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October 2022

Soc Sci Med. 1988 ; 27(8): 819-28.

The drum is the shaman, the spear guides his voice.

Hoskins J.

Department of Anthropology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles 90089.

Kodi rituals of curing use anthropomorphized objects--the drum and the spear--as intermediaries to communicate with the spirits causing the affliction. The spear 'cuts through' to the cause of the illness at the divination, by guiding the arm and voice of the human diviner. The drum beaten during an all night ceremony has a more important role: a myth at the opening of the ceremony tells the drum's personal story or biography, which is identified with the suffering patient. In the course of the ceremony it travels on a shamanistic journey to the upperworld to seek the blessings of health and well-being. The myth of the drum's origin provides a narrative structure for the whole ritual, and defines the basis for its efficacy. The percussive sounds of the drum and gongs are said to make the patient feel better. A case study shows how 'ordered sound' is used to dissolve social tensions into a culturally structured pattern, so that consensus can be achieved in implicit accommodations in which neither party loses face. An older man's illness awakens guilty feelings among his younger relatives, whose thieving is believed to be responsible. The healing ritual creates the context for them to express contrition without confessing. Thus, although the rite re-establishes communication between persons and between the human and spirit worlds, it involves deception and silences as well as revelations. Through an analytic comment on social tensions, artistic illusions are used to overcome the airing of social differences. The healing rite is intended to restore a social consensus, produced by a combination of music, speech and actions, which allow signs to triumph over substance.


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