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Section: Ethnography
A Description of Siberian Peoples. The Knights of the Taiga

A Description of Siberian Peoples. The Knights of the Taiga

Russian history-lovers are practically unfamiliar with the name of Gerhard Friedrich Mueller or Gerard Friedrich Miller, as he called himself in Russia. Even if they heard of the name, it was more likely in connection with M. V. Lomonosov’s struggle against the so-called “Norse” theory of origin of the state in Ancient Russia, one of whose founders was Mueller. In 2005, the international scientific community celebrated the third centennial of the birth of the German scientist on a large scale. Does it mean that his accomplishments are worthy of this? The question is more than appropriate. It is high time that we got rid of historical clichs that have proved unable to stand the test of time and started revising the views on the great German who has done much for the formation and development of Russian science.

Mueller’s participation in the Second Kamchatka expedition as an informal leader of the Academic Detachment during the journey across Siberia in 1733—1743 was the most important milestone in the scientist’s destiny. Mueller visited all the districts of the Urals and Siberia, studied the archives of the cities he visited, and in ten years of travel accumulated a vast file of valuable materials on the history, economy, geography, demography, archeology, ethnography, and languages of Siberian peoples…

Gerhard Friedrich Mueller was born on October 18, 1705 in the German town of Herford, in the family of the headmaster of a gymnasium. Upon finishing his course of study at the gymnasium, he studied philosophy and fine arts at the universities of Rinteln and Leipzig. In Leipzig, Mueller became a disciple of J. B. Mencke, a well-known philosopher, historian, publisher of historical monuments, and journalist. Mueller’s acquaintance with Mencke predetermined the sphere of Mueller’s scientific interests, and, in fact, his whole destiny. In 1725, almost immediately upon receiving his bachelor’s degree, Mueller set off for Petersburg, where the Emperor’s Academy of Sciences was opened that year. J. P. Kohl, an academician of St. Petersburg Academy and a former colleague of Mencke, had invited him to come there. Kohl thought that with time Mueller could take the position of the Academy’s librarian. However, it became evident that Kohl’s prediction fell short of Mueller’s extraordinary talents. As early as in 1731, at the age of twenty-five, the latter was appointed professor of the Academy. Later, still remaining a professor, Mueller bore the responsibilities of a conference-secretary of the Academy, headed the Moscow children’s home and the Archives of the Collegium of Foreign Affairs (presently the Russian State Archives of Ancient Acts).

In the 58 years of his life in Russia, the scientist managed to do incredibly much. (Mueller was naturalized in 1748. He died in 1783 in Moscow.) His name is closely tied to the birth of historical science in Russia; in the 19th century, some Russian historians referred to Mueller as none other than “the father of Russian history.” We can add to this honorary title yet another one, that of “the father of Siberian history,” a title unchallenged by anyone. History was the main but not the only passion of Mueller. Here is a list of his other interests, and it is far from being complete. The list includes archeography, source study, archive science, epigraphy, ethnography, linguistics, archaeology, geography, historical study of local lore, cartography, geopolitics, diplomacy, publishing, journalism, and economics. “A great worker,” “the most hard-working among Russian academicians” — these were the characteristics given to Mueller a hundred years after his death; so, the great worker founded a number of new scientific schools, he far outstripped his time both in his theoretical and practical elaborations.

Mueller’s participation in the Second Kamchatka expedition as an informal leader of the Academic Detachment during the journey across Siberia in 1733—1743 was the most important milestone in the scientist’s destiny. Subsequently, Mueller repeatedly recollected that period of his life with gratitude. “Never afterwards,” he wrote, “did I on any occasion regret my determination, not even during my grave illness from which I suffered in Siberia. Rather, I saw in that some predestination, because through this trip I became useful to the Russian state for the first time, and without these journeys it would have been difficult to obtain the knowledge I received.”

Mueller visited all the districts of the Urals and Siberia, studied the archives of the cities he visited, and in ten years of travel accumulated a vast file of valuable materials on the history, economy, geography, demography, archeology, ethnography, and languages of Siberian peoples. We shall point out only some of these materials. Mueller found and purchased almost all of the presently known Siberian chronicles (including the famous Remezov Chronicle). Under his direction, about ten thousand copies of the archival documents on the history of Siberia were made. This fact is assessed by modern researchers as the scholar’s “archival feat”. Most original documents were burned or destroyed in the 18th—19th centuries; Mueller had preserved them for the future. Dictionaries of the languages and dialects of almost all the peoples of Siberia compiled by Mueller are still a very important source for linguists, and as for the peoples that were assimilated in the 18th century Mueller’s works are the only source.

