bells in Northeast Asia
S. M. Shirokogoroff
Sergei M. Shirokogoroff
(1887 1939) was a Russian anthropologist, educated in
France. He did much linguistic and ethnographic fieldwork in
Northern China, Manchuria and South East Siberia. He is however
best known for his studies on Siberian and Manchurian shamanism.
He made detailed studies of the Tungus* culture and of Tungus
shamanism in particular. Such was his fame in the region that
the locals gave him the nickname 'The White Tungus'. Shirokogoroff
came to the conclusion that shamanism among the Tungus and Manchu
speaking ethnic groups of SE Siberia and Manchuria was a...
...relatively recent phenomenon which seems to have spread from
the west to the east and from the south to the north. It includes
many elements directly borrowed from Buddhism introduced among
the peoples using the word saman, by the Mongols, some
predecessors of the Manchus, and Chinese.
Sergei M. Shirokogoroff
Photograph source: Wikipedia
study Sramana-Saman, etymology of the word Shaman** (published
in 1924) Shirokogoroff dates the emergence of Tungus shamanism at
the eleventh century. He has described the Tungus shaman complex in
his study The psychomental complex of the Tungus shaman. It
includes minute descriptions of several shaman costumes. From these
descriptions it becomes clear that the most elaborate costumes are
found with groups in the area of Northern Manchuria and South East
Siberia, among them groups such as the Solon and Manjagir (considered
to be subgroups of the Tungus), the Nanay, the Goldi (also called
Nanai) and the northern Manchus (Numinchen, Kumarchen, a.o.). In fact,
although these groups live in different countries and regions, the
whole area, covering East Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, South east Siberia,
and North east China (former Mancuria) can, and perhaps should be
considered as one entity, in terms of cultural traits such as religion,
in this case shamanism. Shirokogoroff considers the complex of shamanism
as found among the groups in this area as the authentic and, in fact,
only form of shamanism. According to him all other forms are not shamanism
but variations of animism, ancestor worship, etc. performed by magicians,
medicine men and women, and others.
costumes used in Northern Manchuria and South East Siberia are all
decorated with many objects, among them mirrors and dozens of tiger
bells. Oddly, Shirokogoroff did not distinguish the tiger bells
from other crotal bells, calling them all ball-bells. However
when we compare some of the costumes he describes, particularly
those of the Tungus in Manchuria, with the costumes in Copenhagen
and on some photographs (link
1, link 2 and below) we can
be sure that most of the ball-bells in those costumes are
coat from the Tungus from Manchuria, note the mirrors and the
ball-bells which are most likely tiger bells.
Sketch by S. M. Shirokogoroff
costume of a Numinchen female shaman. Note the head cover
with the antlers, the breast cover with cowry shells, the
bronze mirrors (toli) and the many tiger bells; all
essential elements of the shaman dress.
forced decline of shamanism in
the beginning of the 20th century there must have been many dozens,
if not hundreds of these costumes in the region since every village
and even family had its shaman. Over the centuries many of these costumes
were treasured and passed on by old shamans to their successors. Most
likely the use of bronze objects such as mirrors, masks and tiger
bells also goes back to the 11th century, or even before that.
presence of tiger bells, as demonstrated by the costume of the Solon
from Inner Mongolia, with 61 tiger bells, is typical for the area
covering East Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, SE Siberia and NE China
(former Manchuria). In more remote areas the number of tiger bells
on costumes is smaller. The groups that have tiger bells all belong
to the Neo-Siberians. There is one exception: the Gilyak, neighbors
of the Nanay. They are of Paleo-Siberian descent but migrated to
Neo-Siberian territory and adopted much of their culture, including
SE Siberian shamanism, the costume and the tiger bells. There are
no other examples of Paleo-Siberians using tiger bells.
Manchu shamans used
tiger bells sparingly. There are reports that tiger bells were part
of the head dress but I have not seen any pictures of Manchurian
shaman costumes with tiger bells.
same is true for the Mongols living in the rest of Mongolia. Based
on pictures in literature one must conclude that they too used (and
use?) at best only several tiger
bells on their costumes. It is however possible that this was
not so in the centuries of the Mongol invasions when shamanism was
the court religion of the Mongolian leaders, the Khans.
costume from Mongolia, note the two tiger bells attached to the
head dress. Compare this costume with the costume from Darchad.
Concluding: we can
assume that the Tungus shaman complex was established in the 11th
century, and that shortly after that the complex was fully developed
and complete, including rituals and their attributes such as the
costume and paraphernalia which were already present in the area
such as tiger bells, bronze masks and bronze mirrors (toli).
the name Tungus, nowadays the name Ewenk, or Ewenki,
is often used.
I could not get hold of the book so I have to rely on quotes from
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