa / ml¯ıva and kai kr.ani). Legends similar to lycanthropy in anthropology are studied as cases of therianthropy (human to animal transformation), of shape-shifting, though locally they are generally related to something obscure, nefarious, witchcraft related. In addition to being a splendid opportunity to study Kondh religiosity and the interaction of shamans with the subtle world, this could be a sort of structural-functionalist way to explain the discomfort caused by a radically changing environment that also negatively affects the animals’ behavior. This magical world is superimposed, without contradiction, with the fact that tigers show anomalous behavior due to the drastic reduction of forests. It is interesting to note that a statistical peak in the recording of cases of were-tigers was reported during the colonial wars, in which the jungle was the field of a bloody combat, and equally today, when these wooded hills are besieged by mining activities. This situation determines a sort of metanarrative, often shared in other forms, and in different languages, but with analogous contents in other indigenous communities suffering the same fate—a metanarrative which clearly enucleates all the crucial aspects of a liminal social process. “Because of the jungle, the earth, the wind, the water, all the animals and birds, men and women were all born and survived, we cannot let go of this earth, and the earth cannot let go of us” (Hazarika 2018, 150).
Conclusions and Future Perspectives: How to Be Modern and Related Ideological Conflicts I remember an interesting book of some years ago (1980) by Michael Taussig, which explored the transformation of the Andean indigenous religion at the time of arrival of the mining companies. The difference between the Indian scenario and that of Bolivia and Colombia is that
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the exploitation of resources in the Indian tribal area is to some extent a novelty. In South America, however, the mining reality is epochal and indigenous minorities have always been considered a low-cost labor pool. Taussig documents a sort of battle between the traditional cult of Mother Earth (pacha mama) and a rampant figure of the devil, being the representation of a real conflict entailing the salvation or destruction of local cultures. The masculine power, embodied in a foreign symbol taken from the culture of colonial conquest, is considered prone to the destruction of the indigenous community, while the feminine power, viewed as the incarnation of indigenous interests, preserves it and keeps it under control. But that devil is not the only negative entity—and not even considered negative in an absolute sense—when the community is forced to barter its culture (its soul?) with the destructive and re-creative power of goods and profit. Even according to Taussig (2017, 270–271), the magnetic power of the earth is immanent in the human and vegetable worlds; plants and humans energize each other in a dialectical exchange. This energy, even for the Kondhs, is inseparable from the awareness that the shaman calls “vision”: that same vision uniting men to the spirits of the ancestors and to the mountains. In this reciprocal exchange, there is a sort of enlightenment (to use a quasi-comparative terminology with the Hindu world): Shamanic knowledge unfolds access to it, to the mixing of diversities so as to form an ontological whole. On the other hand, modernity has brought about another type of transformation setting in motion a very different dynamic: The exchange forged by the capitalist market leads the individual to consider that the social fabric, as well as the world of relations with the surrounding environment, is a means to his private ambition. The concept of exchange is therefore no longer an end in itself, but an instrument of profit or loss. The approach to the reality of mines and to social and territorial “development,” at least as understood by Indian institutions today, forces ¯ adiv¯ as¯ıs to come to terms with a new type of exchange. This kind of cultural compromise, which may or may not be accepted in the future, seems to be the final catastrophe for the Kondhs, alongside the long series of human and environmental disasters of the last centuries. On the other hand, it is no longer possible to speak of cultural oysters, or cultures that can still be isolated or insulated from each other. The opening up, the intercultural dialogue, and the cross-cultural fertilization have determined two seemingly contradictory processes of globalization and localization/indigenization, in the recent history of humanity.
The coexistence of these two processes, as in the paradigmatic case of ¯ adiv¯ as¯ıs and/or the Kondhs, is indicative of the phenomenon of the resilience of cultures. It is interesting to investigate how these processes operate and to relate to each other in any given cultural setting and how new equations are worked out (Atal 2015, 180–181). But what is more important is that the inevitable opening of the Kondhs does not end up eradicating them from their cultural matrix. Of course the risk is that one’s exit from a condition of isolation may be synonymous with homologation and may not guarantee one’s emancipation from a condition of marginalization. The Indian policies on the tribal issue have so far adopted three major methods to avoid this, namely: the reservationist strategy, having to do with the protection of the sites and the creation of “cultural islands”; the strategy of putting the tribals on stage, organizing festivals and cultural performances; and finally the strategy of displacement or the acquisition of artifacts and samples of material culture, original or mystified, in order to establish tribal museums (and eventually rethinking the concept of musealization as an inclusive process so as to transform the museum into a cultural center). However, each of these strategies has negative aspects or side effects that so far have not been resolved. But above all, they don’t shed light on how indigenous cultures cope with the destruction of their environment. This is why studying the concept of resilience is absolutely essential, especially at this crucial time since it implies the ability to rethink important ethical and aesthetic issues of which modern man has perhaps lost sight.
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Hazarika, Utsa. 2018. “‘The Earth Cannot Let Go of Us’: Analysing Ontological Conflicts.” Ethnos 83 (1): 136–155. Hiltebeitel, Alf. 1988. The Cult of Draupadi Volume 1: Mythologies: From Gingee to Kuruksetra. Chicago: Chicago University Press. Hoskins, Janet. 1993. “Violence, Sacrifice, and Divination: Giving and Taking Life in Eastern Indonesia.” American Ethnologist 20 (1): 159–178. Jena, K. Mihir, et al. 2006. Forest Tribes of Orissa, Vol. 2: The Kuttia Kondh. New Delhi: DK Printworld. Kennedy, Jonathan. 2015. “The Socioeconomic Determinants of Natural Resource Conflict: Minerals and Maoist Insurgency in India (Society and Natural Resources).” (Routledge) Society and Natural Resources International Journal 28 (2): 149–164. Kumar, Sanjay. 2001. “Indigenous Communities’ Knowledge of Local Ecological Services.” Economic and Political Weekly 36 (30): 2859–2869. Kumar, Kandan. 2014. “The Sacred Mountain: Confronting Global Capital at Niyamgiri.” Geoforum 54: 196–206. Macpherson, William. 1865. Memorials of Service in India, from the Correspondence of the Late Major Samuel Charters Macpherson, C.B., Political Agent at Gwalior during the Mutiny, and Formerly Employed in the Suppression of Human Sacrifices in Orissa. Edited by his Brother William Macpherson. London: John Murray. Marszal, Andrew. 2016. “Indian Tribe in New Court Fight to Save Sacred Mountain.” The Telegraph [online], March 26. https://www.telegraph.co. uk/news/2016/03/26/indian-tribe-in-new-court-fight-to-save-sacred-mou ntain/. Maskarinec, Gregory G. 2004. “Overview: South Asia, the Himalayas, and Tibet.” In Shamanism: An Encyclopedia of World Beliefs, Practices, and Culture, edited by Namba M. Walter and Eva J. Neumann Fridman, 741–743. Santa Barbara, Denver, and Oxford: ABC-CLIO. Ministry of Tribal Affairs. 2013. Statistical Profile of Scheduled Castes in India. New Delhi: Government of India (Statistic Division). Ministry of Tribal Affairs/United Nations Development Programme. 2014. Forest Rights Act, 2006. Act, Rules and Guidelines. New Delhi: Government of India. ¯ as¯ı Question: Issues of Land Forest and Munshi, Indra, ed. 2015. The Adiv¯ Livelihood. New Delhi: Orient BlackSwan. Padel, Felix. 2011. Sacrificing People: Invasions of a Tribal Landscape. New Delhi: Orient BlackSwan. Padel, Felix. 2000. The Sacrifice of Human Being: British Rule and the Konds of Orissa. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. ¯ as¯ıs Padel, Felix, and Das Samarendra. 2010. Out of This Earth: East India Adiv¯ and the Aluminum Cartel. New Delhi: Orient BlackSwan.
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Pandey, D. Annapurna. 2018. “Kondhs’ Resistance Movement to Save Sacred Niyamgiri, Odisha.” In Indigenous Perspectives on Sacred Natural Sites: Culture, Governance and Conservation, edited by J. Liljeblad and B. Verschuuren, 61–88. New York: Routledge. Patnaik, R. Nihar. 1992. History and Culture of Khond Tribes. New Delhi: Commonwealth Publisher. Patnaik, Karunakar. 2009. “Land Alienation and Other Land Related Issue in Tribal Area: An Overview.” In Critical Issues in Tribal Development, edited by Ota B. Akhil, 187–204. Bhubaneswar: Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Research and Training Institute. Ravindranath, H., and Sudha Parvathi Nijavalli. 2004. Joint Forest Management in India: Spread, Performance and Impact. Hyderabad: Universities Press. Sharma, N. Awadesh, Rajesh K. Gautam, and Ajay K. Gharami. 2006. Indigenous Health Care and Ethno-Medicine. New Delhi: Sarup & Sons. Snodgrass, Jeffrey G., et al. 2008. “Of Leopards and Other Lovely Frightful Things: The Environmental Ethics of Indigenous Rajasthani Shamans.” Journal for the Study of Religion Nature and Culture: 30–54. Sprenger, Guido. 2005. “The Way of the Buffaloes: Trade and Sacrifice in Northern Laos.” Ethnology 44 (4): 291–312. Taussig, Michael. 1987. Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man: A Study in Terror and Healing. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. Taussig, Michael. 2017. Il Diavolo e il Feticismo della Merce. Antropologia dell’Alienazione nel “Patto col Diavolo.” Roma: DeriveApprodi [I ed. 1980. The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press]. Taylor, Jason. 2013. “Real ‘Avatar’ Tribe Deals Fatal Blow to Vedanta Mine.” Survival International, August 19. https://www.survivalinternational.org/ news/9478. van den Bosch, P. Lourens. 2007. “Human Sacrifice Among the Kondhs.” In The Strange World of Human Sacrifice, edited by J. N. Bremmer, 195–227. Leuven: Peeters. Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo. 1998. “Cosmological Deixis and Amerindian Perspectivism.” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 4 (3): 469–488. Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo. 2005. “Perspectivism and Multinaturalism in Indigenous America.” In The Land Within: Indigenous Territory and the Perception of Environment, edited by Alexandre Surallés and Pedro García Hierro, 36–74. Copenhagen: International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs. Wang, Keren. 2020. Legal and Rhetorical Foundations of Economic Globalization: An Atlas of Ritual Sacrifice in Late-Capitalism. New York: Routledge (forthcoming).
