In this paper, I focus on Iomande, “the bear sending off ritual” practiced
by the Ainu people of Hokkaido. Iomonde is practiced by all Ainu
people in all regions except those of the northern Kuriles, and the
rituals are slightly different from one location to another (Emiko, 240).
The process consists of three stages occurring over two years. First,
hunters capture a bear cub. Second, women raise the cub for about
one to one and a half years. Third, Iomande is held at the beginning of
the winter when the bear is ritually killed and its soul is sent back to
the mountains (Emiko, 244).
Myth plays an important role among Ainu people. Rapport and Overing
discuss the function of myth. They note that:
[I]t serves to reinforce social cohesion and unity by presenting and justifying
traditional order. Mystic discourse reminds a community of its own identity
through the public process of specifying and defining its distinctive social
norms. Whether or not people believe the irrational content of myth is
irrelevant, for its symbols have served a crucial social function in the
maintenance of the given social order”(Rapport and Overing, 276)
The myth concerning the origin of Iomande is a good example of this
theory.Although Ainu people do not have a written language, they do
have a well-developed oral tradition where we can find the myth of
the origin of Iomande.
According to Higashi
Suzunai, an Ainu man
According to Higashi Suzunai, an Ainu man
interviewed by Hilger, there was a great famine among the Ainu
people in ancient times. Because people were suffering, Kamui Ekashi
(the leader of the deities) ordered his subordinates to disguise
themselves as bears. He ordered them to go to the Ainu people to
conduct a ritual in which a bear would be shot so that its soul
could be released and go back to the bear deities where it belongs.
Thus, the Ainu people started Iomande, the ritual that involves sending
the soul of bear back along with millet dumplings and millet sake with
the wish for the bears to come again (Hilger, 89). I found that the
lives of Ainu people are interwoven with myth. As Rapport and
Overing state, when Ainu people justify, legitimate or explain the
reason why they do the things they do, they often use myth.
Another example to demonstrate how the lives of Ainu people are
interwoven with myth is the reason why Ainu people address
Kamui(deities) of fire in prayer on all occasions before they
offer any other prayers. According to Petei, who is an old male Ainu
“While all Kamui were still living in the skies, their children played with snowballs. Oneday, inadvertently, a snowball fell from the sky. The Highest Kamui saw this and told the children to shoot at it immediately. All except one boy missed the target. His arrow split the snowball in two. Out flew two birds, one white and one black. Upon investigation, the Highest Kamui found that the boy who had shot the snowball was the child of the Kamui of Thunder, Kanna-Kamui and of Abe Fuji-Kamui, Kamui of Fire. These two had been married without permission from the Highest Kamui. This boy was sent by the Highest Kamui to the earth to govern the earth and to be a leader of humans-Ainu, as you know, means ‘humans’. Since the boy was only a child, the Highest Kamui sent his mother, Abe-Fuji-Makui, with him. It is she who has, since then, governed our fireplaces on earth and has been the mediator between the other Kamui and men”(Hilger, 94).
Therefore, myth plays a very important role in Iomande as
well as all aspects of Ainu life to help justify, legitimate
and explain Iomande and the lives of Ainu people.
Holy and Stuchilik explain that “social life is a matter of intention and performance: the impacting of meaningful, goal-oriented actions upon the world so as to maintain or change a status quo” (quoted in Rapport and Overing, 53). According to them, while performances are responsible for unceasingly reconstructing the human world, the cognitive model of intentions is responsible for constituting the world of humans. We can apply their theory to the case of the Ainu people. Ainu people understand Iomande as a ritual of rebirth for the bear. The purpose is to send off the soul of the bear in a ritually proper way so that it will be reborn in the mountains where the bear deities, Kimun-Kamui live. By treating the bear with love and respect and sending its soul back with gifts and offerings to the bear deities, the bear Kamui will be pleased and will provide the Ainu people with meat and fur (Emiko, 241). Therefore, with clear intention of ritual, Ainu people perform Iomande, which serves to maintain a good relationship between the human world and the deity world.
The Iomande ritual illustrates multidimensional aspects of Ainu people’s
life such as religious, political, social and economic one. Since the
Iomande ritual involves not only the members of the immediate
settlements but also other communities’ members, it provides a
significant opportunity for male elders to display their wealth,
symbolizing personal and community political power to those from
other settlements (Emiko, 241). Although they are all Ainu people,
there are separate communities based on settlements. Cohen argues
“community should be seen as a symbolic construct and a contrastive one; it derives from the situational perception of a boundary which marks off one social group from another: awareness of community depends on consciousness of boundary”
in Rapport and Overing, 61).
