A Lisu Shamanistic seance1 พิมพ์ อีเมล
เขียนโดย E. P. Durrenberger   

DURRENBERGER, E. PAUL. A LISU SHAMANISTIC SEANCE 1 . JSS. VOL.64 (pt. 2) 1976. p.151-160

 

                                                         A LISU SHAMANISTIC SEANCE1

                                                               by

                                                E. P. Durrenberger

 

Lisu are slash  and  burn  agriculturalists  who  live  in  the  hills  of
Northern   Thailand, Burma  and   Southern  China.2 Among  the  Lisu  of
Northern Thailand whom I studied, misfortunes take many forms — pigs
wander   away   or   do  not  return  to  their  pens  at  night, fields  may  be
infested with insects, and people are stricken with a  variety  of  illnesses.
Misfortune   of  one  kind  or  another  is  an  everyday  event. Perhaps  no
people simply accept  misfortune. Lisu  are  no  exception. They  attempt
to find and correct the causes of misfortunes in terms of  their  own  view
of causality and order in the universe.

In the Lisu view the  universe  is  populated  by  spirits  as  well   as
humans. Often misfortune is attributed  to  the  activites  of   these  spirits.
There are many spirits which may be offended by human actions, and  in
retribution visit misfortunes on   people  until  they  atone  for  the  offense.
Spirits of long deceased ancestors of patrilineal lineages, lineage spirits
(nì zá), can communicate directly  with  people  by  riding  or  possessing
shamans (nì phá)

_________________________________________________________________

                     1)   The fieldwork on which this paper  is  based  was  financed  by a contract from
                            the United States Army Medical Research  and Development   Command through
                            the auspicies of the Division  of   Neuropsychiatry, Walter  Reed  Army  Institute
                            of Research. The fieldwork was conducted between November, 1968 and Sep-
                            tember, 1970. The orthography  for  Lisu  word s  is  derived from the  work  of
                            D.H.Roop,who studied the Lisu language and read my field reports and  offered
                            much useful advice. I   would  also  like  to  thank   Professor F.K. Lehman  who
                            read  my  field  reports, corresponded  with  me  while  I was  in the field,   and
                            offered me invaluable assistance and advice in  interpretation  of material   both
                            while I was in the field and after I returned. Sala A  Yi assisted me   throughout
                            the  project. Khun  Prasert   Chaipigusit, Hill   Tribes  Research  Centre,  Chiang-
                            mai, and Khun Wanat Bhruksasri, Director of the Hill  Tribes  Research   Centre
                            were helpful in many ways throughout the period of the study.

                      2)    Dessaint, A.Y. "Lisu Annotated  Bibliography," Behavior Science Notes, 1971,

         6:71-94....... "The    Poppies    are    Beautiful    This    Year,"    Natural    History,

         1972, 81 : 30.

 

 

 

 

 

                    152                                                  Durrenberger

 

In order to understand  the  Lisu view of   the  order  of   the  universe
we  must  comprehend  their relationships  with  these  spirits. One  impor-
tant   way  of   appreciating    these   relationships   is  by   observing  direct
interaction  between  people  and spirits during shamanistic seances.The
purpose  of  this  paper  is  to   contribute  to  such   an   understanding   by
describing a shamanistic seance.

First, however, let us examine the  shaman's  role  and  his  place  in
setting bad situations aright. Shamans are  men  who  have  been  chosen
by   the   spirits   of   their   patrilineal   lineages   to   be "horses". If   a   man
begins to act in bizarre ways — to have fits,  lose  energy  and  want  to  stay
at home instead of working in his fields, to run about  madly  and  bash  his
head  against  trees, to  have  nightmares — people  will  infer  that  he  has
probably   been   chosen   by   the   spirits  to   be   their "horse". To  find  out
what to do, they ask an established shaman  to  call  his  spirits  so  people
can ask them. The spirits usually indicate that the  man  has  been  chosen
to be a  shaman. Having  been  chosen, the  man  may  not  refuse  the  will
of the  spirits, at  least, if  he  resists, there  will  be  dire  if  not  always  fatal
consequences.