Unblocking the Blockage Between Earth and Heaven: Shamanic Space for Cultural Intimacy in China Naran Bilik
The Legendary Blocking of the Passage Between Earth and Heaven King Zhao of the Chu dynasty (1115–223 BCE) asked Minister Guan She Fu: “the Book of the Zhou Dynasty talks about Zhong and Li who stopped heavenly gods and earthly folks from having direct contact with each other, why is that? If they did not stop them, does it mean that folks on Earth could travel to Heaven?” Minister Guan She Fu answered: In ancient times ministers in charge of folk affairs did not mix with those in charge of sacred affairs. Amongst the human beings those who were smart and dedicated would always treat gods with piety and awe… People like them could have gods descend onto their bodies, and the men were known as Xi, and the women known as Wu. They were charged with the
N. Bilik (B) Fudan University, Shanghai, China e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2021 D. Riboli et al. (eds.), Dealing with Disasters, Palgrave Studies in Disaster Anthropology, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-56104-8_10
responsibility of working out the residential plan of gods, the placing of sacrificial offerings… When it came to the late period of Shao Gao, Jiu Li from the south turned turmoil into ethical governance, and ministers in charge of folks and those in charge of gods got mixed up without distinction. Everyone could hold sacrificial rituals and every family could appoint their own shaman at the cost of piety and awe. Folks did not have enough offerings for the gods, and the gods could not therefore bless them. The offering of sacrifice was chaotic; men and gods became equal… Having come to the throne Zhuan Xu ordered Minister Zhong who was in the standing of yang to take full charge of all sacrificial offerings to gods, and Minister Li who was in the standing of yin to take full charge of governance of earthly people. All was put back into order as before, and the mutual interference between gods and people was terminated. (Zuo 1995, 637–638)
The Chinese classical legend has it that shamans had been in charge of religious matters enabling gods in heaven and folks on earth visit each other along the laddered passage. Due to the aforementioned imperial decision, however, the connection between gods and early folks was severed and they could not visit each other freely from now on. The “heavenly ministers” whose function was to communicate with heavenly gods were appointed. Meanwhile, the “earthly ministers” were put in charge of the general population and earthly matters. They greatly weakened the power of shamans who were ousted eventually from bureaucratic institutions. The legend is a metaphor suitable for describing the functioning of bureaucratic institutions in modern times. Human society, in its developmental trajectory of modernity, spanning from “print capitalism” to “digital capitalism,” has entered an age when symbols tend to have completely “subdued” icons and indexes, resulting in symbolic carnivals and iconic-indexical death in the official discourse. However, in daily dealings among common citizens, both symbolic types and iconic-indexical tokens are well connected creatively for producing new meanings. Based on the aforementioned legend of blocking of the passage between earth and heaven Professor Kwang-chih Chang (1931–2001) argued, challenging the well-received wisdom, that China has once experienced a Shamanistic Civilization in classical times. Ch’en Meng-chia, who has greatly influenced Chang, interpreted the Chinese word wu as a dancer, a fortune-teller, a doctor, a spirit, and a king (Ch’en 2016, 90–91). Following the line of argument held by Ch’en and Chang, and drawing on fieldwork experiences of others and my own, I try to make
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the point that pan-shamanic practice is still widespread in daily life among the Chinese people though it is overlaid with the statist symbolism, and it serves as the keeper of sociocultural ecology that connects local practice to official ideology in the realm of “cultural intimacy.” My aim is to revision China through the metaphor of shamanism and to argue that shamanism facilitates the ecological balance between official and non-official realms. Pan-shamanic practice is indexical to a balanced society which is capable of creating new spaces that allow polyphonic views to overlap through cross-realm communication. As Michael Herzfeld said that: … [T]hose states that succeed in achieving a measure of stability are not those that crack down hard on the slightest sign of minor rebellion. To the contrary—and, for many, counter-intuitively—they are those that tolerate a certain degree of disobedience, naughtiness, and even political dissidence…it is in those countries where officials take a relaxed and pragmatic attitude to the application of the law that we generally find the greatest degree of stability and the greatest degree of accommodation between state and citizens. (Herzfeld 2016, 1)
Analogical Shamanism: Family Resemblance1 The power of shamans comes from their ability of entering an alternative state of consciousness and of controlling “the movement of energy between the worlds” (Pratt 2007, viii). Quite analogically, while modern scientists “view the cosmos as web of interconnected and interrelated events,” theorists of relativity “state that mass is nothing more than a different manifestation of energy” (Moran et al. 2005, 22–23). David Bohm has developed a new notion of order, that is, “a universe of unbroken wholeness,” which consists of the implicate or enfolded order where “an entirely different sort of basic connection of elements is possible,” and where our ordinary notions of space and time are presented as explicate or unfolded order (Bohm 1980, xviii). These aforementioned authors seem to agree that there exists hidden energy in the universe that can be studied, engineered, and controlled either in “an alternative state of consciousness” or in a library or a laboratory. Though researchers in China are still arguing whether shamanism is a widespread phenomenon in China and is therefore named as such,2 a family resemblance exists in folk practices in many parts of the country: Costumes, instruments, ritual procedures and scenarios, and so forth are
either mostly or partially shared. At least one author (Song 2013, 2) believes that shamanism belongs to wu (Song 2013). That is to say, shamanism is a kind of wu that we find in North China as well as in other parts of Asia, Europe, and Americas. He insists that wu in the southern part of China is known for possession and uses many similar magical instruments, among which drums of different types and knives of various shapes are representative.3 According to the analysis of Kwangchih Chang, the “blockage story” or, rather, the “severing myth,” a term he quoted, is indexical to shamanism and “provides the crucial clue to understanding the central role of shamanism in ancient Chinese politics” (Chang 1983, 45). Chang also quotes Ch’en Meng-chia who points out that the gait of the Great Yü, one of the founders of the three dynasties (2200–256 BCE), who “was powerful enough to stem the flood,” became a shamanic stylistic gait (Chang 2013, 45). Since ancient time, shamanic wu have been “experts in exorcism, prophecy, fortune-telling, rain-making and interpretation of dreams” (Chang 2013, 47). The Chinese practice of feng shui, which is closely linked with wu, also contains many elements that otherwise belong to the phenomenon of shamanism. Besides erudite textual knowledge, feng shui masters are well known to be expert on many kinds of divinatory technique, including the grass divination, or shi in Chinese. The word shi graphically depicts a wu or a shaman who practices the art of grass divination. Quoting Ch’en Meng-chia who studied the oracle bone inscriptions, Chang asserts in agreement with Ch’en that the ancient kings of early China are actually shamans themselves: In the oracle bone inscriptions are often encountered inscriptions stating that the king divined or that the king inquired in connection with windor rainstorms, rituals, conquests, or hunts. There are also statements that ‘the king made the prognostication that …,’ pertaining to weather, the border regions, or misfortunes and diseases; the only prognosticator ever recorded in the oracle bone inscriptions was the king … There are, in addition, inscriptions describing the king dancing to pray for rain and the king prognosticating about a dream. All of these were activities of both king and shaman, which means in effect that the king was a shaman. (Chang 2013, 45–47)
In addition to grass divination, as the Chinese word bu indicates, ancient Chinese also heat the shoulder blades of animals and turtle shells and interpreting the resultant cracks. What is more, the Chinese ancestors
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practiced astrology as well as chronomancy, oneiromancy, scapulimancy, and plastromancy. These techniques are similar or close to those that shamans employ such as rolling a pearl on the surface of a bronze mirror, dripping water into the ear of an sacrificial pig, running over burning coals, and so on. Feng shui is defined as “the art and science of living in harmony with your living space” (Moran et al. 2005, xvii). By observing heavenly (time) and earthly (interior and exterior space) forces and ways the stream of energy involved interact, feng shui masters set to balance those forces for the benefit of better health, wealth, and relationships (Moran et al. 2005, 8). Feng shui masters as well as shamans must rely on the five senses of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. They both make use of divinatory methods, which were popular in ancient China. Metropolitan cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, modernized as they were, have been planned in agreement with the idea of feng shui according to unofficial knowledge. As the folk saying goes, “A state has its predestination, and so does a city. Baidu, the Chinese version of Google, has this to say: China has 6 cities that enjoy good feng shui: Bagua Cheng, Kunming, Wenzhou, Hengyang, Shenzhen, and Beijing.4 Take Bagua Cheng of Xinjiang for example, according to the website, also known as Teksh, it spreads out from the city park. Legend has it that in the year 1230, the Great Mongolian Chinggis Khan invited the Daoist master Qiu Chuji to build the city, and after 700 years, in 1992, Qiu’s descendant, another feng shui master, rebuilt the city. Bagua Cheng is now a symbol that signifies the feng shui turn of urban studies in China.” Back in 1990s, when I was conducting fieldwork among the Yao in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, the locals insisted that I was a geomancer though I kept telling them that I had been a geological worker before going to university. They had that time both dao gong who were specialized for performance and shi gong who were expert in magical scriptures. Those masters, who use a knife, a gao (a kind of wooden dice), drinking cups, and incense, perform all kinds of rituals to drive out evil spirits, cure diseases, tell fortune, and decide where to build a house, and so on. According to local knowledge, the direction to which ancestral tombs face is decisive for one’s social promotion. An informant told me that a Yao person he knew well became a high-ranking official thanks to the right direction to which his ancestral tombs had been built. He said in Chinese fentou xiu de hao (literally, “the tomb-head is well built or located”). In the same village where I conducted fieldwork for 6 months,
the Party secretary was also a shaman. He read Party documents to the Party members in day time and performed shamanic rituals at night. His seemingly contradictory roles have been semiotically merged to produce unexpected, sometimes quite pleasant at least in the eye of the authorities, results. I was told by my informant, once the local government planned to build a road over the mountain ridge to improve travel conditions for villagers but was only to be met with strong protests from the expected beneficiaries. The villagers claimed that the road to be built would destroy the dragon vein where their dead ancestors reside. To avoid any disastrous confrontation between the authorities and the locals, which could sometimes escalate into a bloodshed and a social turmoil that would lead to demotion or punishment of responsible local officials, the Party secretary of the village came to the timely rescue. He held a shamanic ritual at night and pleaded with ancestors for help. After a few performances, the ancestors descended and told him that it was alright for their children to open a road over the dragon vein. They were happy to see their offspring benefit from newly built road. Our “skin,” the ancestors said, is thick and strong enough to withstand the road construction. The following morning, the Party secretary informed the villagers of the message. To the great relief of the local authorities, the protests stopped and construction went ahead. The paraphernalia of the shaman-Party secretary, such as magic knife, drinking cups, and “scriptures,” provided contextual icons and indexes that served to creatively connect the local shamanic cosmology with the Party ideology, and came up with a brand-new semiotic blending. We may notice that in many parts of China local wu or ritual specialists similar to a wu do not have to experience possession or séance as a component part of prognostication as “normal” shamanic performance requires. However, their paraphernalia and many elements of their performance, such as drums and compasses-cum-mirrors, and singing and dancing, are close to those of Tungus shamans. Analogic connections between Tungus shamans and others exist in such a way that “the definitive attribute keeps changing from one link to the next.” Rodney Needham provides a good example to illustrate such polythetic connectedness or “family resemblance,” “illustrated by a comparison of three hypothetical societies (A, B, C), each constituted by three features (p, … v)”:
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p, q, r
r, s, t t, u, v
(Needham 1975, 351) We immediately notice in the table above that feature r is shared by A and B, t by B and C, but not by A and C. The conclusion is that “a class is composed by sporadic resemblances” (Needham 1975, 352). Pan-shamanic, rather than shamanic, arts are analogically connected by way of family resemblance. Some features are shared by many but not by all. For divination, shamanistic masters employ various instruments and substance from tobaccos, hallucinogens, drums, bronze mirrors, compasses to caps, tridents, and dices. A particular shaman in a particular region may use one or some of them and may not get into an alternative state of consciousness as, for example, in the case of feng shui practice widespread in China and the dao gong ritual of the Yao people in the south, where practicing masters rely on their instruments rather than corporeal afflictions the way a Siberian shaman does to connect with gods.
Pan-Shamanic Practice: A Space of Cultural Intimacy Inspired by Michael Herzfeld (2016), the author holds the view that panshamanic practice provides an informal space of cultural intimacy, a space not open to outsiders whose inquisitive gaze may only bring embarrassment, and where both officials and non-officials feel the commonality of mutual acknowledgment without any sense of awkwardness. Besides fulfilling official duties, bureaucrats also need to take care of their own well-being, which is “materialized” in banal, everyday life in which he or she shares privacy with relatives and close friends. Uncertainty and unpredictability as regards their social mobility and political correctness. They are serious about the feng shui indexical to their promotion, their health and livelihood, their house and its surroundings. Many of them privately go to temples, meet feng shui masters (surreptitiously, of course), and seek help from shamans (in confidence, again). In the same way, commoners
also make use of the shared space of cultural intimacy to their own advantage. Here, the An Shan Society for the Study of Shamanic Folk Culture in Northeast China can serve as a telling case. The society was officially established on 21 March 2017, due to the effort of Mr. Teng Ping,5 the principal organizer and a fortune-teller himself, who worked closely with the Office of Culture Industry of the An Shan government. Recently, he enlisted Xibe (a minority group in Northeast China and Xinjing) shamanic dance as an item of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) in his application to the local authorities. It is not easy to establish any official society or association of religion or religion studies without the authorization of the Party and the state. However, Mr. Teng Ping did exactly this. He took two steps. First, he claimed that the society he was going to ask for government permission to establish involves “shamanic culture” (saman wenhua), not “shamanism” or “shamanic religion” (saman jiao). Second, his society was going to be an organization affiliated with the Association of Culture Industry of the An Shan City, headed by a former official. The strategy worked, and the Society for the Study of Shamanic Folk Culture was soon established. Mr. Teng Ping became its founding director. In two years, the society has developed into an organization that has around 300 members belonging to 20 subbranches, respectively located in Beijing, Tianjin, Qinhuangdao, Dalian, Changchun, Jilin, and Harbin. The leadership actively seeks advice from the municipal government whose officials also involved in the management of the society. The society has two departments in charge of human resources and finance in addition to secretariat. Mr. Teng also affiliated the society with the China Society of Religion, which officially belongs to the Institute of World Religions, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Teng’s efforts have gained legitimacy for shamanism and converted shamanism as religion, which may allegedly pose a threat to the authorities, to shamanism as culture, which is safely categorized as part of Chinese “soft power” or “ICH” (Intangible Cultural Heritage), and can be put to “good use.” Officials can now ceremonially show up at the shamanic ritual, which is cleared of the name of “superstitious activity” for this negotiated moment, claiming in their opening address that shamanism is part of our important traditional culture. Mr. Teng is an expert in locating the right place of cultural intimacy at the right time with a very good judgment of what the government needs. China is growing ever stronger and needs to show its “soft power” that boasts its antiquity and brings cultural confidence. Shamanic culture,
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together with feng shui and others, attracts attention for its discursive power on the arena of international competition for symbolic dominance. On 10 April 2019, I was invited to attend the Annual Meeting of Society for the Study of Shamanic Folk Customs, Association of Cultural Industry of the Anshan City. In the PPT slides, such formulated “guidance” is included: Shamanic culture originated prehistorically and has been widespread in the world and it is most popular in the Volga River Basin, the regions inhabited by the Finns, and the Siberia. Shamanic culture can be traced back to the antiquity in China, and shamans are believed to be capable of controlling the weather, telling fortune, interpreting dreams, casting a horoscope, and so on. In order to promote and inherit the excellent traditional shamanic culture of the Chinese nation and to study representational style of shamanic custom with different characteristics in different areas, we need to protect and make good use of our intangible cultural heritage and historical resources to further the exploration into shamanic folk culture and to create energetic, positive shamanic atmosphere. We will devote ourselves to building our nation into a prosperous, democratic, civilized, and harmonious socialist modern power. Our efforts are based on the saliency of the shamanic culture in Anshan. We shall start with tourism industry and combine it with culture, with the features of the shamanic culture of the Qian Shan Mountains, and promote all kinds of colorful shamanic art, develop smoothly excellent shamanic culture, and promote healthy, civilized, and positive way of performativity…We will build a stage for shamanic fans who can present themselves to their fullest satisfaction and realize and perfect themselves. Together we will develop a green shamanic culture, represent the essence of shamanic culture, and let shamanic culture blossom in radiant splendor in An Shan (Fig. 10.1).
