Another profound experience I had with Shaman happened in Northern Kenya while I was photographing the Samburu tribe. While I was there my guide let me know that many of the villagers mentioned that their “predictor” had told them that my assistant and I were coming. At first I thought nothing of it, as anyone looking at us could have ‘created’ the prediction on the spot. As the days went on I learned more details about the prediction that led me to believe otherwise.
First, the prediction, which come to find out was made a full two months before we showed up, described one of us as having long white hair. My assistant, Larissa, did have long blond hair – until the day before we left on the trip when she cut her hair and died it with henna.
Second, they told us that I would hide from them when I took my photographs.
Typically I use a wide-angle lens on my Hasselblad and I am less than 2 feet from my subject. But then I remember that I had a new camera with me that I had yet to take out and use. It just so happened to be a 5×7 view camera that required me to cover myself in a silver cloth while focusing.
A few days later I met Sukulen the thirty-seven-year old Samburu mother of eight that had made the prediction. I had taken her photograph before she let us know that she was the one who had ‘seen’ us and that she had been told that ‘we were harmless’. She told us that she had a vision of us photographing two months before in the manner in which we had just photographed her. She said that I looked and moved the same as ‘the European’ that she had seen in her vision. Sukulen told us that as a teenager she started having fainting spells and hearing voices. She thought she was sick and that she might die. She was very scared until her grandmother took her aside and let her know that she had a unique gift. I learned later that Sukulen was the most well known ‘predictor’ in the whole Samburu tribe.
It was interesting to me to think back to the Tibetan Kuten, who had a similar story in his beginning as a medium for the Tibetan people. It was my encounters with Thupten Ngodrup and Sukulen that first intrigued me about non-ordinary states of mind and lead me to continue exploring the topic of shamanism, consciousness and culture. Next week I’ll share my travel to Mongolia to meet the Shaman of the Nanai tribe.