Asian Ethnology 80-2 The Nechung Oracle and the Construction of Identity in the Tibetan Diaspora

Pema Choedon

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Nechung Oracle spirit possession Tibetan diaspora tradition identity formation essentialism

Since the mid-17th century until 1959, the Tibetan government routinely consulted an oracle known as the Nechung Oracle. The Tibetan government in exile, located in Dharamsala, India, continues to practice oracular consultation within the diaspora. When possessed by a deity, the Nechung Oracle is believed to give advice regarding political questions. In 2017 a member of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile lambasted this practice, provoking a mass protest against him. This article discusses the status of oracles in the diaspora, especially the Nechung Oracle. While local oracles have almost disappeared outside Tibet itself, high-status oracles are extremely valued in the diaspora. Based on a recent survey made by the author, this article discusses why this is so. One conclusion is that the Dalai Lama’s endorsement of the Nechung Oracle makes it an important “tradition,” which together with other cultural elements is crucial for identity formation in the Tibetan diaspora. Such a selective process leads to an “essentialist” view of Tibetan culture. A second conclusion is that a vocal minority among diasporic Tibetans regard the Nechung Oracle as no longer relevant, being incompatible with democratic ideals.