Mushan Tribal Flag
The Ni’Mushi (adj. – mushan), meaning “The People,” are an ethnic group indigenous to the largely undefined, shared border regions of Teton, North Teton and Alkali. Concentrated in high elevations in the Tokamak range, the Ni’Mushi have retained the animist beliefs which were once shared by the entire region. Mushan settlements are to be found at habitable elevations throughout the Tokamak range. See Map of Bellica.
While anthropologists and travelogues often portray the Ni’Mushi as “noble savages;” a proud but reclusive culture of hunter-gatherers, surrounding populations have a much less positive view of the group. The Ursidean majority uses a number of apellations with negative connotations when referring to the Mushan.
This mythology of resistance became a useful defense against expropriation of Mushan territory after the Berzerka. There is no Mushan representation on the Tokamak Council.
The Ni’Mushi are one of the last surviving populations in which the hunter-gatherer lifestyle is still a major economic factor, but, the Ni’Mushi also practiced subsistence agriculture well before the time of the Berzerka.
The Ni’Mushi speak a dialect of Tokamaki, the common language of the region, but have retained a large number of terms from Namushan, the original indigenous language. While unconfirmed, Namushan is believed to survive for use in religious ritual and warfare.
Traditionally, Ni’Mushi society was primarily patriarchal though given the contributions made to survival by women in the harsh environment, especially since retreating to the mountains during the Berzerka, women have gained a degree of respect, honor and independence.
Ni’Mushi Bear Cult
The Mi’Mushi, of the Tokamak region (Teton, North Teton, Alkali), are the descendants of an archaic ethnic group probably originating in central Umber. The Ni’Mushi retreated to their present-day mountain lands while fighting a losing battle against invading peoples bringing the Berzerka.
Despite having adopted much of the benefits of modern culture, the Ni’Mushi continue in following their traditional religion, a somewhat atypical example of the bear cult. They are the only surviving population in the region to maintain their traditional beliefs. The bear festival, “Mushanaq’aa Yevarakiya” is the most important of the Mushan rituals.
Bear folklore is common throughout northern and boreal zones. There is evidence of a Circumpolar Bear Cult, dating from the Paleolithic (50,000 years BP), in which the bear was seen as lord of the animals, a god, and even the ancestor of humans. Various species of bear played a central role in many shamanic practices of the north.
In human imagination the bear differs in some important respects differs from all other wild beasts. The reasons behind the special position of the bear are multiple. Most importantly, the bear has some unique and well-known human-like characteristics, including its size, skeletal structure, footprint, ability to stand in a bipedal position, dietary habits, and its annual life cycle, involving hibernation in a specially built den. Although other mammals possess some of these features, their most perfect combination is materialized in the bear. Not surprisingly, human societies in the boreal zone apparently very early developed the idea that the bear is actually a human, clad in bearskin.
Mushan Bear Mask
In the Bear Cult, the bear is elevated to the status of a supernatural being which, when treated properly, will grant success to the human community. The Bear Cult may be understood as a conceptual complex aimed at controlling the bear, and, through the bear, the resources of wild game in the boreal environment.
This is congruent with the bear’s status as the “Lord of the Animals,” for the bear is thought to have the ability to send not only other bears, but also other species of game to the hunter.
Ni’Mushi shamans are believed transform themselves into bears when they drum themselves into a trance state. The cult is focused on the Brown Bear, Usrus arctos horribilis, once common throughout Bellica, North America, Europe and parts of the Middle East. The Bellican Black Bear, Ursus bellicus, is viewed as inferior to brown bears and may be killed and eaten with no negative spiritual effects.
The Great White Bear, “Pa’Mushanaq’aa Belya Kadmaa”, ancestor to the Ni’Mushi is believed to have emerged from the snows atop sacred Mt. Talka (12,662 ft) located in what is now North Teton.
The Great Bear god is associated with the Big Dipper (Ursa Major). The Bear Dance at the time of the winter solstice is an important religious ceremony. The return of the sun symbolizes rebirth.
For the Ni’Mushi, the Bear Cult includes various kinds of taboos connected with the bear. Some of the taboos are linguistic, requiring the use of a special style or lexicon when speaking of or to a bear. The underlying reason for this is that the bear is thought to understand human speech.
There are also taboos pertaining only to certain members or sections of the community, especially to women. Individual taboos concern those who have had special bear-related experiences, such as encounters or visions.
The only instances when the taboos are not observed is when treating a “mad” bear, which without obvious reason has attacked and hurt members of the community.