Mueller wrote dozens of works devoted to Siberia both during the expedition and after its completion. A fundamental History of Siberia in four volumes, Geography of Siberia in two volumes, and A Description of Siberian Peoples in two volumes were among these works. He reacted instantly to every scientific problem that occurred with a monograph or article. Only part of these works has been translated into Russian and published until now; so, of all the above works, only the first two volumes of The History of Siberia have been published.

Mueller was ardently engaged in ethnographic research, which, according to him, was for him “instead of relaxation.” He was the first to undertake a complex comparative study of the ethnic history, languages, material and spiritual culture of Siberian peoples. Mueller’s program, called “Instruction on how one should describe peoples, particularly Siberian,” written in 1740, is the best evidence as to what kinds of problems Mueller posed to his fellow-workers and himself. He formulated the aims and methods of ethnographic work in a document that consisted of 923 articles. The scientific level and elaborateness of this program are of such a level that a researcher of the 21st century will find very few problems of contemporary ethnography that were not mentioned in that amazing monument of the 18th century. It was in Siberia that Mueller proclaimed that ethnography was a “real,” independent science. It turned out to be true.

The goals Mueller set in the study of indigenous peoples of Siberia, one cannot but recognize as grandiose. His activities, aimed at the resolution of these goals, were of a like scale. They ranged from collecting archive materials on ethnic history, making questionnaire surveys of the local offices to polling of the Russian and native population and compiling ethnographical collections. The results of this work are reflected in the scientist’s field journal, which amounts to about 2,500 (!) pages, as well as in other expedition manuscripts. The true significance of Mueller’s activity as an ethnographer has yet to be assessed (and, we should add, is a point of honor). At the present time Mueller’s principal ethnographic works are being prepared for publication both in Russian and in German. But even the archive materials introduced into scientific circulation in recent years have enabled a number of researchers in Russia, Germany, Holland, and France to conclude that ethnography as a science was born in Russia and not in Western Europe as it was considered before; to be more exact, in Siberia. And this science has a legitimate father, Gerhard Friedrich Mueller.

In his ethnographic texts, Mueller wrote about the “forest” peoples of Siberia with particular sympathy. Among the most important qualities that were inherent in them, he named their natural kindness, compassion, sympathy towards their kinsmen, inability of deliberately inflicting offence, and so forth. He conceived Tunguses (Evenks and Evens) as a model of morality. Probably, Mueller was the first of our native scholars who saw real chivalry in poor taiga nomads, people who could set an example for immoral Europeans.

Mueller’s attitude towards Siberian natives is contrary to the accepted views of that epoch. Even his closest companions did not share Mueller’s position. J. G. Gmelin, Mueller’s fellow traveller in his Siberian wanderings, wrote about the Tunguses of the Ilimsk District, “And finally, as for the disposition of these Tunguses, they are a dirty, uncouth and rough people. They have no great vices, but, I suppose, it is rather due to the lack of opportunity for this than because of a natural loathing for these vices.”

Below we cite a few fragments from several chapters of A Description of Siberian Peoples that vividly illustrate the life of Tunguses. These pages will become more interesting if we note their, so to say, “bivector” quality. They narrate not only about the native people of Siberia, but also allow us to gain some insight into the personality of the author. We visualize a genuinely humanistic figure. Mueller does not present to the reader pitiable “savages” or idealized simple-hearted children of nature, but real people with all their weaknesses and imperfections, who in their best manifestations deserve respect and even admiration.

These texts are being published for the first time. Those Russian words that Mueller wrote in Roman type are set off in clarendon.

The Knights of The Taiga

Decoded and translated from G. F. Mueller’s manuscripts by A. Ch. Elert (Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts, collection 181, file 1386)

No other nation has such highly developed inherent principles of decency as Tunguses. Among them no stealing, swindling, or other premeditated offence is heard of. They are hospitable and generous. Many a time have I observed the following among the Nerchinskii Tunguses: when I gave the most noble among them a gift of some Chinese tobacco, glass beads or some other things dear to their hearts, he would share all the gifts with those present and did it not out of fear or under compulsion but solely out of a yearning for community.

