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Ainu History and Culture

1●Ainu People
2●Eating Habits
3●Wild Vegetable
10●Religion/"Sending Spirits Back"
11●Life of the Ainu
12●Sacred Dances
13●Oral Literature
15●Ainu Museum


The Ainu believe that gods or their incarnations are found in every phenomenon and object, including natural phenomena from the sun, moon, thunder, wind, water and fire, to animals, plants, and implements that are related to human life. On every occasion, prayers are offered and various ceremonies observed. There is the house guardian, the god of fire, the god of windows, the god of the hearth, the god of entrances, the god of yards, the mountain god, the sea god, the lake god, the river god, the nursing god, the hunting god, animal gods of bears and owls, and the gods of pots, mortars and boats. Thus, numerous gods usually guard man and provide food, while at times disciplining him harshly. These gods, however, are not absolute beings. Man is able to argue with them when they commit errors regarding man. Gods are of help to man and therefore are appreciated by him, while man is also expected to serve gods. Gods and man exist in a relationship of mutual assistance.

The gods, disguising themselves as men and leading lives similar to those of man at "kamuy moshir" (eastern Heaven), at all times guard man and send down food such as salmon and deer to the "Ainu moshir" (homeland). The gods also disguise themselves as animals, plants and objects : for example, they pretend to be bears by wearing bear skins and bestowing food, animal skins, daily utensils such as pots and bowls, and boats. On the other hand, through ceremonies, man offers wine, dried salmon, and "inaw," sacred shaved stick, which are supposed to delight the gods. In addition to the above gods, there are also evil gods and other malevolent deities who cause man disease and mishap. In particular, smallpox (called "pakorkamuy")was so feared that magic ceremonies were observed to scare away its related evil gods.


Sending Spirits Back

There are various ceremonies throughout the year, including ceremonies to send back spirits, a religious ceremony for ancestors, a ceremony for the completion of new house, and a ceremony to launch the year's first fishing of salmon and shishamo smelt. Sending spirits back, the most frequent of these ceremonies, treats and sends back the gods, who disguise themselves as animals, plants and objects, descend to the human world and supply food and other daily necessities. The ceremonies include "iyomante," "hopunire" and "iwakte," of which "iyomante," a ceremony for the sending back of the spirits of bear cubs is the most important. "Iyomante" is observed between January and February when the fallen snow is heavy. A I to 2 years bear, which is captured in a hibernation den during winter, is sent back to the divine world by offering a splendid feast.

The "iwakte" also is a ceremony to send back the spirits of disused daily necessities and festival-related articles which have become unusable from damage or age. The sending back of spirits of small animals, such as squirrels and hares also was called "iwakte" in some districts. Ash from a hearth and the bran of millet including yard millet were gathered at a certain site and returned to the divine world.



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