Religious Beliefs of the Ainu

In everything that surrounded Ainu, in all living things, as well in all objects created by them, the god-spirits lived. The Ainu called them kamuy. These spirits were responsible for all events and phenomena that occurred; this is why it was necessary to honour them and while commencing any work, it was necessary to perform prayers that involved offering them sacrifices. Good spirits were invited to their ceremonies and homes, and, after worshipping them, it was mandatory to send them back to their abodes. According to the Ainu, every object is not only the home of the kamuy spirits but also has a soul — ramat — and whoever or whatever does not possess ramat does not possess anything. An object could also lose its soul, for instance, by deliberate or accidental damage, breaking or crushing.
Eating utensils were also believed to have their own kamuy and ramat. Spoons with bowls made of natural shells and wooden spoons were used to prepare dishes and food. The wooden ones are more noteworthy, having been carved from a single piece of wood and possessing ornamented geometrical shafts. The shafts of these spoons resemble prayer spatulas — ikupasuy — the most important ritual objects for the Ainu, used by the men at ritual meals, during which they sent prayers to the gods, submerging them in a bowl of sake. Each spoon handle is decorated differently, in a manner characteristic of the area from which it comes, as well as for the owner himself. Patterns in the form of various swirls, braided cords, brackets, and notches fulfilled not only decorative functions, but also served as protection from evil kamuy. The carving and production of ritual objects, including the production of spoons, as well as hunting and fishing, was carried out by the men. Decorating these items so that they could fully perform their functions consumed a great deal of time and mental effort.


Elaborated by Eleonora Tenerowicz (The Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Kraków), © all rights reserved