Asian Ethnology 82-1 | article The American Flag in Kim’s Spirit Shrine

Heonik Kwon, Jun Hwan Park

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shamanism Korea spirit portrait American power politics of anti-superstition

A notable feature of contemporary Hwanghae-do (now a region in North Korea) shamanism in Incheon, west of Seoul, is a body of material symbols of American power that are familiar to Koreans—such as the Stars and Stripes or the portrait of General Douglas MacArthur. Focusing on the small American flag that Kim Kŭm-hwa, a renowned Hwanghae-origin shaman, brought home from her tour of the United States in 1982 during which she performed kut, Korea’s shamanic rite, at the Knoxville World Fair and the Smithsonian Museum, this article investigates how this object came to join Kim’s spirit shrine as an auspicious artifact and what it says about her eminent yet turbulent career experience. It asks what sort of power the American flag displays and how this power is different from what we habitually understand as “American power.”