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Open Access Publications from the University of California

A Shaman's "Sucking Tube" from San Diego County, California


A widely held disease concept among the Indians of western North America was that illness could be caused by the lodging of a physical object in the body due to witchcraft or accident (Jorgensen 1980:285, 568). Correspondingly, a shaman could restore health by removal of the object. While variations existed from culture to culture and even from shaman to shaman, typically the operation involved manipulating the patient's body, blowing air or tobacco smoke over it, letting out a small amount of real or pretend blood from the site of the "pain," and finally removing the intrusive object by sucking with the mouth directly or with a tube. The curing process usually culminated with the shaman showing the patient and spectators the foreign object as proof of its extraction. Such objects were generally small enough to fit into the mouth or closed hand of the shaman so that they could be hidden until the appropriate time for their presentation. The objects often were overtly mundane things such as sticks, rocks, small reptiles, insects, or worms. However, even inanimate objects were generally thought of as being more or less animate things under supernatural control (Kroeber 1925:855; Jorgensen 1980:285).

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