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Piers Vitebsky's stud y of religion and psychology in tribal India focusses upon a
uniqu e form of dialogue between th e living an d th e dead , co ndu cted throu gh the
medium of a shaman in trance. T he dead so metimes nurture their livin g
descendants, yet at o th er tim es th ey inflict up on th em the very illnesses from whi ch
th ey died. T hrou gh intimate dialo gue, the So ra use the occasion of death to ex plore
their closest emoti o nal a tta chments in all their a mbi va lence . Dr Vitebsky a na lyses
th e actors' words and relation ships over seve ral years and develops a typo logy of
moods a mo ng the dead a nd of kinds of memo ry amo ng the livin g. In compa rin g
Sora sham a ni sm with the treatment of bereavement in psychoana lysis and
psyc hothe rapy, he hi gblights a co ntras t in their assumptions which has fa r-
reaching co nseq uences for th e socia l a nd professiona l sco pe of the two kinds of
A list o.fbooks in this series will befollnd at the end o.fthe Folume Camb ridge Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology
Editors: Ernest Gellner, Ja ck Goody, Stephen Gudeman,
Michael Herzfeld, Jonathan Parry


Dialogues with the dead


The discussion of mortality among the

Sora of eastern India


Seo ll Polar Research IlIslilllle . Ullil'ersily of' Call/bridge

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~ ;:'': . . ·r· ,', :,.~.
At a funeral: the widow speaks to her dead husband through a shaman (right) .
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Published by the Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge To my Sora friends, their ancesto rs and descendants
The Pitt Building, Trumpington Street , Cambridge CB2 I RP
40 West 20th Street, New York, NY 10011--4211, USA and to my own family
10 Stamford Road, Oakleigh , Melbourne 3166, Australia

© Cambridge University Press 1993

First published 1993

Printed in Great Britain at the University Press, Cambridge

A calaloglle record Jor IlIis book is available ji'01ll Ihe Brilish Library

Library oj COllgress calalogllillg ill pllblicalioll dow

Vitebsky, Piers.
Dialogues with the dead: the discussion of mortality among the Sora of eastern India I
Piers Vitebsky.
p. cm. - (Cambridge studies in social and cultural anthropology; 88)
Includes bibliograpllical references and index.
ISBN 0 521 384478
I. Savara (Indic people) - Funeral customs and rites. 2. Savara (Indic people) -
Religion. 3. Bereavement. 4. Savara (Indic people) - Psychology. I. Title. 11. Series.
DS432.S37V58 1992
306.9'0899595 - dc20 92-5723 CIP

ISBN 0 521 384478 hardback

VN f)
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Give sorrow words ; the grief that does not speak List of plates page XII

Whispers the o'er-fraught heart and bids it break . List a/figures XIII
Macbeth , IV.iii .209- 10 List of texts xv
Preface xvii

Part I Son urn: the continuation of consciousness after death

Dialogues between the living and the dead 3

The encounter 3
An outline of the argument 7
A note on 'shamans' and other intermediaries 18

2 The Sora peo ple 24

A 'tribe' in Hindu India 24
Main personalities 33

3 The formation of the Sora person 46

Gradual transformations in the journey from birth
to death and beyond 46
Sun-Woman as blacksmith and embryologist: heat,
form and the development of consciousness 50
Naming the baby: childbearing and the husband's lineage 54
Destiny a nd susceptibility to other persons 63
x Contents COl/tel/ts Xl

4 Interpreting a nd persuading the dead 66 9 Forgett ing the dead 2 16

Ancestor a nd Ex perience: mapping two distinct T he progressive dissolution of the person after
modes of being dead 66 death 2 16
E nco unterin g, welcoming a nd dismissing so nums 76 T he c~mp letion of inher itance a nd the waning of
From medical hi story to biography 81 Earth-Memory sites 2 19
Speaking for oneself: formal debates and ordinary The joy of naming a baby: retr ieving a crucia l
conversatio ns 89 a ttri bu te of the deceased 224
The ultimate residue of the person a nd the final
death of Memories 23 1
Part II Responding to a new death 95
10 Dialogues with the self? So ra bereavement and the
5 Transcription of a dialogue from the inquest on lamano 99 presuppositions of contemporary psychotherapy 236
Deteriorating relations between lamano and Mengalu 99
lamano 's death and the first inquest at his cremation 99 Appendix 1: List of somons recorded in Alinsing 260
The second inquest at lamano 's stone-planting 103 Notes 264
List of ref erences 275
6 Redeeming the dead and protecting the living 121 Index 282
lamano's funeral continued: cosmic rescue by his
Ancestors 121
Social order among the dead : Earth-Sonum as a
transitional stage between Experience and Ancestor 132
The kaleidoscope of feelings between the living and
the dead 142

Part III Operating the calculus of all previous deaths 147

7 Transcription of a dialogue with nineteen dead persons 149

8 Memories and rememberers: states of mind among the

dead and the living 176
Emotional tone and degrees of redemption 176
Conversations with two partially redeemed sonums 180
A metaphysical crux: translating sonums as private
'Memories' in a public arena 195
Verb forms: how the dead transfer their own states
of mind to the living 202
Plates Figures

page 2
l.l General location of the Sora
At a funeral: the widow speaks to her dead husband through a shaman 26
Approximate location of the Lanjia Sora
frontispiece 2.1
Genealogy showing relationships between central
Shamans in trance sit side by side at a funeral, 2.2 40
characters in the book, with quarrels
surrounded by mourners page 6
The succession of funeral shamans through incestuous
2 Bystanders unclench the bodies of a funeral shaman and 3.1 58
cross-cousin marriage in the Underworld
his daughter-apprentice in trance 20 62
The transmission of a woman's name to her descendants
3 A shaman's wall painting 57 3.2 67
4.1 Ancestor space and Experience space
4 After a day's dancing at a stone-planting 72 74
Experience sonums with their broad characteristics
5 A divining and healing shaman banishes Ra'tud-Sonum 4.2
Sites of Experience sonums around Alinsing, showing their
along the path leading out of the village 79 4.3 77
main residential sites, outposts and sacrificial points
6 A divining and healing shaman in trance 87
The cycle of illness and dea th as experienced in the
7 Eating at a stone-planting feast 124 5.1 100
biography of one person
8 Washing in pig's blood to block the contagion of an
Vertical map of sonum space, showing points of heat and
accidental death 131 6.1 134
coolness, becoming and being
9 Dancing in the street at the annual kGlja 225
Genealogy of Mengalu's relatives who died through the
10 The turmeric fight at a toddler's name-giving ceremony 226 6.2 138
agency of Hollow Water and Rere Earth-Sonum sites
II Ancestor-Men untying the Ancestors' rings at a
Chain of recruitment of victims of Rere Earth-Sonum site
name-giving ceremony 227 6.3
Simplified genealogy of Sagalo's lineage showing order of
7.1 150
dead speakers
7.2 Dramatis personae of dialogue, dead and living
7.3 Chain of suicide deaths linking Rumbana and Palda
8.1 Sagalo's cross-cousin relationships with his wife Panderi
and her attacker Sunia
XIV Lisl a/figures

8.2 Genealogy relevant to Palda's case, showin g births of

children and changes of residence in the Underworld and
a bove ground 188
8.3 Effect of my own past on my present 199
8.4 E ffect of your past on my prese nt 199 Texts
8.5 The object of an ordinary transitive verb 204
8.6 Active and passive verb forms in the first person singu lar 204
8. 7 Chain of subjects and objects under the aggressive action
of Experience Memories 205
8.8 Grammatical relations between members of a chain of
suicides 205
8.9 Sentence about Memory contain ing agent, verb and patient 205
8.10 Sentence about Memory containing unspecified agent, verb The term 'text' is used to denote the main passages where the Sora speak for
and specific patient 207 themselves . The texts are sometimes interspersed with commentary .
8.1/ Middle verb form in the first person singular 208
8.12 Chain of successive namesakes using the middle verb, Dialogue between a dead little girl and her living aunt page 3
representing benign succession Extract from a shaman's invocation to her predecessors 18
209 1.2
8.13 The progress through successive verb forms of a person The story of Pubic-Haired Sompa 59
passing from life into death How Kantino's father was killed by a leopard 86
212- 13 4.1
9.1 Connections between some cultivators and nearby Transcription of a dialogue from the inquest on Jamano 104
Earth-Memory sites Redemption song of the male Ancestors 123
222 6.1
9.2 The overlapping existence of successive persons bearing Extract from the redemption song of the female Ancestors 128
the same name Song to heal Mengalu's pain in urinating 140
232 6.3
9.3 The cyclical transmission of names between persons 7.1 Transcription of a dialogue with nineteen dead persons 156
10.1 Freudian and Sora models of relations between the
living and the dead during bereavement 242- 3

] lived for four years on the Indian subcontinent between 1976 and 1983 .
This book is based on eighteen months which I spent among the Sora,
mostly during 1976-7 and 1979, and the ethnographic present refers mostly
to the second of these periods. I also made brief return visits in 1984 and
I am indebted for substantial financial support at various times to the
Social Science Research Counci l of the UK for an initial postgraduate
studentship; to Girton College, Cambridge, for a Margaret Smith Research
Fellowship; to the Perrott-Warwick Fund for Psychical Research; and to
my parents. I also received supplementary assistance from the Governing
Body of the School of Oriental and African Studies; the Emslie Horniman
Fund of the Royal Anthropological Institute; and the South Asia
Language and Area Center of the University of Chicago.
Many people have read part or all of the manuscript and many more
have given me hospitality or encouraged me in other ways. J am grateful to
Pramod Kumar Behera, Andre Beteille, Jean Briggs, Audrey Cantlie,
Michael Carrithers, Elisabeth Chaussin, Tony Cohen, Daniel de Coppet,
Susan Drucker-Brown, Dorothy Emmet, John Forrester, Dori s and Meyer
Fortes, Christoph von Fiirer-Haimendorf, Jean-Claude Galey, Ernest
Gellner, Kathleen Gough, Roberte Hamayon, Sarah Harrison , Olivier and
Arlette Herrenschmidt, Mark Hobart, Caroline Humphrey, Ron Inden,
N. S. Kumaraswamy, Celia and Edmund Leach, Godfrey Lienhardt, Julius
Lipner, Roland Littlewood, Geoffrey Lloyd , Alan Macfarlane, T. N.
Madan, Laxman Mahapatra, Sitakant Mahapatra , Adrian Mayer, Rod-
ney Needham, Charlie Nuckolls, Gananath Obeyesekere, Dorinda Out-
ram, Robert Paine, Michel Panoff, Dave Parkin , Johnny Parry, Prakash
Pashpureddy, Bala Patnaik , D. P. Pattanayak, James Peacock , Terence
xviii Prefa ce PreFace XIX

Penelhum, C hri st ian Petit , C. A. Prasad, Declan Quigley, Prasada Rao , those who have occasion to write the lang uage down (whet her in the Oriya,
Audrey Richards , Steve Rose n, Malcolm Ruel, A nn Salmond, Rupert Telugu or inte rn at ion al phonetic script) , namely lin guists, missionaries and
Sheldrake, Milton Singer, Bhupinder Sin gh, Surajit Sinh a, David and some So ra s themselves if they write le tters home while working in Assa m.
Patricia Sta mpe, Hilary Standing, Marilyn Stra thern , J . S. Uberoi , Roy T hough phon'o logists mi ght wish for many more diacritics than I have
Wagner, Michael Yo rke, Norman Z id e; to two a nonymous reviewers, o ne given here and the use of the s/lIl'a , for the sa ke of other readers (whom I
Indian , one American; to Mel Otis, Katie Andersen and other C hri sti a n very much want to remember certa in Sora terms) I have used only Ii
mi ssionaries of various denomina tion s in Serango, Gunupur and Parla - (pronounced ' ny' as in Span ish) and I , similar to the Russian bl or the
khemundi (Parla kimidi) ; to Bryce Boyer, Danny Freeman and the T urki sh back vowel. I have also distinguished ng from ngg, correspo nding
members of the Anthropology-Psychoan a lysis Interdisciplinary Collo- respectively to the sounds in the E ngli sh words 'singer' and ' linge r'. ' Word s
quium of the American Psychoanalytic Association, who devoted their from other Indian languages a re spelt according to generally accepted
December 1988 meeting in New York entirely to the discu ssion of thi s standard s.
manuscript; and to my wife Sally and c hildren Patrick and Catherine, who The dia logues quoted are verbatill1 transla tions of tape reco rdin gs and
came into my life after I had left the Sora but who gave me much bette r a re laid out like the script ofa drama. Elsewhere a speaker's actual words ,
reason than I had had before to reflect on mortality. or the literal translation of a Sora term , a re given in inverted commas.
Most of all, my debt is to the numerous Sora who after initial doubts Where I supply my own paraphrase of a speaker's words I make this clear.
welcomed me into their homes and their lives and cared for me during long Square brackets are used for stage directions or other material supplied by
periods when I was heavily dependent on them . This book is about their me to make the meaning clearer. In dialogues and figures throughout the
relationships with each other and, given the intimate nature of the ma tters book names and remarks of dead speakers are printed in italics. Personal
discussed, it seemed best to protect the anonymity of the main characters names are stressed as follows: two-syllabled usually as in Sindi ; three-
even though some of these are among my greatest Sora friends and syllabled on the third syllable, as in Mengalll , Indiri , Jamano (never on the
benefactors. There is another book to be written about my own relation- second syllable, as one might be tempted to do on the analogy orItalian or
ship with these people; but I hope that enough will emerge in the pages Spanish). To remember this , one has only to think of people calling to each
which follow to go some way towards explaining why my time among the other from one hillside to anothe r, their voices whooping upward: 'E!
Sora was a powerful formative period in my life, the lessons of which I am Mengalu!' 'E! Pirino!'
only gradually beginning to understand. I can do no more than dedicate Sora life has a strong sense of gender, though sexual roles are less sharply
this book to the Sora whom I knew, their ancestors and their descendants , polarised than in much of India: men can fetch water for the house, while
along with my own family . women can plough with buffalos. Where no specific person is mea nt , I have
I worked exclusively in the Sora language. I deliberately did not take any usually avoided clumsy English circumlocutions such as ' he or she' and
written sources on the language with me into the field and it was not until used the pronouns 'he ' for laypersons and 'she' for shamans, since the most
quite late that I had an opportunity to learn something of the Oriya, Telugu important shamans are usually women.
and Hindi which are partly known by some Soras. This approach gave me a My 1992 visit, made while this book was going to press, showed that Sora
very slow start since I arrived in Soraland quite inarticulate. But it also gave society is changing rapidly. The children with whom I played earlier are
me a much richer reward in the later stages of my fieldwork. For someone now young adults and many are becoming Baptists. For those young
who enjoys languages, there can be few more fascina ting experiences than people, there are no more dialogues with the dead and the ethnographic
working out the semantics of a language from the constant exploration of present of this book which I was still able to share with those over thirty is
consistencies and variations in actual usage. Sora culture is an oral one. already something which belongs to an older generation.
Villages, families and even some persons have their own distinctive dialects
or ways of speaking: for example, it was often said that I had clearly learned
to speak Sora in the company ofInama because of my extreme emphasis on
glottal stops. Not surprisingly, there is no standard orthography among


Dialogues between the living and the

Figure 1.1 General location of the Sora .

D elhi

The encounter
The Sora are an aboriginal ' tribe' who live in the forested hills around the
borders of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, towards the eastern seaboard of
India (figure 1.1; see also chapter 2). In every Sora village, almost every day,
Calculla • living people conduct dialogues with the dead , who speak to them through
the mouth ofa shaman in trance . The following is a typical example, which
will reappear in context in chapter 7 (lines 251-62). A little girl who died
recently has returned to speak with her young mother. Her mother is too
overcome with grief to respond and the talking is done on her behalf by an
older woman, the child's aunt. Here and in dialogues throughout the book,
names and remarks of dead speakers are in italics.

N Text 1.1 Dialogue between a dead little girl and her living aunt

t LillIe girl:

Living aunt:
[arriving from the Underworld, faintly] Molher, where are
my nose-rings?
[answering for the girl's mother] They must have burned
up in the pyre, darling, we looked but couldn't find them.
I don't know whether they jumped to one side or what.
LillIe girl: [petulantly] Why aren 'l you showing me my nose-rings?
Aunt: They were so tiny. If I'd found them of course I'd show
them to you. [a pause; the aunt continues] Oh my love, my
darling, don't cause your own illness in others. Can you
say that your mother and father didn't sacrifice for you?
They didn't turn their backs or refuse to help you, did
LI_ _~_ _~_ _ _ _L -__L-~I
500 mil es they? Think of all those pigs, all those chickens, goats,
buffalos, my lovely child . Didn ' t your father say, 'Let's
4 Dialogues Il'ilh Ih e dead Dialog ues belll'eell Ih e lil'ing alld Ih e dead 5

li ght a fire, let her stay at home and not go out to work , In di a logues between livin g and dea d , speake rs persuade, cajole, tea se,
look at her, she's already got the face of an old woman ', remind , deceive, plead with each othe r. Dialogues represent a mutu al quest
didn 't he say that? .. What? Your two go ld necklaces for awareness abo ut the other perso n's state of mind . At the same time,
aren't here, Sarsuno's wea rin g them now ... they a re the niedium through which each person 's being is co nsta ntly
LillIe g irl: [addressing herself to her silent mother, and crying] moulded. Livin g and dead peop le ca use each other to do thin gs through
Molher, you Ivere horrid 10 m e , you scolded /lie, you called dialogues at the same time as they are themselves changed by these
m e Scar-Girl , you called m e Leper-Girl, you said, 'You're a encounters. Each person is an agent, but at the same time is acted upon a nd
big girl 1I01V, II'hy should I/eed you II'hen you sil around does not simply return to his or her previous sta te. Since thi s kind of mutual
doillg I/Olhing?' . . . moulding or perso ns passes throu gh their loss and separation from each
Aunt: She didn ' t mean it , she couldn't help saying it: a fte r all , other, thi s book is also about the special place which death has for the So ra
you were growing up and there were such a lot of c hores to in their fee lin gs of love and resentment , grief and anger. Finally, since life
do. and death are set within the pa ssage of time and against the birth of new
LillIe g irl: [sulkily] Ill'alll Illy lIecklaces .. . I used 10 hobble round belli generations, this book is also about social co ntinuity and hope.
double, I cOI.tldn 'l slalld lip slraighl ... [unresonable child- What is a dead person? A perso n who di es becomes a SOllllll1 (pronounced
ish tone] Why call 'I I have my nose-rillgs? .. . I have 10 go with a long 0).' This word designates both an entity and a state. There is no
digging, shovelling and le velling earlh [in the Underworld], article in the Sora language; but following Sora usage one can sa y of a dead
all lI'ilholil my nose-rings. My molher came ./i'011l Khond person either that he has 'become a [particular] sonum' or that he has
counlry, she gave ilia rne in her 1I'0mb, ii's ill her/amily . I ' become sonum' (in both cases sonum-en gar/dIe). Virtually all illnesses and
came oul in scars all over, my fingers starled dropping o.lf deaths a re said by the Sora to be caused in some way by sonums. In
Thai illness lI'as passed on 10 m e, Ihal's hall' I gal ill. Blil attacking the living, the dead seek to transfer to them certain experiences
I've been healed dOll'n beloll': my [father's] Anceslors which they themselves underwent at the moment of their deaths. They do
redeemed me and I'm healed noll'. this by 'ea ting the soul' (puradan jum-) of the living victim in order to
Aunt: So don't you pass it on, don't you give it to your mother absorb him , thereby causing in him a kind of symptom or of dea th which is
and little sisters! analogous to that which was undergone by the attacker himself (cf. the last
LillIe girl: If I grab Ihem I grab Ihem , (f II ouch Ihem II ollch Ihem , (/1 few lines of text 1.1, above). However, the dead do not only attack the living
pass il on I pass il on: Ihal's hall' il goes . Bul I'm all righl and harm them: they also nourish and protect them. It is the interplay of
nOll'. these two contradictory attitudes, respectively aggressive and nurturing,
Aunt: Your cough your choking, your scars your wounds , don't which lies at the heart of Sora thinking a bout their dead.
pass them on ... Sora hold their dialogues sometimes in the open by a path, stream or
LillIe g irl: My Mlimmy doesn 'I care enough aboulme. [returns to the cremation ground, sometimes in the shadowy interior of the house . The
Underworld] shaman, who is frequently though not always a woman, sits at the centre of
This book is about Sora people's awareness of their own mortality and of a group of people. Sora say that her soul leaves her body and goes to a
the mortality of those around them. At first sight, 'mortality' suggests the separate domestic life, with husband and children, in the Underworld
organic and fleshly na ture of humans, our predisposition to fall ill , to decay (kll1orai desa). While she is in a dissociated state of trance, her body is
and to create our own replacements through sexuality. But the Sora will available for a succession of the dead who speak, one at a time, through her
also force us to ask what it is that dies and what it means to be dead . The mouth . According to the mood of the dialogue and the degree of their
interpretation which Tshall offer is that for them, death is not a negation or involvement, their living interlocutors may squat on their haunches and
absence of life. Rather, 'life' and 'death ' a re both phases ofa person 's total huddle intently around her arguing vehemently with the dead , weep and
existence and close relations between person s are maintained across the line embrace her, or else come and go at the edge of the proceedings and
dividing these two states. interpose a careless remark. A sequence of dialogues can last up to several
6 Dialog lles lI'ith the dead Dialoglles betll'eell th e li villg alld th e dead 7

hours and range from casual gossip to ext remes of emo tion which I cou ld motivation and operation of these attempts to eat the livin g. Through the
never learn to observe while remaining unmoved. But dialogues with the offering ofa sacrificial anima l as a subst itute (apalladll) for a patient, they
dead are not a ll tears: they often include moments of good humour and of are a lso a means of forestalling the co nsu mmation of these attempts .
obscene joking amidst uproariou s la ughter. T he people who take part in a dialogue are genera ll y a wider or narrower
A dialogue is a lways associated with the performance or promise of a circle of relatives. Under these circum stances, various groupings a nd
sacrifi ce by the living to the dead . Though in one sense the dead have regroupings among the li ving and the dead find themselves in constantly
power, at the same time they exist in a state of emotional a nd material recurring contact: family conversat ion s, jokes and qua rrels continue after
deprivation. Dialogues are thus not only a communication but also a some of their participants have crossed the dividing lin e between life and
feed in g. They are held on certa in occasions: at the divination to find out the death. It will become increasingly clear in later chapters how the occasions
cause of a patient's illness; in some of the subsequent hea lings; at certain which precipitate these dialogues are not simply co ncerned with reso lving a
seasonal harvest rites; and at the various stages of each person's funeral situation of the moment. Rather, these co nversation s are ep isodes in
rites. In a large village of 500 people a dialogue may take place from about lon g- running discussions which may bear ultimately on quite different and
five times a week to about ten times a day, according to seaso n. Dialogues much la rger matters.
contain a quest for a verdict or for an increase in certainty. During
divinations, living people seek the cause of a patient's illness; where a An outline of the argument
healing requires a trance, they seek confirmation that their sacrifice has I have orga ni sed this book around a se ri es of dialogues between the livin g
been successful; while at a funeral they seek understanding about the cause and the dead . These dia logues involve characters whom the reader will
of the victim's death . Whether on behalf of a recently decea sed person or of meet in chapter 2 and whose relationships we shall then follow through the
a currently ill one, dialogues with the dead are largely discussions of the book , both while all of these perso ns are alive and after some of them have
died and become sonums. Part I gives a general outline of Sora ideas of the
Shamans in trance sit side by side at a funeral, surrounded by mourners . person in life and death . Part II analyses a funeral dialogue in which the
living discuss with a recently-dead person the mea ning of his dea th and how
it will affect their relationship with each other in the future . Part III
analyses the dialogue at a healing rite, in which a family converses with
nineteen dead perso ns who have been close to them at different times in the
pa st. Each dead person is now seen to be in a distinct cosmological position
along the trajectory of his or her ove rall existence. By analysing the
evolution of moods in both the living and the dead , I show how a person 's
private feelings are linked to the unfolding texture of co ntinuing society
over a broad sweep of time. Finally, I compare the metaphysics and
practices of Sora shamanism with those underlying contemporary psycho-
therapy and psychoanalysis, and relate each of these to the societies which
they serve.
To study how a group of unfamiliar people talk about some of their
deepest feelings is not to diminish these feelings in our own eyes, but to try
to make them at least a little more accessible. Anywhere in the world,
regardless of their metaphysics, we may expect people to love and resent
each other, the bereaved to grieve and the sick to fear for themselves. But
another language or culture is not simply a filter which we can remove in
order to understand other people's experiences as our own. Concepts of
8 Dialogues Ivith the dead Dialogues belll'eell tlie living alld tli e dead 9

emotion '[serve] complex communication, moral and cu ltura l purposes empat hi sing with ot hers, we make a n im aginative leap which in volves
rather than si mply [being] labels for intern al states whose nature or essence seein g ourselves in anot her person's situ ation , a sItuation wh ich represents
is presumed to be universa l' (Lutz 1988 : 5). a moment in a sequence. Thus J take feelings to be interpersona l and socia l
Nonetheless, havin g been obliged to express myself day in day out in the as well as in terna l and private; and I sha ll conclude, partly with the help of
Sora lan guage and hav ing become emotiona ll y involved with the people id eas of ca usa lity which are so forcefu l fo r the Sora themselves, that they
aro und me, I believe that we can begin to experience as familiar the have, not just an immed iate present, but also a past and a future.
apparently stra nge things said in these dialogues. Part ly, this is because we Rather than seein g dialogues as bein g abo ut life and death , then , I shall
can understa nd so methin g of their systems of classification, in particular interpret them as being about relationships betweeil persons over time.
their cla ssification of sonl1ms: emotion, to quote Lutz again, is a bout Death is only a phase of a person's tota l conscious existe nce. The Sora
'seeing things in certain ways' (1988: 2 17). These ways of seeing a re person who begins to emerge from chapter 3 onwards is therefore I~~t the
patterned within culture and ca n be analysed. sta rting point of So ra metaphysics, but a hard -won and always provIsional
However, empathy does not depend on understanding the mea nin gs a nd achievem ent. It is not the same kind of bein g as the sharply bounded ent ity
relationshjps of concepts alone. Though my analysis will grow out of an commonly ima gined in the West, which as it grows in ma turity reaches a
unfamiliar cosmology in which, for example, babies are made by a female height of individuation and is then subject to sudden a nnihilation (or
blacksmith in the Sun, in the end it can be valid only to the extent that it can transportation to an inaccessible, tran scendent rea lm) . Rather, the longer
help us to reflect on our own mortality and our own feelin gs of love and the Sora person lives the more he becomes involved with other perso ns , as
anger, loss and continuity. In transcribing tapes with the aid of notes and his relationships with those others bea r upon his own being in more and
my memory, I shall describe tones of voice and styles of delivery as more complex ways . Instead of being a bounded entity, the person can also
'ungracious', ' frantic' , 'tender' or 'sarcastic' and in later chapters shall be interpreted in this light as having a core, or focus of concentration,
move towards a typology of such moods. This analysis of the emotional which at its outer edges diffuses into other persons. Persons partake of each
tone of dialogues will depend not simply on what was said at the time, but other's destiny and are understood , even defined , largely in terms of each
on my understanding of the connections between words and other gestures, other. Virtually everything significant in a person's fate, his viability as well
actions and events, as well as of the place of these words in the sequences of as his vulnerability , is interpreted through his involvement with other
episodes which make up the relationships of the persons concerned over persons living or dead. The Sora thus appear to see a complex web of
many years. This is the understanding which Carrithers calls narrativity , agency between persons, in which agents, even while they act on others, are
the understanding of 'complex nets of ever-new deeds and changing themselves changed by the interaction.
attitudes' by which humans 'perceive any given action not only as a Within this web of mutual agency, death plays a central role . The word
response to the immediate circumstances or current imputed mental state 'sonum' represents the most enigmatic stage of personhood , both for the
of an interlocutor or of oneself but also as part of an unfolding story' Sora and for their interpreter. I do not try to tran slate this word until late in
(Carrithers 1990: 269). the book, but mea nwhile set the word free in order to see how it behaves.
Just as we come to know the characters in this book only through the The essence of loss on bereavement is not annihilation of the loved one, but
unfolding of theil' relations with other characters, so the empathy the separation from the loved one. People who remain attached to each other
anthropologist or the reader may achjeve with the feelings of the Sora, are pulled apart into separate realms of existence, which the Sora represent
however limited, is based on an awareness of this narrative . It is therefore as separate kinds of space, or rather, as separate modes within the same
far richer than whatever is implied by any notion of empathy with a space. The common landscape which is occupied by both the living a nd the
supposed mental state of the moment , such as 'love' or 'anger'. Michelle dead emphasises the ontological gulf which exjsts between them: even when
Rosaldo suggested that what distinguishes feeling from thought is 'the one visits that very point on the landscape where one knows that a dead
engagement of the actor's self, ... the apprehension that "I am involved'" person resides, one no longer interacts with them in the same way as one did
(M . Z. Rosaldo 1984: 143). Even at the distance of being a reader, this when that person was alive.
involvement is with other persons and implies a sense of time. In Sonums are enigmatic not only because they are inaccessible. The
10 Dialogues IPith the dead Dialogues be/H'een the livillg alld the dead \I

problem of loss is one ofseparation com bin ed with, or even conceived as, a ect words for doing: the adverb ' how?' is Lit era lly 'saying what?' (ian
exp the co n'espond ing answer ' like tIm. /1'Ike t Ilat ' "IS say lllg
con tinuin g interaction which is somehow qualitatively tran sform ed . Afte r gam I)e ,and . " ,.
death, the consciousness becomes a powerful but cont rad ictory causal this/saying that' (edne gamle/edte gamle); eve n the co njunctIon because IS
principle, nourishing its livin g kin through the soul -force it puts into their litera lly 'say ing' (gamlenden or gamengalllle). .
grow in g crops, but at the sa me time precipitating illness and death amo ng In part II ('Responding to a new death'), I ana lyse the dIalogue and the
them. This id ea of causality is not simple and its implications will be sung verse at a man's funeral. Chapter 5 shows how a group of persons use
developed throughout the book. In one aspect, the dead give to the livin g dialogue at a n inquest to bring themselves lllto a state of shared
their continued sustenance and their very ex istence, yet in another th ey consciousness with the deceased. This consciousness encompasses a
diminish their being as they impinge on them and consume them. paradoxical mixture offeelings. Thinking about the dec.eased is linked to an
The Sora express thi s causal relationship through an elaborate classifica - awareness of his suffering, a suffering whIch contlllues lllto the present. On
tion of sonums. Chapter 4 prese nts the fundamental contrast between the the one hand , the living share his suffering out of compassion (abasu)'/I/J).
two cross-cutting aspects of a dead person. On the one hand , he is an But at the sa me time they fear (batollg- ) the dead person whom they love,
Ancestor-Sonum, retaining his role within the lineage and something of hi s since he will later become an aggressor himself and repeat the form of hi s
personality and nurturing his descendants . On the other hand , he is a death on them.
member of one of several collectivities which I call 'Experience' sonums. For the dead man himself, the funeral is a crucial rite of transformation.
This contains many people who have died in a simi lar way to himself. In In chapter 6, the hving Ancestor-Men impersonate his Ancestors a.nd
this latter aspect, his personality and lineage role are submerged in favour struggle to 'redeem' him through so ng from the Experience sonum whIch
of an emphasis on the experience of pain which he has suffered and on the represents the form of his death , in order to lead him into their own
aggressiveness with which he tries to perpetuate this suffering among those company. This redemption of the deceased is not fully successful at first and
he has left behind . Thus, to put it at its simplest, someone killed by a in the early years he frequently reverts to the form of his Experience and
leopard becomes a member of the collectivity called Leopard-Sonum and repeats his death on others . The transformation is partly cosmologica l, as
then sends leopards to attack his descendants in order to cause their deaths the Ancestors move him from one location on the landscape to another;
in turn. partly ontological, as they turn him from one kind of sonum into another;
Different categories of sonum are located in different features of the and partly social, as he is led from the anti-society of his fello:"
landscape. As a living person moves around this landscape, he may Experience-victims into the company of his patrilineal Ancestors. ThIS
encounter sonums and become involved with them. But this happens, not transformation from Experience-member to Ancestor passes through the
at random , but as a development of his long-term relationships with transitional category of Earth-Sonum, the imagery of which centres on
various dead persons. Though his encounters with sonums may cause wholeness and retention of form. Earth-Sonums are located in springs and
illness, they do not constitute a medical history so much as a history of his the dead who reside at each site contribute to the soul-force of the crops
states of mind in relation to other persons. An illness in a living person is a which grow around that site. Earth-Sonum is an Experience, causing illness
reflection ofa mood or attitude in a dead person, and the rite which heals a and dea th oBut it does so through swelling of the body, the blockage of its
sick person is also a rite to acknowledge the claims of the sonum who has orifices and the prevention of childbirth. This very same imagery when
attacked him. The living person's awareness of the dead is an integral part applied to the kin-group allows Earth-Sonum to function also as a rallying
of the symptoms and of the definition of his illnesses, so that his medical point for the redeemed dead, since by this same imagery of wholeness It
history amounts to an important part of his biography. reunites the dispersed members of a lineage segment.
It is the shaman who enables this awareness to be developed through Part III (,Operating the calculus of all previous deaths') opens out the
verbal articulacy. By her techniques of trance and formalised verse, she discussion to a broader time-scale. Every sonum, at any given moment, has
creates the setting for living and dead to confront each other and to speak, its own cosmological location and its own relationship to each of its
each for themselves, in ordinary language. Word-play constitutes the main mourners. Chapter 7 presents a dialogue in which members of one family
Sora art-form and words for speaking are often used where one might converse with the sonums of nineteen of their dead and the state of each one
12 Dialogues Illith th e dead Dialoglles between th e fillin g and the dead 13

of these dead persons is revealed. Throughout the remaining chapters, I make you who you a re through inheritance; yet at the same time they
progressively develop the sociological dimension of the dead person's invade your house, raid your body and then go back to their hid eouts to ea t
evo lution . Which one among the range of available alternative Eart h- and sleep with other so nums. They wander at large, at their own volition ,
Sonum sites he resides in, reflects his status as a future Ancestor for various yet they are at"so shared between a number of living interlocutors and
kin -groups whom he thereby endorses or rejects. The ambiguous status of ch a nge their nature over time only through the med ium of dia logue with
married women is particularly intense , caught as they are bearing ch ild ren groupS of these persons.
for their husband's lineage against the interests of their father's lineages. Our interpretation of what a sonum is, is intim ate ly bound up with how
Crucia l cases of inheritance can hinge on whether a married woman sett les we try to translate the word into our own lan gua ge. Phenomena in some
after death in the Earth site of her hu sba nd 's or her father's Ancestors . way resembling sonums are encountered throughout the world. One
Throughout these chapters, I exam ine how the Living and the dead combine possible approach to their interpre tation might be first to translate the
to work through their uncertainties abo ut reside nce and affi liation , in word into a widely accepted E nglish eq uivalent and then to discuss the
dialogues which show that such 'structura l' conflicts are closely linked to workings of the present particular examp le in comparison with others from
long-term shifts in the psychological process of mourning. elsewhere. Among such equivalents, co mmonly used ones include 'spirit' ,
Two clu sters of relationships are drawn out of this dialogue for closer 'God' or 'god', ' deity' and 'power'. However, the use in anthropology of
study at the beginning of chapter 8, which constitutes the heart of the book. such terms may block the reader's und ersta nding by prejudging the nature
In the first case, a dead girl vigorously affirms her devotion to her surviving of what one has set out to investigate. A term such as 'spirit' seems to
husband against all the devices which her hostile brothers can summon up presuppose some degree of consensus and yet at the same time is treated as
to tear them apart. The second case shows a web of relationships which a ' black box' immune to internal analysis . Owin g to the inbuilt materialist
links suicide and attempted suicide among the living to a chain of marriage, bias of much of this work , this consensus is one not so much of
childbirth and perverse changes of residence among the dead . This web understanding as of that kind of distancing which leads to the more
implicates numerous living persons as they struggle to assert their claims to intractible formulations of the supposed dichotomy between 'primitive'
disputed property and to manage their lives. and 'rational' thinking. Even within theology, where terms like 'spirit' and
These two case studies reveal a tangled intertwining of lineage, property, 'god' are more readily comprehended , there are difficulties. 'God' with a
inheritance, love, jea lousy and anger, in which the conflicts of interest capital 'G' is closely tied to the idea of monotheism and can perhaps be used
involved ensure that living interlocutors will not always hear from the dead only when a similar idea is presupposed for the reli gion under discussion , as
what they want to hear. Some of the sonums who speak are almost devoid was done for instance by Evans-Pritchard for the Nuer (1956) or on a
of personality and leave their living interlocutors indifferent, while others, worldwide scale by Schmidt (1926- 55); while 'god' with a small 'g' implies a
like the little girl at the beginning of the book, have great emotional power possible multiplicity of such gods so that by contrast to 'God ' we risk
over those whom they address and cause them extreme distress. This suggesting their falsehood or inferiority. For many modern readers faced
chapter analyses the emotional tone of each encounter between dead with the concept so num , such glosses do not support the et hnography in
sonum and living mourner. The analysis correlates unsettled moods in a any sense which makes them feel that they could with equal ease have been
dead person with a tendency to revert readily to his Experience mode, since born to live out their life as a member of Sora society , pervaded as it is day
the Sora see him as still unhappily trapped in the Experience of his own in day out, for instance, by 'spirits' . For such a reader , spirits are something
death; while as he becomes more settled, he will be more inclined to remain eccentric and marginal and probably are not even 'real'. As Leach asked,
in his Ancestor mode . Thus by asking which sonums remain unredeemed speaking no doubt for many others, ' how should we interpret ethnographi-
and why, we see that there is a correspondence between a dead person's cal statements about palpable untruth? ... Why do all these people believe
cosmological position and his state of mind . In interpreting this , I build in something which is untrue?' (1967: 44). If the reader is told that for the
here on the earlier discussion in chapter 4 of how a living person's medical Sora, sonums are the main agents and even principle of causality in human
history represents a history of his relationships with others who are now affairs, how can he understand this in any way which does not distance him
dead. A sonum's effect on you depends on that sonum's own state of mind , irretrievably from those people's experience?
but it also equally reflects how you feel a bout the deceased . Sora sonums At this stage of the book I propose a gloss for 'so num' which engages
14 Dialogues Il'ith the dead Dialogues betll'eel/ the fillil/g al/d the dead 15

with certain key properties which have emerged from our analysis. One of process of public divination , with its shared con sciou sness, unmas ks the
these is the way in which sonum s make a journey through a time which is age ncy of the attackin g sonum which is otherwise hidden by the form of the
not homogenous but is shaped by people's feelings. A further property is Sora pa ssive verb . Only through divination does it becom e possible, not
the association of a sonum with the biographies of living persons, since a only to sa y thal the patient is being attacked, but to say by whom. It is thi s
sonum is a relational concept: the state of mind ofa sonum affects the state whi ch ex terio rises the pati ent's inn er fee lings and ma kes them part of the
of mind (and body) of the living person. The sequential , causal relation ship 'objective' world outside.
between these states suggests that we are dealing with an aspect of memory. This viciou s cycle is broken only when the dead person 's redemption
The reason why the redemption of the deceased is a slow and painful becomes complete and he becomes an Ancestor who does not revert to his
process is that the living person is unable to free himself from the memory Experience mode. In his Ancestor mode , he sets up a different kind of
of what things were like before this transforma tion. An illness then appears analogy with a livin g person . This is expressed by a verb in the middle voice,
as a resurgence of this old memory. A healing, called in Sora a whereby he creates an identifica tion between himself and the new ba by who
'banishing-rite', seeks to repress this old memory and uses dialogue to is to be his namesake. Here, there is a transmission without aggression and
confirm its more recen t form. the repetition is one not of action but of being, not ofa form of suffering but
For the rest of the book I translate the word 'sonum' as 'a Memory' , with of social identity.
a capital 'M ' , as distinct from the ordinary use of the word 'memory' . The The Sora person who passes through various stages of being alive and
consonances and dissonances of putting these two terms side by side bring dead is thus not an entity to which memory-traces cling on the outside like
out clearly why sonums can seem at the same time so close to my feelings yet barnacles . He emerges not so much as having a firm core or an essence, as
so foreign to my metaphysics. A sonum has the locus of its existence outside being a changeable confluence of attributes and traces of memories and
the minds of any of the people whom it affects. A Western 'memory', on the events, a coming together of other people's perceptions and actions as
other hand , is still seen as located firmly in the mind even when it is said to much as of his own.
be 'eating up' its rememberer. A Sora Memory of a dead person remains Just as the person came into being through his cumulative interaction
outside the mind of the rememberer, who is at least partly a confluence with others, so I use my translation of a sonum as a Memory in order to
made up of such Memories rather than an entity who could contain them . interpret the sonum's gradual decline and dissolution as a process of being
The use of the term 'Memory' instead of'sonum' for the remainder of the forgotten. In chapter 9 we see the person dissolving again after death into
book will again and again throw into relief this contrast in metaphysics. his various constituents, of which his Experience and Ancestor aspects have
A sonum is my Memory of someone else, so that my present state is been only the first to emerge clearly. The dead person's choice between rival
affected not only by my own past state, but also by that of another person. Earth-Sonum sites is an essential stage in the disputed transmission of his
So in addition to the onward movement of time there is also a transferral of material property; for a woman, in addition, it is a final statement about the
perspective, a shift from the subjective viewpoint of the deceased to that of validity of her marriage. One by one, the qualities or attributes of the
his successor. Chapter 8 concludes by pinpointing the mechanism of this deceased fall away from him and are returned to the living, who then have
transferral in the grammar of the Sora verb, as a dying person shifts his less and less reason to talk with him. The last constituent to be returned is
perspective from being the victim of someone else's aggressive action to the person 's name, which returns to one child among his descendants in a
being the perpetrator of his own . The Experience mode of being dead festival which echoes the format of the funeral but inverts its imagery by
makes an analogy between persons based on shared suffering and is suffusing it with joy. There remains a final, vestigial residue of the deceased
associated with transitive verbs . The living person embarks on his path which continues its trajectory ever onwards, away from the awareness of
towards death in the passive: he is 'grabbed', 'seized', 'raped' , 'eaten up'. He the living. Eventually, this attenuated Memory dies a second death in the
emerges some time after death as a grammatically active, causal agent who Underworld, at which point it becomes a butterfly beyond the reach of any
perpetrates on others the force of those same verbs whose action he suffered communication with the living. This occurs around the time when the
earlier. He is now doing the 'grabbing' and 'seizing' . Having been the deceased is passing out of living memory, a Memory who has no-one left
patient of someone else's violence, he has become the agent of his own. The alive to remember him.
16 Dialogues with the dead Dialogues betweel1 the Iivil1g alld th e dead 17

Chapter 10 concludes the book by asking how we can best understand and terrible, is ana logo us in very specific ways to numerous other losses
Sora ideas of death, loss and continuity by looking at our own ways of which have happened before and will happen aga in . By placing the sufferer
remembering, grieving and looking forward to the future . Within the in the midst of a public divination, the gro up converts hi s private
overall diversity of modern industria l society, there is a growing dissatisfac- perception info a common one and locates the sou rce of his suffering
tion with what many people see as an increasingly alienated relationship to outs id e the circl e which they all share. The very fact that other livin g
death, as religion flows out of people's lives and leaves the field largely to rememberers have slightly different personal memories of the deceased
psychology. only confirms the reality of his ex iste nce as the point at which their separate
Though Sora insights into the human co ndition are profound, I argue memories all overlap . The experiencing subject, the individua l perceiver, is
that to adapt them for use in contemporary psychotherapy is more subordinated at every turn to somet hin g grea ter than himself. This is
problematic than we might wish: though they are good answers, they do co llective and, through the manner in which it encompasses dispute, is
not correspond directly to the same questions. The psychological effect of ultimately co nsensual.
dialogues with the dead is deeply rooted in the total patterning of Sora Where Freud and bereavement co un se lling offer us a mere psychology of
society, in which the person grows and falls away again, all in term s of other death, the Sora offer a total interpretation of death. Their view of death is
persons. Consciousness is not the starting point of a Sora perso n's larger because for them death itse lf is not a negation of life but a
interaction with other persons but a result, as though one did not have full continuation of it with a change in the quality of fac'e -to-face interaction.
consciousness without this interaction . The lives of the Sora people whom This is why the dead are so articulate. Once one party to a relationship dies ,
we have met show how the Sora practice of funeral and dialogue cannot certain inhibitions are lifted and the unspeakable can become the spoken.
assuage every grief. However, it does provide a framework of structural But when we seek the source of what it is which is spoken, we cannot
time which nurses the evolution ofa mourner's feelings and relates this to a a ttribute this solely to the individual speakers or to the shamans through
public acknowledgement of these feelings, along with the feelings of many whom their messages pass. We are driven back to the community as a
others. This acknowledgement is possible because of the exteriority of the whole.
Sora Memory, which is not contained within the diffuse living person but is In an attempt to clarify the shaman's role, I compare her not only to the
stored in features of the common landscape. psychoanalyst but also to Dostoyevsky as an author of the 'polyphonic
Psychotherapy and psychoanalysis lack the Sora concepts of communal novel', in which the characters speak, supposedly independently of the
space and time, as well as the interaction with exterior Memories which author, with a 'pllll'ality of voices' . In some essentials the comparison turns
exist outside their rememberer. The theoretical foundation of most modern out to be close; but it also shows that the shaman has a different
secular bereavement counselling within these idioms lies in a seminal paper relationship to space and time, while the contradictory voices within and
by Freud called ' Mourning and melancholia ' (1957[1917]). Freud's paper around her are those of litigants ra ther than, as in Dostoyevsky, of
yields a model of the process of bereavement which is parallel to that ideologies. The speakers have a fa r higher degree of autonomy than do the
implicit in Sora thinking, yet one which inverts the fundamental Sora characters of Dostoyevsky, and the sa me living and dead persons
presupposition about the continued autonomous, exterior existence of communicate with each other on different occasions through a range of
Memories. The psychological and social consequences turn out to be more different shamans. The complex web of perso ns' lives means that Soras can
far-reaching than the mere fact of logical inversion would suggest. If the be seen as the authors of both their own and of each other's personhood .
dead person does not 'really' exist, then to treat with him beyond a certain They discuss their feelings, not so much through nouns for inner states of
time must be judged pathological. Yet for the Sora, the deceased does emotion such as 'love' or 'anger' , as through verbs which link states of
continue to exist. While they use the categories of Ancestor and Experience consciousness such as Memories . These verbs represent the dynamic strand
to distinguish the more from the less desirable, there is nothing 'pathologi- of interpersonal relations among both the dead and the living. What one
cal' about the Experiences. These are mapped across the common might like to call inner feelings are brought to the very edge of the Sora
landscape and the process of conventionalisation represented by the person, to the point at which they encounter other persons and a re
Experiences reminds the mourner that the loss which to him seems unique dialogised.
18 Dialogues Ivith the dead Dialogues betll'een the fillillg and th e dead 19

A note on 'shamans' and other intermediaries all/en ade y U)'UlIg la jan ida goden
T he Sora word which I have translated as 'shaman' is kurall. T he re are two all/en ade yu)'ulIg la tallollgda godell
kinds of shaman , the ' funeral' (sallatung) kind , and the 'divination' (tedulIg)
(frsil1 do la tOl1gilal71 nam )'uy ulIg la amen
kind 'vvho also perform healings. Funeral shamans are more ' im portant'
k el'lll1 do la tongilam nam ),uyung la ameli
(muda) and are largely women , while divining and hea lin g shamans, who
are more ' lowly' (osellg) , are somet imes women but often also men. In a Ivan bl/1 galanwi Kidtungen a bema
large village there may be two or three of the former and a dozen 01: more of Il'al1 bm galamai S anamell a bema
the latter. Divinations and most hea ling rites are a sma ll affair and a claspi ng hand s, gra ndmoth ers, the one-ha nd narrow path
shama n perform s a lone. But at fun eral s, which a re more momentous clasping feet, gra ndmothers , the two-clipped-hands narrow path
occasions held in stages over three years, several may sit together. In one
village with a strong line of succession T have seen four young peo ple (three you, grandmoth er, the tightrope path
women and one ma n) who sat sid e by side with a n old, nearly blind woman yo u, gra ndmother, the imposs ible-balancing path
who was their teacher. Each acted independently as the mouthpiece for a yo ur monkey's four-footed walk , grandmoth er
different stream of dead people while their livin g interlocutors moved from yo ur ape's four-footed walk, g randmother
one to another of them amidst the hubbub. The dead , just like the living,
how would I know the Kidtung-Creator's word?
sometimes also conducted their own subsidiary conversations as the
shamans through whom they spoke turned their heads away from the living how would I know the Sanam-Creator's word?
[i.e without your help]
towards each other.
On the morning of a journey to the Underworld the shaman fasts , After some minutes of this singing, her voice peters out and her head
though she may drink alcohol and smoke tobacco . An assistant often lights flops down on to her breast . Her soul has now reached her husband and
a lamp which will be kept burning throughout the shaman's journey in the children in the Underworld . Bystanders, who have proba bly paid no
darkness below. The shaman sits down with her eyes closed and her legs pa rticular attention to the invocation , now rush forward in a commotion to
stretched straight out in front of her, a posture not used at any other time unclench her body which has locked itself rigid . They bend her knees and
since one usually sits on the floor squatting. Then , perhaps beating a steady lay her legs down straight again on the ground, bend her elbows, unclench
pulse with a stick or knife, or else swishing grain around a winnowing fan , her fingers and then return them , limp , to rest on her knees. Even in frail
she sings a song calling on a succession of former shamans who a re now little old ladies, this clenching can defy two or three strong men for some
dead and are called her rauda so nums . The journey which she is about to seco nds. Whe n her body has been loosened , the shaman sits motionless for
undertake is an impossible one for ordinary people who will eventually a while. Then with a sharp intake of breath her ha nd passes over her mouth
make it once only , when they die, and with no hope of returnin g to their and the sonum of her immediate predecessor, her closest rauda , begins to
bodies. The earth and the Unde rworld are linked by a huge tree, down si ng her own tune in reply and to speak as mistress of ceremonies. The
which the shaman must clamber. Sora also say that the path includes ra ud a then leads on a succession of the dead , each of whom demands a
dizzyi ng precipices on the way down to the ' murky-sun country, cock- drink on arrival a nd maybe a smoke too . The dialogue now begins .
crow-light country (mongol-yung desa. tartar-im desa)' . In order to make Shamans of either sex acquire their ability to perform by marrying a
this journey, the shaman's soul ' becomes' a monkey . And so, in a ~n~ or special kind ofsonum, called tlda , in the Underworld (see chapter 3). Men,
quavering voice according to her age, she sings words like the followll1g 111 a if they are to become shamans in either tradition , generally acquire their
special tune to her predecessors (text 1.2): vocation in adult life; but women start to become shamans at a very early
age, usually around seven or eight years old . In the dreams of the future
Text 1.2 Extract from a shaman's invoca tion to her predecessors shaman, rauda sonums come and escort her down to the Underworld . The
argalgalsi yUyUl~ji bolongsi goden pa th is terrifying, as little girls have told me, but the sonums are kind and
argalgalsi yUyUl~ji banardub goden reassuring . At first these dreams come only occasionally, but later they a re
20 Dialoglles with the dead Dialogues befllJ een the living and the dead 21

repeated eve ry ni ght and come to lose their fearsome quality. Around that it a mo unts to a kind of drea min g to order: unlike the body o f a sleeper,
puberty the girl marries a so num who is the so n in the Underworld of a the sha ma n's vacated body is not left idle but is put to use on clients' behalf.
livin g shaman known to her. This shaman is ge ne rally , thou gh not a lways, In terms of a compara tive typology of shamani sm vel'sus spirit pos-
a patrilinea l relative. (Similarly , a male shaman marries a living prede- session (e.g. de He usch 198 1) the kUl'an is per haps hard to place in that
cesso r's so num -da ughter.) She now has a framed rectangular wall -pa intin g whil e her so ul is sa id to travel during trance to the Underworld , she does
made a nd consecrated as a 'house' for him to vi sit her in return. It is this not send back messages about her own doings there but simply acts as a
marria ge a nd co nsecration which will give her the ability to enter trance. cha nnel through which the dead speak for th emse lves. In th e revised edition
For the first few years she will not do thi s alone, but while sitting alongside of hi s epo nymous survey of ' shamani sm' , E liade devoted some space to th e
the older, more ex perienced shaman whose so num-son she ha s marri ed . So ra (1964: 421 - 7, usin g Elwin (1955) as hi s source). In talking a bout the
Down in the Underworld the shaman ha s a full domestic life with a IWl'an 's journey to the Underworld , the Sora do indeed use ima gery , such as
spouse and growin g children, indepe ndent of any marria ge which she (or a ladder or tree linking cosmological leve ls, which corresponds closely to
he) may have above ground. This mea ns that when she goes to sleep she that widely documented by Eliade and considered by him to be among the
resumes her other life down below just whe re she left off the la st tim e she cla ssic defining features of 'shamanism' (E li ade 1964).
was there, in the same way as we all do on waking up in this world. Sora say However, the interest of the Sora lies not in the typological status of their
that trance involves the same absence of the soul from the body as practice, intriguing though this may be. In this book I shall focus not on the
dreaming, except that whether dreaming or in trance, the experience of a shaman but on her clients, not on her own experience but on the way she
shaman has a coherence and continuity which are lacking in the dreams of helps lay persons to live their own lives . In doing this, I shall reverse a
the rest of us. It is this consistency which ena bles trance to be purposeful, in widespread approach which leads Eliade, for example, to see 'shamanism'
as a 'mysticism', ' at the disposal of a particular elite' (1964: 8). Given the
2 Bystanders unclench the bodies of a funeral shaman and his shaman's need for an audience even to unclench her body and the fact that
daughter-apprentice in trance. She is his probable successor and this is her fir st a trance takes place only in order to summon the ancestors of that same
trance. At the far right are the bamboo ladder leading to the Underworld and
audience, her experience can have meaning only to the extent that it is in
the lamp which lights the way there.
some sense shared by laymen. The format of dialogue ensures that lay
people share in the shaman's activity but that they do so from their own
perspective, which is a complementary one. Moreover, in making the
extension from dream to trance, the Sora are showing us quite clearly that
for them specialisation is a question of degree: the shaman's activity and
experience are a specialised form of those of any other member of the
In cha pter 4 and throughout this book, I shall link this question of
degrees of specialisation to the ordinary conversational tone of dialogues
with the dead. For the moment , I suggest that we think of the kUl'an's
practice not as ' shamanism' but as 's hamanship '. I take this term from
Atkinson, who defines it as ' the art or skill of performing as a shaman'
(1989 : 17). Writing of the Wana of Sulawesi, she uses this term in the
context of competition between performers who 'must strive to achieve ...
recognition of their shamanic claims' (Atkinson 1989: 17). Though the
Sora recognise better and worse shamans (one shaman I knew was known
for the rest of his life as 'Oops!' [Gege] because a crab he was hiding for a
conjuring trick popped out of his pocket before its cue), their vocation is
22 Dialogues Il'ith the dead Dialoglles betll'een the fil'ing and the dead 23

not seriou sly in doubt. But there is another helpful resonance to the E ngli sh stage towards Full shamanship. D urin g my first year in the fi eld , I had
word 's hamanship '. L ike craftsmanship or musicianship , this is a ta lent or fanta sies a bout becoming a trainee shaman, Fa ntasies whi ch I gradua ll y
inclinat ion as much as a n act ivity a nd is spread variously a mong pe rso ns, ca me to see as na ive. T he problem wa s not so much that sha man s were
who practise it to varying degrees . unwilling. So,:a have ways of keeping o ther known ethn ic groups at arm's
Many people know and can even reproduce the words of a shaman's length, but my presence there was so unprecede nted that anyt hin g mi ght
invocation but are simply unable to make them work as performances, that pe rhaps have been possible. Shama ns themselves did eventua ll y encourage
is, to act out their implications fully. Most people a re ab le to perform me to work as their assistant rather than sim ply to observe and record. (My
various rites, for example to protect cattle or trees from so rcery, and every friend Kantino saw another way for me to get involved: 'W hy don ' t you
man ca n make minor offerings to his own patrilineal ancestors. Villages marry the shama n - it would be a perfect match. She' ll go into tra nce, you' ll
genera lly also have a hereditary male buy a, who conducts harvest festival s write it down! ' [Kuranbojen orl/llga - tamte. Anin m erte, amen idoltem. My
for the village Kidtung, a creator so num and villa ge guardian (this inabili ty to become a full sha man was due to a combination of my own
corresponds broadly to a widespread Indian pattern of a so ber pries thood difficulties with language and faith , as well as to my la ck of loca l co ntext.
co ntrasted with a performance based o n trance, e.g. Dumont 19 59; Fo r instance, sha mans receive a lm ost a ll their teachin g from ra ud as in
Berrema n 1964; Babb 1975). There is also a hereditary siga, the village dreams: my own drea ms only rare ly gave me fra gments of this ex peri ence
funeral pyre-li ghter. Though such peo ple do not marry in the Underworld and never allowed me to make the necessa ry inces tuou s marriage with a
or go into trance, they all receive their abilities by succession and with the hi gh-caste k~atriya cousin (see chapter 3) . But as soon as I returned for my
aid of the so num s of their predecessors. Anyone performing any of these seco nd period of fieldwork after a n absence of two years, I fell immed ia tely
actions is at that time called kuran, the noun which I have already glossed in a nd eas ily into the role of an Ancestor-Man for the linea ge of Jamano a nd
its pal' excellence vocational sense as 'shaman '. Mengalu (both introduced in chapter 2) a nd was one of the three or four
Most importantly for my own fieldwork , each patrilineage has several men , including M engalu himself, who fasted, danced and sang at the karja
men and women called 'Ancestor-Men' (ida i-mal') and 'Ancestor-Women' and at severa l stone-plantings for peo ple whom I had known when they
(idai-boj) . Ancestor-Women are women who were born into the lineage a nd were alive. Much of the detailed material a nalysed in this book is based on
still live in it, and are therefore either unma rried girls or else widows or my participation in this role. Like any Sora, my experiences were made
divorcees who have returned from elsewhere. It is they who strip, wa sh and possible, and my own biography developed , by talking to the dead as well
dress a corpse, male or female . Whatever the relationship, ' now there's no as to the living.
embarrassment' (nami garoj tid) . It is they who pour water on the ashes to
'cool' the deceased when the pyre ha s died down ; and it is one of these
Ancestor-Women who keeps the la mp burning to light the funeral
shaman's way in the Underworld . Ancestor-Men are also members of the
linea ge, me n of suitable talent and temperament, who for several hours
sing, dance a nd mime the various stages and procedures of the funeral. Like
the shamans in trance, Ancestor-Women and Ancestor-Men fast , consum-
ing only alcohol a nd tobacco for one day (during the 'stone-planting' sta ge
ofa funeral) or three days (during the kmja , the a nnual festival of the dead
and harvest-commemoration) . In this wa y, somewhat like the shaman,
they move 'close' (a 'dam) to the sonums: 'they become the Ancestors, so to
speak' (idaienji gadtlteji amrid). At the end, before they can safely eat any of
the sacrificed meat, they likewise pass through a careful 'making hea lthy'
(ab -suka-) rite to bring them back among the living.
I was grateful for the existence of the role of Ancestor-Man as a half-way
The Sora people 25