While many of the taboos connected with the bear may be regarded as part of the general context of hunting taboos, the Bear Cult has also a more specific manifestation in the Bear Festival, during which the hunting community is gathered to celebrate the funeral of a killed bear. In the Bear Festival, the bear is placated with decorations, sacrifices, prayers, and other ritual performances.
After the ceremony, its meat is consumed under the observation of strict rules. Finally, the bones of the bear are disposed of in a way anticipating its resurrection. Obviously, in the Bear Festival the bear is neither a beast nor a human, but a god. It may be noted that no other beast, not even the tiger, is revered in this way in the boreal zone. Moreover, in dualistic systems involving the cult of two animals, the bear is always there, while the other animal may vary from tiger to elk to whale.
Mushan Bear Mask
The most elaborate manifestation of the Bear Cult as practiced by several sedentary populations in the boreal zone, is the habit of rearing adopted bears for the specific purpose of the Bear Festival. Functioning as a kind of hostage from the world of bears, the adopted bear allows the community to hold the Bear Festival at any suitable time without the risk and labor of actual hunting.
Killing of an adoptive bear involves a double symbolism, for it allows the human community to exert a complete control of the bear and, symbolically, of the game resources of the forest. This tradition might also be viewed as a fully institutionalized type of Bear Cult, as opposed to the more accidental, though not necessarily less regulated, type represented by the funerals commemorating the killing of wild bears.
A Mushan hunter who can acquire a bear cub in the spring considered to be very lucky and will be held in high esteem for the year. Men will risk their lives in order to secure on . Cubs are sometimes kept for 2-3 years until they become hard to handle and are then released. Most often, lacking the introduction to survival in their environment acquired from the adult sow, cubs die shortly after release.
Sometimes very young cubs may be seen living in the huts with the people, where they play with the children, and are cared for with great affection. In fact, some of them are treated even better than the children themselves, and I have known cases when the people have wept greatly when the cub has died. But as soon as they are grown big and strong enough to cause a little pain when they hug a person, or when their claws are too powerful to be pleasant, they are placed in a cage strongly made of pieces of timber. Here they generally remain until they arrive at the age of two or three years, at which time they are killed for the feast.
The Bear Festival
A day prior to the sacrifice of a young bear, the owner sends round to all his people of the village, and invites them to come and take part in the festivities – “I, so and so, am about to sacrifice the dear little divine thing who resides among the mountains. My friends and masters, come to the feast; we will then unite in the great pleasure of sending the god away. Come.”
As the guests arrive at the place of sacrifice they enter the hut and sit around the fireplace, the men in front and the women behind. Biscuitroot (Lomatium spp.) dumplings are boiled and toasted, and alcoholic beverages are served. This is not the real feast, but merely a preliminary breaking of the fast.
During the main ceremony the exit the hut, wearing bear masks, and solemnly approach the cage containing the bear. The women and children follow and sing, dance, and clap their hands. The participants then sit in a large circle, the old men in front. After this one male elder is chosen who, having approached the bear, sits down before it and tells it that they are about to send it forth to its ancestors. He prays pardon for what they are about to do, hopes it will not be angry, tells it what an honor is about to be conferred upon it, and comforts it with plenty of alcohol, delicacies, and other good cheer will be sent along with it. He also informs it that if it be a good and proper bear it will appear again to be treated in like manner – “O bear, you were sent into the world for us to hunt. Precious little divinity, we worship you; please hear our prayer. We have fed and raised you despite pain and trouble, all because we love you so. Now that you are grown big, you are about to return to father and mother. When you see them please speak well of us, and tell them how kind we have been; please come to us again.”
After this prayer another elder goes to the cub's cage and places the cub's head in a noose in it for that purpose. This noose is then passed round the neck and under the foreleg in such a manner as not to choke the animal when it struggles. Another noose is made in a second rope, and this is passed over the head in the same way, excepting that the end of it comes out on the opposite side of the bear. Thus, when the animal comes out of the cage it is led along by two men, one on each side. Sometimes, however, when the bear is a large one, a rope is put over the hind quarters, and a man walks behind holding it tightly and ready to aid in case there should be any dangerous display of temper.
Participants, shouting prayers, then form a circle into which the cub is led. The cub is then shot with blunt “cub arrows,” trying to work it into a fit. The shouting now becomes deafening, and the bear sometimes furious. But the wilder the bear becomes the more delighted do the people get. Should, however, the animal refuse to move, he is brushed with a branch of Devils Club (Oplopanax horridus). When the excited and struggling animal shows signs of exhaustion a stake is driven into the ground in the centre of the ring of people, and to it the bear is tied. This stake is decorated with cedar (Thuja plicata) and pine (Pinus strobus) boughs and referred to as “pa’kedras” (tree having the rope).
