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The Tamang Shaman

Updated on July 30, 2017

The old weathered shaman sits idly on a block of land that he calls his own, handed down to him no doubt by his predecessors who had either purchased the land or were granted the title to it, for services rendered during colonial times. He stares out in the open, seated on a rickety stool on the verandah of a hut surrounded by the banana trees that he grows for a living. The sun is high and its luminous rays beat relentlessly down on the rugged graveled land below.

The sounds of distant drumming echo over the horizon and he hums a little tune. In the valley below a group of young men are beating on a set of tin pan drums. He sings of a young man, on the verge of death, whose soul leaves his body and drifts towards the clouds and there he meets a young maiden and he is instantly taken in by her. His soul returns to his body and the maiden follows him back.

The clock strikes twelve and it will soon be time for lunch. He gets off the stool and makes his way to the rear of the hut where he has a chicken coop and selects a nice fat black rooster. It would do nicely, he says to himself.

He takes the rooster out of the coop and tucks it under his arm. He then walks into the hut to the wall where his knife hangs silently still, its blade protected by a leather sheath. He grabs it and tucks it under his belt and walks out the front door. He returns to the stool and as he sits down he pats the rooster on the head.

Minutes pass by and he hears someone removing the latch on the front gate. A loud creak ensues as the gate is pushed open, followed by the sounds of footsteps. “The boys are here” he says to the rooster and true enough three young men armed with tin pan drums and wooden sticks which they use to beat the drum with, walk up to him. The utter a customary greeting and he responds in the time honored manner.

He stands up and walks towards a designated spot right in the middle of a clump of banana trees and the youths follow closely behind. The hour is just past twelve and the hot afternoon sun is blaring down on them. He looks at the young men and asks them to begin. The boys respond by beating on the drums.

The man starts dancing with the rooster tucked beneath his arm. Then without warning he removes the knife that is tucked beneath his belt from its sheath and in one smooth fluid stroke severs the head of the rooster from its body. The music stops and he hands the bloodied remains to one of the young men while he buries the head of the rooster at the foot of one of the banana trees that appears slightly taller and sturdier than the rest.

The man and the boys make their way back to the hut where they remove the feathers from the carcass before the meat is cut up and cooked. It looks like chicken curry is on the menu.

That night, the front of his hut is filled with villagers, some of whom have brought gifts of fruits and other homemade items with them. The boys from the afternoon are there again beating on their tin pan drums. Incense sticks are lit and the air is filled with the scent of burning camphor. Benzoins are set alight and as the drum beats get more intense the man inhales the smoke from the benzoins.

Soon after his body starts to shake and tremble and his facial contours change. There is a transformation and he starts to speak in another voice, slightly high pitched and more feminine. Suddenly the drum beats stop.

He points to one of the drum beaters and the young man approaches him. “Who’s first?” he asks and the young man beckons to a couple who are standing close by. They approach the man and tell him their troubles. He stops and he ponders on what he’s heard and after a minute or two gives them a solution. The pair thank him and leave.

The next person in line then makes his or her way up to him and it continues well into the night. At the stroke of midnight, the man wraps up proceedings and returns to his normal self and the three drummers head for home. The next morning the man wakes up and goes about his business without giving much thought to the events of the previous day. As far as he is concerned it was just another day in the life of a Tamang shaman.

© 2017 Kathiresan Ramachanderam and Dyarne Jessica Ward

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