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Shamanism as what makes living on hunting ideologically possible. Recapitulation of analyses of Siberian data.

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Abstract

International audience The d ata come from the small stateless societies living on hunting h the Siberian forest, c onsidered h their traditional way of life that is h the pre-Soviet era and subsequently, insofar as it was m aintained through th e changes imposed by the Soviet regime. According to this analysis, shamanism appears to b e a sym bolic system providing th a t hum ans e n g a g e h an exchange relationship with the animal species they live on. This e x c h a n g e ap p e ars to function as what makes living on hunting possible from an ideological point of view. Sham anic rituals are m ean t to stage the exchange process at a symbolic level and the sham anic m o d e of behaviour is m eant to express aspects of this process. The model drawn from these d a ta stresses exchange as a process m ean t to legitimate the pred atio n to which those who have nothing must resort. The underlying principle a t work is that taking edible wild resources is possible only if included in an exchange process with Nature. In other words, hunting is conceived of as a part of an imaginary life-exchange involving imaginary partners. Thus, the notion of exchange is an aly sed as a co n cep tu al creation, a n d taking appears to be w hat actually gives the impulse to th e process. As a first step, this model attributes a determ inant part in the symbolic thinking of the society to the very fact of living directly on wild resources which accounts for similarities betw een hunting societies the world over by virtue of their com m on d e p e n d e n c e on nature. Its characteristics are better ev id e n c e d if com pared to those of the m odels drawn from neighbouring pasforal kin societies. For this reason, I shall also briefly com m ent on s o m e c h a n g e s occurring h relation with the vanishing of hunting as a way of life a n d th e adoption of stock-breeding. W hereas no determinant part can be claimed for stock-breeding as such, the whole system of relationships with the natural environment is modified, beginning with the triggering event th at moves the e x c h a n g e p ro c e s s forward : the impulse shifts from taking to giving, and this gives rise to the practice of sacrifice h these societies. As a second step, however, the determinant part is rather to b e attributed to a certain type of view of the world and relation to it : the world consists of limited goods of various kinds, whose com m on points a re that they are not produced but provided for, therefore not available to anybody a t any time : gam e, rain, fertility, health, success all that is considered to b e depending on good luck or fortune. The sham anic worldview is e n acted in the framework of rituals that are often but not necessarily c o n d u c te d by th e religious figure called sham an. The rituals staging the exchange process c a n b e co nducted as well by th e hunters themselves or by the whole human community. As a rule, a sham an is invested by a com m unity to co nduct the ritual as its tem porary representative and under its control, for all that his person is not an institutional sham an and he has to re-qualify periodically. The function remains clearly p erceived as collective, a n d its monopolisation by a specialist appears to be no more than a sociological modality am ong others. In Siberian languages, as a rule, the notion of shamanizing applies to the m ode of behaviour prescribed for th e ritual (s e e below) and is not reserved for the shaman. Hunting : a tricky g am e with imaginary partners More precisely, according to the world-view of the hunting societies of the Siberian Forest, life rests on an e x c h a n g e relationship betw een the human community a n d the spirits of the wild animal species they e a t. The spirits are, so to speak, im agined in order to make hunting possible by turning it into an exchange w here they serve as partners. In this case, the notion of exchange em erges as a symbolic construction which c a n n o t b e re d u c e d to a functional organization of socio-economic realities.

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