Friday, August 28, 2009
Shamans and mountain spirits in Hunza. (northen Pakistan)
Introduction: Hunza, Islam, and Folk Religion
The past physical isolation of the Hunzakut, a high-mountain population in northwestern Pakistan, has been instrumental in allowing them to preserve elements of their pre-Islamic shamanistic religious beliefs. Centered around practitioners known as bitan, this tradition has certain characteristics - such as the shaman inhaling juniper smoke and drinking blood from a freshly severed goat's head - that seem to be unique among South and Central Asian peoples (Sidky 1990, 275-77). This paper examines the particular configuration of rituals and beliefs associated with these bitan, their place in traditional society, and their situation in modern-day Hunza.(1) The data were gathered during anthropological field research in Hunza in 1990 and 1991.
Hunza is located in the far northwestern part of the South Asian subcontinent, in Pakistan's Northern Areas District. This is a high-mountain area where the Hindu Kush, Karakoram, and Himalayan ranges have converged to produce a vast network of peaks, valleys, and glaciers. Here is the most massive concentration of high peaks to be found anywhere on earth. Hunza's territory is roughly 7,900 [km.sup.2] and borders Afghanistan and Xinjiang (Chinese Turkestan) to the north, Shinkari and Indus Kohistan to the south, and Kashmir to the east (see map). For centuries Hunza was an independent principality headed by a hereditary autocratic ruler, who was known locally as the Thum, but who also held the Persian title of Mir (Sidky 1993).