Recently, the central government has called for restoration and development of traditional cultures in order to revive traditional values and counterbalance the invasive, overwhelming foreign influences. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism has established the Center for Ethnic and Folk Literature and Art Development, which is responsible for collecting, compiling, protecting, researching, and developing ethnic and folk literature and art. The center has organized a national folk song contest, a national contest on playing musical instruments, exhibition series of the Spring Festivals from the heartland of China, and an exhibition on intangible cultures of China, and so on.6 What motivates the local government to support “intangible cultural heritage,” including shamanism, is the
Fig. 10.1 Activities organized by the An Shan Society for the Study of Shamanic Folk Culture (Source Photo by Naran Bilik)
belief that folk culture helps rebuild a belief system binding all people together. Shamanic culture is the core of local traditional culture and is widely practiced in daily life. Meanwhile, tourism industry is an important booster for local economy. The description from a PPT slide designed by the society goes: Shamanic sacrificial ceremony is a traditional practice performed to seek blessing and eliminate calamities and to express respect for spiritual gods. The significance of this kind of ceremony, according to the description, is to rebuild traditional culture and hold it in awe and veneration, to represent classical Chinese rituality and restore ancient morality, and to carry on fine traditions.
Shamanism in China: Technique of Negotiation and Compromise As we all know, shaman as a word originated in Manchu-Tungusic regions bordering Northeast China and Siberian Russia. Making use of the metaphoric legend of Chinese antiquity on the blockage of passage between heaven and earth, the author of this chapter tries to interpret the dualistic attitudes of the government toward shamanism, that is, treating shamanism as a “dangerous” religion and as a banal practice. Shamanism is more deeply involved in bodily practice and spiritual activity, and therefore poses a danger as a religion when it connects “heaven” and “earth.” However, shamanism is benign when it looks merely as culture when it
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sits comfortably between “heaven” and “earth” without display of their connecting power, leaving room for the government to be omnipotent. When shamanism equals culture, it functions only as “social intimacy” (Herzfeld 2016), a kind of embarrassing necessity: People receive spiritual comfort and feel close to each other at the “shamanic moment” when such rituals are held, and it is officially embarrassing, however, to reveal such remnants of primitivism to outsiders, especially foreign visitors whose “gaze” represents “advanced” civilization and modernity. When shamanism is synonymous with religion, its nature will change from neutrality to antipathy according to the political barometer of the government due to its uncontrolled and uncontrollable prevalence in everyday life. The dualistic treatment of shamanism as much as Islam and other religions by the Chinese government can either regard it as a dangerous religion or neutralize it as a cultural practice. Such ambiguous treatment of shamanism betrays both complexity and vulnerability of spiritual life in China. The author of this chapter holds the view that the dual role of shamanism in China, if put to use wisely, can help Chinese authorities make good connections ideologically with the folks at the grassroots level. It can also help build and maintain deliberative democracy by constantly connecting “heaven” and “earth,” not only metaphorically but also in practice. On the one hand, the Chinese authorities do not openly authorize the establishment of any shamanic society even for academic purposes; on the other hand, however, shamanic cultures can be studied as folk customs largely because they can be treated as part of “soft power” or part of intangible cultural heritage. When shamanic rituals are authorized to perform as “folk culture,” not as “religion,” even political “dignitaries” will come to the occasion and deliver an opening speech. In 1981, Fu Yuguang, a Manchu expert on shamanism, led some members of the Shi family of Xiao Han village from Jilin province to visit the then Minority Literature Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. They brought with them shamanic texts that the family have kept for many generations. From then on, the Shi family soon attracted the attention of international researchers. 2004 saw the Seventh International Conference on Shamanistic Studies open in Changchun, the capital city of Jilin province. The Shi family sent representatives to the conference and performed the ritual of running over the burning coal. Researchers
from the Chinese Folk Literature and Art Association, an official organization, by observing the Shi family perform their shamanic dance (Yuan 2014), have given their “authorization.” Frequent visits by officials from relevant governmental departments from Beijing and the province itself have signaled messages of recognition, and the Shi family read them perfectly well. They coordinate the timing and procedures with the official arrangements to work out a space of “intimacy.” In March 1993, the Society for Manchu Culture Studies of Jilin City decided to film the shamanic rituals of the Shi family. However, the locals confronted one obstacle; that is, there were no more legitimate ritual specialists alive. They came up with a decision, after a brief discussion that a surrogate had to show up. Shamanic gods such as the bear and the otter are all surrogated. Once, officials required impromptu that the ritual of running over the burning coal be performed despite that fact that it would violate the scheduled procedure. The performers had to bury their anger and satisfy their demand in exchange for more and sustained official greenlights. In the autumn of 2006, the great shaman of the Shi family knelt before the sacred images of his ancestral gods asking for permission to hold the incense-burning ceremony the following year for disease control and transmission of shamanic knowledge and technique, and what is more, for winning financial support from the local government and of attracting academic attention (Yuan 2014, 209–210). The Shi family is now trying to enter their shamanic rituality to the listing of Intangible Cultural Heritage at the national tier. There is a limit in the space of cultural intimacy: Demand should not be too high because the stake is too high; the “backwardness” represented by shamanism according to the official point of view should never be allowed too much exposed in case it should challenge the ideological authority of the Party and threaten hierarchical ordering of society: All power belongs to the central government. Meanwhile, pan-shamanic practice, including feng shui, is popular even among officials in their private life, or rather, in the space of cultural intimacy where exists an ecological balance between official management of appearance and folk practice. Officially, there is shamanic culture, not “shamanic religion”; in everyday social life, shamanic practice includes both without distinction. The “shamanic moment” is the moment shamans perform to connect heaven and earth, and is also the moment the government feels its own vitality—“nothing more permanent than the provisional” (Herzfeld 2016, 3). Shamanism, be it “pan”
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or “real,” allows people to keep connected in daily activities and makes this banal life meaningful. We may in this sense regard shamanism in its broadest sense as one of the key nexuses that safeguard the ecology of human relationship, symbolically, pragmatically, and emotionally. In mainland China, “Shamanic moment” is coupled with “official moment”; that is, shamanic practice has to be officiated by orthodox discourse in agreement with the state ideology, especially at present when official censorship is tightened and social stability is a top priority. Again, the aforementioned annual shamanic meeting held by the Shamanic Folk Custom Research Society in Anshan on 10 April 2019 made this statement: on March 21, 2017 the Shamanic Folk Custom Research Society in Anshan has finally been approved by the Anshan Culture Industry Association. The aims of the Society are: Explore, research and develop shamanic folk culture, and fight against feudal superstitious beliefs. Let the essence of ancient shamanic culture be passed down to later generations, and clear the name of our shamanic culture. We will prove through our investigation and research shamanism is originated in the Chinese land. Since its establishment in 2017, the society developed at a fast pace. Now with more than 3000 members, it has 35 offices in seven provinces (region) and in different minority areas…Under the guidance of the 19th Communist Party of China National Congress, the Society will promote traditional culture, combine old shamanic culture with modern culture, keep pace with the times, and collaborate with universities and research institution…
The meeting started with the annual report by Mr. Teng Ping, followed by an address from the Mr. Xiao Guanghuai, chairman of the Anshan Culture Industry Association. An official from the Propaganda Department of Anshan was also invited to address the meeting who made official statement, very much following the Party line, in praise of the shamanic society as regards their self-discipline. I was also scheduled to give a few remarks, in the capacity of the Vice-President of International Society for Academic Research on Shamanism, after the Party official. With the help of this clever scheduling, as if the Anshan Shamanic Folk Custom Research Society, together with their work, has been sanctioned both by the Party and by international shamanic research communities. In his work report 2018, Mr. Teng had this to say:
Dear Leaders, dear distinguished guests, good afternoon! First of all, on behalf of the Anshan Shamanic Folk Custom Research Society I express our heartfelt thanks to you. In the process of reform and opening up, accompanied by the epochal sonata, we pass through the spatiotemporal tunnel to greet a florescent spring day. Please remember this great historical moment of 2019, which marks the renewed rise of the Chinese nation. It is only the Communist Party of China, spending 70 years with the republic together and enduring 40 years of hardship for the sake of reform and opening-up, who can achieve such an accomplishment. We have now entered the 20th century. Guided by Chairman Xi’s vision on Road and Belt Initiative, we will do our contributions to promote the construction of shared future for the human kind.
The content of the program afterward is largely composed of a variety of performances including shamanic dance, magic, acupuncture, and so on. Every show, however, had to come after the popular song Looking to Beijing from Grassland (zhan zai caoyuan wang Beijing ), a “red song” in praise of the Party and the central government, politically right out and out, presented by the executive vice-president who was chairing the meeting. Here it goes: An eagle slides over the blue sky, Standing on the highland I look to Beijing. Listening closely to the sound of mother…
Mr. Teng, the chairman of the shamanic society, addressed the meeting in ways that satisfy both the Party and the shaman-audience. This politically correct starter has laid a solid stage for the subsequent shamanic performances in an indexical way of contiguity where shamanic magic linked up with the spirits of the Party and became a complete whole. As expected, the meeting ended with a dinner party, hosted by a private company, since official banquet is forbidden by the Party in recent years. I was arranged to sit next to the Party official, who was friendly and spoke out freely on such an occasion of “cultural intimacy,” especially after a few exchanges of drinks. Apparently, he is very familiar with shamanism and knows perfectly well that it brings no harm to society nor poses any challenges to the Party line and its authority. He agrees with me that shamanism has its reason to survive for so many generations and deserves continual existence. “As long as it poses no threat to the Party,” he added.
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Then, a shamanic expert came to us and offered to provide acupuncture treatment knowing that I suffer from occasional asthma attacks. He stuck several needles into the skin of my shoulders and pulled them out immediately. I was advised to hold back from alcohol for the next three days. Some of his best friends joined us, without knowing that I received acupuncture treatment, and insisted to offer me some alcohol. I looked helplessly at the acupuncture doctor. He smiled and nodded his OK— it’s fine, you can take it. With the co-presence of the Party and shamans, official space and intimate space merged. In the same way Mongolian throat singing opens and blends two “channels,” the shamanic meeting also cultivated a middle ground between the official ideology that usually treats shamanism as superstitious activity and non-religion and shamanic practice that survives so many political vicissitudes. If we recognize the existence of “imagined communities” (Anderson 2006), and adapt it to suit our research, even if metaphorically, then shamanism is a connector between what in the official eye “local iconicity” full of bodily action and what in the local eye “official symbolicity” full of mental practice. In Chinese traditional saying, those who use mind will rule and those who use body are ruled. However, the traditional ruler, who is usually literate, has to have someone, who is usually illiterate, to rule if he or she wants to be a ruler. Those “iconic” masses who use their body and those “symbolic” upper class who use their mind are metaphorically connected by shamans whose corporeal extension reaches the laboring masses, and whose mental expansion links the non-laboring people. Together, the “iconic” folks and the “symbolic” elites become equal in the space of cultural intimacy that shamans have prepared for them in situ. History and ethnography tell us that the “Blockage Between Earth and Heaven” only happens in the official space. As far as intimate space in the Herzfeldian sense of “cultural intimacy” is concerned, however, such blockage remains unblocked, or it is non-existent.