In the beginning of the occupation of the country (by the Russians) one could observe that refractoriness and stubbornness were pronouncedly stronger in some of the peoples than in other peoples. Ostyaks, very peculiar pagan peoples in the Krasnoyarsk District, as well as Tunguses submitted to new masters more easily than the others. But the Tunguses who belonged to Okhotsk, as well as the Tunguses who lived in the Upper Angara area revolted time and again and killed Russians. It was caused partly by cruel treatment on the part of the Russian commanders, partly by the fact that they were often robbed by the sluzhivye (soldiers) and promyshlennye (traders and craftsmen), and in part because they did not want Russians to hunt in their native land. Some of the tribes of Tunguses in the Nerchinsk District were subdued by force, though…

If a nation subdues voluntarily, it does not follow that the people are fainthearted. Moreover, all the Tunguses are so valiant and courageous that any other people could envy them. The reason is as follows. Those who roam in the forest mainly live as separate families. Therefore, it was not difficult to capture one or several people who were made amanats (or hostages) and used to be kept in the cities and ostrogs (jails). The inherent kind-heartedness and sincerity of Tunguses, who were unwilling to leave the hostages to the mercy of fate, are the real reason for their submission. It was not that easy to capture hostages from other peoples who were engaged in cattle-raising and lived closely in the steppes or in settlements: to protect their people they resisted, which often led to bloodshed. Thus, both the refractoriness of Nerchinsk Tunguses and the passivity of forest Tunguses are of the same origin. It happened sometimes that hostages in jails and zimovje (winter huts) killed Russian Cossacks. This happened with Tungus hostages in the Maiskoe winter hut about 30–40 years ago. But one should not make a conclusion discrediting good inherent qualities of Tunguses. For it is common knowledge that the majority of hostages in winter huts are kept in harsh conditions, and they can despair easily.

The injustice with which pagan peoples are treated in Siberia causes them to be shy. During our trip to Yakutsk, we met in the Vitim Region several Turukhan Tunguses who were returning from the Vitim River area, where they had been hunting, to their native land in Nizhnyaya Tunguska or Khatanga. We stopped near a village (derevnya Kureiskaya) and saw some Tunguses walking along the opposite bank of the Lena River and carrying all their belongings. But when I sent a messenger to ask them to wait for me until I got across the river in order to ask them some questions, all the men who headed the procession instantly disappeared into the mountains. We only managed to stop the string of carts with women, children and reindeer that had been following the men. After I had crossed the river and found only women and under-age children, I inquired about the men. None of the men was eager to show up; only one of them loomed up from a distance from the top of the mountain in order to watch what we would do to their wives, children, and property. I sent an interpreter to him and tried to approach him myself in order to assure him of our utter harmlessness and invite him to talk. But he would not let anyone approach him by more than 15–20 steps; he kept retreating and threatening with his bow and arrow that he was holding drawn in his hands. His principal excuse was that he had nothing to give me as a present. I assured him that I did not want any present, and that, on the contrary, I wanted to give him some presents, but that did not help in the least. In the end, he said that there was a rumor that a Tungus was killed in the upper reaches of the Lena River. It seemed as though he suspected that we had the intention of causing him great evil, arresting him or beating him to make him share his property with us; this means such things happen occasionally. Meanwhile, the women had reconciled themselves to us, came on board our boat and accepted the presents meant for their husbands.

Forest Tunguses have no other justice or law between themselves than that determined by the bow and arrow. If an insult is evident, a fight starts at once; and the one who gains the upper hand is the one who is right. One of them challenges the other as if to a duel. But if the case is not that evident (as it is, say, in the case of adultery) the accused may try to prove his innocence by taking an oath. The reason for that probably lies in the fact that Forest Tunguses have no princelings, and that they are all equal, whereas Nerchin Tunguses have adopted Mongolian traditions in respect to the administering of justice.