2 culture often seems reminiscent of the linguistically related peopl es

described by Howell (1984) , Benjamin (1967) or Co ndomina s (1965, 1974).
Yet at the sa me time, contact with surrounding popula tions is longsta nding
and comp lex a nd many aspects of So ra culture a lso seem close to village
The Sora people H indui sm as described by Whitehead (1 92 1), Babb (197 5) or Herren -
schmidt (1989). As one walks or cycles out of the mountainous So ra
heart land into the plains beyond, it is imposs ible to say quite where the
fl avour of Sora culture end s.
The ethnic environment of the Sora is cos mopolitan . To the northea st
live the 'Hindu' Oriya population who speak a language of the Indo-Aryan
family and to the south live the 'Hindu' Telugu , belonging to the Dravidian
family. To the northwest live the Khond or Kond who , though they speak a
Dravidian language, are also considered ' tribal' and whose culture is in
A 'tribe' in Hindu India many ways similar to Sora. The Sora sometimes think of themselves as
The Sora (also sometimes written So:ra:, Saora, Savara, etc.) number adiv(lsi, a pan-Indian term for ' tribal ' which sometimes has radical political
around 452,000 1 and are officially designated a 'scheduled tribe'. This is a overtones, though my impression is that they learned this term in the tea
heterogeneous administrative category derived from a combination of gardens of Assam, where they sometimes go to earn cash and work
nineteenth-century ethnology and the pigeon-holing imperative of the alongside members of other central Indian 'tribes'. The Sora in this study
census. It is used for around 40 million people in India (38 million in 1971: also refer to themselves as 'Hindu' (indu) in opposition to the enclaves of
Raza and Ahmad 1990: 6) who are anomalous for reasons of language or missionised Christian (kir/un) Sora in their midst.
occupation, or else marginal geographically or economically. Many, The Sora perceive themselves as falling into several main divisions . The
though not all, of these 'tribals' are assumed to be aboriginal and to predate Sora groups in the plains, such as the Sarda (,clean') and Kapu
the arrival in India of Aryan and Dravidian populations; they are also (,cultivator') Sora, live by various occupations and resemble their caste-
widely thought to be somehow not fully Hindu . Hindu neighbours more or less closely. These groups remain virtually
The Sora fit most, if not all, of these criteria . They have long been at the unstudied . The Sora with whom I lived call themselves the Lanjia Sora and
outer edge of various kingdoms and other administrative divisions. They are also known variously as Lamba-Lanjia , Jedu ('wild'), Mone, and Arsi
live largely by shifting cultivation (slash-and-burn agriculture) and relate (,monkey'). The approximate distribution of the Lanjia Sora is shown on
to the world of markets as purveyors of shifting-cultivation crops and wild figure 2.1 (though this entire region is heavily infiltrated by a number of
forest produce. Above all, their linguistic connections lie ultimately with castes and representatives of government agencies). The word 'Sora' in this
southeast Asia. Linguists classify the Sora language as belonging to the book refers to these Lanjia Sora, who by any criterion can be considered
Munda group, which includes some other Indian 'tribal' languages such as the most isolated and 'tribal' of any Sora group. They straddle the
Mundari, Ho, Santal and Bondo; while they consider this group itself to be mountainous border between Ganjam District and Koraput District in
a branch of the Austroasiatic family which includes Mon-Khmer languages Orissa , an area to this day made inhospitable to visitors by virulent
such as Cambodian, as well as many of the languages of the interior of the malaria . I lived mostly in the Sora villages within a few miles of Putt asing, a
Malay peninsula and of the Montagnard peoples of Vietnam (Pinnow settlement on the Koraput side which contains some assorted officials but is
1959; Zide 1966).2 Though there are historical uncertainties, this suggests inhabited mainly by Pano (Dom) , a Christianised group of Oriya Harijans
that such peoples form an ancient stratum of the population across tropical who live throughout tribal Orissa by trading with the tribals and lending
Asia who in each country have been surrounded and dispossessed by them money at high interest.
larger, settled rice-growing popula tions. Lanjia Sora territory comprises a series of mountains rising to 3,000 ft. It
Certainly, some Sora faces look southeast Asian and the flavour of Sora is bounded to the north by the Khond hills and on the other three sides by
26 Dialogues lVith the dead
The Sora people 27

plains o r rive r valleys. A t the foot of the hills lie the lowns ofGunlipur a nd eroded gullies of red earth. Abo ut six miles on, after a little climbing
Parlakhemundi (Parlakimidi), co ntaining a diversity of Oriya and Telu gu through a fairly bare land scape, one wa lks into laltar (in Sora: Ya ltab), a
casles as well as Sarda a nd Kap u Soras. For lo ng the seats ofTelliga rajas, village conta inin g Soras who accord in g to perspective may be ca lled ei ther
the towns now act as admini st ra tive headq uarters a nd the main commer- Sarda or La nji a and who live side by sid e with a number of administrative
cia l focusses o f the area . To the So ra they are a world of police and cl erks officers and se ttlers of various castes. Thi s is the scene of the weekly market
armed with guns a nd bteracy , of metal-workers, bu s-sta nds, cemen t hou ses through which a large quantity of Sora produce leaves the hills beyond ,
and loud speakers blaring film music over bazaars where the flare of bound for the plains. After a further six miles, up two steep passes and past
kerosene lamps a fter dark falls on piles of plastic trinkets and bales of cloth severa l wholly Lanjia Sora villages, one comes to Puttasing (in Sora :
brightl y co lo ured with sy nthet ic dyes. This is a world which most So ra find G udangsin g, ' Level Village') , a sma ller sett lemen t almost exclusively of
both rep ul sive a nd fa scinating, but overall deeply intimidating. some 400 Pa no a long with a few Pa ik traders and some gove rnment
The pa th out of Gunupur towards the Lanjia Sora hills leads through employees, but no Soras. Here, surrounded by a small er area of eroded
fields of paddy a nd irri gated vegetables by the river Vamsadhara and past a firewood copp ice (the Sora go far into the forest for their wood), a re the la st
village of Sard a Sora s. From these one cro sses the desolate fla t area where sma ll police stat ion , dispensary , post office, a nd primary school. A simila r
Gunupur cuts its firewood. Once fores ted, thi s is now furrowed with deeply picture hold s for the route from Parlakimidi via Gumma to the gove rnment
outpost of Serango (in Sora: Serung). This is more developed as there is a
Figure 2. 1 App roximate location of the Lanjia Sora. surfaced road along which buses ply, thou gh the road to Puttasing is due to
be surfaced likewise. There are other similar outposts on all sides along

Bissa mcuttack
paths reaching past weekly markets at the foot of hills almost into the
centre of Sora territory . Between these outposts the mountainous hea rt-
land , populated exclusively by Soras, is not more than a few miles across .
During the years I have known the area, non-Sora immigration into these
outposts appears to have increased noticeably.
Ud ayag iri . As one draws away from Gunupur, certain contrasts appear between the
Sora and the peoples of the plain. Many of the Oriya and Telugu castes, a nd
• Putt asin g even the Sarda Soras, have comparatively long-limbed, dark , often almost
Gunupur .
ebony-skinned bodies and their men ha ve a strong beard growth and hairy
legs 'like a bear' (saluan amrid) . By contrast, the Lanjia Sora have shorter
bodies, sometimes with a light reddi sh-brown skin, rounder faces, often
with distinctly southeast Asian fea tures, no bea rd growth and very little
body hair. Among both men and women, the chest is usually bare when
• Parvatipuram they are among their own kind. For men , the ankle-length lungi, dhoti or
trousers of the plains give way to a cream-coloured homespun co tton
loincloth exposing thin muscular thighs and buttocks or increasingly these

Te kkali
days, to market-bought khaki shorts. Whereas women in the plains wear
saris, often brightly coloured , Sora women wear a knee-len gth wrap-
around skirt, which is either homespun in cream or market-bought in
black. Instead of the vivid colours of plastic and nylon, virtually all
Bay of Bellgal
artefacts in Sora homes have the colour of the earth, stone or dried
Srikakulam vegetation from which they were made. Sora women wea r none of the
oI 20 mil es
• I masca ra or other cosmetics of the pla ins, though the faces of both women
28 Dialogues with the dead The Sora people 29

and to a lesser exten t men have perm a nent ta ltoos , dyed with the juice of an Brahmin depend s on an intrinsic , hereditary ritual purity , and the lower
indigo -coloured berry. The bri ghtest colours are those of their jewellery in statu s of othe rs on a corresponding degree of uncl ea nness. Thou gh thi s
bra ss, silver, aluminium, gold and co loured glass, all made in the plains by model ha s not been supplanted by a nythin g of equal weight, it raises many
Hindu castes usin g a technology of fire which remains a mystery to the problems and has bee n widely criticised . For exa mple Parry (1974 , 1979)
Sora; brass waterpots, though only in wealthier homes; and the red drew atten tion to a wid espread co untervailin g principle of ega litariani sm;
patterned bands in vegetable dye, used deliberately sparin gly on the and while the model is apparently designed to account for low castes, it is
borders of homespun loincloths and skirts. Even in the markets the Sora unable to accommod a te the tribal s, who constitute an important , distinc-
choose cloth of kha ki , black, whi te or da rk bl ue and the merchan ts ca tel' for tive and highly varied section of the Indian population .
them accordingly . The Sora comme nt on the limited use of bright colour in Dumont pays scant attention to tribal et hnography and hi s main
their earth and vegetation-tinted world: red (je) is the colour of blood and discussion of it, coincidentally, is probably in his review (19 59: 60- 74) of
fire, and a dream of the red borders on clothing presages bloodshed or a Elwin's book. He was frustrated at his inability to place the Sora clearly
violent death . Freer use of bright colours is associated with the plains: to within his hierarchical and monolithic model of India. On the one hand , he
wear flowers or coloured cloth on one's person is to invite an attack by concludes that the Sora are 'autonomous' (Dumont 1959: 61) and ' not
Ruga-boj ('Smallpox-Woman') , a sonum of the plains whom they identify Hindus' because they 'do not imitate the Hindus in the recognition of
with the goddess Durga or Thakurani. impurity . They do not submit directly to the scheme of Hindu values'
I was first inspired to study the Sora through reading Elwin's account of (Dumont 1959: 61). Yet on the other hand , they cannot be considered
them in his book The religion of an Indian tribe (1955). It was this work 'a bsolutely alien to Hinduism' since 'the relation of the SaOl-as [sic] with
which made the Sora widely known among both anthropologists and their spirits is achieved through marriage of their shamans with some of the
students of comparative religion (cf. Eliade 1964). The importance of Hindu dead, considered of higher rank and greater power than their own'
religion in Sora life is obvious to any observer and Sora rites and 'spirits' (Dumont 1959: 66).
already feature prominently in the earlier accounts by Fawcett (1888), I do not propose to discuss the Soras' relation to Hinduism at length in
Thurston (1909) and Sitapati (1938-43). Elwin's account of Sora religion this book, reserving tlus for a later work.) Rather than finding an
has since been widely paraphrased in India (in Bose (1972) and in many inside-outside model of tribal-Hindu relations, the reader who knows other
popular magazine articles). parts of India will notice a variety of ways in which the Sora sometimes
It is clear that Elwin was fascinated and moved by the Sora . His book is ignore ideas and images from mainstream Indian culture, sometimes take
long and at first sight appears exhaustive, but is ultimately disappointing. them over and recombine them in original ways. Beneath the immediate
Dumont (1959: 60- 74) and Turner (1967) each wrote substantial review phenomenon of dialogues with the dead we seem to be witnessing another
articles. Both lamented the accumulation of description which, since it ancient and continuing dialogue between the Sora and their wider Indian
lacks order, tantalises and ultimately overwhelms the reader. Though they environment. From Dumont's perspective, looking from the summit
each responded to the exciting nature of Elwin's material, each with a downwards, there would be no place for this kind of debate since the
different emphasis pinpointed the source of his own disappointment. ethnographic situation of the moment could be little more than a failed
Dumont tried to puzzle out the place of the Sora within India as a whole, model. But what Dumont presents amounts to only one indigenous model ,
while Turner tried to find a connection between Sora rites and social that of the Brahmins, and it is only one actor's viewpoint among several
structure. possible ones. For the Sora, this limitation would be ironic since they prefer
Dumont has presented his overview of India in his book Homo if anything to play with certain ksatriya values . This kind of play is
hierarchicus (1980 [1966]). This portrays India as a whole made up of open-ended and invites continuous re-evaluation of its object. The Sora do
subordinate parts (the various 'castes'), tightly interlocked in a mutual not try to 'inlitate' the outside world but respond to it with a more or less
dependence which is at one and the same time functional (via their self-conscious commentary which sometimes amounts to parody, as with
specialised occupations), political (through the system's organising prin- Pubic-Haired Sompa, the ambiguously Sora-Hindu foundress of shaman-
ciple of hierarchy) and above all religious, in that the high status of the ism who will appear in the next chapter.
30 Dialogues 11'ith the dead The Sora people 31

For Turner the Africanist, the interest of the Sora wa s quite different. He 1865; Padel 1987). Nonetheless th e Puttasing area was brought und er
was frustrated at Elwin's lack of sociological data which would have government rule in 1864-6 by an expedit ion ary force which executed and
allowed him to grasp the relationship of the rites descr ibed to the Sora transported Sora resistance leaders a nd esta bllshed a permanent Pollce
patrilineage. In his introduction, Elwin had written baldly: 'The most presence (Se na pati and Sa hu 1966: 72) . Thereafter, the area has been
remarkable thing about the orga nisation of Saora society is its lack of sLlspended in permanent marginality between various distant cen tres
organization' (Elwin 19 55: 50), and the remainin g 500 pa ges, rather oddly, (Elwin 1955 : preface; Bell 1945) . F or much of the colonial period, this
discuss a religion based on ancestors with virtually no reference to kinship. entire region lay at the far north ernmost tip of the vast Madras Presidency.
There is simply no concept of the lineage and little explicit data with which But the Sora live on the very boundary between the north and sOLlth Indian
the reader could construct such a concept. Nonetheless, by detective work culture areas and this is now appropriately reflected in their division
from Elwin's raw descriptions Turner was able to draw some inferences between two of India's modern states. If they go down the mountain one
about the uneasy position of married women between lineages and also way, they enter the Indo-Aryan world of the Oriya -speaking state of
about the foundation of shamanship in fantasy incest (Turner 1967: Orissa ; if they go down the other side , they find themselves in the
192-4). These interpretations, as far as he was able to take them, will Telugu-speaking, Dravidian state of Andhra Pradesh. 6 Even within the
generally be borne out in the present book. Turner also sensed the possible state of Orissa which now encompasses most of their territory , the Sora
solidarity, cutting across the lineage, of groups of cross-cousins (1967: 193, people live on either side of the border between the di stricts of Ganjam and
though cross-cousins do not as he suggested form residential groupS).4 Koraput . On the Ganjam side they were ruled in the British period through
There is another serious problem in Elwin's book which was not noted Oriya middlemen of Paik (Warrior) caste and ksatriya varna; and on the
by reviewers but is central to the concern of the present work . Despite his Koraput side through Sora village Headmen (gomang , also meaning 'rich
own Anglican background (Elwin 1964) and his undeniable theological man'), who were appointed by the British and collected revenue for the raja
and literary sensitivity, Elwin translates 'sonum' indiscriminately as 'god', of Jeypore . Since the 1950s, the office of Headman has been officially
'deity' and 'spirit' (Elwin 1955 : e.g. xxi, xxiii), a casualness which led Turner suspended (though in practice it remains powerful) and the area governed
at one point into a fruitless speculation about the differences between through local councils ' (pancayat).
'spirits' and 'gods' as agents of affliction (Turner 1967: 186).5 As much as The Soras' awareness of the outside world is considerable, though
the absence of sociological perspective, it is this which renders The religion uneven (my friends were convinced that I could not safely invite them to my
of an Indian tribe an ultimately baffling account of a religion. What is the country since I would be unable to restrain my fellow-countrymen from
point of sonums? The reader emerges from Elwin's account unable to eating them). The Sora have been pushed to the edges of a world, the other
understand what a sonum is, or why for the Sora they exist and are parts of which have a greater bureaucratic, economic and cultural
tolerated. The picture given is a gloomy one in which the dead oppress the complexity than they have themselves . They interact with this world in
living unremittingly . I shall argue that the two questions of sociology and highly specific and limited ways. The Sora see themselves as surrounded by
theology are not separate: a sonum's power is derived at the same time both a range of life forms, from monkeys, pythons and plants to rajas and
from its theological attributes and from its position in social organisation. policemen. Each of these has its own jati (race or species). But there are
Seen in this way, sonums also playa constructive role . So far as the fact of possibilities of merging and equivalence between these. Animals' souls are
death will allow - a profoundly theological consideration - they give to the a substitute for human souls in sacrifice; dead Soras become part of the soul
living as much as they take from them. of their living descendants'crops; shamans in trance become monkeys
Historically, the evidence suggests that the Sora have been squeezed into when they clamber down to the Underworld; the Lanjia (also Arsi ,
their present enclave from a much wider area. Many villages along the coast ' monkey') Sora as a whole are monkeys because they are a jungle people
from the Mahanadi valley well into Andhra Pradesh have Sora names but whose men wear loincloths with a long tail; and Sora shamans marry
few if any 'Sora' inhabitants. The Sora did not appear to practise human ksatriya sonums in the Underworld and themselves become ksatriya after
sacrifice and so did not attract the righteous British campaigns which were death . In the same way, the lineage is exogamous and Lanjia Soras in the
waged against the neighbouring Khond (Campbell 1864; Macpherson hills also sometimes marry other kinds of Sora from the plains; while terms
32 Dialog ues Illith the dead The Sora people 33

like Jedu and Sarda are not absolute but relative , implying respectively groupS is not a strong one. But Sora c ulture is not a stripped -down culture
uphill and downhill , of the jungle and of the cultivated landsca pe. of pove rt y, in which shamanism is Iitlle more than a compensation for
Since around the 1920s many young Sora have gone to pick tea in Assam , helplessness; nor does it prese nt a picture of deviance and squ alor, as in
some 600- 900 miles away , usually for a year a t a time, and thi s is also a F reeman 's vivid account (1979) of low life a mong low ca stes elsewhere in
common way of escaping for a while from an embarra ssin g situation at Ori ssa. Our fo cus on dialog ues with the dea d will lead us to see in la ter
home. In recent years they have also worked on road building projects in chapters how th e Sora use the politics of ethnicity in order to give to the
the North -Ea stern Frontier Agency (N E FA) area . Here and in Assam they livin g the power to compel sonums to revea l the vital relationships of
meet members of many other tribes , learn some Hindi as a lingua./i'anca and causality i;l the most intimate areas of their own lives.
live, according to their own account, in a strange, casteless frontier society. But the ima ge ry of Brahmanical purity , so prominent in sanskriti sa tion
Mengalu , whom we shall meet below, was bombed during the last war models, features here only slightly: instead , the Sora look to forms of power
while working as a labourer for the British in Burma. This migrant labour appropriate to ksatriyas . In the most obvious sense, this is the brute power
helps to integrate the Sora into the Indian ca sh economy . So too does their of the police and the military , deriving their authority from raja s and the
extensive sale of produce to local Panos and traders of other castes who state. The shaman 's rauda -helpers are ' policemen' who can handcuff other
come up from the plains to the weekly markets . Sora villa ges and sonums and lead them to a dialogue. But this is also power in the more
households have trading rela tionships and long-running debts with specific insidiously coercive sense of literacy , the power to command by naming
Panos, who also exert effective control over the pancayats and act as and writing. This power belongs not only to the police system but also to
interpreters and go-betweens in the Soras' dealings with government the techniques of the komo (Oriya karan, a caste of Kayastha scribes who
employees. These relationships are characterised by mutual insult and are likewise ksatriya). When the rauda-helper arrives, she reassures the
distaste, at the same time as having something of a jajmGni flavour of shaman's clients that whichever sonum is causing the trouble, 'I'll write his
mutual dependence. name, I'll inscribe his name.' Once 1 attended a divination for a sick baby in
The Sora incur debts especially for the buffalos which they sacrifice to which the shaman's rauda-helper announced from the Underworld that an
their dead and which they say cannot be bred in the Sora hills. The tlda sonum wanted the baby to bear his own name in addition to an
moneylenders manage these debts at high rates of interest in such a way ancestral name, as is usual. Thjs was a strange Oriya name and when the
that they can rarely be paid off, while the Sora sell their produce at low trance was over nobody could remember what it was - including the
prices in a climate of intimidation which is often crudely physical. In shaman , on the grounds that his soul had been absent while the rauda was
addition, while local traders manage their Sora partners shrewdly with a speaking. After waiting a while to see what they would do , 1 suddenly
long-term perspective, some government officers who are sent against their 'remembered' the name by glancing down at my notes and the shaman said ,
will to this remote area on 'punishment posting' extort huge sums during teasingly, that they knew they could rely on me .
their short stay on a hit-and-run basis. Sora wealth is based on a
manipulation of these outside forces which is often played defensively, as Main personalities
well as on the ownership of the region's limited paddy land, which yields Just as the contrast between the Sora and others is one of degree, so the
much higher profits than the slash-and-burn plots on which most of the journey from the plains into the Sora heartland reveals a transition which is
population rely.7 The Headmen and their close lineal relatives control gradual but nonetheless perceptible. One has a sense both of continuity and
much of this paddy land and other Soras often criticise them for the of entering another world.
exploitation of their fellow-villagers, most of whom are their own relatives. Towards the Sora heartland a distinctive landscape emerges of steep
But a strong Headman's clique is also able to resist the intense pressures of stony hills interspersed with more level areas in the valleys, some of
outsiders seeking political control and financial gain within the communi- pocket-handkerchief size, others large plains running into each other in
ties (I have discussed the topics in these paragraphs at length in Vitebsky shallow steps over one or two miles. The hills are covered with remnants of
1978a, 1978b). forest, patches of which are cut down for shifting cultivation, while the
Clearly, the Soras' political position with regard to neighbouring ethnic valley floors have been terraced into paddy-fields which sometimes climb
34 Dialog ues lvi/Ii /Iie dead Th e Sora people 35

hig h up out of the va ll ey and reach into clefts in the hill s behind have writte n this '-sin g' in stea d of'-slIIg' ). T hi s is a large vi ll age on one side
meticulou sly co nstructed stone retainin g wall s up to forty feet hi g h. From a ofa va lley (l oor, with a rich , powerful Headma n and some twelve or fifteen
high vantage point at certain seasons th e landscape resemb les glaciers of lineages, according to one's reckoning. It includ es a section ca lled ' Lower
paddy or straw-coloured stubble flowin g round th e base of green wooded Vill age' (lqj/a-Gorjallg) and an offs hoot about half a mil e away on the
mountain s. other sid e of the valley , here ca ll ed Tongseng ('Dancing Party'). Tongseng
The So ra draw a living from thi s landscape by huntin g, ga therin g, wa s form ed several generation s ago when a man of the Headman lin eage
shifting a nd settled cultivation. Sora villages are located mostly a long the set up hou se there. His desce ndants have now multiplied to so me
line where a fores ted slope meets the more leve l paddy-land , and a lways twenty-five hou seho lds, led by Jamano , a wealthy old man of firm
near a water supply. They are ge nera ll y ha if a mile or a mile apart, and may cha racte r. M a ny of the events ana lysed in thi s book will reveal the growin g
co nta in from approximately 50 to 500 people. Villages on valley floors a re distance between the people of Tongseng a nd the main part of their own
la rge r than those on hill s, thou gh the latter a re a lmost always simil ar ly sited lineage back in Alinsing. The surro undings of Alinsing, Lower Village a nd
by some sma ll area of terraced paddy-fields. Tongse ng are shown in chapter 4 in fi gure 4.3 a nd the combined population
The locat ion a nd style of villages varies co nsiderab ly. I lived successively of these villages is around 800.
in three villages, with frequent visits to others. My first village, Rebjingtal , In the midday heat a village is often deserted, apart from an occas io nal
was a large village of about 400 people in eig ht lineages , facing a broad very old person, as everyone else has joined up into work parties and go ne
expanse of paddy terraces steppi ng downwards from the village. This off with a ll their children to the jungle or fields. In the evening and early
village commands the gap at which the path coming up from Gunupur morning, by contrast, the village is full of life. In the darkness before daw n,
finally sp ills on to the plateau which gives access to the heartland of Sora while the women pound grain and tend bubbling pots of millet or sorghum
territory. Just beh ind Rebjingtallies Puttasing, the settlement of ad mini s- porridge and the children are still sprawled across the floor in sleep, the men
trators and Pano traders, so that the village is extremely accessible to are already walking around, wrapped in bl a nkets and calling to each other.
settlers and travellers. The Headma n lineage is large and strong, with their Every m a n then sets out on a tour of the forest to collect the wine which ha s
houses close by the road. They have tightly woven but double-edged dripped out overnight from his toddy trees into a suspended pot. The sap of
political and economic relations with the traders of Puttasing. Further off the alin (fishtail palm, Caryo/a U/'ens) is kept flowing by incisions made at
the road and slightly uphill are the less powerful, sometimes poor , lin eages. the inflorescence of the tree . It is fermented by airborne yeasts to produce a
Their rel ations with the Headman group are often disadvantageo us to foamin g toddy which is rich in vitamin s a nd mildly alcoholic. Except in the
them, but in other ways, since they a re less preyed upon by casual rainy season (July- September) when the trees stop yielding, this is
passers- by, the atmos phere in these parts seems more relaxed. harvested two or three times a day. A man 's trees may be widely scattered
The second village, which I shall not na me, lies high on a still -forested and the nurturing of the trees a nd the gathering and drinking of wine in
hilltop . Access is only via steep and thorny paths. There is very little paddy regul a r informal groups is the ma in focus of socia I and political life. Wine is
land up there a nd the population is small (about 100, in three lineages) with also widely drunk by women and sometimes children .s
tattered clothing and a rough air. Other villages consider this village to be The drinking site is a circle offlat sto nes set up as seats around a heart h .
lethally infested with sorcery and my friends in Rebjingta l begged me for The location is at the same time sheltered and open: it may be in a clearing,
my own sake not to move there or if I must, at least not to take with me or on a n outcrop backing on to a cliff a nd with a commanding view. The
tapes containing their voices. It turned out that sorcery was ind eed virulent first man to arrive will light the fire, squinting through the acrid new smoke.
and that it was related to occasional notorious outbreaks of murder. I Around you in the distance you can hea r the sound of bamboo flutes , all
suspected that these could also be linked to the acute shortage of land playin g, at the sa me pitch , variants of the same pentatonic melody and
which leads to the area's highest rate of mig ration to Assam , as well as to crossing and re-crossing each other up and down the scale. A flute comes
several early conversions to Baptism . closer and a ma n bursts in on you with a grin: 'Ai! [an ex pression of
The case studies in the present work are taken from the third village, surprise] Are you thereT, and a clay pot of wine crooked over his arm on a
which I shall call Alinsing ('Wine-Village' : to simplify the place- name I rope of creeper bark. One by one as the men appear, they pour their wine
36 Dialogues Il'ilh Ihe dead The Sora people 37

into a large pot set over the fire. People adjust the wood, skim off froth and inequa lities in land, labour and productivity as well as in connections
in sects with a leaf and test the temperalure , shoutin g 'Warm it up some within the community and outsid e. The idea l of equa l sharin g as an
more!' or ' Quick, take it om'. expression of intim acy runs deep through the workings of any social group,
When the drink is at just the right lukewarm temperature, one of the men whether th e actua l economic and politica l power between person s is equa l
dips in a gourd lad le and passes it to his neighbour on the right who drinks or not. Meat from sacrifices is di stributed among the lineage or branch
it, refills it and passes it on again. Someone may produce a snack of sa lt involved, and parcels are sent to those who were unable to attend; further
crystals, dried meat, or chilli. As more arrive, the conversation becomes portions are given to visiting in-laws and cous ins and find their way as
more animated : snacks to the drinking circles . Wild game, however sma ll , is shared among
the entire hunting party. A find of grubs or ants is taken home to the family
- Ai! Is that what he sa id?
or out to the even ing's drinking circle. Not to do this is to be ranglw ,
- Who did?
'greedy', or a 'carefu lly-lookin g person' , g(jg(jlllar , judgements of so litude
- My shit!
- Why? and self-absorption which can shade into accusat ions of sorcery.
Of co urse, people are torn every day between this obliga lion to share and
- No, I didn't!
their desire to keep things for themse lves. Thus in the parched and
There is no indirect speech construction, so that gossip comes in a form sweltering st illness before the monsoon, the forest loses its leaves a nd the
which purports to be a l'erbalil11 report: "'Why won't you come?", I said. toddy trees start to go dry or turn bitter (often , it is said, through the jealous
" Because you didn't give me the grain you owed me" , she said . "Grain my sorcery of those whose trees have already stopped yielding). The la rger
shit! Didn't I give you two basketfuls the other day?" I said .. .' Opinions drinking circles break up and those whose trees are still productive save the
are moulded , areas of consensus are formed , plans are made for the day's precious juice only for their closest friends. Now hopeful passers-by ask
work , for the organisation of rites and the direction of political strategies. about wine and are told 'We aren't getting any either - our trees have been
By now the sun has risen and as the pot empties, the men set off to the bewitched', or 'There was a little but it's just run out - it wasn't any good
village in single file , carrying additional pots for their women to drink at anyway.' People met on the path who ask 'W here are you going?' are
home and still talking vehemently . The file always stops for a moment fobbed off with the uninviting answer 'To empty my bowel s.' I remember
before reaching the village: 'aiiumen dele - let's have a pee.' The circle will once during this season how I set out up a mountain in the midday heat
meet again at dusk and sometimes at midday. Women passing by will join with just one other man, and how Dangdang waved us off in front of a
in a circle but will not be regular attenders. Women 's occasions to talk in gro up of people, saying 'See you tomorrow .' Fifteen minutes la ter, at the
large groups without men are when they are collecting water at wells and summit, he crossed our path with a chuckle bearing a small potful of wine
springs morning and evening. which the three of us then drank with selfish enjoyment.
A drinking circle may contain two men or a dozen. Each village has The acceptance of such adroit and necessa ry social hypocrisy is
several of these, the composition of which shifts according to changes in counterbalanced by a darker awareness of the difficulty of knowing what
friendship, convenience of access or fecundity of toddy trees. The core of others ' really ' (jadi) think and feel. One feels 'suspicion' (dalgad) when on
the group will generally be a set of brothers. Other lineage members (also the lookout for bukai, Ion 101'0 and .folda (,deceit' or 'trickery'). In certa in
called 'brother') and sometimes in-laws and cousins from another lineage contexts, one's loyalties will lie with a lineage or other grouping in an
may also join. Any of these may split off and join up again throughout the obvious and uncomplicated way. However, loyalty is often not so simple.
season. Anyone passing by, even from a distant village, will be invited to All men , and most women unless they have married in from very far away,
join, as the standard question on a path 'Where are you going?' is answered have known each other all their lives. People are linked by such a variety of
by 'For a drink - come along.'9 cross-cutting ties, both structural and emotional, that the alignments of
A drinking circle is thus a group of men with strong patrilineal oppositions and friendships shift rapidly and kaleidoscopically . There is a
implications but sufficiently open-ended to acknowledge intimacy with any keen sense that in the midst of intimacy the most important psychic
other category of person . Actual political relations encompass large processes in others , namely how they feel about us, are hidden from us: ' I
38 Dialogues IlIilh Ihe dead The Sora people 39

speak nice-tasting words, but how can you know what's inl11 Ysoul?', as one chil d had cl imbed ove r everyt hin g and everyone ' like a monkey ', accord ing
friend put it to me . Thus, the outward display of affection can signify either to [nama , and who as a woman had suc h spirit that for a long time no boy
itse lf o r its opposite - or most likely, some opaque mixture of the two. dared to ask her to marry him ; and of her fri end Gosandi , a littl e girl of
The potential for this uncerta inty tends to increase with closeness. It is about eig ht with a husky voice and a coo l a ppraising ga ze through the
among brothers, who li ve in and out of each ot her's houses a nd who will smoke of he r ciga r, who was trainin g to be a funeral shaman.
share their fa ther's property equally , tha t so rce ry is most likely. Perhaps the I remembe r M ejeru , an eld er ly and skinny man, bald with a frin ge at the
least ambivalent relati o nship is a good marriage of lon g stand in g, where a back a nd a cau lifiower nose, a grea t dancer, sin ger a nd joker. One day on a
wife has moved sufficie ntl y close to her husba nd that her brothe rs are no hillside we came across some wild fruit which had been gathered by some
lon ger a ble to tug her away from him . The descendants of a woman's o ld women and then left in baskets unattended. Mejeru placed some large
husband and of her brothe r or sister ca ll each other 'cousin ' (marollgger, stones in the ba skets undern ea th the fruit a nd wa ited gigglin g behind a tree
feminin e marol/set) , a nd for three generation s they are also supposed to for the puzzled look o n the women's faces when they returned and tried to
address each other as ' broth er ' and 'sister' and avoid interm a rri age. If a lift their baskets. I remember these o ld women and many like them with
woman's husband and brothers overcome the mutua l jea lousy im plicit in their wrinkled bod ies a nd gross , throwaway humour ; a nd Sirdoro, a n o ld
their re lationship , then their children may indeed help eac h other and for a Headman who in the 1940s had ensl a ved fifty of hi s fellow villagers for debt
while enjoy some of the close ness of siblingship without the rivalry of real and who used to be carried a lon g the stony mountain pa th s on a litter like a
siblings. petty raja , a man who by a ll accounts mu st have been ex tremely cruel ('he
In writing now I am torn between the desire to tell the reader about all was begotte n by a leopard o r a viper ') but who appeared to me now only as
sorts of people I have known, and the need to develop a systema tic and an ineffectua l old rogue (,gradually he mellowed: it's in hi s so ul but he
specific exposition of how I came to understand these peopl e's dialogues has n't the power '). I remember too how Inama and his brothers sent their
with their dead . I should have liked to talk about Inama (himself now children to live with me when I first had a house of my own beca use ' it's not
dead), the first Sora to invite me for a drink and then take the risk of letting good to live a lone'; and I remember other children throughout my stay who
me into his home. La ter on, when I had already moved to my second would seek me out when I was sitting somewhere in solitude and ask me if
village, I caught hepatitis a nd disappeared to a distant hospital without my soul was sad because of the people I'd left behind at home. I was
being able to tell anyone where I had gone. On the night I returned to comforted by this a nd by the constant solicitude over cuts and thorns in my
Soraland three months later, it was to Inama tha t I went first. I shall never feet and enq uiries about whether I rea lly did not mind certain kinds of food;
forget how he and his brother Lakkia hugged me for long minutes, then a nd by the open invitation s which a llowed me eventually to dispense with
said that I was rumoured to have been murdered in a quarrel over a woman running a house of my own and to walk anywhere across Sora territory
in some remote village. Inama said that he had never believed I was dead (where there are no shops or cafes) without ba ggage, money (which people
and had once dreamed that he saw me coming along the path and had would not accept) or a ny plan for the nig ht.
actually got up in the night to have a look. On another occasion he to ld me I shall not, however, be able to do justice to most of these people here.
how he had dreamed that I had gone down to Gunupur town barefoot and Given that my argument will often be in terms of such intan gibles as mood,
wearing my Sora earrings and loincloth , that I had been ridiculed there by nua nce a nd tone of voice, I ha ve decid ed to build it firml y on a limited
the merchants and officials, and that he had woken weeping 'out of pity' for number of specific cases, eve nts and texts . I have been furth er constrained
my humiliation . by the loss a t the very end of my fieldwork of a large number of tapes which
I should have liked, a lso , to be able to dwell on my memory of Lakkia were in a bag stolen at a Madras bus-stand (and no doubt immedi ately
bathing his dangerously sick child in a pot of warm water with intense overlaid with film music for cut-price resale). Accordingly, I shall build this
tenderness in his eyes and in every movement of his ha nds; and to talk of the book aro und the lives of three men in Alinsing whom I knew well a nd
many forthright young women holding out against domineering fathers or whose affa irs intertwine and are documented in detail in the surviving
brothers for the men of their choice - ofDoimani, a young woman who as a ta pes. These are Menga ltl , Sagalo and 1amano (all pseudonyms , a ll stressed
40 Dialogues with the dead
The Sora people 41

most strongly on the final sy llabl e). Figure 2.2 shows their ge nealogical a nd with hi s memory, hi s improvisa tory flair and hi s humour he is the
relationship and so me thin g of the dynamics of their relationships in early natural lea der of the dancing and chantin g whether for hi s own lineage or
1979. The reader is asked to note their names and something of their for the entire village. Mengalu is a t once the life and so ul of the party a nd a
personal histories for reference during later chapters, whi ch will describe loner, capa bl e ofspending days at a time in so litude on the hill side , herdin g
events later that year.
a few cows or co llecting roots. He is also ambitious, but in a disorganised
way which ha s never allowed him to prosper. He has four wives in two
houses, with six surviving children , but the family wears no go ld and have a
Mengalu is a lanky middl e-aged man of the Headman lineage with somewhat down-at-heel air.
close-cropped grey hair, lips which purse outwards when he speaks and an He is also unfortunate. About ten years before I arrived (i. e. in the late
alert, impish look in his eyes . His style is old -fashioned and he always wears I 960s), he gave way to an enviou s impulse in an act for which he has been
a tattered loincloth , never shorts. He is a perverse, crazy, wry, witty man, paying ever since. His father's brothers, Urung and Poke, had acquired
clever with words and ges tures. He cares deeply about correct performance some land jointly. When Poke died without heirs his other land was shared
between Mengalu's and Raduno's line, but thi s land was inherited by
Figure 2.2 Genealogy showing relationships betwee n central characters in the Raduno alone on the grounds that hi s father had bee n the only other
book, with quarrels. The names of dead perso ns are printed in italics. partner in it. However, Mengalu was trying to build himself up through
polygamy and needed more land . Besides this , he had several sons who
I would need to inherit his land while Raduno had only two daughters . It
I appears that Mengalu hired a professional sorcery-assassin from another
I village to kill Raduno and his dependants by the standard technique of
burying a pot containing their discarded toothbrushing sticks, excrement,

soil from their footprints, etc., along with the remains of a tortured black
chicken trussed up in thread and a head of rice similarly twisted and bound .
Such a pot is supposedly buried at night on a hillside to the accompaniment
of sung dialogues (kata) and a pantomime enacted by the professional
quarrel over land , assassin and his clients (both exclusively male roles and called 'sorcery-
now mended
man', tonaj-mar) and remains effective so long as it is not dug up. But

1 Mengalu was indiscreet, rumours spread and Raduno intimidated the
assassin into confessing and digging up the pot, which was displayed in the
Uda Mengalu Raduno village with great publicity and embarrassment for Mengalu. This is one of
quarrel over land ,
the cases, perhaps rare, in which sorcery is actually done by a sorcerer
rather than merely imagined by the victims, and I personally believe that
getting worse
Mengalu has never done it again . But though he is not the only such suspect
in the village , we shall see that there is scarcely a death in Alinsing over
which the possibility of his sorcery is not at least aired.
Ranatang Sargia "" Sagalo Ironically, Mengalu and Raduno are now the best of friends again.
o (2) Manda
Partly, though their personalities are very different, they were friends in

childhood and still feel a liking for each other. Rad uno , who is several years
6 male younger, has a fond memory from his childhood of how Mengalu returned
o female from Burma and washed him with the first soap ever seen in the area. But
= married to
also , a degree of cooperation is inevitable among closely related lineage
42 Dialog ues with th e dead The Sora people 43

brothers. Be longin g as they do to the sa me branch of their lin eage, they During the inquest the grief of the boy 's mot her and sister was combined
have inherited the cu lt ofa virtually ide ntical ran ge of ancesto rs; they work with a towerin g rage aga inst Menga lu (who chose to be absent, Ju st as he
sid e by side in field s whi ch are a shared inheritance from their grandfather; will do during ano ther inquest in chapter 5). Saga lo sat silent and , I a m
and they live near to each other, borrowin g tools , food and labour while sure, wretched with remorse . So the stone-pla nting originally pla nned as a
their childre n ofte n play together. However , it is precisely because as here diploma tic co urtesy for a distant cross-cousin beca me a dou ble funeral and
the principl e of equal inheritance amo ng so ns is so often subverted by something a lto ge ther more tragic as two stones were planted and tw~
economic and demographic accident that sorcery is most common among buffalos sacrificed, one for the distant, elde rl y Sunl a and one for Saga lo s
close lineage brothers.
beloved littl e brother Mando.
By the time I returned in ea rl y 1979, Saga lo's life had improved. The
disputed girlfriend had married elsew here outside the village and Saga ~ o
Sagalo is a sweet and gentle yo uth whose father has been dead for some had married Panderi , a woman from Lower Village. They seemed deeply 111
years. In early 1977 hi s 'orpha n-house' (kundra -s/I1g) a lso conta ined hi s love a nd very happy together. She was a strong-minded woman fr om a
widowed mother (a sister of Mengalu) who has not rema rri ed, hi s well-placed family . Her brothers had arra nged a suitabl e formal marriage
unmarried elder siste r a nd his little brothe r Mando . They are a poor family (pangsal) for her with someone else a nd had sea led the contract by dl'lnklllg
in a sma ll and poor linea ge (actually the Buya linea ge, custodians o f the the suitor's wine. But Panderi refused the proposed groom and bought
village Kidtung so num and supposedly the original settlers) an d so are herself out of the contract by paying him the necessary fine out of her own
without padd y- fields or substantial political influence. resources . After living with another ma n for a while, she had eventu ally
When I first knew him , Sagalo was preparing to perform a funeral come to Sagalo by the poor person's form of marriage, mutua l free choice
stone-planting for his third-generation cousin (marongger) , a ma n from or ' love ma rri age' (dari). Panderi 's brothers objected to this ma tch on the
Rungrungba village called Sunia. Such a funeral is supplementary to the grounds of his poverty and reinforced their case by pointing to his di sta nt
one which will a lready have been performed in Rungrungba by Sunia 's relationship, that of a third-generation cross-co usin (here, a descendant of
own lineage, a nd is by no means obligatory (cf. chapter 3) . But Sunia had a sister of their lineage), with whom marriage should not be allowed . But
been a man of influence and though the co nnect ion was an old one, Sagalo the third generation is the last point at which a cross-cousin relationship is
was anxious to reta in it, despite the expense of the funeral. recognised. As with Sunia, who stood in an identical relationship to Sagalo,
It was open to Menga lu to be a close ally of this fatherless family since he it is somewhat open by this stage how far one cultivates or ignores the
was a mother's brother living in the same village. But in 1977 this was not connection. Panderi defied her brothers and the birth in 1978 of her baby
the case. Sagalo's little brother M a ndo had bee n suffering for a year from a boy , Sagalo's lineal descendant, seemed to indicate the final defea t of the
painful di sease which twisted his body and shortly after my arrival he died . still rumbling opposition of her brothe rs.
The following morning I a ttended the inquest (abgijte), in which the ghost By this time too, only two years after Mando's dea th , good relations with
of the deceased is questioned about the circumstances and causes of his Mengalu had been restored . Mengalu was a frequent visitor to his sister's
death . It was the first time I had attended an inquest since knowing enough hou se a nd helped her and his young nephew in various ways in their
of the la nguage and the people to follow something of wha t was going on. dea lings with the world . This apparently com fortable resolution of ea rlier
Listening now to the tape-reco rding, I see from preliminary conversations hostilities will be dramatically tested in chapters 7 and 8, as we see the
among bysta nders that it was already inev itable th a t the trance should give impact on all concerned ofPanderi's sudden tragic death.
a verdict ofMengalu's sorcery (for this kind of process in detail , see chapter
5). The rea so n given for the sorcery was tha t Sagalo had sed uced the
girlfriend of Mengalu's son Sargia. In reve nge Mengalu was supposed to Jamano is a dignified , upright , elderly ma n. He has clearly once bee n very
have performed so rcery against him . But since the so ul of the youth Sagalo ha ndsome, as is his son, Ranatang, who resembles him closely. While
was strong and resilient, the sorcery ricochetted off it on to the more Rana ta ng is very well-built , his father Jamano is now spindly after a long
delicate one of the little boy and killed him instead . period of poor hea lth . He coughs frequently and seems to be close to death .
44 Dialoglles with the dead The SO l'([ people 45

Jamano and Ranatang li ve across the va ll ey from A lin sing, in the hamlet that their relat ions with myo id fr ie nd Menga lu were strained , a situ at io n
of Ton gs eng. T he people here belon g ent irely to one branch of the A lin sing whic h ca used me so me embarra ss ment. T he ostensib le reaso n was a di spute
Headman lin eage whose ancestor moved out of A lin sin g seve ra l gener- over so me land at a site ca lled Sindiul (Sweet Ma ngo) , which had been
ation s ago. He is the natural lea der of Tongs eng, combinin g se ni ority with shared jointly lon g ago by a co mmon ancestor of both Menga lu 's and
strength of character, d ignity and wea lth . He runs a large househo ld in a Jamano's branches of the li neage . This bitterness wil l come to a head in
g rand style, where plenty of go ld is worn . To do th is, it is necessary to have chapter 5 where Jamano will die and the so nums who speak through hi s
the labour of severa l wom en li ving at home, a pattern cha rac teristic of brother Uda wi ll accuse Menga lu of murde r by so rcery.
wealthy, prominent men. Jamano has had several wives who have now In cases like these, the mutual relations of peop le who are now a ll a li ve
died, but also retains severa l of ILis sisters and grown-up dau ghte rs, women will be tra nsformed by the death of one of their number. This will se t in
who either do not marry or who reverse the usual virilocal pattern a nd motion a process of interpretation, as causes of death are so ught and
bring poor hu sba nd s home as their dependants . In eithe r case, such women assessed; but also of evolution, as these relat ion ships co ntinue to move
bear children who do not belong to ot her men's lineages but who swe ll the onward in time toward s what will eme rge by the end o f the book as an
ra nks of the women's own nata l lineage . Women's motives for doing this ultimate point of resolution far bey ond the confines of life itself. But before
a re mi xed: so me are unwilling to leave the co mfo rt a nd co mpa ny of a ho use examining the inte ract io ns betwee n perso ns, I sha ll first di sc uss So ra ideas
with many women (thi s is the main reason , too , why a man' s second wife is of the nature and form a ti on of the person as such.
often welcomed by the first) , but others a re held pri so ne r by a dominant
male. As someone once explained to me about Jam a no:
How did 1a ma no get rich? Through his unmarri ed sisters. His father was a n
unimportant man. In those days Guranda was th e ri ch one, because of all his sisters!
1a mano's siste r Kusumai was bea utiful. A man from Basara village came to ask for
her. Kusumai wanted him but th e others wouldn ' t drink bis wine , they smashed the
pot and bea t him. They wouldn't give him a knife to work with [on their la nd , i.e. as
bride-service by a yo un g man for hi s father-in-law). We gave him o ne and later they
scolded us very fiercely: 'You give away your d a ught er then, you feed the Basara
man! ' Then th e men of Basara kidnapped bel', but 1amano rai sed a big party and
went to ge t her back. They bro ught her back agai nst her will. Later, th e ma n of
Ganuren vill age kidnapped her. Our men then went to Ga nuren, beat up their
Headman and brought her back aga in. But Kusumai wasn't in love with the
Ganuren m an a nyway, the way she had been with tbe Basara man , a nd she pined to
death soon a fter - thou gh they say the Basara people killed her o ff with sorcery .
1amano tri ed to hang o n to he r sister 1enggi too but she to ok no notice (a 'dere) a nd
just went ofr with her lo ver [i .e. in a dari marr iage).

Jamano ha s a younger brot her, Uda, a sm a ll ma n rather lack in g in

co nfid ence who is said in hi s youth to have had a violent temper. He ha d
ea rlier bee n a shama n in the lesser tradition , that of divining and healing,
but has recently also acq uired the helping so nums of an illustrious old
female shaman of the funeral tradition who has recently died . Uda's new
powers mean tha t the people of Tongs eng can be served at their funerals by
one of their own number instead of relying on shamans from the main
village of Alinsing.
I came to know the peo ple of Tongseng well only during my 1979 visit
when I spent many weeks sleeping in Ran ata ng's hou se. But it was obvious
The formalion of Ihe Sora person 47

briefly under the following head in gs: birth and childhood ; adolescence and
3 marriage ; and from firsl dea th on ea rth to second dea th in the Underworld.

Birth alld childhood

The formation of the Sora person Birth is the outcome of a comp licated process in which Sora say that the
baby is formed by the sonum of the Sun (UYllllg-Sl/l1 , 'S un -S onum') and
then grad ua ll y sepa rated from the mother's body (see below). The birth
itself is only the first step towards separation and the dependence on the
umbilica l cord is echoed through breast-feeding which la sts for around
three years. Soon after birth, a patrilineal ancestor of the same sex causes a
fever(aslI) in the baby and in a subsequent divination promises the baby hi s
or her name. The Ancestor-Men tie a fin ger- ring, sa id to have been saved
from that ancestor's funeral, round the baby's wrist (ab~ii-ell -, '[cau sat ive
Gradual transformations in the journey from birth to death and beyond particleJ-tie-ring'). The ancestor und er takes to protect the baby from
In the last chapter I presented a group of my friends on their landscape. attacks by other sonums and in return receives a sacrifice of a chick en . This
This chapter will begin to explore the Soras' own account of their is a promi se of a buffalo at a big name-giving ceremony (ab -iillll-Oll ,
interpersonal relationships by examining their understanding of how a '[causative particleJ-name-child') to be staged two or three years later when
person is formed. The idea of formation or shaping is expressed by an the child is fully weaned . At that point the ancestor will definitively give his
imagery of craftsmanship which surrounds the start of a child's life. name to the child and the Ancestor-Men will untie the ring. This is also
Western psychologies tend to presuppose an intrinsic essence of the person around the age at which the child becomes enough ofa perso n to talk , and
which then 'grows', 'develops', 'unfolds' or 'matures' as it is 'socialised' into thus to appear as a sonum at its own funeral. Ifin the meantime the baby
the company of others. But despite the existence of Sora words for human dies, as so many do, it does not receive a full funeral. The ancestor then
consciousness at various stages of being alive and dead, what we shall see seeks out ahother baby among her or his descendants to whom to give the
here and in later chapters is not simply a person who is a unitary entity name, since this must reappear somewhere among the living.
which embarks on a process of development during which it confronts Further stages in the evolution of the child's personhood are expressed in
other, similar entities. Rather, the person appears more as a confluence various ways over the following years . A few days after birth its hair is
whjch comes together only on the basis of its relationship to other beings shaved (apart from a little tuft at the back) ' for the Sun', and its head will be
who are themselves equally changing. Just as persons and other entities kept shaved or short throughout childhood. As a toddler, its nose and ears
radiate something of themselves out to others, so they seem to be hard to will be pierced (pad-) for rings which, at least for girls' ear-rings, will
bring and hold together: their constituent elements tend to drift away again continually be increased in number and size throughout their lives. Before
and go towards the formation of other entities. adolescence, someone will tattoo the child's face (lang-lang-bob, 'p rick-
The Sora account presupposes that some part or aspect of the person prick-head'). Boys in particular are giving this up, since it is an embarrass-
persists after an event called 'death' (k-er-enid, the noun from kenid-, 'die') ment in their increasing contact with non-Soras . But among older people
and that it then assumes a powerful effect upon the living. The dead are thus one can still hear remarks like 'How come she died so suddenly? I saw her
causal agents, but what they exert cannot simply be called an 'influence', only the other day and her tattoo was still clear.'
since they themselves are also changed by their encounters with the living.
During the course of his existence the person is considered to pass through Adolescel/ce alld marriage
several stages. Though some rites of passage are prominent, no chang~ is Around this time, girls cease shaving their heads so that their hair begins to
immediate and definitive . Rather, the new state takes hold only gradually grow to the full, woman's length. Only shamans and their high-caste
against the persistence of the previous state. I shall outline these changes Ilda-spouses observe any menstrual taboos. Boys nowadays also cease
48 Dialogues with th e dead Th e for/llatiol/ of the Sora persol/ 49

shavin g their heads. Many old er men remain shorn for life exce pt for the provi sional na ture which will be a pparent throu ghout thi s book. It is
tuft a t the back which they say is a Telu gu Bra hmin style, but most younger stri kin g that it is the only ceremo ny in the life-cycle in whic h sha ma ns a nd
men adopt the conve ntional 'Oriya' or ' Hindi -film ' hairc ut o f the plain s. so num s uSll a ll y play no pa rt. T hou gh a ta king-wine marri age is sealed in a
Sora men have very little fa cia l hair and wh a t little there is, th ey find co ntract-like wa y when the girl's fa ther drinks wine offered by the boy, the
di stasteful and pull out (puin -) with tweezers. Wh en I firs t lived amon g a utho rity of thi s contract is limited . It is still easil y broken if the coupl e
them , I stopped shaving for a while but was then repea tedly asked to shave. th emselves wi sh to do so: th ere will usually be a debate (rudi or bisam) at
Late r, whe n I und erstood enoug h, I learn ed that a ha iry face is suita bl e only whi ch the new hu sba nd , or the girl herse lf, ag rees to pa y a fin e (danda) to
for bears, leopard s, Oriya s and T elu g us, in other word s that I was being th e man wh o is losing her. Thi s includes both ca sh a nd a buffalo ,
asked to become more Sora. representin g the woman , which is then eaten by the whole ga therin g. On
Tee nagers form friendships and sexual relationships wid ely , though the ma rrying, a woman does not immediately switch membe rship from her
power of 'embarrassment' (garoj) imposes some discretion. Sexual rela - fath er's to her husband's lineage and the lineage position of a married
tions with linea ge members are forbidden, but there is an ambi guity about woman can remain ambiguous ri g ht up to her dea th and even beyond . The
c ross-cousins (fa ther's sister 's or mother's brothe r's children) and pat'allel marria ge becomes progressive ly more sta ble only with the birth and
cou sin s outside the lineage (i.e. mother's sister's children). All of these are surviva l of children, especially ma le childre n. The inner fee l of marria ge is
ca lled /liar-anger, male; mar-ol/sel, female, and often addressed as ' brother' closely bound up with the mysteries of intimacy in genera l a nd I shall
and 'sister' . People often say that these too are forbidden up to the third explore this prog ressively in later chapters as it is revea led through
generation , but in practice there are many such liaisons and marriages , dialogues betwee n the living and the dead.
especially as the connection fades further into the past (for example, Sagalo
has married his third -generation cross-cousin). Young people form and From first tieath 011 earth to secollti death ill the Ulldenvo"'t/
develop liaisons especially during reciprocal work parties (aI/sir) , when As soon as someone dies, whatever the hour of day or night, the women of
men and women may suddenly down tools and chase and tickle (gatarsi-) the house start to lament. If available, guns are fired . An orchestra of drums
each other, and at the funeral stone-plantings (gum'), which bring together and oboes is assembled to play the 'death beat' (kerenid-deb) . All the men of
groups from different villages to drink and dance. Most people have a the lineage within earshot abandon whatever they are doin g and gather
history of several affairs (dari) before they settle with the partner with together to chop down a tree and build a pyre on the lineage's cremation
whom they raise a family. Setting up house together is recognised as a ground. Meanwhile the Ancestor-Women strip the body, wash it in
declaration of intended permanency but in the early years there are many 'cooling' turmeric water and dress it in good , clean clothes. A man from the
breakups. Most marriages originate in this free-choice way. Dari marriage village's pyre-lighter (siga) lineage lights and tends the pyre.
is not marked by any ceremony and need involve no dowry or bride-price. The following morning, the Ancestor-Women pour water on the ashes
But the desire of a girl's parents or brothers to interfere or hold on to her 'to cool the soul' . Then they bury the ashes on the crema tion-site while the
can be intense, especially if the family is wealthy. This tendency is funeral shaman leads the dead person's soul into that person's house. There
compounded by the simultaneous availability of a pattern of arranged she enters trance and his soul passes into her body and is interrogated by
marriage (pang-sal, ' taking wine'), involving bride-price and favoured by bystanders about the circumsta nces and causes of hi s death. This is the first
the better-off. There is no word meaning ' marriage ' as such , covering both of two inquests (described in chapter 8) . Some weeks or months later
these ways in which a man and a woman may come to live together. (usually after the harvest , since this is expensive), the heirs carry out the
Panderi's history (see the previous chapter and especially chapter 7) is ma in step in the funeral sequence. They sacrifice buffalos for the deceased
typical in counterposing her brothers' intention of an arranged marriage to eat and plough with in the Underworld ; they also plant an upright
with her variollS affairs and eventual dari marriage to Sagalo . The same memorial stone at the lineage' s stone-planting site, to join the many stones
patterns can be seen in 1amano's attempts, recounted at the end of the last stacked up there, leaning against each other, from previous funerals . On
chapter, to control his sisters' love-lives. that day the living stage a second inquest in which they again discuss the
Even where it is marked by a ce remony, marriage has a tentative or circumstances of his death with the deceased . This is analysed in detail in
50 Dialogues lvith the dead Th e /orl1lation 0/ the Sora person 51

cha pte r 5. Durin g the followin g three yea rs the deceased is commemora ted pOlllpom- ' for ge' , ' hammer' (as a bl acksmith on a n anvil)
collectively at ce rta in season s alon g with othe r rece ntl y-dead people . These sabda- ' fa shi o n' , ' ma ke' , ' fi x' (ge nera l, but es peciall y as a ca rpente r)
occasions a re al so a gri c ultura l fes tiva ls a nd the sac rifices a nd tra nces are
staged collectively by the whole villa ge : the lajab (a rice-tran splanting '/0 become', 't o be /orllled'

commemora tion) and , more spectacularl y, the karja (h a rvest commemor- tI-, gadtl- literally ' peel' , ' strip onese lf (used in the middle voi ce : see
ation a nd a nnu a l fes tival o f the dea d , described in cha pte r 9) . T he ka rj a is chapter 8)
staged in Feb rua ry or Ma rch whe n all outstandin g ston e-pl a ntin gs a re T he Sora view of the formation of a child takes place within thi s
complete, at the first full moon after the main grain harvests. technologica l im age ry. The confined spa ce (kampllng , mea ning both
A fter a period , the dead person is ready to ha nd on hi s na me to a new ' womb ' and 'stomac h') within which the foetu s is form ed out of blood is
baby. Thi s often ha ppens soon after the stone-p lantin g but it ma y a lso a bla cksmith 's mould (kul1Ipi , a cog nate word?) in whi ch Sun -Sonum
some times be delayed for seve ral generations, that is for fifty years or even a (UYlIng-sl/n) casts the fo etus out of molten metal. Who is the Sun? In her
hundred. The reason s are partly demographic and partly to do with the dominant aspect as Sun -Woman (Uyung-boj) , the Sun is a Telugu woman
evolution of the dead person 's own supposed ex perience a nd a ttitudes after of low caste. She al so command s a number of underlin gs who are
death. At dialogues held during these various stages of the fun eral bla cksmith s, python s and T elu gu cattle-herders (see chapte r 4). H er focal
seque nce, the deceased reveals details about hi s condition in the realm of image is of me talworkin g. On appropriate occa sions, a sha man in trance
the dead . It is this condition, and the changes which take place within it , sin gin g in th e Sun's persona will address a patient as gadi-on lien
which determine how the deceased will affect the living . After having pOlIJpom-on IJen , 'my moulded child my for ged child ', and many near-
named a child, the ancestor gradually appears less and less during trances synonyms. There is thus a homology between the mother's womb and the
until finally the living learn from other dead spea kers that he has died again Sun 's forge and it is under these still-molten conditions that the baby will
and received a further stone-planting in the Underworld . Nothing more is begin to be separated from the mother.
known about him after this , though it is said that he has turned into a Heat is the precondition for plasticity or the moulding of something
butterfly. amorphous into something which has form . But though heat allows
formation and separation, under continuing conditions of heat the
S un-Woman as blacksmith and embryologist: heat, form and the separated form cannot be held stable: form which has been acquired must
be retained through the cessation of heat. It is for this reason that a
development of consciousness
A consciousness is called puradan ('soul') when alive, Iwlm(/n (' ghost') for newborn baby fresh from the Sun's forge is protected and its form
the few days or weeks between death and stone-planting, and from the confirmed by cooling rites. These include the use of hard (i.e. cooled) metal
stone-planting onwards, sonum . By chapter 9 it will be clear that the objects and the application of cooling 'medicines' (regal11 , especially
transmission of an ancestor' s name to a ba by is only one of several elements turmeric, sangsang) to the umbilical stump of the baby and the vagina of
which show that though this is not a reincarnation, there is a powerful the mother. The shaving of the baby' s head a few days later reinforces thi s
cyclical aspect to the identity of the Sora person . Sora thinking about the definition of its boundary. lfthese procedures are not done adequately the
origins of the person is concerned with the acquisition of form rather than baby 's very existence as a separate entity is threatened with dissolution.
with creation ex nillilo. This goes with a metaphysic in which the new is seen The first stage in the formation of a new person is thus a long and delicate
as a re-formation and partial repetition . There appears to be no noun process. The fact that it has a high failure rate (through miscarriage,
meaning ' form' in general. The associated verbs, however, all of which are stillbirth and infant mortality) is accounted for by the Sora through the
applied to babies as well as to craftmanship, clearly presuppose the prior imagery of the process itself. A child may suffer a failure of separation at
existence and the mutability of the material which is now taking form: any stage in its formation up to around the time of the naming ceremony
and sometimes even far beyond (I have heard this motif used in a lament
'/%rm [something}' sung for the death of a teenager). If this happens, the cI'lild ha s been
gc/(Ie- ' mould' (as a potter, or blacksmith pouring molten metal re-absorbed into the Sun , who sent a python to swallow it up. The Sora do
into mould) not use the expression , but it is tempting to say that the child is returned to
52 Dialog lles Il' illl Ill e dead Tli e Iof/lWliOIl of Ihe So ra persoll 53