As these symptoms  and  interpretations  develop, news  of   the  new
shaman   spreads. Then, explaining   that   their   spirits  have  told   them of
the new shaman, shamans from surrounding villages  come  to  initiate  the
new   one. They   take  the  neophyte  to  a  place  deep  in  the  forest  where
they set out a number of lighted beeswax candles and bamboo  cups  filled
with mashed beans or  water. The  neophyte eats  the  beans  and  candles
and drinks the water.

One of the shamans  calls  his  great-grandfather  spirit  to  him,  and
this spirit questions the neophyte about his lineage spirits — who is senior
to whom, who  is  most  powerful, who  can  do  what  things. The  neophyte
answers and then the shaman asks which  spirit  the  neophyte  would  like
to   ride   him   first. The   neophyte   answers   that   the   most   junior  spirit
should come first.

Meanwhile, other  shamans  call  powerful  spirits  to  ride them. Just
as when someone gets a new  horse  all  of  the  children  want  to  ride, all
of   the   spirits   want   to   ride   the   new  shaman. These  powerful  spirits

 

 

 

 

 

                                    A LISU SHAMANISTIC SEANCE                                     153

 

drive off the bad  spirits  with   lighted  joss  sticks. The   bad   spirits  must
be taught  at  this time  that they may not ride the shaman, for  should  they
ride him when  he  is  trying  to cure  someone, they would eat the patient's
soul, and  he  would  die. Spirits  of  other lineages may try to ride the   new
shaman, but  they   are   not   allowed  to. When  this  initiation  is   finished,
only  the  spirits  of  the  neophyte's lineage can ride  him  and  he  is   able,
with  their  help, to  cure  people  and   to  communicate  with  the  world  of
the spirits.

Following this ceremony,the new shaman seeks  further  instruction
from a senior shaman of his own lineage. During  such  training sessions
the new shaman and the senior one are both possessed  and  the  senior
shaman demonstrates and teaches the various aspects  of  the  role. Lisu
say, "The spirits of the senior shaman  instruct  those  of   the   junior   one."

In addition to  instructing the   new   shaman, the "training  sessions"
are important for  establishing   a   consensus  among  villagers  that   this
person   is   really  a  shaman. In  the "training   sessions" I  observed,  the
senior shaman's spirits repeatedly asked people in the audience to judge
whether   the   trainee's   behavior   were   appropriate. The   new  shaman
must not speak gibberish; he must be intelligible.

The senior shaman's spirits also catalogue the various functions of
the shaman and  describe  just  what  offerings  to  the  shaman's  lineage
spirits the beneficiaries of these services should  make. Again, the  spirits
ask for confirmation from the people in attendance.

The   shamans'   duties   involve   communicating   with   the   spirits
whenever   necessary. They   diagnose  illnesses  and  other  misfortunes,
separate  the  souls of the dead from those of the living after a death, drive
away bad  spirits, return  objects  which  have  been  intruded  into  victims
(taì) either by   spirits  or  sorcerers, exorcise  witch  spirits  (phyì phƽ)  and
other bad spirits  which may possess people, cure diseases, and  extend
peoples' lives by  writing letters to god (wūsā).

One of the most important functions of the  shaman  is  to  discover
the causes of disease and other misfortunes. Therapeutic actions, which
aim to correct misfortunes, are  predicated  on  an  etiology  of  the  misfor-
tune. The shaman invokes his spirits, who ride him, and people  can  ask

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

154                                                  Durrenberger

 

 

 

the  spirits  directly  about  the  causes  of  misfortunes. The  shaman   is
therefore very central in dealing with misfortune.

Because of the shaman's importance in discovering the causes of
misfortunes, and because misfortunes are not uncommon, shamanistic
seances  are  frequent. In  the  village  I studied  hardly  a  week  went  by
without a shamanistic seance for one purpose or another. Seances  are,
then, everyday events, just as misfortunes are.

