Devouring Perspectives: On Cannibal Shamans in Siberia

in Inner Asia
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Abstract

Throughout Siberia, shamans are suspected of 'devouring' 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 animals. 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 distinctly more essentialist schemas. The theme of shamans' cannibalism contributes convincingly to broader hypotheses about the internal properties of the shamanic bodies which are necessary to their ritual practices.

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