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How Hwee Young February 8, 2013

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in China, Mongolia.
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Shaman brothers, Ulan Bator, Mongolia 2012

How Hwee Young (b. 1978, Singapore) joined The Straits Times in 2001 as one of the few female photojournalists. In 2004 she joined the European Pressphoto Agency (EPA) to cover Singapore and Southeast Asia until relocating to Beijing in 2010. She is primarily drawn to covering events involving the human condition like the 2004 Asian Tsunami or the 2009 Indonesian Padang Earthquake. She earned an Award of Excellence by Communication Arts 46th Annual photography exhibition in 2005 for her work on the Asian Tsunami. Her photographs have been published in: The International Herald Tribune, LA Times, The Sydney Herald, The Telegraph, New York Times, TIME magazine, Der Spiegel, and GEO Magazine among others. Young is based in Beijing.

About the Photograph:

“This photo is part of a series about a pair of Shaman brothers in Ulan Bator, Mongolia as they prepare to talk to me about their Shamanistic lives. Shamans are priests or mediums that act as vessels for spirits, gods and demons to communicate with the human world. In Mongolia, they adhere to the ancient beliefs of Tengrism, where spirits live in all of nature, in the sun, moon, lakes, rivers, mountains, and trees. This ancient faith predominated the land in the 13th century during the time of Genghis Khan or Chinggis Khan but was brutally suppressed under decades of communist rule from 1924 to 1990. Lately, this ancestor worship has seen a resurgence, as many sought to fill a spiritual void in a fast-urbanized landscape dominated by the burgeoning mining industry.”

 “Gankhuyag and his brother Batgerel became Shamans only two years ago where before they were only ordinary construction workers. Illnesses and misfortunes plague them and their family members, causing them to seek the advice of a Shaman. It was revealed then that they had been chosen by spirits to serve as Shamans. Only by doing so will their lives improve and avoid further miseries. Batgerel said ‘When I first heard that I have been chosen to receive the spirits, I did not believe it and was angry and ignored the calling. But my life became worse and I began to believe. After receiving the spirits, my life and health became better and now I live in happiness. I am very thankful to the spirits and this way of life’. The two brothers do not charge a specific amount for their Shamanic services which range from channeling advice from spirits to ‘curing’ diseases. Worshippers are asked to donate any amount they please. However, they warned that not all Shamans are genuine and many fake it for the money. For Gankhuyag and Batgerel, living with the spirits and their rituals, celebrating a connection to nature unique to their culture, is a way of life in the vast changing grasslands of Mongolia.”