the meltin g-pot. Thou gh the child once born can be attack ed by any oth er pa ti ent both th a t he ' ha s no blood ' (a lIIiiial1len agasa) and that the
sonum too , the only possible cau se of mi scarria ges and failures to conceive a ttac kin g sonum is ea tin g hi s liver. So the preoccupa tion with the
is the Sun when she withhold s or reverses her form a tive fun c tion . The mainte nance of a person 's bound a ry may a lso be see n as a conce rn with th e
corresponding healin gs a re hi ghl y specific and refer to named as pec ts of difficulty of holding a n entity 's con stituent elements at a centre or fo ca l
Sun -Woman and her python (th ese are included in th e li st of sonUll1 S in po int. In this se nse , we ma y tran sla te ka'ja not so mu ch as ' vvith o ut a clea r
appendix I). F or example , in th e ca se of an infe rtile woman , the python outline' but rath er as 'not in a state offocu s or conce ntration in the middle'.
may be inside her , swallowin g th e foe tu s almost before it is conceived Thi s is so especially whe n one think s, not of the person ' s body but of hi s
(Ural-sll11 , ' Bud -Drop-Sonum '); in miscarria ges , a fter swallowing the will , motivation or a gency. Sora d escribe the impul se ofsonums as a force,
fo etu s the python vomits it prematurely (Mo-gaj-slIl1 , ' Eclipse-Moon- power or ene rgy (renabli, from rabli-, to be abl e) and say that it can be
Sonum ') instead of at the properly-timed , viable moment of normal birth; conducted and stored in space. When I took Sora friends to a city , they had
after the birth , the python may drain the mother's breast of milk and starve no difficulty in understandin g electric lights, accumulators a nd telephones
the baby by puttin g its own tail in stead of the nipple into the baby's mouth - to th e extent that these operate in the same way a s sonum , whi ch is seen as
(Ajora-slI11 , ' Stream-Sonum'). Each of these aspects of the Sun ha s its own similarly dynamic and subject to stora ge in containers, tran smi ss ion alon g
story or other rationale, some of which will be discussed in chapter 4. threads and path s, and leapin g across gaps . But in Sora practice,
The Sora can say nothing explicitly about the origin of a human consciousness is far more than electricity . The impetus which it represent s
consciousness. This consciousness is called purodall ('soul ') and seems to be ca nnot be switched off since it has its own will and agency with which , as
formed in the womb along with the body. In one sense, a child 's soul , like its sonum , it engages and affects the living.
body, grows and becomes stronger with time . This is why little Mando A consciousness becomes sonum after death and stone-planting. Now it
succumbed to the crossfire ofMengalu's sorcery after it had bounced off the no longer animates a body as soul, nor does it retain the same relatively
more robust soul of his teenage brother Sagalo (chapter 2). Consciousness high degree of individuation: it is less clear 'who' each sonum is, as categories
is essentially fluid and in one sense it takes on form and identity by filling a ofsonums merge and refract according to a logic which does not apply to the
bounded space. I could find no single Sora word covering all English senses living. But consciousness is still subject to focussing and concentration.
of , boundary' (cf. usal , 'skin'; maneng, 'edge') , but it is clear that a person's Conspicuous features of the landscape, such as rocks, trees or heavenly
boundary is important, at least when it is conceptualised in terms of the bodies, are the residences of certain sonums (chapter 4). Shamans may a lso
person's body. In living animals, humans and even plants, soul animates contain sonums in sealed pots , wall -paintings and their own bodies during
the body. It is contained in the blood and is said to be like the shadow or trance;and they may conduct them across 'formless' space along threads and
photograph of the body, in other words, it takes the same form and the ladders used to link the sun, earth and Underworld.
occupies the same space as the body. Absence of form is expressed by the But the relationship of soul to sonum is not simply that the one will
word Iw~ja , used as an adjective or adverb, and meaning not only 'without change into the other after death . There is also a reciprocal web of mutual
form' but also '(at) random; without reason, discrimination or specifica - dependence. Sonums are nourished by soul, whether of the living humans
tion; aimless( -Iy)', etc. Space is essentially ka'ja, except where some whom they 'eat ' when they attack them or of the domestic animals , grain
significance is read into it. Then it provides a framework within which and alcohol offered to them during sacrifices as a substitute (apanadu) for a
beings can take form. sick patient. Living Sora in turn are also nourished by soul. This is not the
However, Sora do not seem to conceive of personhood exclusively or soul of sacrificed animals (which is consumed by sonums, leaving their flesh
even mainly in terms ofa bounded entity. At the same time as talking about behind - conveniently - for the living) . Rather, it is the soul of grain.
the blood which occupies the whole of the body, Sora also say that soul is Something of the consciousness of their ancestors is infused back into the
concentrated at the centre of the person, in the liver. (Some people also say grain grown by their descendants on the land which those ancestors used to
that the ' heart' and 'brain' play some role, which they are unable to specify. cultivate. The way in which Sora say that this takes place will be discussed
These organs are known from the butchering of animals). Thus sickness is extensively in later chapters. Having crossed the dividing line from death
caused when a sonum starts to 'eat' the victim's soul , and it is said of a sick and re-entered living (ameng) plants, this consciousness derived from
54 Dialog lles IPith the dead The forlllatioll of th e Sora persoll 55

sonums is again called pumdall ('soul'). Thus the mutual dependence of the We ca n rela te this to the tenta tive na ture of the early stages of a marriage.
consciousness of the living and of th e dead is rooted in a basic image of In providing a mould for their sex ual fluids, the mother is the custod ian of
kinship which entails a notion not only of returning, but also of rec iprocal something which will become sepa rate from both parents, but in different
nouri shment. ways. A husband's patrilineal claim to his wife is weak and becomes
stronge r only with the growt h of their children. As a father , he will simil ar ly
Naming the baby: childbearing and the husband's lineage need to separate his baby from hi s wife's body . His grain grows on plots
There is a conflict between the theory of embryo formation and the which he cultivates and it contains the so ul of hi s lineal ancestors who
ideology of patrilineal kinship. It is true that the Sora do sometimes use inhabit those sites. His baby is at first nourished exclusively with milk
'seed' (jabmof) and ' blood' (l11iiial11) to refer to shared kinship. But these derived from its mother's body. But after weaning it will never again drink
words are used only loosely to refer to the idea of some sort of kinship: to milk , human or animal. Instead the child will feed on porridge mad e from
say that two people are of the 'same' seed or blood can refer to anythin g the father 's g rain , thus building up its commitment to his ancestors. It will
from membership of a lineage to membership of the Sora people as be remembered that weanin g, significa ntly , coincides rou ghly with th e
opposed to Oriyas or white people. Tnama and his brothers, when they baby's permanent acquisition around the age of three ofa name belonging
placed more porridge than I could manage in my bowl , would reassure me to one of its father's ancestors.
that they would finish offwhat I left uneaten from the same bowl, since we For the child, this is straightforward and it will grow up unambiguously
were of'the same blood, the same seed (abo 'nin a millam, abo 'nin ajabmof)'. a member of its father's lineage (except where the mother is living with her
A baby is made from fusion of semen and vaginal fluid; these are called parents and the baby is effectively fatherless, in which case it will join its
respectively asong-kadand asong-t{j, meaning literally 'exuviae of the penis' mother's paternal lineage). The mother's lineage membership, however,
and 'exuviae of the vagina'. The word asong on its own is the common word can remain ambiguous indefinitely . After marriage a woman gradually
(probably originally a euphemism) for faeces and it is used to make the transfers her loyalties to her husband's ancestors in a way which matches
terms for secretions from other parts of the body and from certain other the change in her source of nourishment . Her own father and brothers
processes, as follows: counterbalance this gradual transference of her loyalty, especially where a
asong-l11u nose-exuviae i.e . nasal mucus marriage is made against their wishes. This is either realised or implied in a
asong-mad eye-exuviae sleep-dust number of ways, and will emerge in a dramatic and tragic way for Sagalo
asong-Iud ear-exuviae ear-wax and his wife Panderi in chapter 7. For example, throughout her married life
asong-kad penis-ex u viae semen a woman continues to manage independently her own personal wealth
asong-t{j vagina-exuviae vaginal fluid (keruru, containing jewellery, clothes or grain) which is derived entirely
asong-set! wine-exuviae sediment, lees From her father's family. Her grain is kept separately from her husband's
asong-Iang iron-ex uviae slag grain and can never be cooked and eaten by the household , all of whose
food is provided by the husband . Meanwhile the wife can lend her grain out
These suggest that asong should be glossed as 'fluid or semi-fluid (i.e. at interest and may even lend it (though in this case interest-free [rea]) to her
formless) exuviae given off and relinquished by a bounded entity or at the husband. Her father's family may give her Further substantial amounts
outer edge of a concentra tion' . The child is thus made of substances which after harvests and whenever she visits them. Eventually she may be able to
during the process of conception and birth derive, in an equivalent manner, buy her own paddy land Which she and her husband will work together
from both mother and father. Though in conceiving, the mother 'takes- along with his fields, though the crop will be hers alone to dispose of. A
fruit -child' (pallg-gur-on-), the root kud-, 'beget, give birth', is used equally woman's keruru is inherited by her children. If she has only daughters, they
of both parents, while the noun formed from it, kerud-kud, is used as a more receive everything; if she has sons as well , they take the land and grain while
or less precise synonym of the patrilineage. In other words, these images do her daughters receive her jewellery and personal effects. Thus we can see
not in themselves permit the unambiguous separa tion of male and female how some ofa woman's keruru is derived ultimately from her own mother's
roles in making a baby. family in a process which crosses from lineage to lineage every time its
The ('orll1ation 0(' th e So ra persoll 57
56 Dialog lles with the dead

holder marries. We shall see below how women's names are transmitted never bee n a live on earth but exist only in a separate I1d a-land (t/da -desa ).
along exactly the sa me traj ectory . This cont rast s sharpl y with the way in T hey have Oriya names and inhabit mountain peaks at the same time as the
which me n's na mes and belon gin gs are tran smitted indefinitely down the U nde rwor ld . They observe ce rta in Hindu taboos to do with purity (e.g.
sa me lin eage. co ncerning menstruation and kind s of food) which are not observed by
T he amb iguity o f a wife's position between two lin eages emerges other Soras apart from their shaman spouses. T hey dwell in the Unde r-
exp licitly in funerals. A man is given a funera l by hi s lineage a nd from then wo rld in multi -storey cement town hou ses with tiled roofs. T heir represen -
on is en um erated by their A ncestor-Men, a long with all their other ma le tations in wall paintings a nd their epithets in verse centre on ima ges of
ancestors, und er the headin g 'fa thers, brothers' (w(lngji, bui'iangji, cf. status a nd power: thrones , umbrell as, armed retinues , vehicles such as
chapter 6, text 6. 1). Unmarried wome n, like men , receive only one elephants, horses, bicycles a nd aeroplanes. Fema le I1d as wear bri ghtl y
coloured sa ris, masca ra , til marks on their foreheads and flowers in their
sto ne-plantin g, from the lineage into which they were born . A married
ha ir. While the ra uda inte racts with he r living audience, Iidas do not
woman, howeve r, receives two. The first is performed by her husband . But
normally speak during trances and the shaman 's relationship with her I1das
in addition , the lineage into whi ch she was born will then come in a so lemn
procession to her husba nd 's crema tion-si te and ' ta ke the bones' (pang ~jang, is not acted out in public. As well as visiting him in the Underworld during
i. e. take some of the ashes) to their own cremation-site where they will stage dreams and trances, the sha man periodicall y feeds her I1da -hu sband and
children, who are also lIda , with vegetarian food (bein g vegetari a n, IIdas
a second, full-scale stone-planting of their own and incorporate her into
ca nnot attack people by eating their so ul s as do the Soras' own ancestors).
their own Ancestors (see chapter 8, after the dea th of Panderi). Thus,
After she dies, a shaman becomes a ra uda -helper to her successor; people
married women are enumerated twice, by two sets of Ances tor-Men, in
identical funerals conducted in duplicate by both their brothers' and their
husbands' lineages. In both these funerals they are listed under the 3 A shaman's wall painting. On the ri ght is the tree linking this world with
significantly undifferentiated heading ' mothers, sisters' (yangji, bujmaiji, cf. the Underworld, its branches co vered with chains of shamans in the form of
chapter 6, lines 213, 225) . So even though wives receive their first funeral monkeys. The Underworld contains multi-storeyed buildings with scenes from
from their'husband's lineage and become part of their ancestor cult, they do the court a nd military life of the town . Suspended at the top is a covered pot
containing grain dedica ted to the shaman's rallda SOl1um.
so in a sense which is laden with paradox since the lineage into which they
were born has not relinquished them in its turn . Thus , if a wife dies in
childbirth, especially during her first pregnancy, the diagnosis is often that
her own natal ancestors have reclaimed her, out of resentment because she
is bea ring children for others whose food she now feeds on (examples
among Mengalu's relatives will be given in chapter 6).
Perhaps the clearest expression of the resistance to her marriage by a
woman's natal lineage is the nature of the shaman's own marriage to an I1da
sonum in the Underworld. A shaman has two kinds of sonum-familiars.
The first are the sonums of her predecessors, previous Sora shamans who
are now dead . These are called rauda and are the subject of the invocation
given in text 1.2. Usually the most recent rauda was the shaman's own
teacher while alive and it is she who speaks during trances while escorting
the dead from the Underworld.
But these are not the sonums whom shamans marry. The latter, called
tlda , belong to the high Paik caste. The Paik were the local caste to whom
administration was entrusted in the British period , and their ksatriya varna
includes not only rajas, but many local traders and policeman. Ildas have
58 Dialogues lI'ith the dead
r The formation of the Sora persoll 59

often say that havin g married a ksatriya, she also becomes ksatriya herse lf. excel/ellce sense refer to members of one's own lineage. This is a
Male shamans sIm Ilarly marry female I1da s. relationship within which sex ua l relations or marriage are widely disap-
The son um-children who are born to her in the Underworld are II'ke . proved among the living ,
k . . WIse
sa tnya. SlIlce each shaman marries the dda -child of a predecessor som In chapter I', I argued that the shaman's experience is only a specia li sed
of these ch ildren will in turn become the I1d a-spouses of the shaman'; livin e or intensified form of the experience of any la y person, I believe this is true
s uccesso l:s. Chi ldren in the Underworld mature at odd rates to match th! here, too , and that the shaman's cross-cousin marriage represents the
varyIng tlmes~ans and patterns of succession among living shaman s, but fu lfilment ofa culturally powerful fantasy about marriage between brother
the pnnclple IS one of cross-cousin marriage. Each shaman marries a a nd sister. Consid er the myth of origin of shamanism, The invocat ion
fa ther's sister's child or mother's brother's chi Id , as shown in figure 3. 1 which the shaman was sin ging in chapter I (text 1,2) later went on to (race
(whIch II1cludes the variant of thi s pattern for a male shaman). These her predecessors right back to the elder of the two sisters who originally
categones address each other in real life both as 'cousin' (llwrongger, founded the two shamanic traditions. These are, respectively, Pubic-Haired
femlllllle maronsel) and as 'b rother' and 'sister' , terms which in their pal' Sompa (Kuru-tij Sompa) founder of the funeral tradition; and Mascara -
Eyed Ridi (Sanid-mad Ridi), who founded the tradition of divination and
hea ling, I have recorded the story many times and give here a paraphrase:
Figu.re 3. 1. The succession of funeral sham a ns through inces tuous cross-cousin
mal I lages 111 the Underworld (arrow shows succession between shamans).
Text 3,1 The story of Pubic-Haired Sompa
Sora Sora shaman s. who will High-cast c Hintlu
layperso ns hecome raud,'IS and Ild ,.
'ISe'","s I Ing There were two sisters, Pubic-Haired Sompa and Mascara-Eyed Ridi, Ridi was the
' on I v
high-caste Hindus in the Untlerworitl younger and appears in the story only as a shadowy counterpart of Sompa, Some
aflerdeath say they were Sora, some that they were raji, that is, ksalriya, Sompa had so much
pubic ha ir thal she had to keep it coiled up under her skirt, hence her full epithet in
song: ' Pubic-Ha ired Sompa, Sompa of the coiled pubic tresses' (Kurulij SOlllpa.
Saekul' SOlllpa), Some say her groin and thighs were covered with hair 'like a bear' ,
When they had grown up they sought love rs but no-one among their own people
r---------, )
wanted to make love to them (or her: most of the details of the story seem to centre
on Sompa), either because they were repelled by the pubic hair or else because they
were embarrassed at the elaborate gold jewellery and fine clothes they wore, makin g
r---------, ) them 'like raji-women like rich women' (raji-boj allll'id gOlllallg-boj allll'id) , So they
were feeling extremely lustful but unfulfilled and the veins in their heads were

r------) throbbing 'bi/ bl/ bl/' with sexual desire, Later they abandoned their gold a nd fine
clothes, which were then destroyed by termites, and they wore ordinary clothes . In
their wanderings in search of lovers they came to a village in the plains inhabited by
Sarda Soras, who are paradoxically both despised and felt to be of higher status,
and who practise cross-cousin marriage . There there was a dance. The style of
drumming and dancing, which differs from that of our Soras, is described: the dance
involves a wide-stepping movement, at which Sompa's pubic tresses spilled out and
so she aga in failed to secure a lover. The sisters returned home to their brothers,
saying 'Hey! brothers! the veins in our heads a re bursting: will the sun drown will the
moon drown if we make love to you?' So they slept with their own brothers and their
souls were cooled. Later when they found that they were pregnant, they also slept
Key once with their brothers' two Sarda servants, saying 'Now you've slept with us, say
it's your child.' Thus they 'put the responsibility on' (abdusa/eji) th e two Sardas,
6 male
Eventually the two girls died and after their deaths, they caused other unmarried
o female
girls to fall into trance, Whatever the sisters' ethnic origin may have been originally,
marri ed to they are now I'aji.
60 Dialogues witll tile dead Tile forlllation o/,tlle 50/'{/ persoll 61

In th e myth, the public ad mi ssion of sex ual interco urse is linked to the of the fema le funeral shamans known to me had never married above
cross-cousin -marrying Sarda servants. But this is only a cover for the gro und , and some of the others had conspic uou sly unstable or peculiar
essen tial and deeply satisfy ing act of interco urse with the girl s' own marriages. A few seemed to be transvestites or hermaphrod ites. I wa s a lso
brothers , the act which a lso caused their pregnancies. It is not hard from told that in some villages female funeral shama ns do not marry at a ll.
this to see the shama n's i1d a -hu sba nd as representing her own brother and T hus, women who are sexua ll y active within marriage are genera ll y
the lineage of their ksatriya hu sba nd s in the Underworld as represent in g excl ud ed from the funeral tradition. A woman who does marry will take up
the shama ns' own lineages above ground . the work aga in only in old age, especia ll y after her husband dies, in wh ich
The implications of this are different for male and female shamans, a nd case she may eit her ret urn to her natal village or stay on in her husband's
thi s is reflected in the relative empha sis put on Sompa and Ridi. All village. So apart from a few adult men of a ll ages, the crucia l sequence of
shamans trace their descent through a lin e of predecessors and teachers funeral rites, on which so much of So ra life depend s, is largely in the hand s
which culminates, according to their tradition, in one or other of these of unmarried teenage girls and old women . The latter a re either sisters of
sisters. Mascara -Eyed Ridi is the founder of the lesse r (oseng) tradition of the me n with whom they reside, or else wives whose loyalty to their natal
diagnosis and hea lin g, many of whose practitioners a re men . These deal lineage has faded to the point where they have effect ively been assimilated
each with hi s own speciali st repertoire ofsonums and may be co nsulted by to the stat us of sisters in their hu sba nd 's linea ge.
clients from quite far away. Though divination requires trance, many Lineage affiliation for women is very much a question of how far
healings for minor sonums do not , so that not all these men use trance at all. brothers let their sisters go to other men and how far their sisters are ab le to
Men learn only as adults. Thus shamanism does not come to a boy in ma ke this move . The ultimate indication of where any woman's loyalty has
childhood or adolescence nor does it place any strain later upon his finally come to rest, is where she bestows her name in a future ge neration .
marriage, which in any case a lways includes the possibility of polygyny Every person has at least one 'proper' (sa 'kai) name besides various
even in this world. nicknames (goibel'i11111 , often affectionately rude, e.g. Gat'gal', 'Cadger';
Pubic-Haired Sompa, on the other hand, stands at the head of the 'main' Asongl'oi, 'Fly-Shit'). Though new proper names can be coined and lidas
or 'important' (muda) tradition , that of the 'funeral' (sanatung) shamans. sometimes give their own names to babies , all old names will sooner or later
These shamans work jointly for all the lineages of their own village but for be given to one baby among the ran ge of the previous holder's heirs. For
no-o ne else. They are almost exclusively women and where a man takes reasons of demography , one ba by may sometimes bear the names of several
over for a generation this is supposedly beca use the sonum familiars were ancestors and it will be shown in later chapters how in a dispute over
unable to find a suitable woman . One example of this is Uda , the shaman inheritance more than one baby may claim the name of the sa me ancestor.
through whom the sonul11s will speak in chapter 5. The pa ttern of transmission is different for male and female names. Since
A woman usually marries in the Underworld before puberty , at a the possession of an ancestor's name is an important part of one's total
formative age a good ten years before she ma rries among the living. This is person and sometimes also a determinant of material inheritance , there are
especially the case in Sompa's funeral tradition , on which the myth puts many irregularities and disputes, some of which will be examined in part
most of its emphasis. When she later marries above ground, both the Ill. Normally a dea d man will give his name to a direct patrilineal
woman and her living husband feel the tension . If she is in the divination- descendant and a man who dies without sons will give his name to a
and-healing tradition of Ridi , she often continues to practise after descendant of hi s brother. This means that a lineage ha s a common
marriage; but if she is in the more intense funeral tradition her husband reservoir of male names held, as it were, in trust by ancestors and handed
usually finds it unbearable to share her with a dream-husband of elevated back continually as new sons are born. The simplest model of this, since so
status (there is no polyandry anyway amon g the living) , and exerts a strong many grandparents die before seeing their grandchildren, is A, son of B,
pressure on her to give up. If on marrying she moves to another village she so n of A , son of B. I
is obliged to give up in any case, since she is in 'in-law country' (kuiial' desa) A girl child usually receives the name of a woman who has married in to
and there is a constraint of ,embarrassment' (garo)) on performing funerals the lineage , typically the name of her own father's mother. But since that
for her husband's kin and acting as a mouthpiece for his ancestors. Several woman in turn will have brought her name from the lineage in which she
62 Dialogues Il'ith the dead
The forII/o t iOIl oj'the Sora perSOIl 63

was born , the lineage has no reservoir of fema le names since these a re
dead woman he rse lf co nfirm s in dialog ues that she is res iding with hi s
transferred across lin eages every time its holder marries. This is how the
Ancesto rs rat he r th an with those o f her father and brothers. He r so ul , li ke
movement of a woman's name is the same in principle as that of her
th at of her husband, then becomes part of the food of their common
personal wealth , discussed earlier. F ig ure 3.2 shows the main kind s of
descendants a n'd she will give her name to one of them . It will be see n la ter
movement for a woman's name which I have traced repeatedly in
that thi s need not always happen a nd that marri ed wom en so met imes
genea logies.
cho ose to resid e after death with their brothers' ancestors and pass on their
For many wives, the emotionally and st ructura lly a mbi guou s climate of
names to their brothers ' descendants. A clo se marriage, then , is o ne in
the ea rly years or marria ge persists for a long time. If in middle age she is
which the wife's divided loyalty ha s been reso lved and she ha s thrown in her
able to climb into the loft herself to fetc h gra in (see chap te r 4), in stead of
lot fully with her husba nd. Exa mpl es will be given later of one ma rri age
ca lling her husba nd or one of hi s daug hte rs or siste rs, people consider this a
which lacks warmth (that of Ja ma no a nd Onsam in chapter 5) and one of
conspicuous sign of a close (tllnYlIn) marria ge. Even after her death, her
great devotion (that ofPanderi a nd Saga lo in chapter 8) . In each case, there
transfer to her husba nd 's lineage is known to be complete only whe n the
are implica tion s for the retrospective assessme nt of the woman's own
perso nhood as well as for the evolving personhood of her livin g children.
Figure 3.2 The transm issio n of a wom a n's name to her descendants.

(i) (ii) Destiny a nd susceptibility to other persons

Earlier I said that nothing seems to be said or known about the origin ofa
child's consciousness. One may postulate in the Sora person a certain core
l 6
which is subject to the imagery of blacksmithing or craftsmanship:
someone accused of bad behaviour can say 'It' s not my fault: Sun-Woman
forged me like that [i.e. in the womb)' (Hen dusa tid: Uyung-bojen edte

pomingte). Yet this idea is oflimited scope. Already at tllis stage, formation
in the womb is susceptible to other sonums and persons beyond the parents:
pregnant women avoid certain places, actions or foods, and especially
contact with a recent death by a highly contagious sonum.
Over and above any anxiety to protect themselves, they do this to prevent
CI> the event from becoming a part of the child in the womb and affecting its
ultimate fate. It is widely said that everyo ne's fate is already decided a t the
moment of birth , but that we can have no means of knowing this.
Sun-Woman, of course, knows: 'Thi s one will be killed by a leopard, that
one by a fall , that one with a cough .. .'. Some say that she has built it into
£:,. male
o female the baby's formation as a predisposition to a certain fate ; others, that the
= marri ed to sonums themselves race to the scene of a birth to stake a claim to the baby
(Hen ate, gamteji, ''' mine'' , they say') . This suggests that at conception there
may be no intrinsic prior relationship between the foetus and the form of its
In (i) the woman dies without bearing sons to another lineage, that is, with no sons at all or
bearing them in the na me, not oCa husband's, but of her brother's or fa ther's house (Jama no's eventual destiny or even its personality. Just as it begins to receive a name
daughter, Ra na ta ng'ssister, will do this in chapter 5). The generation of the second holder of the soon after birth , so somewhere during gestation and birth it encounters the
name will vary largely according to the age at which the first holder dies: for example, a dead
child's name tends to return more quickly tha n a n adult's. first experience or event on the path leading through the varied experiences
(ii) shows the progress of a name whose holder ma rries and bears a so n every time. of life to its particular death .
Each time the name is held by a living woman, she ca rries it across from the lineage into The discussion above of the sources of its nourishment gives a
which she is born, to that into which she ma rries.
preliminary idea of how a baby becomes involved at a very early stage with
64 Dialogues lI'i,II ,lie dead Tile forl7/a'ion of' ,lie Sora person 65

a variety of other agents. Even the mammalian function of breastfeeding is to this , that he had also been a sad istic child and had once beaten a
already drawn into a tension between parental linea ges, while one of the buffalo to death and given hi s younger brother a ser ious head injury with
baby's very first experiences of'illness' underlines a relationshjp with one of a sto ne. Meanwhile his aged mother, defensively , is at pains to insist (I)
its father's ancestors. This relationship is acknowledged by attaching the tha t there was no such violence among hi s forebears; alld (2) tha t she had
ancestor's name to the baby , who then receives a measure of protection avo id ed all such influences during her pregnancy; alld (3) that she had
from hi s intended namesake (ai1tmnamar) against other sonums. rubbed him well with turmeric after his birth to coo l him.
As the child grows older, the range of its obligations, friendships , loves
The Sora thu s exp lain a person's mortality, vulnerability and much of hi s
and hates will become ever more complex . The way Sora talk about this
character in terms of his relationships to others, but especially to those who
shows tha t from birth, and maybe even as early as at conception , the ba by's
are now dead. Some of these susta in the person, while others try to pull the
consciousness is moulded in response to a kind of experience which is at
person's consciousness away from his centre in order to 'eat' (jlllll - ) it. To
variance with any model of inheritance based on ideas of the patrilineage.
the extent that the person is defined by these others, he is thereby given hi s
There are various words for inheritance implying a form of transmission
very being. Yet at the sa me time he is diminished to the extent that they
which, even though we shall see how these are sometimes disputed, at least
impinge on him in a certain overwhelming and consuming way. Effectively
in principle follows the contours of the linea ge. To ' inherit' material
nothing in a person's fate which can be talked about at all, is interpreted
property is dane -, while physical characteristics are said to pad- , 'pierce,
only as innate: the events of his illness and death are always interpreted in
penetrate, pass through' from one person to another, i.e . across boundaries
terms of his involvement with other persons. There is a distinction between
or from one focal centre of personhood to another. This is the usual word
transmission from the dead as generational succession and the trans-
for stitching leaves, cloth , etc., and is commonly used also for the
mission of bad experiences . This distinction throws upon the latter much of
transmission of facial resemblance and 'physical' characteristics generally
the burden in the explanation of the unhappiness inherent in human frailty
(e.g. chapter 7, line 231). It implies an orderly social, we might even say
and lies at the heart of the complex Sora classification of sonums. It
quasi-biological, heredity.
underlies the funeral's slow struggle to eliminate that bad experience and
However, there are other aspects of a person which are also transmitted
restore the deceased to an idiom of pure Ancestorhood. The irony, which
down the generations and to which the word pad- does not apply. These
will emerge in the following chapters, is that the bad-experience aspect is
aspects are unhappy ones connected with kinds of illness and death:
also an unavoidable part of the person's total social identity since this, too,
previous victims return to cause similar dea ths among those whom they
is based on his interaction with other persons.
have left behind. These kinds of experience, when they are transmitted , are
said to gorod-, 'wa nder, leap, move contagiously'. But at the same time, the
dead transmit their own illnesses to those closest to them: friends,
acquaintances and lovers , and particularly descendants.
A brief example may be given to illustrate how heredity, influences on the
foetus, influences at the birth and subsequent adult experiences are all
brought to bear as possibilities in interpreting a single person's life:

A certain man is widely cited to illustrate the workings of contagion : he

sometimes has violent raging fits in which he beats his wife, brother and
others. This is usually said to be because as an adult he helped to carry
the corpse of a murder victim before the decontamination ('blocking')
rites against a murder were performed (cf. chapter 7, lines 208-11) . The
victim's unchannelled (ka'ja) blood entered him and now causes these
fits. Out of obstinacy, this man still refuses to undergo the rite and is
expected to die a violent death himself. However, I later heard , contrary
Illt erpretillg alld persuadillg tlte dead 67

like 'It was my fa ther, acting through Sun -So num .' T hus the dead little girl
4 who spoke at the beginnin g of chapte r I (tex t 1.1) was killed by a previou s
victim of Madu-slln ('Leprosy-Son um '). T hrou gh the form of her own
dea th , she has become associated with thi s sonum in her turn a nd is now
In terpreting and persuading the dead li kely to attack her livin g relatives in thi s sa me way.
The interpl ay betwee n the Ancestor and the Expe ri ence aspects ofsonum
is com pl ex. However, throu ghout all the paradoxes and resolution s of lhis
interp la y, this conceptual distinct ion rema ins clear. It is refl ected, for
instance, in the geography of the dead (figure 4 .1). Both horizonta ll y and
vertically, the space of the Ancestors lies in the inhabited house and village .
Horizontally, Ancestor space is di stin gui shed on the land sca pe from
Experie nce space as domestic to wild , or village to jungle. Vertically, it lies
within the house and down towards the Underworld (kll1orai desa) , which is
Ancestor and Experience: mapping two distinct modes of being dead the normal abode of the dead wh en they are conceived as Ancestors. A
rather pallid replica of social life among the living, complete with hou ses
AIlcestOl'-SOllIlI1lS (I1/(/ the Experiellce SOlll111lS and villages, is supposed to exist there. The main passages from there to the
In their classification of sonums, the Sora make a fundamental distinction. world of the living pass through the grain-pounding mortar set into the
They distinguish between those aspects of the dead whereby they pass on a floor of each house as well as through the collective cremation-sites and
social identity, from those in which they inflict the forms of their own stone-planting sites of each lineage in the street outside.
deaths. In the first case, the dead protect and nourish their descendants , in Experience space, by contrast, is mapped on to the landscape outside the
the second they consume and absorb them. village a t ground level and a bove, from clumps of trees, rocks and pa ths up
The use of the generic term sonum always implies the possibility of to the sun. These locations are focusses of meaning whereby the concept of
specifying which sonum is meant. A sick person asks , 'Which sonum is the Experiences
stroking me? (iten a sonul11 sll11ling?), and a recently-dead person is asked Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
'Which sonum took you? (ilen a sonul11 pangal11le?).' The question 'which A local habitation and a name.
(A Midslllllmer Night's Dream, V.i. 16- 17)
sonum?' may yield an answer simultaneously in two kinds of terms . The
first is a set of specific persons, for example ' the sonum of my father' , ' the The di stinction between Ancestor and Experience leads us to the heart of
sonum of my grandmother'. These are called idai-slln : 'Ancestor-sonum ', the ambivalence with which the Sora regard their dead . In both cases, it is
or often just idai, ' Ancestor'. The other is a set of ca tegories which are both
cosmological and related partly through medical symptoms to forms of
death . These have names like 'Sun-Sonum', 'Leopard-Sonum' or 'Convul- Figure 4.1 Ancestor space and Experience space.
sion-Sonum' (respectively Uyung-sll11 . KlI1a-SlIl1 and Kani-sll11). There is no
collective word in Sora for the various categories of this set. Sora conceive
of their action in terms of incidents and events during the course of people's
lives. I shall therefore gloss them collectively throughout this book as
'Experience' sonums (with a capital ' E') .
Where sonums are discussed as causes of illness and death (both of which
can generally have no other kind of cause), the full explanation of such
events requires that these two sets of terms be combined in order to explain
both the motive for the attack and its form. A person may say something Unde rworld
68 Dialog lles Il'illi llie dead /11 l erprel illg (flld perslladillg lli e dead 69

the sa me dead people who are involved. To a certa in ex te nt , the So ra dead anot her lin eage and women usua ll y move into th eir hu sba nd 's hom e on
resemble those in many parts of south a nd southeast As ia , where the marria ge, so that the male co re of the lin eage stays put while women co me
recentl y decea sed are more dangerous than the lo ng-dead . W ithin H indu and go . Since the villa ge conta in s seve ral lineages, one may marry equally
India , for exa mple, tills distinction ca n be seen as parallel to that between inside or outside the vill age. T he re is constant contact among villa ges
the pill" and the Mula or prela . But ma ny Sora features seem distinctive , in throu ghout the a rea . De legations vi sit ot her villa ges for fun eral s, whil e
particular the simultaneity of the deceased's double na ture as a causa l right s to the use of la nd a re widely scattered : a hou sehold may cultivate
agent, as well as the leng th of time over whi c h this ambivalent nature plots up to an ho ur's walk away from home a nd can expect hospitality from
persists. A nd yet within this double nature, the empha sis does shift. A dead in-laws, cross-co usins or fri end s in many villages on the way. The final ' leaf
person und ergoes an evo lution over time, as the empha sis moves gradua lly of the lin eage is the hou sehold . Gene ra ll y it co nta in s a nuclea r family o f
from the dangerous Ex perience aspect of hi s being to the generall y benign husba nd , wife (or, for som e, wives) a nd children. Each son as he marries
Ancestor aspect. I shall analyse this in la ter chapters. For now , I shall fOllnd s a sepa ra te household , tak in g with him a complete rep li ca of hi s
di scuss the term s A nces tor and Experience in turn. father 's a ncestor-cult (later to include hi s father a nd mother too when they
die), while the yo un ges t son genera ll y brings hi s wife to hi s parents' hOll se
Allcesto,,-SOf//mIS alld the house: how the Ih'illg participate ill jill/erals and rema ins in it after their death.'
An Ancestor is a dead person. Each such person retains hi s or her own Within the long lang, the part of the villa ge inhabited by one lin eage,
name and separate identity within the framework of the linea ge . An idai is several houses are often joined toge ther in rows , each with a sepa rate
not necessa rily one's ancestor in the literal , restricted sense of the English entrance giving on to a common verandah (pil1da). A house consists of one
word : rather, one's ida is are one's own dead . They therefore include sin gle-storeyed room , constructed of so lid sto ne walls plasterd with reddi sh
numerous young people such as one's own dead children (cf. text 1. 1); wives mud. These walls stop some way below the thatch roof, which does not rest
of one's lineage, who are also Ancestors to their natal lineages; sisters who , on them but is supported on a framework of wooden pillars (sundallg) ,
ifmarried, will simultaneously be Ancesto rs to their husband's lineage too ; beams and rafters . Conversations can be conducted between houses over
and to a certa in extent a male cross-cousin, if one has given him a duplicate the party wall , so that a row of hou ses in some ways resembles a longhouse.
funeral (as Sagalo did for Sunia in chapter 2) . There are thus varyin g Just inside the door is an area in which one can stand upright and where the
degrees of Ancestorhood which may be recognised on a particular occasion heavy wooden grain-pounding mortar (anal) is set flush into the cowdung-
by an entire lineage , a group of brothers , or a single household . finished floor. Beyond this the remainder of the interior is divided
In order to understa nd this, let us look more closely at the household and horizo ntally in two by a loft (maran) set at chest height and made of stout
its relations with other household s. A village usually contains several planks. The loft contains large baskets of grain (unless the house is very
patrilineages (biJ·inda). The imagery of the lineage's interna l structure is poor a nd lives entirely in debt) . Apart from the door, light enters only
arboreal, with 't runks' or 'branches' (aneb), ' twigs' (sipa) and ' leaves' (ala) . through a gap between the thatch and the top of the wall. At the fa r end,
For the sake of simplicity I shall sometimes use the word 'line' to specify the under the loft , is the hearth (kuda), the smoke of which similarly pa sses
descendants of anyone man under di scussion. The lineage's male core is through thi s ga p. Down here, often screened from the door area by a low
descended from a single male ancestor who is listed by every member in the interior wall , is the dark and shadowy area where the family ea ts and sleeps
rites of their personal ancestor cult, since he is equally the ancestor of a ll . by the light of the fire . This area is for squatting or sitting, not standing, and
While this ancestor may be three, four or occasionally more genera tions one must walk crouching or like a crab . Women keep the floors swept clean
away, more recent ancestors are listed on most occasions only by their own and the walls are draped with tools , cloth , and gourd and clay bottles
lines , that is by their own direct descendants . suspended on nails and hooks . On the advice of shamans, people may make
Spatially, the lineage is fixed. Each linea ge possesses its own cremation - wall-paintings (idlal) dedicated to sonums and hang up other offerings such
ground (kl11lalod) and group of upright memorial stones (g-ml-ll-ar, as a sonum-pot (sonum-dang) containing grain.
's tone-planting site') to which a new stone is added at each funeral (gll-{I/', Many parts of the house are more or less direct symbols of the lineage or
'stone-planting') conducted by the lineage. One must marry a member of of its twigs and leaves. The main pillar (sllndang) supporting the roof
70 Dialog ues lFitli tlie dead Illt erpre tillg alld persuadillg tlie dead 71

represents the continu ity of patrilineal kin ship in the past and future. For shall d iscuss only the role of men in the funeral s of other me n. Because of
exa.mp le, before drinking a lcoho l indo ors, the man of the house may the ambiguous position of wom en between lin eages (chapter 3), their
spnnkle a few drops at the foot of it with a few words of offering to his fun e ral s are more comp lex and ca n be di sc ussed on ly in la ter chapters.
predecessors. For a man to say 'I have my main pillar' (iiellll1uda-sul1 den Men sacrifice ·a buffalo under one of three rubrics which ex press the
daku) is convent ion a l 'deep-la ng uage' Uaru-ber) for ' I have li ving so ns.' degree both of th eir claim to be the heirs of th e deceased and of their
Anothe r important part of the house is the loft. The gra in stored here obligation to incorporate him into their lives as an A nces tor. Just as in the
belongs to the male householder's patrilineal ancestors and though hea lin g for an illness, this buffalo is a 'substitute' for the donor. This is
in -marrying women cook this gra in , they must not climb up to fetch it - a vividly expressed in the Sora idiom for giv in g someth in g in one's own
prohibition which is relaxed only after menopause, or earli er if a marriage nam e. Whe n Jamano died (chapte r 5), I wa s one of the many peopl e who
IS very Il1tlmate. Until then , the g rain can be fetched only by males o r by ga ve him a buffalo. These were round ed up togethe r th e day before the
daughters and sisters of the house. The mortar (ana!), which is set into the stone-planting but during the ni g ht they all escaped from their pen . In the
floor near the door, is the passage from the house to the land of the morning I was told 'They've found some of them, but they haven ' t yet
Ancestors in the Underworld . Here is pounded the grain which nourishes found the one with your face (l1/uka 11((/1/ ate ).'
the members of the house and which as we shall see later co ntain s a vital
element of those Ancestors' sou l. In addition, the pounding motion of the 'Planting tli e stone' (gu-m). Only the most direct heirs do this. For
pestle (ol1dring) in the mortar has a thinly veiled connotation of sexual adults, these will be their sons, assisted by their unmarried daughters; for
intercourse. The door (sanang) is also an entrance for Ancestors. At certain children , their parents . Except for the lineage's sto ne-plant in g site and
mO~lents of the funerary cycle great play is made of opening and barring cremation-ground, all property is conceived of as being owned by
their passage through both the mortar and the door. individu a ls. Immovab le property (land, hou se-s ites, usefu l trees) as well
Outside the house, Ancestor space broadens to encompass larger groups as catt le are owned and inherited largely by males. Other possessions like
of pa trilineal rela tives at different levels of segmenta tion of the kin-group: jewellery and tools a re usually inheri ted by children of the same sex as the
from the house for the nuclear family, to the terraces of three or four previous owner, sharing equally. The most substantial property is
closely-related houses , to the cremation-site and stone-planting site for the usually a man 's paddy land or his rights to the use of a shifting-
lineage as a whole. Immediate Ancestors of the household are fyd inside the cultivation site. AU of these are divided equally among his sons, but they
house a nd at threshing-floors out on the hillsides at various seasonal rites do this only after staging his stone-planting and taking on his uncleared
(abdur) which are associ a ted with stages of the growth and harvest of crops. debts (teng-, literally carrying them publicly on their head).
In addition, they may be fed inside the house (s/'lI1gp/r, 'house-rite') when As well as a buffalo such heirs provide the stone and in some villages
they cause a non-fatal fever (asu) in members of their own households they may also 'sacrifice' an egg or eat a 'crema ted ' rice-flour effigy of the
particularly in a small child to whom they wish to give their name. But th~ deceased. This seems to signify their exclusive right to hi s name for one of
main context in which the dead are addressed as Ancestors is at the several their future babies (see chapters 7- 9). Through these actions they will
stages of their own funerals. 'induct' (amgan -) the deceased into their house or houses in which he has
Funerals bring together the entire lineage among both the living and the a right of residence as an Ancestor in this full sense.
dead. The relationship between ancestor and descend a nt is one of 'Hilling a buffalo' ( id-bong) . This is done by other linea ge mem bel'S
succession in the widest sense . What is at stake here is not only material 'out of pity because it 's our brother/sister (abasu)'lI11 bui1ang/ tonan lell
inheritance, important though this sometimes is, but also an element of gamle)' . They give a buffalo but do not sacrifice eggs or share in eating an
transmitted social identity. The way a living person participates in a funeral effigy . They therefore do not carry the dead person's debts nor do they
is therefore a close reflection of the role he expects the deceased to play in inherit a share of his property or the possibility of his name for one of
his future life . A general outline of the stages of the funeral wa s given in their descendants . In this sense , the deceased is not inducted into their
chapter 3. Here, I shall focus on the central rite of the stone-planting in houses as a full Ancestor. But the continuing unity of the lineage as a
order to discuss various ways of rela ting to the deceased . For the moment , I whole is acknowledged, since all Ancestors of all its branches are
72 Dia/ogues lVith th e dead Interpreting and persllading th e dead 73

enumerated at the stone-planting when anyone of the lineage's members act of a son-in -law , his claim to the girl would supposed ly have been
dies (chapter 6). Within this total li st there are degrees of co llatera lity , all strengthened.
of which participate by hitting a buffalo; if the line of direct heirs sho uld Whi le the host lineage stays put plantin g the stone and enumera ting a ll
later die out, everyth in g should normally revert to the nearest of these. their own Ancestors around the stone-planting site (chapter 6) , the
'Dancing a bt!ffa/o' ( tongseng-bong). This is done by an affine affina l buffalo-dancers come and go as they dance around the village.
(parent-in -law, brother-in -law, or child -in -Iaw). If they have come from Simi la rly , the affines do not take home the sonum of the deceased or
another village the party of the affinal lineage camp and cook outside the induct him into their houses. They normally have no right to inh er it his
village, then enter with a flamboyant war dance to a beat called gan-desa belongings or his name, nor does the deceased have a corresponding
(,entering-territory', but also with overtones of ' invading'). Dancing a right to make them ill and demand sacrifices from them . But this can
buffalo is the affinal act pal' excellence. I once witnessed a furious change if someone decides to 'take the bones' of his male cross-cousin
argument when an unwanted suitor of the dead man's daughter turned back to hi s own site and stage a seco nd funeral , thereby incorporat in g
up from anot her village with his suppo rters a nd made ready to kill a him for a while at least as an Ancestor. This is what Sagalo did for Sunia ,
buffalo on the outskirts of the stone-planting ' for hi s father-in-law to be'. and some of the implications will emerge in c hapter 8.
He was discovered and prevented in time and hi s buffalo was locked up
An Ancestor is in principle benign, protective and so licitous for the
for safety till the end of the day. But had he succeeded in performing the
welfare of his descendants, who as hi s rep lacements are an entity whom it is
in his interest to preserve - thou gh eve n here he is sensitive to his amour
4 After a day's dancing at a stone-planting: visitors from another village propre and can cause fever if annoyed. Ancestors are the source of all that
waiting to go home after 'dancing a buffalo'. They a re watching other gro ups has come to us by inheritance , and their claim on us is based on a piquant
who are still dancing all around them.
combination of moral obligation (even if often viewed as a nuisance) and
sympathy for the pathetic condition which is the lot of the dead.

Experiellce SOlllmlS alld the lalldscape: fo"",s of i11lless alld death

It is not in the form of Ancestors that the dead kill their descendants, but as
bearers of the symptoms by which they themselves died: they perpetuate in
others the forms of their own deaths . They have this capacity by virtue of
being representatives of one or other of a range of what I have called
Experience son um s.
This kind of collective sonum is a cosmological concept yet it has an
active consciousness of its own, animated, so to speak, by its individual
members. Through making the living share in the experience for which it
stands, it seeks to assimilate them by an annihilation of their own identity .
According to the specific imagery of the sonum concerned, this attempt at
assimila tion may be expressed by a verb of gra bbing, eating, swallowing, or
even sexual embrace. However, all such words imply a total overwhelming
by the a ttacker of the victim, who thereby' fuses' or ' merges' (l1Iaj-) in to the
Experience. A full discussion of the vocabulary and grammar of these verbs
is given towards the end of chapter 8, where it will form a crucial part of my
interpretation of what sonums are. Meanwhile, the full range of Experience
sonums is given in figure 4.2.
74 Dialogues IPith the dead Int erpreting and persl/ading the dead 75

Ex peri enc~ so nums are mapped ac ross the la nd scape in known sites. la nd sca pe (,She resides in Leopard -So num ') , and a particular g roup of
Each such sIte co ntains a gro up of people who have been placed there people who res ide together in that site as a res ult of dying in the manner
beca use of the way in which they died. During hea lin g rites, shama ns chan t which it rep resents ('those people are the Leopard -Peop le [Kllw-Ilw/'{/nji] -
the nam eso f the people who dwe ll in th at site. When Sora co nsider their they are all Leopard -So num ').
dead 111 thIs li g ht rather than as A ncesto rs, they play down their personal Po ints of Experience space ca n be located a nyw here in the non-A ncestor
characterlStl~s and kinship affiliations in favour of an emph asis on their space th at lies beyond the vill age boundary horizonta lly , as well as upward s
sha red expen ence of a certa in ma nner of deat h . F or exa mple, people who in the S un . A Leopard -So num site is usua ll y loca ted in a rock, Ea rth-
have dI ed through suicid e join the gro up of people who form part of So num in a spring, while Sun -Sonum is loca ted in the sun itse lf. Eve ry
S un -Sonum; those killed by leo pa rd s beco me part of Leo pard -So num ; a nd location outside the villa ge which is distinctive enough to be referred to in
so forth. These ca tegori es thus refe r at the same time to a partic ular manner conversation has a name, which can usually be etymologised . Thus any
of dyin g (,Leopard -Sonum [Kllw-slln] took her') , a particular site on the walk through the jungle can be specified as a sequence of points almost
eve ry few yards: 'Sweet Mango', 'Cows' Co nfusion ', ' Peacock's Dancing-
Ground', 'Bees' Home', 'Wind in the Sa l Trees' (respectively Sindiul ,
Figure 4.2 Ex perience so nul11s with their broad characteristics .
Garegetangen, Tarongse ngmar , Borsll1g, Sargiaringen). The sa me kind s of
descriptive, usually compound word s serve equally to designate villa ges
Name or Residential sites General na ture or Associated imagery (simple
symptoms caused summary only)
(Alinsll1g, 'Wine Village', spelled throughout this book Alinsing; Manen-
gul, 'Furthest Mango '; Sogad, 'dove'; Kumbt.llstng, 'Rat's Home'); sites of
Sun-Sonum the sun dea th by accident, beat leads to dissolution or Experiences; and locations which have no such special significance . Thus
( UYllllg-.I'IIII) murder or suicide ' body and being; Sun's role
also death or nur~ing in rormation or inrant
any place which can be sufficiently isolated perceptually and conceptually
inrants; symptoms to be labelled , has the potential to contain consciousness in the form of
resembling burns sonum. This potential is not always realised : for example, nothing actually
Earth- one site in every constriction or body; coolness, cleanliness; happens at Garegetangen except that cows stray , or perhaps did on one
Sonum spring and water constipation, death in integrity or boundaries;
(Lobo-slIlI) source childbirth; undramatic completion or lirespan particular occasion , but it is always possible for stronger meanings to build
death in old age up at such sites. As Experience sites, they are then gathered into classes
Convulsion or one clump or convulsions, epilepsy, pha ses or the moon through some common attribute. For example, Sweet Mango and Wind in
Epilepsy- bushes outside spa sms
Sonum each village
the Sal Trees are the sites of water-sources , and therefore (for reasons
(Kalli-slIIl) which will emerge in chapter 6 and beyond) of specific instances of the
Leopard- one rock outside dea th by leo pard; leopard 's claws; itching category Earth-Sonum.
Sonum each village illness with clawing or se nsa tions
The sites into which Experiences recruit their victims are a nalogies of the
(Kllla-slIlI) nibbling sensation
villages of the living and as well as their ordinary names are also called, e.g.
Ra'tud-Sonum one site outside sudden collapse, encounters on journeys;
(Ra'/lId-slIlI, each village, on a especially aner a onset sudden because ' Leopard -Village' or ' Leopa rd-House' (Ktna-sll1g) , ' Sun-House' (Uyung-
untranslatable) main path or at journey; coughing sonum hunt s victims Sll1g), etc. (-slI1g serves as the compounding form of both SI 'lI1g, 'house', and
junction blood
go/jang, ' villa ge'). Since each such point represents a form of illness and
Smallpox- among caste sma llpox, ra shes, an invader rrom the plains,
Woman Hindus in the cholera; epidemic identified with Durga; death, the Sora landscape is a gigantic three-dimensional mnemonic device.
(Rllga-boj) plains di seases; co ughing smallpox speckles resemhle This functions in a manner like the aI's memoriae ('art of memory ') by which
tailor Durga's peacock
classical Greek and Roman orators memorised the points to be made in
Sorcery-Sonum one site outside acute stom ach ache; irritant and corrosive
(Tollaj-slIlI) plants and animals
their speeches by mentally walking round a landscape or building and
each village ca n serve to
precipit a te attacks by (peppers, red ants) retrieving ideas deposited there previously (Yates 1966: for an extraordi-
one or the other nary parallel as a mental 'illness', see Luria 1968). The information yielded
by this landscape is on the one hand a set of Experiences which explain
76 Dialog ues Il'ith the dead

ce rtain kind s of eve nts, on the oth er hand li s ts of nam es of peop le known to
have died in these ways a nd to have ' merged ' or ' fu sed' (II/aj- ) int o the sites
of these Ex peri ences. Sora frequently refer to th e connect ions be tween
Experience sites and person s in eve ryday conversat ion , as well as eve ry time
they perform a rite in co nn ection with a site . \
\ /

Encountering, welcoming and dismissing sonums -\ ,

\ A
While a person 's s uscept ibility to demands for fo od from an A nces to r pure
~~ / \ §Gi~
and simple is cast clea rl y in terms of kin ship and is co unte rbalanced by the / \
/ \
ima ge of nourishment , hi s susceptibility to attacks by an Experience is cas t /
largely in term s of even ts in his li fe and act io ns which brin g him within the
range of those Experie nces. These include apparentl y random co ntac ts li ke
pa ss in g nea r their reside nces or e nco unterin g one of their scouts who
'wander' (go rod-) across the terra in . Certainly , the son um 's connection llJ

with a new victim is ba sed not on any kind of kinship ri ght but on notions of
encounter or moments of heightened susceptibi li ty . But even so, each
Experience sonum contains a reshuffled selection of everybody's Ancestors
from various lineages. The ringleader (l11uda) a t least of such attacks
usually has a close kinship or other emotional connection with the current
victim while the other Experience-members are 'shadow-men-at-his-back'
(/ub -dung-marenji) who back him up and share in the spoils (if the victim
dies, these are his own soul; if he recovers , then that of the sacrificed
animal). Thus one generally communicates throughout one's life with the
same ra nge of dead people who at one moment act as one's nurturing
Ancestor, at another assa il one as representatives of an Experi ence.
The idea of encounter is linked to the way in which people move on the
landsca pe . Figure 4.3 gives the main sites connected with Experience
sonum s for Alinsing, the village ill which Menga lu and Sagalo live . It will
be seen that sites fall into three types, which I ha ve called residences (the
inhabi ted 'houses' or 'villages ' [s/'/Ilg) of the Experiences, marked on the
map by squares); outposts (triangles); and sacrificial sites (circles) . Most of
these are referred to by their place names. Thus Sindiul, 'Sweet Man go ' , is
the name ofa location , in which there is a spring of the same name, in which
there is the residence of an Earth-Sonum, called in full Sindiul-a-Labo-slIl1,
'Sweet-Mango Earth-Sonum'; similarly, Sangkaroren (etymology uncer-
tain) is a place in which happen to be located side-by-side two different
residences . There is a spring containing an Earth-Sonum (called Sang-
karOl'en Earth-Sonum) and on the nearby path is the residential site of the
Ra'tud-Sonum for the entire village of Alinsing .
Residences, as we have seen, store the Experience's victims and in so
doing harbour the potential for further recruitment. Susceptibility to an
78 Dialog lles IPith the dead Illt erpretillg and persuadillg the dead 79

Experience ari ses from a combination of predi sposition and 'encountering' of domes tic space just pa st the crema ti o n sites a nd ston e- pla ntin g sites (cf.
(olong- ). Direct contact with the site ma y precipitate an attack. But this is fi gure 4.3). Ex peri ences are thu s gene ra ll y fed a t a site leadin g from the
not the only possible means, since members of the Experience use th e site as villa ge directl y toward s their res idence. T here is a cl ear se nse here of
a base from which they move out to seek new recruits among relatives and returning the illness to its point o f ori gin . So me of their sub ordin a te
fri end s. Different categories of reside ntial Ex perience mayor ma y not have as pects, whi ch will be d iscussed in the nex t sec tion und er the la bel of
outposts to ass ist them in this. Son urn s do not actually resid e at outposts,
but outposts are linked in various ways to a reside nce and recruit victim s on 5 A divining a nd healing shalllan ba ni shes Ra'(ud-S onulll alo ng (he pa th
its behalf. As an example , let us look at Ra ' tud -Sonum (Ra'tud -s lm) , oneof leading ou( or (he village . The use or rra ngipan flowers and ban a na lea ves is
whose conspicuou s properties is to a ttack people on paths. Every village distinctive (0 this sonulll .
has one Ra'tud -House at an important path -junction and a number of
outposts on othe r paths all around , which are frequented by its members
(the ' Ra ' tud -people ', Ra 'tud-lIIarallji) . These outposts act ra ther like
booby-traps, a nd to succumb fatally to any of them will lead to residence at
the main site . There is no separate term for outposts but in some cases they
are called 'Police Station' , tana, because they are used to 'seize' or ' arrest'
(i1am -) passers-by . .
Encountering goes beyond fixed outposts and includes mobile patrols
and other agents. Ra'tud-People wander continually along paths and may
be encountered on anyone of these; Leopard-Sonum may use actual
leopards to attack one; and so on. The idea of encounter shades into ideas
of actions and forms of behaviour which attract the attentions of an
Experience. Smallpox (Ruga-boj, 'Speckle-Woman') is a caste-Hindu
sonum of the plains, identified by the Sora with Durga, and is attracted by
the wearing of flowers or brightly coloured clothes, which is not normal
Sora taste . Excreting near the spring of an Earth -House will offend the
sonum's sense of cleanliness and cause blockage or swelling of one's
excretory passage. Uttering the name of an Experience in vain is to invite
trouble - though everyone does so constantly since 'Leopard' and 'Ra'tud'
are among the commonest everyday swear-words: 'You Leopard -Man
(lona-mar)!' , said either affectionately or in real anger, like 'You silly
bugger!' in English; or 'Ra '- TUUUD!!', said most memorably when
someone opened the door of his house after an absence of only a few hours
to find a huge , heaving termite hill growing through the middle of his floor.
Sacrificial sites are referred to as ' where we do the rite (lVante p trtebe), to
heal a patient of such-and-such a sonum . These are the points at which the
living aim to head off an encounter. Here, sonums are fed with alcohol and
an animal's soul, but only in order to be dismissed . While residences and
outposts are spread across the landscape at some distance from the village,
that is in fully wild space, sacrificial sites are mostly strung out along the
paths leading out of the village, taking over at roughly the outermost edge
80 Dialogues Ivith the dead Interpreting and persl/ading the dead 81

'sub-Experiences', have no residential sites of their own and are fed at the afterwards, taking mea t home , or even looking bac kwards. But otherwise
edge of the villa ge at sites which seem to have no inherent significance but the mea l is a leisurely picnic and meat is taken back for those who did not
which are simply distinct from each other. The point here is to banish the attend .
sub-Experience from the villa ge to Ex perience space. This is part of the
process by which the Sora continually try to hold apart the Ancestor and From medical history to biography
Experience aspects of their dead , by 'inducting' (al1l -gclI1-, '[causative It should not be thought from aU this that the Sora rega rd their land scape
particle) -enter') the former into the house and ' banishin g' (al1l -dllng-, or live their lives in ex treme fear. They go everywhere constantly, walking,
'[causative particle) -leave') the latter by leading it out of the house. sitting, laughing, drinking, much as people elsewhere will have a picnic
As well as the person of the pa tient , the space which is protected is tha t of within inches of the lorry lane of a motorway or a hi gh-tension cable. But
the house. In one sense, each direct Ancestor was formally inducted at his an encounter should be seen as something much more than the equivalent
or her stone-planting and indeed has a right of overlordship in the house. In of stumbling on an uninsulated electric cable or a dump of poisonou s
another se nse , the Ancestor was passed through the stone into the chemical waste. An Experience attacks someone throu gh the personal
Underworld and so does not so much reside in the house, as repeatedly rela tionship which exists between them. Even the most everyday affliction
re-enter it on various occasions. Even here, the Ancestor's direct presence is therefore never an accident, with the English word's connotation of
makes the living uneasy and they hasten to restrict his movement. At the randomness. There is no discussion of symptoms in illness or death ,
annual harvest-commemoration and at other seasonal rites, Ancestors are without discussion of the motivation of members of an Experience which
invited in for the festival and sent back afterwards through the mortar to can be linked to those symptoms. Conversely, illness is one side of a coin
the Underworld . On other occasions, Ancestors may enter a house or stamped on the other side with the positive relationship of Ancestor to
follow someone home demanding food by causing a fever. The residents descendant. The landscape is one, not of fear, but of a keen awareness of
feed them inside the house with a chicken and then similarly send them mutual dependence.
back. Sometimes an Ancestor is fed in the house and is then given a closed The scope of the Experiences' action on the living is therefore more
pot hung on the wall for months or years where he is fed with the soul of far-reaching than that of mere symptoms, in a narrow 'medical' sense. The
some grain which is put inside the pot and changed from time to time. He Sora live hard. Illness and sudden death are a constant element in Sora life.
may also be given a small wall-painting. Thus though in one sense it owns External medical facilities are scarce and are used erratically and uncolll-
the house, under no circumstances is any sonum, even an Ancestor, left prehendingly. Infant mortality is high: many women have given birth
there at large. Hit is there at all, it will make itself known in a way which will about ten times and lost half of these children. I rarely met anyone who had
force the household to take action. They will then either make it go away, lived beyond fifty-five or at the most sixty (so far as I could judge by
close it up in a pot, or frame it inside a wall-painting. working through genealogies , since no-one knows their age); and I have
In their Experience aspect, of course, the dead are not invited into the often seen even robust teenagers and young adults collapse unexpectedly
house at all, but it is known that they have entered or followed someone and die within hours . Virtually all Sora appear to suffer frolll all of the
home when they are diagnosed in illness. They are then dismissed in a following endemic conditions (in medical categories): hookworm with
healing (pnplr) , in this context called a banishing rite (am -rlung-plr , anaemia, roundworm , viral hepatitis, ringworm, amoebic dysentery ,
'[causative particle) -Ieave-rite'). When the dead come like this as members bacillary dysentery , vivax malaria , falciparum malaria (sometimes with
of an Experience, they are initially gathered up inside the house with an blackwater fever) and tuberculosis: while wounds , received from working
invocatory chant and usually some alcohol, raw grain and the live animal. with axes and knives in the forest and from walking barefoot over thorns
The participants then lead the sonum along with the materials out of the and sharp stones, sometimes turn septic. Fevers are frequent and people of
house to the sacrificial site where they will perform the main chants and kill , all ages may continue to work strenuously and cheerfully in a state in which
cook and eat the animal. The dismissal of the sonum is contained in the most of today's Westerners (and middle-class Indians) would not even
words and actions of the rite. In the case of highly contagious Experiences , attempt to sit up in bed. 2
such as Leopard or Convulsion, there are taboos about lingering at the site Most people carry most of these 'diseases' in their bodies most of the
82 Dialog ues ll'ith the dead Int erpretillg alld perslladillg the dead 83

time. Yet they are ' ill ' only sometimes. T he role of perception and a lso within the constitut ion of the Experiences them se lves. These Experien-
interpretation is clea rly crucia l. In interpretin g illness and death, Sora ces are ultimately flexible enough so that between them they stand for a ll
thinking balances the se nsation s and mood s which we might ca ll symptoms possible kinds of symptoms, signs and omens in death, as we ll as for
against an exp lanatory framework which states that they are caused by the complicated and conflict in g interpretations of motive in terms of personal
son um s of the dead, who ha ve them selves suffered from similar cond iti ons. relation s. Such a sma ll set of resid ential Expe riences do not do this as
In every case, not only shou ld the phenomenology of the illness be monolithic categor ies, but mould themselves to the particulars of lived
accounted for , it should also be convincin gly united with a motive ba sed on experience through their command of subordinate levels of meanin g which
personal relations between the present sufferer and a predecessor who is match these particulars more closely. Each Experience contains a number
now causin g this experience. of distinct ca usa l powers or agents. People see these as elements which on
The process of tracing this link is comp lex and can sometimes seem their own command only the specific symptoms or states which they ca use,
tortuous. Detailed case-stud ies of this during inquests will be given in but which combine with each other (and with the total li st of known
chapters 5 and 8; but meanwhile I shall give some simple examp les of this victim s) to form the total cha ra cter of the superordinate Experience.
kind of rea soning here: For example , it will be remembered from chapter 3 that Sun -Sonum is
- Shortly after an eld erly woman has died with Eart h-Sonum symptoms, primarily a female who commands the technique of the blacksmith in order
her devoted husband also dies in a similar way. She took him out of love to forge embryos out of molten metal. As such , however, the Sun is
to join her because she was lonely without him . composed of several elements. Some of these are male, some female , some
of indeterminate sex, and various relationships between them are brought
- A man falls ill with Ra'tud symptoms. His dead father, who himse lf
to the fore in different rites and myths. Some of the most important aspects
died ofRa'tud, says that as a sonum he met his son on the path yesterday
and asked for some of the wine he was carrying, but was refused. He has
caused the illness as a punishment. The so n promises not to think mean Uyung-boj 'Sun-Woman '
and greedy (ranglw) thoughts next time he is carrying a pot of wine, The dominant aspect; in all ways she determines the actual formation of
makes the appropriate Ra 'tud sacrifice to his father and his Ra'tud the baby, while the other aspects are her 'em issaries' (pisirian) or 'bonded
cronies, and recovers . labourers' (kambari).