Discussion I partially agree with Jeffrey Wollock who said that a particular way of thinking causes the environmental crisis (Wollock 2001, 248); I also partially agree with Anthony O. Smith who said that the real cause of disasters is social rather than natural (Smith 2001, 111–112). I would rather say that the real cause of both environmental and social disasters is the disconnection between materiality and mentality. We cannot expect to
have an adequate way of thinking without linking our way of thinking to this material world; we cannot have a workable way of thinking without embedding the social, including “cultural intimacy” and ourselves, into the “environment.” Meta-connectivity between nature-culture/ humanenvironment in thinking and in practice, of which shamanism has provided a very good model through its performative rituals, helps build an open process, in which social relations of the humankind diagnostically symbolize nature-culture/human-environmental relations. Shamanism can provide rich inspirations for ways of maintaining a mutual balance among not only human beings but all beings. Shamanism can also serve as a fertile source of ecological thinking that helps us revisit the real causes of disasters. In China, shamanism, in the broad sense of the word, serves as a “connector” between “local iconicity” and “official symbolicity”7 ; it helps maintain the ecological balance in the space of “cultural intimacy,” a realm shared by both officials and non-officials, and thus to some extent release the tension between social classes. At present, the government does not recognize shamanism as a religion, but it does not deny its existence as a folk business either.8 Actually, shamanism has been kept alive in its altered modalities, accidentally or not, even during the Cultural Revolution and before.9 In 1955, the Cultural Bureau of the Jirim League, in response to the guidance from Culture Bureau of Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region on preserving nationality-folk cultural heritage, suggested that local institutions tap the tradition of andai 10 performance.11 Nine years later, in 1963, the andai performer Erdun-bars even met with the communist top leaders Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou in Beijing.12 Since andai performance went into the state-level listing of intangible cultural heritage in 2006, it became part of officially sponsored popular culture. Between 2009 and 2019, andai performance found its way into middle and primary schools in the city of Tongliao, Inner Mongolia, and became a form of setting-up exercise during the break.13 According to Chen Siping’s interviews conducted in those schools, while teachers generally felt positive about andai performance and believed that school authorities should take it seriously as a traditional form of dance while students mostly had good impression of the exercise that game them a real break and made them feel relaxed.14 Shamanic performance such as andai can shift our attention toward our ontological being and serves to peel off the symbolic coverings that prevent our smooth and truthful communication between us. Officials
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and non-officials alike converge ideologically on this ontological mutuality. Here, shamanism is as much a religious activity as “affections of the soul.”15 The discourse of shamanism as a common tie is most effective in the realm of cultural intimacy when both officials and non-officials feel “mutuality of being”16 under the sensible veneer of embarrassment caused by a foreign gaze. Putting embarrassment and foreign gaze aside, shamanism serves to evoke our ontological attention, hold the common tie, and “construct an altered cognitive framing of praxis,” benefiting a harmonious society full of resiliency in dealing with disasters caused by extremist, nonnegotiable attitudes, and activities. Be it “natural disasters” or “human disasters” or the combination of them, shamanism can help us in many ways.
Notes 1. Rodney Needham (1975) cites both Vygotsky and Wittgenstein introducing the idea of “polythetic classification,” an idea similar to “family resemblance,” which points to the fact that, according to Vygotsky, classes are composed by “complex thinking” in a chain complex—“the definitive attribute keeps changing from one link to the next; and points to the fact that, following Wittgenstein, ‘the rope consists of fibres, but it does not get its strength from any fibre that runs through it from one end to another, but from … a vast number of fibres overlapping.” 2. One view holds that shamanism in China is as widespread as almost the whole country; the other insists that it is limited only in the northeastern and northwestern part of China, excluding all others (Zhao 2008, 2–3). 3. Wood drums for shamanic performance have been unearthed at the archaeological site of the Neolithic Longshan Culture in China along the middle to lower reaches of the Yellow River; shamanic drums are also used among the Chinese minorities such as the Zhuang, the Miao, and the Qiang living in the south and the southwest, respectively, in addition to the Altaic peoples in China and beyond. Knives are used everywhere by shamans (Song 2013, 124–125, 128). 4. ‘feng shui’, http://baike.baidu.com/view/4216.htm. 5. According to Mr. Teng, there is shamanic energy in everyone’s body and can be positively evoked (Telephone communication on 19 March 2019). His own biography states: Mr. Teng Ping is a bearer of shamanic culture and is now the chairman of the shamanic folk custom society affiliated to the Association of Culture Industry of the City of An Shan. He is the third-generation disciple under Master Li Yintang (born 1868), popularly known as God Father of Northeast. Teng Ping was born in 1964 in An
Shan of Liaoning province. Driven by extraordinary capacity, he travelled many places of the homeland and has made friends with many shamans of different cultural backgrounds. At age 26, he is destined to become a shaman who practices The Book of Changes, telling fortune and curing diseases. http://www.cefla.org/. Of course, the metaphorical use of “local as iconicity” and “official as symbolicity” does not deny that both “local” and “official” each have their own “Thirdness”; that is, both of them have their own semiosis. During the Cultural Revolution, the government launched a mass movement of “destroy the old and establish the new,” that is, destroying the old thoughts, culture, customs, and habits of the exploitative class and establishing the new thoughts, culture, customs, and habits of the proletarian class. Shamanism had to go underground at that time. I myself remember that people reworded shamanic songs with revolutionary slogans in praise of Chairman Mao and the Party during the Cultural Revolution. And so did some Buddhist songs. Andai is a type of shamanic dance for treatment of psychological problem that a young female experiences as a result of unrequited love. Cf. B. Suhe and Terile. Menggu zu minjian gewu “andai” mingcheng kao [A Textual Analysis on the Mongolian folk performance andai]. Journal of Minzu University of China, 2013 (6): 145–148. Bai Cuiying and Hurilesha. Guanyu keerqin bo (saman) wenhua diaochayanjiu huibian (A Chronological Compilation of Fieldwork and Research on Khorchin bo [Shamanism] Culture). Journal of Inner Mongolia Teacher’s College for the Nationalities, 1997 (3): 94–96. Ibid. Chen Siping. Andai wu yi kejiancao de xingshi zou jin tongliao diqu zhongxiaoxue de diaocha baogao (An Investigation Report on andai Performance as Setting-Up Exercise in Middle and Primary Schools in Tongliao), Modern Music, 2019 (2): 106–107. Ibid. “Now spoken sounds are symbols of affections of the soul, and written marks symbols of spoken words.” Aristotle: “De Interpretatione”, in Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation, One Volume Digital Edition, ed. Jonathan Barnes, trans. J. L. Ackrill. Princeton / Bollingen Series LXXI·2, Vols. 1 and 2 (Chichester, West Sussex: Princeton University Press, 1984), 72–101. “A modest proposal for solving the 150-year-old problem of what kinship is, its specific quality, viz. mutuality of being: persons who are members of one another, who participate intrinsically in each other’s existence.” Marshal Sahlins: “What is Kinship…and is not”. Part One. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 2011 (17): 2–19.
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References Anderson, Benedict. 2006. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Rev. ed. London and New York: Verso. Aristotle. 1984. “De Interpretatione,” translated by J. L. Ackrill. In Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation, One Volume Digital Edition, edited by Jonathan Barnes, Princeton / Bollingen Series LXXI·2, Vols. 1 and 2. Chichester, West Sussex: Princeton University Press. Bohm, David. 1980. Wholeness and the Implicate Order. London and New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Chang, Kwang-chih. 1983. Art, Myth, and Ritual: The Path to Political Authority in Ancient China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Ch’en, Meng-chia (Chen Mengjia). 2016. Collected Papers by Ch’en Meng-chia (Chen mengjia xueshu lunwen ji). Beijing: Zhong Hua Book Company. Herzfeld, Michael. 2016. Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics and the Real Life of States, Societies, and Institutions. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge. Moran, Elizabeth, Master Joseph Yu, and Master Val Biktashev. 2005. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Feng Shui. 3rd ed. New York: Alpha Books. Needham, Rodney. 1975. “Classification: Convergence and Consequences.” Man 10 (3): 349–369. Pratt, Christina. 2007. An Encyclopedia of Shamanism. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group. Smith, O. S. 2001. “Anthropology in Disaster Research and Management.” National Association for the Practice of Anthropology Bulletin 20: 111–112. Song, Zhaolin. 2013. Wu yu jisi [Shamans and the Priest]. Beijing: Commercial Press. Wollock, J. 2001. “Linguistic Diversity and Biodiversity: Some Implications for the Language Sciences.” In On Bicultural Diversity: Linking Language, Knowledge, and the Environment, edited by Luisa Maffi, 248–262. Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press. Yuan, Jie. 2014. chuantong saman jiao de fuxing——dui xiboliya, dongbeiya he beimei diqu saman jiao de kaocha [The Revival of Traditional Shamanism: A Study of Shamanism in Siberia, Northeast Asia, and North America]. Beijing: Social Sciences Academic Press. Zhao, Zhizhong. 2008. Zhong guo saman jiao (Shamanism in China). Xining: Qinghai People’s Publishing House. Zuo, Qiuming. 1995. Part II of Chu Yu, Guo Yu (the Book of State). In Guo Yu Quan Yi (complete translation of Guo Yu), translated and annotated by Huang Yongtang, 637–638. Guiyang: Guizhou People’s Publishing House.
