Removing a traditional ritual from its original cultural context in order to place it on a foreign stage can sometimes produce stilted and misleading results. But for hose of us who can’t always afford long trips, these traveling ritual shows can be well worth seeing–especially when they contain elements so compelling that they survive the transplantation from life to stage, as they do in this funeral rite from the Korean island of Chindo. First relatives spread out food on an altar for the deceased spirit, and candies are lit and incense is burned to purify the room. Then the shaman–usually a woman–goes into a trance, cutting loose with some powerfully raspy, vibrato-rich singing supported by a clanging ensemble of reeds, strings, cymbals, and drums that lay down a rocking, swaying groove. What with all the flatted notes in the scale and the singer’s anguished, pleading tone, the music at times feels strangely reminiscent of gospel or Chicago blues. The shaman sings to cleanse the spirit of the deceased and guide it safely into the next world so that it can continue to provide guidance to surviving family members. Still in use today, the ceremony also includes such symbolic actions as the lighting of a fire, the shaman’s ritual dancing, and the unfurling of a long, white knotted cloth, which symbolizes the spirit’s path into the hereafter. This program is sponsored by Philip Morris, cited recently by the American Cancer Society for “aggressively sponsoring cultural, social, and educational programs to get feelgood publicity associated with their name.” Field Museum of Natural History, James Simpson Theater, Roosevelt and Lake Shore, 332-8854. Sunday, February 20, 2 PM. $15.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Ichiro Shimizu.