- A boy and girl were in love, but her brother was jealous and made her Mo'mo'-yung 'Dumb-Sun'
life wretched, so she hanged herself. At her stone-planting, she asked A male, imbecile blacksmith who simply hammers embryos under her
who was drumming so beautifully in the background. It was her lover, so direction and has no initiative of his own; he announces his presence
she called him to drink wine from the gourd from which she - in the body during a trance by grunting inarticulately.
of the shaman - had just been drinking, saying ' I loved you desperately Duri-sll11 'Lumbago-Son um'
while I was alive, but now this is the only way I can occasionally be with Identified when Sun-Woman uses Dumb-Sun to strike a person on the
you.' Shortly afterwards , the boy went out and hanged himself. She had loins with his hammer to cause back pains (see case-study in Chapter 7).
taken him into the Sun, by the contagion of suicide which was in the
drink. Lur~jadan 'Python-Snake'
The Sun and Moon were brothers ('Sun-Sonum', Uyung-slll1 and
How is it that the seven categories of landscape-based Experiences 'Moo n-Sonum ', Anggaj-slll1). But the Sun's hot little children filled the
(figure 4.2), some of them referring to specific and even rare forms of dea th, sky and scorched the earth. To help humans, the Moon hid his own
are able between them to yield a convincing interpretation for every illness children (the stars) in a chest and rubbed his mouth with the red gum of
which occurs? The answer lies partly in the fact that a full interpretation the ame tree. Then he told the Sun that he had swallowed his own
must enrich mere phenomenology with conscious motivation. But it lies children and urged the Sun to do likewise. When the Sun had swallowed
84 Dialogues Ivith the dead Int erpreting and persuading the dead 85

all the baby Sun s, the Moon released the sta rs again. F uriou s at having In this li g ht the residential Expe ri ences appear as hi ghl y simplified a nd
been tricked , the Sun periodically send s a python to pursue and swa llow co nde nsed summari es: simplilled in the sense of carryin g out a concept ua l
the Moon. This ca uses eclipses, but also menstrual disorders and red uction of their primary perceptual data of sym ptom s, signs and moods ;
miscarriages, in which the foetu s is similarly 'swa llowed ' by thi s python. condensed , in ' that in order to act they must ge nera lly unpack their
compressed latent properties and set one specific aspect of these to work.
I shall call these subordinate ca tegor ies of the Experiences their The sub-Ex peri ences are not themselves summaries but co nstituen t
sub-Experiences . The sub-Experiences do not contain any dead people, but elements of tho se summaries, who se re la tionships are conceptua li sed in
are merely aspects of the superordinate Experiences which do. Appendix I te rms of ba sic human social relation ships: myth and kinship (the Sun a nd
gives a li st of all the so nums I saw people dealin g with in Alinsing (many Moon were brothe rs) and ro ya l or burea ucratic authority (Sun-Woman's
more such so num s can be found in other villages and in the writings of command over her slave Dumb-S un and her agent Python -Snake).
Elwin and Sitapati). It will be seen there that there are over one hundred of Why then does a particular dead perso n affect a particular livin g person,
these sub-Experiences and that I have bee n able to fit almost all of these on a particular occasion and in a particular form? An answer to thi s
easily under the seven superordinate headings of the Experiences. On the question will emerge gradually as this book proceeds. Though the a rena of
one hand, sub-Experiences correspond fairly directly to a medical or quasi- sonUl11S includes wha t one might ca ll medical diagnosis, their interpreta tive
medical symptom or other equivalent sign of their activity. On the other, power reaches far beyond what this would imply. This is nicely illustrated
the association of each sub-Experience with one or other of the residential by Rumble-Tummy-Sonum (Kurkur-pung-slIl1), a minor condition caused
Experiences, which is explicitly recognised by the Sora, is based on a by Leopard-Sonum (Kll1a-slIl1) .
continuity of imagery between these two levels. The Sun's overall imagery Following my terminology above for sonum sites, we can say that
of heat, redness and the processes inside the womb leads through the Leopard -So num is a residential Experience, composed of several subordi-
blacksmith's hammer to the pains of lumbago, and through red tree-sap nate, non -residential sub-Experiences. It has one residence outside each
and eclipses to menstrual disorders and miscarriages. Another aspect of the village, plus several more outposts and sacrificial sites, all located at termite
Sun, for instance, focusses on leprosy and lesions as a kind of burn hills . As a cause of death it can attack directly by sending an actual leopard
(Madu-slI11, 'Leprosy-Sonum'). Thus every superordinate Experience has a against one (an agent or mobile patrol) . Omens presaging this involve
cluster of properties, each of which is taken up in a narrower, more specific clawing or nibbling sensations and include finding one's clothes eaten by
way by one of its various sub-Experiences. So each one of these constituent termites . Another sign is finding oneself in a sudden silence in the midday
sub-Experiences expresses only a small part of the Experience's full nature heat in the tniddle of the jungle, surrounded by biting gnats. Leopard-
and mobilises only a small part of its entire armoury. Sonum's sub-Experiences draw on specific narrower aspects of the totality
The sub-Experiences thus face Janus-like in two directions. With one of leopardhood . Prickling sensations on the skin may be caused by Bena ,
face they point towards the relatively abstract residential Experiences from the original mythical human leopard-victim. He is associated with
which they derive their potential to act and to the identity of which they in Grandfather-Man (lojo-mar), a person who is very aged and therefore
turn contribute. With the other face they point towards the physical signs causes blindness. This is like the blindness of the panic one experiences on
and symptoms in the realm of perception which they are deemed to cause. It suddenly coming face to face with a leopard . Rumble-Tummy-Sonum is
is their relative descriptive accuracy at this level which gives them the agent responsible when one's tummy rumbles like a leopard 's growl.
verisimilitude, while the continuity of imagery with the residential catego- Healings for these Leopard sub-Experiences involve chanting the names of
ries allows this conviction to be carried over to the realm of motiva tion all known victims of the village's local Leopard residence. The sacrifice is
among the Experience's dead residents. Sub-Experiences do not have the generally performed not at the site of this residence itself but at a sacrificial
degree of complexity which would warrant their own space to store dead site which is usually a termite hill, in accordance with the imagery of
victims. The perpetuation of sub-Experiences across time comes not from nibbling. The shaman also uses a grass which resembles the leopard's furry
having people as their carriers but only from the dependence of each one on tail, as well as other objects, tunes and words which reinforce the Leopard
a larger, more complex category which does do this. theme by contrast with those used for the other residential Experiences, at
- "

86 Dialog ues Ivith th e dead illterpre tillg and pers/lading th e dead 37

the same time as und erlinin g the narrower di stinction s between th e various step toward s the la tter's own death. Ka ntino should avoid an esca la tion o f
named Leopa rd sub-Experiences. The deceased Leopard -victim who is hi s relation ship with hi s fath e r within the leopa rd idiom. A hea ling sacrifice
interested in you can thu s choose from a range of ways of impinging upon is a way of acknowled ging this analogy a t the same tim e as resistin g its full
you , as is clear from the following (text 4.1): con summation', which would be for K antino to be killed by a leopard in hi s
tu rn. The hea lin g rite a ims to sa ti sfy the sonum within th e terms of the
Text 4.i HO lv Kantino 's father was killed by a leopard symptoms and so restore the relationship to one simply of Ancestor a nd
Kantino is speaking to me as we walk along: descenda n t.
My father was leoparded (kill ale) just alon g thi s path ... There were seve n men, it
Thi s is of course not to deny tha t people experience condition s so painful
was getting dark , towa rd s evening. My fath er was th e second in the file, be hind or debilita ting that they cannot be ignored . C rippling illness or sudden
anoth er man. Thi s man came weeping to wh e re we were, calling ' Kantino!'
- ' Hoi!' r said. 6 A divining and healing shama n in tra nce, acting in the persona of DlIl'i- SIIII

- 'A leopard has tak en your father ', he sa id , ' at Sargiaringen [,Wind -in- (Lumba go-Sonum).
the-Sal-Trees ', a hillside); we went huntin g a monkey up there .'

Another man breaks in , pointing to another hill :

My aunt was leoparded just over there, on that slope .

Kantino continues:
I went to the police station and gave a report. Later r found his legs and head and
cremated them .

Though his father has received a funeral (a specially complicated one, as

befits a Leopard-victim) and become an Ancestor, nevertheless he may still
send a leopard to attack Kantino. But even short of this, Kantino is liable
to the effects of Rumble-Tummy-Sonum:
rfmy tummy rumbles r say 'Leopard-Sonum is stroking (SI/1'1-) me, it's my father.'
[At such moments) he's residing where he was leoparded [i.e. in Leopard-House in
the jungle) and hasn't merged (lI1aj-) with the Ancestors. No, I'm not frightened , but
I feel sad, because he hasn' t become (gadil-) an Ancestor.

Despite its often close reference to symptoms, then, a sub-Experience is

much more than a label for a medical condition. Even such a trivial
symptom as a rumbling tummy may be a reminder of a relationship
between the patient and an earlier leopard-victim. Perhaps it should be seen
as a label for a wider psychic condition and we should say that it is the
sonum which helps to define, clarify or articulate the symptom. Everyone
sometimes has tummy-rumbles, but only for Kantino and others in a
similar position are they a phenomenon which is likely to be noticed and
responded to as a sonum (and perhaps even for him, not on every
occasion). In giving Kantino a tummy-rumble, his father is setting up or
confirming an analogy between them. A minor condition like this is a
tentative advance by a dead person towards the victim, the first potential
88 Dialogues 1I'ith the dead Int erpreting and persuading the dead 89

death may strike at any time. But many conditions are chronic, flaring up at kUf{lS11l1 plrtai, 'I pi 1'- Leopard -Sonum' , in the active, said by the shaman; or
some times and lying dormant at others; and people 's tolerance also seems lonaSl111 plrtellai, 'I get som eone to plr- Leopard -Sonum for me', in the
to vary. On mornings during some slack seasons for work , when the climate middle, sa id by Ka ntino when heca lls a sham an (for the gramm a r of verbs,
and diet are good , life is easy and there is pl enty of time to chat, processions see chapter 8) . This suggests that the mea ning of plr- also includes a sense of
of families from all over the village converge on the string of dismi ssal sites 'acknowledging' , and that of the noun pnplr is not only a ' hea ling' but also
along the main path leadin g out of Alinsing. There, independently of each an 'ac knowledgement' . This accords with a stron g imagery of feeding and
other but within earshot, their shamans chant over them the different nourishin g sonums, expressed by words like posi- and 10- which are also
signature tunes of various sub-Experiences . But waiting for the monsoon in used of feedin g domestic pets (and , dispara gingly , uxorilocal husbands). I
the sweltering heat of May and June , just as the thirst-quenching and shall from time to time remind the reader that the So ra word for 'healing'
nourishing wine-trees begin to fail , people must hack down tangled the patient also implies 'acknowledging' the claims of the perso n who is
vegetation, burn branches, hoe and sow the hillsides from dawn till causing the illness.) Thi s is desirable in order to help to shift our attention
nightfall. My impression then was that people were exhausted and I was away from our own dominant medical idiom. Sora practice is not an
often very alarmed at the poor health of people close to me as they were laid inadequate form of medicine, nor is it some sort of pre-medicine which ha s
low with repeated attacks of malaria and dysentery. Yet few healings were not yet succeeded in becoming fully medicalised or scientised. Its premises
held: people were too busy, either to consider themselves ill or else to follow and aims are different. Each illness is a reminder of a relationship and each
this through with a healing. is temporarily satisfied, or blocked off, by the performance of an
A condition in an Experience mode is thus not simply an 'illness' but also acknowledgement which addresses itself to that relationship. A person's
a mood: it is a reminder from someone one has known, made at a moment involvement with sonums is not merely a medical history because it is a
when one is disposed to acknowledge it. A person will be subject constantly developing exploration of aspects and possibilities in his own
throughout his life to more or less forceful reminders from the many people life. His person is defined largely in terms of other persons, just as,
w~om he h.as known and who are now dead. He will experience many circularly, they are defined in terms of others including him. Through
mmor b.odlly disorders for which he does not bother to seek any acting these relationships out in dialogue he develops parts of his own
explanatIOn. But those for which he does seek an explanation form a personality, seen as the potential for experience and action. His 'medical
history of these relationships and their shifting moods . In some cases the history' is thus at the same time a measure of his genealogical status (for
patient will have a predisposition, like Kantino's for forms of Leopard- example, a woman's Ancestors would be 'ashamed' to attack her husband
Sonum, based on inheritance, kinship, emotion, physical weakness, etc. In since he has not incorporated them into his own Ancestors) and a reflection
other cases he will unintentionally set up a rela tionship, e.g. by trespassing of his shifting emotional states. Indeed, it may be called the core of his
near the site ofa sonum. All of these are constant potentials, each of which biography. Within this mosaic of relationships, however, it is the relation-
may. only occasionally be actualised. Most are shrugged off after a healing ship which brings about that person's death which will come to dominate
sacrIfice; some are memorable as a serious crisis survived (as Doimani told all others as a final assessment of his life. The process by which this
me a bout a serious illness in her teens, soon after both her parents had died : assessment is reached will be analysed in detail in the following chapter,
'My soul resisted - No!, I said, Don't take me! [purada-i1en asarre - aii11 when Jamano finally succumbs to his ill-health, dies, and is interrogated at
agamlai. pangdonging.1'); and others, Jjke Jamano's illness in chapter 5, his inquest about the causes of his death.
become part of a long-running saga of chronic ill-health leading ultima tely
to death . Speaking for oneself: formal debates and ordinary conversations
Thus the thrust of the Sora word plrplr, a healing rite, does not seem to lie The mutual involvement of Sora persons clearly has a more intense
only in the notion of healing the patient. Certainly, the patient and his theoretical basis than anything most readers are used to. This involvement
supporters hope that the undesirable condition will cease as a direct result is especially evident in the sense of a person's mortality and the interplay of
of the rite, and often urge the sonums to make the patient well again (text the living and the dead. The concept of 'acknowledging' implies use of the
7.1). But the object of its verb, plr-, is not the patient but the sonum itself: discursive medium of language. Language is of course not the only medium
90 Dialogues Illith the dead interpreting and persuading the dead 91

through whjch Sora people exp ress and exp lore their involvement with public affa irs: 'If you put the word s into his mo uth if yo u pour the word s
their dead. T hey use their bod ies in ma ny ways to acknow ledge , reflect or in to his mouth , he won't be fri ghtened he wo n' t be nervous', and himself
resist thi s involvement as they dance, weep or la ugh. A sick person 's body, boasts about hi s own record while a live: 'The Po lice Officer-in-C harge may
lik e his so ul , is represented by th at of an an ima l which is then separated come the Inspector may come, important men may come bi g shots may
from hjm when it is sacrificed. From th e stone-pl a ntin g onward s, as the come ... my fa ce is as good as his my visage is as good as hi s, even though he
deceased begin s hi s long journey towa rd s a partial triumph over hi s death , knows G overnment language Oriya lang uage' (chapter 5, lines 155-6).
the li ving accompany every stage of hi s funeral with a vigoro us stamping Verse (which is a lways sung or chanted) is composed entirely of such
dance, with its mixed con notation s of war dance, sexua l interco urse and doublets, as in the invocation sung by the shaman in cha pter I (text 1. 2):
regrowth . On these occasions, men, women and older children dance with
babies and toddlers tied in slin gs on their hips . With their little faces pressed cla sping hand s, grandmothers ...
sid eways against the older person's bare flesh as they are jigged up a nd clasping feet , grandmothers ...
down , thi s must be one of the most vivid early memories of every Sora your monkey's four-footed walk , grandmother
person . Ancestor-Women a nd Ancestor-Men , and shamans in trance, are yo ur ape 's four-footed walk , grandmother
even more involved with the dead . Each time they perform , they ' beco me'
the dead and sha re their sensu a I depriva tion by fasting a nd avoiding sex The use of doublets here goes beyond a conversational device and a mounts
beforehand. If they do not do this they risk being trapped , una ble to return to a total technique. ' Hands' is paired with ' feet' , 'monkey' with 'ape', a nd
from the Underworld. so on. 5 Though at first sight such juxtaposition s seem to enrich their
But language has a special place as a medium which can be allusive a nd images, on closer examination it can be seen that they constrict the
discursive, synthetic and analytic. When one party to any relationship dies, semantic field and the scope of implicit reference of each of their elements
it is their conversation which is isolated from the tangle of their various and their potential to combine in other, less predictable ways. Finishing-off
interpersonal contacts and developed over the years which follow. But this speech bundles together everything it touches . In verse, there is not a single
conversation does not simply take place, casually, like any other. It is set word which is not contained within a parallel phrase or clause, while in
within a framework of rites performed by an array of specialists in highly ordinary speech these pairings form only small nuggets within a flow of
formalised verse. Before presenting the dialogue in the next chapter, I language which has a looser, more flexible overall texture.
should like to guide the reader's understa ndin g of it by contrasting it with The second property of verse is the way it is used in long stanzas to
two significant properties of the verse which surrounds it. For each of these summarise the positions of various persons in opposed or complementary
properties, I shall argue that verse conventionalises the situation of the roles. Dialogues are often antagonistic and their subject matter is often
moment by emphasising what it ha s in common with other, similar judicial. Later chapters will show how among other things they serve to
occasions in the past; while the prose of conversation allows speakers to resolve certain kinds of what one might call legal di sputes, for example over
dwell on what is unique. inheritance. At tense moments when speakers are particularly anxious to
The first property of verse is that it ca rries to its extreme a pervasive impose their point of view, the dialogues can turn briefly into simultaneous
tendency in all Sora speech, a tendency to speak in grammatica lly parallel monologues in which people talk past each other (e.g. chapter 7, lines 171
phrases or doublets: edate-gudate, ' he weeps he wails'. Sora call these and 285-6).
doublets takud-ber, 'finishing-off speech' and they can encompass either At the stone-planting and the kalj a, the ordinary dialogue betwee n living
single words or lengthy phrases.4 The reader will notice numerous examples and dead laymen in everyday langua ge is paralleled by an exchange in verse
of doublets in the conversations in later chapters, though these a re not easy sung by specialists. The Ancestor-Men form into two teams. For several
to translate elegantly. 'Leave abandon that house that home,' says a hours they mime, dance and sing a song which is called both kata, 'myth',
woman to Sagalo's wife who is in the wrong place among the dead , ' that 'story' or ' pa ntomime' and rudi, 'debate' or 'a rgument' . One team
place that location, that seat that site, leave it abandon it' (chapter 7, line impersonates the deceased while the other impersonates a succession of the
286). 1amano is urged after his death to strengthen his so n's forcefulness in main living mourners who are also present in person nearby. They then sing
92 Dialog ues Il'ilh Ihe dead Inl e/'p/'eling and pe/'sllading Ihe dead 93

their way through a series of exchanges between, say, a dead woman and comp ro mi se or resolution and it s psychological impli cat io ns are much
her husband and the dead woman and her children; or else between a dead more far-reaching . The relationship between sung exchange and spoken
child and its mother, its father a nd its siblin gs. These exchanges resemble dialogue can be illu strated from one typical occas ion . The team of
not so much dialogues as lengthy speeches made by each sid e in turn. Ancestor-Men representing the dead man at l'li s funeral were singin g to the
Rlidi is a lso the usual word for an argument among the livin g. It is a team representing his widow. For a lon g time the song passed throu gh th e
judicial term which borrows its imagery from the courts in the towns and convent ional sentim ents which a recently deceased man might express
from the bisa/'a (from Oriya and ultimately Sa nskrit) , the now-defunct towards his wife. But sudden ly the singers started to comment on the
village council. For examp le, a /'udi sometimes breaks out in the street with widow's tears: how come she was crying now , when only a short time before
an allegation of theft of buffalos, money, go ld ornaments or women. her hu sband's death she had been neglecting him and her children and
Bystanders soon line up on two sides and then mak e indi gnant speeches, meet ing anot her man secre tl y in the forest?
so me times listening to each other, but often haranguing each other miiiol da btl nal1l
sangsang d([ btl n([lIl
simultaneously. A rudi , then, can be either a public slanging match between
lI/'padle Iijle a/'padle lijle
the living, or else a formalised debate between the livin g and the dead in
which what each side ha s to say is pre-empted and sung by speciali sts. In your turmeric-rubbed thigh your oil-rubbed thigh
either case, the interaction is limited by the adversa rial format of set you spread out and ga ve you opened out and gave
speeches. In the sung exchanges, the verse performances have a rhythmic At this point the widow ran away and hid , while her lover became very
and musical flow which precludes the replies or interruptions which are the angry with the singers and threatened to beat them up. 'But since it was a
essence of conversa tion , and cannot respond very directly to the contingent kala wha t could he do (do kalan asen ian lume)?'. The affair, of course, had
reactions of addressee or bystanders. In the same way, when ordinary long been an open secret. These lines were a public warning that when the
speakers become excited, their speech tends to fall into a wider pattern of song was finished and the trance began, the wife and her lover would not be
doublets which does not invite the intercalation of responses moment by able to avoid discussing their affair with the dead man himself in the
moment but serves as a verbal battering-ram. discursive, penetrating format of ordinary conversation, where no special-
While the song of the Ancestor-Men offers a debate between positions, ist could do their work for them.
dialogue between the living and the dead offers a conversation between Starting with the next chapter, we shall see how such reproaches and
persons. Stripped of the accoutrements of the law court, of the lining up of embarrassments lie at the heart of dialogues between the living and the
parties across the street, of opposed monologues, the format of an ordinary dead. The formal songs sung by the Ancestor-Men do no more than sketch
dialogue allows it to reflect the specificity of each situation. After the special in the outlines of your situation. They sing their piece without reference to
singing of the shaman's invocation and her rauda's response, after the you and then move off elsewhere; the shaman invokes her rauda and her
Ancestor-Men's sung debate, amid all these specialists' bodily techniques own persona then disappears; the rauda replies with her promise to lead on
of trance and fasting, in front of the bounded, consecrated space laid out on the dead and then her persona too disappears from the shaman's vacant
the ground for offerings, comes the essential core of the occasion. But this is body. All the supporting formal structures of verse and music are
set in a language which is utterly ordinary and even banal. In talking with withdrawn and you are finally left face to face with your sonums to speak
the dead , one speaks for oneself, in the language of one's own everyday life. with them on your own behalf. It is the stages of this encounter which we
Unless it were clear from the content or one had background information, shall witness and interpret throughout the remainder of this book .
it would be difficult from a transcript alone to know whether a given
dialogue was between the living and the dead or entirely among the living.
What marks off conversation from sung verse, then , is the fact that it is
less tightly bundled into doublets . It therefore allows a more specific and
flexible discussion and allows, even compels, living and dead laypersons to
respond to each other directly. It thus offers a deeper possibility of

A family lived in isolation in the jungle. One day the mother died a nd since
he did not understand what death wa s, the father just abandoned her
corpse. But every day when he left his children and went out to find food,
her ghost (leu/man) returned and swept the house and cooked . When the
husband came home in the evening he asked his children who had done this
work. They replied that it was their mother, but he said 'Ah children, how
can it be, don't say that, it makes me sad .' But since they insisted that this
was so , he stayed behind one day to see for himself. His wife did indeed
come a nd start to work. He was overwhelmed with joy and rushed up to her
and threw his arms around her. But as soon as he clasped her, she turned to
ashes in his embrace . Only then did he understand that he had to cremate
her and plant a stone for her .
Transcription of a dialogue from the
inquest on Jamano

The dialogues in this chapter constitute text 5.1.

Deteriorating relations between Jamano and Mengalu

This chapter will analyse the inquest held on the day after Jamano died, in
which the dead man is interrogated about the causes of his own death. The
inquest after death represents a special, more elaborate form of the
divination which seeks to find out the cause of a living person's illness . I
showed in the last chapter how the interpretation of bodily, more or less
'medical', states among the living is bound up with their thoughts and
feelings about dead people. Though many states of malaise cannot be
ignored, people also use interpretation in deciding how far they regard
themselves as ill. For example, Kantino's susceptibility to Rumble-
Tummy-Sonum is related to his readiness to ascribe meaning to his internal
rumblings . I thereFore suggested that the nature of sonums at least partly
creates the symptoms by which they make their mark. By giving form to
bodily states, sonums turn them into expressions of personal relations .
Though people may say they get better as a result ofa healing, the same
dead person is likely to attack again on another occasion anyway, or even
another dead person using the same Experience and similar symptoms. In
addition, second opinions for the 'same' condition, as well as new
diagnoses for what are perceived as new conditions, may suggest further
relationships between the patient and other dead persons. Following the
implica tions of the Soras' own vocabulary for their response to an illness, I
suggested tha t as well as 'healings' of the sick person, such ri tes should also
be understood as 'acknowledgements', since they are also a response to an
initiative originating with the dead.
We can relate this to decisive moments in a person's biography (always
remembering that the meaning of this word stretches far beyond the span of

100 Dialogues lI'illi Ill e dead Tile illquesl on jmll(lil o 101

hi s ' lifetime'). I have tried to represent a person's hi story of illness and person 's post-mortem verdic t a re therefore more fa r-reaching th a n those of
dea th in fi g ure 5. 1. The diagram is cycli ca l and fall s into three circuits: a sick a dia gnosis, since they directl y a ffect th ose left behind . T hi s verdict ca n be
(asu) perso n who recove rs quickly ret urns around circuit A to a state of comp lica ted by the elaborate socia l life which the dead lead amo ng
being ' hea lthy' (suka) ; so meo ne who is chroni ca lly ill (bill/bil1l) passes themselves, visitin g each other at their variou s residenti a l sites, havin g
ro und circ uit B, as he goes from shaman to sham a n a nd healin g to healing; a ffairs a nd marryin g each other , ge tting drunk , and gangin g up aga in st the
finally , whe n al l hea lin gs fail , everyone mu st eventually pass once around livin g. The res ult is an extremely wid e sco pe for interpretation , since in
circuit C. The two points where divination is needed correspond respect- principle, a ny person living or dea d cou ld conceivably be judged respo n-
ively to the two traditions of sham a ns ske tch ed in chapter 3: the lesser sible directly or indirectly for an y illness or dea th in a nyone known to them.
divina tion -and-healing tradition of Mascara -Eyed Ridi , and the main In practice, of course, dia gnosis is not so wide- ra ngin g and ce rta inly
funeral tradition of Pubic-Haired Sompa , which includes the inques t in this never random . In chapter 2 I introduced the rea der to Jamano , hi s son
chapter. Ranatang, his brother Uda and his more di stant lineage-brother M enga lu
Ju st as the dia gnosis of an illness chooses between a range of with whom Jam a no had a lon g- running di spute over land . Their genea logi-
sub-Experiences, so the verdict of an inquest invo lves makin g a choice of ca l relationsh ips were shown in fi gure 2.2. In February 1979 I return ed to
one among the range of residential Experiences and linking this to Alinsing valley (see figure 4.3) after nea rly two years' absence . I wa s taken
motivation among the previous victims of that Experience. But since the directly to the house of Ranatang in Tongseng, the offshoot of Alinsing
dead person will now become a causative agent for the form of his own founded on the other side of the valley by a segment of the Headman
death , the verdict tells the living not only what happened to him but also ]jneage of the main village itself. On that day, Ranatang was hosting a
what to expect from him in the future. The biographical implications of a double name-giving for two infants aged about three . One of these was hi s
own chi ld , the other the child of his unmarried sister, one of Jamano's
Figure 5.1 The cycle of illness and death as experienced in the biography of
one person . daughters who had stayed at home as described at the end of chapter 2.
I was warmly greeted by all present. Among the people who packed the
person is he a lthy (slIka)
house making preparations were Ranatang himself, a strong, handsome
possible omen or warning (a/'llbll/adel/)
and self-confident young man ; his father's brother Uda, a divination
shaman who had recently also become a funeral shaman after the death of

person is ill (am)
returns to cause
illn ess in ne w rerson
the old lady who had previously done this work; and Ranatang's father
Jamano himself, now a scrawny and very sick man, coughing frequently

divination to find identity of a ttacking so num
and with a welcoming smile which seemed already tired of this world. The
only exception to this cheerful mood wa s Mengalu, who seemed surly and

c hoice between possible Experiences and sub -Experie nces
withdrawn and very different from his ebu llient self as I remembered him
two years earlier, especia lly before I watched the death by sorcery of
leads to appropriate healinglack now le dgem e nt (plrplr) Saga lo' s little brother being laid at his door. In particular, I noted at the

time that Mengalu seemed to have yielded the role of leader of the lineage's
Ancestor-Men to Mejeru , the only other man whose knowledge of the
perso n recove rsno recovery. re mains ill.
seeks second opinion
c movements and words approached Mengalu's, a playful but modest and

all a ttempts fail. person dies
retiring man who I felt would not normally seek to lead the group. Quite
early in the proceedings, Mengalu left and crossed back to Alinsing to sing
in another rite there on behalf of his nephew Sagalo with whom he was now
sequ e nce of inqu es ts choose s
close again. Later I learned that Mengalu had not contributed grain
be twee n possible residential towards that day 's name-giving feast.
Experiences These moves by Mengalu over the name-giving in Tongseng are not to be
102 Dialog ues Il'ith th e dead The illquest 011 jmllallo 103

interpreted as a denial of his membership of th e Headman lin eage as such , 'a 'galalll(fi , buiiang tirf (I don ' t know , we're not brothers). T he word s
for he remains a devoted exponent of its id entity in rites; rather, it is a de nial 'We' re not brothe rs' a re often used a t a da ngerous point in the rela ti o nship
that he shares thi s lineage membership with Jamano and Ranatan g. The betwee n people who are ind eed brothers, a nd a re take n as pointing to
feeUn g wa s mutual , as wa s shown on a ni ght a few weeks later in A pril when thoughts of sorce ry by the ma n who sa ys it aga in st the man to whom it is
Ranatang's ten-da y-old baby died. Thi s baby had been refu sing the breast sa id . H owever, th e dea th of a new-born ba by does not provid e a fo rm a li sed
since birth and had undergone healing rites for various sonums (mo stly occa sion for the discu ss ion of cau ses, sin ce a n inques t is not performed
sub-Experiences of the Sun such as her python) whi ch attack infants. I wa s unless a child ha s bee n definitively na med a nd ca n start to spea k for itself,
sleeping in Ranatan g's house at the time . Normally when someone di es a a t around three years. Back hom e imm edi a tely a fter the cremation , while
tree is cut down as near as possible to the lineage's cremation site, which for his wife sat sile nt and empty-eyed , Ran a ta ng told me throu gh hi s tears,
the people of Tongseng is right across the valley in the main village of 'There won ' t be an inquest, we' ll neve r know which sonum took it , it ca n't
Alinsing . But on this occa sion a tree at the edge of Tongs eng itself wa s cut be helped (adsulI) .' But four months la ter, a fter hi s father' s dea th in Au gust,
down and this wa s done only by the men of Tongs eng. They then dragged it Ran a ta ng made much of M engalu 's rema rk. When M enga lu him se lf once
by the light of flaming torches alon g a twi stin g path (the 'funeral route', a rai sed th e subj ect spontaneou sly with me , he excused him self(impla usibly)
special lon g detour to confuse the ghost [Iwllllan] and prevent it from by sayin g that he had had pressin g work in hi s hill -fields that day.
finding its way home) , down over the boulders of the stream, and up again
on the other bank to the lineage's cremation site on the edge of Alinsing. I J amano's death and the first inquest at his crema tion
believe that this was calculated to exclude the main part of the lineage living It was against this background , in August 1979 , that Jamano died. Ha ving
in Alinsing, since normally as soon as the guns are fired and the women of been ill for a long time, he had passed through a succession of differin g
the bereaved household start their lament , every man who will himself be diagnoses and healings which had failed to improve his condition . I was
burned on the same site is expected to get up and join in felling the tree and absent at the time of his death and cremation, and so missed the first
building the pyre. As we stumbled across the stream-bed carrying the huge inquest the following day. This was conducted by the funeral shaman
tree and the tiny corpse, Ranatang remarked to me that it was high time Kumbri, an old woman who had married into Alinsing from another
they had their own cremation site back in Tongseng. Many people in village but was not closely connected with the Uneage of Jamano and
Tongseng repeated this sentiment, both throughout the time surrounding Mengalu. When I returned a fortnight later just in time for the stone-
the baby's death and a few months later when Jamano himself died. It was planting, I learned from gossip that the preliminary inquest had revealed
only when we reached the cremation site that we met up with the people of the cause of death as Ra'tud -Sonu.n. " .s an Experience, this wa s consistent
the main part of the lineage from AUnsing, along with the pyre-lighters with his conspicuous symptom of coughing blood , but as with any
(siga) who work for the entire village. As for Mengalu , I do not remember if Experience this left open the question of motivation. This, according to
he was there and can find no reference to it in my notes. Certainly if he had gossip, had been supplied by Mengalu ' s sorcery . 1 cannot be sure how much
not been, it would have been conspicuous. this view was articulated within the preliminary inquest which I missed ,
The following morning, when the pyre had died down , the Ancestor- conducted through the shaman Kumbri. But since the later, stone-planting
Women of the lineage cooled the soul of the dead baby by dousing the ashes inquest to be analysed below was conducted through the dead man 's
with water contributed by every household of the lineage, and as usual brother Uda , 1 suspect that the first inquest will have introduced the theme
buried them in a pit on the site of the cremation . There was no talk of of Mengalu's guilt less definitively than we shall now see it developed.
Mengalu's house having failed to contribute water, but he was conspicuous
by his absence later in the day at the abbreviated, simplified version of the SUll1l11arising th e ftrst inquest on Jamano ( lines 1- 21) :
stone-planting which is performed for unnamed babies (jumkub , 'feeding This is an extract from a conversation in which Ranatang and Uda brought
the ashes' or maybe 'eating the ashes'). me up to date on my return. The lingering uncertainty, or provisional
Mengalu was reported (by Ranatang) to have refused to lead the nature of the diagnosis at this stage, should be noted.
lineage's Ancestor-Men in their chant at the baby's funeral , with the words As elsewhere in this book, within the dialogues the names and remarks of
104 Dia/ogues Ivith the dead The iI/quest 01/ Jamal/o 105

dead speakers are in italics. Since they are son ums, raudas' names and 19. Uda: Sto ne-planting day a nd /ajab-day [a later com memo rative
remarks are a lso in italics. 1 have given eac h cha nge of speake r a lin e rite] .
number. A dash sign ifies that a speaker breaks off or is cut off, a series of 20. Ranatang : At the time of the /ajab and stone-planting we'll know.
dots that he fades away or his words are missing, inaudible or incompre- 2 1. Uda . [mutters] Sto ne-planting day ... /ajab . ..
hensible on the tape. Words in squa re brackets have been supplied by me to
Ranata ng later produced the following examp les of Mengalu 's suspi-
complete the sense .
cious and unfeeling behaviour at the time of 1amano's cremation a nd first
I. Piers: He said sorcery in the inquest? inq uest: a t the time of cutting wood for the pyre he was very slow in com ing
2. Ranatang: [in a subdued voice] ' I was ensorcelled (tol/ajil/gte)', is to join the others; while they were sta nding beside the burning pyre he
what he sa id , but whether it was really that or whether it turned to a noth er man and sa id: 'Let's go and prepare some wine' (yirai,
was a sonum [i .e. acting on its own initiative], how can we agadsa/enai) and 'seemed to be lau ghin g' (mang/e amrid) ; at the inquest, the
know? other membe rs of the lineage came and 'spoke weepingly' (eda/e %l/g/eji)
3. Piers: Who actually said that? with the dead 1amano. Though Mengalu did at first attend he did not wait
4. Rana tang: He did, the deceased - our father. to speak to the dead man but went and slept in a nea rby house 'as thou gh he
5. Piers: He said so? wasn't sorry' (a'sil/tae all1rid).
6. Ranatang: Yes. 'He ensorcelled me, long ago he ensorcelled me' , in Some of these could be interpretations of innocent behaviour by
this way .. . he hired a shaman from Tamdrana and Ranatang's overwrought imagination , while some, like going off to lie
collected his excrement, his [... ], he collected every thing - alone elsewhere, could be the product of Mengalu's own intense nervous-
better not write this down , never mind - that's what he ness. His behaviour at the best of times is histrionic and unpredictable, and
said, but was it really , or perhaps Ra'tud took him, or he clearly reinforces people's suspicions about him by doing the wrong
some sonum or other . .. thing in a crisis. Other reports were circulating about actions and words of
7. Uda: [mutters] . .. our father. Mengalu's which, if he had indeed done and said them, were extremely
8. Ranatang : .. . meaning really sorcery. foolish. Though he is just the kind of man who might take a perverse
9. Piers: Surely w, hear it in the inquest? pleasure in playing with fire in this way, the tape-recorded conversations
10. Ranatang: Yes , we hear it in the inquest, but 'Sorcery took me', he transcribed below suggest that they may equally well have been invented or
said, but did he really ensorcel him or did he really not heavily embellished. It was also being said that only a short while before
ensorcel him , how can we know? 1amano's death Mengalu had placed his hand upon 1amano's head (not a
II. Piers: That's what he said in the inquest? normal gesture) and said 'When you die J shall sing your stone-planting for
12. Ranatang : Yes, our father's words. you'; and that earlier, at some stage of the quarrel over the land , he had said
13. Uda : Not quite, it might be nis false awareness (ondrung) . .. 'I'll bind you and later in the middle of the night you'll squawk like a
14. Ranatang: [partly inaudible] . . . [So how can we be sure] who turned chicken' (rajingtall1 do tiki amen kansimen amrid tungar dina kekerblj gam/e
up? u/ete). This was taken as an unmistakeable threat of sorcery.
15. Piers: Who sat for the inquest.? ~ . More was involved, however, than personal animosity or even a dispute
16. Ranatang: Kumbri. Anyway, the one who said ' I was ensorcelled ' or over a plot of land. We have seen how three months earlier, at the baby's
rather, 'Sorcery [past tense verb, meaning unknown] me , 1 death, there had been much talk among Ranatang's people about the need
told you I died because they fixed (sabda-) me', he said; he for a separate cremation site and stone-planting site - in other words, to
didn't mention any names , but was it really sorcery or did split off from the main Headman lineage in Alinsing. 1amano's funeral
a sonum take him, how can we know [voice tails oft] ... afforded the opportunity for a first move in this direction. A strange
17. Piers: But we'll known on Thursday, he'll tell us straight on the innovative compromise was reached, which I had never seen before:
day of his stone-planting, won't he? 1amano was cremated at the usual cremation site in Alinsing and a stone
18. Ranatang: Yes. was planted at the lineage stone-planting site. But on the day of the
106 Dialogues wilh Ihe dead The inquesl 011 jmllano 107

stone-planting o nl y one of the twe nty-one buffalos given was killed there, formali sed , public laments into which women drain their griefs lo udl y for
while the other twenty were killed a nd a ll the important dancing and sun g hours on end .
dialogue (kala) took place in To ngseng round a shrine which was built in a D urin g this period I was upset and confused beca use I regarded Menga lu
field in front of Jamano's hou se. For this , a Pa no had been im ported to as a close friend 'who had so metimes spoke n to me very intimately abo ut his
make it in cement and whitewash in the sty le of the H indu plains , a nd feelin gs. But now , for a ll our old friendship , I co uld not have a ny p ro per
instea d of being buried in the cremation site, Jamano's ashes were carried conversa tion s with Menga lu . As a current house guest and junior of
across the fields a nd immured in thi s. T hi s was sa id to make him very Jamano 's who had called him 'fa ther' , I found myse lf no t on ly sacrificin g a
'di sting ui shed' (pill/eng). The new , separa ti st shrine was thus treated buffalo but a lso (a t Ranatang's insti ga tion) giving a n egg and ca nniba li sin g
exactly as if it were a stone-plantin g site - which it ma y well now beco me. Jama no 's so ul by swa llowin g it in a cake (see C hapter 9) . I was the reby
Though I did overhear some criticisms, the A ncesto r-Men of the main sha rin g, if on ly in a thea trica l and honorary se nse, with Ranatang in the
lineage in Alinsing acquiesced in this to the ex te nt of attending and sin gin g. action s ofa so n and heir. This wa s not the on ly time that my friend ship with
Menga lu 's membership of this g roup was inco nsistent. For in sta nce, a few M enga lu ca used me trouble. But as the dialogue below makes clea r, a t thi s
days before the sto ne- planting Ranatang in a ugurated the shrine in an sta ge the view held by Ranatang a nd hi s supporters had an impet us of its
idiosyncratic ex pression of grief by sacrificin g several chickens and own rega rdless of anyth ing M enga lu mi ght have been feelin g.
sprinkling th e ir blood there as a promise of the buffalos to come on the day
itself. On that occa sion , Mengalu wa s not among the Ancestor-Men who T he second inquest at Jamano's stone-planting
performed. Over the two days of the stone-planting itself, however , he wa s Among other things, this divination will confirm and amplify the verdict
back as the leader of the Ancestor-Men , though he was extremely tense. reached earlier in the first inquest, after Jamano's cremat ion. Just inside the
During the pauses in the chanting, Mengalu stood rigid and solitary, doorway of the darkened , crowded house, two shamans are sitting side by
watching the dancers going round the shrine while the other Ancestor-Men side with their legs stretched out over the mortar. Kumbri conducted the
nearby tried to act normally by drinking and joking together. earlier inquest alone but will today play only a minor role . Most of the
During the sung dialogue, as he and his co llea gues sang in Jamano 's sonums will speak through Uda , the dead man's younger brother. As the
persona , sounds of drums and oboes advance and retreat outside with groups of
in vain did I make our sering-filled [paddy field] dancers, the shamans prepare for trance. For several minutes they sing in
in vain did I make our guyulang-filled [paddy field] unison, invoking a chain of helping rauda sonums stretching back to
Pubic-Haired Sompa. Then, still in unison , their bodies lock rigid and are
[names of edible weeds]
unclenched by bystanders.
asangge IlInlai gai seringpoi ring len
asangge IlIn lai gai guyulang ring len The raudas implicale Mengalu as sorcerer (lines 22-32):
Mengalu burst into tears; and again, later, at the lines Post-mortem dialogue embodies a quest by the living for certainty from the
lips of the dead . The dead can speak to the living only after the shaman's
[do not dismiss me by saying of me] main rauda-predecessor has spoken as mistress of ceremonies and se t the
he has already become the police-like Ra'tud , tone for the conversations to follow . As former shamans, raudas suppos-
he has already become the . .. Ra'tud edly stand impartially above deception and vested interest. Hence they will
andreng de gadille lana-na Ra'lud say, 'whatever is hidden , whatever is kept silent, whatever is buried [we
andreng de gadille bilu-na Ra'lud shall reveal it]' (line 23) .
Where a serious case of sorcery is involved, those who speak may include
he had to disappear for some time to weep a lone while the song went on 110t only the dead, but also the disembodied soul (puradan) or conscious-
without him. Though men can weep quietly for those closest to them, thi s ness of the sorcerer himself. Where, as so often, sorcery accusa tions run
kind of behaviour in a man is not usual a nd is quite unlike the metrically between men who are lineage brothers and therefore participate in each
108 Dialog ues Ivilh Ihe dead Th e illquesl Oil Jallwll o 109

other's fun era ls, th ere is a stron g connection between a ttendin g the series of The ' person' who has spoken, und e r the pressure of bein g led by the
inques ts alon g with everyone else and speakin g with the dead man , and ra uda , na mes him se lf as the ma n wh o m everyone a lread y suspects. H e
demonstra tin g one's innoce nce. Thi s is supposed to be enoug h to preve nt deni es hi s g uilt , but in a fee ble way . The fa ct that he had been brought at a ll
one's own di sembodi ed soul from a ppearin g in the mouth of the shaman - is highl y incrinlina tin g, while hi s de nial is hardl y forceful eno ugh to
the only occas ion whe n a living con sciou sness ca n do thi s. On thi s occasio n, co unte rac t thi s. Indeed , give n the a uthori ty of the ra ud a , Me nga lu 's
however, M engalu was not prese nt. dil emm a a bout whe the r or no t to a tte nd see ms to ha ve no possible solution .
So me people sa y tha t even if yo u do at tend , it is still possibl e for your soul
22. Uda 's rauda: Lislen children, as/or Ih e sorcerer, 1'1/, /.1m ,firsl 0/ to speak up throu gh the sham a n. In this case you then have to fi ght it out in
al/, I m ean , I shan 'I bring Oil Ihe AnceSlors direci. public with thi s refraction of your own person a lity whi ch obstinately in sists
23. Kumbri 's raurla: No, Ihat's holl' he bOllnd him illio a Son/.ll11-HOliSe on drawing su spicion to , or even confessin g, what you have come alon g in
- inlo Ra 'Iud-Rania - deslroyed him by slilling his the flesh expressly to deny.
Ihroal , bashillg his head. Bulll'hell fIve} come and Whatever M engalu may have believed about the workin gs of thi s, he
sil , whale vel' is hidden , Ivhalever is kepi silenl, could not brin g himse lf to attend on thi s occas ion. In the same way, at the
Ivhalever is buried . . . death of little Mando ex actly two years earlie r, M e ngalu had not attend ed
24. Uda's rauda: 1'1/ bring Ihe sorcerer , children , 1'1/ make him come the inquest the following day but had sent his four wives and all their
firsl righl noll' . .. children to work in the hills for the entire day and disappeared him self too.
24a . [speech continues through Uda's mouth. A mo- By the second inquest on the dead child, on the day of the stone-plantin g
ment's silence, then a sharp intake of breath: itself, he did attend but his task had become much more difficult. It was
whispers] What? [some words inaudible] only with the dialogue at the first karja the following spring that the sense of
called me . Who am I? [pause] Mengalu . his guilt began to fade in people's gossip .
25. a woman : [gasps] Ai! It seems already inevitable that the ensuing drama should be acted out in
26. 'Mengalu': What is it? My brother - terms of the hostility between Mengalu and 1amano. But this was not
27 . Santuni: [an agitated torrent] What's the idea of ensorcell- enough for a total interpretation of Jamano's death. As explained in
ing your brother, how could you . . . chapter 4, a verdict is ultimately explained also in terms of an Experience
28 . 'Mengalu ' : [almost inaudible croak] My brother didn't give and of an Ancestor who has shared this Experience. Both of these are
me a fair share . .. only this much . .. additional to Mengalu 's involvement and we shall be able to follow the
[a hubbub of voices: only a few phrases can be speakers step by step as they esta blish connection s between the roles of
clearly made out] sorcerer and of the various dead persons with whom he ha s colluded .
29. woman : . .. a freshly cleared field . . . don't we share it
properly? Jamano arrives allrl is lesled/or a Irue slale 0/ consciousness (lin es
30. 'Mengalu': Would I strike him? It was nothing . .. don't say I 33- 64):
ensorcelled him, he just died . .. The above Lines were followed by the voice of 1amano's long-dead father,
[some more simultaneous Lines from the women] who denied having had any hand in his son's death , but suggested that
31. woman: What was it like [when you did it]? Did you go 1amano's deceased wife Onsam was implicated , a point which will be
into a sort of trance or - did you do it in the hills developed later. He was followed by Jamano himself, speaking through
or in the fields . .. you said the words ... Uda . Jamano stayed for two or three hours, during which he discussed
[drowned in a babble of voices] several topics with implica tions for the future lives of his interlocutors. But
32. Kumbri's rauda: [translation uncertain] I shall here present only the first ten minutes during which he discusses the
['Mengalu' departs suddenly before anyone can immediate causes of his death.
speak to him again). In harmony with the truthfulness of the raudas, the dead too should be
110 Dialoglles with the dead Th e inqllest on JWllano III

placed in a state of consciousness where they will speak the truth and will 40. vOIce: How do T know? We went off to work. I didn ' t stay
neither indulge in 'deceit' (bllkai or jolda , common among attackin g here so T didn ' t see you.
sOl1ums) nor , as is more usual with the recently dead , suffer from ' false 4 1. Ja/ll(f/lo: A sacrifice - S ill I({n to 's hOllse - he said he Il'as doing a
awareness' or ' lack of self-awareness' (ondrullg). Thus Jamano wi ll be told sacrifice .
to ' speak out' , oblillga (Ii nes 33, 91 , 105) and to do so 'stra ight' , rojtad (35 , 42. woman : Te ll us as a test (tung jing ) -
93) , 'honest ly' , sa 'kai (38 , 93) , 'properly' , bangsale (94) ; while possible 43. man 's voice: It's dark , how can r fasten [Jamano 's gold neckl ace
reasons for hesitation are spe lt out only in order to be dismissed: 'don ' t be round the shaman 's neck]?
afra id ' , batongdongal11 (33). In line 93 they urge him not to 'concea l' (soso -) 44. vOice: W hose house did you go to?
or 'cover up' (daltad-) the truth because he may be reluctant to st ir up 45. Jamano: Sill/an to 's hOllse .
trouble between two branches of the lineage. 46. vOIce: What happened there?
Jamal1o's response to these urgings a re not taken for granted but are 47 . voice: Did you jo in in the feast?
tested: the word for this test is tungjillg (42). From lines 38 to 64 inclu sive, 48. JWllano: No.
every remark addressed to the dead man is concerned with this: question s 49 . vOIce: Whom did you eat with then?
requiring specific answers are fired at him one after another , and hi s first , 50. Jmnallo: VIII . .. Il'ith th e shamalls.
early bid for co nfirmation and approval is cut short with a response 5 1. woman: Were there severa l of yo u?
equivalent to 'we ask the questions , not you' (39,40): they require far more 52. Jalllano: It Il'as Il'ith Betuden 0/ Asanglll.
of him before they will allow the atmosphere of interrogation to relax. At 53. woman: Who else?
line 56 he tries to expand into anecdotal detail, but they are still interested 54. Jamano: First 0/ all I l11et Kondo -
only in the question of truth, and force him to keep to the point. 55. woman: And what was he doing?
56. Jal11ano: He 'd been planting out rice ... 'Brothel" , I said, '1'111
The sOl1um of Jama no arrives. All the women immediately fill the house dy ing , I'm perishing .' . . .
with uncoordinated lamenting songs, while the men rush around to prepare 57. woman: At the time you were actually eating, who came a nd
things . As the pandemonium dies down a little, the conversation becomes joined you?
audible: 58. vOice: When he came along that evening, what was he
33. Ranata ng : [urgently] One moment you were walking around, 59 . Jal11ano : Who?
the next you were dead . Don't hesitate, don't be [A babble of voices]
afraid: speak out ... [overbearing tone] speak out! 60. Jamano: Pork/rom his saCl'(fice.
34. woman: You died alone, no wife, no daughter-in -law , no 61. voice: What sacrifice did he say he'd done?
daughter with you, you were all on your own . Tell 62. Jamano: He'd been protecting his call1e/i'om sorcery.
us how you died, how you perished. Was it your 63. vOice: Did he give you liquor?
father? Your mother? 64. Jamano : Most certainly.
35. distant voice: Were you handed over to your wife, your spouse?
Earth-Sonum Simu-Sonum? Tell us straight out The interrogation is sojienedonce autlien ticity has been established (lines
how you were handed over. 65- 104):
36. vOice: Your da ughter-in-Iaw met you. The tone of the conversation now starts to cha nge . Up till now, in their
37 . Jal11ano: Be quiet! I drank some liquor . anxiety to test the authenticity of hi s presence, Jamano's interlocutors have
38 . vOice: The time you died, whom exactly did you meet , tell been ruthlessly insisting that he should tell them facts about his last hours
us honestly? of the sort which are already known and agreed by them. The first sig n of
39. Jal11ano: I drank some liquor, isn 't that right ? softening comes at line 67, where a voice finishes off his sentence for him
11 2 Dialogues Ivith the dead The inquest on lall1ano 11 3

with a piece of information which he then echoes as hi s next remark (68) . 77. woman: [pityingly] They'd told you to sta y th e ni g ht with
They are now prepared to help him by supplyin g the answers to their own them [in the other hou se]. Had your sou l a lready
questions and he is at la st allowed to make anecdota l detours and to lead swa llowed the food [of the dead , i.e. were you
the conversat ion himself (70). So the question in line 72 echoes Jamano's already doomed , that you chose to go out a lone]?
remark, the indi sputable fact that he vomited ; as a question , it a llows him 78. lamano: 'Father, stay the night Ivith us, your brothel' probably
to repeat himse lf, which prompts further details from the audience (74, 75, Ivon 't come' - That's !Vhat they said to /IIe -
77). Where these are cast in the form ofa question, they are more rheto ri ca l 79 . woman: When yo u we nt back a lon g that path , whom did
than interrogat ive, and the tone of susp icio n in lines 38 to 64 ha s been you meet on the way? -
softened (75 , 77) . From now on , the living will begin to s upply the facts 80. lal1lano: - But I said, 'No, it doesll't maffeI', but call1l1e i{he
abnut hi s last movements, words and even feelings (87). The very same kind comes'. -
of ques tion which ea rlier had been used as a test (,Whom did you meet?', 8 1. woman : - Which of all your daughters-in-law spoke to you?
'What did you say to each other?'), ha s now become a vehicle for the living 82 . la/Jwl1o: Um .. . I l1Iet lml1pari , .. .
to tell their own versions: the questions, where they are st ill interrogative, 83. same woman: Sangganen?
tend to beco me lead in g questions . Thus the woman who speaks lines 81,83, 84. lamano: Imet Sallggan ell, I m et Yagajen, I lIIet KilldrillJi -
85 and 87 has presumably already been given a purportedly verbatil1l 85. same woman : What? Sangganen, for example, what did she say to
account by Sangganen of what Jamano had said to her just before he died, you then? Did you stop and talk?
and is determined to go over the details, with him in agreement. Where he 86. lamano: Hey children . .. [tails off inaudibly] .. .
may have been at a loss in line 86, the way in which she cuts in with line 87 87. same woman: No, this is what she said to you: ' Hey father, are you
suggests that they regard the work of the test as complete and that adequate all right?' she said .. . [and you said] ' Hey children ,
verisimilitude has been established . my heart is tearing, it's sprouting out of my chest!'
[rising babble of voices] . .. you said you took a rest
65. vOIce: Did you eat that meat? on the verandah ... [voices become louder]
66. lamano: No, I didn't eat it - 88. woman: They told you to stay the night . ..
67. vOIce : You put it away - 89. Ranatang: [breaks in impatiently and heavily] Which sonum
68. lamano : Ijust put it alVay . took you?
69 . vOice: Did you come straight back? 90. lamano: Atforning and night I used to go alollg that path. -
70 . lamano: Yes, I drank the liquor ... 'rrhe comes, make supper Why did this happen to me?
andservehim '- mybrother[i.e. Uda, through whose 91. Ranatang : Because sorcery had been worked on you . .. [by]
mouth Jamano is now speaking] had gone to pay the your brother ... [loudly]. Well , were you caught by
land-tax - I said [to the women]: 'He's very fastid- sorcery? [frantic] Speak out!
ious, he likes only the best rice. But ifhe doesn't come, 92. woman: And make sure you tell it straight.
dOIl't cook it.' That's what I said to you all. 93. woman: Because you're related , because you're brothers [i.e.
[more voices] of the same lineage] , maybe you think they'll be
71. lamano: . .. then I vomited, I vomited twice there. bea ting each other, quarrelling (rudi-) wi th each
72. woman: Was it there that you vomited blood? other after you've gone. Don ' t conceal , don't cover
73 . lamano : Yes . . . I vomited . . . it up because you're thinking that. Speak straight,
74. woman: Outside on the verandah ... speak honestly , say 'He did this to me, he did that to
75. woman: Why didn't you wake your sister when you were me. '
there? 94. woman: Speak properly, uncle ...
76. lamano : I vomited on the ground below the verandah.
114 Dialogues ll'ilh Ihe dead The inqllesl 011 Jail/OlIO I 15

95. Jallwllo: J Il'aS goillg l1Iy IIsllal 111(/)' . .. finally replaced by one of pity and compassion. Through the graphic
96. Ranatang: I'd have done any number of sacrifices for you, if ima gery of the ex peri ence of being killed by Ra 'tud-Sonum, we a lso see the
only .. . beg inning of a subtle conflation between 1amano's s upposed perception of
97. Jamano: J said [to the women] 'Gel up ' [ie. to cook for Udal· the event and that of hi s interlocutors, between the 'subjective' and
98. voices: Wine! 'object ive' perspectives. In line 56, 1amano first mentioned hi s own feelings
99. -W ine! of di stress in th e mo st un specific terms, then in line 71 , with the symptom of
100. - Bring wine! vomiting, which the leadin g question in line 72 showed to be the publicly
10 I. Balin: [a notorious previous Ra'tud victim , the cause of accepted fact that he had vOlllited blood.
many deaths , speaking through the mouth of the When the topic of sy mptom s was take n up again, in line 87 , it wa s in th e
other shaman Kumbri, who has been silent since terms with which 1amano was credited with having described hi s own inner
1amano appeared in the mouth ofUda] Alld dOli 'I go feelings. The symptoms were not referred to again in external terms , but the
sayillg il ll'OS Balill 's doillg . Lei '.I' hal'e [the wine] image wa s immediately developed in hi s own word s into the unmistakeabl e
ll'anned up/ imagery of Ra ' tud which , though experienced by him , is also accepted by
102. Jamallo: 'Oil' , Ihe)l 're prodding /lie lip Illy orse ll'ilh a goad, Oil', everyone as part of the world which they all share: sujlillgji 'they're
/IIY bod); is racked, Oil', it's learing aparl, , J said . . . prodding me' (102, 104), pada/'Ie 'is racked ' (102), 1I101lingji 'they're
my brolher .. . [drinks] - 111111 lhis lasles good . . . roasting me' (104). Lines 109 If will show tha t from now on the thread of
[babble of voices] Be quiel! .. . Be quiel! ., . [voices continuity from the objective vomiting to the subjective experiencing of
increase] Be quiel! [they die down]. They did a Ra'tud has become complete and beyond doubt: 1amano's interlocutors,
divinalion for rne. too, feel his agony to the extent of supplying gratuitous details themselves
- 'Whal lumed up? ' J asked my daughler-in-Iall'. (109 , 111 - 13).
- 'They say ii's Lumbago-Sonul11,' she said. This shared consciousness , as it may perhaps best be called, of
Lumbago my shill I'd done a Lumbago saCl'!fice only victimhood , corresponds to the dynamics of the situation . With 1amano's
recenlly, Ihey could have had Ihe leji-over b£!lfalo- death by Ra'tud, his relatives themselves become vulnerable as potential
scraps from Ihat! . .. victims of his new-found Ra'tud mode of being. Meanwhile the theme of
103. voice: Still , he said they'd do a healing for you - sorcery remains bound up with all of this, especially for Ranatang. There is
104. Jal11ano: What was the use of Lumbago? 'They've already a tension between his implicit certainty about the sorcerer's identity and his
taken me, they're already prodding lI1e, they're quest for confirmation of this certainty from his father. 1amano's dogged
already roasting /lie . . . ' refusal to be explicit (see line 16) only stokes up Ranatang's rage as his
questioning becomes increasingly frantic (91, 105, 123 , 126).