Before describing a seance, I shall describe  a Lisu house so   the
positioning and movements of the shaman and  others will be clear.  The
houses are built on hillside terraces. Houses face  downhill, with a   door
which opens onto a verandah which is shaded  by  the overhanging   that-
ched   roof. The  floors  are  pounded  earth. Houses  are  typically   about
thirty by thirty-six  feet   but   some   are   larger   and   some  smaller . The
walls are constructed of split  bamboo  planks. On  the  back  wall, at   the
height of the top of the wall, opposite the  door, is  an  altar  which    either
rests  on   legs  or  is  hung  from  the  rafters. On   the   altar   board     are
arranged Chinese cups and/or bowls. Each of these represents  a   spirit.
To the left, as one faces the altar, are cups for the householder's   mother,
father,  grandmother   and   grandfather. The  other  cups  or  bowls  repre-
sent lineage spirits. The more  powerful  spirits  are  located  to  the  right
of less powerful ones. Left and right  are  determined  by  facing  downhill,
with one's back to the altar, so actually  more  powerful  spirits  are  to  the
left of less powerful ones.

On either side of the space given over  to the  alta r there  are  walls
which separate sleeping quarters. To the right side of  the  house (left  as
one faces the altar) is a cooking  space. Along  the  front  walls  there  are
usually split bamboo  platforms  to  seat  people. Near  the  center  of  the
house is a hearth  used  for  cooking  or  preparing  tea. There  may  be  a
split   bamboo  platform  under  the  altar. This  is  the  general  pattern  of
Lisu   houses   although   there  is  much  variation  according  to  lineage
custom.

Inside the house there are usually several short wooden  stools.  If
the seance is in response to an individual's being sick,the patient usually
sits on a stool near the hearth, and faces the door.The shaman positions

 

 

 

 

 

                                    A LISU SHAMANISTIC SEANCE                                 155

 

himself in  front  of  the  altar  and  stands  on  the  platform  if  there  is  one
under   the  altar. Other  people  sit  on the  platforms  near  the  front  of  the
house or  on  stools. Anyone  may  speak  to the spirits when they possess
the  shaman, but  usually  one  or  two men will attend to the shaman. They
keep  the  altar  cups  full  of water, provide joss sticks, bring the things  the
spirits  request  and  catch  the  shaman when he leaves his trance.During
the seance lighted joss sticks are kept on the altar.

The shaman may invoke his spirits with a prayer, or  he  may  simply
whistle   for   about  a  minute  before  becoming  possessed. Typically, the
prayer lists some of the shaman's lineage spirits, tells them this is a good
day or night, addresses them as "the  ones  who  can  see, who  can  hear,
who   know   everything," and  "the  ones  who  take  care  of  the  horse, the
ones who  ride  the  horse," and  asks  them  to  come  down. When  he  is
possessed, the shaman's voice assumes  a  singing  or  chanting  quality
quite distinct from ordinary diction.

The seance  was  to  find  out  the cause of Widow Woman's illness.
The shaman was Fish Man.3 What follows is a  description of  the seance
and  a  translation  of  the  dialogue  between  the  spirits  and  the  people.
This is a translation  of  a tape  recording  of  the  seance. I  recorded  and
translated many of these seances with the help of Lisu  villagers  and   my
Lahu  assistant, Sala  A  Yi.  The    one   presented   here   is   typical   of  a
diagnostic seance.

Spirit:        I, third   generation   daughter   (sāch+ ámyì have  come  down.

People,  why    have  you  called   me ?  Third  generation   older
brother, senior   to  me........People, I  have  come. Third  genera-
tion daughter has come to  your  place. You  who  are  senior  to
me, come help.

People :   Come down quickly.

Spirit :       People  have  called  me, so  I  am calling  you. The people have
become sick.

People :   Where we offended, we do not  know. What  is  needed ?   Come
tell us quickly

________________________________________________________________

 

3)  For more on Lisu curing and the place of shamans in the process, see Durren-

      berger, E.P. "Lisu Curing : A Case History," Bulletin of The History of Medicine,

       forthcoming..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

156                                                       Durrenberger

 

Spirit :       I will tell. I am third generation daughter.

People :   Please tell us where we offended. Please tell us. If you  do  not

tell, it is your fault.
Spirit :       If  I  tell,  people, you  must  use  silver  and  gold. I  will  tell. If  I

tell you, you cannot do everything.
People :   We can use [whatever is needed].

