Shamanic Rituals and the Survival of Endangered Tribal Languages – An Anthropological Study On The Basis Of ‘Gaddika’

Authors: Indu Menon, Shebin MS (Kerala Institute for Research Training and Development Studies of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, India)
Speaker: Shebin MS
Topic: Anthropological Linguistics
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2020 General Session


In many ancient communities, particularly tribal communities, there exists a system of dialogue and conversations with and between supernatural beings and the supernaturalworld they inhabit, as well as their transmigration into a human’s body. Religious discourse has determined that is not possible for the ordinary person to have a dialogue with supernatural beings. The magical skill of enabling this dialogue is referred to as Shamanism. A Shaman can bring these beings to earth, can communicate with tribal or cult gods, or control spirits, ancestors and animals and birds with supernatural powers. Beyond these powers, shamanic rituals have a linguistic significance. In communities with a strong shamanic tradition, the shamans and their associates generally use the traditional language in its original form, without diluting its unique features. Thesongs used in the rituals would be in the traditional tribal dialect, uncontaminated by recent linguistic incursions.

This study is related to Gaddika, the shamanic ritual of the Rawla tribe, a prominent tribalcommunity in Kerala, and about the songs that are part and parcel of this ritual. The study examines how well the Rawla dialect is retained in its original form, and the tribal myths that are woven into the language of the ritual.The Rawla language belongs to the Dravidian family, and is passed on in oral form only. In the Gaddika ritual, the original language is widely used and forms an important aspect for the survival of the language. This study was conducted among the Ravla community, through observations during several Gaddika rituals, and documenting the songs and ritual dialogues. The study also analyses the shamanic ritual and its discourses. It attempts to document the language in its orginal form and structure, and along with it the prominent myths that have been passed on through generations. Through this process, a precise analysis of the survival of the language is also attempted.

The study concludes that shamanic discourses and magico-religious rituals have a vital role to play in the continuity and survival of the original dialect, and such communities where these rituals continue to hold a prominent place in their daily lives would ensure the sustained usage of their traditional language.

Keywords: Shamanisam, Tribe, Gaddika