The verdict is developed in an atmosphere of shared consciousness

Some dialogue missing while tapes are changed, then a babble, from which
between victim and mou/'l1ers (lines 105-27) :
This roasting imagery , in which the victim is skewered through the anus
' like a squirrel', is conventional for Ra 'tud. 1amano's sarcastic reference to 105 . Ranatang: [Someone] in Earth-House? Our father's people?
an earlier, failed diagnosis helps to authenticate this, the true one. This Our mother's people? [suddenly flaring up] Which
verdict so far contains two elements: Ra'tud-Sonum, explaining the man destroyed you by sorcery? Where did he go to
symptoms, and Mengalu's sorcery, explaining the motive. Each of these is set it up, you speak out and I'll go and find him. Do
now progressively developed and a link, at first tenuous, is forged between you know his identity? I'll bloody well summon him
them. through a shaman!
At the same time, the interlocutors' earlier mood of interrogation is 106. woman : Once you'd gone into the house, why - ?
116 Dialogues Il'illi llie dead The illqllesl Oil JallWIlO 11 7

107. Jalllano: [didll 'I go inside , don 'I say Ihal. [sal all Ih e I'erallda: 125. Jamano: NOli' Il'li ere Il'il/ you take your ullcle [i. e. Udal, lioll'
il lI'as only laler Ilia I [ Ivelll illside ... 'Help me lI'il/ you lieal hill1?
Mandebo, lielp lIIe SUllamo, lielp me cliildrell, save 126 . Ranatang: [shrieks] . .. I'll slurp up all his blood , I'll slit hi s
me, prolecl me . .. ' throat from ear to ear ...
[co nsternation: a chorus of pitying nOI ses, many 127. woman: Are we a ll go ing to be co nsum ed by this sorcery?
voices a t once]
108. woman: We couldn't hear, we were all in our separate Extract ./i'om tlie remainder o.l tlie dialogue: tlie scope o.l tlie final verdict
houses. (lilies 154--6) :
109. woman : They [i.e. the Ra'tud -People] pounced and beat him The dialogue at an inquest does not confine itse lf to the causes of death. At
up without warning. this point the conversation moved on to a succession of topics. First,
110. woman: Why didn ' t you put up a fight , why did you offer another potential quarrel (and potential so rcery suspicion), involving
yourself to them? so meone in the room , was aired and smoothed ove r. Then Jama no dwelled
III. Bengga: Who was the main one to grab your hair, to get on for some time on his own prominent status and spent a whole hour on a
top of you? delailed tally of the money which people owed him , with the story behind
112. woman: Did they drag you offas you hugged the main pillar each loan. These debts, which will now be administered by Ranatang, were
of the house? thereby made public knowledge and accepted or disputed by his interlocu-
113. man: Which way did they take you after they wrenched tors. For example, Raduno, who did not have regular dealings with
you off the pillar? Jamano and did not attend, seemed amazed to hear from me afterwards
114. Jamano: [I was Mo'mo' Ivho dragged me off that he owed money to the dead man ; but much later he told me that he had
lIS. Ranatang: [quietly] Which Mo'mo'? since remembered an old debt of precisely the sum mentioned .
116. Jamano: [whispers] Mo'mo' from LOIver Village. [I was Finally the conversation returned to the means of Jamano's death, but
llirougli him Ihal Ihey ol'erpolI'ered me. this time focussing on the hitherto obscure role of Mo'mo', who had acted
117. woman: lt was only after they'd dragged you away that you as ringleader of the Ra'tud-People. Mengalu's sorcery and Mo'mo"s
called out for help. Ra'tud symptoms had by now both been strongly developed. But why was
118 . voice: Sunamo was the only one who heard your cry ... Mo'mo' interested in causing Jamano's death? It now turned out that he
119. Ranatang: If it's sorcery, if it's witchcraft, that explains why had acted on the instruction of Jamano's dead wife Onsam. The division of
your brother's [Uda's] throat is ill and doesn't get responsibility between these people and Mengalu is complex and throws
better however many sacrifices we do [i.e. the great light on the kind of links which the Sora make between the
contagion of sorcery is spreading]. phenomenology of illness and its interpretation in terms of human
120. Jal11ano: Bul didn'l anyone heal' when [1I'as laken o./J: Ihat's motivation . The diagnosis shou ld combine both a motive and a shared
whal ['117 asking, II'hy didn'l anyone prolecl me? experience of a form of death . Mengalu's sorcery provides the motive ,
121. Kumbri's Rauda [speaking through Kumbri]: Anyway, we broughl while Mo'mo"s role as Ra'tud ringleader explains the symptoms. However,
you Ihe sorcerer. the link between Mengalu and Mo'mo' remains unexplained. IfMo'mo ' had
122. woman : Yes , your nephew says that was the sonum respon- had his own motive for killing Jamano by means of the symptoms at his
sible. command, the case would have been a simple one. But in many cases, the
123. Ranatang: [wildly] I'll find him and I say it in front of symptoms surrounding a death do not correspond with those at the
everybody, I'll slit his throat and drink the blood! command of the dead person whom for other reasons the deceased will name
124. Bengga: Was it an Ancestor, perhaps our mother's people, as the agent of death. In such cases, as with Jamano's wife here, it emerges
perhaps our father's people [i.e. working in collab- that the person with the motive has acted through the agency of an
oration with the sorcerer]? Experience which she herself has not undergone and whose symptoms she
118 Dialogues Il'ith the dead Th e inqllest on Jallwll o I 19

there fore does not comm a nd direc tly: she 'se ll s' (tenl-) the vIc tIm to a T hen , throu gh the sorce ry motif, it reinforces Ja ma no 's claim to the
member of th e other E xpe ri ence or ' hires ' (balii-) the Ex peri ence- member di sputed la nd at Swee t M a ngo as well as the drift towa rd s a splittin g of the
to attack her intended victim. Similarly, when a death is motivated by a lin ea ge , in whi ch the c hoice of site for hi s own sto ne-pl a ntin g ha s provided
living sorcerer, he 'ensorce ll s' (abtaj-) a nd ' bind s' (jing-) the vi ctim by the occasio n for the first actua l, procedura l step . The verdic t a lso implies a ll
ma kin g a pact with a dea d person. T he latte r then acts through her own the othe r themes whi ch were a ired in the di a logue, such as Ja mano 's wea lth
Experi ence or incites som eone else a mon g the dead to do so. a nd prominence as a lea der. As he him se lf ex pressed thi s las t point:
Jama no 's case is thu s one of th e more elaborate ones , brin ging into play a
154 . Janwllo: Noll' nly children, 1/011' nl)' lillIe Olles , I've gone dOIl'n beloll',
chain of severa l links. By the end of th e afternoon the asse mbled compan y
bllt Il'ill you be able to nwtcll my/orcejitltee th nly /orce/itl
had established the followin g ex pl a nation , clarifyin g elements whic h I
IIIOllt h - i(sollleone cOllies along lI'earing a hat , lIIaybe lI'e'lI
suspect had bee n partially aired in the preliminary inquest. M e nga lu had
be ji'ightened -
obtained Jamano 's exuviae and with them performed action s and uttered
155. Santuni: If you put the word s into [Ranatan g's] mouth if you pour
word s of sorcery. These induced or encouraged Jamano 's dead wife ,
the word s into hi s mouth , he wo n' t be fri g htened he won ' t
On sam , to act. Thou gh she resides in an Earth -Sonum , her marria ge with
be nervou s.
her hu sband ha d not bee n very clo se (t//1IY//II) , so that she wa s unable to
156. Jan/(/no: I(h e II'NlrS trousers , Il'e 'lI beji'ightened,' i(he lI'ears glasses
' take' him unaided to join her. In thi s context I was told by way of contrast
[changes to fearful voice] 'Oh deal' , II'//(/t kind o( II/(/n is
about other elderly people in close marriages, especially men, who pine to
this?', Il'e 'lI be shaking Il'ith / ear. The Police Ojfleer-
death rapidly after losing a beloved spouse. This is often diagnosed at their
ill-Charge lI1ay come the Inspector l/1ay COll1e, importallt
inquests as the result of the action of the predeceased wife who is lonely in
lIIenl1lay come big shots lIIay con Ie. Ill'as neverji'ightelled:
the Underworld. So the implication of the reference to Onsam seems to be
my /ace is as good as his my visage is as good as his, el'erl
that her husband did not miss her enough , and that she found a way to force
though he knows Govel'lll1lent language Oriya language.
him to join her. To do this, she 'sold' him to Mo'mo ' , who is her lineage
There 's Government langllage, there 's SOl'([ language:
brother and thus still close to her in the Underworld . Through the
who 's to say which is high and which is low? And so should
circumstances of his own death, Mo'mo' is one of the ringleaders of
Il'e beji'ightened? I used to let Gu 'guba get on Il'ith the rites ,
Ra 'tud-Sonum. Perhaps addi tionally motiva ted (I could not be sure of this)
while J took on the responsibility o( keeping officials out, 0/
by the common tension between a woman's husband and her brother, he
warding them off: 0/1I0t alloll'illg l11y people to contract
then led his Ra ' tud companions in their fatal assault on Jamano.
debts and loans. And widowed womell unprotected 11'011len ,
The symptoms and motive for Jamano's death were thus joined in a
i(they tottered i/they slithered, they never had to say, 'Issi'
chain containing several links . The primary agent among the dead ,
why didll't y ou come to the resclle?' Hmll1m , Illhat Iwve you
Mo ' mo ', is most plausible in terms of Experience but least motivated . He is
lot got to say to that? You'd beller just keep quiet.
incited to act by Onsam , who thou gh not plausible in terms of Experience
has a t least some degree of motiva tion . Finally, the impetus ori gina tes with All in all , the dead man and his living interlocutors have worked to gether
a sorce rer , Mengalu , who since he is alive is outside the idiom of Experience to build up an intimate and subtle portrait of a personality, derived from
but whose motive is very strong indeed. The motive of the first is superseded the sum of his social interactions. Precisely because it is publicly composed ,
in explanatory power by that of the second , which in turn is superseded by this portrait reaches into the future and so serves as a vehicle for working
that of the third. out the complex Sora idea s about continuity between persons. Ranatang is
The verdict of Ra'tud -Sonum amounts to more than the mere fact of well equipped temperamentally to inherit not only Jamano's property and
Jamano's membership ofRa 'tud , which is after all a very common cause of loans, but also his role as leader and protector. In such a strong household ,
death . It takes account of many elements and amounts to a summary of his too, the sisters and daughters are likely to continue to be reluctant to leave
life and works. It acknowledges a lack of passion in his marri a ge, to the home for marriage, and will thus continue to contribute to its further
extent that his dead wife turns to her own lineage-brother for support. prosperity. Uda , in my judgement a weaker personality, will now ride on
120 Dialogues with the dead

Ranatang's back as he previously did on Jamano's , but will be a stronger

asset with his role as a funeral shaman now firmly estab li shed. He has long
practised as a divination shaman and has only recently acquired the
different set of raudas who now enable him to sit at a funeral. This is the
first time he has actually performed. Several factors suggest why he may Redeeming the dead and protecting the
have become a funeral shaman and done so at this moment. His settlement,
Tongseng, was aiming to become independent of the main village of
Alinsing and every village should have its own funeral shaman; the on ly
other funeral shaman in that settlement (an in-marrying old woman) had
died recently; and Uda was particularly concerned about the interpretation
of his brother's death , which had been expected for a lon g time.
Meanwhile, Mengalu's tragedy continues to unfold as the consequences
of an early moral error push him yet one step further a long the scapegoat's
path to perdition. When T revisited him in 1984, Mengalu was seriously ill Jamano's funeral continued: cosmic rescue by his Ancestors
and people were saying behind his back that his sorcery sonums had turned At the conclusion of the divination which took place on the day of
on him because he could not feed them with an adequate stream of victims Jamano's stone-p lanting, a verdict was reached regarding the relationship
(yil'tudle, 'the fire has turned on him '). Every time tha t Jamano is diagnosed between the deceased and the ultimate motivator of the attack, incorporat-
as the cause of a sickness among his descendants, it will be a reminder of ing on the way all those through whom this relationship was considered to
any or all of these elements of his own biography and in the biographies of pass. The terms in which the dialogue is cast have differentiated Jamano
those around him. into two aspects. In the first of these, he is a member of an Experience, in the
second, an Ancestor to the descendants who perform his funeral. He has
'become Ra'tud' (Ra'tuden gaddle) yet he remains father, grandfather,
husband or uncle to those he left behind. The former aspect is necessa rily
unpleasant for him and hostile and aggressive to us; the latter is relatively
pleasant for him and benign towards us.
What does this hard -won distinction mean for those left a live? The
present chapter will begin the examination of how his dual nature moulds
future relations between the dead man and his survivors. It will become
apparent that the long-term aim is to make him into a pure Ancestor and
thereby eliminate entirely his Experience aspect. But the reader who
remembers the discussion in chapter 4 of the mutual incompatibility of
Ancestor space and Experience space will not be surprised to be told that
this cannot be accomplished in one step.
Establishing the causes of death is only the first of several moves made
with Jamano's future condition in mind. Apart from the inquest and the
actua l planting of the stone, a number of other important acts were
performed on the day of his stone-planting. Twenty-one buffalos were
sacrificed by various lineage members and affines, an unusually large
number which reflected Jamano's importance; for severa l hours the
Ancestor-Men formed two teams and sang a kata dialogue representing

122 Dialog ues lI'illi Ill e dead Redeell/ing Ill e dead and prolecling Ill e li vil/g 123

respec tively the dea d Jamano a nd a success ion of livin g interl ocutors bein g a t the sa me time ontologica l, cosmo logica l and social. Onto logica ll y,
(chapte r 4: it wa s durin g thi s that Menga lu burst inlo tears) ; on eight from bein g a member of the Experience Ra ' tud-Sonum , he wi ll become a n
occas ion s they laid out (ol/g -) variou s meanin g-laden objects and p lants A ncesto r; cosmo logica ll y, he wi ll move from the residentia l site of
indoors over the mortar or on the gro und outs ide and subjected them to a Ra'tud -House to the Underworld. Soc ia ll y, too , he will be led from what
slo w monotone chant which I shall ca ll the ir song of redempt ion; and may be ca ll ed the anti-socie ty of hi s Ex peri ence in to the A ncestors'
finally when th e buffa los were killed ce rta in cuts were served with rice in a fellowship : ' in to our bindin g into ou r bund le' (line 13, etc .), ' in to our
feast while othe rs were exchanged o r returned to their donors to be take n ha nd -o ut into our share-out [of food]' (lin e 29). The A ncesto rs open with a
home. Desp ite the tensions amo ng the central characters, those peopl e who ra ll yin g ca ll :
were less close ly invo lved ate, drank a nd danced a lot and had a good time - I fat hers fe llow-A nces tors
as a lways a t fun e ral s. So me of them p robab ly flirted and took a step 2 [line inco mpre he nsible]
towards future mar ri ages. 3 today now
4 Sund ay Monday
For Jamano him se lf, the day was a c rucial rite of transition. Eve n whil e
5 Tuesday Friday [i .e . eve ry day]
the inquest was go ing o n in side the ho use, o lltsid e the Ancestor-Men were our lin ked bro th er
6 o ur twin brother
struggling to free him from his membe rship of Ra ' tud -Sonum. The Sora 7 our elde r b ro th e r o ur [yo un ge r] bro th er
word for this resc uin g is landi-. This is a n act ive, transitive verb and its 8 o ur born child o ur hat ched child
object is not the Experi ence Ra ' tud but the dead person. The Experiences L) o ur yo un g child o ur ... child
10 aliI' gra nd child o ur child
exist as given categories, as their mappi ng across the land sca pe shows: wha t
11 by reaching by merging
matters is where people move among them. The root l(fl/ - mean s 'change', int o o ur [g ro up]
12 into o ur co mpa ny
while the mea ning of the root di- is uncerta in ; the word l(fndi- is used in a 13 into o ur binding into o llr bundle
doublet with uJ'{/i-, in which the root ur- mea ns ' un tie '. The overall semantic 14 into o ur ... int o o ur . . .
c1ima te of the pair is thus clearly one of transfonna tion a nd relea se of the 15 into o ur . .. into o ur .. .
dead person. For reasons to be given in the co mmentary to lines 40- 6 16 come, bro ther co me, fellow
17 let us co mfort le t us esco rt
below, I sha ll translate landi- as ' redeem'.
18 le t LI S . .. let us .. .
Thi s redemption is effected by the words chanted by the Ancestor-Men in 19 we a re ri ght he re we [a re coming]
their solemn monotone. They sing in the collective person a of a ll the 20 th e wealthy Headman th e prosperous Headman
Ancestors of the entire linea ge and this is the only kind of song I have seen 21 Hea dman of many cows H eadm a n of man y bufralos
where the singers fuss about correct and careful performance. I shall give 22 Headman . .. Headman .. .
23 th e ma n fro m Udayagiri th e ma n from C ha ndra giri [migratory o ri gins o f
extracts frqm two of the eig ht such cha nts which as one of Jamano's
the lineage]
Ancestor-Men I took part in sin gin g on that day . The first (text 6. 1) is in the th e man . . .
24 th e man ...
persona of the ma le Ancestors, while the second (text 6.2) , which gives 25 we are importa nt we a re [powe rful]
some additional imagery, is in the persona of the female Ancestors. Some 26 o ur silljallg leaf o ur parlad lea f
poetic words have been left as untra nslata ble since my Sora friends 27 o ur .. . our .. .
themselves were unable to gloss them . Eve n more than with the prose texts 28 ' ... brother ... brother
29 into ollr ha nd-out into o ur sha re-o ut [i.e. of food]
in other chapters, one could here comment endless ly on obscure ima ge ry.
However, I sha ll keep comments to the minimum necessary for a Sinjang a nd pal'l ad (26), like lilin (tamarind) (63) , are some of th e ma ny
reasonable degree of comprehension in passing or in order to draw trees of the fa milies Leguminosae and Mimosaceae which have numerou s
attention to points which will be taken up elsew here. fine , pinnate leaves . A common expression in ordinary speech for 'very
man y' is ' like sil!jang leaves like parlad leaves' or ' like lilin leaves like engel'
Tex16.1 Redemplion song of Ihe Male A nceslors leaves' just as the inclusion of one of these leaves in the maleria lI1edica of
The Ancestor-Men are impersonating the lineage's Ancestors in order to sorce ry means ' may the contagion (an old) spread and destroy a ll your
effect a transformation upon Jam a no . This transformation is complex, branch down to the la st leaf'.
124 Dialog ues lvith the dead Redeellling the dead and protecting th e lil'ing 125

The assertive vigour, numerical st re ngt h and wealth (20-2) of th e The Ances tors now start to sin g of the mea ns they will e mploy to rescue
Ancestors make this text a very powerful exa mple of'performative' speech lamano. They will ransom him , or buy him back, from the Expe ri e nce . In
(Austin: 1970). The sin gers contrast this secure sense of company with this sense the red emption exp ressed by the verb tandi- exactly reverses the
lam a no 's m ea n ex iste nce among hi s fe llow Ra'tud -People, a kind of act of sellin g (i em -) which linked him to Onsam , who 'so ld ' him to the
company which leaves him still feelin g lone ly. What they are leadin g him Ra't ud - people; while its doublet Ul'di-, ' unti e', re verses the verb used of
out of is at the same time a state of so litude since in his hovel or shack Mengalu ' s sorcery: jing -, ' bind'. The translation ' redeem ' for tandi- is
(37 ff) , it wa s exp lain ed to me, he is kept in iso lation by an Obstruction- intend ed to capture not only the e leme nt of sa lvation in a theological sense
Sonum (Duba -slln) who keeps saying 'No, no , they' re not calling you yet, but a lso that of commercial tra nsaction drawn from contact with
stay he re a little longe r.' merc hants at the weekly marke ts (eve n the buffalos sacrificed to so num s
30 jal/{//n-flowe red Earth labo-flowered Earth have to be bou g ht in the markets). The coins used are round , flat seed s from
[two kind s of flowers which grow by sprillgs, plants the names of which Sora also use in 'deep- lang uage' (e .g. in front of
i.e . by Earth-Sollum sites] Pano tra d e rs who do not have a n intim a te knowledge of Sora) to mea n
31 ... so num ... so num
' money ' :
32 protruding-fanged Kidtung dowllward-curving-fa nged Kidtullg
[here as synonyms for Ra ' tud] 40 le t us co mfort let us escort
33 has snatched and eaten up has snatched and drunk up 41 we, for our part , brother we, for our part , fellow
34 our born child our hatched child 42 circular-purse money circular-purse cash
35 all speak up all speak out 43 round- seeded lamb money round-seeded lamb cash
36 our brother huddles our brother cowers 44 growing-shoot of round-seeded singkul/g growing-shoot of round-seeded
37 in a hovel in a shack laian
38 by a mean cattle-track by a sordid cattle-track 45 [line incomprehensible]
39 he huddles he cowers 46 like a banana-plant like a plantain-plant
[i.e. vigorous and robu st]
7 'Into our hand-out into our share-out' (text 6. 1, line 29): eating at a
stone-planting feast. The bowls are made of leaves stitched with splinters . The Ancestors' efficacy is derived from other idioms of power, too . They
will form a war-party , they will speak as lawyers; they are effective
whatever the victim's death-Experience:

47 let us [hold] our axes let us grab our axes

48 let us ... let us . . .
49 let us brandish our swords let us brandish our knives
50 let us speak like an advocate let us spea k for the defence
51 let us be forceful-mouthed let us be forceful-toothed
[cf Chapter 5, line 154]
52 [line incomprehensible]
53 let us lead him towards us let us bring him by the arm towards us
54 come brother come fellow

[lines 55-62 refer to conventional attributes of various Experiences :]

55 wh ether in ... whe ther in palanquin

56 whether in cement-house whether in multi-storey house
57 whether in Sorcery-House whether in Kurab-Hollse
58 whether in Sun-House whether in Moon-House
59 whether in Mane-House whe ther in Simu-Hollse

[lines 60- 2 now lise a special vocabulary specific to Ra'tud:]

126 Dialog/les IFith the dead Redeellling the dead and protecting the /il'ing 127

60 whether in Bone-sc run cber whether in Bone-grinder son g a lso co ncerns lo ngev ity of the perso n as well as cont inuity of the
61 whether in ea t-up-vict im whethe r in drink-up-victim lineage. BlItid (line 201) is a tuber with bri st ly filament roots rad iat in g out,
62 whether in police-o utp os t whether in a rres t-victim
a lso used in deep-lang uage to mean wome n's pubi c hair; riadi and p/lrp/lri
63 to our bi g lilill tree to our [sp read ing] til ill tree
64 le t us lead him towards us let us bring him by th e arm towards us (208) are two killds of branchin g gra ss v"hich fo rm mats as they spread o ut
in a circle from a centre to which th e stems remain tracea bl e. T hey have
The A ncesto rs now give an ex ha ustive li st of their own names. Each add ition a l associat ion s with prosperity because they a re nourishin g for
name gene ra Ily occurs only once and denotes the most recent bolder of th a t catt le. In the name-givin g ce remo ny (see chap ter 9) the baby is made to
na me to have died. Names are grouped by m a in branches of the lineage and walk into the hou se across the threshold while stepp in g on a tuft of riadi
within these by sma ller twi gs. Within the ima ge of lin eage so lid arity , then , grass a nd an iro n pl o ugh-tip. We sha ll pick up the text at the end of the
differing degrees of brotherhood a re ve ry acc urately reproduced and monkey sect ion :
co rrespond closely to the wayan anthropologist would write them o ul in
194 thick-sk in-b uttocked bald-butlocked
genealogica l diagrams. 195 dee p-se t-eyed one . .. -eyed o ne
65 all speak up all speak o ut 196 may we beco me one with him may we share hi s voice
66 Ru gad un g Gomang Bima Gomang 197 today no w
['GOII/lillg' used no t only, as here, for men of 198 fath e rs fe ll ow-A nces tors
' Headman' linea ge but in th e rede mpti on 199 sill/ollg wood walking-stick [i .e. a support for a very o ld
songs o f all lineages, mea nin g ' Big Man'] perso n]
67 Jota111 Gomang Sumbara Gomang 200 Iwrallg wood walking-stick
68 Kimbob Gomang La mtin g Gomang 20 I sp read ing blllid tuber
69 Gurunju Gomang Ana Gomang 202 spread ing [plant name]
70 Mu' tuku Gomang Jani Gomang 203 blind to th e dun g on the ground
71 fa th ers fellow-An ces tors [i .e. a very old perso n witb poor eyesight ,
72 brother fellow but so me peo ple say this refers to se nil e
73 Kadulang Gomang Rijoi Gomang inco ntin ence]
74 Gupeno Gomang Pengpeng Gomang 204 blind to the urine on the ground
75 Tulu gu Gomang Dokoro Gomang 205 distant desce ndant distant oft'spring
76 M uruk a Gomang Genju Gomang 206 ma y we be like thi s may we behave like thi s
77 Gunggaru Gomang Upuria Gomang ... 207 fathers fellow-Ances tors
208 spreadin g riadi grass spreadin g pllrpllri grass
The so ng continues like tbis for a total of 135 names, including the spro u ti ng-s ucke red
209 many-rooted
previous holder of the nam e 1amano who gave hi s na me to today' s dead 2 10 ma y we strike root may we [t a ke] root
man when the latter was a baby . These names are interspersed with 2 11 iron [ploughshare] iron [plough-t ip]
repetition s of ea rlie r lines. Finally, at line 183 the Ancestor-Men move into 2 12 hav ing step ped on we perch
the ima ge ry of longevity. First, they list various hillsides where monkeys At other times during the stone-planting, the Ancestor-Men sa ng the
live. Though monkeys do die, they are co nside red lon g- lived on account of same cha nt using much the sa me im age ry but in the persona of the lineage's
their wrinkled, leat hery buttock s and their white hair. Also , they a re the female Ancestors (since the functions of the Ancestor-Women do not
only animals who can become shamans and go into trance , just as human include singing, the Ancestor-Men sing also in their persona). The reader
shamans beco me mon keys when they make their descent into the realm of may remember that the living Ancestor-Women, female counterparts to
the dead . My friend Do 'do"s mother once found what looked like a dea d the men who sing here, are unmar ried sisters of the linea ge or sisters who
monkey and laid it on the veranda while she went to tell everyone what she have chosen to return after divorce or widowhood elsewhere. Their
had found for supper. When she came out it had go ne. This meant that it behaviour towards their dead linea ge- brother is tender and maternal , a nd
had not bee n dead at all, but in a shamanistic trance. The remainder of the they lament the dead man as ' my golden child my lovely child (suna on i"ien
128 Dialogues with the dead Redeeming the dead alld protecting the living 129

langa on lien)" wash the corpse in turmeric water and dress it in new clothes she can sometimes be heard rummaging around the cooking pots looking
before cremation, an echo of the cooling-rites performed by a mother on for food. Out of doors, too , her rela tives sometimes catch glimpses of her in
her equally naked new-born baby . the forest. It is their sad duty to explain to her that she no longer belongs in
her own home, or at least not in this form. Her confusion is associated by
Text 6.2 Extract./i'om the redemption song of the female Ancestors the Sora wi th the ondrung (false awareness) for which the last chapter shows
213 mothers sisters Jamano was still being tested at his stone-planting inquest.
214 baving anointed with turmeric having anointed with oil The significance of the ghost stage becomes clearer from the way a ghost
215 having spread with turmeric having covered with turmeric
interacts with the living. Ghosts have bloodshot eyes which are not at the
216 having changed his clothes having changed his garments
217 having washed his clothes having cleaned his clothes fron t bu tat the back of their heads, so tha t if you suspect tha t the person
218 a silk covering a silk [sheet] you have met is a ghost, the way to find out is to lift up their hair at the back
[a hyperbole: Soras possess only cotton and see if the real eyes are underneath . They can cause fits by 'swallowing
cloth] up' (molesid-) people, and children in particular are terrified of walking past
219 wrapping him draping him
a cremation site in the days immediately following a cremation. The fits
220 let us lead towards us let us bring by the arm towards us
221 our brother our younger-brother which a ghost causes can be treated, not through the ela bora te verbal
222 our younger-brother our elder-brother format of a healing rite, but at best only with plant medicines. A ghost is
223 [inaudible] terrifying and dangerous precisely because it is inarticulate and incapable
224 all speak up all speak out of negotiation through dialogue. Perhaps Jamano had already ceased being
225 mothers sisters a ghost when the first inquest was held the morning after he was cremated.
226 Jumboni woman I1am woman
Certainly, the inquest presupposes a high degree of articulacy, so that
227 Santuni woman Kusumai woman ...
people sometimes say that the ghost state ceases immediately on cremation
Here follows a list of 104 women's names, also arranged by branches and, and that a dead person is incorporated from that moment into the
as in line 213, with no distinction between 'mothers' and 'sisters' . Experience sonum responsible for his death. But at the first inquest there
are some indications that the deceased is in some respects still a ghost: there
To what extent has the dead man been changed on the day of his is no dancing to accompany the drumming, and when he arrives he is given
stone-planting? At first sight the answer seems paradoxical. On the one only water to drink (see chapter 8), rather than wine as befits a proper
hand, by words like these, sung throughout the day, he has been not just sonum. These uncertainties have been resolved by the day of his
redeemed, but transformed. On the other hand, as with any Sora transition, stone-planting.
much of the change which has taken place is not definitive, but reversible: So today's song is more a declara tion of intent than a fully accomplished
despite his redemption, he will continue to afflict the living with the form of action. Rather than setting the seal on his transformation, the song of
his own suffering. How is this so? We can perhaps approach this by first redemption initiates new possibilities in the evolution of the deceased and
considering another, relatively simple aspect of today's transformation, in living people's relationships with him. Ifwe consider how this had earlier
one which by now is indeed irreversible. The two stages of the inquest on worked for the dead people who caused Jamano's death, we see that they
Jamano show the importance of the verbal articulacy of the deceased. Even have long ceased to be ghosts . But despite the transformations and
on the day of the first inquest, but certainly from today, the day of the redemptions to which they were subjected at their own funerals, Onsam
stone-planting, Jamano is no longer a ghost (fatlman). The story at the head and Mo'mo' were still able and willing to use an Experience to cause
of part II says that the dead woman remained a ghost until her husband Jamano's death. This will now be equally the case with Jamano's own
understood the need for a proper funeral procedure of cremation and potential to cause illness and death in others. For all the confident and
stone-planting. But she was unable to tell him this for herself. Fresh from assertive tone of the Ancestor-Men's chant, the transition which they aim
the shock of dying, coated with ash from the pyre, a ghost does not to effect remains painfully provisional, sometimes for several years. This
understand what has happened to her and continues to return home where leaves the living constantly vulnerable. The newly-redeemed state of the
130 Dia/ogues Il'ilh Ihe dead Redeelllillg Ih e dead alld proleclillg Ih e lil'illg 131

deceased is very precarious and he often returns to his original death - chapter 5, lin e 77) and ifhe recovers he may recount his struggle to resi st the
Exper ience. T hi s is known because he is revealed in diagnoses for hi s sick temptation to eat.
descendants as having attacked them in this form . The word for doing this Such dangerous, contagious movement shou ld be prevented. So parallel
isgorod-, which is also the ordinary word for ' wander'. In the context of the to the stone-plaliting with its redemption of the deceased , a rite may be
movement of the dead between two cosmo logica l locations, the Sora performed to ' block' the Experience from perpetuating itse lf on to the
illustrate this by a smooth waving of the hand from side to side, as though living. This is not done for the majority of act ual deaths (which are ca used
the word a lso meant ' oscillate'. This is perhaps the closest So ra comes to by Ra ' tud and Eart h) but only for those which occur through an
expressing in a sin gle word the paradox of the simultaneou s existence of a Experience which is highly contagious, the insta nces of which (apart from
dead person in two incompatibl e places. In the context ofsonums, the verb the admixture of sorcery) are not numerically frequent. The word for this ,
gol'Oc/- cove rs the ent ire field of moveme nt by which so nums defy the wishes dallg-, again a spat ial word , is that co mmonly used of obstructing a path ,
of the living. One ca n say equally tha t 'Jamano wanders [between states), damming a strea m , etc. Here its gra mm at ica l object is not the deceased, as
(JaI11C/1/O gor odl e) or that 'Ra'tud-So num wanders [from one victim to th e
next]' (Ra'lud-stlll gorodl e). 8 Washing in pig's blood to block the co nt agion of an accidental death. Until
thi s is done, the entire village is at ri sk. A pig has been dragged out of th e
Let us first exa mine the latter usa ge, which shows the dynamic force of
village and eve ryone now drinks the raw blood and pours it over their bodies .
the state in which the dead person is caught up. This usage amounts to
saying that the Experience sonums are infectious or contagious, in that they
perpetuate themselves on to new victims. This is said not so much of Earth
and Ra ' tud as of the rarer or more shocking forms of death - Leopard ,
Convulsion, Sun (i.e. suicide and accidental death) , Smallpox and Sorcery
(the last one is common, though it acts in collaboration with one of the
others) . These, the more acutely contagious Experience sonums, are
capable of moving relentlessly from one member ofa family to another and
often among friends, acquaintances and lovers. The contagion 'enters'
(gclI1 -) the body of a potential victim and must be removed by a shaman.
Sometimes, though not always, it takes what one might call a material or
quasi-material form (anoki). For example, for Leopard and Sorcery, this is
usually a black hairy caterpillar which people can see being extracted
during healings; for Sun it is the blood of the previous victim seeking to
enter a body, or sometimes jagged splinters of pig bone; while for Smallpox
it is the speck led (rige) seeds of the gra m plant (rogo) which Smallpox-
Woman (Ruga-boj) flings against the victim's body to sow them , where they
spro ut as pustules. However, Sora usage does not recognise a distinction
between the 'material' and the 'immaterial'. Their imagery is sensory :
whatever the cause, whether more orIess contagious, you may 'feel' (1/1'1 -) a
'power' (renabli) working upon yourself just as well as you can feel a
caterpillar, as the attacking sonum 'strokes' (Sl/l1-) you as a preliminary to
'seizing' (Fiam-) or 'ta king' (pang-) you. This may be accompanied by a
dramatic narrative experience, such as Jamano's of being pounced on and
beaten up . Similarly, when someone lies seriously ill he is exhorted, ' If
they're offering you food [i.e. of the dead], don't take it, don't eat it!' (cf.
13 2 Dialogues Ivith th e dead Redeeming th e dead and protecting the living 133

in redeemin g, but the Experience itse lf. We may note the simila rity between him into their own co llectivity. Regardless of the various forms of their ow n
these blockin g rites and the fending offin rites of healin g. In both cases, the deaths , they are in this context Exper ience-free. Thus in the redemp tion
dangerou s so num is led out of the house and discharged into Experience so ng sun g in the persona of Jamano 's female Ances tors, his wife Onsam
space. A hea ling rite is performed each time a person is stroked by a sonum, was listed even ' though she had incited her brother Mo'mo' to kill him .
in order to forestall hi s being taken. A blocking rite is done once only , as a Sim il arly, the attackers' ringleader Mo'mo' would nonetheless have been
pre-emptive move immediately after a death . In anticipation of any future en umerated among Jamano's Ancestors if he had been a member of the
attacks, it covers the full range of potential livin g victims. For example, a deceased's lineage (a s Mo'mo' just happens not to be). For them, as now for
dea th by Sun or Smallpox threatens a whole village, one by Leopard, Jamano him se lf, the choice between being an Ancestor and being a member
Convulsion or Sorcery usually only the hou sehold and other intimates of of a n Experience is only a choice between modes of being: each dead person
the deceased. can ex ist in different modes at different moments.
But the sense in which an Experience 'wanders' is a limited one. Jamano is thus subject to two kinds of agency, each of which is linked to
Ultima tely , Experiences act only through personal agents. The reason why two quite different groups of persons. These two groups are analogous,
an illness wa nders between people is that the deceased himself ha s both in their power of agency and in the fact that their members have their
wandered from his state of Ancestorhood back to his death -Ex perience: own mutual relationships and hi sto rical reasons for being with eac h other.
'Jamano wanders', Jal11ano gorodte. The emphasis here is not on the But the mem bership of these two groups does not necessarily overlap and
property of contagiousness, which to a greater or lesser degree character- their inner social texture is quite different: the Experience group where
ises all the Experiences since all are perpetuated and repeated . Rather, it is Jamano was lonely among wretched company, and the comforting society
on the instability of the deceased person 's own redeemed state. This of his rescuing Ancestors. The Ancestors, on whose behalf I sang along
instability is regressive, so that the best translation of this second use of with three or four other Ancestor-Men , represent the lineage with its
gorod- might be 'revert'. The Ancestor-Men have clearly stated the dead constant reservoir of male names which we listed exhaustively at each stage
person's proper and desirable destination , yet the deceased has great of the funeral sequence. Within this overall list, the ordering of names in the
difficulty in reaching it and staying there. chant reflects the current articulation of the lineage into branches and
twigs . These names are eventually returned to living descendants and their
Social order among the dead: Earth-Sonum as a transitional stage original holders die a second death and disappear.
between Experience and Ancestor An Experience sonum, on the other hand, contains a number of people
Jamano remains confused, or perhaps uncommitted, regarding the trans- who have shared a similar form of death. These, too , are articulated into
formation which has been wrought upon him today. In ontological terms, chains of predecessors and successors, according to the stories behind each
he seems to find it difficult to be changed from one kind of sonum to person's recruitment. The current attacker at any moment is one of the
another and to hold himself in that new state because of the complexity of most recent recruits who acts as a ringleader while the earlier victims
this transformation . Cosmologically, this uncertainty in his state of mind support him as shadow-men. Over time, as the latest victims become
corresponds to the extent of the gulf between his starting point and his ringleaders themselves, the oldest shadow-men eventually disappear
destination. The Sora express movement across this gulf as a journey over without trace just like the oldest Ancestors. So in theory , if an observer
cosmological space, but the ultimate nature of his transforma tion is a social returned at any time in the future, the residential Experiences would be the
one. The Experience which killed Jamano sundered him from his kin . As same except that the particular people involved (that is, the lists of names)
will become increasingly clear in later chapters, the process of redemption would be quite different. Unlike a lineage, an Experience's list of names is
in the funeral cycle undoes the work of the Experience only in order to non-repeatable because it contains an agglomeration of persons whose
reconstitute in the Underworld a continuation of the social order which coming together is partly contingent. The residential Experience is thus a
existed among the living. self-perpetuating corporate group like the lineage, except that rather than
In rescuing Jamano, the Ancestors are substituting themselves for the begetting new members, it recruits them on the grounds of a shared form of
attacker. Just as the Ra ' tud-Men (Ra'tud-marenji), led by Mo 'mo ', had death . The Experiences are a crude perversion or parody of the lineages
earlier taken Jamano into their own Experience, so the Ancestors now take which they perpetually strive to subvert. Redemption aims to restore in the
Redeemil/g the de(/d alld protectillg the fillillg 135

realm of po st-mortem existence some thing o f the fin e-gra ined tex ture of
socia l rela tions a bove ground .
T he lea p betwee n the two modes of bein g a nd betwee n th e two kind s o f
social group comes a bout throug h the interm ediary category or Ea rth -
So num. T hi s will require so me prelimina ry exa min a tion here, since thi s
o f- .....l ca tegory will becolll e more and more promin ent in later cha pters.
o o o o
::r: u ::r: o On the one ha nd , Ea rth -Sonum is an Ex peri ence cau sin g illness a nd
death , jus t like Sun-Sonum , Leopa rd -Sonulll or Ra' tud -Sonulll. On the
o ther ha nd , it brings togeth er groups of pa trilineal kin sfolk after their
bi ) redemption , in a way which Illakes it close to the concept of A ncestorhood .
' 0)
.D It is in this sense of Earth -S on um tha t the dead nourish th eir descenda nts
C throu gh the soul -force which they put into growin g crops. The re are thu s
two ways of coming to resid e in Earth -S onul1l. One way is to die with
·s 0
~ .~
<:> ::.
appropriate symptoms, which for reason s to be ex plained below usually
<l) '" t:
involve a swelling of the body or a blocka ge of its orifices. Thi s happen s
only to some people. The othe r way, wl'lich ha ppen s to everyone , is to be led
there by one's Ancestors as part of one's redemption. I
(3 Earth-Sonum has several properties which make possible this dual role.
-0 In the first place, it lies at the lowest point in the cosmos of any Experience
ro and is the nearest to the Underworld where the dead reside in their capacity
<l) as Ancestors . It is thus the Experience furthest removed from the Sun and ,
indeed , it explicitly reverses the Sun's imagery of amorphousness and
molten ma terial. The imagery of Earth-Sonum encompasses coolness,
'0 wholeness , integrity a nd the retention and concentration of form , an
c imagery which can be applied to both the person and the group . But to
reside in Earth-Sonum is still not fully equivalent to being in the state of
V> Ancestorhood. Earth -Sonum can also be an Experience causing illness and
death. The swellings and blockages which it causes , such as constipation or
V> death in childbirth , are part of that very imagery of wholeness and
E retention. Moreover, the groups of persons whom it reuni tes after dea th are
not the entire lineages of Ancestors which were enumerated in chapter 6:
'- there are many different Earth-Sonum sites spread out acro ss the landscape
ro and each one of them brings together only one of the many disjointed
fragments of the lineage. So just as there are oppositions between
.g kin-groups, so the hig hly articulated internal structure of the category

>- Earth-Sonum contains within itself the potential for opposition and
conflict between different exemplars of the category .
-.0 Nonetheless, residence in Earth-Sonum is an essential staging-post on
the journey to full Ancestorhood. This can be clearly seen if we contrast it
Li: to its polar opposite in cosmological terms , Sun-Sonum. In figure 6.1 I have
136 Dialogues with the dead Redeelllillg the dead and protecting the living 137

tried to show the full vertical range of so num space. It develops fi gure 4. 1, ma lformed persons such as the dumb and the lame (see chapter 4 to
which showed how Ancestor space reaches from the village downwards understand ho w for the Sora verbal articul acy is as important as wholeness
while Experience space exte nd s from the jungle upwa rd s. Apart from th e of body for a fullne ss of being in the broadest sense) . All of these death s are
Sun , a ll other Experience sites lie horizonta lly on the same level as we associated with 'heat, uncerta inty of form or lack of articulacy. At the
ourselves live (cf. fi gure 4.3). Some of these a re sli ghtly raised in rocks or moment of dea th a perso n passes once more tlHo ugh a heat which di sso lves
trees, while others, such as Ra'tud sites on paths and cro ssroads, usually lie and reorders hi s person. It seems to me significa nt that, just as a baby is
flat on the ground . The Eart h-So num sites, located in the springs and water born unab le to speak, so the fire of the fune ra l pyre once aga in disorients
so urces which a llow huma n settlement and cultiva tion , are the only sites the fres hl y deceased person and produces the in a rticulacy o f the ghost
which dip below ground level. They lie at the furthest ex treme from the Sun (/([{ll1Ian) a nd the confusion of ondrung (,false awareness').2
but reach down towards the Underworld. Jamano 's rescue from his Ra ' tud A person who dies a Slln -dea th reverses the norm a l downward trajectory
site involves a downward movement towards the Underworld a nd is just and the gulf which opens up between hi s redeemed and unredeemed states
one phase of the downward journey made by all person s during the course is the wides t possibl e. This is reflected in the special procedures for a
of their existence, from th e Sun to the Underworld . This progression moves Slln-victim's stone-planting. The A ncesto r-Men 's chant of redemption is
through three levels and stages: in the Sun before birth, on the ground not enough to rescue him. They also create a path across the open space
durin g life, and underground after death . between earth and sky by firing a stream of a rrows into the sky to create a
The polar opposition between Earth-Sonum and Sun-Sonum is clearly ladder. M ea nwhile , indoors, the funeral shaman ties a thread from the
reflected in their imagery. Earth-Sonum consolidates and concentrates a pitch of the roof to the mortar beneath and fastens a metal bracelet or
person's being. Instead of the Sun's dissolution and amorphousness , swo rd to the bottom of this thread . Sitting on the mortar for her trance, she
Earth-Sonum builds on the imagery of integrity and wholeness. The then coaxes the deceased down the thread, through the metal object, and
location ofEarth-Sonum in springs is associated with coolness rather than into her body. An Ancestor-Woman sets the thread alight a t the bottom so
heat, water as opposed to fire . Instead of Sun-Sonum's dirt and bodily that it burns upwards. Sora say that this destroys the dead person's return
leavings (chapter 3), Earth-Sonum emphasises cleanliness through the pa th and leaves him the path through the mortar to the Underworld as the
affirmation of the body 's outline during washing. This was done for the first only available route out of the house.
time at birth with turmeric (a cooling 'Earth' medicine) and remains an As a cause of illness and death, Earth-Sonum's imagery of wholeness a nd
important, enjoyable and sociable operation carried out every day of one's retention explicitly reverses this imagery of dissolution and release . The
life. Extending this imagery, we can note that unlike the low Blacksmith sy mptoms of an Earth attack are the blockage of bodily orifices and the
castes of the Sun, when Earth-People are conceived as Hindus they belong co nstriction of bodily emissions: a general swelling or bloating (pungpung)
to the ksatriya Paik caste (in Sora, Aleng or Yoi) , whose women wash of the body, especially of the stomach or, for men , the scrotum; the ina bility
frequently , 'a lways look freshly groomed ' a nd a re bedecked with flowers in to urinate or the pa ssing of blood in urine; constipation ; and for women,
their hair. death in childbirth . Attractive male oboists who play with their puffed
There is a similar contrast between Earth-Sonum and Sun-Sonum as cheeks near springs are also susceptible to rape by female Earth-Sonum
causes of illness and dea th . As was explained in chapter 3, the foetus is dwellers.
forged in the heat of the Sun's smithy but must be cooled when it enters the I shall give some examples of deaths caused directly by Earth -Sonum.
realm of the living in order to separate it fully from the microcosm of The persons involved are all close relations ofMengalu and are shown on a
Sun-Woman's forge in the womb of its mother. Sun-Woman's python genealogy in figure 6.2, where they are numbered for ease of reference .
retrieves the baby if this separation is inadequate. Throughout life, Sun Though I shall refer to some of these people later, it is not necessary for the
illnesses cluster round a set of sub-Experiences to do with scorching and reader to note their identi ties in detail since what matters here is simply the
melting, such as open sores, while the Sun is also the residence for the sense of a chain of recruitment, analogous to the generations of a lineage,
victims of accidents, murder or suicide, as well as for blacksmiths and which is common to all the Experience sonums. The distinctions between
138 Dialog lles Il'ith th e dead Redeelllillg th e dead alld protectillg th e living 139

different Ea rth -Sonum sites will beco me increas in g ly important from now Some I'ictims of Rere (u lltra1lslatable ) Ea,.th-Solllim
on. Wherever possible , J shall translate these names to make the m eas ier to This site is worked by Mengalu and so me of hi s linea ge- brothers. It is
remem ber. notorious for ca usin g deat h in childbirth . His au nt Mabmati (6) died in thi s
way and en te red this Ea rth -Sonum . Subseq uentl y she ' took' her niece Ra 'gi
Some victims of Hal/all' Water (Bungsengdan) Ea,.th-SOIl1l11l (9) , a young unmarried girl. Ra ' gi had become pregnant for the first time
Rumbana (I), a middle-aged man , bought the land containing thi s site after an embarrassing liaison and her mother , Daiani, admini stered a
from someone in another village and started to work it. He habitu a lly botched a bortion which resulted in the death not only of the fo etus but a lso
tethered his ca ttle near the spring and their dung and urine seeped into the of Ra'gi. Since her own death Ra'gi ha s caused the death of her close
water. As a consequence he died of an inflated scrotum caused by the linea ge-siste r Gadi (7) during he r first pregnancy and Gadi has since taken
insulted Earth-Sonum. her own younger sister Pui 'jan (8) in the sa me way. Ra'gi also took in old
He was the first victim in Alinsing. Soon afterwards, his fellow age her mother , Daiani (4) , because the latte r had unintentionally caused
lineage-member Bumbuden died , also in middl e-age. Bumbuden (5) did not her dea th. At so me point, also, Ra' gi took Nedraki (2) who in turn took
own or work the site but often herded his cattle on a nearby hillside . Being Sa ndi (3) . The chain of recrui tme nt among Rere Earth si te victims is shown
thirsty there, he stole the wine from trees belonging to another village as it in figure 6.3, where the analo gy of an Experience to a lineage can be clearly
hung in pots waiting to be collected. So the men of that village put some seen .
earth from his footprints into a pot with some sorcery-medicine and sealed There are many non-fatal attacks by all these people against others. In
up the pot's mouth, thereby sealing in his breath, urine and faeces . 'It was as the terms of cha pter 4, these are remi nders from the dead to the living, who
if they had tied up his penis and plugged up his anus' (a lo 'ojenjile}i amrid do respond to them with rites of healing (and of acknowledgement). On one
a sambin tlldable}i amrid). In the inquest it emerged that they had hired occasion while I was there, Mengalu suffered pain in urinating. This was
(bail'i-) his recently-deceased lineage-brother Rumbana to produce these diagnosed as being caused by Ra'gi and he recovered after getting a shaman
Earth symptoms and that Rumbana had then taken him to reside with him to lead her out of his house in a banishing-rite along the path towards Rere
in Hollow Water Earth site. Earth site. It was the association of excretion with childbirth which allowed
Mengalu's urinary problem to be explained by the action of his predeceased
sister. The song sung by the shaman included the following words:
Figure 6.2 Gene a logy of Mengalu 's relatives who died through the agency of
Hollow Water and Rere Earth-Sonum sites. The names of dead people are
printed in italics.

Figure 6.3 Chain of recruitment of victim s of Rere Earth-Sonum site. The

names of dead peo ple are printed in italics .

l (!) o


Gadi Pili 'jail Mengalu Ra'!!,i

(7) (8) (I) D",,,,,, / G"d\ N'dm~
f':, male , d'
attack Pili 'jail Sail ,
o female
= married to Mengalu
140 Dialog ues IFith the dead Redeeming the dead {lnd protecting the lil'ing 14 1

Text 6.3 Song to heal Menga lu 's pain in urinating The Ancestors residin g in the Ea rth -Sonum ca n be hostile to such bodily
harrow Ea rth -People sepa ration s and seek to repress them. The residents of an Earth -Sonum will
[a ploughin g tool] Earth-People
never attack the child bea ring wives of the men who cultivate its site, that is,
Earth -People
the wives of their own kinsmen. They attack only their daughters and
plough-the-paddy-fie ld Ea rth -People sisters, that is, women who were born into their own kin-group but who are
level-th e- paddy-field Earth-People
noW producing babies on behalf of other lineages . A woman 's natal
we ca ll you
Ea rth -Sonum is at its most virulent during her first la bour, when the
arise to pick up grain [i. e. calling them to accept sacrifi ce] transfer of her loyalty to another lineage is a t its most delicate and
arise to scoo p up grain
Where they block this labour , her Ancestors seem to be fi ghting to
snatch-miscaITied-foetus Earth-People prese rve the integrity of their own group through the analogy of the body of
clu tch-misca rried -foetus Earth-People
their daughter. The reader may remember the impulse of the male-centred
household to accumulate wives and retain sisters and that thi s desire is
j{///{{I11-flower Earth fulfilled only slightly in life above ground but wholly in the shamans'
labo-flower Earth
incestuous marriages in the Underworld (chapter 3) . As part ofa woman's
who has come and grabbed [i.e. grabbed Mengalu]
gradual separation from her father's house, the physical bond between
birth-pa ng rumble Earth herself and her chi ld changes into a lineal bond between the child and its
birth-pa ng groan Earth
father. The mother produces the child through the Sun's heat, while the
who has come and grabbed
father then converts this act of physical division into one of generational
discard-stillborn-placenta Rere succession for himself and his group. He does this by means of grain
kick-aside-stillborn-placenta Rere
containing something of his own Ancestors (and chapter 3 showed how a
wife's natal kin often fight back in the same idiom , by continuing to give her
Swollen Hand (KII/Igsil/) Earth [names of associated sites] some of their own grain). A person who is ' in' an Earth site is also in the
Peturen Earth
'soul' (puradan) of all grain which grows out of that Earth. That person
who have come and grabbed
enters (gclI1 -) his descendants' house every time a harvest is taken in from
snatch-miscarried-foetus Earth the threshing floor and stored in the loft. Like previous Ancestors, then,
clutch-miscarried-foetus Ea rth
1amano has now 'become' (gach/-) the grain of his descendants . This grain
you who ha ve entered [i .e. entered th e Earth site]
will be pounded in the mortar, cooked on the hearth and swallowed daily in
labour-contraction-gasping Earth each of their houses. At his stone-planting, the words of the Ancestor-Men
thrusting-back-up-against-laboUl'-contraction-panting Earth at which Mengalu broke down in tears were (sung in 1amano's persona):
you who have entered
I have become lineage food I have become branch food
Informants explained this and similar texts by saying that an Earth- I have become lineage grain I have become branch grain
Sonum blocks the birth of a child by pushing the baby back up the birth I have become Underworld-journey rice I have become straight-path rice
canal to prevent its emergence. This imagery contrasts strikingly with that 1amano's redemption , then , has two stages or aspects . In the first place,
of the Sun who as blacksmith-embryologist creates the conditions of heat he is rescued from his Experience, Ra'tud-Sonum, and led into the state of
whereby cores split, boundaries melt and one entity can separate out into Ancestorhood. There, he will be united with all the Ancestors of his entire
two . In a normal birth the sealing of boundaries is achieved after the birth lineage. But in the second place and partly overlapping with this, as an
by washing and applying cool medicines and songs to both mother and Ancestor he resides in one Earth site among the several which are available
child separately. Here , by contrast, the sealing seems to have been applied to him, as a member of that Earth-Sonum.
in advance to the mother-plus-child as a unit in order to prevent the birth. Every spring and water source contains a named Earth-Sonum which
142 Dialogues with the dead Redeeming the dead and protecting the li l'ing 143

accumulates groups of Ancestors associated with living persons who the psychological dimension, that of the feelings or states of mind of all the
cu ltivate land near that site. To say that someone is in Eart h-So num is to persons concerned . Sora appear almost to give primacy to this psychologi -
invite the question 'Which one?', meaning 'Wh ich particular spring, which ca l dimension, in that feelings often seem to be the ultimate ar biters in
specific exemplar of the overall category?' Each of these sites represents conflicts which one might otherwise be tempted to ca ll struct ura l. In
rights to a range of pieces of land which lie in the site's vicinity or are developing my discussion of feelings during the following chapters, I sha ll
watered from it. This may be the right either to return in later years to the shift the emp hasis progressively from the feelings of the dead as these are
same shifting-cultivation plot or else to convert the plot into terraced co nveyed during trances, to those of the living mourners who speak with
paddy-fields. Named Earth sites are thus relevant to the direct heirs of the them, in order ultimately to interpret the interdependence of these two
man who first clears or claims a plot. This is why even among those few voices.
close relations of Mengalu in figure 6.2 above, we can already see two Our first approach to analysing feelings has bee n within the interplay of
separate Earth-Sonums at work , Hollow Water and Rere. The song for the the dead person 's Experience and Ancestor aspects. By the time of the
rite (pl/plr) which acknowledged Ra 'gi and healed Mengalu mentions two stone-p lantin g, the So ra fun eral seq uence ha s a lrea dy differentiated the
more and later chapters will show that there are several others within his decea sed into these two aspects, with the intention of altering the balance
branch of his lineage, for example Sweet Mango. The total range of a between them a nd even tually eliminating the form er. The inquests on the
lineage's Earth sites accounts residentially for all its Ancestors and yields a day after cremation and on the day of the sto ne-planting arrive at a verdict
topography of the Underworld which is probably unique to that lineage. about the Experience which the deceased now shares with his attackers.
Earth-Sonums, then, contain only fragments ofpatrilineages. So despite The song of redemption in the stone-planting rescues him from this
its imagery of wholeness and integrity, the category of Earth-Sonum is Experience and leads him into the state of being an Ancestor in the
founded on differentiation and the potential for conflict. Its wholeness is Underworld as well as a resident of an Earth-Sonum site. For the more
still only partial because the dead make choices between Earth sites which contagious of the Experiences, this redemption is further reinforced by the
can be seen as alternatives or rivals . The differentiation between subgroups blocking rite which aims to prevent him from ' wandering' back to his
of Ancestors even within one patrilineage, looks forward to the eventual Experience and thereby causing its repetition among the living. Since
splitting of that lineage. In addition, the extent of a married woman's neither the redemption nor the blocking will be totally successful at once,
assimilation to her husband's group can be judged only when she herself the transformation begun at this time is gradually reinforced by healings,
dies and announces after her death that she has gone to reside with her or acknowledgements, each time the deceased brings himself to the
husband's Ancestors in one of their Earth sites, rather than in a site a ttention of the living by making them ill. After an attack in his undesirable
associated with her own brothers. These tensions will emerge ever more Experience aspect, he is given a ba nishing-rite; at other times, in his
prominently in the following chapters, as we draw away from the relatively desirable Ancestor aspect, he is welcomed and fed inside the
immediate context of the stone-planting towards the long-term pattern of house - though always on a tight leash.
relationships of the living with the dead and with each other. In the early Though the deceased comes mainly in one aspect at any given
stages, the conflict is mainly between a dead person's Experience and manifestation, both his aspects continue to exist for some time as
Ancestor aspects, that is, it is primarily an ontological dilemma mapped on simultaneous possibilities. Why does his redemption not stick at first and
to a cosmological paradox. Later, the emphasis will move to a conflict how does it eventually come to do so? The people who crowded round the
between possible Earth sites, one which lies near, though as yet not quite at, shamans to learn the causes of lamano's death responded to this
the Ancestor aspect of his location and being. information with a mixture of pity (abasuYlm), grief (sinta) and outrage
(the verb barabda-). However, they expressed these feelings not only for
The kaleidoscope of feelings between the living and the dead lamano's sake, but also for their own because they shared his sense of
There is a further dimension to the dead person's transformation, one victimhood. This awareness of their own vulnerability applies equally to
which runs consistently throughout both the contrast between Experience Ra'tud-Sonum as a means and sorcery as a motive. Regarding Mengalu's
and Ancestor and the clashes of interest between rival Earth sites. This is sorcery, they remark: 'If it's sorcery, if it's witchcraft, that explains why
144 Dialog ues witli tlie dead Redeellling tlie dead and protecting tlie living 145

your brother's throat is ill and does n' t get better however many sacrifices through the livin g out of hi s own life. Th e dead person moves around a
we do' (chapter 5, line 199), and 'Are we all going to be consumed by this chart of sonum space and send s back to the living messa ges, the nature a nd
sorcery?, (chapter 5, line 127). Regarding Ra'tud, they understand how impact of which depend on his location of the moment. Wherever it is, the
Mo ' mo' was earlier a victim ofRa'tud and has now become an agent of that sonum has the power- indeed , in the Sora vi ew, the necessary property - of
Experience. They know that he wa s liable to act upon anyone who fell into a ffecting th e living in a way which corresponds to hi s own stale. Thi s state
his orbit through opportunity and motive and realise that their own in turn is knowable because he speaks with them as an autonomous
Jamano is now himself in the same state. So their pity for Jamano is con scious entity which , though materially insubstantial , is a personality of
mingled with apprehension on their own behalf. To this extent they are not, the same order as themselves.
yet, as much victims as he is; but they are all potentially his future victim s. Any living person, or group of people who fall together in som e contex t,
Their vulnerability is only one side of their double susceptibility to the lives constantly with a repertoire of such sonums. The members of such a
dead , who also nurture them. This impingement cannot be avoided: it is an group will all experience each of these sonums and to some extent agree on
intrinsic characteristic of people whom one knew while they were alive that its properties . Indeed , it is this trend towards consensus, so evident in the
they will have this effect on one after their death. interrogation of Jamano , which makes the sonum real in a sense similar to
As the double usage of the verb gorod-, 'wander', shows, the entities that of any other recognised entity in the 'objective' world. As well as its
which perpetuate themselves are not so much the Experiences as dead cosmological location, each sonum has its own relations with other
people themselves. The Sora do not insist that every person who dies must sonums, relations with other Living people and potential effects on each of
of necessity cause further similar deaths. Though all are likely to do so and them . These properties are subject to change and manipulation. The
to make such attempts, some cause several deaths, others none . It is not in relationships expressed by means of sonums can be very diverse, and those
the transmission of his Experience that the deceased finds ultimate revealed in Jamano's case are only one possible configuration . In that
fulfilment, since a person who has caused one death may still feel the need example, the potential for Jamano's self-perpetuation through his Experi-
to cause many more, as Ra'gi continues to do . Rather, it is through the ence ofRa'tud means that ifhe attacks his descendants in that form, what
gradual replacement of this destructive and hostile kind of self-perpetu- will be stirred up is the hostility between his son Ranatang, who has
ation by another kind, that of protecting and nourishing one's descendants inherited the quarrel, and the supposed sorcerer Mengalu; while if Jamano
and heirs as their Ancestor . The concepts Experience and Ancestor are later comes to reside in Sweet Mango Earth site (the ostensible pretext for
simply alternative vehicles for this perpetuation of the person. Their crucial his quarrel with Mengalu and a place which Mengalu loves) then his son
difference is that as members of an Experience, persons perpetuate Ranatang's claim to the disputed land there may be strengthened.
themselves by causing suffering, while as Ancestors they guarantee a Despite any consensus, the story is also likely to have many conflicting
complex social continuity between persons and across time, in which their sub-plots. Among the dead, on the one hand, each person is sometimes a
inclination to attack eventually disappears. So what the living try to steer is pure Ancestor, sometimes in an Earth site, sometimes in his original
the way in which the deceased will affect them, and this attempt is made death-Experience, sometimes in an Experience with which he has no
collectively by those on whose heads his effect, whichever form it takes, will necessary connection but to which he has gone temporarily for some
inevitably fall. Through their techniques of redemption and banishing, the purpose of the moment: to join others in an attack, to 'hire' others to do his
survivors seek to modify the effect of Jamano's past over their own future . dirty work, for sex or simply for a drink or a dance. Among the living, on
We are now in a better position to address the question, raised in chapter the other hand, there are the mutual relationships of the interlocutors, each
4, of why a particular dead person afflicts a particular living person, on a affected by the death in a different way and brought during the dialogue
particular occasion, in a particular form. A person's sonum is his mode of into a unanimity which is temporary, artificial and probably never total. In
continuing to exist not only in death, but also among the living. Kantino's addition, there are the possibly contradictory interpretations in rival
father reminds Kantino of their continuing closeness by sending him a inquests performed by people who have occasion to summon the same dead
tummy-rumble; Ra'gi brings herself to her brother Mengalu's attention by person, sometimes a cross-cousin but usually a married woman caught
blocking his urine and thereby perpetuates something of herself in him, between two lineages. A case study in chapters 7 and 8 will combine both of
146 Dialogues Ivilh Ihe dead

these, as a courtesy stone-planting staged earlier by Sagalo for his distant

cousin (chapter 2) provides a vital link in the interpretation of hi s youn g PART III
wife's sudden death .
The existence of a progressive movement between various stages of the
state of being dead suggests that for our interpretation of dialogue an OPERATING THE CALCULUS
apprecia tion of the Sora perception of time will be crucial. So far we have
seen only the beginning ofth.is process around the moment of death and the OF ALL PREVIOUS DEATHS
first stages of the funeral . Part III will develop a longer perspective over the
years and generations following each death . It begins in the following
chapter by transcribing a dialogue in which we hear nineteen sonums
caught on one particular day in their movement across time. As we hear
each sonum speaking to several living persons crowding around the
shaman, we shall be able to note the variations in emotional tone between
one sonum and another and even within one and the same sonum as it
addresses different speakers. These variations will form the foundation of
my analysis in the following chapters of time, continuity and feelings.
Transcription of a dialogue with
nineteen dead persons

The dialogues in this chapter constitute text 7. 1.

