Other Conceptions

The Chuckchee of northern Siberia, as they were at the beginning of the 20th century (Bogoras, 1909), represent one documented instance in which the potential for gender change is restricted to a small segment of the population. In this particular case the option was available only to those who found themselves thrust into the role of shaman. Chuckchee shamans are largely healers, and usually come to that position through recovery from a serious illness. Shamans can be either women or men, and on their recovery acquire a spouse in the world of spirits (kelet). Occasionally, the kelet spouse for a female shaman will be female, or for a male shaman, male. Under these circumstances, the Chuckchee claimed that the shaman had begun a process of changing sex that would culminate in an actual change in external genitalia. The shaman's human spouses would mirror the kelet spouse's gender. By the 1960s, the process of sovietiza-tion seems to have been thorough enough to wipe out shamanism. Levin and Potapov's (1964) discussion of the peoples of Siberia makes no mention of shamanism among any of them. The possible resurgence of the institution since the collapse of the Soviet Union is unknown.

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