All the Tunguses, as is their custom, swear in the following way. A man takes a male dog, and a woman takes a female dog. They slaughter them in the manner horned cattle, horses, sheep, reindeer are slaughtered; that is, they stab a hole through the sternum, thrust their hand in and pluck off the aorta, so that blood wells up in the upper cavity of the body. Then the one who is taking the oath lets a little blood drain into a vessel made of birch bark and drinks some of it. The blood is drunk while it is still hot. But the ceremony is not completed at that. After that the man who is taking the oath throws the dog into a special big bonfire arranged outside the yurta and pronounces, “As the dog is being scorched in the fire now, may I be scorched within a year if I have committed what I am being accused of now.” The whole rite takes place in the presence of many witnesses invited by the person who calls for the oath. So, if the person who made the oath swore falsely, and some misfortune or unexpected death should happen to him in the course of the year after the day the oath was made, it would be ascribed to an unavoidable and deserved punishment for the false oath. Apparently, Tunguses believe that the dog’s spirit enters the person making the oath, together with the hot blood, and that that spirit executes punishment.

Forest Tunguses and other peoples that constantly roam the forests and mountains (Ostyaks, Kotovtsy, Kamashins, and others) have dwellings built of long poles that form a circle at the bottom and are joined together on top. In the summer these poles are covered with birch bark, and in the winter, if the owner has the means, with chamois deerskin. Among them, there are many poor people who live under birch bark all the year round.

Forest Tunguses have no other vessels but those made of birch bark unless they can get themselves some leather or wooden vessels from other peoples. They strengthen them with leather or fish skins or kamas1 for solidity, and manage to carry them on reindeer as conveniently as leather water-skins. The whole stock of meat, fish, flour and other supplies are kept in these vessels. In the Tungus language they are called Ínmok.

Since everything with pagan peoples is very unclean, one cannot expect them to be clean with their pots and pans. The cauldrons, dishes, leather and other vessels are never washed and never rinsed. On the Lena River, I once had the pleasure of receiving a whole company of female Tunguses as guests on board my doshchanik2. When I ordered to give them, among other trifles pleasing for them, a little flour and meat, they immediately pulled off their stockings, and dirty as they were, filled them, without any hesitations, with these supplies.

They have nothing beyond what is required by extreme necessity; and if one is to judge of their wealth by their possessions, they ought to be thought of as very poor. Yet, they are quite content with what they have and do not strive for abundance since it would be only a burden for them. A moralist will value this more highly than all the treasures of civilized peoples.

Forest Tunguses use reindeer only for carrying loads, as well as for carrying their wives and children. For that purpose they equip their reindeer with small wooden saddles like those used by Laplanders. A small blanket of reindeer skin is placed under the saddle; and if the reindeer are used for riders, an untreated reindeer-skin is placed on top of the saddle in addition. Tunguses ride on reindeer without any stirrups. The load is loaded on the reindeer and tied to the saddle on both sides. The baggage consists of the birch bark they use to cover their yurt and some household utensils such as an axe, a cauldron, a hook, some spoons and leather bags for keeping clothes and provisions. All this is under the care of the women: they load reindeer with these belongings and they unload them, they steer them and urge them on, whereas men do not care about all this at all.

A man walks ahead of the procession carrying a bow and a long hunting knife; such knives are called pal’ms in the Siberian language. He uses his knife to cut through the underbrush and defend himself against wild beasts. About three or so dogs accompany him; on their way they chase and catch small game.

The man walks alone from morning till night or as long as he pleases, and ultimately finds a place where he would like to make his dwelling. The string of carts that consists of women and reindeer follows in his tracks. As soon as they reach a certain place, they make their dwelling there. A place for dwelling is, as a rule, chosen in wooded areas so that they could get poles for their yurt not far from there (for they never carry them with them), and also so as not to have to bring firewood from afar.

If a Tungus expects to find good prey in the place where he and his family have settled, he remains there for a few days; in that case he spends all his time making short hunting outings in different directions. At times he is absent for two, three or more nights; and as he has no yurt with him, in the winter he buries himself into the snow and covers himself with tree branches, while in the summer he spends nights in the open air. In that case, all of his household things, in addition to his usual hunting equipment, consist of an axe and a small pot which he carries together with the quiver on his back. When he is alone, he cooks his own meals, though as a rule it is women’s duty.

The ability of Tunguses to find the way in the impassable forest and come without fail to a specified place is surprising. Tunguses can artfully mark the way, though. In the summer they cut markers on the trees with an axe along the way; the trees should not be far from each other. The women follow these markers. In the winter, footprints in the snow help the Tungus to mark his path, and if he crosses somebody else’s path, he puts a branch or a bough across that path as a sign for the women to avoid it.

