Phil Borges
 

 
Animists: The Spirit of Place
August 5 - 26, 2000

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  • Animists: The Spirit of Place
     
    Byamba 9  

    Byamba 9
    Renchinkhumbe, Mongolia

    Byamba spends her day herding sheep, collecting water and watching her younger brother. She hopes to move into the neighboring village next year to attend school.

    Even though several members of her extended family were visiting when I arrived, they invited me to spend the night in their little ger (tent). All eighteen of us managed to find enough room on the floor to fall asleep around the centrally-located hearth. The ger, which can be assembled in about an hour, accommodates their nomadic lifestyle.

    Batdalai 3  

    Batdalai 3
    Tsaatan Camp, Mongolia

    Batdalai was just learning to ride the large reindeer standing behind him. With his older sister holding him tight I watched as they went trotting across the taiga at sunset. Within a year he should be riding well enough to help bring in the herd at night for their milking.

    Unlike most children in the Tsaatan clan, Batdalai was born in a hospital. His mother had heard about “painless births” and decided to make the three day journey to the little clinic by horseback.

    Hangorzul 9  

    Hongorzul 9
    Tsaatan Camp, Mongolia

    Hongorzul has had the job of milking the reindeer every evening since she was five years old.

    The milk, which is made into cheese and yogurt is the main staple for the last of these nomadic reindeer herders called the Tsaaten. The family only eat their reindeer when the animals are old and ready to die.

    In the last few years the Tsaaten culture has been threatened by a dramatic reduction in the herd because of Brucellosis.

    Boy on Pail  

    Sulegmaa 15 mos.
    Togol, Mongolia

    After traveling for three days in this remote valley in an all-terrain vehicle, we came across Sulegmaa's solitary ger (tent).

    Like most Mongolians, his family was very hospitable and invited us in for cheese and tea. I immediately noticed a small black and white tv sitting on top of a milk bucket. They told us it was the only tv within one hundred miles; neighbors would travel for days to visit and watch. It was connected to a generator and satellite dish, allowing them to watch Indian, Chinese and Russian movies.

    Saruul 7  

    Saruul 7
    Tsaatan Camp, Mongolia

    Saruul is one of the few remaining Tsaatan (reindeer people) living in the Mongolian taiga near the Siberian border. Leading a nomadic life, the Tsaatan move their camp every two to three weeks so the reindeer can have fresh moss and grass.

    Every night, Saruul hops on a reindeer's back and rides into the valley to help round up the rest of the herd.

    She started riding when she was only four.

    If the reindeer aren't brought back to the camp to be milked every night, they will turn completely wild within a few weeks.

    Tsend 63  

    Tsend 63
    Tsaatan Camp, Mongolia

    Tsend is one of only two Tsaatan shaman. (Her 91-year-old mother is the other.)

    For the Tsaatan, the landscape is alive with spirits - every hill, river, stone and tree is the dwelling place of a distinct being.

    Tsend, who is blind, was making reindeer skin boots when I met her. When she answered my questions she would talk to me as if she could see me.

    I asked her for some words of wisdom and she said, "pray for the earth every day, and especially pray for the place where you live."

    Ulzusuren 7  

    Ulzusuren 7
    Tsagaan Nuur, Mongolia

    Ulzusuren lives with her seventy year old grandmother, Namid, who is a well known shaman in northern Mongolia. Ulzusuren helps while her grandmother sees the four to six people that come for shamanic healing each day.

    One night I watched as Namid chanted and drummed herself into a trance-like-state for the benefit of a patient. At one point Ulzusuren had to jump up and grab her grandmother to keep her from falling into the fire.

    Namid 70  

    Namid 70
    Tsagaannuur, Mongolia

    Namid started her shamanic work when she was 14 years old.

    I watched in amazement as she spent a whole night beating her drum, sweating profusely, spinning wildly and repeatedly falling to the floor, calling on the mountainspirit to help a woman having trouble in pregnancy. She continued to see people the next morning who had come from miles away to seek her help. One by one, she gave them the money I had just given her for my lodging.

    She said,"if you want to live a long life, continue to help others."

    Kolun 6, Yomeing 4  

    Kolun 6, Yomeing 4
    Palawan, Philippines

    Kolun and Yo Meing were with their mother and father who were fishing in the river. The children were looking under rocks to find small crabs and snails to augment their meal. After about an hour, the family took a break and started a fire to cook their catch. The Tau't Batu use blowguns and darts to capture birds, squirrels, and shrews. They also capture and eat the small bats that live with them in the caves.

