N. Koreans turn to ancestral rites to ward away misfortune

“Many people are pinning their hopes on superstition, having suffered various challenges after the outbreak of the pandemic," a source told Daily NK

North Koreans are increasingly performing ancestral rites to ward away misfortune, Daily NK has learned. 

Speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons, a source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Wednesday that “following the outbreak of COVID-19, people hardly performed rites to mark the births or deaths of their ancestors, but recently, more people are devoting themselves to performing the rites, even if they have to skip meals to do so.”

North Koreans suffering psychologically due to severe hardships, facing interrogations by the Ministry of State Security or Ministry of Social Security, or enduring constant criticism or complaints from their inminban (neighborhood watch unit) leaders are increasingly visiting shamans to have their fortunes read and conducting ancestral rites, according to the source. 

For example, a woman in her 50s in Hyesan – identified by her family name of Pak – visited a shaman in early August to ward off misfortune from her son, who was sentenced to seven years of forced labor for watching banned videos in June, and from her husband, who was sentenced to four months of forced labor for assaulting a neighbor.

According to the source, the shaman told the woman: “Only if you care for your ancestors with devotion will your household prosper and be at peace. If not, misfortune will continue in your family, so perform the ancestral rites, even if you have to starve to do so.” After reflecting on how she skipped the ancestral rites due to hardships she had faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, Pak took time to perform ancestral rites in the proper way. 

“Many people are pinning their hopes on superstition, having suffered various challenges after the outbreak of the pandemic. They hear tales of others suffering misfortune for failing to take care of their ancestors, and – no matter how hard life is – they devote themselves to preparing food for ancestral rites and pray to be liberated from all their suffering,” the source said. 

“That people are doing all this work to prepare food for ancestral rites is a reflection of how sick and tired they are of worrying everyday about surviving. It shows that people are grasping at straws to escape hardships and suffering.” 

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler. 

Daily NK works with a network of sources who live inside North Korea, China and elsewhere. Their identities remain anonymous due to security concerns. More information about Daily NK’s reporting partner network and information gathering activities can be found on our FAQ page here.  

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