Among all the peoples, the length of the bows for shooting arrows should match the height of their owner. Therefore, they measure it by the length of one’s outstretched arms. The best bows are hard to stretch; as a result, they can shoot further. If someone wants to boast of his strength, he shows how he can bend his bow. The quality of the bow depends on the materials used in making its limb, since it is these materials that give the bow a greater or smaller degree of resilience. The bow limb is glued together with two longitudinal components. The external side typically consists of birch wood, whereas on the inside, that is the side facing the bowstring, it is made of the hardest larch. In Russian, such bows are called krenovyi because Russians call this larch wood kren’.

Nerchin and Yakut Tunguses as well as Selenga Mongols and Bratskie3 have splendid bows. The internal side of the bows is made of bull’s horns instead of larch or whalebone. They are not made in Siberia, but brought from China. Russians buy them mostly from Daurskii peoples. Yakut Tunguses buy them in their hunting trips through the upper reaches of the Zeya River from the local Tunguses who are subjugated to China; thereupon they resell them to Yakuts, among whom the price of the weapon comes up to three rubles. Such bows can shoot the furthest because they can be drawn more tightly and are characterized by high resilience. Among them one may find some bows made exclusively of two horns; these are the best.

There are different types of arrows. Some are made of iron, some of bone, others of wood; and they differ not only in material: some arrows are made of the same material but their properties are different and they serve different purposes. Therefore, they have specific names.

Boevki , or in the Tungus language Dschaldiwun, are fighting arrows. They are made of iron, they are narrow and pointed in shape, without any counter hooks, as is shown in the illustration. Boevki are used exclusively in war and in single combat, but never in hunting, because their narrow shape cannot inflict the animal any serious harm; besides, they penetrate the body so deeply that they cannot be used repeatedly.

Kosatki are battle arrows with counter hooks. They are not very widely used in Siberia, but Yukagirs are said to use them in hunting. I saw Tungus hostages from the Upper Angara in Irkutsk with such kosatki.

Kopeichatye arrows have the shape of a rhombus. They are of two kinds: those that are narrow are called in the Tungus language Sülè; others, which are wide, are called in the Tungus language Sodschi.

Orgishi , or fork-shaped arrows, in the Tungus language Pjelagà, look like a fork. They are furnished with two spikes and a transverse piece of wood that prevents them from penetrating deep into the flesh.

Dolotchatye arrows , or chisel-shaped arrows, are called in the Tungus language Daptamà.

All the arrows described above are made exclusively of iron. The arrows described below are made partly of wood, partly of bone.

Tamary , bolt-shaped arrows, in the Tungus language Lúki, are mostly made of wood, but sometimes also of bone. The arrowhead reminds one of a small chicken egg both in size and in shape. As a rule, the size of the arrowhead is such that one can hold it between the thumb and forefinger. Tunguses and Ostyaks often make the front hemisphere of these arrowheads of bone and then glue it on.

Five-pointed bolt-shaped arrows (four spikes in a square, one spike in the middle), in the Tungus language Wakarà, are made predominantly of bone (sometimes bone is substituted for hard wood). All the spikes are cut of one piece of wood or bone, the difference lying in the fact that the middle spike of Bratskii (Buryat) and Yakut arrows is somewhat longer than the other spikes; whereas the middle spike on the Tungus arrows is, on the contrary, somewhat shorter.

Fork-like bolt-shaped arrows , in the Tungus language Mumahìk, are ordinary bolt-shaped arrows, with a spike from an iron fork-like arrow attached to the front of the arrowhead.

Rhombus-shaped bolt-like arrows , in the Tungus language Morò, are made in the following way: an iron rhombus-shaped point is attached to an arrow with a bolt-like arrowhead.

Sharp bone arrows , in the Tungus language Dschíran, are long, sharp and narrow; on one side they are rounded, on the other side they are gouged.

Tunguses wear a rounded forged iron plate on their left sleeve, a little above the bend of their fingers. When they shoot a bow, the bowstring gives strong recoil against the arm in that place; and were it not for that plate, the hand would be seriously hurt. In Russian this plate is called a naruchina.

Tunguses are the greatest masters at shooting. They never shoot an animal other than in the chest, and are able to hit it in the heart or the lung, at will.

However, other peoples cannot be denied having the skill of archery. All of them, at least in certain seasons, go hunting, so they constantly have to exercise their shooting. And the superiority of Tunguses could be accounted for by the fact that they go hunting all year round. I am speaking about Forest Tunguses, though Nerchin and other Tunguses (cattle-breeders) are generally also thought of as superior in archery over other peoples.

