"Woman Shamans and Storytellers of the Amur" [lower Amur]

p. xxi "The northern Tungus languages include Even and Evenk,

while southern Tungus include Nanai, Udegei, Ul’chi, Nedigal, Manchu, Sibu, and Solon." Formerly, "the name Tungus was applied specifically to the people now called Evenk."


pp. 3-33 – 1. Udegei




"Listeners laugh at the references to death and rebirth, since the hero doesn’t really die. ...


Humor is so important in Udegei sacred tradition that making the shaman laugh is actually part of kamlanie."


"shamanic poles (the jiagda or spirit-figures ...) can turn into the dwelling place of evil spirits if the soul of a deceased person who has not been seen off to the next world takes up residence in one of them."

"traditional Udegei people did not sing at night, believing that it might attract the spirits of the dead."


"Biatu, the name for a bear used only in Udegei songs and stories, ... includes the idea that the bear is an evil spirit with a round moon-like face".


Fishskin is "the most common material for summer clothing in the Amur. Women would dry the skins of salmon ... and carefully pound them until they became as supple as soft leather. They bleached some skins ... and dyed others using blue flowers. ... Salmon skin can be ... even used for the soles of shoes. ...

Like the Nanai shaman[ess] ..., women would sometimes embroider several robes especially to be buried in, believing that they would use them to pay off various spirits they would meet on the way to the land of the dead." {cf. [Sumerian] goddess In-anna having to use her ornaments to pay off various spirits whom she met on her way to the land of the dead}


"the Udegei ... tear the clothing of the dead in order to show the spirits in the next world that this person had come to stay."


"Sagdi Mama is the deity who brings the souls of children into bodies."


pp. 34-57 – 2. Udegei [further]




"women were forbidden to eat the meat of bears killed by their brothers."


[story] "The girls’ dog saves their lives by giving up his own so that his bones can create a bridge."


[funeral] "A female shaman accompanied his soul to the other world, Buni. She described descending through a hole in the earth. People were holding her by a strong rope around her waist. They went through darkness until it got light. The seasons there were the opposite to what they are here. Then a man came out to meet and welcome [the soul of the dead]. ... Then the shaman[ess] left him there and came back – the people were pulling on the rope."


pp. 58-70 – 3. Nivkh




"while the men were away hunting or fishing ... the women would gather in one house and play games and tell stories ... designed to distract the forest spirits so that they wouldn’t notice that the men are hunting."


"Twins ... are given a special burial, seated at the base of a tree."


[at death] "twins turn into bears, ... shamans turn into eagles. ... Children turn into birds" : ["The birds return to nest in the tree of life, from which the mother goddess sends them back to earth." (p. 243, n. 3:6)]


pp. 71-93. – 4. Nanai




"Nanai coat of salmon skin ... an excellent wind and waterproof material."


"Ningman, magic-tales, were told while out fishing, hunting or berry-picking. The Tungus words ningma (tale) and ningmachi (funeral) have the same root, which has to do with seeing with the eyes closed".


"Lizard amulets are representations of shamanic helping spirits ... and [in legend] they turn into ... the poles that shamans ... kept outside their houses."


pp. 94-116. – 5. Nanai [further]




"an island in the middle of the river. It was formed from the body of a girl who was turned to stone on her way to her wedding. ... No one lived on the island, but people used to go there to be healed. There was a certain hole in the rock. If you could go through the hole you would live".


[in a tale] "The frog asks the ice if it is the strongest thing in the world ... . The frog then sees that the sun can melt the ice,

a cloud can block out the sun,

the wind can disperse the cloud, and, ...

the mountain blocks the cloud,

a tree’s roots break up the mountain, and ...

man ... can chop down the tree. But ...

death is stronger than a man, and

the shaman is stronger than death but

is afraid of fire,

which in turn can be put out by


water. The story has then come full circle to where it began." {this is similar to the Chinese cycle of overcomings by the elements}


"Nanai fishskin dress. The blue applique designs are also of fishskin, dyed with berries." {cf. fish-scale armor for military in state of Wu (lower Yan-tze)}


"The tiger is our ancestor. You have to bow to tiger tracks."


