Devouring Perspectives: About Cannibal Shamans in Siberia

Type de publication  Journal Article
Auteur(s)  Stépanoff, C.
Volume  11
Titre de la revue  Inner Asia
Lieu de publication  Cambridge
Année  2009
Pages  333-357
Mots-clés  Shamanism; perspectivism; ritual relations; psychological essentialism; Siberia

Throughout Siberia, shamans are suspected to “devour” other humans. This article, based on ethnographic literature about Siberian peoples and on fieldwork conducted in Tuva, examines different theoretical interpretations of this conception. A “perspectivist” approach explains that shamans become cannibal because they see humans as prey-animal. The paradoxes of this interpretation lead to a critical discussion of the philosophical premises of the perspectivist theory. Another approach is then proposed: Siberian traditions demonstrate two distinct understandings of the kinds of body connected with different pragmatic contexts. Legendary narratives elaborate a definition of the body by its position in an interaction. The logic of practices is ruled by quite more essentialist schemas. The theme of shamans’ cannibalism impressively contributes to spreading hypotheses about the internal properties of the shamanic bodies which are necessary to their ritual practices.