The big hunting knife Tunguses use, called an Onneptun, is almost one arshin4 long and a good two fingers wide. The haft of the knife, one and a half or two arshins long, serves them as a walking stick. Generally, they use this hunting knife to defend themselves against wild animals (bears, wolves, tigers, and others) if the attacked Tungus has an insufficient stock of arrows. Neither a Tungus, nor a Yakut would fear to stand up to the fiercest bear with that knife. The outcome of this single combat may be unpredictable; at times his courage costs him his life. Tunguses use their big hunting knives to cut the undergrowth in the impenetrable depths of the forest when they are migrating to a new place ahead of a string of carts.

One of the entertainments of Forest Tunguses is jumping over heaps of firewood. Among other entertainments are archery with targets and single combat with wooden hunting knives specially made for the purpose. Yet another kind of entertainment is telling each other tales. Tunguses often pass their free time in these activities. Their simple-heartedness and artlessness are especially apparent in these tales; that is why I would like to narrate one of the tales of Forest Tunguses here.

“Three brothers are going to a bear’s den. The youngest one is a simpleton. Upon seeing a bear in the den he runs away. On the way he stumbles over a crooked tree trunk and falls, and his head happens to knock against that trunk; as a result, he becomes completely rigid. Meanwhile, the other two brothers kill the bear on the spot, but since neither of them is able to drag the bear home, they carve a piece of fat from the bear’s carcass and run to their foolish brother, whom they find rigid in the position described above. They open his mouth and thrust a piece of bear’s fat in. He instantly returns to life, eats the fat and praises it. “Where did you,” he asks, “get this food from?” They answer, “From the bear that we killed and left in the forest.” “Hey,” exclaims the foolish brother, “Let us hurry and bring the bear to the yurt!” All of them run to the bear and make an attempt to drag it, but to no avail. The fool says, “You are only hindering me. I’ll carry the bear myself.” He puts the bear on his shoulders and carries it to the yurt. Then his other brothers tell him, “We should invite guests.” He replies that there is no need for this and eats the bear up, skin, hair, and bones”.

Forest Tunguses often quarrel with each other; the quarrels end, as a rule, in fierce skirmishes. If one of them kills another, then the whole clan of the murdered one takes it personally; they equip themselves for a fight and demand satisfaction. If the accused party admits their guilt and is ready to give satisfaction, both parties agree on golovshchina5, which generally consists of one or two girls and several reindeer. If the parties do not come to an agreement, a real war breaks out. The whole clan of the accused, if they believe him to be innocent, stands up in his defense; sometimes it happens that each of the adversaries summons all the neighboring Tungus clans for help.

The Tungus armament is mainly bows and arrows. Besides, Tunguses wear coats of armour that protect the whole left side of their body (because it is more vulnerable) both from behind and from the front down to the knees. These coats of armour are made of multiple thin iron plaques attached to leather, each of which is several vershoks6 long and only one fourth of a vershok wide. They are connected with each other in rows with the help of belts in such a way that they hang along the body. They are fastened row after row one above the other, the upper row covering the upper edge of the lower row; the plaques are provided with three holes at the top edge and three at the bottom edge to make it convenient to fasten them together and join them. The left hand is thrust through this short coat; the arm is additionally protected on the shoulder with a wooden plate. This plate covers the arm down to the elbow, and does not impede its movements because it is as flexible as a wing. The back of the head and shoulders are protected in the same manner. On the head they wear a round and slightly pointed hat covered, like a coat of armour, with small iron plaques. Some Tunguses have full coats of armour that cover the whole body. They are made in the manner of the ones described above, but they are made shorter to lessen the weight.

In fighting skirmishes, one party of Tunguses advances against the other in battle formation. However, the adversaries rarely approach each other to a closer distance than an arrow’s shot, fight only with arrows, and never turn to hand-to-hand fighting. This shooting is at times fairly cruel and, as a rule, the offended party does not surrender till the offender asks for negotiations. The suggestion of negotiations is signaled by shooting a few bolt-shaped arrows. After that an armistice is concluded, a peaceful agreement is worked out and golovshchina is set.

In their hostilities, Tunguses mostly use chisel-shaped arrows.