Burying Gold, Digging the Past: Remembering Ma Bufang Regime in Qinghai (PRC) Valentina Punzi
Prévoir consiste à projeter dans l’avenir ce qu’on a perçu dans le passé. (Henri Bergson. 1907. L’Évolution Créatrice)
Natural Disasters in a Tibetan Enclave Within a Muslim County In the age of post-Mao market economy, the promising toponym of Jinyuan (Tib. Gser gzhung )1 —literally “Gold Source”—brims with still to be realized hopes of a glittering future. Yet today it is as emptied of gold as it is full of uncomfortable memories. A remote Tibetan township with a subsistence farming economy, Gold Source owes its name to the abundant placer gold deposits that attracted the mining troops of Muslim warlord Ma Bufang during the 1930s–1940s.2 With a 95% Tibetan population, the present-day Gold Source is a Tibetan enclave of
V. Punzi (B) University of Tartu, Tartu, Estonia © The Author(s) 2021 D. Riboli et al. (eds.), Dealing with Disasters, Palgrave Studies in Disaster Anthropology, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-56104-8_11
6530 residents within the Hualong Hui Autonomous County (Qinghai Province, PRC), whose population is mainly Hui Muslim.3 Most Hui live in the warm valley of the Yellow River, whereas Tibetan villages pinpoint the cold barren area of the surrounding high mountains. Gold Source sits at an altitude of 3600 m, in the easternmost area of the county, 45 km from the administrative center of Hualong and about 100 km from the border with Gansu Province. In July 2014, uninterrupted rain culminated in a landslide which destroyed the roof of a monastery and blocked the roads in a village under the administration of Gold Source. Just one month before, a tributary of the Yellow River had overflowed, causing 12 deaths and 11 injuries. Earlier in the winter, exceptional hailstorms seriously damaged a number of fields. This escalation of disasters over the span of half a year awoke anxiety that the gzhi bdag must have been upset with the villagers. Literally, “owners of the land,” gzhi bdag, are among the numerous beings that populate the Tibetan landscape and daily interact with people in a precarious relationship based on the exchange of offerings and protection. Such a balance, however, is never secured but constantly negotiated through the engagement of both parties in their space of cohabitation. Searching for an answer, monks from the local monastery performed a geomantic analysis of the landscape to identify what misdoings and transgressions might have angered the gzhi bdag . The results of their analysis pointed to the very mountains enclosing the village. As the monks explained, those mountains had been deprived of their naturally deposited gold due to the excavation of Hui Muslim troops back in the 1930s– 1940s, who were allegedly killed by a violent flood near the mining site at Keyan’gou, four km northeast of the present-day township seat of Gold Source. The latest natural catastrophes were in fact a late revenge of the gzhi bdag against the Tibetan villagers, whose local ancestors had failed to protect their land from those aggressive outsiders and their plunder of gold, which was never replenished. In light of this discovery, the monks recommended an age-old practice in Tibetan areas as the remedial ritual to the gold plunder almost a century earlier: burying small quantities of new gold and precious stones (gter bum, “treasure vase”) in specific spots around the village to symbolically give back to the land what had been taken away, so as to appease the gzhi bdag. Both gold and precious stones are of course not commonly affordable goods to the villagers.4 The main sponsor of the ritual was Nyima,5 a lay tantric practitioner and thangka painter who is originally from Gold
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Source but had moved with his nuclear family to Xining, the provincial capital of Qinghai, to establish a painting school where he has about ten disciples. His artistic skills are appreciated by some wealthy Chinese Buddhist patrons in Beijing, where he has been travelling to for art exhibitions and sales. This lucrative activity has granted him a better-off economic status in his village, where he could afford to add a second floor to his house and renovate the interior. However, at the time of the aforementioned natural disasters in 2014, his reputation was vacillating due to rumors of having an affair with a Chinese woman in Xining and failing to take care of an alcoholic brother of his. The urgency of performing this expensive ritual provided him with the opportunity to rehabilitate himself as a respectable member. Indeed, his contribution far exceeded what was needed for the ritual itself. Upon his invitation, several of his Chinese patrons and acquaintances from Beijing visited the village and made donations for a larger restoration plan of the local monastery. During my visit in autumn 2014, Nyima accompanied me on a tour around the brightly repainted walls of the monastery. From the rooftop, he pointed at the mountains in the distance, where the gold mine of Keyan’gou used to be. In a lowered tone, he explained that the 1930s’ flood that killed many Hui miners-soldier of Ma Bufang was also an act of revenge by the upset gzhi bdag . Worse still, having died far away from their homes and missed a proper burial, the killed Hui workers had subsequently turned into ghosts who refused to leave the area to this day but lingered around and occasionally whispered in an incomprehensible language in the wind. Nyima’s en passant reference to the documented mining activities of Ma Bufang’s troops in Keyang’gou inscribed the happening of contemporary disasters into a historical frame that, by linking the present events with those of 1930s, allowed him to claim a higher reliability for his story (Briggs and Vigil 1990, 186–188). Accordingly, the series of disasters in 2014 were the product of not just the gold plunder of 1930s, but also the polluting corpses of foreign intruders and the legacy of their tragic deaths in the form of restless ghosts.
Gold Mining in Qinghai During the Ma Regime (1917–1949) Hualong is rich in mineral resources, including coal, gold, and copper, that are actively mined in 63 sites across the county today.6 Despite the scant information about mining activities in the region during the
pre-PRC times, the available sources (Chen 1981; Li 1983; Chi et al. 2010) indicate that Keyan’gou in Gold Source has long been a major site. Han and Hui gold mining activities in the region date back to the fourteenth century, when alluvial gold was accidentally discovered and collected through small-scale private initiatives by sieving gold dust near the riverbanks. It was not until the reign of Qianlong (1735–1796) that the central government started to regulate mining through an official supervision office (guandu shangban) in Xining, designed to systematically manage mining activities with the cooperation of local investors. The biggest gold mine at the time counted 500 workers. Fast forward to the twentieth century, from 1917 to 1949, the Hui Muslim Ma family established a firm control over northwest China. Thanks to the strategic alliance with first the Qing court and then the Guomindang (Nationalist Party) government, the Ma family under the leadership of Ma Qi remained relatively independent in ruling over an ethnically diverse population that included Mongols, Tibetans, Han Chinese, and other Turkic- or Mongolic-speaking groups (Lipman 1984, 290). Upon his death in 1931, his son Ma Bufang took over. Under the rule of the Ma family, religious freedom of Tibetans and other nonMuslim groups in the region was strongly restricted, heavy taxation was imposed, and riots were bloodily repressed (Chi et al. 2010, 553–563; Chen 1981, 183–187). Ma Qi considered the exploitation of gold mines not only the exclusive right of his government but also a part of his larger plans of provincial modernization that was to be financed with heavy taxation and monopoly over natural resources. In 1912, Ma obtained the right to monopolize gold mining and immediately prohibited grassroots collecting. In 1917, he sent an official mining expedition to Machen to open a big mine site (Chi et al. 2010, 486). The local Tibetan nomads vehemently opposed the excavation near the Amye Machen Mountain, which they considered as one of the most sacred sites of the region (Chen 1981, 211–212; Chi et al. 2010, 671; Guo 2011, 62–63). In response, Ma’s soldier escorting the mission brutally repressed the opposition. After the opening, the mine received further expansion in the following years and generated a regular income for the Ma family. However, local Tibetans did not wage their opposition to gold mining simply and exclusively due to religious taboos against digging of precious minerals but also because of the clash of ownership claims over the land between a predominantly Tibetan local community and a foreign,
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non-Tibetan mining troop. More precisely, the top-down imposition of a non-Tibetan authority embodied by Ma Qi challenged the Tibetan customary “actual or hereditary land ownership” (Horlemann 2012, 155–158; 2015, 154–156). Nevertheless, despite the fact that the Ma regime enforced an increasingly strict and militarized control over mining (Chi et al. 2010, 671), parallel, spontaneous grassroots gold collecting activities continued. In fact, such activities were so widespread that the fields in some Hui villages were almost abandoned by their residents who were after the more lucrative gold panning (La and Ma 2014, 216–218). After taking over the old gold mines from his father Ma Qi, Ma Bufang proceeded to centralize and systematize the mining management by both regularly employing binggong (soldier-workers) and introducing a system of licenses and high percentage loans to ensure the pervasive control of the extracted gold through both direct investment and taxation.7 In 1938, Ma established a special bureau in Xining, Qinghai caijin chu (Qinghai Gold Extraction Department), which controlled extraction in the entire network of 50–60 gold mines across Qinghai and which remained active until the end of the Sino-Japanese War in 1945, when it was eventually dissolved (Chi et al. 2010, 671). In addition, Ma also opened several new mines. Among the formers, one of the biggest was Keyan’gou, which had been operating since the reign of Qianlong (Li 1983, 112) and expanded during the last years of Qing (Chi et al. 2010, 671). The gold mining business around this time consisted of two types of participants: jintou (investors) and jinfu (workers). Some accounts (La and Ma 2014, 217; Chen 1981, 212) report that jinfu were called sha wa (sand-diggers), whereas others suggest that the name applied to both (Li 1983, 114–115). Jintou or the investors possessed capital and had to provide horses, tents, grain, and tools for the mining. In addition, they usually controlled some soldiers and arms for self-defense. Before operating on a mine, jintou had to apply to the provincial authority for a mining permit. The system of mining permits already existed under Ma Qi and was reformed under Ma Bufang to include the requirement of annual renewal, which costed jintou one liang sand gold every time (Li 1983, 115). Jinfu or the workers, on the other hand, were usually peasants who were hired by jintou to work at the mine. Records suggest several sources of recruiting jinfu: some were landless peasants who voluntarily participated, others were forced to work for the jintou due to debts, still others
were simply kidnapped or co-opted (La and Ma 2014, 217; Chen 1981, 211–212; Lin 2013, 88).8 Relationship between jintou and jinfu was extremely unfair. The biggest gold mine at that time employed around 2000–3000 miners who worked on average 12–20 hours a day. Although by contract their monthly salary was 1–2 yuan, they were often not paid and barely provided with enough food to survive (Li 1983, 116). What was worse, workers were often chained to be prevented from escaping. Two gold retrieval techniques were commonly employed in the mines: using mercury to create agglomerates of gold that was called the “rabbit dung gold” for their shape and size, and sieving sand and stones to obtain the “sand gold” (Chi et al. 2010, 672). Despite various hazards in those procedures, no safeguards for working in the gold mine were provided and no compensation was given for the frequent casualties. When a miner died either due to an accident or out of fatigue, the family was usually too poor to even afford a proper burial so that the deceased would have to be hastily buried near the mine (Chen 1981, 212) while his post would be taken over by the son (Li 1983, 116).9 Over a span of roughly fourteen years from the mid-1930s to late 1940s, Ma Bufang accumulated a considerable amount of gold in Qinghai. While scholars dispute the exact amount, according to various sources, before the People’s Liberation Army reached the region, he used aircraft to ship gold away to Hong Kong which was subsequently deposited in American and Indian banks. In late August 1949, Ma Bufang’s subordinate Ma Jiyuan carried the remaining thirty boxes of gold, weighting 700 liang 10 each (≈ 35000 g, to Cairo (Li 1983, 119; Zhang 1999, 94; Jiang 2014, 10).
Tibetan Mining and gter ma: Digging Out, Burying Back, and Keeping in Treasures How did the distant haunting past of Keyan’gou gold mine intertwine with the cosmology of Gold Source and the elaboration of a ritual response to contemporary natural disasters? I argue that the recent experience of mining triggers the memory of previous mining during the Ma Bufang period, thus establishing an echoing between the two events via the assumed shared causal sequence of outsiders’ mining, natural disasters, and supernatural entities taking revenge first on outsiders and later
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on local residents. The ritual burying of gold after the 2014 natural disasters, therefore, is situated at a temporal juncture between the past and the present. It simultaneously responds to the trauma embedded in the landscape of Gold Source and its unvoiced memories on the one hand and to the anxieties awoken by the present mining activities in Tibetan areas on the other. In the past two decades, Tibetan areas across the plateau witnessed an intensification of small-scale unregulated mining of alluvial gold by Han and Hui migrants alongside the establishment of state-backed mining companies. Tibetan protests against the environmental impact of mining—pollution of waters, endangerment of the well-being of local residents and livestock, decrease of land productivity, earthquakes, and snowstorms—often resulted in violent confrontations with the authorities (Nyima and Yeh 2016, 166–170; Tsering ’bum 2016). However, the available sources suggest that Tibetans had been practicing mining of different minerals already since the time of the empire in the eighth century (Mills 2006, 92–93).11 For instance, during the fifteenth century, iron was mined and forged for the construction of the suspended bridges designed by Thang stong rgyal po (Huber 1991, 64). Among the numerous European explorers’ and missionaries’ accounts of the following centuries,12 Ippolito Desideri (1684–1733) reports that not only mining but also gold panning was a widespread profitable business carried out even in the proximity of sacred spots, alongside religious activities: Everyone knows that among the sands on the shores of that lake [Lake Ruthok] there is to be found a great quantity of minute particles of gold brought there by the waters that flow down the sides of the peaks of Ngari Jungar and the other intervening mountains. From time to time Tibetans and other merchants gather at this lake to search for and gather up this gold, and they make a great profit by it. Besides that, this lake is greatly venerated by these superstitious people, and so from time to time they gather there on pilgrimage and circumambulate it with great devotion, believing that they will receive, one might say, many indulgences from so doing. (Desideri 2010, 170–171)
Having provided a detailed description of the techniques and tools employed for sieving gold from sand, he concludes that “it seems clear that if the Tibetans had the technical skill to dig mines in those utterly barren mountains and to work them, they would probably find many rich
veins of this metal” (Desideri 2010, 216). A last reference to the official management of panning reveals local authorities’ intention to regulate it: “anyone can search for gold after asking permission from the governor of the region and paying him a small amount” (Desideri 2010, 264). Mining took place in a socially-stratified context of uneven distribution of resources and conflicting interests of the involved parties. Government officials often prohibited locals from engaging in mining for their livelihood. Moreover, it was against locals’ interest to report the discovery of a mine to the authorities, as they would be required to work it as corvée (Huber 1991, 66). Citing Charles Bell’s The People of Tibet (1928, 111), Huber reports that “the villagers have every incentive to conceal the existence of mineral wealth, and will sometimes turn out and attack those who try to exploit the mine” (Huber 1991, 66). At the beginning of the twentieth century, gold and other precious mineral resources were still taxed by the Tibetan government and also traded with India and other surrounding areas (Huber 1991, 66; La Rocca 2006, 30). In a sociohistorical account about mid-twentieth century’s Zhilphukhog in Khams, Rinzin Thargyal acknowledges that, besides the subordinate relationship between dependents (‘khor pa) and chiefs (dpon), scattered members from nomads’ and peasants’ families were regularly involved in gold mining near the local monastery (2007, 54–56). Extra digging was allowed for one’s own profit without any legal or moral restriction. Huber adds in the footnote that gold was still mined in Zhilphukhog area as of 1999 (2007, 99–100). Long-term official and private Tibetan engagement in mining has been nonetheless overshadowed by a shared religious and cultural taboo against digging the ground and extracting minerals. These two activities are respectively regarded as “breaking in the abode” and “seizing the treasures of the gzhi bdag .” The premise of this interpretation lies in the notion that humans and gzhi bdag don’t occupy parallel realms of existence but negotiate their cohabitation and are together responsible for their reciprocal well-being and protecting the environment. When local residents don’t overexploit natural resources, they are compensated with prosperity, well-being, timely precipitations, healthy livestock, and so on. Conversely, when human activities cause accidental or intentional damage to the environment, the angry revenge of the gzhi bdag manifests itself in the form of misfortune, sicknesses, and natural disasters. However, the consequences are not irreparable. If appropriate offering rituals are performed to make up for the misdoing, balance can be restored. In
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view of the dynamic exchange and reciprocity of duties between humans and gzhi bdag, mining is not categorically banned but those who carry it out need to acknowledge the subtraction of minerals and adequately compensate for it. The compensation is often done by burying small bags of grains, precious stones, or precious metals (gter bum) back into the ground. The purpose is not to provide a full material compensation but rather to replenish the land of its gcud—immaterial and essential nourishing qualities that the extracted minerals and stones were imbued with (Nyima and Yeh 2016, 167–168; Tsering ’bum 2016, 21). By offering a quantitatively symbolic amount of minerals, the immaterial qualities ascribed to them can also be restored and benefit the ground. When discussing the contents of gter bum that were buried in Gold Source, Nyima used this term interchangeably with gter ma, occasionally identifying gter bum as the vessel that contains gter ma. Gter ma—literally “treasures”—refers to the tradition of Bon and Buddhist revelatory teachings that from the twelfth century onward have been conveyed in textual and non-textual, material and immaterial forms on the Tibetan plateau. Discovering gter ma rests upon the belief that scriptures and objects such as statues, ritual bells, and conch-shells were buried underground—in caves or rocks—by revered religious figures in a remote past in order to be unearthed by the designated treasure-discoverers (gter ston) at an appropriate time of the future. Gter ma can also be received either in the form of dreams or by direct mind transmission from past teacher of the past. Terrone (2014, 463; 470) suggests that the discovery of different types of gter ma exceeds the legacy and deeds of the individual gter ston and is inscribed in the same organic system of interrelation between humans, the land, and its non-human inhabitants described above for mining. The mutual exchange of material and immaterial goods articulates an “ecology of revelation” which sustains the retrieving of a gter ma and the follow-up putting of a substitution in the earth (gter tshab bcug pa/bzhag pa). The overlap of material-immaterial qualities and the pattern of restitution make the burying of gter bum resemble the practice of digging out and burying back gter ma.13 Overall, extracting minerals and retrieving gter ma disclose a number of similarities with regard to the search for something valuable that is concealed underground and therefore inaccessible to everyone; the process of acquiring it by digging and its moral implications; and the responsibility to carry out compensation rituals by burying back something else.
