T'in - Religious and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Following religious tradition is essential to good health and agricultural success. The T'in strive to attain and maintain harmony between themselves, the natural world, and the supernatural world through ceremonies and taboos. There are many types of spirit: ancestor spirits, village guardian spirits, field spirits, jungle spirits, and spirits associated with mountains, water, or other natural features or phenomena. Spirits may become harmful if offended, whether the offense is intended or not, resulting in disharmony that must be corrected through offerings and sacrifices. One propitiates spirits before undertaking any major activity, including any major phase of the agricultural cycle. Offerings and sacrifices, preventive or curative, are made by the khawcam or by any household head. All spirits can be appeased, though none can be controlled.

Religious Practitioners. There are no full-time specialists. A khawcam is selected by divination by his predecessor or influential elders. He acts as the villagers' representative to the village spirits, sees to it that villagers observe ceremonies and respect taboos, settles disputes, judges infractions of religious customs, makes offerings and performs sacrifices on behalf of the village, and presides at weddings, funerals, house blessings, and annual rituals. Other adult males have specialized knowledge to carry out specific rituals; they may know formulas with curative powers or incantations against witchcraft, or they may have power to deal with certain spirits. Each of these specialists may work for other villagers with little or no remuneration.

Ceremonies. The T'in observe a ten-day week, of which one day (differing from village to village) is a holy day; no physical labor may be done in the rice fields on that day. The new year usually falls in mid-April and lasts three days, during which spirits of the old year are driven out and spirits of the new year are welcomed. Villagers drink specially prepared rice liquor through long reeds, and the khawcam is possessed by the village spirit, who makes his wishes known. The religious calendar is intertwined with the agricultural cycle: the major ceremonies are related to rice, the staff of life. Before villagers plant rice, the khawcam sacrifices a pig (paid for by all households), and before the rice shows its head, he sacrifices a chicken to preserve the crop from insects. The head of each household should also sacrifice a dog to the spirit of the household's field. After the rice begins to grow, a major festival lasting several days is held to reintegrate the mai (life force or life essence) of rice. Rice is the only item for which there is such a ceremony. At harvest, taieo (a Yuan loanword for star-shaped markers made of bamboo strips) are placed around the village as protection against evil spirits intent on destroying the crop. When a field is abandoned, a simple ceremony with food offerings is made to return the land to the spirits.

Medicine. Human beings are believed to have more or less mai. Like the Thai or Laotians, some T'in say they have thirty-two mai. Loss of mai is caused by an offended or angry spirit and results in sickness. Loss of all mai results in death. If only part of it is lost, that part can be regained through a ceremony involving the recital of incantations and the sacrifice of a chicken or pig, for blood is believed to be indispensable to appease an offended spirit and to retrieve lost mai.

Death and Afterlife. At death, the men of the village hold a loud wake, singing and drinking to keep the dying company. After death, the body is wrapped in a blanket and bamboo mat, and men bury it in the jungle. If the deceased was a woman, betel, tobacco, and rice are buried with her. The grave diggers and the house of the dead must be cleansed ritually to get rid of evil spirits; the family of the dead performs a ceremony to increase their mai. On the tenth day after death, ashes are placed in a winnowing tray and the deceased is asked to walk across: the type of imprint made will show whether the deceased has become a pig, a dog, a chicken, or—if no imprint is visible—an ancestral spirit. Those who die in violent or unusual circumstances become ghosts or evil spirits that are much feared.


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