Artful Objects of Belief

Yao Altar

This collection represents approximately 15 years of acquiring and studying the ritual objects of the shaman priests of Vietnam, Laos, China and Thailand. Most of the items are from the Yao people, but others were used by non-Yao groups. They represent not only the Taoist belief system, as practiced by the Yao, but also include elements of Confucianism, Buddhism, animism and ancestor worship.

Yao Shaman Priest

In these cultures, the community shaman is an important figure for preserving traditional rituals, as well as serving as priest, healer, family counselor, match-maker and fortune-teller. Most are male, although a few groups include women shaman (Tay, San Diu, Hmong, and Nung). As an intermediary between the earthly and spirit worlds they not only invoke helpful spirits, but repel evil ones, while in trance and using some of the objects in this exhibition.

Other objects are used as tools for the practice of divination: determining auspicious dates for significant activities, answering important questions, and making decisions. The Yao also place high importance on the ordination of boys aged twelve years and older, thereby introducing them to the Yao Taoist pantheon, and use certain special objects, especially the long staves, in these rites.

Yao Shaman PriestIn addition to the required ritual objects, special robes, hats, crowns, headwraps, scarves and belts are worn by the shaman priests. These can vary considerably depending on the group and location with each reflecting the specific group from which it came. The items are made only for this use, and not repurposed from existing garments. For more detailed information, please see the reference books cited below. These objects are rarely available now, so we do not expect to be adding to this collection.
(Above photos by Victoria Vorreiter and used with her kind permission.)

All of our artful objects of belief have found new homes.



Nguyen, Trian. How To Make The Universe Right; The Art of the Shaman from Vietnam and Southern China. Santa Barbara, CA: Art, Design & Architecture Museum, UC Santa Barbara, 2015

Pourret, Jess. The Yao; The Mien and Mun Yao in China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand (Chapter 6). Bangkok, Thailand: River Books, 2002

Vorreiter, Victoria. Songs of Memory- Traditional Music of The Golden Triangle. Thailand: Resonance Press, 2009