When the Tunguses of the Nizhnyaya and Podkamennaya Tunguska go into action against each other, they kindle two large bonfires, in the Tungus language called Golún, at the distance of 20 to 30 sazhens from each other. In the middle between these bonfires, two shamans (each from the confronting clans) perform their usual invocations, beating their drums and calling upon devils to help them win a victory. At the peak of their excitement the shamans begin to fight with each other; the party whose shaman wins in that combat gets encouraged by this fact and begins to hope they will have luck in their military operations. As soon as the invocations are over, the fight begins. The adversaries do not cross over the line of their bonfire and fight only by archery.

There is no other nation whose celebration of the wedding ceremony is so scant as that of Forest Tunguses. This may be attributed to their way of life. They are fairly dispersed and never have any large stocks of food to treat any guests. That is why it is rare for some other guests, apart from the two families who will be related through this marriage, to be present at the wedding. However, should someone happen to appear in the vicinity, they are not left without an invitation, but only if the hosts have a sufficient supply of meat to treat the stranger.

The bride is brought to the first conjugal union only by force. The bride does not take off her pants of her own accord, but the groom is expected to tear them off. Some girls are said to tie up their pants with more belts than they ordinarily do in order to make it difficult for the groom. Tunguses consider it a special honor and a proof of the bride’s chastity if the bride bravely defends herself. There were occasions when a weak groom achieved his goal only many nights after the wedding. But even in the case of a consummated marriage, to an advanced age, the husband will have to untie the belts and strip the pants off his wife, because Tunguses consider it shameful when the wife does it herself. Such a custom exists among most local peoples; but usually there is no such great resistance on the first night…

Ordinary dissoluteness among unmarried persons is not particularly widespread among Siberian peoples; in the first place, because they marry off their children early, and have them engaged even earlier; secondly, the majority of the peoples allow legal cohabitation; thirdly, both the man and the woman find themselves in danger in case of wantonness; we shall speak about this below. Adultery inside a family is a more common sight. It is a rare case when a stepmother does not sleep with her stepsons; and the wife of the elder brother with the younger brothers of her husband. Both of these crimes are neglected since after the death of the father and elder brother the stepmother and the brother’s widow will, all the same, pass to the stepsons and younger brothers.

During our stay in Ilimsk, an old Tungus of about 70 years of age came to the ruler of the town from the upper reaches of the Ilim River with a complaint that he had caught his son with his (the old Tungus’) young wife, and that the lovers had beaten him up. The old man demanded that the defaulters be punished. The son was between ages 30 and 40, and the woman was not yet 30. They unhesitatingly admitted the crime, the son grinning, and the woman with some embarrassment. We asked them whether they had been having this affair for a long time. The son answered in the affirmative and added that the father had known about it all along, but had caught them unawares only now and wanted to beat them, so they merely defended their lives. We asked the woman whether she was driven to debauchery by her old husband’s incapacity for cohabitation; but we were unable to obtain a word from her. And the son answered for her with the expression “What is to happen cannot be avoided.” On the father’s request the son was caned; but the woman was not given the least punishment, as the old man was against it and said that he loved her too dearly to let her be punished so cruelly. The young couple promised the old man to reform; after that all three of them set off for home.

No other peoples are as squeamish and jealous as Tunguses are. Usually, they spare their own kin; but if they catch a stranger with their wives, they beat him until they kill him. In case of the slightest suspicion, the accused person, if it is a male, is either expected to justify himself by making a swear, or he is threatened with death.

A Tungus husband and wife sleep in a peculiar manner. They sleep on their side, with their heads sticking out in opposite directions from under the blanket, and their legs entangled. The upper and lower edges of the blanket cover their shoulders. When the spouses get tired of lying on one side, they turn onto the other side simultaneously; especially frequently it is done in winter because it is freezing cold in their cold yurt, so they can warm different parts of their bodies by turning them alternately to the blazing fireplace.

Since Tunguses exhibit a greater degree of constancy than other peoples, the childbirth of Tungus women is rather distinctive. Tunguses are often on the move. Sometimes birth pangs begin right while on the road. In that case the string of carts does not even stop. The woman gets off her reindeer, walks a few steps aside from the path with one or several other women whom she asks to assist her and gives birth to the baby. And it makes no difference whether it is winter or summer. Even in the hardest cold, snow, wind, or rain a Tungus woman gives birth to a child under the open sky. Having wrapped the baby in some rags and put it into a crib prepared beforehand, she mounts the reindeer and continues her way as if nothing has happened to her. There is a superstition that the road taken by a woman who has just given birth to a child brings bad luck to other people. Therefore, the woman who recently gave birth should ride a distance from the rest of the carts; and even if her husband or someone else from the group comes across the best game on her side of the road, they will not dare to chase it if they have to cross that path.

