Tag Archives: anthropology

Acquiring an immunity to magic

In the area of man’s inner life the Lengua distinguish at least four foci: (1) the -valhoc (the hyphen before a Lengua noun indicates that such a stem can never stand without a possessor, generally a possessive pronominal prefix) is translated as the “innermost.” This innermost serves as the mainspring of behavior in a man’s life. (2) The -vanmongcama, which is most frequently translated “soul,” “dream,” or “shadow,” has very little to do with behavior; it is really the core of man’s life or existence. Should it be lost, stolen, or ill, a man will surely die. (3) The -nenyic, translated “chest,” can refer both to the chest anatomy and to its psychic functions. It carries with it the implications of deep involvement of the entire inner make-up of man. (4) The -jangauc, translated as “soul-of-the-dead,” is the disembodied inner existence that is “born” from man’s total inner being at the moment of his death. Most frequently it is treated as the dead person’s counterpart to a living human’s -vanmongcama, but in actual function it seems to include also the functions of the -valhoc and the -nenyic. …

From the linguistic idioms of the Lengua language we can conclude that the -valhoc is definitely the seat of the emotions. …

In some respects the -valhoc compares very favorably with the conscience of our Western inner life, for like the latter it can distinguish between good and evil; but it can also be basically good or evil in character. Thus conversion is very often spoken of as the exchanging of a bad -valhoc for a good one. The idiom occurs in a Lengua folktale about a very bad man, who, through the change of his innermost, became a very kind and good man.

But we must here immediately point out that the Lengua term “innermost” also carries a much more physiological connotation than the metaphorical usage of English “heart.” This contrast can be meaningfully demonstrated in connection with the Lengua expression “changing or exchanging one’s innermost” which, as indicated above, is used to translate the Christian concept of conversion.

Missionary D. Lepp, as a new missionary zealous to eradicate the evils of shamanism and magic, forbade all medicine men to practice their art at his mission station. As soon as he heard their chanting—day or night—he went and ordered them to desist or to vacate the premises. After about three months of consistent interference by the missionary all the chanting had apparently ceased. When shortly thereafter a number of women came to “exchange their innermosts,” he was delighted. His firmness was now paying dividends in conversions. When, however, more and more groups began coming to “change their innermosts,” he began to be suspicious.

“Why did they want to change their innermosts?”

“Because the missionary was telling them that God wanted them to do it.”

“But why do it now and so many together?”

After some hesitation someone finally volunteered: “You see, you told all the medicine men to stop singing—well, some of them are still singing softly. Since they do not seem to be afraid of you or of your God, we are beginning to fear that their medicine and magic may be stronger than we thought. We are becoming very much afraid of them. However, we want to remain your friends, so we have decided to ask you to give us Lenco (Mennonite) innermosts so that we could become immune to the medicine man’s magic.” This request reveals that the Lengua expected far more than only a “psychic” change of heart.