    Laya 81  

    Laya 81
    Banaue, Philippines

    Laya is a powerful Monbaki (shaman) in a mountain tribe called the Ifugao.

    When Laya was very young, his mother died and Tofong, the forest spirit, came to him shortly after. Today when Laya is treating a patient, he brings an offering into the forest for Tofong and shouts out the ill person's name. If Tofong accepts the offering, Laya said the hair on the back of his neck will stand on end and he will feel the spirit enter his body - a good sign for the patient.

    The catholic church has recently lifted its ban on Ifugao rituals. (Ifugao)

    Girl and Boy in canoe  

    Robbie 5
    Baquit Island, Philippines

    Robbie spends most of her days fishing with her mother. She belongs to a semi-nomadic clan called the Tagbanua that fish and collect honey in order to survive. Her large family had gathered for a 10-day ritual honoring the one-year anniversary of her grandfather's death. For nine days, they sang and prayed, and on the 10th-the actual anniversary-they stayed up all night eating, singing and dancing.

    I took this photograph the morning after the all-night celebration.

    Shasha 9  

    Shasha 9
    Daerga, Siberia

    Shasha lives in a remote village on the banks of the Amur River, which is frozen nearly nine months of the year. She understands very little of her native Nanai language despite her grandmother's coaching.

    Her grandmother said Shasha has fainting spells and has heard voices - typical characteristics of potential shamanic abilities.

    However, Shasha has little interest in her traditions, and prefers doing math and watching tv with her best friend Lena.

    Indica 93  

    Indica 93
    Amur River, Siberia

    Indica is considered to be the strongest of the three remaining Ulchi shaman. Over the last five years, her reputation has spread and people have travelled hundreds of miles to seek her treatment for their health problems.

    I was expecting a very strong woman - however, when I met her, she seemed very small and frail. It had been just four weeks since her only son died in a boating accident. Indica had asked Lindsa, the Nanai shaman, to help her son's soul get to Buni Village (The Other World) as she did not have the energy to do it herself.

     Yadira 5  

    Yadira 5
    Amazon Basin, Ecuador

    Yadira is one of 320 Secoya Indians living along the Aguarico river in Ecuador's northern Amazon.

    Since oil was discovered in 1972, more oil hasbeen spilled in this area than was spilled by the Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska. The Aguarico river has been covered by over a foot of oil on several occasions. In this time, the Secoya have seen most of the animals in their territory disappear.

    Today an oil company is again trying to start seismic exploration in Secoya territory.

    Mengatohue 65

    Feet

     

    Mengatohue 65
    Amazon Basin, Ecuador

    Mengatohue became a shaman by taking more and more powerful doses of ayahuasca (a plant hallucinogen) until he bonded with his spirit allies. He was very young when he started, and the process is dangerous - the initiate can go crazy.

    Every five to seven days, Mengatohue goes into trance and his main spirit (the Jaguar) enters his body and gives him guidance for healing patients and leading his community. (Huaorani)

    Moi 35  

    Moi 35
    Bameno, Amazon Basin

    In 1990, Moi coordinated the first Huaorani National Assembly to unite his people against oil companies that want to drill in Huaorani territory. He has even travelled to New York and Washington, DC to appeal his cause.

    As a child, Moi began his shamanic initiation with his grandfather Mengatohue, and continued with the extremely difficult discipline until quitting three years ago. He said he was not mentally ready - he felt he had too much anger toward the people who want to invade his land. (Huaorani)

    Transito 91  

    Transito 91
    Cayambe, Ecuador

    In her country, Transito is a famous human rights symbol; she is the "Rosa Parks of Ecuador."

    After the conquest by the Spanish, the indigenous people were all but stripped of their culture and forced to serve as indentured servants in the hacienda system.

    At fourteen, Transito's parents married her off to keep a hacienda owner from molesting her. At eighteen, she spoke out against the owner and was sent to jail for five months.

    In the last 10-20 years, there has been a steady return of pride to the indigenas of Ecuador. (Quechua)

    Manalsuren 79

     

    Manalsuren 79
    Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia

    During the Soviet control of Mongolia, all but four of the country's seven hundred Tibetan monasteries were destroyed, and over 100,000 Tibetan Lamas were either executed or went underground.

    As a young monk, Manalsuren was forcibly conscripted into the Soviet-controlled Mongolian Army. He is now one of over 1000 Tibetan Lamas who have "reappeared" in Mongolia since the fall of the Soviet Empire.






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