- An indigenous hunter-gatherer and swidden agriculturalist people of the tropical rain forest of peninsular Malaysia, whose animist cosmology and way of life is discussed by Signe Howell in a number of important publications. The Chewong recognize the personhood of a large number of (but by no means all) other-than-human beings and objects. As in Amazonia, Chewong shamans are initiated and trained to alter their perspective to see as others (especially other-than-humans) see. Initiation, described as “cutting open the eyes,” enables this ability by giving the shaman “cool eyes,” necessary not only for true vision but also for transformation into required physical forms. Howell notes that the shaman “does not fulfil any political role within society . . . although he does exercise authority on the cosmological plane.” Shamans are required as healers because the normally calm and peaceful Chewong are susceptible to disturbances resulting in improper emotions provoked or influenced by an other-than-human person. In severe cases, a person’s soul or smell (integral parts of an individual’s being and identity) may be abducted. Generally, illnesses and soul loss do not result from aggression but from the normal needs of all persons (human or otherwise) to eat; thus they are forms of predation requiring a redressing and reassertion of right relationships. Shamans call upon helpers and send their souls journeying outward (though not necessarily to an other world) to retrieve the lost parts of the patient. The most valued helpers are the “leaf people,” especially because they demonstrate the virtues and values desired by the Chewong: humility and fear rather than prowess and aggression. There are thus evident similarities and marked differences between Chewong culture and shamanism and those of most Amazonian peoples.
Historical dictionary of shamanism. Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis. 2007.