More cub arrows are then shot at the bear enraging it until it is exhausted. Then, all at once, young Mushan warrior will rush forward and seize the cub by the ears and fur of the face, whilst another seizes it by the hind quarters. These men both pull at the animal with all their might. This causes it to open its mouth. Another man then rushes forward with a round piece of wood about two feet long; this he thrusts into the bear's jaws. The animal in his rage bites hard at this, and holds it tight between his teeth. Next two men come forward, one on each side of the bear, and seize its fore-legs and pull them out as far as they can. Then two others will in a like manner catch hold of the two hind-legs. When all this has been done quite satisfactorily, two long poles, “pa’minba foza,” (strangling poles),' are brought forward. One is placed under its throat, and the other upon the nape of its neck.
A good shot with the bow, who has been previously determined on by the elders, now comes up and shoots the arrow into the bear’s heart, ending its misery.
As soon then as the bear has been shot in the heart it is carried to the two poles, which have been previously placed upon the ground for this purpose, and its head placed upon one of them, while the other is put over its neck. Now all the people shout and rush forward, every one eager to assist in squeezing the animal till life is quite extinct. It is said that they must be careful not to allow the poor beast to utter any cries during its death struggles, for this is thought to be very unlucky.. People become so very excited at the time the cub is throttled that they sometimes trample on one another in their eagerness to have a hand in the death. And so the bear is killed, and the first part of the act of sacrifice accomplished.
The bear is then skinned and decapitated. The pelt is left attached to the head. This is taken to the east window and placed upon a mat called tannizo.
Then smoked moose (Alces alces) or wapiti (Cervus elephas), and smoked trout (Oncorhynchus mushan), all wrapped in braintan, is put before it, also some biscuitroot dumplings or wild rice (Zizania aquatica), a cup of its own meat boiled, and alcohol. A prayer is then said, ”O bear, we give you this food; take it to your parents, and say, 'I have been brought up for a long time by a Mushan father and mother, and have been kept from all trouble and harm. I am now grown and return home. I have also brought this food. Please rejoice.”
Another prayer follows: “My dear cub, please listen to me. I have cared for you a long time, and now present thee with precious food. Go happily and rejoice with your parents. When you arrive call together multitudes of divine guests, and make a great feast. Do thou again come to this world that I, who reared thee, may meet with you again, and once more bring you up for sacrifice. I salute you, my dear cub; depart in peace.”
After a little time has elapsed the host says, “The little divinity has now finished eating; come, friends, let us worship.” He then takes a bowl of bear blood, salutes it, and divides the contents - a very small portion for each - among all the assembled guests, for it seems to be absolutely essential that each person, young and old alike, should take a little.
The entrails are then cut up fine, sprinkled with salt, and eaten raw. This, like the drinking of the blood, is said to be for the purpose of obtaining the prowess and other virtues of the bear. Hunters besmear themselves and their clothes with blood. This is said to be for the purpose of rendering themselves successful in hunting
As soon as the flesh has been sufficiently cooked it is shared out among the people present, and every number of the company partakes of some, however little it may be. It is thus that he obtains communion with his dear little divinity, as he calls the victim; and this appears to me to be the special way in which he shows his social and religious fellowship with his totem god and the people. Not to partake of this feast would be tantamount to confessing oneself outside the pale of Mushan fellowship. Every particle of the bear, bones excepted, formerly had to be eaten up, even to the entrails, though this rule is now relaxed. . . .
The head of the bear is at last detached from the skin and taken to the sku heap, where it is placed on a heap of skulls from previous sacrifices.
Janhunen, Juha; “Tracing the Bear Myth in Northeast Asia;” http://src-h.slav.hokudai.ac.jp/publictn/acta/20/asi20-001-janhunen.pdf
The most common occupations for Ni’Mushi are in natural resource extraction – logging, mining – and subsistence farming. Ni’Mushi lands, remote, mountainous, and suffering from a lack of roads and electrical power, is generally not suitable to industrial development. The problem of economic development is made more intractable as the borders are not well defined.
The Ni’Mushan have fought guerrilla wars, intermittently, against all three of the tri-border states n order to maintain their independence, religion and culture. They have become adept at playing Teton, North Teton and Alkali off against each other to Mushan advantage.
Fearing increased interference and pressure to choose sides and/or pressure to assimilate by the dominant surrounding cultures, after several find of exploitable ores were found, the Mushan Militia (Pa'Fortza Mushan) was formed in 1998.
The Militia has little in the way of organization. When the Ni'Mushi feel threatened, individual groups of fighters will rally around respected leaders; generally a well-respected elder or a successful warrior from a past conflict.
Mushan Militia Flag