The transcription presented in this chapter and analysed in the following

one took place the day after the dialogue presented in chapter 5, though the
occasion is not related. It is taken from a rite staged to heal a small ,
unnamed baby in Sagalo's lineage . This baby was suffering from diarrhoea
and backache caused by Lumbago-Sonum (Du/'i-s lm), a sub-Experience of
the Sun. Some of the personalities involved will be new. But so tightly
woven are the relationships between members of different lineages, that the
affairs of this lineage will quickly be seen to intermesh with those of others,
especially of Mengalu's branch of the Headman lineage.
It is mid-morning on an overcast day at the tail end of the rainy season. A
number of people are scattered under a huge wild mango tree by the side of
a dusty path leading out of the village. A preliminary summoning of the
Ancestors, with a short trance, took place inside the baby 's house last night,
and this morning these Ancestors have been led out of the house in the
banishing-rite format to the village's Lumbago-sacrifice site where the
present, more substantial trance takes place. Now the shaman Rondang
(an old woman whose nickname means 'Bag of Bones') is sitting on the
ground in front of an old winnowing-fan made of basketry. On this are laid
out the special apparatus appropriate to Lumbago-Sonum, such as the
creeping waterside plant 'Lumbago-Medicine' (dUl'i-/'e) and the toy bow
which will fire the caustic ('hot') kernels of the wild cashew (oloj) into the air
and over the patient.
The edges of the bare space under the tree are littered with remnants of
old winnowing-fans from the one hundred or so Lumbago healings which I
estimate are done at this site every year: since this is a banishing-rite, the
A dialoglle l"illt nineleen dead persons 151

refuse would be contaminatin g if taken home again. The air is quiet , the
people unhurried. F rom time to time a few drops of rain patter on to the
leaves of the I~an go tree. People take sw igs from a little pot of aba, the
.8 distilled liquor which is the main drink of the cold rainy season and will be
offered to each dead person on arr ival. Most of those present are women ,
draped as always with babies and young children. A few of these women
hover around Rondang while the rest watch over the rice boiling above
fire-trenches dug in the ground and wait for the men to bring the meat from
where they are butchering the buffalo nea rby.
... ...
The Ancestors of the lineage have ga nged up together to demand a
v ~ 0i:
~ E ~
sacrifice from the baby's hou sehold. In doing this, they are not perpetuat-
c E.1! E
ing their own illnesses (which would of course be very varied) ; rather, they
.... ~
have 'hired ' the Sun to produce symptoms on their behalf. The aspect of the

Sun which is available for hire in this way is called Duri-s/111 ('Lumbago
/ho b bled/twisted/ cri ppled-Sonum '). The symptoms of I umbago are ca used
by Sun-Woman's slave, the blacksmith Dumb-S un (Mo 'mo'yul1g) , who
strikes the patient with his hammer . This can be combined with other
symptoms, too , and in fact the dialogue lays equal emphasis on the baby's
::s The relevant, simplified genealogy ofSagalo's lineage, which is small and
r ~(}-----<l '~
.... N ~
impoverished, is given in figure 7.1. The two main branches are related

through a distant common ancestor but the histories of their land holdings
have now diverged to the point where each branch is associated with a
different range of Earth sites. I have summarised the two branches
respectively as being associated with the Bat's Nest (Kal1lursll1g) and the
c: Sangkaroren groups of Earth sites.

'5 The conversations with the sonums are, as always, conducted largely by
women. Most of the time I was the only man present , though there were
always several more women present besides those who did most of the
talking. However, whether male or female, the interlocutors are largely
people who have come to meet ' their' sonums, that is, people close to them.
Three households are closely involved today . The occasion is staged by
Ikaram , the father of the sick baby and a member of the branch associated
wth Sangkaroren Earth site. He is not actually present but spends his time
with the men of the lineage who are killing, cutting up and sharing out the
buffalo nearby . Those women who are not closely involved in the case are
doing the cooking over there too. The mother of the baby, Ikaram's wife
Rungkudi, remains with the shaman throughout but does not speak very
-<1----<1....., .""'~
~ ~ much or very forcefully since she is in the village of her in-laws, speaking to

V) their Ancestors. Being a young wife, she still feels constrained by

15 2 Dialog ues willt lite dead A dialog ue Il'illt nineleen dead persons 153

'embarrrassment ' (garo}). The baby is still closely attached to her , so that died as a child and passed on hi s name to hi s younger brother who wa s born
the dialogue sometimes seems to imply that she herself is the patient (e. g. as afterwa rd s; Maianti (No. 17) died as a n adol escent girl ; while her eldes t son
'daughter-in-law' in lines 2, 67, 87). Apart from the baby who is today's Palda (No . 10) is the youth who committed suicide and who having himself
patient, Rungkudi has two other children, one alive and one dead . Her 'gone into the' Sun ' has recently tried to persuade Rungkudi's son Sarsuno
daughter Amboni (sonum No. 16 below) died of a scarring disease and it is to kill himself and join him th ere.
their conversation here which was used to open chapter I of this book. H er As a senior woman Sindi acts as the main interlocutor throu ghout the
teenage son Sarsuno, though alive, has just made a suicide attempt and we dialogue. It is common for older women to do this. Men tend to join in
shall also meet the sonum of his lineage-brother Palda, the previous suicide more on major occasions or if the situation touches them deeply. The male
victim who encouraged him in this attempt (sonum No. 10). householder's linea ge Ancestors are generally greeted (olong-) by a group
The other two households involved, those of Sagalo and Sindi , both of his sisters and wives who offer them refreshment and emotional
belong to the branch of the lineage associated with Bat's Nest Earth site . response. So just as she changes the source of her nourishment , a woman
Sagalo is known to use from chapter 2. A good-natured young man , he who marries changes from greeting the Ancestors of her father and
lives with his widowed mother, who is Mengalu's sister. Two years ago , it brothers to greeting those of her husband. The tone in which sisters greet
will be remembered, Sagalo paid a terrible price for a teenage affair with the their own Ancestors is relaxed and familiar. That of young wives greeting
girl-friend ofMengalu's son Sargia. Mengalu had unleashed this sorcery on their husband's Ancestors is reserved and respectful. But llluch of the
Sagalo in angry response to the latter's sexual poaching and it had talking, including that on behalf of a young wife like Rungkudi , is done by
ricochetted from him on to the defenceless soul of his little brother Mando, older women whose tone is fearless often to the point of being abusive. Such
who was killed by it. The reader may also remember that the impoverished women may be either sisters of the lineage who have never left home or who
Sagalo then married the strong-willed and passionate Panderi. In choosing have returned after being widowed or divorced, or else wives like Sindi who
an 'elopement' (dari) with Sagalo, she defied both the restraints imposed by have borne children and gradually become closely identified with their
her distant cross-cousin relationship with Sagalo and her brothers' plans husband's lineage. Interlocutors like Sindi speak only partly for the sake of
for an arranged marriage elsewhere. They were very much in love and by others. Though much of the time she will speak on behalf of others with
the time of my return in early 1979 they had a one-year-old baby boy. their sonums, for a long period we shall see her occupied with her own as
However, four months before today's dialogue, Sagalo suffered a further, the sonums of her husband and three children converse with her (sonums
most terrible loss. On 1 May 1979 Panderi carried their baby home from a Nos. 10, II , 12 and 17).
journey and, within a short time, collapsed without warning and died. The It never seemed to me that these women's role as interlocutor betrayed a
verdict of the inquest was that her soul had been eaten by the Ra'tud- position of weakness. It is not the more insecure or marginal women like
Sonum of one of the villages on the way. But at her inquest the following the young wife Rungkudi who speak like this, but the women who are most
day, Panderi took great pains to emphasise that the intended victim was the firmly esta bbshed within their residential group. The selection of such
baby himself and that she had been killed only by accident as she was women thus resembles that of the funeral shamans through whom the other
bending over to protect him. We shall hear her repeating this message in the side of the dialogue passes. Men as well as women say that women are
dialogue given here and her inquest will be analysed in the following better able to olong- the dead. This is a word which means 'greet', 'speak to' ,
chapter. 'interact with', as in the common inteljection olong-ing roi, 'hey, listen!',
Sindi, the last householder involved, is an elderly lady with an acerbic 'pay attention!' (literally 'olong- me a moment') . It seems they are saying
wit. After being widowed, she has stayed on with her own household that women are more articulate than men and that the practice of holding
among her husband's lineage, raising their five children. The eldest, dialogues is largely a women's system. It may be that since women move
Rutujen, is a grown man in love with a girl from a wealthy home in the between lineages and villages, their biographies and their vision of life
Headman lineage whose father will not let her go to live with him. The involve a greater degree of adaptation and negotiation and therefore calls
youngest, Oindo, is still a little boy. Her three middle children have all died forth from them a greater degree of dialogic commentary.
within the past few years. One of them, also named Oindo (sonum No . II), For some twenty minutes now Rondang has squatted alone on her
A dialogue Ivilh nineteen dead persons 155
154 Dialogues with the dead

Figure 7.2 Dramalis personae of dialo gue, dead and living

haunches and bea ten her drum steadily, summoning T umbago-Sonum and
its collaborating Ancestors by singing in its characteristic signature tune. Dead speakers
Now she sits for the trance, legs stretched out and eyes closed . Some women
including Sindi leave off their other activities and move closer in male sonums
anticipation . After a few mjnutes of sin gin g the tune which summons her
rauda -familiar , Rondang's soul departs, her arms and legs are locked rigid I Poitano
and her fingers a nd toes are clenched tight. Wi th some effort, the bystanders 2 Pansia
unclench her , she sits at ease and the sonums are free to come. First the 3 Ilcaram
rauda , the sonum of her dead predecessor, a rrives and promises all 4 Ortino
assistance. Thereafter in succession over three hours with hardly a minute's 5 Sarsuno
break come nineteen dead people, followed by Herdswoman (Codu -boj) 6 In dupur
6a Pansia again
and Dumb-S un (Mo '1110 'yung) , both sub-Experiences of the Sun closely
associated with Lumbago . Finally, to round off the trance the rauda comes 7 Poiro
8 Cumesara
again. The preliminary and closing speeches of the rauda, as well as those of
9 Durugad
Herdswoman and Dumb-Sun, are not included here as these would require
10 *Palda the unpleasant elder son of Sindi, who committed
copious extra commentary without furthering the present discussion .
incest, then killed himself and is now trying to kill
Instead, attention is focussed exclusively on the Ancestors themselves.
Rungkudi's teenage son
Male sonums appear before female ones, as always, and to a greater
II *Oindo the younger, favourite son of Sindi
genealogical depth . The order of their appearance is mapped on to the
12 *Boljanu Sindi's husband
genealogy in figure 7.1. It can be seen that though not every Ancestor
speaks, each twig or branch of the lineage is generally exhausted before the 13 Disamor
dialogue moves on to another - a pattern which echoes the ordering of 14 Dorsang
names in the Ancestors' song of redemption in chapter 6. In translating, I 15 Sara'lca
have taken pains to preserve shifts in the tone of the original, since much of female somllns
the significance of the text for later analysis will depend on just these
16 * Amboni Rungkudi's poor little daughter
distinctions between insult and tenderness, with all the mixed emotions
17 *Maianti Sindi's grown-up daughter
which accompany familiarity. Conversation with the first nine sonums is
18 Curandi
largely banter about trivia, though in our analysis of moods in the next
19 * Panderi Sagalo's devoted wife
chapter we shall see that this is important in setting the scene for the very
serious conversations which will follow from No . 10 onwards. For ease of
Main living speakers
reference, the sonums who speak are summarised in figure 7.2, along with
their main living interlocutors. The sonums marked with an asterisk are
Sindi an elderly woman who has married into the lineage
particularly significant and their circumstances will be discussed at length
and stayed on after her husband Bmjanu's death,
in the following chapter:
bringing up their children
Rungkudi a young woman married into the lineage
Sagalo a young man of the lineage, recently widowed
156 Dialogues lI'ilh Ih e dead A dialoglle ll'ilh nineleen dead persons 157

In the dialogues that follow , the names and remarks of dead people will be 24 . voices: W hat um bre lla ? T here's no umbre ll a.
printed in ita lics, as in ear lier chapte rs. 25. Sindi : Look , beca use you lo t plou gh on my back [i .e. you
exp loit me for sacrifices], I don't get anyt hing, I get
J Poilano no cloth or money.
T he first sonum to arrive is the baby 's grandfather, Po itano. Sindi 26. Pansia: [not clear]
immedi ately tackles him on the baby's illness. He is more interested in a 27. [voices]: [in aud ible]
drink, but she claims, falsely and flippantly , that the aba harvest (from 28 . Raduno: W here are yo u? [a question asked for my benefit
which the liquor is distilled) has failed. He rem inds her that down in the since he knew I was interested in Ea rth si tes]
Underworld , where the seaso ns are reversed , the ha rvest is st ill in full 29. Pansia: Me? I go and slay in Sangkaroren [Ea rth site]
swing. 30. Raduno: With the A ncestors?
3 1. Pansia: Yes , lI'i/h Ihe Ances/ors, in Ihe Earlh, over Ihere, I go
I . Poilano : Poilan o!
and Slay in S angkaroren , I make rice~fields, I repair
2. Sindi: Mind they get better . .. your grandchild re n daugh-
relaining lvalls . ..
ters- in -Iaw are crippled-leg crippled -hand .. . every-
32. Sindi : [chimes in scornfully] U ga il It's a ll fallen down in
body - [sharply] What liquor? There's no liquor.
ruins , haven't you been and had a look?
3. Poilano: [taken aback] There isn'l a11Y?
33. Pansia: Ai! What's Ihal ? [scornful] Did y ou learnlhal al your
4. Sindi: Your aba failed , there isn't any: the tree -
falh er's kn ee? [a conventional expression of ridi-
5. Poi/ano : Over in Rugidi, over in Sangkaroren, over in Purpuri
cule] . [firmly] I do repair Ih e walls.
[names of Earth sites], it's ripe noll' -
34. Sindi: Then you'd better go and shove all that sa nd out of
6. Sindi: There isn ' t any -
the way [the area had recently silted up in a flood].
7. Poilano: It's ripe now, did Ih e leaves [wither]?
8. Sindi: There's none . Pansia stayed for some further talk . He was followed by sonum No.3:
9. Poilano : Oh? II didn 'Ifruil? 0 gail [expression of surprise or
disbelief] Don 'l ,ell m e il didn 'l even flower? We're 3 Ikaram
galhering ours now . Thi s is the namesake of the sick baby's living fath er: his appea rance is brief
10. Sindi: Then do you need me to pour you some? and inconsequential.
II. Poilano: Well, lve 're already galhering il.
12. Sindi: Why are they giving dysentery, diarrhoea? How is Ortino now comes. He develops Poita no' s play on the inversion of the
[the baby] to survive , if they gi ve dysentery, diar- seaso ns in the Underworld through the mutua l encroachment of the living
rhoea , how . .. [some lines omitted] and the dead in space. In clearing a hill slope for his own cultivation, the
16 . [Sindi] [continues] ... Clouds! Here , take thi s quickly . baby's father has cut down Ortino 's growing crops.
17. Poi/ano: Come here Jojokab! They're chasing us away .
18. Sindi: It's not [tha t], it's tha t we can see the clouds piled-up
4 Orlino
66. Orl ino: Or/ino! Come on, booze!
Poitano goes; there is a discussion about clothing to be presented to the 67. Sindi : You see properly to this, lmean your nephews your
sonums, who like to hand le the clothes, ornaments and tools which they grandchildren our daughters-in -law, make sure
used when they were alive . Rungkudi asks, 'Sha ll I give this one?' they get well .. . [you lot] give us dysentery diar-
rhoea ... take them carry them off -
2 Pansia 68 . Orlino: Ai! Why no/ jusl say y ou 're going for a Irip 10
23. Pansia: Ho i Ih ere! Pansia! Hey gail Hey gail bring an Sangkaroren [Earth site] [a sa rcastic joke, meanin g
umbrella . .. 'to die'] -
158 Dialogues lI'ith the dead A dialoglle ll'ith lIineteen dead persollS 159

69. Sindi: Why should you pass on - 85. Sindi : [cha nges to a quiet a nd ser iou s tone] Hey , Sars un o -
70 . Ortino: - or Laiba [Earth site]? [answering her] Far/i'om it! 86. Sarsullo: Uh ?
Our son very nearly - at one point he sold ( tem-) 87 . Sindi : Just see to this: may your nephews, daughters-
himse(f[i .e. doomed himse lf to die by aro using our in -law get well , hea lthy. Should we acc use you or
a nger] but then he managed to ward us off[i.e. with a giving dysentery?
sacrifice] . [histrionic intona tion] Every bit of bean- 88. Sarsull o: No t at all, I didn't have dysen tery , diarrhoea, but
pole every bit of support, he had the lvhole lot cut ] they did, I mean Gurandi [i.e. son Ul1l
down [makes crashing noises] - Did you hear it go No .1 8] -
oeeeeeeeeee a-boom!? 89. Sindi: [startin g a subsidiary co nversat ion , aside to Ru ng-
71. Sindi: [d rily] How would I hea r, I'm deaf. If it went kudi] Did she take that umbrella a way?
'boom!' I wouldn't hear, if it went ' padoom!' I 90. SarSlll1o: - and Anggari, //011' they did have it , didn't they?
wouldn' t hea r. 91. Sindi: [turning back to Sa rsuno] Is she well now? [i .e . in the
72. Ortino: Every bit of beanpole - Underworld]
73. Sindi: Don't exaggerate. They're ripe now so go a nd pick 92. Sarsullo: Yes she 's fine .
them - 93 . Sindi: [aside again] Is th at umbrella over there or what?
74. Ortino: Ai! We've only just sown them, can't you see the No, I h a ven't see n it. [to Sarsuno] Ooh ga il It' s
supports? Gourds, beans, everything - raining over there!
75 . Sindi: Come off it! Go on , piss off! 94 . Sarsuno: Ai! We're all going to come in our turn.
76. Ortino: Are you saying Ortino doesn 't dibble doesn 't sow, are
y ou saying /'m not a hard work.er? Some lines are omitted here.
77. Sindi: Which is why you just come along and cadge 6 In dupur
tobacco from me? 100. Indupur: [gasps] Aku! Rungkudi, IlI'ant a smoke!
78. Ortino: Can 't you see over there in Laiba, in Sangk.aroren 101. voices: It's raining ...
[Earth sites] - 102. Sindi: Wherever he goes, it'll be wet [i .e . he's an alcoholic]
79 . Sindi: What is there to see? If you've got so much grain [some lines omitted]
why aren't you giving it to us? [calls after Ortino as 110. Rungkudi: [chimes in] Your nephews - hey listen , let your
he departs] I don't manage to get any sorghum , rice, nephews be hea lthy , don't do this to them , if you
millet; however much I do however hard I work , the give them dysentery diarrhoea where will you come
granary is never full. to feed where will you come to drink where will you
have a house to enter [unclear]? Do you think we're
5 Sarsuno just any house?
80. Sarsuno: Give me some booze! [pause] Sarsuno . III . Sindi: [takes over again from her] Your own child [refer-
81. Sindi: Why don't you go and chase away any birds ring to Rungkudi's sick baby] , [if] he doesn't stay in
squirrels [i.e. from the crops] , why don't you chase the village in the hamlet, in the house in the
any monkeys apes? residence -
82. Sarsuno: They perch up in the trees and we shout from the 11 2. Indupur: [savagely] You'r e talking about him! What, hal'e 1110
ground, can't you see? Ugh, how stupid - more descendants? Isn't there Ikaram ? [i .e. he ca n
83. Sindi: If you shoot properly from the ground they 'll go have more children]
away. Go on, it's raining! 113. Sindi: [unclear] ... or not enter the house? Let him be
84. Sarsuno: Let it rain , lvill it never clear again? well -
160 Dialog ues )IIith the dead A dialog ue Il'ith nil/e teel/ dead persons 161

114. Illdupur: I've got my kil/slllan Ikaralll - 142. Sindi: And hasn ' t she sac rificed it?
11 5. a woman: Hey uncle , smoke this - 143 . II/dupur : Yes, I got it.
116. II/dupur: I've gal my kinsmal/ Orlillo - 144. Sindi : Then are you ca llin g her mean (ral1gka)?
117. Sindi : Go away! 145 . II/dupur: No , I don 't ceill her m ean , it's because she lives on my
118. II/dupur: A re y ou afraid? [pause, then quiet and me nacin g] grain [upsurge of voices], I'm angry because she
Sindi? didn'l g ive m e a share.
119. Sindi : [scornful] Why should I be afraid? I'm afraid only 146. Rungkudi: She gave you a harvest-commemoration she gave
because I get stroked [slln -, i.e. the first stage of an you a stone-planting she gave you sacrifices she gave
attack by a sonum). you everything.
147. Sindi : And what's more you come and take some grain
Various voices, a baby crying in the distance, a pause: they run out of things
anyway: - I've seen you in dreams , you come and
to say. Eventually conversation of a desultory sort is resumed , of which
scoop it up with your hands - we see it all in dreams.
some lines are given here:
148 . Indupur: Sindi! As/or her lIIillel I don't claim that's lI1y )IIork I
130 . II/dupur: LeI il rain [i .e. what's the hurry to go?] don 'I claimlhal 's my labour. Hey sislers hey childrel/,
131. Sindi: Clear off, go on, shoo! Should we call you [word t hat's Sandi's mol her's Ivork [i .e. keruru, the weal th
unknown]? Have your smoke and go to - [casual passed on from mother to daughter], I don't claim
aside] where is it, Sal-Tree Water or Sangkaroren that. But as for that other grain , give me some of
[names of Earth-sites], he hangs out? that -
132. Indupur : [bu tting in] I )IIould have gone over 10 live in Sal- Tree 149. Sindi: ... she went out to work for hire (badi) ... or-
Waler bUI [catching her attention: sharply] - Sindi! phaned, because she had no mother because she had
133. Sindi: Huh? no father -
134. Indupur: I 11I0uld have gone 10 live in Sal-Tree Waler but 150. Indupur: Don 'l lurn your backs on her: she's your sisler your
Poilano and Jojokab laId me off lillIe-siSler your niece -
135. Sindi : Did they invite you to drink with them? 151. Sindi: Don't they do all the sacrifices, divinations, healings
136. Indupur : Yes. [calls to catch Rungkudi's attention] Rungkudi! on her behalf? So are they going to turn their backs
The olher day I came and drallk some ()!your [liquor], on her then?
did you see me?
137. Sindi: Indupur departs after a few more remarks.
[answering for her] And then you complain it's got
no taste! That's how it loses its taste.
138. voices: The next four sonums continued to engage Sindi in sarcastic backchat.
Go on, it's raining, quickly ... [sound of heavy rain
First Pansia (6a) returned to complain that he was insulted the previous
beating on umbrellas, scrape of tape recorder being
time and to demand a drink. Then came Poiro (7), Gumesara (8) and
moved, babble of voices ... ]
Ourugad (9). Durugad boasted about all the rites he used to perform when
Indupur now turns the conversation for a moment to a woman Sandi, who he was alive. Sindi pointed out drily that it had still failed to save him in the
is not present. His own sons migrated to Assam and disappeared forever. end.
As his niece she performed his stone-planting and inherited him.
139. Indupur : I'm Loinjo's son - 10 Palda
140. Sindi: Big deal! With the arrival of Palda, the mood of the conversation changes
141. l11dupur: The olher day I demanded a buffaloji-om Sandi [i .e. in dramatically. The abusive tone in which he speaks to his mother has an
a separate Lumbago rite with Sandi as patient] intensity and viciousness which are far removed from the casual, familiar
162 Dialogues Il'ith the dead A dialogue lI'ilh nineleen dead persons 163

rudeness of her previous exchanges with the other son urns . I had first heard whose beha lf Mengalu is said to have used sorcery against Saga lo in
him speak three years previously, through the funeral shaman Rijanti, a chapter 2). Now Pa lda himself has begun to take over the role of chief
few months after his death. I did not know him when he was alive and it is inciter (muda , ringleader) to suicide. The dialogue will discuss in detail hi s
not easy to distinguish his personali ty then from the insolence now req uired recent attempt o'n the life of Rungkudi's son, his lineage-brother Sarsuno.
by his ro le as an unrepentant incestuous suicide who is sti ll trying to Many elements in Palda's messa ge are unwelcome to his mother, who
perpetuate the form of his own death in others. resists them accordingly . As well as his attempt to kill Sarsuno , she resists
The Sora theory of the ca usality of suicides invo lves chains of earlier and reports of the marriage in the Underworld between his crony, the earlier
subsequent victims and these are shown for Pa lda's case in figure 7.3. suicide Rumbana, and her own daughter Maianti. Maianti and Rumbana
Earlier, Pa ld a had committed incest with a girl of the most unequivocally have now begotten a sonum baby in the Underworld, another piece of news
disapproved type of maronsel cousin , a mother's sister's daughter. which Sindi does not appear to welcome. The implications of this marriage
Believing that she would tell everybody, he hanged himself out of will be analysed in the next chapter. For the moment it can be said that it
embarrassment (garoj). But though this forms the precipitating cause of his highlights and maybe prolongs Palda's largely unredeemed state as a
suicide, on another leve l the cause will include incitement and assistance resident of Sun-Sonum . Furthermore, though by his redemption song he
from a previous suicide victim. In Palda's case these were furnished by was of course led into one of his own lineage's Earth sites (into Bat's Nest),
Rumbana. he repeatedly makes the point that to the extent that he resides in Earth at
Rumbana was a young man of the Headman lineage. He was the only all he does so in the company of his new 'brother- in-law' Rumbana, in the
child of today's shaman Rondang and her husband Tabaro. He hanged Earth site of the latter's lineage in Jagatumba . Thus, despite their separate
himself shortly after returning from a year's migrant labour in Assam. The redemptions by their respective lineage Ancestors into separate Earth sites,
cause of his suicide on one level was that he had spent savi ngs entrusted to even in their redeemed moments their mutual bond as fellow Sun-People
him by other Soras in Assam for safe carriage home. But on the other level, keeps them together.
while in Assam he had been present at a murder and had brought the Palda's entry is a masterpiece of needling. Where other sonums ask for
Sun-death contagion home to Alinsing, a contagion which was not an alcoholic drink, he demands pan, a blood-red mixture which is not used
successfully neutralised by the blocking rite which the entire village by Soras but is chewn and spat out by the people of the plains, including the
underwent after his death. His first victim was a little boy who hanged low-caste Blacksmiths associated with the Sun.
himself because his parents proposed to send him away to a school. His 158. Palda: Mother! Why haven't you brought me some pan to
second was Palda. In between he brought about a failed suicide attempt by chelV?
his linea ge-brother Sargia (Mengalu's son and, incidentally, the youth on 159. Sindi: Ugh, filthy habit!
160. Petlda: Your tummy-bullon sticks out!
Figure 7.3 Chai n of sui cide deaths linking RlIIllballa and Palda. The names of 161. Sindi: Well so it might after giving birth to you. I suppose
dead persons are printed in ita lics. that's why you're so clever?
Mall ill Assani 162. Palda: Watch it , mother, watch it! The Earth-Sonums are
waitingJor you - Bat's Nest, l elab 'bab, lagatumba:
it'll be your tum next. Anyway, I've gone and set up

Rllmball(/ ~~
house with my brother-in-law.
~ ----''--.... 163 . Sindi: [mutters] Brother-in-law my shit!
Palda (attempted suicide)
164. Palcla: Do you doubt me? Maianti's grolVing up, you knoll'.
I '
I \ 165. Sindi: Up here or down below, we've got no sense, still
Lillie boy (attempted su icide) sa~gia fucking our sisters.
166. Palda: It 's just a quick down-and-up-again, mother, what
Sarsuno does it mailer who she is?
164 Dialogues Ivith the dead A dialog lie lI'ith nineteen dead persolls 165

Palda now turns his attention to Rungkudi, whose son Sarsuno he ha s 174. Palda: Yes, point it tOl l'ards Jagatllmba.
recently brought close to suicide. Rungkudi lacks Sindi 's assurance and 17 5. Rungkudi: What's the idea of doing that to your little brother?
caustic wit at the best of times. Today everyone of her three children is Did he ca use your death? Did he tell you to do it?
either dead or under direct threat. She respo nd s indi gnantly, with no 176. Palda: Not at all, he didn 't say 'Do this , hallg yourselt: '
backchat. 177. a voice: Are you say in g it was of your own free will?
166a. Palda: Hey, aunt! You Il'ere happy enough to dispose a/my 178. Pet/do: [translation uncertain]
corpse, weren 't you? 179 . Sindi: We'll cut up the rope a nd do the sacrifice. But don't
167. Rungkudi: [hoarsely] Did your mother or father teach you to you ever again . .. your brother ... aren't you
hang yourself? Did they put you up to it? ashamed of yourself?
168 . Palda: I'm not saying any a/you put me up to it. 180. Palda: Remember J said do it on 111)' path , l1Iother.
169. Rungkudi: So did I kill you the n? Don't you try to pass on your 181. Sindi: All right , I'll point it out along the Bat's Nest path.
death to your brother again. I'm not joking, if you 182. Rungkudi: We already did a pig, when you first turned up at the
get my boy [Sars uno] to do it I'll ... divination . And if we hadn ' t, you'd have had a go at
170 . Palda: Only the other day I almost made him hang himselj; him that very night again .
but then I said 'Hey, you, untie yourself!' I went and The dynamics of Sindi's family life now begin to emerge more clearly.
fetched a kn({e to Cllt him down . .. Hey, aunt, are you Having made himself thoroughly objectionable, Palda introduces his dead
listening? younger brother Oindo as the contrasting favourite son. Whatever their
171. Sindi: [muttering sullenly meanwhile in the background] [I personalities may have been while alive, Oindo's role, like Palda's, is now
always looked after you so well; if you'd said set. He is portrayed as loyal and responsible and as the person who as a
something I'd have done a healing for you]. But you sonum saved Sarsuno from Palda's incitement to suicide. Attention is now
climbed up into the loft atdead of night: whose fault focussed on the anticipation of Oindo's arrival and of Palda's hoped-for
is that? 1 was sleeping outside on the veranda ... departure. In an attempt to hasten this, Sindi even acknowledges Palda's
you'd been funny all day not wanting to go to residence in Jagatumba Earth site (190) though with a bad grace and in a
work . . . dismissive way which Palda will not allow to pass (191) .
Palda now instructs them in the details of the rite by which he can be
183. Palda: Yes, no joke, I'd really made up my mind to destroy
induced to leave Sarsuno alone. Here I think he is playing with the two
him: 'Come on brothel', let's go, into the Sun into the
levels of his own unresolved condition. The rite described is a banishing-rite
Moon, I've gone up there ', but [whispers] - Oindo
(amdungp/r). This echoes the pre-emptive rite to block the spread of the
untied him.
contagion of a Sun-death, in which the animal is dragged out of the village
184. Sindi: Then let's speak to Oindo.
on a rope to a random site, the blood is drunk raw and the rope cut into
185. Palda: Be patient, we'll all come in good time .
segments. But at the same time he combines this dismissal from the village
186. Sindi: You're an arrogant creature, whereas Oindo ...
of the bad, pent-up blood with the specific direction of his new residential
187. Palda: [taunting] I've gone and set up house Ivith my
Earth site Jagatumba (line I 74,.reinforced in line 180). Though she agrees
brother-in-law, over there.
to do this, Sindi still refuses to acknowledge his change of residence and
188. Sindi : And where's Oindo?
amends this - consciously or unconsciously? - to Bat's Nest, the name of his
189. Palda: Well anyway, I've gone to live in lagatumba , mother .
own branch's site where she thinks he should be (181) .
190. Sindi: Then be off with you, Jagatumba's over there!
172. Palda: Let Sarsuno sacr(fice a pig this size and cut a rope into 191. Palda: Ai! Why should J go, it's a long way. Now you're
sections - hey listen! then do a rite over this rope , cut it being nasty to me. But J went around singing and
up into bits and bum it. fiddling and had a good time. What are you going to
173. a voice: Do we take it outside the village? do about it?
166 Dialogues Il'ith the dead A dialogue Ivith lIilleteen dead persolls 167

192. Sindi: Are you telling yourself you just died of Ra'tud - 203. Oindo: 011 the cOlltrary , I III/tied him . My brother Ivas on the
Son urn? [i.e. a death free of sexual embarrassment. I point 0/ hallging himse(t:
remember Palda claiming this three years ago at the 204. Sindi: [hysterical] Stop passing on that rope! (abtonglild
first karja after he had died, and being greeted then dong)
with lau ghter] 205. Oindo: - 'Hey, Il'hat the heck are you doillg?', I said.
193. Palda: Not likely! I didn't say anything about Ra'tud, I did - 'I'm going dOIVI1 beloll' the earth, I'm going to see
just IIIhat I liked and then hanged myself. the/aces ol'all you Ancestors ', he said.
194. Sindi: And unplugged my arse in the process. Drained me - 'You silly shit! ', I said. 'II' you really mean it, go
and ruined me with the expenses [i .e. Police bribes, ahead and I'll watch.' He gave a sheepish laugh.
etc.). 'Look, the moment YO II start hallging yourselI /'/1 -
195 . Palda: Hey, Oindo, come here! [sarcastic] It appears you're a /,/1 get a knife and cut you down ', I said.
nice sensible boy. - 'R eally?'
196. Sindi: I was a poor widow, a lways setting some grain aside - 'Mos t certainly.'
for your future. Your father was a pauper, do you 206. Sindi: Was this his soul (puradan) talking?
think I saved it up from his land? 207. Oindo: Yes. Then he climbed the loli and Ivellt swinging/rolll
197. Rungkudi: [chiming in] You come and talk flippantly side to side into space . Yes, the rope was this long,
[tamoi'loge] to us from down below, but do you feed he 'd already tied it in advance and had already
us? Yet you're quick to come and take us away. suspended himse(f. H e'd tied it to the main beam and
198. Sindi: [calls after Palda as he departs] If only you'd said all jumped.
this - but you didn't. I'd have done a sacrifice for - 'What do you think you're doing?' I said, 'Did you
you. But you were so obstinate you'd never have learn that at your/ather's knee or what? What's all
agreed. We said afterwards that you 'd have said this talk 0/ going into the Sun into the Moon? I'm
'What makes you think there's anything wrong with damn well going to cut down that rope .'
me, why should I need a sacrifice?' - 'Are you serious?'
- 'I'm your brother Oindo, who do you think? I went
Palda has now gone.
and entered Ra'tud-House [his original death-Ex-
perience before he was redeemed into the category
11 o indo
Earth], but now I've moved and sell led in Jagatumba,
After a brief pause Oindo arrives. Sindi greets him with a hysterical
Bat's Nest [Earth sites).' By that time he \\las tlllirling
outpouring - perhaps out of relief after the tension of Palda's presence.
piyurr! on the end of his rope. I \\lent slash! - [breaks
Line 207 gives an extraordinary insight into the supposed state of mind ofa
oft] No thanks, I lIIon't have a drink -
person during a suicide attempt.
- ' You shit!' he said.
199. Oindo: Mother! - 'Do you Ivant me to cut you down, or slash your
200. Sindi: Are you Oindo? bloody neelc?' I said.
201. Oindo : Yes. - '0 shit', he said with that sheepish laugh.
202. Sindi : [in a torrent] Why ... your little brother [Sarsuno] - 'Don't you laugh!', I said. He'd really have done it ,
... he's all alone now, alone like a fly alone like a you knolV, if I hadn't propped him up .
wart [a conventional doublet], what's the idea of
throwing out a rope to him , don't give it don't throw The conversation now turns to the cause and treatment of Sarsuno's
it - suicidal disposition.
168 Dialogues lvilh Ihe dead A dialogue wilh nilleteen dead persons 169

208. Sindi : We've always been taken by Ra'tud -Sonum [cf. lin e 223 . Oilldo: Well, el'erYOl1e says Ma ial1ti 's and RlIInballa's child
192], we've no tradition of su icide . So what ate what is lovely [Oindo departs].
drank our brother, to be touched to become like
this? You tell him not to follow that path!
J2 Borjalll./
209 . Oindo: Ah mother, he's been tOllched by homicide.
O indo departs leaving his mother with an uncompromising and unwelcome
2 10. Sindi: That was an incident in Assam. Who's been killed,
message about family arrangements in the Underworld. This message is
murdered here?
clearly not new (new messages tend to come at the key moments staged
2 11 . Oindo: . . . and so this [murd ered] Nepali, or Sahib, or Babu,
through funeral shamans, not through the daily co n versa tions which pass
whoever itlvas , has tOllched him, his power is at large,
through the shamans of the divination-and -hea ling tradition). Sindi has
seeking 10 pass all liis 011'11 fate. This fllry has
already returned to her sarcastic style as soo n as the baby is mentioned.
penetrated here among LIS . ..
This tone continues through her co nversat ion with her dead husba nd
2 12. Sindi : Tell me somethin g new .
Borjanu, who co nfirms that he too has aba ndoned hi s ancestral Earth site
2 13. Oindo : Ah, l11y aunts lI1y sisters, lI1ake him drink medicille
of Bat's Nest in order to move in with his da ugh ter Maianti at her new
([nd he 'll so/iell.
husband 's site.
214. Sindi: He's already drunk the medicine; and what's more ,
we're going to kill a black chicken and chop it up 224 . BO/:!anu: I'vejust been babysilling.
with a rope - Palda told us to do it on his path 225. Sindi: Call yourself a babysitter, and you've left the baby
[actually Palda had specified a pig, which would of for leopards to snatch while you come and ta lk to
course have been more expensive]. us!
215. Oindo: That's right, gel hold of a black chicken and the 226. BO/:!anu: Now I've galle to live with them.
medicine and make him drink it together with the 227. Sindi: Big deal! You didn 't do any work while you were
blood of the chicken; then lay oUlthe rope and do the alive, why would you go to the trouble of building
rite, and lead the rope out along the path and chop il yourself a house down there? Did Raduno or
up, then burn up the pieces. Indaro ever see you doing any work? It took enough
216 . Sindi: All right, we'll get the medicine. of their money to do sacrifices for you when you
were ill. So now you're a babysitter?
The topic of Sarsuno has been worked through and, in contrast to Palda,
228. Borjanu [ungraciously] How do I knoll' whose money you did
Oindo has been confirmed as both authoritative and sympathetic towards
it with, or hal\! lVell you did it? It didn't save me
Sindi. Nonetheless, he too acknowledges the Underworld marriage of his
anY ll'ay, did it? Noll' I've gal my son and daughter-
sister Maianti to Rumbana, as well as its offspring, begotten in the
in-lalV down there . . .
Underworld . Even from Oindo , then, Sindi does not hear all that she wants
229. Sindi: Go on then, buzz om Drink up quickly and go!
to hear.
230. BO/:janu: ... such lovely children . . .
217. Oindo: [suddenly changing the sUbject] Ah! My little niece is 231. Sindi: Your beauty was inherited (pad-) by them [actually
crying. he is said to have looked gormless and to have
218. Sindi: She's crying for her uncle. dribbled] .
219. Oindo: Ai! Mother, she's a lovely child. 232. BO/janu: Drizzling-Shits BO/:!anu Arsehole BO/janu, you called
220. Sindi: Huh! Is she so lovely that she doesn't shit [a me.
conventional expression]? 233. Sindi: Well your arse ha s got a hole, so why shouldn't I?
221. Oindo: Of course she does - don't we all? 234. BO/janu: Well I'm going to live there as a babysiller.
222. Sindi: Well , Piers here is lovely but he shits. What's so 235. Sindi: Then get on with it - Bat's Nest is full of leo pards
special about your baby then unless it doesn ' t? waiting to snatch her.
170 Dialogues Ivith the dead A dialogue Ivith nineteen dead persons 17 1

There is more bicker in g over their dom est ic life a nd the text is cut. Borjanu some ofmy shit in a mould and sealed it up, so that 1
departs and a woman ca n be hea rd say ing, 'The drink's running out, what died of constipation: he put sorcery on me . ..
are we goin g to greet them with?' 248. a woman: Yes, you paid dearly for your ges ture to the race
Ua'ti] of Blacksm iths [translation uncerta in]
By now it is clear that the sonums of Sindi's own immediate family a re
249. Rad uno : Have you go ne to live with the Blacks miths [i. e. in
among the central characters in today 's drama. A few more male sonums,
the Sun]?
however, from Saga lo 's lin e are still waitin g their turn to speak. Only brief
250. Sara'ka: No, I'm in Bat's Nest [Earth site] with my fath er 'S
extracts are given here:
people [i. e. he ha s been redeemed].
13 Disamor The dia logue now moves to femal e so nums. The first of these is Rungkudi's
Jamano's stone- planting was held yesterday in Tongseng. The night before own li ttle daughter Amboni, who died with open sca rs on her throat. This
that, a very shrivelled o ld man had died and been cremated in Alinsin g. His dialogue was presented without co ntext to open this book. Rungkudi is
first inques t therefore took place on the sa me morning as Jamano's si lent throughout and lets Sindi do her ta lkin g for her. But th is time I fee l
stone-planting, described in chapters 5- 6. In this inquest it emerged, as a she does so not out of modesty , since thi s is her own daughter , but out of
kind of grim joke, that the Ra ' tud-People responsible for Jamano's death grief.
had also killed this old man in order to present him to Jamano 'as their
buffalo' along with the twenty-one other, real buffalos which he received . 16 Amboni
Disamor was one of those Ra'tud-People and here he jokes about how he 25 1. Amboni: [faintly] Mother, where are my nose-rings?
and his Ra'tud companions took the old man. 252. Sindi: [answering for Rungkudi] They must have burned
up in the pyre, darling, we looked but couldn't find
24 1. Disamor: [whispers] Yesterday they came and took an empty , them. I don't know whether they jumped to one side
dried-up old man, took him as a buffalo-offering to the or what.
stone-plant ing. 253. Amboni: [petulantly] Why aren 't y ou showing me my nose-
242. Sindi: Why? He was minding his own business, sitting rings?
huddled in a corner, why couldn't you leave him 254. Sindi: They were so tiny . If I'd found them of course I'd
alone? Was he a difficult victim, did he put up much show them to you. [a pause; Sindi continues]
of a struggle? 255. Sind i again : Oh my love, my darling, don't cause your own
243. Disamor: Yeughhh! [spits] ... lIIe threlll him alllay , not 1II0rth illness in others. Can you say that your mother and
eating. [some lines omitted] father didn ' t sacrifice for you? They didn't turn their
backs or refuse to help you, did they? Think of a ll
14 Dorsang
those pigs, all those chickens, goats, buffalos, my
246. Dorsang: . .. I'm thinking of taking old Aganti: she's ji-om a
lovely child. Didn ' t your father say, ' Let's light a
rich family and Ive'd get plenty to drink at her
fire , let her stay at home and not go out to work,
stone-planting . ..
look at her, she's already got the face of an old
15 Sara'ka woman' , didn't he say that? ... What? Your two
Sara'ka was slightly moronic and speaks in a slow, slurred manner which is gold necklaces aren't here, Sarsuno's wearing them
considered very funny. now ...
256. Amboni: [addressing herself to the silent Rungkudi , and
247. Sara'ka: ... a [Gansi-caste] Blacksmith set up shop over crying] Mother, you lIIere horrid to me, you scolded
there. 'Will y ou work this piece of iron ji-om me?' J me, you called me Scar-Girl, you called me L eper-
said. Then he took my iron and disappeared, so J Iven t Girl, you said, ' You're a big girl nolV, IVhy should J
and shilled on his forge . Then he came back. and put feed you IIIh en you sit around doing nothing?' . ..
• - - - - ------------~

172 Dialogues wilh Ihe dead A dialogue lI'ith I/in eteen dead persons 173

257. Sindi: She didn ' t mean it, she couldn't help saying it: after 18 Gurandi
all, you were growing up and there were such a lot of Her subject matter is slight. I do not know her position on the ge nea logy .
chores to do.
258. Amboni: [sulkily] I Il'anl my necklaces . .. I used 10 hobble
/9 Panderi
round bent double, I couldn'l stand up straight . ..
[unreasonable childish tone] Why can't I have my At some point, in anticipation ofPanderi 's arrival, her husband Sagalo ha s
left the food preparations and come over to join us. Yet, just like Rungkudi
nose-rings? ... I have to go digging, shovelling and
le)lelling earth [in the Underworld] , all Ivithout my when brought voice to voice with little Amboni, Sagalo too is unable to
nose-rings. My mother came ./i'01J1 Khond caul/try, speak for himself. He sits tearfui and wretched , while his aunt Sindi speaks
on his behalf.
she gave it to me in her Ivomb, it's in her family. I
came out ill scars all over, my fingers sial' ted dropping The circumstances of Panderi's death were outlined at the beginning of
off. That illness Il'as passed on to lI1e , that's how I got this chapter. She has been dead for about four months and the iss ues at
ill. But I')le been healed down below: my [father's] stake in thi s dialogue very clearly still revolve around the valjdity of their
Allcestors redeemed me and I'm healed 11011'. marriage . It is emphasised on both sides how firmly integrated as a
259. Sindi: So don't you pass it on, don't you give it to your daughter-in-law Panderi had already become in Sagalo's lineage (lines
mother and little sisters! 271-4; 283 ff); she explici tly repudia tes the cross-cousin rela tionship with
260. Amboni: If I grab them I grab them, if I touch them I touch Sagalo which made their marriage questiona ble in the eyes of her brothers
them, if I pass it all I pass it on: that's how it goes. But (285); and she emphasises that it was not she but their baby who was the
I'm all right noll'. real target of the attack (275- 6, 285). An interpretation of the meaning of
261. Sindi: Your cough your choking, your scars your wounds, these points will be offered in the following chapter.
don't pass them on ... 269. Panderi: [faintly] I got eaten up I got drunk up, mothers [an
262. Amboni.· My Mummy doesll't care ellough about me. [departs] image appropriate to the action of Ra'tud]
270. Sindi: Ah my dear, it was so sudden, just like that, you . ..
17 Maianti [continues inaudibly]
Attention is turned back from Rungkudi to Sindi, as her daughter Maianti 271. Panderi: After I came and joil/ed your group, mothers -
confirms her marriage to Rumbana (the son of Rondang, the shaman 272. Sindi: [rising out of inaudibility] [Yes], 'this is my house
through whom she speaks). Like any wife, she is torn between her my home' you said ... have a drink before you go.
husband's and her natal family. 273. Panderi: [same small, shaken voice] 0 deal', really I got eaten
up I got drunk up
263. Maianti: ... Rumbana told me 110tto come here today but I said 274. Sindi: [near-inaudible monotone] .. . didn't we do all your
'Why shouldn't I, they're my lineage my branch, I'll sacrifices, yet if only you'd been ill first [we could
go and eat with my brothers.' But he said the children have done something] ... didn't we do all your
would cry [actually they have only one baby, in the sacrifices, yet -
Underworld]. 275. Panderi: It's not that ; but your little grandchild Ivould have
264. Sindi: Then let Gurandi come and take the grain for you. been swallowed right up and I II'0uld still have beell
265. Maianti: Or why don 't you carry it down yourself to join me in alive. I bent down to protect him, mother, and they ate
the Underworld - [i.e. 'die', cf. line 68]. me up instead.
266. Sindi: [sharply] Clear offl 276. Sindi: Yes, if they'd got the child, you'd have been all right.
267. Maianti: - to Jagatumba, Ra'giribgiban, Bamboo Stream 277. Panderi: Yes, they ate me up ... two gourdfuls of wine, Birsan
[Ea rth si tes] handed me two gourdfuls of wine [i.e. she stopped for
174 Dialogues Il'ith the dead A dialogue Il'ith lIilleteen dead persolls 175

a drink on the way, between having been attacked 28 6. Sindi: [becomin g aud ibl e] You can't say we didn ' t plant a
and beginning to feel its effect]. J drank them, II'hile stone for you or do your sacrifices, can you?
your child- [vehement torrent] Lea ve abandon that hou se that
278. Sindi: Where did you go to drink? home , tha t place tha t loca tion, tha t sea t tha t si te,
279 . Panderi: Vh? lea ve it abandon it ... Say you're go ing to your
280. Sindi: Was it to Sweet Mango? fathers your fathers -in -law your fathers [actua lly
28 1. Panderi.· No no, to COII"S COI~/ilsion. COli'S' ConJilsion. It lI'as meaning only her fathers -in -law], and go to Bat's
Disamor 's father's Il'in e, J mean J drank it Il'ith Nest, Bodigan, Jelabbab, Kupa [Earth-sites] -
Birsan, but J ollly drank tll'O gourdfuls , and J - 287. Panderi: Yes, [my father-in -Iaw's] Ancestors are redeeming
282. Sindi: Only two gourdfuls! [i.e. what a meagre, unhealthy me all right -
appetite!] 288. Sindi : Then give it up .. . will you stay like that in
283. Panderi: Well, my soul had already fused (jakJd-) [into Eating-up-House Drinking-up-Hou se? -
Ra'tud-Sonum]. That's right . [calling out] 'A h, 289 . Panderi: My father-ill-Iall' says, 'Let's go and live together
really, help meJathers, Ah, really, help me!', J cried, over there', he says -
'Ah aunts Ah uncles, Ah mothers-in-Iall' Ah fathers - 290. Sindi: Well, if they've redeemed (tandi-) you if they've
in-Iml'! ' untied (urdi-) you -
284. Sindi: How could we see you? 291. Panderi: Yes they have .
285. Panderi: [tearful] 'Where 's my husband II'here's my husband, J 292. Sindi: Are you saying we didn't plant a stone for you we
lI'ant to be lI'ith him J lI'ant to speak to him, II'here's didn't do your sacrifices?
your nephew where's your son?' is all J cried. [quiet 293. Panderi.· But [the Ra ' tud-People] IVan', release me IVan', Ie'
again] They ate me up fresh-and-alive (rongtapada). me go!
[fast hysterical monotone] 'Ah husband Ah spouse, 294. Sindi: 'Let go!', you should say, 'I've got my fathers-in -law
now that lI'e've stopped being brothers nolV thatlVe've I've got my mothers-in-law [i.e. Sindi herself] , I've
stopped being sisters, nolV that lI'e've given up being got my brothers-in-law I've got my kinsmen I've got
cousins, 1101V that we're no longer marongger-man my sisters-in-law', you should say. [Panderi departs]
maronsel -lVoman, truly, you do my sacrifices [i .e.
Panderi was the last dead person to speak. After her, Herdsman-So num
instead of my brothers], Ah fathers Ah mothers/' J
(GOdU-SIl17) spoke in a distinctive patois, supposedly of low-caste Telugu
said - [Sindi is speaking very fast in the background,
herdsmen. Then Dumb-Sun (Mo'mo 'yung) gave his inarticulate gruntings.
words inaudible] Your child your grandchild, they
Finally, Rondang's rauda -familiar herself appeared and sang and spoke
1V0uld have beaten him and snatched him, but J
for a few minutes . Rondang spat into her palms, rubbed her eyes, opened
screamed '0 gai, my baby, 0 gai, my baby!' and bent
them and stretched herself. She had returned from her other home in the
dOlVn over him, so they ate me up instead. Underworld .
However, Panderi's redemption remains problematic. Despite the stone-
planting performed by Sagalo, in which his Ancestors led her into their own
Earth site (286), she has not been fully released into their care by her
original death-Experience (293). Sindi, on behalf of the lineage into which
she and Panderi have both married , encourages her to be resolute (294).
But Panderi's pitiful and helpless tone throughout makes it clear that,
despite her best intentions, this move is still beyond her ability .
lVlemo l'ies (lnd I'emembel'el's 177

8 res ident Rumbana even perverts hi s choice of Ea rth -site resid ence . As we
shall see, Ihi s makes him effectively a n 'A ncestor' to anot her lin eage a nd
actua ll y disturbs the regul ar movement of names and property within and
between lineages. This kind of play is made possible by the fl ex ibility of the
Memories and rememberers: states of correspondence between structural time a nd li ved time. A ll changes in the
Sora life-cycle start from a moment. If the initi a l moment is not given by
mind among the dead and the living nature, as in birth or death, it is created as in the stone-p lanting a nd la ter
stages of the funeral sequence. But this moment is not the point at which the
transition occurs definitively, but that at which the possibility for its
fulfilment begins. Each stage must reckon with reversions to the previous
state . While these a re ever-decrea sing, they can not be disrega rded . The
decisiveness of the created moments gives a clea r framework of structura l
time across which the eddies and counter-currents of fee lin g flow , with a
Emotional tone and degrees of redemption different kind of time-pa ttern of its own . So num s like Palda are problem -
The text given in chapter 7 is a typical Sora dialogue with th e dead. It is atic precisely because their recalcitrance creates such a n extreme discrep-
clear that some of the sonums who come have great emotional power over ancy between these two kinds of time.
those who gather to meet them; and that , in formal terms , this power is As a heuristic measure, the sonums we have met in the dialogue above
somehow linked to the degree to which each dead person's redemption has may be distinguished broad ly into Old, Middle-Distance and Rece nt
been made to stick or is being resisted by the dead themselves. The deceased sonums. These categories are not a bsolute, nor are they directly labelled in
person may be a more or less will ing party to this resistance. While Panderi Sora terminology. They reflect no more than predominant tendencies: just
would willingly embrace redemption but is hindered by other sonums who as the dead wander back a nd forth between states, so our categories and
now make up the Ra'tud side of her nature, Palda by contrast revels in his dead people's membership of them cannot be hard and fast. These
unredeemed state, as befits both his perverse personality and the more categories correspond not so much to time alone, as to shifts in emotional
dangerous nature of his Sun Experience. a ttitudes which correspond somewhat loosely to the passage of time, so
Clearly, too, the increasing stability of a sonum's redeemed state is that these categories could also be called 'Undisturbing' , 'Neutral' and
related to the passage of time itself. The past few chapters have shown how 'Distressing' sonums. Those in the first category have been dea d many
a dead person is perpetuated among the living. This perpetuation is seen in years. They no longer attack in the form of their original death-Ex perience;
terms of a gradual progression between two idioms , Experience-member- though they are known to be in Earth sites, they visit us only in the form of
shi p and Ancestorhood. Ini tially, the dea th-Experience fills the en tire scope pure Ancestors or in ways closely associated with this such as through
of his being and leaves room for nothing else. Almost immediately, the Lumbago-Sonum (Dul'i-SII11 , as in this dialogue). They no longer have any
Ancestors redeem him and there begins a struggle to hold illm to this new close personal emotional involvement with the living. The second category,
state. He reverts spontaneously to cause illness; healing rites send him back. who in general have died some years ago, have lost much of their power to
Perhaps through the very act itself of causing dea ths (this is not quite clear) distress though not yet their personalities. These are inclined sometimes to
or else simply by the passing of time, the impulse to revert weakens and attack through their originaldeath-Experience and sometimes to behave as
eventually fades away altogether. He is now a pure Ancestor residing in an Ancestors. Finally, Distressing sO;lums may ca~se grief a mong the living
Earth site. and attack frequently in the form of their original death-Experience.
In the turmoil of actual events there can be an intricate play between the The first sonums to arrive in any trance are always unequivocally Old
idioms of Ancestor and Experience. Thus Panderi 's dea th-Experience itself sonums (of whom the males survive for many more years than the females).
hinders her attempts to reach her husband's Earth site and become an In text 7.1. this category may be said to include sonums Nos . I to 9. In
Ancestor in his house, willie Palda's camaraderie with his fellow Sun- cosmological terms Old sonums are Ancestors in the fullest sense. They
178 Dialogues IFith the dead
Memories and rell7elllberers 179
have taken up residence definitively in a particular Earth site and are very
di stant among these sonums (Nos. 13- 15, 18), their personalities have
unljkely to revert to their original dea th-Experience (indeed , these are often
beco me reduced through conventionalisation and they co me to be
already forgo tten by th e living). They show a striking uniformity in the tone
identified only by superficia: attributes which lead ultimately to caricature.
and content of their conversation and a re barely distingui shable in
Thus No. 15 (Sara'ka) acts out a di stinctive speech habit and in addition
personality . The circumstances of their death s are no longer discussed and
repeats (a s he does every time he appears) hi s ludicrous personal hi sto ry.
they converse on the same kind of non -topics which Sindi, for all her
These Middle-Distance sonums are already not much more than Old
accomplishment in backchat, often appears to find fundamentally uninter-
sonums with a little garnish of stylised local colour still clinging to them.
esting. These so nums are treated facetiously , even rudely, and dismissed
Sonums Nos. 10-12 and 17, on the other hand , while still being
quickly . They turn up ostensibly to receive what is theirs by right and to
Middle-Distance, lie much closer to the heart of their current inte rlocutor
oversee their own legacies (see e.g. Indupur's claim on Sandi, lines 141 If).
Sindi since they are her own husband and children. In themselves they do
They justify this relationship by the fact of having passed on their names,
not seem to distress her now. But her insulting banter with her husband , for
and through their role in promoting crop growth.
instance, is not distant as it often wa s with the earlier Old sonums but
As Ancestors, the Old sonums are fundamental to the structure of Sora
perhaps tinged with some affection and at least highly specific in tone and
society. Their appearance early in the trance sets the scene in several ways
content. She is here facing the sonums of personalities who cannot be fully
for what will follow . Like the rauda-familiars, they can point to the
conventionalised away until she herself is dead and her conversations with
direction which the trance will take when the serious discussion begins (cf.
them give a convincing picture of what those relationships were probably
lamano's father's speech, before lamano's own appearance, in chapter 5).
like when they were all alive.
Like the raudas, too, they also serve to establish the otherness of the world
Three sonums can be placed unhesitatingly in the Recent, Distressing
from which they have all come. lust before their arrival, the shaman has
category: the suicide Palda, the scar-ravaged little girl Amboni, and the
sung an invoca tion describing her journey to the Underworld . Her imagery
young wife Panderi. In terms of time, Panderi (No . 19) has been dead only
has established this otherness in terms of spatial inaccessibility. Now the
three months and has not yet received the first of her three annual
Old sonums play further with spatial paradox by reminding us that even on
harvest-commemorations; Palda (No. 10) has been dead for around three
the surface of the earth, their space overlaps with ours and yet is different
years; while Amboni (No. 16) has died within the previous year. Emotion-
(previous chapter, lines 70 ff),just as in terms of time, within this very same
ally, they come in direct response to the presence of a mourner whom they
space, the seasons in their world are out of step with ours (lines 5- 11,73-4).
have the power to disturb . In such cases the bereaved person may
This portrayal of the difference between the worlds not only validates the
sometimes try to greet the deceased and even to embrace the shaman
journey between them but also contributes to the transcendent authority of
through whom the sonum speaks; but often he or she will weep silently on
the dialogue which this journey has made possible, an authority which will
the outskirts of the group and it is left to a more confident and collected
be so important when the more recent sonums follow.
interlocutor to speak with the sonum on the mourner's behalf. These three
Middle-Distance and Recent (or, respectively, Neutral and Distressing)
conversations stand out sharply in the intensity of their impact. The topics
sonums provide the substance of the conversations for which the Old
discussed are highly varied and specific, and they plumb emotional depths
sonums have merely set the scene. These sonums are still at various stages
of a quite different order from the other sonums. Indeed I still find it
between a frequent reversion to their original death-Experience and the
difficult, several years later, to listen to their tapes with a dry eye. All are
state of irreversible residence in an Earth site which will make them into
unsettled not only cosmologically but emotionally : Palda deliberately
Old sonums . Though these stages are not absolute and a sonum's
nasty, little Amboni pathetic, though her dangerousness is just an
behaviour may vary with the occasion and the identity of the interlocutors
unavoidable part of her condition, and Panderi who though she does not
present, we may distinguish Middle-Distance from Recent sonums in that
speak in a threatening tone is still trapped against her will inside the form of
the former no longer cause the living the same intense anguish. Thus we can
her own death. I do not have enough information to examine Amboni'scase,
say of Middle-Distance sonums that (as with Old sonums) the living
but shall examine the background to Panderi's and Palda's appearances.
mourners have no intense unfinished business with them. With the more
180 Dialogues Ivitlt the dead Memories alld rel11emberers 181