[legend] "Manchu prince. The prince’s daughter dreamed of the Passar shaman and got pregnant. ... The father sent soldiers ... to kill the shaman. They cut his body in pieces with their swords. The next morning the Manchu prince looked out and saw the shaman fishing in the river as usual, still alive. ...


Snow began to fall and those soldiers were in summer clothes."


"the spirit of the forest ..., called Podya, appears as male or female at various times and embodies the spiritual essence of a given place".


"In the lineage of shamans, a child [girl] who will be a shaman[ess] is noted immediately at birth and ... resembles a crazy person. As soon as the child starts to recognize herself in this world, to see her own paths and future road, like becomes very complex. She meets not only good sprits but bad ones – amban." "Here [the shamaness-informant] added details which she asked us not to repeat, saying that it is dangerous to talk widely of such matters."


"she described a place where shamans keep the souls they have recovered from evil spirits before returning them to a body – a kind of hospital where souls receive the care they need until they are strong enough to sustain life in a body."


[new shamaness] "She may run outside naked when the temperature is minus 40 ... . She may go into freezing water."


[consecration of new shamaness] "At the end of this period [of 10 years] all the shamans gathered together, the great shamans – those who accompany the dead – all the healers except those in the lowest category, those who heal only themselves. ["there were three forms of Nanai shamans. the weakest, called mepu-sama, could heal only themselves. The second category, called taochini-sama, could conduct healings and other ceremonies. The highest form of shamans, kasaty-sama, conducted the souls of the dead to the next world" (p. 244, n. 5:4).} [The new shamaness to be consecrated] wore a special hat made with wood streamers. ... one special shaman[ess] at her consecration ... caught the evil spirits and bit them, she bit [the new shamaness being consecrated] too, so hard that she passed out. ... When she came to herself she started to sing. The new shaman[ess] had awakened.

During her travels she had also searched for the instruments she would use as a shaman[ess]. All these things were now ... ready to be also consecrated. The drum (unuchku), the stick and belt (yampa). The spirit images she had found in her travels were prepared during the consecration. The wood for the rim of the drum and the skin for its top had been prepared a year in advance. The future shaman[ess] pointed out the tree to be used for the rim and her relatives went out to get it. The drum head was made from the skin of a roe deer killed in summer and the striking stick was covered with suede from the leg of a roe deer killed in winter. The glue was made from salmon.


... every shaman participated in the kamlanie, or shamanic activity. Everybody could dance but noly the shamans could drum. The feasting went on for several days ... . ... some people even fell in love at this time!

During the ceremony, seve`ns (spirit figures) were prepared of wood, silver and other metal. The new shaman[ess] determined which craftsman was to cut the tree and make the seve`ns, which are earthly representations of spirits. One test of the new shaman[ess] was that she must tell which side of the tree had been cut to get the wood. There are special rituals for empowering the drum and seve`ns. Songs and prayers help the objects to come alive, as their spirits enter them. ... the seve`ns should be empowered on the same day they are made."


[another shamaness] "realized she was seeing auras, energy patterns and colours around people’s bodies."


pp. 117-147 – 6. Udegei [yet further]




"The spirit of fire is sometimes seen as male and sometimes female."


"The drum’s oval frame is made of light-weight, flexible bird-cherry wood, hollowed out so the sound of the stick on the frame resonates. Its head is made of goat-skin. Shaman’s drums vary in size -- ... about 18" x 24" while some are much larger. They are often very shallow, only two or three inches deep. There are sounding pieces of metal attached to the inside of the rim and loose crossed leather thongs for a handle. The player holds the drum by the thongs with the head down and strikes it from underneath. At the same time the drum is moved up and down, thus producing three sounds – the stick striking the dead, the hand holding the crossed thongs striking the head from inside (possible because the drum is so shallow), and the metal pieces ringing."


