Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The difference between being a Suruhana, Le'an, and using Atgimat

Although this subject would be perfect for Halloween, I've decided to go ahead and write something about these topics before fall as I have quite a few things coming up career wise that may sidetrack blogging. The topics of Suruhanu/as, being Le'an, and Atgimat aren't unfamiliar terms to those who have been raised with Chamorro culture and it is something that can be easily misunderstood by outsiders. From Ouija boards, tarot cards, to people desperately trying to reconnect themselves to Celtic culture through assumed Pagan rites, divination and shamanism are often immediately connected to "witchcraft." This is a common misconception by those who typically do not know what they're doing (i.e. learning divination and "spells" through reading books and watching movies on the subject). Such things from a Chamorro standpoint are definitely not recommended. Whether you've got a natural ability, an inclination towards the occult, or plain skepticism, the following is just for cultural information purposes only as spirituality can't simply be read or talked about. You really have to have the right stuff.

Suruhanus and Suruhanas are not witches, warlocks, druids, pagans, satanists, sorcerers, witch doctors, vampires, or anything of the sort. Medicine men/medicine women would most likely be the closest English translation in terms of description as being a Suruhanu/a is a specific role that involves extensive family guidance. Suruhanus/as don't tend to specialize in kakana or black magic, contrary to popular belief by outsiders looking in. Rather, these medicine people specialize in natural remedies and if you're lucky, they might even be le'an too. These abilities have to come through family in terms of medicine knowledge and the inherited ability to see spirits, a person's soul, and sometimes even the future. The photo you see above is my great-grandmother, Maria, who was a suruhana also known to be le'an. My grandmother, her daughter, picked up the herbalist knowledge but has a limited le'an intuition.
These things are generally not taught to just anyone or even someone who is interested in learning. These traditions are passed down through families and it's not intended to be merely exclusive, you just have to know the person learning very well to ensure a clear conscience and good intentions. There are not specific rituals to become a suruhanu/a, but to become a different type of "practitioner" who engages in curses and other means that interfere with others' lives, there is a certain rite of passage called ha'ilas which I'll discuss in the atgimat section. This is not a practice that is smiled upon, not because of silly labels, but for interfering directly in people's lives through spells, potions, and other unnatural means of involving yourself in another person's life. Although some practicing suruhanas on Saipan are friends with those who go the ha'ilas route, it is important to note that both types of people I've met mix these practices with Roman Catholicism. This is not only due to Spanish tradition, but it is meant for personal protection from harmful spirits either seeking to prevent one from doing good or binding themselves to people involved in kakana. Although the ha'ilas route is not as desirable for its interference and spells, you tend to not see judgment between the two different practitioners. A big difference between those of European/Western descent who practice natural healing or witchcraft who do tend to judge one another.
***************************************************************** Le'an is a term that is used in Chamorro to identify "psychic" capabilities. This is a separate topic from reading tarot cards and gazing into a crystal ball in case you were wondering. Usually someone who is le'an can have various abilities such as looking at a person and seeing their personality and/or future, seeing spirits or sensing their presence, and other clairvoyant abilities. Being le'an is believed to be an inherited trait and not something you can acquire or develop if you don't already have a small amount of this capacity. Sorry, no books at Barnes & Noble about clairvoyance or invoking spirits can make you le'an.

Atgimat is still something that is still around and working as people still pay good money for this. In Lawrence Cunningham's "Ancient Chamorro Society", he discusses the use of kakana where casting a spell on someone consisted of taking a part of their body, whether it be hair or feces and mixing it with a concoction sure to make the person ill, afflicted with bad luck, or die a sooner death. Nowadays with centuries of Catholicism mixed with modern Chamorro culture, it is viewed as an unforgivable sin to take part in using atgimat or practicing kakana. Kakana tends to be mostly practiced by Carolinians and other Micronesian groups.
While many westerners tend to view making a deal with the devil or selling your soul as meeting some guy with a pointed tail, horns, and a pitchfork ready to get you to seal your fate on parchment paper with blood ink, this is not the case with Chamorros. Sealing your fate for an aftelife of hell has more to do with grudges or personally cursing someone through kakana. Whether it's for "love" (more like lust) or hate, one should never interfere with another person's soul.
Ways to protect oneself, as evident through religious influence, is to be a person of prayer and meditation, close to God. If someone lacks spiritual discipline, they put themselves at risk and are vulnerable to curses. Love potions, atgimat, are the more commonly purchased items in the Marianas by various groups looking to capture the attention of their object of desire, permanently. This usually runs a person about $300, the standard price for tricking your crush into unconditional adoration, but there is a great downside. If this potion works, the bewitched person will reportedly have difficulty maintaining eye contact with close loved ones and friends prior to the curse and in a few years the curse has to be repeated or else it will wear off and a reverse of the potion will take place, leaving the atgimat victim full of contempt for the love-sick perpetrator. Atgimat is administered much like the ancient Chamorro/Micronesian way of getting the target person's hair, nail clippings, or excrements and mixed with the potion or one can slip the potion into someone's food or drink.
As mentioned before, those who have gone through the ha'ilas process provide this service. But not all practitioners focus on these interfering spells. Some actually do a half-and-half with kakana and regular suruhanu/a amot. Yet whether it's an herbalist, a witchdoctor, someone who is le'an, or a combination of sorts, these three different and seemingly supernatural categories are good at identifying if you are gifted or cursed. The last thing you ever want to hear is "Makanayi hao!"


Amot - Medicine
Atgimat - Curse, love potion/spell
Ha'ilas - Ceremony to become a witch doctor
Kakana - Black magic, voodoo
Le'an - Naturally gifted in psychic/clairvoyant ability
Makanayi hao - You've been cursed, Someone put a spell on you
Suruhana/Suruhanu - Healer, herbalist

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