Conversations with two partially redeemed sonums second verdict, on the other hand , refl ected her bro thers' ho stilit y towards
her ma rria ge. Their view was suppo rted in addition by her supposed
Pallde";'s message to Saga /o : lo ve agaillst all odds previous suicide a ttempt a fter an earlier qua rrel wi th Saga lo .
On the ni ght that Pa nderi died , I wa s sleepi ng in Ra na tang's hou se in When the Ancestor-W omen of Saga lo 's lineage had cooled her ashes
T on gseng, ha lf a mile across the va lley from where she lived in Alin sin g. with wa ter, her brothers' group too k some o f these in a bone-carrying
During the ni ght there came the sound of drumming a nd lamentin g from process ion to their own cremation site a nd buried them there, just as the
A linsing a nd the sky was red with the fl a re o f a pyre . I wa s consciou s of th e remai nder had been buried on Sagalo 's cremation site. The inquests in her
others' tense wakefuln ess in the da rk for some tim e before someone broke husband 's and her bro thers' houses were to be performed in that order on
the silence to ask , 'Are th ey si nging langga or langgi?' (i.e. ' beloved ' in the successive days by the same old woman , Rijanti , who thou gh now blind
ma sculine or feminine form). However, before first light they knew from and barely able to walk acted as the ma in funeral shaman for both Alinsin g
gossip not only who had died but were also saying that she had hanged and Lower Villa ge. She had ma rried into the Headman linea ge of Alinsin g
he rself after a quarrel with Sagalo - and , moreover, that she had tried to do from another vill age bu t had stayed on after being widowed . She wa s not
so once before but had been cut down in time. At first light we crossed over obviousl y involved with either of the opposed households for whom she
to Alinsing, where the pyre on Sa galo 's cremation site had not yet died was to perform.
down . A friend from Alinsing told me, 'She had been going around with The following morning the first of these inquests took place in Sagalo 's
only her external (bayira) soul , her real soul had been lost since she went to house . Some representatives of Panderi 's brothers came and sat stony-
Pangrung yesterday . Yesterday a sonum grabbed her, Ra'tud .' Others faced on the verandah outside, from where they could hear through the
added specifically tha t this was the Ra'tud -Sonum of Rungrungba village, open door everything that was said within. Raw rice grains were
on the way to Pangrung. But members of her natal lineage in Lower contributed by all the households in Sagalo's lineage, with the addition of
Village, who had always resented her marriage to Sagalo, were standing his mother's brother Mengalu. This was in May 1979, during Mengalu's
round the pyre muttering that it must have been suicide or murder to be so period of great closeness to Sagalo, whom he protected as his 'orphaned
sudden. It turned out that they had already raided Sagalo's house and nephew' . Three months earlier, it will be recalled from the beginning of
sna tched back Panderi 's personal jewellery, grain and clothing (her keruru) chapter 5, Mengalu had chosen to sing at a separate event with the
with a promise to return it to her child if it should survive . This was a Ancestor-Men of Sagalo's lineage rather than with his own at the naming
calculated spite since the baby was only a year old and such unweaned ofRanatang's baby, even though that baby was ofMengalu 's own lineage.
children usually perish since no other woman will wet-nurse them. On the present occasion Mengalu had likewise lent his seniority to support
Unlike Jamano 's case, there were here two preconceived verdicts in Sagalo vehemently in his unsuccessful battle to prevent Panderi's brothers
circulation before the first inquest. Neither of these verdicts involved from confiscating her personal effects . But I could not help remembering
sorcery but each did reflect one of two conflicting views of what the cause the last time I had attended an inquest in this same house two years earlier
and even the perceptible symptoms might have been. These views directly (chapter 2). Then Mengalu had been revealed as the one who had murdered
reflected the opposed interests of Panderi's husband and brothers, both of Sagalo's little brother by sorcery - a verdict which we saw in chapter 5 was
whom were to perform a separate funeral and inquest. That involving to be echoed a few months after today's proceedings, a t the inquest on
Ra ' tud was based on the fact that the dead woman had returned from a Jamano.
long journey carrying her baby along a path which passed through many The format and tone of the inquest on the morning after death are similar
known Ra ' tud sites; characteristically of Ra ' tud she had then collapsed to those of the later stone-planting inquest, as presented in chapter 5. There
suddenly during the evening, in addition making horrible noises reminis- are the same injunctions to the deceased not to conceal the truth and the
cent of the dog Kambutung with which Ra'tud-Sonum hunts down its same techniques for building from a shared perception of the symptoms
victims. Besides, it was argued , she had initially collapsed outside the house towards a goal in terms of motive. Yet at the same time, the first inquest
and called out for help, whereupon certain named witnesses had carried her proceeds with a more elaborate display of tentativeness . The dead woman
inside, so how could it have been a concealed murder or suicide? The was fed with water rather than alcohol since rather than a true sonum she is
18 2 Dialogues with th e dead Mel170ries and rell/ ell/berers 183

still partly a co nfu sed ghost (/wlman) hot from the pyre and consequently at F in a ll y the dead gi rl herse lf came. After bein g given a drink of water,
even greater ri sk of ondrung (,false awareness'). rather than wi ne, she wa s made to reco unt every detail of her movements as
In the first inquest, therefore, an additional preliminary test is done she came a lon y a long the path with her baby, where she had stopped to rest
before the actual trance in order to give the company a lea d towards the and whether she had felt anything at the time. She repeatedly empha sised
likely ca use of death , a lthough the verdict of this need not be bindingon the how she had saved the baby who was the rea l ta rget of the attack. Her
dialogues which follow. The shaman places two gra in s of rice between two husband wep t at the thou ght that at the very moment when she wa s bein g
leaves from a bael tree and passes them through the fl ame of her la mp. This ea ten a live, he had been havin g a good tim e drinking with hi s friends in the
lamp is associated with the idea of clarity of perception in the quest for forest ; he reca lled how when she had recentl y been ill he had sacrifi ced an
truth in the shadowy Underworld. A verse is sun g nam ing one so num a t a an im a l for her and she had imm ed iate ly recovered. All these points are still
time which may be either a specific dead person or an Experience and the being echoed very closely in the previous chapter's text , recorded fo ur
leaves are opened and examined to see whether the two grains have stuck to months la ter. There was also a lon g discussion of a ll her belon gin gs in order
the same lea f (indicating a negative proba bility) or to separate lea ves to es ta bli sh their precise quantiti es . Though they had been snatched by her
(positive) . brothers, the day mi ght come when they would be demanded back if the
On the present occasion, after working systematically through the names baby survived. At one point she was accused by her brothers' people of
of various dead perso ns, the shaman moved on to specific Ra ' tud sites . concealing the fact tha t she had bee n driven to suicide, and there were
After this procedure had been followed with a grim determination for threa ts of calling another shaman to force her to corrobora te thi s view. But
about an hour, she came at the thirty-seco nd test to the Ra'tud -Sonum of Panderi herself supplied the unmi stakable imagery of Ra ' tud , for exa mple,
Rungrungba village. On separating the leaves it was found that the two 'They prick me with a goad like a buffalo' (cf. cha pter 5, lines 102, 104). She
grains had disappeared completely, which I was told indicated a very high confirmed that the ringleader in the attack had been Sunia and as a parting
probability indeed that this sonum was responsible. At this point the tests shot advised her younger sister, who was present, to marry Sagalo in her
with leaves ceased and Panderi's brothers' people entered the house and stead.
took part in the remainder of the proceedings. The following day, Rijanti sat for the duplicate first inquest in Panderi 's
Once the trance began, there came at first a succession of eight dead brothers' hou se. I was unable to attend, and so cannot give a detailed
people who stayed only long enough to name themselves and enjoy a drink account. Anything said in the earlier inquest could have been contested and
of wine. These included some Ra'tud -People who were from Rungrungba it was not inevitable that she would either confirm her cause of dea th or
village but were not related in any way to Panderi or her husband. Then repeat the advice to her sister. In thi s light I am inclined to interpret the
came the suicide Palda , who confusingly lent support to the alternative appearance in the first inquest of the suicide Palda as being just enough to
verdict by claiming to have induced Panderi to follow his own example and keep suicide a live issue. In the event, even though she was surrounded the
hang herself. He was followed , however, by the slavering hunting dog of second time by interlocutors from the other side of the dispute, the original
Ra'tud , whose behaviour Panderi was supposed to have imitated in her verdict ofRa'tud was upheld and all her messages were repea ted. This was
death-throes . In the body of the frail old shaman I found this a chilling confirmed aga in at her first stone-planting given by Sagalo a month later
performance. Then came the Ra'tud-Man from Rungrungba who claimed and in the su bsequent stone-planting given by her brothers. All talk of
responsibility as the ringleader in the attack . This was none other than suicide seems then to have ceased .
Sunia, who as Sagalo's distant cross-cousin had been commemorated two The rationale for this verdict is so mewhat different from that for
years earlier in the same double stone-planting ceremony as had Sagalo's Jamano's case, where the role of the attacker was fragmented into three: the
little brother Mando. Mengalu, despite his own role in Mando's death , unmotivated person who shared Jam ano's Experience; the wife who did
asked him indignantly why he had done this terrible thing when they ('we', not share hi s Experience but was at least partially motivated; and the highly
used without a trace of irony despite Mengalu's position at that earlier motiva ted sorcerer who was not yet dead and so was associated with a
time) had treated him well by giving him an honorary stone-planting, even particula r Experience only to the extent that he had made a pact. In the
though this was not strictly required by his cross-cousin status. present case there is no such fragmentation: the ultimate impetus for the
184 Dialogues Illith the dead M el1lories alld rel1lel1lberers 185

attack lies with someone who is him self a member of the Experi ence will his name be given to one of my desce nd a nts. A male cross-cousin will
through which the attack is routed. simpl y res ide in one of hi s own lineage's Eart h-Sonum sites and give hi s
Why did Sunia use his Experience, Ra'tud -Sonum, to attack Sagalo's name to one of their descendants . But though optional second sto ne-
baby and in the process kill Panderi? The So ra interpre tation goes beyond a plantings are genera ll y given to cross-cousins for the sake of affection , here
simple conjunction of his own Expe ri ence and motive. It uses two analogies too there may be a strategic intention. To stage the primary stone-p lantin g
or displacements which I was able to discern in Sora discussions at the time. ra ther than mere ly to participa te in one staged by someone else, is of course
One of these concerns the attacker: Sunia was acting on behalf ofPanderi's to assert one's right to be the heir of the deceased and to retrieve hi s name
own brothe rs. The other co ncerns the victim: it was the little baby boy who for one's own children . To take so me of his bones home in order to plant a
was the inte nded victim and Panderijust go t in the way while protect ing her second sto ne is the next best thin g: it brings within the range of
baby . In the process, she was killed and the baby survived . quasi-consanguinity someo ne who would otherwise remain outside it as a n
Let us take the first di splacement first, in which the attacker Sunia is see n affine. If my cousin 's closest brothe rs la ter die out, I may ma ke a bid to be
as standing for the victim's own brothers. Sunia resides in the Ra'tud site of his heir aga inst hi s more distant co llatera ls. In this case I must first induce
his own villa ge Rungrungba . Each villa ge has its own Ra'tud residenti a l him in dialogues to change hi s res idence to one of my own Earth -So num
site, which ca uses the dea ths of a large number of people from tha t vill age sites, as the first stage in the transferral of what we may call more ma terial
(such as 1amano in Alinsing) as well as of a few stray travellers from other rights. Thus, though a decea sed ma le is not at first listed among the
villages, like Panderi today. In recent memory, the Ra'tud site of Ancestors of two lineages, by revealing in dialogues that he has changed the
Rungrungba has absorbed five other Alinsing people. In every case, some site of his Earth residence, he can effectively change his lineage : the rights
sort of personal connection was found to justify the attack. However, none first to his name and eventually to hi s property are thereby gradually
of these victims from her own village was said to be implicated in Panderi's transferred. The case discussed in the next section will include precisely
death. Instead , attention was focussed entirely on the connection between such a move, as a more recent link be tween affines overrides an older
her husband Sagalo and his cross-cousin Sunia. collateral one within the lineage - largely on the grounds that it is more
What endowed Sunia with the potential to cause a death in Sagalo's persuasive in terms of personal affection.
household was the fact that Sagalo had given him a stone·planting. The The Sora interpretation of the present case takes advantage of Sagalo's
ambiguity of this action can be understood if we refer back to the ways in relationship to Sunia in order to sa y something about Sagalo's marriage to
which a man can participate in another man 's funeral. In chapter 4 it was Panderi. Sagalo's cross-cousin relationship to Sunia is analogous to the
shown tha t lineage members and affines (in-laws) are clearly distinguished relationship between Sagalo and Panderi's brothers (figure 8.1). It was the
by their behaviour; and that the basic way of participating in the funeral of latter relationship , as much as Sagalo's poverty , which her brothers cited to
a cross-cousin is to treat him as an affine by 'dancing a buffalo', in other justify their hostility to the ma rriage . A cross-cousin relationship is
words, to act as an outsider to his lineage. Yet if properly kept up a supposed to last for three generations following the marriage which brings
cross-cousin relationship can be very close, especially if cousins live near it into being and to lapse (masuna-) in the fourth . Tn the present case, Sagalo
each other and frequently exchange labour and hospitality. My mother's belon gs to the last generation in his line to whom this relationship will
brother's or father's sister's people were indeed in -laws to my parents; but apply. Panderi's brothers do not wish to see this relationship ignored. The
their descendants, my cross-cousins, are discouraged as marriage partners case thus emerges as one of a cross-cousin relationship which refuses to
for the next three generations and are ofte n addressed as 'brother' and fade away before its time despite the anxiety of Sagalo and Panderi to
'sister'. A cross-cousin's death therefore faces me with a choice: it is only if! discontinue it prematurely. As Panderi herself was to put it later, quoting
am less close that I treat him as an in-law and so 'dance a buffalo' to his what she had said at the moment of her own death, ' ... Ah husband Ah
lineage's stone-planting; if closer, I may ' take his bones' and give him a spouse, ... now that we've stopped being sisters, now that we've given up
duplicate stone-planting on my site, as Sagalo has done for Sunia. being cousins .. .' (chapter 7, line 285).
Even if! give my cross-cousin a second stone-planting he will not , like a What I have called the second displacement develops this through the
married woman , be enumerated later among my Ancestors. Nor normally substitution of the victim: it was not Panderi whom Sunia intended to
186 Dialogues with the dead A1el110ries (1;1(1 rel11el11berers 187

destroy , but her baby . Panderi insists repeatedly that the baby wa s the mother for her son in later yea rs; and make it possible for Panderi to take
targe t and tha t she sacrificed her life to save him. Similarly, while her pyre her own name away from her brothers' linea ge and give it to a future
was still bl azing, I hea rd that her brothers had already plundered her daughter of Saga lo by her sister. (When I return ed in 1984, all these thin gs
personal belongin gs from the wretched Sagalo 's house in the scarcely veiled had ind eed come a bout. Saga lo had ma rried Panderi 's sister and retrieved
expec tation that the baby would not be nursed by a nother woman and hi s son , now five years old, from the orphana ge. He and the sister also now
would not survive to claim them back. had a ba by daughter - called , as I expected , Panderi.)
The bi rth of this baby, and of a boy at that , for Sagalo 's lineage What emotiona l state, so soon after he r death , do the words which
represents the vindication of Pand eri's marriage to him. So long as that appear to come from Pa nderi aim to induce in th e two riva l living pa rties?
ba by remains alive, he will continue to vindicate it. Sa galo has been quick Both are suffering from the loss of a woma n to whom they were strongly
to understand this and has already taken the very unusual step of taking attached. But wrule her husband is bein g comforted, her brothers are being
him to a Christian missionary orphanage in order to make sure that he will rebuked fo r thei r possessiveness. It is as if Panderi were saying to them ,
be kept alive on baby food. This is two days ' journey away on the coast, far ' You thought tha t by wishing the ba by dead you could get your sister back.
out of Sora territory, but he visits his baby frequently and thinks about him But you were defeated by my devotion to the marriage. By your wish , you
constantly . We have also heard Panderi encourage her younger sister to have now lost me utterly - and you will lose your other sister to the same
marry Sagalo . If there is to be polygyny, the first wife's normal companion man.' For Sagalo, by contrast, the message points towards a certain
as her co-wife is her younger sister (aliboj) and so this marriage would assert continuing companionship . Sagalo's growing confidence about the sur-
the continuing validity of Sagalo's first marriage to Panderi herself. It vival of his son, or his satisfaction at Panderi's replacement by her sister,
would also repeat Panderi's defiance of her brothers; provide another will be reflected in the growing permanence of Panderi's redemption as she
ceases to wander as a Recent, Distressing sonum and remains mo re and
more an Ancestor residing definitively in Sagalo's particular Earth site.
Figure 8.1 Sagalo's cross-cousin relationships with his wife Panderi and her Four months after her death, this positive future is still not yet assured .
attacker SUl1ia. The names of dead persons are printed in italics.
Panderi still finds it difficult to escape from her Ra'tud Experience (lines
286- 94) . But she is a determined woman and the passion with which she
juxtaposes her protectiveness towards the baby with her love for Sagalo
(e.g. line 285) suggests to me that her act of self-sacrifice for their baby's
sake is intended to be taken by the bereaved Sagalo as the supreme
expression of that love.

A complex a"d lI1/1velcome message for Si"di from her lIasty SOli Palda
While Panderi's redemption remains unstable against her will, Palda's case
is quite the opposite: he revels in his Experience rather than seeking to
escape from it and he abandons his 'correct' (rojtad) Earth site for a
perverse one. This is despite the fact that he has been dead for three years to
Pal/deri Saga lo SlIllia Panderi's four months. If his mother Sindi resists a message which he

continues to push, we must ask who would welcome it. The number of
interested parties is large and the occasions over the years when their views
could be expressed are numerous. But so far as I was able to understand it,
Key Palda and his mother are caught up in a bigger game, in which their affairs
are merely a sideshow. This ramifies out from the ambiguous inheritance of
o re ma le
= married to Rumbana , the earlier suicide who induced Palda to take his own life. Figure
M ell10ries alld rell1elllberers 189
8. 2 shows the main peopl e involved. Rumbana' s central role can be clea rl y
6 seen.
As he often tells us, Palda has aba ndoned Bat's Nest (one of hi s own
lineage's Earth sites) and gone to res id e with hi s fri end Rumbana in
Jagatumba Earth site. This choice of res id ence build s on a previou s
connection , the fact that as a previous suicide it wa s Rumbana who induced
v v
'0 Palda to kill him self. The connection ha s now been further reinforced in
4) "@ OJ:;
-;; E @ several ways. All the dead members of Paid a 's hou sehold have moved to
i)'E ~ E Rumbana 's Earth site; while in the Underworld Rumbana has even
~ <lOIl
married Palda's dea d sister Maianti and through her begotten a sonUl11 -
Clearly , then , Palda 's irregular movements follow in the wake of
Rumbana' s. After his redemption , Rumbana had ori ginally gone to
Hollow Water Earth-site, as was appropriate . But as the genealogy shows
in figure 8.2, the site in which Rumbana now resides, Jagatumba , is not one
cultivated by his own Ancestors, but one belonging to his grandmother's
brothers. Thus, through their crops, Rumbana's soul is now feeding
.S households not in his father 's lineage but in the natal lineage of his
~ grandmother, an in-marrying woman. To do this is to imply that the latter
OJ may claim to be his heirs .
Why did Rumbana move? Let us examine the circumstances surround-
ing his death. It seems that Rumbana was widely loved in the village a nd
that everybody had been deeply shocked by his death. For a long time his
girl-friend could not bring herself to leave his parents' home or to find
OJ another man; his father Tabaro has given him four of the annual karjas
.D.D instead of the usual three and still walks around 'like an empty shell
.D (ku/taben , an empty grain basket made of stitched leaves and floppier than
/ one made of basket-weave); his soul has already died (a puradan andrellg
keid/e)' . Rumbana died unmarried and with him an entire branch of the
Headman lineage died back (tad-) as far as Old Tabaro (generation - 3). Of
the present Tabaro's three brothers and half-brothers ( - I), two died
childless while the third when he dies will leave only a daughter, Gadi . All
their considerable land was therefore due to come to Rumbana who indeed
was already farming it with his aged parents.
Where a man has sons , they will always be the ones to perform his
stone-planting, so that inheritance presents no problems in principle.
Where for some reason the stone-planter is in no position to inherit,
uncertainties arise. The stone of the suicide Rumbana was planted by his
father Tabaro but his inheritance will pass to other collateral relatives
whose role in the stone-planting was only secondary. The ultimate

r<) N o
I I +
190 Dialogues lVith the dead

I'v! ellJories alld remelllberers 191

resolution of rival claims between these parties must wait upon Tabaro's Rumbana (generation -2) was the first person in the village to work land
own funeral; but meanwhile the claims and their justifications are being at Hollow Water, so that the rights to those plots belong only to those
advanced and enhanced in numerous dialogues like the present one. deemed to be hi.s heirs. Thus it was appropriate that he should reside there
There are three claims on Rumbana's estate. Two of these are from after death (for the story, see chapter 6). But since then , one Ancestor in
collateral branches within his lineage and one is from hi s cross-cousins, the eac h of these other two branches, (respeclively T itino and Bumbuden) has
descendants of Indiri's brothers. His fellow lineage-members participated also come to resid e in Hollow Water (I do not know Titino's story;
in his stone-planting by each ' hitting a buffalo' . But though he is a linea ge Bumbuden's story was also given in chapter 6). The web of claims is
Ancestor to all, they did not incorporate him as a full household Ancestor tightened by yet other connections. For exa mpl e, when Indomoro died
whom , for instance, they would expect to accompany them in the event of childless, he also moved into Hollow Water, hi s widow married Mengalu
segmentation. Meanwhile his cross-cousins (who also live in the same and their next child was named Indomoro after him. The way is thus
village) 'danced a buffalo' from their part of the village to the stone- already open in principle for the claims of men in these two branches to the
planting site of his lineage. Each of these claims will be considered in turn. land at Hollow Water , claims which wh en the time comes will probably be
The reader will need to refer frequently to figure 8.2, where it will be seen supported by the intervention of their own Ancestors who already reside
that there are three bearers of the name Rumbana . As well as the young there .
man whose suicide is at the centre of the present discussion, there is old
Rumbana, the long dead man who gave him his name; and baby Rumbana , 3. Rumbana's cross-cousins, the descendants of Indiri's brothers: Rum-
the current living holder of the name. It should also not be forgotten that bana's ostensible reason for moving to lagatumba Earth was that he
although the living and dead characters involved converse on many wished to be with his grandmother Indiri. As a married woman with sons,
occasions and through many shamans, the dialogue analysed here has Indiri's residence in her brothers' Earth site is itself irregular. As figure 8.2
passed through the mouth of Rondang who is the suicide Rumbana's shows, she is the destination of this entire migration among the dead. She
mother. was a woman from a fairly poor line which had numerous descendants,
married into a line rich in land but short of descendants. So far as I can
I. Rumbana's closest relations are Tabaro's half-brother lani, his daugh-
reconstruct it from this distance in time, the story appears to be as follows:
ter Gadi who lives with him and through her his grandson, baby Rumbana .
Gadi is a daughter who has stayed at home. Her lover, the impoverished Indiri was Old Rumbana's second wife and the mother of his two
Rutujen, is Sindi's son and the brother of Rumbana's fellow-suicide Palda . younger sons. She died some time after all four of his sons had ma tured
Their baby sons (of whom baby Rumbana is the only one still alive) were and the course of their lives appeared to be set. According to custom, her
born in lani's house and received the names of lani's, not Rutujen's, husband organised her first, main stone-planting while her brothers took
Ancestors (cf. the naming of Ranatang's sister's baby at the beginning of her bones to their own site for her second funeral. But at some point after
chapter 5). The surviving baby is the closest heir genealogically and his her death, she announced that she had gone to reside, not in one of her
claim has at one point been endorsed by the dead Rumbana when he passed husband's Earth sites, but in one of her brothers', at lagatumba. This
on his name. On the other hand, the baby's claim is weakened by the fact must have been soon after her death, since such moves seem to be made
that it passes through a woman and that he is a mere baby in a branch which only then. I do not know what her sonum is supposed to have said at the
apart from her contains only two old, tired men to fight his case. time. But in making her move, she probably capitalised on the following
2. The descendants of Andaraj and Mu'tuku: if lani's claim on behalf of
his daughter and baby grandson were to fail, these more distant lineage - firstly , she had no female descendants in her husband's line to whom
members (led by Mengalu) would be the obvious heirs. Indeed, given the she could transmit her name (Gadi was already too old to be named);
weakness of the link through Gadi, some of them may regard this as a - and secondly, it was already clear that the future of her husband's line
foregone conclusion. Nonetheless, these claims have been fortified by the was in jeopardy since his four sons between them had produced only one
placing of some of their own Ancestors in Hollow Water Earth site. Old surviving boy (who was later to kill himself: the problematic Rumbana) .
192 Dialogues lI'ilh Ihe dead Memories and remel11berers 193

We cannot now know whether additional factors were involved , for In such a complex web of motive and feelin g, implica ting so ma ny people
example a lack of intimacy such as was diagnosed between Jamano and and spa nning generations, one could never be sure of all the stra nd s of
his wife. one's interpretation , nor could one seriously ' verify ' them with the people
When her son Pandia subsequently died without an heir, his full brother concerned. But the overall process seems to me to be similar to Panderi's
Tabaro arranged his stone-planting, to which Indiri's lineage 'danced a case: here too analogies are created betwee n the situation s of different
buffalo ' as his cross-cousins. Because of the stone-plantin g, Pandia's people. In the prese nt case the process of makin g analogies works in two
property reverted partly to his half-brother Jani but mostly to his full stages: the first parallels the love-a ffair above ground between Gadi and
brother Tabaro and through the latter was due to pass exclusively to Rutujen with a marriage in the Underworld between Rumbana and
Rumbana. Nevertheless, Indiri somehow recruited Pandia to join her in Maianti; the second goes on to parallel th e babies born of each of these
Jagatumba and the seeds were sown of a possible future situation: if unIons.
Tabaro and Rumbana failed to produce further heirs (as in fact has The love of Gadi and Rutujen presents a serious obstacle to the claim of
happened), a strong case could be made out to those of his land-holdings Indiri 's lineage. In most respects , the latter' s hold on Rumbana's branch
which had originally been Pandia 's property. seems already secure, as this has been developed through shifts in Earth -site
residence . Pandia and Rumbana have left their nonnative sites and moved
Meanwhile the dead Indiri has been consolidating her position in
to Jagatumba . Tabaro adores his dead son so much that it is almost beyond
Jagatumba . She offered her name to her own brother's great-grand-
doubt that he too will go after his death to be with him in Jagatumba (as
daughter. I was present at this name-promising ceremony (abjien) in
probably will Tabaro's wife, today's shaman Rondang, who was born into
1977. When I returned in 1979 the baby had died before the final
a distant lineage which is now extinct and so has nowhere else to go).
name-giving (abFi/l11On) and I heard Indiri in dialogues insistently
However, there is a leak in Indiri's otherwise watertight case. By
demanding another child to name and being told, much to her
producing sons who are arguably the proper heirs, Gadi is making
annoyance, that no woman in that lineage was pregnant. When
Rumbana's branch 're-sprout' (tambob-) and is threatening to take his
Rumbana committed suicide in the summer of 1975 and went into the
entire inheritance with her. Serious attempts have already been made to
Sun, it was of course his paternal Ancestors, not his grandmother's, who
legitimate these children as descendants within the lineage. The Kartia who
went up there brandishing their weapons and brought him back. From
died childless in generation -2 gave his name to one child who has since
there he accordingly entered Hollow Water Earth site where he remained
died; while his brother Old Rumbana took the rather uncommon step of
for a while. Nevertheless, he too subsequently went to reside in
giving his name to Gadi's other child even though he had one namesake
Jagatumba. At the time of the present text, in September 1979, his move
already living, the Rumbana who was later to kill himself. (His intention, I
to this new residence remains his main message.
understand, was to transmit his fields at Hollow Water, opened up with his
It is this message which is reinforced by his friend Palda in the dialogue first wife, exclusively to his descendants by that wife to the exclusion of his
and is associated with some bizarre-seeming goings-on in the domestic children by Indiri . This is a common distinction made between sets of
affairs of the Underworld. These goings-on are an underground parallel to half-siblings , here unhappily overtaken by his subsequent lack of descend-
a struggle between people above ground. They effectively provide the main ants through Indiri.)
forum for the working through of the latter. What we see in Sindi's Gadi is determined to set up house with Rutujen, and is thus likely to
encounter with her own sonums, for all that it touches her deeply, is little bear him more children, increasing the strength of their competition. If she
more than a sideshow. Gadi is the lover of Sindi's son Rutujen and the moves to his house as his wife, the children become 'his' heirs and her
mother of his baby son. The messages coming from the various sonums chance of taking any substantial wealth with her would be very slim against
through Rondang's mouth seem to pull the disputed land away from Gadi her more obviously legitimate lineage-brothers led by Mengalu . Though
and Rutujen in favour ofIndiri's natal lineage. This is a further meaning of her personal inclination is to do this, she is aware of these implications. On
the prolongation of Palda's state of suicide and a reason why Palda's the other hand, Rutujen could move into her house as a 'kept husband'
message is greeted so sourly by his and Rutujen's mother, Sindi . (lo-Iab). This is a common arrangement by which wealthy houses without
194 Dialogues Ivith the dead Memories and remel11berers 19 5

male heirs welcome suito rs with poor prospects at home. H owever, F irstl y, as we have seen, their perverse ca maraderie ba sed on a sha red
Rutujen is still hes it a nt to do thi s sin ce it is demea ning a nd would leave him residence in Sun-Sonum ha s been ex tend ed even into their redeemed sta te
vulnera ble to sarca stic rema rks from the men of hi s wife's linea ge who in an Ea rth-Sonum , so that Pald a has a bandoned his own a nces tra l site and
would have been passed ove r as coll a tera ls. Ga di 's reluctance to press hi m become the first member of his lineage to join the mi gration to R umba na's
to do thi s is promp ted by a des ire not to hu mili a te him, so th at they site Jagatumba . Subsequently , thi s fellowship is converted into a brother-
continue to live apa rt in an unresol ved an d un sa ti sfyin g domestic limbo . in-law rela tionship . Palda 's younge r sister M aianti is al read y dead , a n
We ca n summari se the line-up for and aga inst Rutujen's ma rria ge to unwed tee na ge girl alone in the Underworld. She then ma rri es Rumbana
Gadi as follows: a nd becomes the second member of her family to reside with him in
On Gadi 's sid e, her fath er Jani supports it , though to protect her cla im to Jagatumba. Her dead brother Oindo and father Borjanu follow her.
Rumbana 's property he insists th a t Rutujen should move in with Gadi a nd Borjanu's move cuts off the entire family from the rest of their lineage. Thi s
not vice versa. Rutujen's ta rdiness in doing so is reinforced by the marria ge is an analogy of that between Gadi and Rutujen a bove ground ,
awkwa rdness of Jani 's presence, however beni gn, in the same house: the but it is more than just this: it competes with it. The culmination of this
presence of parents- in -law evokes a range of embarrassments and avoid - analogy is the birth in the Underworld of a sonum-ba by who rival s Gadi's
ances . Though most married women have no choice but to endure this, men and Rutujen's own living son.
generally avoid living with it. It is expected that Rutujen will be able to The family in the Underworld not only rivals the one a bove ground , it
move in more easily after Jani 's death . Old Rumbana , by virtue of their actually disputes its claims and argues in the opposite direction . The
baby's name, should be committed to lending his support from the message which comes from all Sindi's sonums who confirm Maianti 's
Underworld to this move (though on another occasion, as part of another marriage and baby, is that the suicide Rumbana himself does not wish his
manoeuvre, he gave his name to yet another Rumbana, a son of Mengalu property to pass through his lineage-sister to Rutujen and their children .
who is now dead .) Rather, he will take Rutujen's dead sister and use her to create heirs for
Similarly, on Rutujen's side, his mother Sindi is pleased that his children himself. The only child he has so far begotten in the Underworld is a girl ,
may grow up in a wealthy house and prosper there . The other branches of which I would perhaps interpret as meaning that this move is still tentative;
Rutujen's lineage (and no doubt their Ancestors) are probably happy with but as with Gadi and Rutujen, more children are expected to follow . The
this since, if his children should gain control of the land and subsequently fact that these sonum-babies cannot inherit land in the world of the living
die out, they could themselves be in a position to make a claim of the does not detract from the force of this message. The total patterning of such
cross-cousin sort. moves amounts to a system of law which is based on declared intention and
The marriage is opposed by Mengalu and his lineage-brothers and by is thus comparable to the making of wills. Of the possible living heirs,
Indiri's lineage. It is the latter who are involved in the present discussion. Gadi's children by Rutujen are being explicitly excluded. By his own
The only way they can try to safeguard their hold on the inheritance is to residence and his recruitment of all of Rutujen's close dead relatives,
ensure that even if it goes to Gadi and Rutujen , it will still come to Rumbana is firmly supporting the case of Indiri's brothers' lineage.
themselves if there is a subsequent dying back among Gadi 's descendants. However unwelcome , this message is no surprise to Sindi since it is
To do this, they must cut Rutujen's branch off from its collaterals (see currently being echoed or contradicted elsewhere in the village , in other
figure 7.1) who would otherwise oppose them. This is best done by dialogues staged by various households using the same or different
somehow infiltrating Rutujen's immediate family. It is Palda's suicide shamans. The formidable opposition ranged against her can also be seen in
which has provided the opportunity to do this. This death had causes on terms of a poor family 's struggle as they try to marry into a wealthy one .
two levels: his embarrassment over his incest, and incitement by Rumbana
as a previous suicide. Rumbana was the village's Sun-death ringleader at A metaphysical crux: translating sonums as private 'Memories' in a
the time and so the most likely inciter who could be diagnosed. But he can public arena
also now play the role of agent-provocateur: the fact that his new recruit is All three of the sonums in text 7.1 which I have classed as Recent are the
Rutujen's brother allows an edifice of interpretation to be built upon this focus of a clash of interest among the living for which the 'rules' provide no
recruit's death which reaches right into the heart of Rutujen 's affairs. definitive answer. These clashes are based in each case on unresolved
196 Dialogues Ivith the dead Melllories alld rClllembcrers 197

amb iguiti es in their relations with other people. I can not assert that this death , or the fact that Sagalo once gave SUllia a stone-planting, provides an
must always be the case for everyone who dies: many are inherited in a n openin g for the manipulation of further situa tions as they arise . Thi s is like
unproblematic way, enter the most appropriate Eart h-Sonum site and stay a game of chess in which you are a lways working out possibilities several
there. Yet our three ambiguous cases are not likely to be merely because of moves ahead , bLit in which your spec ulation s may be rendered null and void
the youth of the people concerned, or because one of them is a married not simply by someone else's move but a lso by the sexua lity, the anger or
woman . Owing to the potentially fissile nature of the lineage, even men like the sudden death of any of the chesspieces. This opportunism is similar to
Jamano who die as elderly adults with substantial descent lines can be that in political and lega l games played among literate populations in India
involved in such st ruct ural wrangles. However , what is so striking about (and elsewhere) with documentary weapons. It also resembles those grea t
Sora life is the way in which these ambiguities about property and structure psychological art-forms, the frame-up or the confession under duress, in
are linked to emotional ambivalences and in which the two are so that it seizes upon a small and indi sp utable detail and builds from it an
intimately interwoven that they can be discussed and resolved only entire case which mayor may not be true , but which is prillwfacie plausible
together. In the present three instances, Palda's nastiness is linked to a and persuasive. One remembers' Mengalu's difficulty in denying accusa -
complex series of strategies of inheritance; Amboni accuses her desolate tions of murder by so rcery: after Jamano 's death , I sometimes wondered
mother of having transmitted to her a hereditary contagion from her own whether Mengalu any longer knew himself whether he had killed him or
natal lineage (line 258) from which the girl's father's lineage have power to not.
redeem her; while Panderi declares her love for Sagalo by belittling their As in any other legalistic forum, the discussion moves over time from
cross-cousin relationship and trying to enter her father-in-law's Earth site discord to consensus. But people can at first behave with a bad grace when
rather than remaining in the Ra'tud site which has come to stand for her they do not hear from the sonums exactly what they want to hear: Sindi
own brothers (line 286). reacts sourly every time she hears about her daughter's marriage in the
In one and the same idiom there is a blend of intensely private feeling and Underworld, and both Ranatang and Panderi's brothers threatened to call
of a negotia ted collective acknowledgement of how certain things stand in another shaman when an inquest was not going their way. Thus we can say
the disposition of the material and social world. How can sonums be at one that competing and incompatible private perceptions are exercised in the
and the same time so intimate and so public? Can we coordinate our public arena until they arrive at a point of compromise such that the dead
account of a system of psychotherapy with an account of law and of the person's residence of the moment is agreed, and eventually to the point at
structural processes of the lineage system within which it operates? which further moves no longer occur at all .
We can see this public aspect most clearly from a glance at the legal So far the discussion has followed the lead of the Sora themselves and
functions of dialogue. Perhaps its simplest such function is to produce a considered the state of mind mainly of the sonums as they move around
tally of the assets of the deceased . In chapter 5 Jamano listed in anecdotal space and send us corresponding messages. But clearly this is intimately
detail all the debts which people owed him and which Ranatang would now related to the state of mind of their living interlocutors. Can we now be
inherit. Similarly, Panderi listed the jewellery which her brothers had more specific about the relationship between moods of the dead and moods
snatched. This is common at funerals . Knowledge which otherwise would of the living?
die with the person is returned to the public realm - public in the sense both From the moment of a death and perhaps even during the terminal
that there are witnesses and that any disagreement should be aired there illness, the mourner's reaction to the event is moulded through the
and then . conventional attributes of the Experience into which the dying person is
More complicated are the matters which arise from the vulnenlbility of being assimilated . It is not possible for survivors to contemplate the death
the descent line to demographic extinction. Genealogies contain many of someone who was close to them without being influenced by the terms
adult men without descendants, so that situations of Rumbana's type are which themselves provide the framework for that contemplation. The
not uncommon . At the same time, houses or lines with thriving descendants extreme distress which dead people sometimes arouse in those who
also want land on which to set their labour to work. The result is a contemplate them is linked to their being seen as still wholly or largely
speCUlative and opportunistic style of interpretation . The fact of Palda's trapped in their original death-Experience. As Panderi put it (chapter 7,
198 Dialogues Il' ill1 Ih e dead k/enlOries and rememberers 199

lines 287- 93), th ough Ances tors strive to redeem her, the Ra'tud -People H ow ca n we link thi s to the progression fro m Recent to Old so num s? As
will no t yet release her to go with them. W hile the Old sonums receive well as variat io n by interlocutor, there is a va ri at ion over time in which
routine disrespect, Recent sonum s may be gree ted with the utmost there is a cl ose lin k between past a nd present states of mind . But the ra te at
tend erness. Yet along with thi s, Sindi 's speech to Amboni conce ntra tes which the deceased moves away from hi s o ri ginal death-Experience is
ex plicitly on the fea r that she may perpe tu a te her Experience, just as the rela ted , not to the pa ssage of time as such, but to the develo pment o f the
conversation with Palda , thou gh hardly tend er, fo cusses on his rol e in fee lings which the so num a nd the mourner ha ve for each other. T here are
p recipita tin g Sa rsuno 's recent attempted suicide. T he empathy which their two stages in which we ca n develop our und ers ta nding of this. T he first,
shared state o f mind ma kes the survivors feel with the patient, goes ha nd in whi ch is mo re immedi ately accessible to us, is to keep my own perspective
ha nd with fear for themselves: often those whom one loved the most while as a living subj ect. I can then say that my pas t state a ffects my prese nt state,
they were alive, o ne fears the most once they are dead . tha t is, th a t my former feelings a bout yo u when you were a live affect the
Yet though it causes us pain to recall the Experiences from which our way in which I feel a bout you now tha t you are a sonum. Thi s is shown in
loved ones died, their personalities are not obliterated by this Experience fi gure 8.3.
but reta ined as they deliver their messages ea ch in his own styl e. Sindi 's
son urns Borj anu , Maianti and the sterling Oindo all corroborate Palda's F igure 8.3 Effect of my own pas t o n my prese nt.
unwelcome message about his move, his marri age and his baby; but in the shift o f til11 e o nly
tone of their respective exchanges with Sindi they remain noticeably
different from each other. This distinctiveness is accentuated by the way in
Illy past Illy prese nt
which the sonums dwell repetitively on the details of their stories, such as
Panderi 's route home and how she drank her wine, or Sara'ka's encounter
with a blacksmith-sorcerer (son urn No . 15). Indeed the consta nt rehearsal The second is to accommodate fully the Sora transference of perspective,
of a story can become the main part of a dead person's presence. and to say that it is your past (i.e. your death-Experience) which affects my
The moments at which significant new information can emerge about the present (as someone now suffering from an identical Experience tra nsmit-
circumstances of the dead are usually at the various stages of the funeral ted to me by you). This is shown in fi gure 8.4.
sequence, passing through the funeral sham a n. In between these land-
marks, the dead reiterate their current position and use it to play repea tedly Figure 8.4 Effect of your past on my present.
on our feelings in their present form before they a re ready to progress to shift of til11e and of perc eivin g subject
their next one. Consider the devastating effect on Rungkudi of Amboni's
son urn. Though I could not stay in the field long enough to check thi s, on
the analogy with other cases I have followed I would expect Amboni some yo ur past Illy prese nt

years later to be saying that Rungkudi was a good mother and that no
grudges remained . Because of the veri similitude achieved through the I shall discuss each of these perspectives a t length , in the present and the
cruelty of these early conversations, this later modification will be equally following sections respectively.
convincing. It will be matched by little Amboni's growing disinclination to The causal connection, firstly , between my own past and my own present
perpetua te her sca rs and a greater tendency to make herself known only as mental sta tes suggests that we are dealing with an aspect of memory. The
an Ancestor and resident of an acceptable Earth site. sonum's new state can take over only gradually because the memory
Sonums respond to us, then, according to the way we feel about them . To persists of what things were like before the tra nsition . Reversions then
Sindi at the moment, her son Palda is a bumptious oaf. But to the living appea r as throwbacks or recrudescences of these old memories so that it
descendants of Indiri's brothers, he is a strategica lly convenient and requires frequent confirmation of our newer feelings to repress them . A rite
welcome new 'Ancestor' . Panderi is loving to her husband , reproachful to of acknowledgement reaffirms the redemption in the funeral : 'Don ' t go and
her brothers. Sonums' moods vary with the person they are speaking to and stay with Leopard-Sonum', says Kantino to his father (i dong dakune
they are diagnosed as appearing in the form in which one thinks of them. KlI1aslIJ1 amang) .

200 Dialogues with the dead AI elllories alld rel1lel11berers 20 I

Who is it, the sonum or the mourner , who still remembers their own Memory while it roams at large outside the mind of any rememberer
previous state of mind? In his work on Dinka religion , Divinity and engende rs a piquant sense of contradiction, even of oxymoron, since it is
Experience , Lienhardt has written (1961: 149) about the clear th at this is no mere literary conceit as for instance in the title of
difficult question of differences between Dinka and European self-knowledge which Nabokov's autobiography Speak, Memory (1967). To the extent that we
I can discu ss only inadequately. The Dinka have no conception which at all closely accept this gloss for sonum , we are obliged also to accept that when a So ra
corresponds to our popular modern conception of the 'mind ', as mediating and, as goes to a shaman to have a trance performed, she does indeed confront him
it were, storing up the experiences of the self. There is for them no such interior with the speech of hi s Memories . Notwithstanding his awareness of a
entity to appear, on reflection, to stand between the experiencing selfat any given
theatrical element (see chapter 10), then , there is no meaning to be had in
moment and what is or has been an ex terior influence upon the self. So it seems that
what we should call in some cases the 'memories' of experiences, and regard denying his sense of the reality of this encounter.
therefore as in some way intrinsic and interior to the remembering person and Thus 'the Memory ofPanderi ' refers to her sonum as it converses with
modified in their effect upon him by that interiority, appear to the Dinka as her living rememberers, such as Sagalo and Sindi - or her brothers, as she
exteriorly acting upon him, as were the sources frol11 which they derived. snubs them and expresses her yearning for Sagalo who embraces her
Where Lienhardt uses the word 'memory' only in passing, it seems to me through the shaman and feeds her with wine. Tllis is of course not the same
that this is perhaps the closest single-word gloss available in English for as to talk about these people's 'memories' (with a small 'm') (Sora:
'sonum' . This term should be understood in the sense of ' a recollection' (as an-aYlll1-en) of her. This transla tion can be read back through this book to
in the French un souvenir), not in that of the mental function 'memory' (la yield propositions like 'Palda is a nasty Memory to his mother'; 'Kantino's
l1u!l11oire). I shall write 'a Memory' with a capital 'M' in order to keep the father resides in Leopard-Memory'; 'All illnesses and deaths are caused by
possibility of using the word in other, more ordinary senses. It is normal Memories'; and 'The rauda leads the Memories one by one to speak with
both in Sora and English to say that one 'remembers' (aY-II11-, compounded their rememberers. ' It is through this play between their interior and
from an unknown element plus -1111, 'feel') one's dead. It is this very exterior properties that Memories are able to be both deeply intimate and
normality which forces our epistemological problem into the open. Though publicly negotiable. A sonum is my Memory of a person whom I loved (or
the idea of remembering other, dead people is commonplace in both not, as the case may be); it is also someone who can turn in conversation to
English and Sora its significance in the two is very different. For us, both address anyone of a dozen assembled rememberers in a manner specific to
popularly and as a technical term in psychology, this kind of memory, like each of them and at the same time common to all; in addition, it is someone
others, is held to be located in the mind of a rememberer and to have no who resides in a feature of the public landscape.
autonomous existence outside. Consider, for example, the following: Because Western memories of the dead remain within the mind of the
rememberer and have a small om', they are seen as 'subjective' phenomena
Undoubtedly I was made aware of my friendship by the grief that Jean's death was
causing me, and little by little I became terribly afraid that since the friendship and therefore have a degree of plurality and social irresponsibility which is
would have no external object on which to expand itself it might consume me by its quite opposed to Sora thinking. There, on the contrary , a Memory
fervour and cause my death. Its fire (the rims of my eyel ids were already burning) constitutes part of what corresponds for them to our 'objective reality'.
would, I thought, turn against me, who contain and detain Jean's image and allow it Subjective and objective (for which Sora has no words) do not form a
to merge with myself within me.
dichotomy separated by a gulf, but rather lie along a continuum or perhaps
(Genet , Funeral Riles, tl'. B. Frechtman, 1969: 28)
overlap, so that several degrees can be distinguished. There are those
The narrator is being eaten alive by his Memory of a dead person. But phenomena such as dreams which are perceptible only to their experiencer
with the lack of any 'external object' this sonum, here called an 'image', is (though even here, the dreams of shamans have a public dimension) ; and
explicitly 'contained and detained' within the narrator's own person. Even those such as omens which are perceptible to others too but of concern
ifit 'turns against' him, it will do so from within. A similar view, written out primarily to their main experiencer. The former category perhaps corre-
by Freud as a technical analysis, will be discussed in detail in the final sponds most fully to our 'subjective', the latter already rather less so even
chapter. though they are still applicable only to certain people. Encounters with
For those of us to whom this kind of idiom rings true, calling a sonum a Memories lie near our 'o bjective' pole. By the very act of perceiving a
202 Dialogues IPilh Ihe dead Memories and remell1berers 203

Memory you are forced to act out in public your mutual relationship and to Panderi says '[Ancesto rs] redeem me (Iandilillgji)" just as in chapter 6 the
coordinate this with other people's similar relationships . Ancestors had sung about Jama no ' Let us lead him toward s us let us bring
When you talk with your Memory, this relationship is a complementary him by the arm towards us (aorungnaiba alonglongnaiba)' (line 53 and
one to which you both come, simultaneously, each from your own elsewhere). How does 0ne make the transition from the pa ssive to the active
perspective. But as your relationship moves on in time, you do not simply mode of ex periencin g, from being eaten to eating, from being redeemed to
playa complementary role but become a successor to your Memory. If it is becoming oneself one of the redeemers? One kind of answer can be sought
an Ancestor-Memory, you become his descendant; if an Experience, you within the grammar itself of these verbs. Here what grammarians would
relive in your own right, from the same perspective, the first person's call passivity and activity are represented in a distinctive and powerful way .
original experience of death (figure 8.4, above). There is an analogy By calling it powerful , I am not proposing the kind of extreme Whorfian
between this and the succession of inheritance and naming through view (Whorf 1956) which would suggest that the thinking of Sora theology
Ancestor-Memories. Like inheritance, this transference too is made and psychology is entirely dependent on the grammar of the verbs through
possible by the encounter of two persons within the flow of time. The two which it is expressed. Indeed, as the quotation from Lienhardt showed, in
perceptions take place not simultaneously, as with complementary roles, some fundamental respect Sora thinking resembles that of the Dinka of the
but in succession. The event which is perceived the second time is a Sudan, who presumably have a very different language structure. Likewi se,
repetition of the previous event, but the fil'St sufferer's subjective perception the mutual permeation of Austroasiatic (i.e. Sora) with Dravidian and
has been transferred to you. Your present state is now the outcome not of Aryan linguistic influences is extensive and the Sora use their language to
your own, but of your attacker's past. think thoughts which are sometimes quite 'Hindu'. Rather, the argument
of this section aims to demonstrate that Sora practice exploits opportuni-
Verb forms: how the dead transfer their own states of mind to the living ties in the grammar they have in the service of objectifying their Memories
and making them public. By analysing this use, I hope that we shall be
Voices ;11 the Sora verb better able to grasp the dynamics of the transference of different aspects of
One's property and name, just like one's mode of death, are inherited personhood .
through the medium of inheriting a state of mind. All these transfers are There is a strong sense in which all Sora verbs look forward to a predicate
mediated through dialogues with Memories. The transfer itself takes place for their fulfilment. The impulse of a verb is either taken up in a
by a principle of repetition or succession in which a new person comes to construction of motion or destination which I would call intransitive but
replace a previous one. Yet within the structure of time revealed by this still active; or else turned back on itself (intransitive because reflexive or
transferral, there is a further shift: as the victim of an Experience is middle); or if transitive, it comes to rest or embed itself in an object. Sora
redeemed into Ancestorhood, what he comes to transfer to his descendants grammar is not so alien here from Indo-European. Three voices can be
is modified from a form of death to other, more desira ble parts of his social distinguished which I shall gloss as 'active', 'middle' and 'passive'.2 Of
person. these, active verbs are mostly transitive (except for verbs of motion) , middle
The first kind of succession, that of illness and death, is discussed in a verbs intransitive or reflexive, while passive verbs are formed from the
distinctive language of violent encounter. Panderi's first remark on her active with a suffix derived from the personal pronoun which represents the
arrival in chapter 7 was 'I got eaten up I got drunk up (literally 'It ate me up object. In what follows, I shall show how the active and passive voices are
it drank me up, ajumingle againgle)' (line 269, repeated at 273);' and later associated with the Experience Memories and their modes of death, while
'they ate me up fresh-and -alive (ronglapada jumlingji)' (285) and '[the . the middle voice is used to express the central act of the redeemed
Ra'tud-People] won't release me won't let me go! (a'nomdaing iienji len Ancestors, that of giving their name to a descendant.
a 'nomdrengingji len)' (293). Similarly, Jamano said 'they're prodding me ...
they're roasting me (sujlingji ... mollingji)' (chapter 5, line 104). Act;ve alld passive ,'o;ces associated with the aggl'ess;ve pel'petuat;oll of
In all these expressions, the experiencer is a passive victim on whom Exper;ellces
other, active persons are perpetrating their violence. Even when being The Sora language uses 'transitive' verbs in the sense that this term is
redeemed, the person remains passive: for example, in chapter 7, line 287, generally understood by grammarians . In this sense, an actor (the 'subject')
204 Dialogues with the dead !l1elllories alld rel11e/1/berers 205

exercises an influence through an action (rep rese nted by a verb) upon a F igure 8.7 C ha in of su bjec ts and objects und er the aggressive ac ti o n of
second party (the 'o bject'). An exam ple would be 'The leopard ea ts the Expe ri ence Memories.

perso n' , s ubj ect transitive object transitive object

verb becoming verb becoming
kll1a /1/andron a dong jllll1te su bject subject
leopard perso n [obj ect ma rker] eats O~----------------~
· O~-----------------+-O

As a simple model of static entities linked by dynamic processes, this ca n Leo pard - ea ts a pe rso n. ca ts another who ... e tc .
be represented as in figure 8.5. Memory who beco mes person
part of Leopard-
Me mory and
Fi gure 8.5 The object of an ord inary tra nsitive verb. th e n

subj ec t ve rb object
F igure 8.8 Grammatical relations be twee n members of a cha in of sui cides.
o -Or---------------.-O
A leopard e at s a person A previou s took RI/Illballa, who joined Palda . wh o wi ll so meo ne
membe r of Sun-Memory take e lse
Sun-Memory and then too k
We may say that upon completion of the action the impetus of this verb is
(a Nepa li who
absorbed by the unfortunate object and thereby ceases. The forms of such was murdered
verbs are as shown in figure 8.6. in Assam)

Figure 8.6 Active a nd passive verb form s in the first person singu lar. only a weak version , is the essence of the Sora view of the continuity across
time of the forms of events represented by the Experience-Memories.
suffix of first full form Since this sense of transitivity generalises experience by spreading it
perso n around many experiencers, it raises problems for our grammatical
root tense vOIce involvement
categories of 'subject' and 'object' . For the Indo-European languages at
active .i1/111- 1- ai .ill/lllai least, and widely elsewhere, it is conventional to speak of the 'subject' and
'object' of a transitive verb. When the verb is shifted from the 'active' to the
'eat' presen t -tense voice not marked first perso n 'J eat
marker singular agent (something) 'passive' voice, the object becomes the subject: thus 'the Memory eats the
person' becomes 'the person is eaten by the Memory'. However, the terms
pa ssive .iII/II- I- illg .iI/ill I illg
'subject' and 'object' are misleading and the situation is better represented
voice not marked first person ' ] am ea ten' by the terms 'agent' and 'patient'. In this, the agent is the person who
singular actually, initiates or performs the action, the patient the one on whom it is
patient ' (somebody)
eats me' performed. The advantage for our present purposes of this formulation
over one in terms of subject and object, is that the patient remains the
patient of the action regardless of whether he is the 'object' of an active verb
The action of Memories in their Experience aspect can be expressed only or the 'subject' of a passive one. A simple transitive sentence thus contains
in ordinary language such as this; yet by contrast their action has the the elements shown in figure 8.9.
extraordinary property that the impetus of the verb passes right through
the object and out the other side undiminished, continuing indefinitely into Figure 8.9 Sentence about Memory containing agent, verb and patient.
the future in quest of further objects. Each object, after experiencing the age nt verb patient
action of this verb, becomes its new subject (see figure 8.7). In the case of the
chain of suicides in chapter 7 (figure 7.3), the effect of this is as shown in
The Memory eats its rememberer
figure 8.8. This special kind of transitivity, of which the linguistic sense is
206 Dialogues IPilh Ihe dead Jl;fell/ories alld re/l1ell/berers 207

To explain the transmission of an id entical Experience from victim to Though this is the neares t So ra gets to a passive, it remain s active in a
attacker , T shall show how the perception of the transitive verb is significa nt morphological sense. What we have here is a transiti ve ver b in
transformed within the patient's own consciousness so that he becomes the which the age nt is present but is left unclea r or unspecifi ed in favour of a
new agent of that same verb and seeks to transfer his former passivity on to hi ghly specific ·patient. This patient is the perso n who reports the even t. A
a new patient. The lin guistic expression of this process is given a di stinctive more accurate trans la tion ofjum-l-ing would therefore be '(a gent un speci-
twist by the absence of a genuinely passive form despite the need for a fied , suppressed or implied) ea ts me'. So instead of our initia l formul a for
passive meaning: there is no construction equiva lent to 'I am being eaten by the simple transitive sentence given in fi gure 8.9 above, we now have the
so-and-so'. As we sha ll see, this gives a certa in property to the sense of formul a shown in figure 8.10.
victimhood: morphologically , the patient can never be the grammatica l
subject of a passive verb but only the object of an act ive one. This means Figure 8. 10 Sentence about M emory containing un s pec ified agent , ve rb a nd
specific pa t ien t.
that someone else - an agent - must be the subject.
What makes this active verb equiva lent to a passive is that the patient is agent uncl ea r verb specific
emphasised largely at the expense of the agent who is played down or o r un spec ifi ed patie nt
omitted .) Words in this morphological class come in three semantic types: O~-----------------· o