"laughter is part of raising the energy for the ceremony (called samasini in Udegei.)"


"The part of the ceremony where everyone present plays the drum is called gongui. Later just the assistants play – this is called jagditi. Drumming by all participants is the first step in calling the shaman’s spirits. As the assistants play the spirits come closer, and when at last the shaman starts to drum, the spirits ... enter the shaman."


A really strong shamaness "accompanied souls to Buni, the next world. In Udegei, that ritual is called khanyaunya khuni (like the Nanai Kasa). Khanya means soul. ... [This ritual is performed (only) when a hunter is killed by a bear.]


[caerimony for hunter killed by a bear] "Through the shaman[ess the bear-killed hunter]’s spirit spoke some final words to those present and then people gave him gifts of food and even money for the long road ahead. Then [the shamaness] took his soul, which she had transferred into a hay figure, and went on a long visionary journey, entering a distant mountain that led to the land of the dead. It was dark there. When they arrived, she passed his soul on to deceased members of his family, whose identity was confirmed by persons present at the ceremony. Then she returned to this world, with the help of her assistants who pulled on a leather strap which they had previously tied around her waist."


[curing a small child] "If a small child was sick, [the shamaness] would divine using her drum, addressing her spirits. She asks if their is a soul in the child If the soul is gone and the child is three or under, Sagdi-mama will have taken him. She is the one who keeps the souls of children in her nest before their birth. These souls are in the form of the little birds ... . ...


So the shaman[ess] asks if the soul is with Sagdi-mama. If it is, ... A nest is made ... from ... khatka, the kind of soft swamp grass that is used in shoes to keep the feet warm and comfortable. Then they sew a special round amulet of skin in the form of a foetus ... . The sick child wears this amulet. The shaman will breathe the child’s soul into the amulet. The ledum plant is burned and [the shamaness] calls the spirits, walking around the house with special movements ... . She tells where she is going. She turns into a bird, a cuckoo, and sits on a tree. She turns into a butterfly and flies. ... Quickly she grabs the soul and puts it in her mouth to bring it back safely. ... Now the shaman[ess] breathes the soul onto the amulet and places it on the drum. It jumps around as she plays and finally jumps into the hem of the mother’s dress. She catches it, and


from there they put it in the nest on the pole."

"Beside the Sukpai river there is a lake


where people ... send a dog into the water, the shells stick to the dog and then the dog comes back and they take the shells off and use them top decorate clothing. Once every hundred years this lake floods".


pp. 148-184 – 7. Ul’chi

pp.151-152 housing & clothing




"We painted that kind of house with clay, and it became white. ... The windows were ... made ... of fishskin. You couldn’t see through them but light came through.


... they made lamps of fish oil".


"We wore shoes made of fishskin and filled with ... soft swamp grass. Even in summer. Outer coats were made of fishskin and winter coats of dog fur." ["Fishskin clothing, made from the skin of a sheat-fish" (p. 156)]

pp. 152-154 bear caerimony




"In the traditional bear ceremony, a family kept a young bear for one or two years and then sacrificed him. His soul was to return to the master of the taiga and report on the behaviour of humans on earth. ... This kind of ceremony was carried out by the Ul’chi, Nivkh, and Ainu peoples".


