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Shaman, Jhankri and Nééle: Music Healers of Indigenous Cultures
by Pat Moffitt Cook
Ellipsis Arts 
Book Reviews
Reviewed by Jay Yasgur, RPh., MSc., 7/2/2007

Shaman, Jhankri and Néle is a well-crafted mix of song:

In the following chapters you will meet an ojha, maestro, néle, manbo, phawo, jhankri, ayahuascero, kangsinmu, shamans and other musical doctors. After reading their stories, the accompanying CD will provide a listening experience of the actual healing music. Each recording has its own unique quality and purpose. It is important to keep in mind that this music was not created to entertain but to stimulate an effect in their patients. Most recordings were made in the last six years with the exception of the Huichol mara’akame that was recorded in the Sierra Madre mountains in 1940 (SJN, p. 7).


I owned a small shop on the main street. Baba, the old healer, wanted to teach me secret songs and how to prepare medicine. He said I was an ojha.

I prayed to the goddess for direction. She came upon me, “Close your shop and build a temple in this field. Fly a red flag from the roof. You will become an ojha. Do not worry about money or your family’s needs” (Babaji in SJN, p. 8).

Sitla came upon me. My eyes were closed. When they opened I saw strange things. Songs and words pounded in my head. For seven days and six nights the goddess lived in me. I stayed inside her temple. No one could touch me or I would scream. When Sitla left me I knew I was a healer. That was long ago. Now, with song I invite the goddess to come to my healing hut, to come upon me. Through her grace and power I heal people with jaundice and small pox and babies with fevers (Koshalya in SJN, p. 12).


“These ways will be finished by the year 2000,” predicts the maestro. “Already, there is no one who can sing the pictures. I had two students for a while but they do not come often. To be a maestro takes time and patience. They are more interested in travelling to the mainland and finding work. I know the songs will disappear. That is why I am willing to sing for you [Moffitt-Cook]” (Maestro Demosdenes Ramirez Hurtas in SJN, p. 36).


Long ago, when the world was in great danger from drought and fire, a tree sprang forth from the loins of a woman of great purity. All the animals and human beings climbed into its branches and saved themselves from destruction. This tree was called the Huanaymey Tree (SJN, p. 41).

And, of course, healing:

First we gave her marsh tea. I told her to drink a gallon of it in one day. When she was done we had a meeting. We rolled her over on her left side and started drumming there. After the drumming we begin to sing…then rattle. We are exposing the kidney to the healing vibrations of our instruments and voices. Soon that drum produces a certain tone and the beat takes on a certain cadence. Then I know it’s beginning to work. We are affecting the patient. Now the sound will help break loose all that poison that’s in there. That woman got well (Steve Old Coyote in SJN, p. 82).

The accompanying CD consists of 18 representative songs that each particular shaman uses. So that you have a complete outline of this book what follows is a listing of the 18 chapters: Babaji (North Indian Ojha), Koshalya (Hindu Village Healer), Ram Tmapa and Suni Ram (Jhankri of Nepal), Don Agustin Rivas-Vasquez (Peruvian Ayahuasca Shaman), Micheline Forestal (Haitian Vodou Manho), Kanucas Littlefish (Native American Anishnabe Medicine Man), Maestro Demosdenes Ramirez Hurtas (Kuna Indian Song Healer of the San Blas Islands), Darkiking Don Alejandro (Amazon Medicine Man), Alexander Tavakay (Tuvan Shaman), Pointing Father (Spiritual Baptist Immigrants from Saint Vincent Island), Mara’akame (Huichol Peyote Shaman from Mexico), Jorge K’in (Lacandon Mayan Healer), Nele Buna Inayenikidili (Kuna Indian Seer of the San Blas Islands), Anselmo Palma Cruz (Tarahumara Owiruame from the Sierra Madres), Kangsinmu (Spirit-Possessed Shaman of Korea), Steve Old Coyote (“Road Man” of the Native American Church), Simon Eliet (Inatulele from Panama), and Phawo Nyidhon (Tibetan Oracle).

You will no doubt refer to this book and CD time and time again. Frequently I find myself sitting down to play three or four favorite tracks. Thoughts stir, I make some notes, re-read passages and call or e-mail a friend about feelings and ideas. Using the CD to inspire such contemplation has provided added pleasure and insight. Whenever I pick up the colorful book I find pleasure thumbing through it, reading a bit and enjoying the photos. For instance, I recently revisited Chapter 9: “Alexander Tavakay: Tuvan Shaman” and Track 9: “Calling Animal Helpers,” sung by Tavakay. In this song, which is usually used to heal children, he summons “...the cuckoo, raven, and the owl while shaking the sound markers attached to his costume and beating his drum.” The text describes geography, ethnography, history, the 1991 shamanic conference sponsored by Michael Harner’s group, Foundation for Shamanic Studies, and the Tuvan government (held in Kyzel, the capital city), and Tavakay as the Tuvan shaman and participant in that congress. This is all accomplished concisely in three pages, so as not to overwhelm (if you want detail find a more scholarly text). The background that Moffitt Cook provides is “just enough,” and one can listen to the musical track without feeling mentally overloaded or taxed.

Though the book is sewn and wrapped, the pages do tend to pull away from the binding. This is unfortunate and will limit the life of this volume. The font chosen for the text is readable though perhaps overly “stylish,” and a better choice could have been made. Each chapter contains a listing of references, but a general bibliography has been omitted. There is no index. Nevertheless, I would definitely recommend this book and CD pairing. Moffitt Cook herself sums it up well:

It is with great skepticism, hope and ultimately trust in the Divine that the indigenous healers represented in this book, share their knowledge, lives and healing music with you. It is my hope that this tremendous act of trust on their behalf helps to quicken the process of preservation and increases public awareness and respect for the indigenous peoples of the earth (Moffitt Cook in SJN, p. 7).

Despite the minor production problems mentioned, Pat Moffitt-Cook has produced a wonderful compendium of song, didactic and visual beauty accessible to all. She should feel proud.

Book foreword by Julian Burger, Ph.D at

[Jay Yasgur, RPh., MSc., whose formal education was in pharmacy, is an author and healer specializing in homeopathy, massage, holistic health-care counseling, and plant spirit healing. His first book, Yasgur’s Homeopathic Dictionary and Holistic Health Reference 4th Ed. (1998), is a standard reference in the field. His forthcoming work, 111 Great Homeopaths, deals with the lives of many of the world’s great homeopaths and will be translated into six languages. He may be contacted c/o, Van Hoy Publishers, POB 636, Greenville, PA 16125, (724) 347-1580,, and]

Originally Published In : the Autumnal Equinox 2002 issue of The Entheogen Review

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