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Kum-Hwa Kim – Riding the blades in New York and the USA, August 1982



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Korean Shamanism – The Cultural Paradox – Dr Chongho Kim

In September 1982 the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research invited Kim to perform Korean shamanic rituals for the International Symposium on Theater and Ritual held in New York. 'The Symposium brought theater practitioners from Asia, Africa, and Euro-America together with theater scholars and anthropologists’, reports Schechner in his book, Between Theater and Anthropology (1985: 33). He seems to have been very impressed by Kim's performance on that occasion:

At Brooklyn's Institutional Church of God in Christ on a Sunday late in August 1982, a group of visiting anthropologists and scholars were welcomed ... [as] part of an International Symposium in Ritual and Theater. ... Attendance at Institutional was part of a nine-day program ... including ... ceremonies conducted by Korean shamans. ... It was striking how similar the Korean ceremony was to the black church service. In both Performances people achieved joy, even ecstasy, by singing and dancing. In each ritual a charismatic leader (the chief shaman, a powerful slim woman, Mme Kim, in her fifties ...) was the focus of the ceremony. ... Mme Kim shared food with everyone, got people out of their seats to dance in circles, performed knife-blade walking on her bare feet. The congregation at Institutional participated by hand-clapping and waving, by shouting and dancing. (Schechner, 1985: 14-15)

Kim performed in many other USA cities such as Los Angeles, Nashville, New Haven and Honolulu, as well as in New York. Her performances were so successful that she was even awarded an honorary citizenship of one US city in 1982. ln 1996 when I visited her she had two beautifully-framed certificates written in English hung in the centre of her lounge wall. One was the honorary citizenship certificate. It stated:

Mrs. Kim Keum Hwa is hereby commissioned for now and for all the time to come as Honorary Citizen of the City of New Britain under the laws of this city with all rights, privileges and emoluments appertaining to said office and such shall hold and enjoy a place of high esteem in the minds and the hearts of the citizens of the City of-New Britain. In the recognition thereof she has been presented with this certificate of citizenship.

The source of the experience

Kum-Hwa Kim

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Activities and commonsteps