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Maibi is not Shaman

Apropos to the article  ‘Manipuri Pena’ reaching out to Gen Next, while  I feel proud that Manipuri Pena found a place on the occassion of the United Nations Millennium Development Gaols Thanks to Shri Mangangsana, an Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuv Purashkar Awardee Pena player from Manipur, I am thoroughly disappointed about his interview to the  IANS in which he had freely used Shaman and Shamanism dance as equivalent to Maibi and Maibi Jagoi. This brings to my mind of another Pandit of Manipur, who is no more, who called the Maibis as Devadasie of Manipur. Shamans and Shanimism are a totally different concept – nothing to do with the Maibis. The early British Colonial rulers of Manipur used to translate Umang Lai and Lai Harouba as   “Forest God” and ‘Merry making of God’ WHICH CONVEY NOTHING. It is shocking to find such misleading statements like – ‘a Shaman priemtess instructs youngsters in the Shaman Dance’. What he wanted to say probably was- ‘A Maibi instructs youngsters in the Maibi Jagoi.’ It would be more preferable to retain the
original Manipuri words such as Paphal, Umang-Lai, Lai-Harouba, Maibi etc. which are untranslatable into English. What  is  Shaminism and is  it the same as our Maibis? I solicit opinion of the readers through this column.

Yours truly,
C. Samarendra Singh
Keishamthong, Imphal.


  1. Shamanism has nothing to do with the Devadasi or Temple Prostitution. I am sorry the Pandit is no more but I assume he tried to proposition a Maibi was rejected and therefore bad mouthed in his interview.

    Shamanism applied originally to a mystic healing tradition from the Caucasus but in the West is now used by Social Anthropologists as a generic term because there are enough similarities between the traditions from the Americas Africa Asia and Australasia to make comparative studies helpful. They would allow space for differences and if you wanted to elaborate those, that can be helpful too. Commonalities are healing and rythmic dance or music designed to create altered states or experiences of ecstasy. The Maibi tradition seems more artful than most.

    The Western New Age Movement concentrates on Shamanry or the specific techniques used by practitioners such as drumming or dance, they analyse the teachings looking for the underlying metanarratives. Neither group intends offence. The purpose is to try to understand other human cultures so that when they return to their own they may better understand our common humanity.

    But Shamanism, Shamanry and Shaman are all untranslatable foreign words incorporated now into Western Languages. The French for Shaman is Shaman as is the German, Portuguese and Italian. As you argue yourself part of the reason is to provide an academic language which keeps out the ignorant and allows academic to discuss more subtle points without retelling the whole story. And for the New Agers they try to learn and improve on techniques. They don’t like sharing these with dillittantes as they believe this would dilute the efficacy.

    I think of Irom Sharmila Chanu as a Shaman since I don’t know enough about the Maibi to describe her as one. A Shaman dances on the threshold between worlds, to point the way to others, to gain spiritual strength from the real worlds we visit when this dream time ends, they are prophets, artists and dreamers. But there are many ways to dance and recreate the worlds.

    But then if you choose to take offence I have no control over any one else’s reactions only my own.


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