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June 4, 2019

Bon Rituals for Dead Spirits

HB Kham

Dancing Shamans nin Rolpa, Culture of Kham Tribe
Dancing Shamans

Kham tribes of Rolpa and Rukum are described under various tribal names such as Kham-Magar, Magar Kham, etc. Several foreign writers have written ethnographic books related to these tribes.  However, none of these foreign writers give a common name for the language they speak and ethnic title they carry with them.

These Kham group of tribes are still believed to be maintaining their bon rituals which had taken roots in their society prior to advent of Buddhism and Hinduism in Nepal.

Some writers indicate that the Kham tribes practice Shamanistic rituals which are connected to Siberian shaman rituals. Although the shaman traditions may slightly differ in each tribal community around Nepal, the process of exorcising a house of dead spirits are worthy of a mention here.

A shaman must be generally invited to perform a shamanistic exorcism in the house of the deceased to get rid of evil spirits. Such rituals are performed on any day fixed by the elderly people of the bereaved family. The day is fixed by elderly persons on the day the dead person of the house is buried or cremated.

A special man is sent to fetch the shaman. The man carries the belongings of the shaman while the shaman walks single-handed along with a stick with iron spike fixed at the top of the stick. The shaman has to perform occult performances in a mysterious and mystical manner. In a state of trance, the shaman trembles and beats his drum with murmuring words to call upon various airy nymphs including dead spirits old or new.

Kham tribal child in traditional head wear called bijouta, culture of Nepal
Kham tribal child in traditional head wear called bijouta
At his clarion call even, witches come to him disguised in various forms such as a cat, dog, a bird or a fly in the room where the Shaman is performing his rituals to convince the spirits of the dead that it is time for them to go out of the house.

This is so because after the death of the person their world is separated. They belong to completely different realm, so remaining at the same place is not healthy for the spirit of dead and living members of the family.

The shaman also blurts out some words said by some spirits of dead men. The dead spirits may come to his body and convey a message to the members of the family.

It is very surprising that when the spirits of dead come to the body of the shaman, they introduce themselves at first by saying their original names and family titles and then speak about something that they are not satisfied with.

When people hear the voices of dead spirits, it is the same voice which the dead man used while he or she was alive long back. So, the shaman makes communication with the spirits of the dead, witches and any other spirits of shaman or any other popular person. Then the shaman predicts something for the family and village.

The messenger chosen to assist the shaman assists him in all his performances. Both the shaman, his assistant including all the family members of the house to be exorcised are not allowed to taste salt on the night of performing such occult rituals. During his course of occult performances, which is manifested by his shivering body, beating of the drum and humming of the words, someone must listen to him and understand his body language and words he utters to immediately act upon. Otherwise, the shaman may be ill the next day.

The dead man’s spirit also speaks and demands the things he would like to be offered so that the spirit could carry it with itself into the realm where it is destined. The shaman beats his drums and hums his spell songs to drive away the evil spirits that visit the house and area in the darkness with vicious purposes.

White ashes from the fire is spread across the rooms upon the family members to drive the spirit from the house. Sometimes it takes too long a time to persuade the dead spirit to go out of the house, as the spirit may show hesitance to leave the house where he lived for so long.

During the journey with the spirit the shaman comes across the spirits of witches and other dead people of the villages and talks to them. The return journey of the shaman is possible only after seeing off the spirit of the dead to its abode at last.

On returning from the journey with the spirit the shaman asks the household members to sacrifice a hen or goat meant for the purpose. This sacrifice is done at the dawn when the night is almost breaking and the spirits of witches, dead shamans and other dead people are departing to their respective realms.

After the animal sacrifice is over the exorcism of the house is considered complete and the people eat and engage in merry making, while the household members maintain reticence. The Kham people continue to retain this shaman rituals in Rolpa district even today despite its discouragement during Maoist insurgency.

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