1. verbs with no agent, but a possible patient, such as words of weather, (An unid entified eats me
e.g. logel-I -e, 'it nights', i.e. 'night falls ', ganur- I-e, 'it rains'. These a re
formed from an active third person singular which may be called It is this avoidance of specifying the agent which allows technically active
'impersonal' , since it is impossible to specify any agent by asking who verbs to give a passive sense. The function of divination is to unma sk this
or what is raining or becoming night. Such verbs can either stand alone latent agent. At first, the sick person says jum-I-ing or jum-l-ing-ji, '(agent
without a patient (since the events they denote take place regardless of or agents unspecified) are eating me', which is the only possible Sora
any perceivers), or else they can take as a patient the person who equivalent to 'I am being eaten.' It is in the very act of confirming this when
perceives them: logel-I-ing, 'It benights me, 1 am overtaken by night' , it saysjum-I-ai, ' I am eating' (or i1am-l-ai, 'I am seizing' and many other
ganur-I-ing, 'it rains me, 1 get rained on'. In the latter case they amount aggressive verbs), that the attacking Memory identifies itself. Only now
to type 2 below. does the patient have the knowledge to say, for instance, ' Ra'tud -Memory
2. verbs with no agent where a patient is essentia l, such as words of is ea ting me.'
personal sensation, e.g. asu-I-ing, 'I am ill, it hurts me .' These are
similarly formed and it is similarly impossible to specify any agent. rhe middle voice associated with belligll successioll betweell Allcestors
However, they cannot stand without a patient since the event denoted alld descelldallts
is dependent on the perceiver in a way which is significantly different The roles of agent and patient implied in active transitive verbs lend
from the type above. themselves to the aggressive vocabulary of encounters between livin g
3. active verbs with a patient where an agent may also be specified: as in 2, persons a nd the dangerous Memories which we have called Experiences.
these actions are discussed through the perspective of the patient. But But the Ancestor-Memories show that there is another way of linking
in addition, an agent is implicit, e.g.jum-I-ing , '(someone) eats me', i.e . predecessors and successors, one in which a Memory creates an analogy
'I am eaten' (cf. figure 8.6 above). This type is extremely common in without aggression. I shall discuss the expression of this through the verb
Sora, with a singular or plural agent. In some forms, especially in the abi1l1nlenai, 'I name (someone) after myself.' This is what 1 have called a
singular, a third-person agent marker may be entirely absent 4 but the ' middle' verb. Verbs in this class cover a range of what may be called middle
patient is always c1ear:jum-l-ing, '(it) eats me' (where the agent marker and reflexive uses, meaning to do something for oneself, to oneself, etc. The
-e is elided);jum-I-ing-ji (where the -ji signifies a plural agent) , 't hey eat form of such verbs is shown in figure 8.11 (using so-, 'hide', since 'I eat
me' (cf. Jamano's mol-I-ing-ji, 'they roast me') . myself is not normal Sora usage) .
208 Dialogues Ivith the dead Memories and rel11ell1berers 209

Figure 8.11 Middle verb form in the first person sin gular. a child to bear my own name.'7 Here the interest of the agent in the patient
amo unts to an exp licit identification. Yet there is no passivity on the part of
suffi x of first person the receiver. In the sentence 'I name a child after myself ' the child , though
root tense vOIce in vo lvemen t full form an 'object' in conventional grammar, is not a patient in our sense of
suffering or undergoing an experience . Rather, he has been identified with
so- (- e-II ai so/ellai,
present-tense middle voice marker ' I hide myseJr the agent in a way which makes him like the grammarian 's 'complement'.
marker - 11 - , with -e- added The pe.:pe(tiatlon ofa name forms a close a na logy to that of membership of
for euphony
an Experience Memory. Compare figure 8. 12 below with figure 8.7 above.
In figure 8.12 there is transmission, or transitivity, without passivity.
Their essential feature for the present discussion is tha t such verbs do not
seek an external patient in the straightforward active sense because they Figure 8.1 2 Chain of successive namesakes using the middle verb,
representing beni gn succession.
contain part if not a ll of their own predicate within.' Examples are:

lIIaj-lai I mix (substances) I mix (in with a crowd)

lIIaj-l ellai
first gives his a second who gives a third etc.
dakll-Iai I put, keep I stay (i.e. keep myself)
dakll-I ellai
nam esa ke name to namesake his name to namesake
I1-lai I peel (fruit) II-lelia; I become (something else,
i.e. change my skin)
aMilln-lai I name (i.e. give a name to)abiilll1-lellai I give my own name to
Patiel/cy, agel/cy al/d the sharillg of cOllsciouslless
Middle verbs of this sort have a double patient. 6 The first of these is fully
Our grammatical review of the way in which a dead person perpetuates
internal or reflexive, i.e. 'myself'. It can be seen here how the Sora middle
himself among the living may be summarised as follows: there are two
construction gives a similar kind of identification which in many Indo-
modes of transmission of properties from dead to living persons. Both
European languages is provided by a 'complement' in the same 'case' as the
operate by creating an analogy between the first person and the second and
'subject'. The second patient is more external. It may be represented by an
both have an impetus which in principle continues ad infinitum . But in the
adverbial phrase of position in space (s/ 'mg Imgen dakutenai, 'I stay in the
two cases there is a difference in the kind of analogy and in the way that it
house', Uyung-slll1en amang majlenai, (said by, e.g. a suicide) 'I merge
within Sun-Memory'. Alternatively, this external patient may be a noun
which is always brought into some kind of identification with the agent: 'I I. The categories of the Experiences are rooted in human frailty and their
mix myself (with something hither~o separate)" 'I become (something from classification is based on a phenomenology of suffering. Analogy here
which I was previously different)" e.g. kman Tltenai, 'I become a leopard' serves as a principle of causality. It is seen as a negative principle
(this could be said by a were-leopard , said to be rare among the Sora because of the unhappy events and conditions which it causes, yet an
though common among the Khond). It is thus not so external after all. unavoidable one. It is counter-social and its choice ofpaths is summed
Such verbs create an analogy between the agent and something outside up by the verbgorod-, 'wander' or 'leap'. This transmission of suffering
himself, in such a way that they become somehow less separate from each through activity, as its grammar implies, is aggressive and involves a
other. transitivity of events.
In the context of relations between the living and their Memories, the key 2. The category Ancestor is rooted in social continuity. It esta blishes itself
verb here is abi'illnlenai, 'I cause to bear my name.' The root al1l1n ' name' as a transformation of the Experiences by means ofa redemption in the
plus the causative particle ab- or -b- give the active form abfillnlai funeral and a transition through Earth-Memory. This restores some-
(a-b -l1l1n-l-ai), 'I name (i.e. cause to bear a name)' , used for example with thing of the social element which was destroyed by each person's
the patient /emsoden, 'a dog'. The middle form of this is used only for the death-Experience. Analogy here serves as a principle of succession, a
relationship between Ancestors and babies, i.e. pas(jen abiilmlel/ai, 'I cause principle which is seen as positive because it maintains and perpetuates
2 10 Dialog ues Ivith th e dead ,\1elllories and rem e/llberers 211

the kin -group . Its path is disciplined, as a judici ously select ive Passive 4 'passive' impersonal, end in g -ing. These can have no active
movement along the a va ilable routes of kinship . This form of form a nd the agen t ca nnot be specified, therefore they can not
tra nsm ission is equiva lent gra mmatica lly no t to transitivity but to a reappear in column 1.
middle with a co mplement , sin ce the repetition is one not of action but 5 'passive', ending -ing or ing-ji (-ing is a suffi x referring to the
o f bein g: it is a transference not of events but o f some degree of identity. patient; the agent is unm arked in the singul ar and marked in the
plural by ~ji). These have the possibility of specifyin g the agent
T he gra mmatica l difference between these two forms of tra nsmission is a nd thus of personalisation; these verbs can thereby be activised
that with transitive verbs, the Memory is caught up in the swing of the and then correspond exactly to those in column I.
active/ passive pendulum . One ca nnot normally transmit one's name until
one has settled permanently into a redeemed state, which involves freeing Chronologically, the person moves from top to bottom of the diagram;
oneself altogether from active transitive verbs, with their aggressive in term s of the evolution of hi s con sciousness or sta te of mind , from right to
vocabulary , and remaining instea d entirely within the scope of verbs left. These sequences show a clear progression from the fully pa ss ive, in the
having a middle form . (This does not of course mean that fully redeemed sense that the agent can be specified (co lumn 5), to the ' imperson a l'
Ancestors do not 'ea t' sacrifices, 'see' their descendants, etc., only that this (column 4) which is ' passive' in form but with no possibility of specifying
kind of active verb is no longer the vehicle for their self-perpetua tion) . the agent, to the middle (column 3). At this point the Memory rests, being
We are now able to locate the precise point at which a dead person is able neither patient nor agent. These are verbs of being, of state. It seems no
to switch from being passive victim to active attacker, as well as to describe accident, therefore, that it is at this stage that he is conceptualised as
the very process of this switching. As one might expect from the elaborate residing in a site on the land scape. The Memory 's location here in a fixed
cosmological background , this point turns out not only to be one of mood point in space summarises both his own past and his potential to act on
and time but also to have its locus in space. The residential sites on the others over time and thereby to make their future resemble this past. His
landscape are the very points at which the dead change their moods and first move in this direction is through the root gorod-, 'wander, revert', an
switch back and forth between desirable and undesirable ways of active verb (column 2) which, though like all verbs it seeks a predicate, does
perpetuating themselves. not need a patient because it is intransitive and so is satisfied with a
Figure 8.13 gives the most important verbs prevailing at various stages in construction of motion. But this is only a means to a state of full transitive
the relationship between Memories and their living rememberers. These activity (column I), in which he will necessarily seek a patient.
cover the moments of attack, of recovery or else of death and absorption, This aggressivity is only the other side of the coin of the Memory's
and of redemption and eventual renaming. I have laid the verbs out so that passivity, since he is inclined to attack only because he is still suffering from
we can follow this process across time, while holding constant the point of his original death-Ex perience. The passive verbs which will lead him out of
view of one and the same consciousness as it passes through the various this aggressive perpetuation are tandi- and urdi- , 'redeem' (chapter 6).
stages of being a Memory. These verbs are arranged into five columns, When redemption is finally accepted and he remains an Ancestor, his only
from active on the left to 'passive' on the right. The vocabulary in most activity will then be to redeem others; while at the same time in the middle
classes is larger than the selection given here, though this includes the voice, he will progress beyond a mere state of shared existence with fellow
commonest words. s Experience-members towards the positive gesture of renaming.
We earlier replaced the concept of grammatical subject by an emphasis
Active I active transitive , ending -ai. All these verbs are also found , on agent and patient. Now, as we see a single person move from patient to
turned into the passive, in column 5. agent, we may return to the term 'subject' and through it to the question of
2 active intransitive, ending -ai. These take a construction of 'subjectivity' . Each person moving across the diagram is the speaker of all
motion or destination. the verbs: he is, throughout, a constant perceiving subject. In the early
Middle 3 middle, ending -enai: intransitive verbs including construc- stages, while he is a patient slipping from life to death, the living are
tions of mutual identification. concerned to know about his perceptions. Whether in a divination for
Figure 8.13 The progress through successive verb forms of a person passing from life into death.
a. Patient is victim of preliminary collusion between sonum and other parties
lem -I-ing I am sold
jing-I-ing I am bound
b. Patient is contacted by attacking Memory J
Slm-I-ing I am stroked
nam-I-ing I am grabbed. raped
c. Patient falls ill
asu-I-ing I f", ill )
d. Memory accepts sacrifice , relationship with patient is broken off
e. Patient recovers , leaves diagram
bangsa-t-ing I g e t w e l l /
suka-t-ing I get healthy
f. Cure fails and patient is killed
pang-t-ing I am taken
jum-t-ing I am eaten

g. Patient dies and is absorbed into an Experience
kenid-t-ing I die
gadtl-t-ing I become
h. Patient remains static after absorption into the Experience which causes his death ./
maj-t-enai I merge ~
ll-t-enai I become (literally 'peel myself') I
daku-t-enai I remain I

I. Patient is redeemed at his stone-planting AGENT]
I am redeemed

j. Patient remains static after redemption into Ancestorhood

- _ - - - - - - - - urdi-t-ing I am untied

..------- (as in h. above)

k. Patient makes an active move back towards his original death-Experience
gorod-t-ai I wander
I. In this active form, former patient is now an agent, makes contact with a new patient
slm-t-ai I stroke
nam-t-ai I grab, rape
(as in b. above, but in active form)

m. Former patient is now agent, causes death of new patient
pang-I-ai I take
jum-t-ai I eat
(as in f. above but in active form)
n. In later years, remains static as an Ancestor without wandering
maj-t-enai I merge
(as in h. above)
o. Gives name to new baby among descendants /
aMilm-t-enai I name someone
after myself
p. Redeems others as an Ancestor
landi-t-ai I redeem
urdi-t-ai I untie - -
(as in i. above but in active form)
214 Dialogues lVilli Ill e dead J\1elllOries alld relll elllberers 215

illness or in an inquest in which the 'pat ien t' ha s ju st died, it is for hi s sake co nfirmation of the reality of their experience and of its calise. It is the lise
that the agent is made exp licit. But by the time he him self becomes an agent, of la nd scape wh ich allows Memories to ex ist both as shared perceptions
people's attent ion is already shiftin g to the perceptions of his new victim. a nd - between the times when they are currently act ive in the life of any
The questioners want to know about the old patient's identity, thoughts rememberer - independent ly. It is this, too, which allows the Memory to
and feelings largely to the extent that this will enab le them to act on behalf a lter the dynamics of his involvement with ot hers by making the change
of the new patient whom he is attacking. The latter, in turn , is now the new from passive to active while holdin g constant the idiom ofRa ' tud, Leopard
perceiving subject. or Sun . The land scape is not merely a repository for the storage of names of
However, within this passive state the divination is also co ncerned with a people, nor even of the knowledge of what happened to them. It also
shared state of consciousness. The patient is not a lone and it is the very contains the potential for the repetition over time of the events which that
possibility of specifying the agent which ensures that this is so. Let us return knowledge is about . Thus the difference between points in space not only
to the semantic range of the three kinds of verbs which can appear in the allows the Sora to conceptualise the differences between kinds of eve nts by
'passive' form (see p.206). Our types I and 2 gave us a vocabulary of ho ldin g them apart, but also se rves to perpetuate those differences
sensations and perceptions in which an agent can never be specified, e.g. indefinitely into the future. Much of mode rn Western metaphysics, from
g[[nul'ling, 'I am rained on'; {lSuling, 'I am ill '; m[[lIggaling, 'I am tired'; social science to quantum physics a nd catastrophe theory (Thom: 197 5), is
ken idling, 'I die'; ai1U1l1daling, ' I need to urinate'; etc. Rather than calling preoccupied with explaining changes in the form of entities or events, on
these ' impersonal', it may perhaps be better said that as verbs of sensation the assumption that this is a problem . Sora thinking seems concerned on
they put their emphasis on the patient (the perceiving subject: 'it's the contrary to account for the problem of their constancy. This constancy
happening to me') rather than on the agent (the grammatical subject: 'it's is explained through chains of human carriers whose feelings move in and
happening') which does not need to be specified. On the other hand, the out of tune with each other and who are thereby constitutive of each other's
passive type 3, jumling, ' I am eaten'; Hamling, 'I am grabbed', keeps the biographies.
same perceiver but has the potential to externalise the agent.
I would characterise this distinction as one between a 'closed' and an
' open' passive. A closed passive focusses purely on the perceiver and his
perception and ignores or downplays the question of agency. An open
passive, by contrast, is prepared to specify its agent under interrogation as
part of a quest for knowledge about causality. Thi s causality is uncovered
through dialogue, a procedure which at once brings the patient's percep-
tion into the public realm . During a divination the vocabulary of the open
passive sort allows the impersonal aspect of transitive verbs to be
personalised: 'Who is grabbing me?'. The shared consciousness which is
created in the dialogue places the patient and his supporters in a
relationship of close identification as fellow victims, actual and potential.
By drawing together to identify the attacking agent, the patient and his
living supporters locate it outside the circle of their gathering. Whether in a
healing or in a funeral (where the 'patient' is already dead but has not yet
become an agent), they attempt to confirm this exteriority.
But at the same time, this location of the source of his suffering outside
the sufferer himself converts his priva te perception into a public one. Since
many people have their own separate relations with the Memory in
question , this process requires a compromise, certainly, but also yields a
Fo rge llillg th e dead 2 17

harvest ing a nd baby-sittin g. At the sa me time this wo rld of the dea d is not
9 sim ply a continu ation of the world of the living, but a topsy-turvy parody
of it. T he seasons are reversed, as well as ni ght and day ; people also say that
the dea d keep doves as ch ickens and pythons as cows, and that they hun t
Forgetting the dead living humans as game an ima ls.
It is because the two world s are no t only ana logous but also so much at
cross-purposes that they impin ge on each other in a way that is a lwa ys
problematic for the living. The trees 1 need to fell to clear the gro und at my
hoeing season are at the same tim e my Ancestor's bea npoles during hi s
ripening seaso n (chapter 7, lines 70 ff); the dead drink the soul of our
alcohol and leave it tasteless (chapter 7, lines 136~7 ) ; they have their own
agriculture, yet are perpetually hun gry and demanding; a nd above all , they
feed on us and 'take' us to join them. Yet if we in turn impin ge too
The progressive dissolution of the person after death intimately on their world , we a re unable to ret urn: a sick man who accepts
Through this book 1 have argued that the So ra person should be the food of the dead is bound to die (chapter 5, line 77); by working or
understood , not so much as having an essence of personhood, but as being drinking in the vicinity of an Earth site or wa shing in its water we lay
a changeable confluence of attributes and traces of events. His formation is ourselves open to absorption by that Earth (cf. Old Rumbana in chapter 6,
gradual and it would be hard to specify the point at which the person see p.138). As the previous chapter has shown, the very process of
matures to his most complete or individuated state. The decHne and remembering is itself slanted to our disadvantage from the beginning, since
disappearance of the person, which will be traced to their conclusion in this by their own activity the dead always place us in the passive.
chapter, form an equally gradual and complex process. While the Yet the living are not obliged to suffer all this as victims without hope.
Experience categories like Leopard-Memory and Sun-Memory presum - The internal structure of the concept Memory itself offers us the way out.
ably exist indefinitely, the persons who pass through them on their way to Our task in facing the Experience aspect of our dead is to deflect the
becoming Ancestor-Memories are very much creatures of time. So if impetus of this aggressive form of their self-perpetua tion into their benign
sonums are Memories and their mourners rememberers, what is the nature self-perpetuation as Ancestors , to persuade them to convert their active
of forgetting? verbs of eating into the middle verb of renaming. This aggressive impetus
The formal stages of the funeral process appear to take three years, but this does not encompass the whole of the dead perso n, but is more a temporary
is not the end of the person. Memories are sa id to 'fade' (masuna-). But just as mode of his being. A dead person is composed of several elements,
their nature wa s initially formulated in the public arena , so they will fade in attributes or qualities (1 am not sure which to call them) , so th a t in his
the same way. In tracing this process, we sha ll move from the more intimate passa ge across time he describes a multiple trajectory, like a burst of stars
atmosphere which was so important in establishing thedead person's nature from a firework . After his death , various of these attributes are remem -
as a Memory , towards the socia l, economic and legal processes whose bered with a different intensity and forgotten at different rates. Thi s
outcomes persist lon g after all emotional involvement has ceased. corresponds to a variation in the way in which their impetus, which can
The dead inhabit a world which is real but.wh ich is different from ours. never be simply annihilated, is transmitted to new persons . I can identify at
The dialogues in chapters 5 and 7 give an elaborate picture of the least six such elements:
continuation of normal social life after death . Further marriages and
changes of residence occur among the dead for the same kind of reasons as (i) his membership of the Experience which originally caused hi s
they do among the living and are reported to the living and discussed with death: this amounts to an initial , immediate assessment of his biography,
them . This discussion covers who among the dead is drinking with whom, coloured by the suffering of his dea tho To the extent that this is nega tive,
who is Hving with or visiting whom, even the banalities of hoeing, it is transformed during the stone-planting by redeeming the deceased
2 18 Dialog ues Ivith the dead Forge lling the dead 2 19

and turning him into an Ancestor. The transformation is not completely either case, the impetu s is weakened over time as the Memory becomes
successful at first. The dea d person co ntinues to revert and to tran smit diffu sed over a n ever-widening ra nge of descendants.
hi s original co ndition to others. His rede mption is reinforced each time
(iv) hi s material property: this is similarly transmitted and diluted in
he is bani shed in a hea ling rite. Over time, these reversions become fewer
an eve r-w idening circle with each generat ion . Its relevance is overtaken
and less virulent, but by the time he is full y redeemed he is likely to have
each time by the death of its new owner, when it forms part of a newly
caused the death of further persons. The impetus of the Experience is
con stituted body of inheritabl e material and effectively ofa new person.
transmitted to other person s as shown in fi gures 8.7 and 8.8.
The material dispersed in this way includes the land which was associated
(ii) his state of bein g an Ancestor: this is a positive analogy to hi s with hi s res idence in an Earth site.
dea th-Experi ence. A n Ancestor has a privileged a nd fairly beni gn
(v) hi s name; this emerges as the outcome of the previous two
relationship with his direct descendants. The impetus of his Ancestor
attributes, though the problems with Rumbana's inheritance in chapter
role is spread ove r an ever-widening circle of descendants who share thi s
8 show how it can a lso be ma nipulated in an attempt to force that
Ancestor in common . It thus governs (iii)- (v) below.
outcome. The emergence of the name suggests that the transmi ssion of
The tension between Experience and Ancestor, which is so prominent in the previous two a ttributes has been acco mpLished. But in addition, since
the early days following a dea th, expresses the power of dea th to sunder its its impetus is supposedly transmitted to one single person, it denies the
victim from the society of the living. Yet the goal of redemption has already dispersion implicit in the inheritance of Earth sites and property. In some
been declared at the stone-planting and from the point of view of the sense, then, it re-concentrates something of the scattered personhood of
deceased, the rites of acknowledgement addressed to him when he causes the deceased.
an illness amount to a reassertion and reinforcement of tllis redemption .
Is this a ll there is to a person after he dies? As we trace the destination of
!his redemption reintegrates him into a wider lineal society which
each of these aspects, we shall still be left with an irreducible residue:
Incorporates the living and the dead into one continuous flow. By the time
he has become an Old Memory many years later, a dead person 's (vi) his presumed subjective consciousness: this is the aspect of the
de.ath-Experience is of Ijttle interest or is even unknown. But long before deceased which eventually dies a second death in the Underworld and
thIS, as chapters 7 and 8 showed, there is a further concern with another turns into a butterfly (discussed at the end of this chapter) .
opposition, that between Earth sites which are viewed as mutually exclusive
alternatives. Even where redemption is taken for granted, this can remain
The completion of inheritance and the waning of Earth-Memory sites
an area of keen dispute . The disputed or ambiguous Earth affiliations in
The complex dual nature of Earth-Memory was first explored in chapter 6.
those chapters also involved the inheritance of material property and the
There I presented it as a cosmological intermediary which brings together
renaming of descendants , which were seen to be closely intertwined . Within
the cross-cutting categories of Experience and Ancestor. Although it can
the state of Ancestorhood, further attributes of the deceased also include
act as an Experience to cause death , it does so through an imagery of
the folJowing, which will be discussed late r in tills chapter.
retention and wholeness, the same imagery which also allows it to become a
(iii) his residence in an Earth-Memory: here the deceased is united rallying point for redeemed kinsmen who have otherwise been dispersed by
with a sub-group of fellow-kinsmen in the ground from which they feed their various death-Experiences. It is thus an essential staging post on the
their descendants: which Earth-Memory a person chooses to reside in is way to the state of Ancestorhood.
problematic for all married women and sometimes for men . The impetus Earth sites are focusses of agricultural activity, partly domesticated
of Earth-Memory membership can still a lso be expressed in the clearings in jungle space. It is this mutual superimposition of the two kinds
Experience idiom, if the dead person causes death with symptoms of of space (chapter 4) which may be sa id to de-Experientialise the concept of
swelling and blockage; otherwise, this is another positive analogy to his Earth and to Ancestorise it. In the short run Earth-Memory functions as a
death-Experience which comes to approximate closely to Ancestorhood full Experience: in this sense it focusses its unwelcome attention particul-
as the impetus is shifted to the transmission of property and name. In arly on childbearing sisters who through the normal workings of exogamy
220 Dialogues Ivith the dead Forgellillg the dead 22 1

have give n themselves elsewhere. In the lon g run , however, this imagery who works a paddy-field which is watered from that site or a sh iftin g-
co ncerns itse lf more with the placing of males in the progressive evo lution cu ltivation slope in the vicinity , so that they can serve as title-deeds for his
of the lineage. Eart h used in this way becomes an idiom for the descendants to substan tiate disputed claims to such plots. Every man who
perpetuation ofa man's property. In this sense, it can only draw away from works land near the site has residing in each of those sites one or more direct
any reference to the symptoms and ci rcumstances of the deceased while male Ancestors, as well as wives and sisters . The names of all of these
alive or around the time of his death. Earth-Memory thus becomes a (though married sisters may be disputed by others) shou ld emerge only
concept which is cut loose from the moorings of the dead person's actual among his own descendants or among those of a lineage-brother whose
experience an d thus ultimately not an 'Experience' at all. share, and structura l position, is equ ival ent to his own.
However, the lineal unity which Earth-Memory helps to create will not The particular exemplars or Earth sites are opposed to each other. Or
la st forever. From an even longer perspective, an Ea rth site will be rather, it would be better to say at first simply that they are distinguished
overtaken by the natural breaking up both of the lineage and of the sites from each other since it is the events in peoples' lives which pitch Earth sites
associated with it. Co nsid er first of all the historica l pattern of Sora land against each other as rivals. A range of Eart h sites can be spoken of as
use. The stockpiling of Ancestors in sites would seem to suggest that those synonymo us when referring broadly to a linea ge or branch, but they will
sites are precious, as indeed they are under today's conditions of acute land also be distingui shed at closer quarters by the particular members who are
shortage and declining fertility. But at the same time , the stories of placed in each site. They are often referred to in speec h in doublets (chapter
migrations and expansions which I collected for several lineages all talk of 4) and like any pair of terms in a doublet they will be seen in some contexts
moving steadily uphill under press ure from Oriya and Telugu settlers in the as synonyms, in others as alternatives between which a choice is to be made
plains. The latter stories seem to imply a frontier into which one expands (cf. chapter 4, footnote 4). The ways in which these sites are grouped
wherever possible. Land once claimed has not always been abandoned together or opposed to each other ma tch the na ture of current ba ttles and
afterwards, especially where it can be converted into paddy fields, but the alliances. For a married woman the issue is generally between alternative
role of Ancestors is strongest where that land is recently claimed. I For Earth sites, that of her brothers versus that of her husband , as in Panderi's
example in the middle of the valley-floor at Alinsing, which has been case. For most men, at least if they are not caught up like Palda in
completely cultivated as permanent paddy-fields for six or more gener- complicated cases across lineages, it is between sites which are at first
ations, is the Earth site in a spring called Barang. Though it is said to have grouped closely together as pertaining to the same branch of a lineage but
belonged once to a lineage who are considered the original inhabitants of which gradually become more separate as these branches grow apart.
Alinsing, today it contains no dead people and attacks no living people. For example, figure 7.1 showed how the two branches ofSagalo's lineage
The field in which the spring actually rises now belongs to Mengalu and are already associated with separate clusters of Earth sites. But when Sindi,
Raduno, but they disclaim any connection with the Earth-Memory in the representing one branch , speaks to Panderi on behalf of Sagalo from the
spring. It has simply 'faded ' (masulIa-) or become irrelevant as the frontier other, we see her using these sites indiscriminately. She urges Panderi to go
of cultivation was pushed uphill towards the edge of the valley where (as a to her father-in -Iaw's Earth, but gives this as ' Bat's Nest, Bodigan,
glance at figure 4.3 will show) the active Earth sites are now concentrated. lelabbab, Kupa' (chapter 7, line 286). These are four separate si tes (not all
Though it can be used as a ' Police Station' (lana) by members of any Earth of them marked on figure 4.3) which are actually worked not by Sagalo's
site at the edge of the valley in order to 'arrest' (i1am-) bathers, they act in branch but by the branch of Sindi's own husband . However, although the
the name of their own sites and nothing can happen in the name of Barang verbal technique of doublets here makes these sites look like synonyms,
itself. In the terminology of chapter 4, it was once a residence but is now just they need not be close together on the map, and furthermore each
an outpost. While the named site remains, ' now there's no Memory there' individual Ancestor resides in only one of them: in line 131 of chapter 7
(nami sonumen agasa) . We may say that like an old volcano, the site exists Sindi says she has forgotten whether Indupur resides in Sangkaroren or
but is extinct. Sal-Tree Water, and he explains that he wOltld have gone to Sal-Tree
There are as many Earth sites dotted across the landscape as there are Water, which he used to cultivate, but that two of his lineage-brothers
springs and water holes, and many more than I have been able to show on invited him to drink (and reside) with them over in Sangkaroren.
figure 4.3. Any of these may become a residence after death for any man We can see something of the wider pattern which this creates by looking
222 Dialogues lvilll IIIe dead Forgelling Ihe dead 223

at the ro le of just one Earth site, Sangkaroren. This site happens to be their names to a living successor, who in some cases has in turn died him se lf
relevant for both Sagalo's and Mengalu's people, even though they belong and passed on the name once more (I give only those who already appear
to different lineages. Just as each kin -group, and even household, may work on the simplified genealogies elsewhere in this book , though not all their
land in the vicinity of several Earth sites, so representatives of more than namesakes have been shown in every generation):
one unrelated kin-group may assemble independently after death in the
gel/era lion -4
same Earth site. The effect of this on the ground is shown in simplified form
Sargia ha s renamed one namesake who has since died after
in figure 9.1. There it can be seen that Mengalu works paddy-fields around
himself renaming a further one who is now alive as a
the spring itself at Sangkaroren while Sagalo's uncle lkaram works a part
young adult (Men ga lu 's son).
of the hillside above. The Earth-Memory at the Sangkaroren spring thus
general iOI/ - 3 (Sargia's sons)
contains Ancestors of both of them . But the significance of this Memory is
Andaraj ditto.
different in each case. This difference is related not to the amount or type of
MII'lliku ha s one namesake alive who himself has a son.
land they work there, but to the timespan over which they have been
Tabaro has one namesake a live, the father of the suicide
working it and the associated history of persons. For Ikaram, Sangkaroren
Rumbana , old and now without a son .
is still an active recruiter, either as a cause of death or by redemption from
general iOI1 -2
other Experiences. Thus, along with the other Earth sites of his branch such
Karlia two successive namesakes have died young; he IS
as Laiba, it is one of the residences of his Memories Nos. 1- 6 and 16 in
therefore still waiting for a further baby to name.
chapter 7. For Mengalu, by contrast, Sangkaroren no longer recruits new
members and has not done so since the generation of his grandfather. From I was on ly partially able to confirm the Earth residence of people in
his father's generation onwards, his Memories now go to reside in Hollow generations -3 and -4, from the memories of Mengalu's generation
Water, Rere and Sweet Mango . about who was enumerated in rites of healing when they were children. I
Why is this? If we look closely at those ofMengalu's male Ancestors who think this means that in those earlier days it was still possible in their
are in Sangkaroren, we see that all of
them without exception have returned households to think that their dead in Sangkaroren might attack them,
because not all their inheriting and renaming had yet been completed . The
Figure 9.1 Connections between some cu ltivators and nearby Earth-Memory next generation, now young adults and below, know these names only as
Ancestors and expect them to visit their houses and be fed only in this form .
Bees'Nest Key For younger people, these Memories are passing out of living memory. For
bold Iype: Earth sites
plain type: persons cultivating land
Mengalu's line, Sangkaroren has become obsolete. One of the Ancestors'
original motives for residing in the Earth site, to guarantee their
descendants' heirship, is no longer necessary since the inheritance is now
Gupantu complete. There is no further point to be made by any new recruits in
entering Sangkaroren after death.
Upusia Instead , the site which now recruits members ofMengalu's family most
Mengalu actively is Sweet Mango. What is now his plot was cleared later and it was
Sangkaroren only then that this site began to be active as a Memory for his family. Of the
Ikaram Do'do ' first round of its residents only a second Andaraj (generation - I) and Poke
have so far renamed, while even these namesakes are still very small
Laiba children whose chances of surv ival are uncertain. Here, we see what a
Wind-in-the- K urui'lan feeling of commitment to an Earth site can mean. Mengalu's son Rumbana
died young in 1979. The verdict was that he had been taken by Ancestors
Raduno who had ganged up with Ra'tud-Memory. The song of redemption was
224 Dialog ues lVith th e dead Forgelling the dead 225

designed to send him to Sweet Mango , into th e ca re of Poke a nd Jonu. sequence which bega n with the first inquest the morning afte r the
Mengalu loves the a rea around Sweet Mango a nd spe nd s much of his time predecessor's cremation , a nythin g between three years and a hundred years
working there in so litud e. It is here that he expects to reside after hi s own earlier. T he naming ceremony (abiilll1-oll, form ed from the eleme nts
dea th and it wa s because of a disputed plot by this sp rin g that Mengalu was 'ca use-to-bear-a-name' and 'chil d') uses the same funeral shamans , the
accused of Jamano's death. However, Mengalu's dea d child was not same Ancestor-Men and Ancestor-Women , the same tunes and forms as do
allowed to reside there. The suicide Rumbana later cut into the dialogues the stone-planting and harvest-commemoration (/(C/lja). T he gist of the
with remarks like 'He's my namesake, I'm taking him to stay with me in prose dialogue during the trance is simil arly paralleled by the Ancestor-
Jagatumba '. We are now in a position to unders tand what a well-aimed Men who sin g kata dialogues, as well as other songs almost identica l to the
blow this change of residence wa s to Mengalu's feelings about both hi s redemption cha nts in which all the lineage's A ncesto rs a re once more li sted .
child and his land sca pe. But the wording encapsulated in these form s is of joy and fulfilment , a
The placin g of the dead has implica tion s not only for relations between message which one ca nnot escape as one hea rs this set into the tunes and
affinal lineages. It also affects future lines of development within the lineage verse forms of the earlier occasions. Ad mittedly , for many the sto ne-
itself through the divi sion between these lines of the property for which the planting a nd especially the karja were a wild party . They drank a nd da nced
named Earth sites stand. Earth-Memories function as potential title-deeds for three ni ghts while an orchestra of oboes and syncopated drum s passed
for possible inheritors in a collateral position, should the entire range of through a succession of tunes and beats associated with categories and
front -line inheritors die out. So what matters is not simply to keep each site stages of Memory : the cremation-beat, the Underworld-tune, the Sun-tune
populated, on behalf of the lineage as a whole, with representatives from when the Memory of a suicide arrived . But at the centre of the swirl of
any of its branches. Behind the apparent synonymy of a group of revellers, clustered around the shamans, there had always been a still group
Earth-site names lie the seeds of separation and rivalry: where segments of weeping rememberers.
begin to split, as Jamano's is in the process of separating from Mengalu's,
9 Dancing in the street at the a nnual karia . The stuffed peacock on a pole is
the quasi-synonymy of their Earth sites will develop into an opposition
a ' royal' offering to the dead.
betweel; alternatives. At that stage, these segments will have become
separate lineages. They will then be able to intermarry and their women will
be caught between the two groups of sites which will have become
incompatible alternatives.
Within its imagery of indivisible bounded solidarity , then, the concept of
Earth-Memory is already preparing for the lineage's segmentation . Even
where a linea ge does not split, an association with an Earth site cannot la st
for ever. Sooner or later the actual piece of land and the group for whom it
stands are likely to become separated. An Earth site serves to support the
share-out of inheritance down all lines until this seems assured through
renaming, most commonly after i;lbout two generations . But it is this very
renaming which will destroy the increasingly artificial unity for which the
Earth site has stood: through accomplishing the renaming, the Earth-
Memory 'fades' because it has abolished the relevance of its own imagery .

The joy of naming a baby: retrieving a crucial attribute of the deceased

What one might at first sight call the funeral rites last for three years. But it
is now clear that a dead person's ' funeral' is really closed only with the
name-giving ceremony of his successor. The na ming ceremony completes a
226 Dialogues IFith the dead Forgett ing th e dead 227

Now, at the name-giving, nobody weeps. The songs and dances take 1. RemOl·illg the rillg alld fulfillillg a promise
place inside the packed house not amidst laments but amidst shrieks of One of the central acts of the name-giving is the removal of the brass
helpless laughter and obscene horseplay (gatarsi , literally ' hand -scratch- finger-ring which was tied onto a bracelet around the infant 's wrist at the
ing' , also meaning 'tickling'). Throughout, the theme is prosperity in the name-promising rite (ab-ji-en, 'ca using the ring to be tied') where the
future and joy here and now. A prominent theme is that the Ancestor-Men newborn chi ld was singled out by the Ancestor soo n after its birth about
representing the dead namesake enter the house bringing a branch of a three years previously. This is supposedly one of the rings which each
particular thorn (kumba/i) which they hang over the door inside the house participating household had given to the previous holder of the name along
to block the entry of attacking Memories. This is the protection whjch the with their buffalo , grain and wine, and whjch had been used at the dead
dead namegiver is supposed to provide for the new na mesake against even person's stone-planting and harvest-commemorations. Despite its promi -
Ius own death -Ex perience. When I sang this once in a team headed by nence, the Sora are able to say very little about the meaning of the ring, and
Mengalu for a baby of our lineage, we claimed to have picked the thorn and the texts sung do not elaborate. Given the gynaeco logical associations of
brought it all the way from Tungganrutung, the original start of their metal and the fact that the name-giving coincides, at least in structural time,
migration six grandfathers ago. There are numerous subsidiary themes: the with the end of breastfeeding and the supposed resumption of normal
mock battle during the day in which people throw pots of turmeric water sexual relations between the parents, I suspect that the ring represents a
over each other (the cooling medicine used at birth); the evening of completely closed and solid form for the soft material from which the child
pantomime which includes danced and sung enactments of the baby's has been moulded. This seems to be echoed in the iron plough-tip on which
future marriage, copulation, cultivation, full harvests , and successful the baby steps when entering the house (chapter 6, line 212).
battles with moneylenders and officials.
Every image in the earl ier stone-planting and harvest-commemorations 2. Callf/iba/isil/g all effigy of the decease£/
now appears to have been a promise of this moment. Four examples will In some villages at the stone-planting and harvest-commemoration, each
illustrate this. participating household contributes a handful of grain which is ground

II Ancestor-Men untying the Ancestors' rings at a name-giving ceremony .

Two children are being named on the same occasion.
10 The turmeric fight at a toddler's name-giving ceremony.
22 8 Dialogues Illith the dead Forgetting the dead 229

into flour by the Ancestor-Women or Ancestor-Men. The flour is then completely equival ent to the state of Ances torhood but was only a mean s
mi xed with water into a paste and fashioned , in Alinsing into a lump or towards that state. Despite their empha sis on whol eness and retention ,
cake, in some villages into a human effigy. T his is then charred on a fire Earth sites still fragm ent the lineage into sub -groupings . Earth-Memory
(perhaps representing the pyre) and eaten by the males of the same ha s a somewhat inward -turning, ungenerous, inces tuou s imagery and in
household s. C hildren may al so eat it, but on no account should it be terms of p la nt life is associated onl y with waterside pl a nts a nd weeds of rice
inges ted by the lineage's unma rried daughters or sisters p ast puberty , as fi elds (cf. text 6.3) , never with the dry land and mostly aerial bra nching
this would make them sterile. No -one was able to give any explana tion of creepers and pinnate-lea fed trees which a re used to represent the lineage.
this although the taboo was obviously felt deeply by the girls. But it seems The latter express an outward-going vi gou r as they ramify indefinitely at
}o me to mean that once a girl has swallowed a portion of the soul of her the tips without losing the unity of their rootstock (cf. chapter 6, text 6. 1,
own patrilineal Ancestor, she is held fast by this incestuous act and will be lines 2 01~2, 2 0 8~9 and the Sora 's own use of , branch ', ' twig' and ' leaf ' for
unable to produce children for the lineage of another man. In other words, sections of the linea ge) .
this representation of cannibalism is strictly confined among the sexually I am inclined to see this as an ima gery of the reproduction of the group
mature to those through one of whom the perpetuation of the deceased which spreads free of the divisiveness inherent in the sexual reproduction of
person must pass. The grain which was contributed by all inheriting humans. Here are no separate consciousnesses and identities with their
households had been ground into flour in order to be reintegrated into a problems of diffused cores and weak boundaries, no exogamy, no
single ' person'. What the men are eating is not so much a fragmented share experience or Experiences, no passions or grammatical passivity. The new
in that person, as when they divide his property, but rather an equal share baby stands at the head of a line which should ramify for ever ~ except that
in the potential for another aspect of the person to emerge on the unknown to us , Sun-Woman has already prepared a fatal Experience for it,
name-giving day, whole and undivided in the line of just one of them . and ifit is a girl the additional wrench of exogamy is probably lying in wait
for her. Both exogamy for women and death-Experience for all people tear
3. Making references to ,'egetation which branches ji·011l a single the person away from the patrilineage. It is probably here that the analogy
rootstock between them, which seems to me implicit in Sora thinking throughout,
In the redemption chants at the stone-planting, much vegetation imagery comes nearest to being made explicit.
was used and all of it is brought up again and developed today at the
name-giving. The reader may remember that riadi and purpuri (chapter 6, 4. Entering the house
line 208) are two kinds of frequently-branching grass which form mats as From the time of the stone-planting, an Ancestor both is and is not
they spread out in a circle from a centre to which the stems remain constantly present in the house of his or her descendants. In one sense,
traceable. Similarly, banana plants (chapter 6, line 46), as well as being a Ancestors are always there by virtue of the stone-planting and the passing
symbol for fleshy, sappy vigour, are also reproduced by suckers and on of their inheritance. They are in the grain which is stored and eaten there
offshoots which form around the base. Butid (line 201) is a bristly tuber and which recently in -married wives a re not allowed to fetch down from the
with long filament roots radiating out. Tarab, laia and singkung (lines 43--4) loft, and they receive little libations of drink at the foot of the main pillar. In
are climbing creepers which wander from tree to tree , far from their original another sense, the Ancestor was led out to the stone-planting and passed
rootstock. They embody many other properties which make them apposite through the stone into the Underworld. From there his Memory will
for the context: the bark of singkung is used as a cooling medicine in sometimes wander back of its own accord and make its presence known by
childbirth and helps easy delivery because the ripe seed cases spring open following someone home or otherwise entering the house . If it has done this
and the seed pops out. A further related word which happens not to occur in the form of his death-Experience (or of one of its sub-Experiences), it
in that text is 'tambob-' (from bob, 'head, apex') which is used of trees and receives a banishing-rite; if as an Ancestor, it is fed inside the house and
shrubs to mean to sprout again after being cut down to the rootstock. allowed to find its own way home or else kept for a while in a pot or wall
When used of a man after his death, it means to have male heirs. painting. Thus the terms of residence in the house granted to the Ancestor
This kind of imagery confirms that the dead person's Earth site was not in these contexts are conditional.
23 0 Dialogues lVith the dead Forgelling the dead 23 1

At the name-givin g, however, the Ancestor is exp licitly inducted into the Ancestors' forced entry, but gives it a new and optimistic twist. T hough
hou se by opening a closed door to the Ancestor-Men who impersonate there is no ladder, the two parties of Ancestor-Men sing in exactly the same
him . Or rather, they pretend to break down the door, but do so to the great way on either side of the closed door and event ua ll y break in . But this time
joy of all those inside. The force of this action a t the name-giving ca n best the entry is perma nent, in the form of the name whi ch during the trance on
be appreciated by contras ting it with the other occasion on which the dead the mortar will be attached definitively by the Ancestor to the child ,
knock at a closed door, at the kalj a which commemorates the village's dead through the act of un ty ing the ring . To the extent that the Ancestor is in the
collectively.2 Towards nightfall on the first eve ning of the kalja the funeral name, he or she now resides in the hou se as one co mponent of the baby's
shama ns sit on the cremation-ground of the lineage who are providing the person. It is not so much a personal attribute as a social one, that aspect of
year's representative house . They go into a preliminary trance in which the person which identifies something of the child 's ancestral origins a nd
each person who has died in the previou s three years (in Alinsing in 1979 which the living ca n best apprehend a nd manipulate as a la bel. It
there were twenty-two of these) announces his or her arrival and is greeted contributes towards the formation of so meo ne who, while he is a new
with tears and embraces. Everybody then returns to the villa ge a nd the person, is defined and circumscribed as such by an elaborate socia l co ntext
Memories who have been raised come with them. One group of Ancestor- which enco mpa sses both himse lf a nd hi s predecessor.
Men (for the kalja , those of all the village's lineages are pooled) barricade
themselves inside the locked house while the others stand outside in the The ultimate residue of the person and the final death of Memories
darkness armed with axes, swords and arrows, and sing demanding to be let Most of the strands which went to make up the deceased have by now been
in. The Ancestor-Men inside sing their reply on behalf of the living dispersed and diffused among many living persons, while his name has bee n
householders, widows, children and others. They raise doubts and returned undiluted, normally to a single living successor. The return of the
objections, especially about the authenticity of the petitioner. The whole Ancestor's name is no reincarnation , nor is the continuity from one
business takes several hours, since it must be gone through with appropri- namesake to the next cumulative, as in the idea of karma. It is a repetition of
ate wording for each Memory's family. Finally, the Ancestors break down the name, implying perhaps a repetition of the person's lineal role but not
the door and force their way in. They are followed by a riotous crowd of of his biography or destiny, which would have included the repetition of his
dancers and musicians who have already been drinking for some time encounters with Experiences. Meanwhile the Ancestor continues to exist as
elsewhere. At this point the pyre-lighters start dancing on the pitch of the a separate person , a Memory who can talk to and protect the second
roof outside, shaking the house and tearing a hole in the thatch in order to namesake . It is this aspect which will eventually die again in the
lower the bamboo ladder into the hole of the mortar. The ladder reaches Underworld , be cremated a second time a nd turn into a butterfly .
through the mortar into the Underworld and a pile of grain and pea seeds is Who or wha t is the dead person by this last stage? In order to understand
poured around its base. The ladder duplicates the Ancestors' path earlier in the significance of this, a complete phase of time should be seen as
the evening when they were led from the cremation-ground to the door. embracing not two but three holde rs of a na me. There are a lways two
Now the Ancestors are able to climb directly up it and enter the bodies of concurrent holders of the name at the centre of the stage, either one living
the shamans who sit on the mortar. The main trance takes place here at the and one dead , or else both dead and with the more recent one seeking a
foot of the ladder a t intervals during the rest of this and the two successive baby to name while the older one waits in the wings only long enough to see
nights. Yet towards the end of the thii'd night the Ancestors are sent back him successful. The work of the first holder is done only with the
down the ladder to the Underworld and told not to return until the appearance of the third. I have tried to represent this in figure 9.2.
following year. Outside, their buffalos are being massacred in the dawn The stages shown are not necessarily of equal duration, and it can be see n
light and their souls sent down with the Ancestors. Then the Ancestor-Men that the state of being 'alive' (am eng) is only the first out offive stages which
chop up the ladder with axes to the accompaniment of frenzied dancing on I have identified in the person's total known existence. The stages of
the shattered fragments. They will destroy this path a second time later in structural time beginning with Roman numerals correspond in lived time
to :
the day when they take these fragments to a cremation site and burn them .
The name-giving echoes the kalja by replicating this motif of the T Being 'a live'
232 Dialog ues Il'ith the dead Forge lling the dead 233

II Ex istin g within recent living memory: at first , Memories are not fully IV No lon ger being in living memory: a state which persists only in lhe
redeemed a nd still have a power of co ntagion a nd grief over their names of people whom living adu lts have probably never seen but who as
rememberers. In chapter 8 these were ca lled 'Recent' Memories, inherited Ancestor-Memories are the justification for their names and
examples of whom are Panderi, Palda a nd the little girl Am boni . With for the names of the living adu lts a ll aro und them.
the development of their redeemed form , this power gradua lly decreases
as they beco me 'M iddle-Distance' Memories. At thi s stage, disp utes may V Havin g died a second death : as the first name-holder dies in turn he
still persist a bout the Ear th site chosen a nd therefore about just IVhose becomes the new gua rantor of the name in yet another baby, the third
Memories or Ancestors these really are . The probl ematic suicides Palda namesake. Now with transmission ass ured the first Memo ry, itself
and Rumbana are already embroiled in this stage without having fully a lready a once-dead person, ha s nothing left to give us and so dies aga in
relinquished the stage of perpetuating their Experience as Recent in the Underworld and beco mes a butterfly. After this, nothing more is
Memories. Middle-Distance Memori es who seem free of their Experien- known about this person .
ces but still subject to changes of Earth site include Sindi's husba nd The model in this dia gram is a poor approx imation, howeve r. It shows
BOljanu and her children Oindo a nd Maianti . Unless they died as the overlap in time, but does not rep resent the transmission of any att ribute
chi ldren, such people have generally not yet transmitted their names to or qu a li ty between one person and hi s successor. Figure 9.3 attempts to do
descendants . this. A number in a circle represents a person, the holder of the name. The
III Existing in more distant li ving memory : where Middle-Distance
Memories have become Old Memories after having resolved their
Figure 9.3 The cyclical transmission of names between persons .
uncertainties about Earth-site residence and named a baby . These
pe rso n No .
Memories were known as living people by present adults, whose chi ldren
and deceased parents therefore tend to bear the same names. This shades
into person born 2

Figure 9.2 The overlapping existence of successive persons bea ring the sa me dies, enters
dea th-Exp er ience
phases of existence is redeemed into
Earth a nd
nameholder I ~-4---+--~--+1 -----
born dies returns dies
baby baby ba by
name aga in ,
No .2 No .3 NO.4
to baby beco mes born born born
butte rfly

~ ~---
tran s mit s name
to nex t na mesa ke
namehold e r 2 I
II 111 IV V
born dies return s dies further namesa ke
name again born ; origina l
person di es
a seco nd tim e,
becomes butte rfly
nameho ld er 3
born dies returns dies
name again
234 Dialog ues with the dead Fo rgetting the dead 235

corresp ondin g arrow represents hi s progress. Let us follow person 1. A t a unbearably pain ful Experience aspect that Memories are at their most
ce rta in point his path splits a nd hi s name returns to the living a nd attaches personable. Everythin g a bout the deceased which has character is retrieved
itself to person 2. Meanwhile p erson J himself still reta ins hi s form er so far as possible and brought back to the realm of the livin g. As the dead
personhood a nd starts to move out a long the path lead in g to the bottom of drift inexorab ly away from us towards butterflyhood they also become
the diagram. Person 2, meanwhjle , is truly a new ' perso n', but shar in g the more inaccessible and unknowabl e. At times, the shady lower branches
same name and in a direct line of descent. A sim.ilar diagram co uld be overhanging a stream are sett led with swarms of butterflies. Sora people
drawn to represeflt the ea rlier return of the other attrjbutes of the deceased . say that butterfl ies are indestructible, since when they flock to a pot of sweet
The decea sed sheds these one at a time by returning them in so me way to wine they apparently drown but when pulled out they come to life again
the society of the living while himself co ntinuing along his own path . In a nd flyaway. But they are a lso inarticulate and characterless . Butterfl ies
each of these progressive separa tions, one of his attributes returns to are beyond the rea ch of di a logue a nd they receive no cu lt. A person 's
opera te among other living perso ns whjle his other attributes remain fully l-Iltimate residue, his lonely co re, cannot even be spoken to. It can never find
dead. F irst he passes on hi s Experience as pa rt of becoming an Ancestor ; as its way back into the society of the living and must ultima tely die again and
an Ancestor, he then hand s on his property; finally another attribute, this lose even the society of the dead . From the subjective viewpoint of the
time ILis name, is separated off and returned to the rea lm of the ljvin g. deceased, by far the greater part of his consciousness if not a ll of it recedes
Yet the existence of a second dea th in the Und erworld shows that there beyond the range of the awareness of the living while remaining in a state of
remains some ultimate residue which continues its onward trajectory. This self-awareness - except that it no lon ger ha s any experiences of which to be
residue appears to be the dead person 's subjective consciousness which aware. A butterfly is a consciousness which cannot cease to exist, but which
persists while being progressively stripped of attributes. If there is any has no attributes because notrung can be known about it. Incapable of
resemblance here to the wider Indian religious idea of mo/qa, liberation, activity and action, liberated from passivity and passion but also deprived
this resemblance comes with a quite different valuation. For the dead , their for ever of company, butterflies are Memories without rememberers . This,
condition is not so much a purification and release as a deprivation and at last, is the final dea th of the person.
progressive attenuation. It is undoubtedly better to be alive than dead , and
life is not a preparation for death . The ordeals ofa shaman's initiation a nd
practice involve daily journeys into a state of temporary death . But this is
done not as the personal voyage of a mystic or ascetic but as part of the
shaman's participation in the affa irs of the living, in their emotions, hea lth
and social relations. The living have food, warmth, sex, friendship, a
productive economy, and laughter (I have heard the dead crack wry jokes
but never hea rd them laugh). The Underworld contains a bleak pastiche of
ljfe above ground. The agriculture of the Underworld fails to feed and the
only sustenance which satisfies the dead is the soul (puradan) of people,
animals, grain and alcoholic drinks from this world. It is this valuation of
death which gives the recently dead their intense desire to interfere in our
affairs and leads them to ask repeatedly to handle and wear the personal
belongings, tools, clothes and ornaments which they used in life (cf. chapter
5, line 43; chapter 7, lines 251-8). This valuation of death constitutes the
essence ofloss both for the living and for the dead , which lies in the very fact
that the former will forget the latter.
The dead have their own feelings but it is the living from whose
perspective the whole system is ultimately conceptualised. It is in their first ,

Dialog ues with th e self'? 23 7

10 recovered from loss. Certainly , as a system of psychotherapy , Sora

dia logues with the dead a re not inevitably successful. F or example, T a baro
ha s already prolonged the funeral cycle of his son Rumbana from the usual
three annual kalJa s to four , but still remain s a numbed , empty 'grain
Dialogues with the self? Sora ba sket' (kliltaben) . Again , the Sora reli a nce on the a bility of the dea d to
express themselves articulately in lan guage is of littl e help to Ra na tang
bereavement and the presuppositions of when ILi s baby dies in chapter 5, or indeed to the famil y of any infant (from
contemporary psychotherapy the Latin in ~ral1s, ' not-speaking').
This problem is compli cated by the difficulty of di stingui shing grief as a
feeling from mourning as a process and an activity , since it is the latter
which has the more outward, public form and has attracted more attention
from anthropologists. The greatest cultural elaboration may not always
coincide with the point of deepest feeling (cf. R. Rosaldo 1984: 185ff, 192).
How can we understand Sora dialogues with the dead in terms of our own Thus, a mere formal description of the funeral of Ranatang's unnamed
lives, our own memories and forgetting? The feelings oflove, apprehension, infant, attenuated as it was on the grounds that the baby did not yet have a
jealousy, loneliness and companionable cheer seem recognisable, at times full soul , could not do justice to what we saw of the depth of the parents '
piercingly so . But the way in which these are put together seems strange. In feelings. But the evidence presented throughout this book should be more
particular, many readers may have difficulty in believing in, or even than enough to challenge the popular view still often heard in the West, that
conceiving, the intense two-way traffic which the Sora say passes constantly people suffer grief less acutely in societies where the mortality rate is higher.
between the realms of life and death. This view is also widespread among historians of the Western past (e.g.
The deaths of those around us foreshadow our own and are something Aries 1962: 38- 9; Stone 1977: 70, 420, 680, both cited and opposed by
which we must all face. But different societies give people very varying Macfarlane, 1979: 106-7; cf. Macfarlane 1981: 250- 1) .
means with which to do this. Gorer, in an examination of mourning in But in most cases, the order of the Sora funeral sequence does link public
Britain, traces a radical change between the Victorian era and his own, a procedures and supposed inner feelings. So long as the dead keep reverting
change which he pinpoints around the period of the First World War. After to their Experience aspect, it is clear that their rememberers have not yet
his brother died, he says, people treated him kindly for a while, but soon been released from the most intense phase of their grief. Subsequently the
expected him to resume normal life. Then, he writes, dead and their mourners enter less intense phases . The pacing of the
three-year funeral sequence does not suit all deaths and all mourners, and
I refused invitations to cocktail parties, explaining that I was mourning; the people
who invited me responded to this statement with shocked embarrassment, as if I we have seen cases which remain highly problematic even after their third
had voiced some appalling obscenity .. . educated and sophisticated though they karja. Indeed , the fact that Memories do not ultimately die their second
were, [they] mumbled and hurried away. They clearly no longer had any guidance deaths until around the time that their living rememberers are undergoing
from ritual as to the way to treat a self-confessed mourner; and , I suspect, they were their own first deaths, is an implicit statement that one remains affected by
frightened lest I give way Lo my grief, and involve them in a distasteful upsurge of
all one's Memories for the rest of one's life. The healing of the mourner,
emotion. (GoreI' 1965: 14)
whatever this is, lies in the Memory's changes of form but not in the
Gorer's sister-in-law was similarly unsupported socially and 'let herself Memory's annihilation .
be, almost literally, eaten up with grief' (Gorer 1965: 15). Gorer concludes We can advance our view of the adequacy of mourning procedures only
that 'this lack of accepted ritual and guidance is accompanied by a very if we enlarge our horizon to examine their entire scope within the society
considerable amount of maladaptive behaviour' (Gorer 1965: 110). they serve. It is precisely because the Sora ideas of the person, of memory,
What could constitute 'adaptive' behaviour and how could we recognise of loss and healing, invite comparison with concepts from the relatively
it? It is perhaps impossible to say for certain when, if ever, someone has asocial disciplines of psychology and psychiatry, that the need for this
238 Dialogues with the dead Dialoglles ll'ith the self'? 239

approach becomes so apparent. In proposing the gloss 'Memory' for within the idiom of psychotherapy. It is a theoretical statement from which
'sonum' in chapter 8, I sketched in a contrast between the exteriority of a a model ca n be extracted and laid side by side with one derived from So ra
sonum and the interiority of a Memory as the latter must appear in such practice. An initial comparison of these models in formal terms will lead us
secular Western fields of discourse . What kind of bereavement therapy will to an enhanced understa nding of the scope of dialogue within Sora society
be genera ted by interpretations of the interior sort in which the Sora style of as a whole. My choice of classic Freudian psychoanalysis does not gra nt it
dialogue is not possible? The modern industrial society of which anthropol - any absolute interpretative status (a s in much psychoanalytic anthropol-
ogy is itself a part is extremely varied. Its approaches to death include ogy) but merely reflects its position as arguably the Western world's lea ding
various interpretations of Christianity; adaptations of Buddhist eschatol- blueprint for practical intervention in the mourning process. Indeed , the
ogy (Fremantle and Trungpa 1987); spiritualism and parapsychology point of comparison would be lost if psychoanalysis were taken as anything
(Thouless 1984); secularised death rites (Lane 1981: 82-6; Huntington and more than an ethnoscience from modern industrial society. The fact that
Metcalf 1979: 184-211); widely cast theological and anthropological this hegemonic literature derives mainly from Freud rather than from, say,
comparisons (respectively Hick 1976; Bloch and Parry 1982); and the lung (e.g. 1959 [1934]), whose collective unconscious is hardly ever
sociology of clinical necessity (Hockey 1990). mentioned , has its own consequences and merely serves to sharpen the
Despite this variety, the upsurge during recent years of interest in death contrast. 2
and mourning is certainly related to a widespread sense that procedures in Freud's model depends on a contrast between 'mourning' and 'melan-
our own society have become inadequate. (Or perhaps this variety is itself a cholia' as two possible responses to bereavement. He presents mourning as
symptom of this inadequacy, which extends to the sheer physical encounter a normal condition which is resolved with the passage of time as the
with death. For example, as a British adult I handled and even saw my first mourner's 'libido' withdraws itself from the deceased, who is referred to as
corpses only in Sora land.) The concern which underlies Gorer's remark the 'loved object'. Melancholia, on the other hand, is a pathological
about 'maladaptive' mourning has since grown into a significant move- disturbance of this process in which this healing fails to occur: the bereaved
ment. The professions of 'bereavement counselling' and 'thanatology' person's 'ego' turns in on itself, 'identifies' with the lost object and loses
arose through such pioneers as Kubler-Ross in the United States (1969) interest in stayin!! alive. In either case the involvement between the two
and Saunders in Britain (Saunders 1959; Saunders and Baines 1983). persons is so intense that 'the existence of the lost object is psychically
Numerous professional and self-help books have appeared with titles like prolonged' (Freud 1957: 245):
Death and the family: the importance of mourning (Pincus, 1976), The
courage to grieve (Tate1baum, 1981), Grief counselling and grief therapy: a this withdrawal oflibido is not a process that can be accomplished in a moment, but
must certainly ... be one in which progress is long-drawn-out and gradual ... [FJirst
handbookfor the mental health practitioner (Worden 1982). The emphasis in
one and then another memory is activated ... If the object does not possess this
this literature o