The ritual of Sepanja is the closest thing to marriage that these trolls have. Sepanja has no accurate translation, but could most closely be defined by the term “shared spirit.”

When two trolls (always of the opposite sex) participate in Sepanja, they are making vows of trust to each other. Those bonded to Sepanja trust each other implicitly, sharing secrets and truths they would normally fear presenting to other trolls. Indeed, if a troll confided in one that was bound by the vows of Sepanja, then that one would be bound by the vows to tell his or her partner. Tell something to one, and the other will soon learn of it, too. In fact, some of those who have been bonded by Sepanja for some time seem to develop a strong connection and seem to even share one mind, even when separated by miles.

The bond is deeper than any physical attraction. In fact, a physical commitment to one another never takes part in the vows of Sepanja, and participating trolls remain just as sexually promiscuous as before the ritual. But those that have performed the ritual find that they prefer their partner, their “shared spirit” providing a more passionate, intimate experience than copulation with an unknown stranger. Some of those bound by Sepanja even try to deliberately have and raise their own children.

The ritual is surprisingly simple. The two trolls must contact a troll priest or shaman, and express their desire to participate in the ceremony. The three trolls then figure out a date to perform the ceremony, and the tribe is notified. At sunset of the date, the ceremony begins by firelight. The troll spiritual leader(s) call forth the spirits to watch over the couple and to unite their spirits. After reciting a few sentences describing the nature and tradition of Sepanja, which takes perhaps 10 to 15 minutes, the two trolls retire to a private tent to share their secrets. At this time, the rest of the tribe participates in a celebration of music and dancing which tends to last until the morning light.

If one of the trolls gets “cold feet” and decides not to participate in Sepanja, the troll that did come to the ceremony has two choices: either forgive the troll who refused to appear at the ceremony (in which case, the troll who did not appear is branded on the forehead, indicating that he or she failed to live up to a promise), or hunt down and kill the one that did not appear (in this case, the whole tribe often participates in the hunt, in an effort to appease any angry spirits). In either case, the troll who did appear at the ceremony receives a tattoo on the forearm, which indicated that he or she has been wronged by one he or she once trusted (the tattoo often includes the name or symbol of the offender).

If neither troll shows up to the Sepanja ceremony, the entire tribe usually hunts down and kills both in an effort to appease any angry spirits (the spirits apparently do not like being summoned for no good reason).

Although it is rare, some trolls undergo Sepanja more than once. A troll may have multiple “husbands” or “wives.” All who have participated in the ritual have the same vows. However, it is strictly forbidden for one who is bound by Sepanja to participate in the ritual with another who has been bound by Sepanja, regardless of whether or not their partners still live. The bounds of Sepanja are said to cross even the line between the living and the dead.

If one partner of Sepanja is killed, the survivor typically goes through a period of mourning, usually at least a week. He or she also shaves his or her head. After the mourning period, the survivor receives a tattoo on the face, typically symbolic of death, indicating that there is another waiting for him or her in the realm of the spirits. The surviving troll is perceived as “half-dead”(since half the spirit is no longer upon the material world) and often is treated with respect. Some survivors claim that their partner continues to communicate with them from beyond the grave, from the spirit world: many times, this is how shaman begin their careers, as their connection to the spirits is believed to be extremely strong.

Those who have been marked in this fashion may never participate in the Sepanja ritual again. It is forbidden to share the spirit of the dead with any other living troll.

Other ceremonies: Urubaj

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