Therefore, as Cohen discusses, communities are divided based on
geography and Iomande could play a role as a symbol of awareness of
one’s own community.
There is a relationship between Ainu people’s moral values and Iomande. Among Ainu people, there is an emphasis on a person’s generosity. This emphasis is related to Ainu deities, who offer their own bodies and flesh to humans for the sustainment of life. For example, bear deities offer their own bodies to humans, and therefore, the Ainu people have the Iomande ritual to send the bear’s soul back with gifts to the mountains where the bear deities reside. Political leaders are chosen on the basis of generosity, the person who is willing to share (Emiko, 242).
Iomande also illustrates Ainu cosmology. Ainu-moshir refers to the earthly or natural word where humans live, and Kamui-moshir signifies the supernatural world where deities live. Takeshi notes that:
“Ainu myths tell how in
the process of establishing Ainu-moshir, the deities of Kamui-moshir
supernatural beings both good and bad, among with the inhabitants of the real
world such as humans, animals and plants”(quoted in Irimoto,74).
The Iomande ritual centers on the relations between humans and deities,
and based on this relationship, there is a complex concept of
host/guest/visitor/gift related to the Iomande ritual. According to
“The forest serves as a
host to the hunter, who must comport himself as a proper guest. The hunter is a
host inviting the animal to feast on the gift of its own meat. The animal is
host to the hunters as they feed on its flesh. The animal is a gift from the
Mater of the Animal, as well as being a visitor from the spirit world. The
itself to the hunter. The
hunter, by killing the animal, enables it to return to its supernatural owner
and to its home from which it has come to earth as a visitor”(Smith, 59)
This relationship also shows us that the Ainu people’s concept of the
human world and the divine world and those common norms that Ainu
people posses could give them a stronger sense of belonging. According
to Warner, consciousness of the fact that they live with the same norms
and within the same social organization provides community members
with a sense of belonging (quoted in Rapport and Overing, 61) As they
participate in Iomande, people experience the departure of the spirit
of the bear for the divine world and experience the existence of the
spiritual world. Through the shared experiences, Ainu people are able
to create a stronger
of community. Frankenberg suggests that:
“[I]t is common interests
in achievable things
(economic, religious, or
whatever) that gives members of a community a common interest in one another.
Living face to face, in a small group of people, with common interests in mind,
eventuates in community member’s sharing many stranded or multiplex relations
with one another; also sharing a sentiment towards the locality and the group
itself”(quoted in Rapport and Overing, 61)
Based on my research of the Ainu people, their common interest is to
send the bear’s spirit back to world where bear deities reside so that
the latter will send
more bears next year.
Finally, by focusing on Iomande, we can observe two different
worldviews which Rapport and Overing discuss. According to them,
“world-view is used to point up critical differences between groups of
people, based on how they view the world” (Rapport and
Overing, 395). For Geerz, “word-view refers to an intellectual
understating of the world, a way of thinking about the world and its
workings, which is common amongst a particular group”
(quoted in Rapport and Overing, 396). To support their theories, in
1970, the Japanese government passed a law that forbade practicing
Iomande because the Japanese considered the Ainu way of killing bear
to be cruel. However, according to an
Ainu woman, Kayano:
“The bear was not pierced
with a spear, but was shot at with arrows, then clubbed, and finally throttled
to death between two logs. This was a ritual dismissal of him. It was not cruel.
Furthermore, dispatching the bear was kindness, since his spirit went to the
world of bear spirits, a place of happiness for him” (Hilger, 87).
then recited such a prayer:
“Oh bear! You are of
benefit to us. You give us your fur for clothing and bedding; you give us meat
for good. In order to show our gratitude we shall now send you back to your own
country with many, many gifts for your bear relatives there. We are going to
perform for you a variety of interesting dances” (Hilger, 87).
As I demonstrated to above, While the Japanese view Iomande as cruel ,
Ainu people consider Iomande as a sacred ritual, “the bear sending off
ritual” returning the bear soul back to the divine world where it came
from. These different ways of understanding the world between
the Japanese and the Ainu illustrates two different worldviews.
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