Culture Magazine

Shamans as Storytellers

By Cris

It is a well known fact that in many pre-state or small-scale societies where shamanic practices prevail, shamans are expert storytellers and keepers of traditional knowledge. As I noted in a previous post on the evolution of narrative, stories contain information critical for survival.

While reading an article on Inuit shamanism yesterday, this passage offered confirmation:

Shamanic traditions were embedded in a wider cosmological framework that still operates. This cosmological framework concerns a wide range of features such as respect for animals, the beliefs in tarniit (shades, souls), tuurngait, nonhuman beings (such as ijirait [caribou-people] and tuniit [people who inhabited the land before the Inuit]), the Inuit naming system, the sharing of country food, the need to communicate or confess transgressions or exceptional experiences, tirigusuusiit (the following of old rules and taboos), ritual injunctions, and many other features, all of which play a part in modern Inuit society. Thus the notion that animals will only offer themselves to human beings if they are treated with respect and not abused is recurrent in Inuit discourse.

As is evident, foraging and social knowledge is inextricably linked to Inuit oral traditions.


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