Spirit :       People, people, third generation great-grandfather (sācht plïhà)
will tell.

People:    Please tell us what is needed quickly.
Spirit :       I will tell you. I cannot not tell you.

People :   Please tell us quickly. Do   not  wait   for us  people  to  tell  you,

tell us quickly.
Spirit :       People . . . People . . .

People :   Where  was  the  offense ? You, spirit  who  can  see, tell  us. If
                  you have something to tell us, please tell us.
        The shaman took a cup from the altar and  sprayed  Widow  Woman,
 who was inside the sleeping room, then sprinkled the  right  side  of  the
altar enclosure, the wall of the sleeping room, and handed the  altar  cup
to Widow Woman.

Spirit :      People, people, third generation daughter has come down and

                 spoken wrongly. You people used only one chicken.

People :  Do  not  say  that; if  you  do  not  tell  us, we   do   not   know. We

                 have called you.

Spirit :      I    told    you    wrong,  told    wrong. Like    this, like     that.  Third
generation great-grandfather spirit  on the  gold and silver  altar
will tell.

People :  Tell us whether animals or silver is needed.
Spirit :      People, people, she has been sick for many days. I will  tell  you
                 about the offense.

People :   What should we do for it to be  good ?    Please  tell  us. People

do not know.
Spirit :       I will tell you : I will tell you straight.
People :   People do not know, cannot do. Please tell us.
Spirit :       I will tell you.

People :    What must we people for it to be good ?

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                A LISU SHAMANISTIC SEANCE                            157

 

Spirit:      People , people .... One    senior    to    third  generation  daughter

                 will tell.

People:   If you have something to  tell  us, tell  it.  What  should  we  do  for

                 it to be good ?

Spirit:       I   will   tell   who  sent the  sickness. I  will  tell  who  put  the  sick-
ness. If   I   tell  you, it   is  like  this; if   I  do  not  tell  you, it  is  like
this.

[The spirit addresses the house spirits] If you sent this sickness,
you  have  no  honor (dù  majū  myī  majū). Spirits  senior  to  me,
do  you  look  after  your  descendants  like  this ? [to the  people]
You  looked  for  me, so you  must  keep  long hearts (be patient).
If    you    keep   long   hearts, you   are   honorable   (dù jū myī jū).

People:    We cannot keep short hearts.

Spirit:        Altar spirits, keep  soft  hearts. If  you  keep  soft  hearts, you  are
 honorable.

People:    What should we do to have honor ?

Spirit:        If  you  keep  long  hearts, you  will  have  honor. People  do  not
know,  cannot    do ... . If    you   altar  spirits  sent  this  sickness,
you   do    not    have  honor. More   than   this, third    generation
daughter will tell.

People:    You must tell us : you must teach us.
Spirit:        I will tell about your whole village.
The shaman coughed and stumbled.
People:    Hold your horse, do not let it fall.

Spirit:        I will tell you. I will tell about people who do not know.

People:    Please tell us how to cut away this sickness.

Spirit:        I have seen third generation woman, but  she  did  not  tell  me
anything. Three  generations, four  generations, you  look  after
your   children. After   they   know    about  this, you  spirits  look.
If    your  descendants  are  sick, you  have  no  honor. This  the
country of other people. There  is  much  sickness. The people
will laugh at you. The descendants of  others  do  not  get  sick.
The descendants of others  are  not  sick. [To  Widow  Woman]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

158                                                     Durrenberger

 

You who look for silver and gold, you should not look  for  silver
and gold in the fields; you should stay in the  house  and  teach
your  children. At  the  top  of  the  village, bottom  of  the  village,
you   have  no  relatives. I  ask  you, third  generation  spirit,  my
senior, are   you   angry   or  not ?  These  are  third  generation
daughter's words. Third generation daughter's words are thick.
I do not know, but I have a  soft heart. I  cannot  say  more  than
this.

People : You must have a soft heart.

Spirit 1 I am third  generation . . . people, third   generation   daughter, the
golden woman, silver woman (phwū lo mā swt lo mā).I will tell.