However, there is an important distinction to be made. Gter ma are believed to be hidden by human intervention and are not meant to stay permanently hidden. They are buried with the purpose to be eventually retrieved at the right time by the right person, i.e., the entitled gter ston, and to benefit the spiritual enhancement of both the individual gter ston and the larger community. On the contrary, minerals are not supposed to be removed from natural repositories because they are born with the earth and consequently a visceral part of it. Different from uncovering or retrieving gter ma, digging out minerals is not justifiable, neither morally nor religiously. The minerals are not waiting to be discovered and dug out. Thus, there is no entitled discoverer to be spoken of.14 Consequently, making compensation for the extraction of minerals is morally much more demanding than doing it for gter ma. The retrieval of gter ma and the mining of minerals further appear to share features with narrative tropes that are widely encountered in treasure tales across the world (Lindow 1982; Briggs and Vigil 1990; Rose 2009; Kalda 2013). In Swedish (Lindow 1982) and Estonian (Kalda 2013) traditions, for example, treasures are often guarded by supernatural entities that confront potential diggers and scare them away. Digging treasures and mines entails characteristic dangers and complex situations before and after the digging, which involve the risk to face supernatural sanctions and punishments for inappropriate or illegitimate digging (Kalda 2013, 216–219). Treasures are also typically inaccessible if not unbeknownst to most people, and their discovery is in most cases accidental. Treasure tales often involve stories of repeated attempts to retrieve treasures circulating among the local residents, who fantasize about the chance to succeed and transmit the stories from generation to generation. This element is interestingly absent in Gold Source. The memory of Keyan’gou mine in fact did not prompt local Tibetan residents to seek for leftover gold. Instead, only a narrative of painful and enduring loss survived to this day, which requires compensation and motivates ritual action. Burying back the gold was not simply about putting back into the earth what had been taken but also ensuring that it will be safely kept underground from now on.
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Life and Death: Relatedness and Alienness in Gold Source The specific historical circumstances of mining in Gold Source had a lasting impact on how local Tibetan residents at present perceive the absence of gold. As they recall the episodes of the gold plunder and the disastrous consequences that followed, the past mining is reinterpreted as an antecedent of contemporary Han Chinese mining activities across Tibetan areas. The two separate waves, first the Hui soldier-miners and later the Han mining companies, therefore conflate into a single representation of alien presence. Altogether, the earlier Hui and later Han mining mark a century of continuous alien occupation and exploitation of the land epitomized by the gold mine of Keyan’gou. While the first already sedimented in the local memory as part of a directly experienced trauma, the second are perceived as threatening and unpredictable in their outcomes. The connection between these two mining phases is not made explicit through a linear narrative but is suggested by outlining the similar conditions under which mining happened in the past and is happening in the present. Hence, the present is a space of resonance for the past, which in turn amplifies fears about the future. In view of the present, the narration of the 1930s’ flood in Keyan’gou and its Hui ghosts conveys a critical view of the past that links with contemporary concerns about the Han Chinese mining. By linking past and present natural disasters, the narration rebounds and naturalizes the connection of events across time. This mutual recalling makes the frame of the narration spatially centered around Gold Source rather than temporally organized. From a general historical perspective, as argued above, Tibetan opposition against mining was not exclusively religious. Rather, one major concern was the imposition of a non-Tibetan authority (the Hui Muslim Ma family), which challenged the local community’s claim to the land and its resources. Similarly, contemporary Tibetan protest against mining of the Han Chinese also stems partially from a specific Tibetan discourse that objects to the legitimacy and the entitlement of an alien mining agency rather than to mining per se. Mining carried out by non-Tibetan outsiders is in fact essentially perceived as an illegitimate undertaking that irreparably deprives the landscape of its natural resources. Tsering ’bum (2016, 14–17), for example, has described a contemporary case of Chinese mining from Yushul area
(southeastern Qinghai Province). Another example from Rgyal rong area (northwestern Sichuan Province) is provided by Tenzin Jinba (2016, 189), who reports that at the beginning of the twentieth century foreign missionaries and explorers were suspected of stealing gold and precious stones from sacred mountains. In 2000s, the same area witnessed an escalation of violent confrontations between locals and Chinese gold mine owners that even led to the unsuccessful intervention of authorities (Tenzin Jinba 2014, 92).15 Foreigners seeking wealth through mining, treasure-hunting, or private business are often portrayed as greedy and immoral. In Mongolia, Chinese businessmen are turned into hungry ghosts as a result of their immoral greed in accumulating wealth (Delaplace 2012, 230–232). Supernatural entities in Mexico, on the other hand, either favor or fight mine-hunters depending on the latter’s moral disposition (Briggs and Vigil 1990, 193). Together greed and alienness define the exclusion of Hui soldierminers from the cosmology of Gold Source. The Hui extraneity to the landscape inescapably situated them outside of the interdependent relationship between the local Tibetan residents and the gzhi bdag .16 The flood, allegedly caused by the gzhi bdag in 1930s and killing the Hui soldier-miners, confirmed the intention of these non-human entities to arrest the immoral mining of the aliens. Yet as the post-disaster geomantic analysis in 2014 revealed, the revenge against those directly responsible for the plunder didn’t fully satisfy the gzhi bdag. They remained resentful toward the local residents, who had failed to prevent it in the first place. Following the escalation of natural disasters in 2014, the misdoings of the 1930s came back as an unresolved issue from the past which, consequently, called for a longoverdue ritual intervention. Since the Hui soldier-miners in any case could not have had the possibility of ritually intervening in a cosmology to which they didn’t belong, it was local Tibetan residents’ responsibility to fulfill a late compensation to the gzhi bdag , with whom they have been cohabiting in Gold Source for generations. In this process of recalling the past to solve the present, the past Hui are confirmed to be excluded from the mutual engagement between Tibetans and gzhi bdag. Nonetheless, the roaming ghosts of the past Hui linger on. Recent natural disasters in Gold Source are woven into a landscape of memories of the violent depredation of gold that happened almost a century before. They evoke ghostly memories of the
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Ma Bufang regime that are reinforced by contemporary complex relationships between Hui and Tibetans (Horlemann 2012; Fischer 2005, 2008). The tensions of the present echo the violence of the past and vice versa, in a circularity of meaning production in which “unreconciled fragments of the past, [are] often personified as ghosts of people” (Mueggler 2001, 3). The material loss of gold triggered a negotiation between contrasting perceptions: materiality-immateriality; presenceabsence; visibility-invisibility; loss-acquisition; past-present; familiar-alien; related-unrelated. The monks’ diagnosis first recognized the overriding cause of the recent disasters in the 1930s’ mining. Secondly, it identified the burial of gold as the appropriate remedy for both the present situation and the suspended issue of the past. Burying back gold unavoidably led to digging out the past in order to re-establish balance in the cosmology of Gold Source. During the 1930s’ mining, Hui soldier-miners came to Gold Source with the perspective of a temporary stay. After their death, however, they became a lasting undesired presence through their ghosts. According to Nyima and other local residents in Gold Source, Hui ghosts are only occasionally sensorially perceived through incomprehensible words whispered in the wind but never manifest their presence by directly harassing people through physical materializations. In contrast, the gzhi bdag amply reveal their presence by bringing about natural disasters. Recent works on supernatural entities’ manifestations have turned to a phenomenological approach that “works backward, from effect to form, from tangible to invisible, from motion to substance, from manifestation to agency” (Espírito Santo and Blanes 2014, 6). Besides being an analytical tool for the anthropologist, this was also the method utilized by the monks in Gold Source in their etiological analysis of the natural disasters. The monks in fact did not immediately undertake ritual actions by simply assuming the role played by the gzhi bdag in it. Similar to the description of the progressive uncovering of a Mongolian ghost’s identity given by Delaplace (2014, 56–57), the connections among events were gradually made clear only thanks to the specialized knowledge and intervention of monks. While everyone in Gold Source experienced the material effects of the natural disasters and shared a belief in the pervasive presence of the gzhi bdag in the landscape, only monks could authoritatively ascribe the happenings to the acts of the gzhi bdag . Afterward, the monks’ diagnosis acquired the status of a logical conclusion that further validated it as part of a network of locally shared signification, in response to outside crises
like natural disasters. Such signification is specific to the local interactions between human residents and gzhi bdag in reacting against an alien harassment. The process of inserting present disasters within the larger cosmology of Gold Source not only made past natural disasters legible but also created new meaningful connections between past disasters and local memories. The elaboration of such memories entailed a deeper negotiation between the cosmology of Gold Source and the past alien Hui soldierminers. In the 1930s, a macabre exchange had taken place inside the ground: while Hui soldier-miners had plundered the gold, their alien corpses were buried by the flood. As a consequence of their violent death and hasty burial, the Hui soldier-miners turned into roaming ghosts. After having been emptied of gold, the ground of Gold Source could be replenished by local residents. The delayed ritual action of burying gter bum in fact was proven efficacious for placating the gzhi bdag . Indeed, no more landslides had happened in the village by the time I heard this story. However, it remains impossible to ritually engage the Hui ghosts to send them forever away from Gold Source. When talking about Hui ghosts, Nyima referred to them as gui, a Chinese category of ghosts that, usually as a result of violent death and lack of proper burial, wander in the living world. The possibility of ritual intervention on angry ghosts is limited when the body is missing, funerary rituals are not timely performed, or the dead is not dutifully paid respect by descendants (Harrell 1974; Von Glahn 2004). Similarly, Tibetan btsan is a comparable category of post-mortem fierce spirits that can ambivalently be harmful or beneficial to the living. By using the Chinese term instead of the Tibetan one, Nyima chose not to subsume the Hui ghosts under the available Tibetan btsan category but rather to use a Chinese term that pushes Hui farther away from the cosmology of Gold Source yet closer to an alien Chinese category. This permanent condition of estrangement from the local cosmology defines the impossibility of ritually intervening. Gustafsson (2009, 55–59) ties the circumstances of violent death in the aftermath of the American-Vietnamese War with the difficulty of coping with the emergence of non-Vietnamese angry ghosts who are unrelated to local ancestry. Conversely, Kwon (2008, 25) argues that in view of the “ethical universalism of respecting the dead,” in post-war Vietnam ritual interactions for appeasing ghosts of the war equally address both the deceased members of the local community and foreigners. This is
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in striking contrast to the situation in Gold Source, where Tibetans feel powerless to ritually appease the Hui ghosts. The binding principle of reciprocity between the local people and the gzhi bdag excludes the Hui because they embody a radical condition of alienness to such reciprocity. Delaplace (2012, 230–232) reports a similar occurrence of two distinct groups of foreigners—Russians and Chinese—exploiting underground mineral resources in Mongolia. However, memories of Russians living in a secluded mining town during the Soviet times are not as negative as those of Chinese merchants in pre-Republican Mongolia. Rituals performed by Mongolian shamans against Chinese ghosts are not effective because the alienness of Chinese makes them immune to the Mongolian ritual interventions. In view of the present escalating tension with the Chinese business enterprises and investments, the imaginary of the Soviet past has become more positive. Despite the long-term Russian exploitation of resources in Mongolia, the Mongolians feel that they had received more than what they gave to the Russians, while the Chinese took away more than what they gave to the Mongolians. However, blood unrelatedness doesn’t equal total unrelatedness. The lived experience of relatedness transcends kinship; it is not an exclusive attribute of kinship (Carsten 2007, 3). As such, relations of relatedness are entertained not only among humans but also between humans and nonhumans. Although “ghosts offer the possibility of asserting connections between generations, to a place and with the past in general” (Bear 2007, 37), these connections are not necessarily positive or nostalgic but can simultaneously arise fears of a painful past and anxieties about an unknown future. Hui ghosts of the past and Tibetan local residents of the present are tied together by a traumatic historical entanglement with the Ma regime. Even after the tragic death of the Hui soldier-miners, an enduring ethnic divide kept them outside of the cosmology of Gold Source, while the impossibility of ritual action leaves them trapped in the landscape, suspended between here and there. The evanescent, yet persisting, presence of the Hui soldier-miners’ ghosts echoes the contemporary presence of Hui in flesh and bones in Tibetan areas. This temporal resonance between past and present further concurs to a more general perception of the predatory behavior of greedy outsiders that sets both Hui and Han Chinese apart from the local Tibetan cosmology. Having been alien to Tibetans in life, Hui remain the bodiless embodiment of the Ma regime also in their death.
