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Residues of Ancient Beliefs among the Shin in the Gilgit-Division and Western Ladakh

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image of Iran and the Caucasus

The Gilgit-Division (northern Pakistan) and the Dah-Hanu area (the westernmost part of Ladakh, India) have always been difficult to access. This is due in part to the mountainous terrain, which is made even more treacherous by the prevailing security instability (certain areas are still off limits for foreigners due to the Kashmir conflict). Hence, there has been very little anthropological research undertaken in this area over the last 50 years. The present paper attempts to revive the interest in these neglected regions by examining ancient traits of shamanism, as well as the worship of pre-Islamic and pre-Buddhist deities, still prevailing around Gilgit and in the Dah-Hanu area. Furthermore, this study sheds light on the history, culture and religion of the Shin people. It does so by elaborating on the changes the old Dardic belief system underwent in order to adapt to the missionary efforts of “world-religions” conquering the region. Finally, this work attempts to explain and date the different Shin-migrations, which took these people from their homesteads in Kohistan to the Gilgit region and from there to the Dah-Hanu area. The research is based on interviews carried out by the author in Gilgit, Bagrot, Hunza and Nagar, as well as in the Dah-Hanu area (15 male and 15 female shamans; 6 male priests, and numerous villagers) between 2011 and 2013. In addition, the author witnessed the very rare initiation of a male shaman in Lower Hunza. He further observed two shamanic séances in the Dah-Hanu area.

Affiliations: 1: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Kabul


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