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Ambivalent ambiguities: recollections of shamanism (angakkuersaarneq) in East Greenland - Kennet Pedersen & Helga Rosing

4:45 PM, Saturday 5 Oct 2019 (30 minutes)
Based on a recent fieldwork in Tasiilaq and Kulusuk, this paper presents, and discusses, some of our findings, the theme being memories of shamans and shamanism among tunumiut today.

The descriptive history of shamanism is, in a Greenlandic context, one the one hand relatively young (1894-), and on the other hand characterized by a fervent missionary politics of exterminating “paganism” before 1921 (bicentenary of the Danish-Norwegian colonialism in Greenland). Unsurprisingly, the missionaries were met with different kinds of resistance: clandestine seances in remotely places, permanent withdrawal from the church town, and evasion behind a mask of conversion.

Among people today it is vividly kept in mind that some of the old angakkut responded to the persecution by turning into witches (ilisiitsut). Such descriptions are, off course, framed by the new religious regime, but often it is accompanied by an, perhaps, exaggerated awe – a recognition of the power of the “old” spirituality. Many of our “informants” display an emotionally complex evaluation their “pagan” relatives, ranging from nostalgic appreciation to bewildered fear and disgust, from a conviction that some of these hidden powers still can be, and are, used today to a downright rejection of non-modern superstition. To complicate matters even more, East Greenland has become a target of the tourist business which has put the exoticism of the old ways in strong demand. The paper tries to disentangle some of these threads.

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