"Special dishes were carved with the image of a bear’s head and chains were made with real links. ["the links have actually been carved from a single piece of wood" (p. 245, n. 7:4)] ... Women played special rhythms on a musical instrument made of a hollow log." ["The instrument is called udyadyupu. The rhythms played include "stopping at the lake" and "resting at the mountain pass," which represent stages on the bear’s journey back to the land of the taiga people" (p. 245, n. 7:6).]

pp. 162-163 curing of children by shamaness’s returning of their souls to them




"They prepared Labrador tea (ledum) ... . ... She [the shamaness] said my spirit had been taken – she breathed it back in at the top of my head. It was a cold feeling, as if my skull opened up. ... It happened ... before my first menstruation." ["Most of the people I have met who have been healed by Siberian shamans describe the experience of feeling the soul return through the top of the head." (p. 246, n. 7:10)]


After this girl grew up, her own "babies died. ... [Another shamaness] discovered that the souls of the children had been stolen and breathed them back into their mother’s head. She flew away to find them. Then the mother had to keep her head covered for several days. After that ... live children were born. Again [their mother] described the sensation of her skull opening and the cold feeling as the shaman[ess] breathed the souls back in."


"Nanai shamans had a special place where they kept the souls of vulnerable children, watching over them as if they were in a kind of spiritual nursery. This place was usually in a cliff at the base of a mountain.

Ul’chi acquaintances confirm that their own children have personal shamans who keep their souls in a place whose location even the mother does not know."

p. 163 [Nanai] "the shaman does a ritual to return the soul permanently when the child is anywhere from ten to twenty years old, or times at the time of marriage."

p. 166 divination by shamaness ["She had a roomer, who ... was her lover, but he was not at home."]

"she divined the answers to some of our personal questions by asking her "god," a wooden figure ... . ... The figure used for divination is suspended on a leather string and moves in response to questions put by the shaman[ess]."

pp. 170-172 divine tigre husband of shamaness




"In her childhood she had dreamed ... that she was living with the tiger. She gave birth to three baby tigers but wouldn’t agree to raise them and instead gave them to a tiger-father. When she was grow up, again she had the dream of living with the tiger and this time she gave birth to two baby tigers. She kept them with her. During journeys she now rides on the tigers. ["When I was a young girl, I married a tiger. My tiger babies became my helping spirits. They fly me to other worlds." (p. 1)] Her helping spirit is Duse, the flying tiger. Its image has wings and a person on the back with the face of a bear.


She goes through the lower, middle, and upper worlds.

At twenty years of age, she dreamed of flying to the lower world, over the ocean. There were seven mountains with fire burning. ...

To get to the upper world she goes through the larch tree, she goes through the clouds. She sees an opening. Around the opening are seven girls with mallets in their hands. There is a huge space and a statue the size of a house. This statue is a Manchurian god.


... her grandmother-shaman[ess] helped her to escape. Ever since that time the spirits have forced her to drum."


[autobiographical account by same shamaness] "When I was little the tiger slept with me. ... I didn’t tell mama.


... I got pregnant. ... Three tiger babies were born. I was mad and threw them right at the tiger. ... The tiger took them away. ... Again I got pregnant. He came at night. This time I had two tiger babies. One sat on each of my knees and they put their paws on my shoulders. They wanted to such my breasts, one here and one here. ... They are alive, they help me. ... They are here with me. ... I see them."


pp. 185-226 – 8. Nanai [yet further]

p. 185 shaman’s equipment : "His belt was very heavy ... . The heavier the belt, the better it helped hold the shaman to the ground."

drum of a mite

p. 196 (in story) woman’s prospective husband guessed as answer to her riddle : "The head of your drum is covered with the skin of a flea and the stick is covered with the skin of a louse."

p. 246, n. 8:3 [C^ukc^i] "if a person found a tiny drum made from the skin of a beetle or even a louse in the tundra, it would give him/her immense shamanic power".

pp. 219-220 forgiveness by the spirits




"special conversation, called ypila, with her spirits asking forgiveness for doing things in a way that was not completely correct."


"To call kya-kya asks forgiveness of the spirits".

p. 220 A tudin (shaman’s assistant) "can follow the shaman on the journey and occasionally keep the shaman from going astray in another world."


MCGILL-QUEEN’S NATIVE AND NORTHERN SERIES, 25 = Kira van Deusen : The Flying Tiger. Montreal & Kingston, 2001.