People : We want you to tell us, so we have called you.

Spirit : I am the last daughter, I will tell you. People . . .

People : What must we do to cut away the sickness ?

Spirit : If I tell you, you will be poor and hungry.

People : Do not tell us twice; tell us once only.

Spirit : Third  generation  older  brother  has  spoken  wrongly. People ...

People : If   you   do  not  tell  us, it  is  your  fault. What  should  we  do  to
cut away the sickness ? If people do not listen, it is  their  fault.

Spirit : Too much to eat. People, people ....

People : You tell us, you teach us.

Spirit : I will speak. If I tell you, you will be poor.

People : People are sick and have called you.

Spirit : You  need  to  look  for  an  able man  at  the top  of  the  village, at
the   bottom  of  the  village. Do  not  have  a  heavy  heart, look
quickly.

People : We have nowher e to  look  for  one, we  are  satisfied  with  you.

Spirit : You must use much.

People : We can use it, please tell us.

Spirit : People, three generation daughter told you wrong.

People : It does not matter, we can  use  what is  needed. What  should 
we do to cut away the sickness ?

Spirit : I, the daughter, will tell you.

People : If  you   have  something  to  tell  us, please  tell  us  everything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                             A LISU SHAMANISTIC SEANCE                                    159

 

Spirit :     There,where you cut wood,call my friend and make a ceremony
                 there. Before, third generation daughter  told  you  and  you  did
                 not   keep    it   in  your  hearts. You  have big  hearts. What  has
                 happened to you now ?

People : People are like pigs and dogs.

Spirit :    Third   generation   older   brother  told  you  wrong. People, I  do
                not know, so go look at the top of  the  village, at  the  bottom  of
                the village. Look  at  the  top  of  the  village  and  the  bottom  of
                the village  and  make  the  sickness  well. People, people, you
                have cold hearts. You eat too much.

People : Let us not have trouble.

Spirit :    There is much essence of disease.There is no more  than  this.

People : If there is no more, thank you.

Spirit :     People, I have told  the  altar  spirits  to  keep  soft  hearts. Now
                 they have soft hearts.

People : If you tell them, may they have soft hearts.

Spirit :     Now it will be good  for  the people. It has become well. People,
                 I  do  not  know, I  cannot  do. I  have  told  you  much. I  do   not
                 know, so  I  have  told wrong. I  have   spoken   wrongly, people.
                 I have received many joss sticks and much water.

 

        The shaman came  out  of his trance and the seance ended. When
shamans come out of their  trances, they  do  not  remember  what  has
happened or what   the  spirits  have  told  the  people. In  this  case, the
spirit indicated that  a  ceremony  to  the  spirit  of  a  certain  hill  should
be made and the essence of disease should be sent from the household.

 

        I think some of  the interesting aspects  of  this  seance  have  to  do
with the relations between  spirits  and  people. We  see  that  spirits, as
well as people, can lose and gain honor  by  their  actions, and  that   the
people do not have any especial  awe  for their  spirits  who  are   fallible,
just as people are. We see,for instance, that household spirits can  lose
honor by not fulfilling peoples' expectations of them to  keep   the  house-
hold members from harm.In some seances people ask for much  more
specific information — should they offer a pig or a chicken, what has been

 

 

 

 

 

 

160                                               Durrenberger

 

the  offense, and  so  on.  Many  ceremonies, among  them, those  for  hill
spirits have standard forms, so more specific information is  not  needed.

The spirits  repeat  that  if  they  tell  the  people  the  causes  of  the
sickness, the  people   will   have  to  use  wealth  and  will  become  poor.
Ceremonies are  often  occasions  for  feasts  where  food  is  distributed,
which brings honor to the sponsor of the feast.

In this seance we see a shaman in action in his role as purveyor of
important information for  diagnosis, and  something  of  how  Lisu  relate
to some  of  their  spirits, as  instrumentalities  rather  than  with  awe. We
also see that ceremonies are a way of distributing  wealth  in  feasts  and
that the honor of spirits, as the honor of people, must be earned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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