The shaman from the Chin state

On my recent trip to the Chin state, Myanmar, I met Ha Mo Ki. He is 60 years old and the shaman of a small village in the surroundings of Mindat, Myanmar.

When meeting him and discovering his wild character, I decided to ask him a few questions, with the help of my translator.

Ha Mo Ki is the village shaman. He is the one who is able to communicate with the spirits in order to help the people in their daily lives. He received his skills from his father, who received them from his grandfather, and it has been transmitted in the family for generations.

The villagers come to meet Ha Mo Ki when they need to take big decisions in terms of business, or know about their health of families. He receives visits from the local people about 6 or 7 times per month.

What Ha Mo Ki does is that he is able to read the spirits’ indications on a chicken egg shell. Given the spirits’ answers, and mostly when the answer is negative, the people will have to provide a small animal (a chicken or a pig) and Ha Mo Ki will sacrifice it during a ceremony. When the reading on the egg shell happens to be very bad, the people may have to provide a much bigger and more costly animal, like a cow or a buffalo.

Mystic portrait of the Shaman

 

Ha Mo Ki then offered to read about my future, and I could not refuse such an offer.

emptying the content of the chicken egg

First, he starts by piercing a whole in each extremity of the egg, so he can empty it. After doing so, Ha Mo Ki will use his blade (which every person in the chin state is carrying around their belts) and carve some lines, going from an extremity to the other. He then starts a small fire with small pieces of wood. This is when Ha Mo Ki takes a heavy expression on his face, and I felt he was no longer among us.

creating lines on the egg shell

Once one of the piece of wood is burning, he sticks it on the egg shell and blow on it several times. The wood is burning the egg shall, creating a black mark on it.

Shaman blowing on fire to burn an egg shell

Ha Mo Ki did that 3 times, on 3 different locations on the shell, before asking me what I wanted to find out about: health or business. As I am a little worried to find out about a potential health issue, I said business.

 

Ha Mo Ki then took another piece of wood and repeated the procedure, but his time mumbling to himself, in a language my local translator could not understand. His body was rocking backwards and forwards and his eyes were closed. He sometimes licked the egg and scratched the surface to remove some of the burnt wood, and stared at it. After about 10 minutes of watching him being extremely serious and focused, his face suddenly came back to normal, he looked at me and smile.

Shaman burning an egg to read the spirits' signs

He said something to my translator, and I was very eager to find out what it was. They talked for a minute, when my translator turned to me and said “good”.

Maybe I was expecting a little more details, but I was happy to hear that.

 

I asked Ha Mo Ki to show me the egg and how could he see the spirits’ guidance.

Chin man reading the future in an egg shell

What happens (and this is how I try to explain it with my Cartesian culture) is that by heating the egg shell, and then putting some pressure on it with the wooden stick, it creates some little cracks. Also, by licking the egg shell, it creates a big drop in temperature and will also create little cracks around the burnt areas.

If the cracks are going downwards, it is a bad sign. But if they are going on the side or upwards, it is a good sign. Ha Mo Ki showed me the cracks on the 4 different spots he burnt, and not a single crack was going down. He told my translator that on about 10 people who come to ask him for an audience, only 1 or 2 people will be so lucky.

Because the omen was very positive for me I did not have to do any offerings to the spirits. Good thing as I did not have any chicken to sacrifice.

Burmese man smoking a pipe

Ha Mo Ki is now teaching the technique to his only son (he had 9 girls and only 1 boy).

He told me a recent story that happened to him: two of his daughters are illegal workers in Malaysia. One of them was caught by the local authorities and sent to  jail. After hearing about it, Ha Mo Ki sacrificed a chicken to the spirits, and his daughter was released 3 days later. He was very proud to tell me that he is able to taker care of his family from a distance.

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Etienne

Founder of Pics of Asia, Etienne is a teacher with a photography habit.

8 Comments

  1. Fiona on November 16, 2015 at 3:38 pm

    Beautiful photos and story…enjoyed both the visual and emotional connections…

    • Etienne on November 17, 2015 at 3:15 am

      Thanks Fiona 🙂

  2. Dee on December 29, 2015 at 11:20 pm

    Awesome story… tks for sharing.

  3. Nhan Tran on February 11, 2016 at 11:39 am

    Love your story and your photos. Thanks Etienne 🙂

    • Etienne on February 12, 2016 at 2:57 pm

      Thanks to you Tran 🙂

      • Nhan Tran on February 12, 2016 at 7:58 pm

        I had watched a program about you and your friends on Youtube last week. It was published extremely a long time but up to now I have a chance to know . Hoping that I can meet you in someday in Hoi An 😀
        I really love seeing your photos and Rehahn’s photos too much.

  4. karen on February 12, 2016 at 11:09 am

    Great story,

    • Etienne on February 12, 2016 at 2:56 pm

      Thanks Karen!

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