Conversion drive eliminating shaman culture
By Shiva Kumar Kashi
Hetauda, June 7: Shamanism practised by the indigenous Chepang people is facing extinction owing to conversion drive perpetrated by some alleged followers of Christianity.
Shamanism is an integral part of the Chepang culture. In addition to performing the rituals during births, deaths and weddings, shamans are also the traditional faith-healers of the Chepang community and widely revered as priests during various religious function of the community.
But with more than 90 per cent Chepangs of Makwanpur having converted to Christianity, the shamans have all but disappeared.
According to Khem Bahadur Chepang, president of the Nepal Chepang Association Makwanpur, there are hardly 25-30 shamans left in the district. He said that the trend of religious conversion grew exponentially over the past decade and lamented that the Chepangs were leaving their unique nature-worshipping roots en masse.
“The Chepangs are known for worshipping the nature and the Devi,” he stated adding, “It is still mandatory to appoint a Chepang priest to the Devi temples of Kalikatar, Namtar, Sarikhet and Manahari.” He said that the present shamans had learnt the cultural practices from their forefathers. “But no one in the new generation wants to continue the practice because they have all become Christians.”
A local shaman, Man Bahadur Chepang, said, “The new generation thinks that by converting to Christianity, a Chepang should discontinue his/her tradition and culture.”
He expressed worries that the hundreds of years of shaman knowledge would die out with him.
The importance of the shamans goes beyond culture. They also hold knowledge about traditional healing practices and medicinal herbs. They use herbs to treat people in the name of divine power. “Even the converted Chepangs come to the shamans for treatment,” said Man Bahadur.
He expressed concern that with the disappearing of shamans, these traditional healing centres would also disappear; often the sole health facility for people living in the remote areas. Man Bahadur believed that the only way to preserve the centuries old shaman knowledge and practices was to document it in the form of books. He called on the local government to take the lead in research and documentation activities.
Similarly, former member of the erstwhile Constituent Assembly and former central president of the Nepal Chepang Association, Govinda Ram Chepang, expressed his worry at the gradual disappearance of the Chepang shamans also known as Pandes, and said that the Chepang culture was under a “continuous external attack”.
“A new programme is required to preserve the Chepang culture and to train the new shamans,” he said.
As per the 2011 census, there are 19,213 Chepangs in Makwanpur district.
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