South and East Asia

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South and East Asia – Piers Vitebsky illustrates the wide variety of practices that might be called “shamanism” in this religiously, geographically, ethnically, and politically diverse region. He notes that in Nepal the term shamans can be used to label “people who make soul journeys similar to those found in Siberia and Mongolia, whereas in Korea it is used for female mediums who control their trances but do not make soul journeys.” However, even in Nepal there is a distinction between Himalayan peoples, among whom shamans “journey,” and the more Hindu population of the southern plains, among whom possessed ecstatics do not “journey.” Vitebsky contributes to discussions of the political relationships of shamans by noting the interaction of Tibetan Buddhism and “the shamanistic religion . . . called Bon-po.” He also contrasts the historical evidence of shamanic influence among Chinese emperors with the marginal and ambiguous position of contemporary shamans in Korea (simultaneously alluding to gender distinctions). Vitebsky’s own fieldworkbased book, Dialogues with the Dead (1993), concerns the role of shamans among the Sora of Eastern India, whose most significant role is as mediators between the living and their deceased relatives and ancestors. Other shamanic complexes in the region include those among the Hmong of Laos; the Mru of Vietnam; the Chewong, Batek, and Temiar of Malaysia; the Iban of Brunei; the Wana and Dayak of Indonesia; and Taiwanese groups.


Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007


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