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Early Origins and Foundations of Ulchi shamanism / Neolithic Period Amur River region

The traditions of the art of shamanizing begins with the seminal legend of the great mammoth transferring the ancient knowledge to the first human (some stories say it was a female and others a male). The hunter/tress was given instructions about the drum and other paraphernalia necessary to begin the transmogrification from human to shaman at the base of the world tree. The earliest legends speak of the animal people (megafauna of the Pleistocene era) as assistants and guides to the culture. The shamanís spirit arsenal was replete with mammoths, cave lions, bison, crocodiles, Kaluga sturgeon, etc. from this epoch.

The Ulchis speak a southern dialect of the Manchu-Tungus language from the Altaic language family that had no original written form. Early twentieth century Soviet ethnographers and linguists recorded oral histories where a complete legend would take 11-12 hours to recite. These ancient histories and teachings were memorized and passed down from one generation to the next by the wisdom keepers within each familial clan. Even now the preservation of the early shamanic instructions remains the foundation of the work.

Shamanic Healing Practices of the Ulchi

Originally Published in Shaman's Drum magazine Issue 53, 1999

"My brothers, my fathers have not come this way before. I'm here as the first in the place of the big city. I've come here the first of my people. I've crossed the nine mountains to the land where the sun sets. I've crossed the nine mountains and here the trees are different. I cross over the trees. I sing to the trees. I will sit here on the blue cloud. I will sing my song."

Excerpt from Mikhail Duvan's first kamlania in the United States, May 30, 1995

Along the Amur River, north of the city of Khabarovsk, lies the Ulchi village of Bulava. In this harsh part of Siberia, there is little electricity or indoor plumbing, and water is delivered each day by a truck that makes its rounds, filling the water barrels outside most households. In winter, the ground is frozen solid, and in spring and fall, the dirt streets turn to mud.

In Bulava, and elsewhere across the Ulchi region, many of the old ways of the shamans still survive, despite the encroachments of modern society and the attempted eradication of shamanism during the Soviet regime. The Ulchi speak a dialect belonging to the Manchu-Tungus language group; thus, their shamans called saman (from sa, "to know") are among the prototypical ecstatic shamans popularized by Eliade and others. Today, the few remaining Ulchi shamans still look after the spiritual needs of their people mediating with the spirits, performing healings and soul retrievals, and restoring balance with a spiritual world that is at once beneficent and foreboding.

In traditional Ulchi cosmology, not only is everything alive "each stone, plant, and animal with its own living spirit" but the spirits are sentient, ever-watching, often with strict expectations of the people who live among them. If these expectations are not met, if the required offerings are not made, proper respect not shown, and taboos not upheld, the spirits may inflict harsh retribution, which can take the form of misfortune, illness, or even death. Thus, in the traditional way, the daily life of each person requires constant awareness of and interaction with the spirit world.

To a large extent, the responsibility for maintaining health and well-being starts with the individual and the family.

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Ancient DNA reveals 'genetic continuity’ between Stone Age and modern populations in East Asia

In contrast to Western Europeans, new research finds contemporary East Asians are genetically much closer to the ancient hunter-gatherers that lived in the same region eight thousand years previously.

Researchers working on ancient DNA extracted from human remains interred almost 8,000 years ago in a cave in the Russian Far East have found that the genetic makeup of certain modern East Asian populations closely resemble that of their hunter-gatherer ancestors.

The study, published today in the journal Science Advances, is the first to obtain nuclear genome data from ancient mainland East Asia and compare the results to modern populations.

The findings indicate that there was no major migratory interruption, or “population turnover”, for well over seven millennia. Consequently, some contemporary ethnic groups share a remarkable genetic similarity to Stone Age hunters that once roamed the same region.

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