The childbirth that takes place during a resting period also has its peculiarities. Even in that case the woman gives birth to a child in the open air, because Tunguses believe that such an unclean act will desecrate the yurt. They make a bonfire outside the yurt. In the summer it is made small, just for the sake of the custom; in the winter, when there is lack of warmth, the bonfire is made big. Before the bonfire the woman gives birth to the child, on her knees or squatting down, while the midwife does her part by embracing the belly of the woman from behind and pressing on it until the baby is born. The woman who has recently given birth has the right to return to the yurt only when the placenta comes out. At times, it takes five days, with a hard freeze outside, but the custom holds firm. Some Tunguses who tenderly love their wives set up small huts of tree branches for them if it is winter, where the childbirth takes place.

Immediately after childbirth, the woman washes herself and her baby with warm water. And when the postnatal period, which as a rule lasts one month, is over, she washes for a second time and after that she is considered to be clean again. During the postnatal period, the woman wears her worst clothes, which she puts on in good time before the childbirth. When this period is over, she hangs the clothes on trees in the forest where they are supposed to decay. As long as the woman is considered unclean she has a special place in the yurt where she is supposed to sit and sleep. Her husband never sits close to her during that period. A log is placed between them.

Ordinary people in Siberia tell tales that Tunguses bury their newborn babies in snow and leave them lie in the snow for a few hours in order to better harden the baby. I have heard this from many people, but when I asked Tunguses about it, they denied it vigorously.

As for the training Tungus young children receive from their parents, one can judge by their own skills and way of life… Those of Tatars who are engaged in farming, following the example of Russians, teach their children from early childhood all domestic chores and field work… With other peoples, hunting is nearly the only occupation the youth are taught; for different peoples there are different degrees. Many Mongols, Buryats, and Kalmyks engaged in cattle-breeding get out of the habit of hunting to such a degree, that their children spend time in idleness until they reach the age at which they can take part in the so-called oblava. Nerchin Tunguses, despite the fact that they make a living almost exclusively with cattle breeding, teach their children the skill of archery. Yakuts also do this, but this is especially characteristic of Forest Tunguses and other peoples that predominantly engage in hunting.

The father makes a bow and arrows for his five-year-old child in accordance with the child’s height and strength, sets a target for him, and shows how to shoot an arrow. For a child, it is rather a game than a skill. When children get together, they compete in archery. In many cities (above all, in Yakutsk, Irkutsk, and Mangazeya) I had the pleasure of watching Tungus hostages, among whom some were quite young. When I provoked them to show their skill in archery, they often proved to be superior even over adults that belonged to other peoples.

Teaching girls does not begin so early, but they are taught household chores when they attain the proper age. A girl receives from her mother the following skills: sewing, fine needle-work, preparing skins and tanning leather, making from them different kinds of clothes, taking care of cattle, pasturing reindeer.

One must mention that their children are brought up in insufficient strictness, which leads to lack of deference towards their elders. It is very rare for parents to beat their children to punish them. The young people grow up in wild rudeness. When the sons attain manhood, they are not ashamed to treat their father as if he were a stranger when they are at odds with him. Quick-tempered Tunguses are not surprised or indignant when a son challenges his father to a duel, and the latter accepts the challenge.

1Kamas (kamus) is skin taken from the shanks of hoofed animals, more often reindeer (here and further are translator’s notes)

2Doshchanik is a large flat-bottomed river boat

3That is Buryats

4Onearshin is approximately 71 cm

5Golovshchina — here — is penal settlement for the murder

6One vershok is equal to 4.45 cm

(Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts*, c. 181, f. 1389, p. 1, pp. 72 o.—75, 77 o., 78 o.—81 o., 84 o.—85, 86—87 o., 93 o., 107—108 o., 138 o.—139; p. 2, pp. 3—7, 9, 11—13 o., 30 o., 32, 33—34 o., 36, 57 o.—58 o., 70 o., 75 o.—76 o., 84—86)

(c — collection, f. — file, p — part, o. — overleaf, pp. — pages)

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