2.3. The shamanistic songs

The traditional worldview of the Nenets is animistic; the environment is believed to be informed by a hierachy of different spirits, the paramount being Num', a major deity of the heaven. The mediator between the ordinary world and the upper- and underworlds of the spirits is tádyebya, a Nenets shaman. The Nenets tádyebyas are ranked according to their spiritual attachment and function and according to their experience (see further: Homich 1981).

The songs directly connected with the shamanistic ritual, can be divided into two subtypes. To the first subtype belong the "magic songs" proper, that the Nenets shaman1, tádyebya, performs during his séance. To the second subtype belong the shamanistic narrative songs, which contain stories about the shamans and mythological entities (cf. Helimski 1989, 26)2. Lehtisalo defines the shamanistic songs as "songs sung with the accompaniment of the witch drum and having the content related to the mythical beliefs, where the journeys of the Samoyeds to the spirits or to the deceased are depicted". (Lehtisalo 1922, 89) These songs are referred to with a general, but somewhat obscure appellation sámbadabts3. This name is closely related to one of the functional categories of Nenets shamans, the sámbana. The sámbana shamans were specialized only in escorting the dead to the world of the dead and to the ritual cleaning and protection of the relatives, their dwelling and equipment (cf. Khomich 1981, 16).

Lehtisalo (1956, 187) proposes a Forest Nenets song type name tachipya"tma kinawsh, that is formed out of the general appellation of the shaman, tádyebya, and of the song type, hinabts. Furthermore, Khomich (1981, 16) assumes the category of the sámbana shamans to be of relatively late origin: "...the duties of a shaman specialized in the funeral rites (i.e. sámbana) were not considered as indispensable, and besides, there is no information about this kind of shamans in the 18th century sources."

Interestingly, Kupriyanova gives practically no information about the shamanistic songs. She has assigned the shamanistic songs to the category of the shamanistic fairy tales in her typology of the Nenets oral tradition (Kupriyanova 1960, 17). She only states briefly, that "the shamanism had a once certain role in the folk practices and therefore it has been possible to record a corpus of shamanistic songs and tales". (Kupriyanova 1960, 19). Also later she makes only a passing reference to the existence of Lehtisalo's material (cf. Kupriyanova 1965, 20). This is interesting in that she gives much more extensive information about all the other categories of the Nenets songs. This may be partially due to the places she recorded her material, namely among the Malaya Zemlya tundra (actually only the village of Nel'min-Nos at the delta of the Pechora river), having no informants at hand, who would have been able to give information about the Nenets shamanistic practices. More likely, however, is, that at those times discussion of the subject of shamanism was very strictly banned. Thus it is likely, that both the Nenets and Kupriyanova practiced a strong self-censorship with the issue of shamanism.

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1The word shaman has spread to international use - via Russian - originally from the Evenki language. The Turkic word kam could also have spread elsewhere, but for some reason it didn't, but was left in Russian (kamlaniye 'a shamanistic séance'; kamlat' 'shamanize').

2Castrén has labelled one song as tádieibtso (Castrén-Lehtisalo 1940, 150) and described it as "an epic song with a shaman theme". Simoncsics has also a mention of these songs (tádebtso) (1978, 401). However, none of the Nenets that I have asked about the existence of a shaman song tádebtso, has recognized such a term. Probably the tádieibtso/tádebtso refers to something like tádyebya' syo 'shaman's song', pronounced as tádyebyansyo. Lehtisalo reports of a word tadebtsu as 'the helping spirits of the shaman' (1956, 478).

3Lehtisalo has also translated the corresponding verb through the concept of the sámbana tádyebya (1956, 406): "sámpá 'to escort the shadow-souls of the dead to the underworld with songs and accompaniment of the magic drum' ".