Conclusions: Eroded Mountains, Eroded Memories In the narration of the natural disasters in Keyan’gou, the temporal divide between 1930s and 2014 collapses and is blurred into the single film frame of Gold Source’s landscape. Past mining is evoked by the tangible effects it left on the landscape when Nyima asks: “Do you see those holes in the mountains? Those were left after the gold mining by Ma Bufang’s soldiers. Nowadays there are mines in Hualong everywhere again. We buried the gold around there. The Hui ghosts also remain around there.” The holes in the mountains in the background of the village stand as a lasting mark of the subtraction of gold and a visible memory of the past humans and non-humans, local and alien acts in the landscape. Space prevails over time as an organizing principle that gives focus to a condensed narration (Connerton 2009, 13), in which the absence of the plundered gold in the landscape is distinctively perceived. Gold Source is the center of interwoven memories of loss and accumulation, where the material-immaterial exchange between the loss of gold, the accumulation of haunting, and the replenishment of gold made “traces of older traumas nonetheless remain” (Billé 2016, 65). Preserving personal and family memories, or actively choosing to remove them, defines the distance from larger narratives in which local memories are marginalized. The shadow of the brutal military rule and economic exploitation of Ma Bufang is still cast over the present of Qinghai; its memories still affect the Tibetan population, who greatly suffered in those years and still experience mutual tension and distrust in daily interactions with Hui. The cosmology of Gold Source allows a creative space for articulating alternative memory-making practices that prioritize local experiences over the monologic national narration of history. Though partial and fragmentary, the voicing of memories provides a glimpse into a locality-centered version of events that are confined into a peripheral status within the history of the Ma regime. The gold mine of Keyan’gou becomes a sort of “empty signifier” (Billé 2016, 67) where overlapping meanings can converge. The past landscape exemplifies a whole dynamic of longlasting exploitation, while also hosting contemporary concerns about Han Chinese mining in the wider regional context of Qinghai. The cosmology of Gold Source is shaped by connections that are generated in the past, renewed in the present, and projected into the future. Solutions to contemporary and future natural disasters can be
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sought only by digging up the past and exposing its memories of the once happened calamities. Any chance to lay the Hui ghosts to rest entails reconsidering the past and its traumas.
Notes 1. In this article, I use the pinyin transliteration system for Chinese terms and the Wylie transliteration system for Tibetan terms. 2. In Republican times it was called Keba township, in 1950s it changed name into Keyan’gou township before changing again in 1956 into Jinyuan Tibetan township, bearing this same name but as a commune administrative unit between 1958 and 1984. See Provincial Ethnic and Religious Affairs Commission 2012. 3. Hui is the largest Muslim group among the ten Muslim nationalities that were identified in the 1950s’ Chinese state-sponsored survey. Amidst specific circumstances presented by each case, every minzu (nationality, ethnic group) was generally expected to display the full set of Stalin’s inspired principles—common language, territory, economic life, and distinctive culture—to be recognized as such. In this respect, Hui represented a rather exceptional case. Settled throughout China, speaking Mandarin or other nationalities’ languages, Hui’s association with Islam was employed as the only criterion adopted for grouping rather diverse people under a single minzu category. See Gladney (2004, 152–153). 4. Unfortunately, I am unable to provide information on how the burying of precious substances was actually carried out, as I was not present at the time. Upon my questions for further information, I was told that the details of the practice are not meant to be disclosed to outsiders. However, it can be useful to report my observation in 2013 of the domestic preparation of gter bum in another village in Chabcha county (Qinghai province). In that occasion, small pieces of gold, incense, wool, and different stones were sewed into finger-size bags of white cotton cloth. The surface was painted in red with patterns of the eight Buddhist auspicious symbols. 5. Nyima is a pseudonym. The name of the specific village in Gold Source township is also intentionally concealed. 6. Guojia tongji ju nongcun shehui jingji diaocha sibian, 635. 7. Among the different taxes that Ma Bufang imposed on Qinghai population, there were also so-called donations (xian li) that were requested in exceptional circumstances like for Ma wedding when gold, pearls, and precious stones were channeled into Xining and appropriated by Ma. In this occasion, 12 kg of gold, 200 fox skins, and 100 small boxes of saffron were “donated” by Tibetans in Mgo lok (Chi et al. 2010, 561–562).
8. Although the sources don’t mention the ethnic composition of the personnel involved in gold mining, it is likely that the labors were locally recruited and, consequently, ethnically mixed. 9. Equally dramatic was the fate of coal miners who happened to be buried alive underground, as it is summarized by the bitter saying: “shawa si le mei mai, meiwa mai le mei si”—“when gold miners die they are not buried, when coal miners are buried they are not dead (yet)” (La and Ma 2014, 218). 10. Liang is a Chinese unit of measurement that corresponds to 50 grams. 11. Mills remarks that the presence of four mines of precious metals—iron, copper, silver, and gold—in the surroundings of Lhasa was listed as an auspicious sign for the rule of the Buddhist king Srong btsan sgam po. Since metals were in fact indispensable to the construction of temples, statues, and other ritual objects, the discovery and exploitation of mines were conceived as the spontaneous partaking of the landscape to the Buddhist ordering of Tibet. 12. Huber (1991, 65) mentions a number of missionaries’ accounts that prove the existence of mining activities in Tibetan areas in early times. 13. In Tibetan Studies, scholarship has so far mainly focused on the study of the content of gter ma texts and related gter ston. An important more recent development in the study of gter ma texts highlighted their assessment as a cultural phenomenon, by analyzing the production and reception processes in association with issues of authorship and forgery (Blezer 2013). Overall, research about the gter ma tradition has only limitedly touched upon non-textual gter ma objects. In a recent publication, Mayer (2019) proposes a number of alternative historical and anthropological contextualizing approaches to the study of gter ma that point to the possible pre-Buddhist origins of this tradition. 14. The contiguity and intertwinement of lifeforms among gzhi bdag , humans, and the landscape itself are best expressed in an interview excerpt made by Yeh and Yonten Nyima with a pastoralist in Qinghai: “Digging gold from the mountain is like taking my heart out of my body” (Nyima and Yeh 2016, 168). 15. An undated guidebook to the sacred landscape of Dmur do in Gyarong, entitled Sbas pa’i rong bzhi’i nang tshan shar phyogs rgyal mo rong gi gnas chen dmu rdo g.yung drung spung rtse la sogs ri bo drug cu’i dkar chag legs byung bzhugs so (Catalogue of the great place dMur do and other sixty mountains, with the summit shaped like a pile of swastikas, situated in the eastern ravine of rGyal mo, part of the four hidden ravines) makes reference to precious materials hidden in the landscape of Rgyal rong and guarded by the gzhi bdag underground. To cite but a few: “there is a mine of precious weapons made of gold and turquoise […] there is a mine of many types of precious grains” (p. 9); “there is a mine of many soldier
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and weapons” (p. 12); “there is a mine of the hidden five precious things - gold, silver, turquoise, coral, pearl” (p. 13). The inclusion of weaponry deposits in the list underlines the protective role of the gzhi bdag toward the underground against possible attempts to unearth mineral resources. 16. The extraneity of workers to the land and its supernatural inhabitants is ethnographically documented as a perceived cause of disease and death in the Argentinian Chaco (Gordillo 2002, 37).
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Andrew Strathern and Pamela J. Stewart The studies in this volume range over different parts of the world, revealing common patterns and predicaments of people faced with environmental problems and illuminating how ritual processes are set in hand to counteract, correct, or cope with the experience of such problems. Human populations have repeatedly had to face declining local resources, but today this problem appears on a global scale, signaled with the mark, often a question mark, of sustainability. Our comment here will have three interrelated purposes. One is to show that this problem of sustainability is both old and new, just as the individual chapters weave together discussion of old and new aspects of challenges in people’s lives. The new aspect is a product of scale and the complexities that go with scale. Our second purpose in this Afterword is to examine the interplay between various methods of response to environmental challenges, in particular investigating the place of ritual in such responses. Rather than seeing ritual as a kind of aesthetic overlay on action, we see it as a fundamental adaptive feature in processes of change, helping to set other adaptive processes in motion. Ritualization is therefore central to social action in general. Our final point of consideration is how pandemics bring eco-cosmologies more into the fore of thought and functionality in processes of disruption and also healing.
© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 D. Riboli et al. (eds.), Dealing with Disasters, Palgrave Studies in Disaster Anthropology, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-56104-8
Sustainability is an important but elusive concept, raising the question of units of description and different levels of the maintenance of practices. At one extreme, we can be safe in noting that nothing lasts forever. At this level, then, there is a finite extent to which anything can be sustained. Pragmatic concepts of sustainability therefore depend on assessments of circumstances over time. The issues of time and degrees of sustainability inevitably arise. The studies in the present volume, however, show with ethnographic detail how environmentally related practices of an adaptive kind become compromised and vitiated by certain kinds of outside developments. In rural sectors, the issues are set most sharply in relation to subsistence versus cash crop economies. Subsistence regimens show a kind of “satisficing” in which enough food is produced to sustain life, but production does not outrun consumption and any surplus is invested in social relationships of exchange rather than in surpluses used for sale. Societies adhering to this pattern often sustain the pattern itself through the medium of rituals thanking deities for their benevolence. Rituals have an ecological function in so far as they help to maintain a balance between a local population and their environments. These patterns are by no means automatic, however, and can be negated by both the emergence of state-based bureaucracies dedicated to the production of a surplus and its siphoning off in taxes and levies serving the interests of the state. When we shift from agriculture to commercial mining financed by international consortia, the problem of sustainability becomes more severe, since mining inevitably causes damage to the environment, exacerbated by cover-ups and the deaths of many affected people. Over and above these detailed points, the overall situation is that large-scale capitaliststyle businesses increase pressure to extract a profit from mines and that almost inevitably mines result in large-scale economic damage. The intersection between a mining economy and indigenous peoples’ efforts to effect ritual repair of the environment is shown very clearly in the case where an indigenous group attempts to re-establish a balance in the land by burying amounts of gold to take the place of gold mined for export by outsiders. Gold mines involve toxic elements that find their way into rivers, destroying fish and harming the fertility of soils. Tutelary spirits, as among the Duna people of Papua New Guinea [with whom we have worked over a number of decades], may be thought to leave such a compromised area, unable or unwilling to defend the environment against such odds. Ordinarily such spirits, especially a powerful female spirit, are thought of as looking after resources along with living humans, and the
ancestors are also thought to be involved in helping to maintain the environment, ensuring its fertility and productivity. Such environmentally supportive activities of the spirits are underpinned by a general ideology of stewardship over resources rather than the extraction of profit, and stewardship activities entail communication of a ritual kind between humans and spirits in a cooperative way. It is here that the concept of eco-cosmologies becomes important, in two ways. The concept draws attention to the fundamentally ecological character of cosmological ideas, otherwise seen as belonging to the realm of belief and religion rather than the world of pragmatic adaptation. Second, questions of ecology are themselves seen as encapsulated within overarching ideas of order and value signaled by cosmology. The virtue of eco-cosmology resides in this combination of the pragmatic and the ideological domains. When this combination is broken, worlds of adaptation are threatened. The Duna people in the 1990s were able to overcome this hazard by creatively combining introduced Christian and indigenous eco-cosmological ideas in response to a disastrous forest fire that was thought to have disturbed spirits of the dead whose domain was in the forest (Stewart and Strathern 2002). Pandemics bring the challenges to established ways of dealing with the world sharply into focus. A whole arena of ritualized behaviors emerged in 2020 in relation to the worldwide destructive threat of the COVID19 coronavirus. Healthcare systems were stretched to breaking point. Rituals of appreciation for healthcare workers were invented by the public. Health workers became infected while treating patients and themselves died. There arose a large backlog or ritual deficit of what to do about the numbers of person dying. Even the ordinary rituals of mourning for the dead by gathering together and burying the dead were curtailed, because of the threat of infection and the imperative of social distancing to reduce it. With the untoward deflection of such rituals, their everyday significance was highlighted rather being taken for granted. Challenges to people’s creativity of response to all these stress factors became a part of a “new normal” pattern in social life. Virtual media were called in to close gaps between experience and its permitted expression. Pressures were felt most immediately by individuals, while in the longer run the challenges rested with collectivities. Calls for a renewal of ideologies entailing a deflection away from profit-making and toward sustainable adaptations represented a hope for exit from these challenges into revivified forms of eco-cosmology.
This fine-grained set of papers points the way to such potential forms of adaptation, while elucidating the stresses placed on the stewardship of resources by capitalist-industrial forces and ideologies.
Reference Stewart, Pamela J., and Andrew Strathern. 2002. Remaking the World: Myth, Mining and Ritual Change Among the Duna of Papua New Guinea. For, Smithsonian Series in Ethnographic Inquiry, Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.
A Adivasi, 14 Alienness, 244, 247 Ancestral spirits, 109, 117, 205 Animism, 8, 10, 79, 92, 93 Apatani, 174 B Batek, 11, 12, 19, 20, 22–24, 26, 34–37, 75–85, 87–89, 91–94 Batek Dè’, 75, 76, 78, 83–85, 90, 94 Batek Maia, 75, 76, 78, 80–84, 86–91, 93, 94 Beltany, 129, 131, 132, 134, 135, 139 Bhut , 106–108, 116, 117, 119, 120 Buddhism, 177, 179, 180, 182, 183 C Cattle, 35, 132–135, 171, 174, 176 Chambira basin, 11, 44, 49 Chepang, 11, 19, 20, 22, 27, 29–38
China, 13, 14, 170, 214–223, 225, 226, 228, 229, 236, 249 Christian proselytism, 29 Communication, 37, 68, 146, 153, 154, 162, 163, 176, 184, 215, 228, 229, 257 Connection, 2, 5, 13, 14, 22, 47, 48, 92, 93, 135, 200, 214–216, 218, 223, 243, 245–247 Contagious diseases, 12, 44, 62, 63 Conversion, 13, 29, 33, 53, 102, 103, 121, 142, 147, 152, 160, 179 Cosmologies of power, 84 Cosmopolitical, 12, 68, 77, 79, 85, 87, 183 Cosmopolitics, 10, 75, 77, 79, 93, 176 County Donegal, 12, 129, 131 Cultural change, 3, 152 Cultural intimacy, 215, 219, 220, 224, 226–229 Cultural revival, 13, 138
© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 D. Riboli et al. (eds.), Dealing with Disasters, Palgrave Studies in Disaster Anthropology, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-56104-8
D Deforestation, 1, 4, 20, 29, 31, 34, 102, 109, 123, 125, 189, 193, 200, 205 Dongria, 194, 197, 198 Duna, 12, 129, 136, 137, 256, 257
86, 91, 101, 102, 104–106, 108, 109, 111–113, 116–121, 123–125, 173, 216, 234, 235, 243, 244, 246 Frazer, sir James, 131–135, 194 Funerary rites, 114
E Earth, 2, 4, 5, 7, 10, 14, 22, 26, 31, 33–36, 60–62, 82, 84, 109, 114, 130, 138, 146, 151, 155, 159, 182, 195, 196, 200, 203, 205, 207, 214, 222–224, 227, 241, 242 Earthquake, 11, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28–36, 78, 85, 91, 173, 182, 239 Eco-cosmology, 2, 9, 10, 12, 15, 46, 77, 78, 85, 93, 117, 124, 142, 160, 255, 257 Ecological thinking, 14, 228 Ecology, 80, 121, 215, 225, 241, 257 Ecstatic ritual stances, 148 Environmental disasters, 11, 45, 47, 65, 68, 69, 207 Ethnography of song, 142 Evil spirits, 12, 44, 62, 107, 111, 205, 217 Extractive economies, 47 Extractive enterprises, 44
G Ghost, 14, 90, 107, 205, 235, 243–249 Globalization, 102, 207 Goddess worship, 146, 196 Gold, 14, 233–251, 256 Gter ma, 241, 242, 250 Gzhi bdag , 234, 235, 240, 244–247, 250, 251
F Family resemblance, 215, 218, 219, 229 Female spirit, 109, 137 Fertility, 13, 106, 129, 130, 132, 133, 135–138, 196, 197, 256, 257 Fire festivals, 135 Flood, 2, 4, 11, 12, 20, 22, 23, 25, 27, 28, 31, 32, 34, 35, 85,
H Hagen, 12, 129, 137–139 Heaven, 14, 214, 222–224, 227 Himalaya, 143, 169–173, 176–179 Hui, 234–237, 239, 243–249 Hyolmo, 179, 180
I Impurity, 30, 31, 105, 108, 113, 116, 123 India, 13, 14, 29, 80, 103, 114, 142, 161, 170, 174, 189–196, 198, 200–202, 240 Indigenous worldviews, 35 Initiation, 135, 147, 151, 152 Interconnectivity, 91, 92 Ireland, 12, 129, 131, 133, 137, 139 Islam, 36, 76, 102, 103, 110, 120, 121, 223, 249
J Jinn Pinn, 111, 117, 125
Jungle, 26, 44, 50, 55, 63, 114, 175, 190, 191, 193–195, 198, 203, 205, 206
K Kafiristan, 103, 121 Kalasha, 12, 101–117, 120, 121, 123–125 Kalasha valleys, 102–104, 111, 113, 123, 124 Kondhs, 144, 161, 193–208 Kuttia, 194, 196, 198
L Landscape, 4, 5, 9, 13, 14, 23, 55, 77–80, 84, 86, 91, 92, 104, 108, 109, 111, 116, 121, 130, 131, 135, 142, 153, 169, 172, 173, 178–183, 190, 234, 239, 243–245, 247, 248, 250 Landslide, 2, 4, 11, 13, 20, 22, 28, 31–35, 105, 123, 180, 234, 246 Lepcha, 178 Local Knowledge, 142, 217
M Ma bufang, 14, 233, 235–238, 245, 248, 249 Mahima Dharma, 13, 141–147, 161, 162 Malaysia, 11, 12, 19, 20, 22, 24, 26, 29, 37, 75–77, 87 Mediumship, 143 Megalithic monuments, 12, 130, 134 Memory, 6, 7, 14, 110, 112, 119, 170, 172, 233, 238, 239, 242–244, 246–249 Mining, 5, 14, 23, 24, 43, 46, 47, 87, 201–207, 233, 235–245, 247, 248, 250, 256
Muslim, 14, 20, 24, 102–104, 110, 114, 120, 123–125, 233, 234, 236, 243, 249 Mythology, 5, 20, 38, 172, 178
N Negotiation, 54, 67, 160, 245, 246 Neoliberal, 21, 22, 36 Nepal, 11, 13, 19, 20, 22, 27–30, 35, 37, 170, 174, 175, 178, 182–184 Niyamgiri, 14, 197, 201, 202 Nonhumans being, 5, 8, 10, 12, 13, 20, 24, 31, 34, 78, 84, 177, 192
O Odisha, 14, 193, 194, 198, 200–202, 206 Oil spills, 11, 44, 45, 54, 66, 70 Ontology, 5, 6, 8, 13, 46, 77, 79, 86, 92, 107, 177 Ontopolitics, 77
P Pakistan, 102–104, 110, 114, 116, 124, 125, 170 Pandemics, 1, 2, 11, 14, 255, 257 Pan-shamanic practice, 215, 219, 224 Papua New Guinea, 13, 129, 136, 138, 139, 256 Peruvian Amazonia, 11, 43–47, 49 Pipeline, 12, 44, 49–52, 55, 57, 58, 61–63, 66, 70 Pollution, 1, 2, 5, 23, 31, 35, 37, 105, 106, 124, 169, 170, 178, 183, 193, 202, 206, 239 Polyphonic, 14, 145, 215 Postcolonial, 4, 36 Purity, 11, 108, 113
Q Qinghai, 234, 235, 237, 238, 244, 248–250
R Rai, Mini, 175 Raphoe, 130, 131 Relatedness, 82, 142, 153, 247 Religious conversion, 103, 121, 125 Rights, 2, 76, 77, 85, 87, 190, 192, 193, 195, 201, 203 Rindi kiniya, 129, 136 Risk, 2, 3, 28, 68, 191, 203, 208, 242 Ritual, 6, 12–14, 20, 31, 43, 65, 88, 104–108, 110–117, 121, 123, 124, 129–139, 142–147, 149, 151, 153, 154, 159, 160, 162, 173, 175, 177, 178, 181, 182, 195, 197, 205, 214–220, 223, 224, 228, 234, 235, 238, 240–242, 244–247, 250, 255–257 Ritual ecstasy, 153, 154
S Sacred language, 154 Shamanism, 14, 15, 68, 85, 93, 145, 146, 150, 179, 192, 200, 215, 216, 220–230 Sop¯angad.¯a, 196, 197 Stone circles, 129–131, 134, 135, 139
Summer solstice, 134 Sustainability, 160, 190, 196, 203, 204, 255, 256 Symbiosis, 7, 79, 191 T Tibet, 183, 184 Tibetan, 14, 34, 171, 172, 177, 179, 182, 184, 233, 234, 236, 237, 239–250 Tribal, 77, 146, 161, 193–196, 199–202, 204, 207, 208 U Urarina, 11, 12, 44, 45, 47–49, 51–60, 62–66, 68, 70, 92 V Vedanta, 14, 201, 202 W Water, 2, 23, 31, 44, 46, 61, 66, 69, 86, 101, 108, 113, 117, 132, 170–172, 175, 179, 181, 182, 193, 206, 217, 239 Winter solstice, 107, 112, 116, 117 Y Yang,yin, 214