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Shaman's coat front and headdress
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The coat front
MH 87-42.1. This particularly narrow coat front was made to go with the costume brought back by Joseph Martin. It bears figures of the shamanís principal spirits. The two spheres are usually interpreted as breasts, perhaps evoking a female spirit. The central mirror may be for protection and divination. Generally the shaman receives the front piece before the costume itself.
The ordinary costume often includes the same piece, calculated to cover the torso while providing ventilation, since coursing an elk is sweaty business.

The headdress (cap and antler crown)
The cap/lining (MH 87.42.2) is made of canvas. A two-ply band (red on white) goes around the forehead. Two other two-ply bands are crossed in an ark on the top of the head. The fringe around the cap is the mark of the separation between the human and the spirit worlds. The antler crown itself is made of iron and riveted together. The ends of the metal plate are turned upwards forming two branches each with five prongs (two are broken on the right side). Another crown (MH 43.27.608) has four branches each with three prongs.
This type of antler crown confirms the ritual identification of the shaman with a large member of the deer family, a reindeer or elk. All of the known antler crowns (those found among the Evenk as well as among the neighboring peoples, Buryats, Altaians, Samoyeds) are made of metal. None looks like the engraving published by Nicolaus Witsen, who visited Siberia in 1672 (Noord en Ost Tartarye, Amsterdam, reproduced in M. Hopp·l, 1994, Schamanen und Schamanismus, Augsburg, Pattloch: 40), in which the shamanís head is crowned with a set of real antlers.
Sometimes the metal antlers are fastened to the shoulders.
Like the rest of the costume, the antlers adorning the crown contribute to making the shaman look like a member of the deer family without actually making him an elk or reindeer; more specifically, the antlers are the weapons with which members of this family affront each other. The metal of the antlers and the pendants on the costume and drum merely emphasize this warlike conception of the costume as a whole: it is clearly described as armor khujag in Mongol and as a weapon zebseg in Buryat.


Author(s): R. Hamayon
Date created: 2003-09-09 - Date modified: 2004-05-27


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A shaman's headdress


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