Imágenes de página

though in these days of Paixhans and was the commencement of October, percussion, bows and arrows cer- the period of transition from summer tainly appear rather anomalous, they to winter, and the traveller's entrance are by no means contemptible weapons into the town was rendered memorin the hands of some of the Siberian able by a heavy fall of snow_" white tribes. Of this Mr Erman had flies," as the postilions called the abundant opportunity to convince flakes, which they beheld with much himself, especially when his ramble pleasure. Their satisfaction was pronorthwards from Tobolsk brought bably owing to the fact that in him amongst the Ostyaks of the river Siberia the coldest part of the year is Obi. The ordinary hunting weapons the most favourable for travelling, of these people are bows six feet long, a matter of interest to people of of very slight curve, and from which their profession. But the moment of four-feet arrows are discharged with transition, whilst the struggle lasts murderous effect. Much practice and between summer and winter, when strength are required to draw these

snow encumbers the ground, and bows; and our scientific travellerfrost has not yet hardened it, is known, who, not having taken the necessary as well as the similar period at the precaution of shielding the left arm close of winter, as - the time of the with a piece of horn, from the recoil unroading,” (spoiling of the roads ;) of the string, had been unable to and the Russians have even manudraw his bow to more than one-third factared a verb to be unroaded.” of the arrow's length, was not a little The snow obstructs wheeled carriages, astounded to see an Ostyak pigmy, and forbids the nse of the sledge; and, with sore eyes and a sickly aspect, unless peremptorily compelled to move send a blunt arrow one hundred and forward, the Russian merchants—the sixty feet, and strike the object aimed most experienced of Siberian travellers at, the stem of a larch, near its sum- -await, in some convenient restingmit, fully sixty feet from the ground. place, the hardening of the winter Blunt arrows, headed with flattened road. From Mr Erman's account, a iron balls, are used to kill sables and better place than Tobolsk could squirrels, that the skin may not be scarcely be found, in those wild regions, injured; the sharp ones are a settler wherein to pass a few weeks of comfor any quadruped the country pro- pulsory inaction. Nevertheless, and duces.

although cordially received by the After many days' journey throngh governor-general, Velyaminov, from Tatar villages of wooden huts, and whom, and from other Russian offitowns that are little better, the first cers, he got much useful information, view of Tobolsk, obtained some miles our traveller was impatient to be off. before reaching the place, is quite im- He had a pet scheme in view. From posing; and the traveller, who might the very commencement of the journey think he had got a few stages beyond he had planned an excursion to the civilisation, is cheered and encouraged month of the Obi, within the Arctic by the sight of church-towers, lofty circle. To this he was partly induced monasteries, and well-built houses. by the desire of tracing certain magIn vain does he seek an inn. Such netic lines, and partly by "the alluring things are unknown in Siberia ; and prospect of enjoying, on the northern if he has no acquaintance in the town, part of the Obi, the first undisturbed he must apply to the police-master, intercourse with the aboriginal poswho recommends him to the hospital- sessors of the land, where they are ity of an inhabitant, by whom he is little changed by foreign influence." made welcome during his stay, with Accordingly, towards the middle of Noout demand for remuneration, al- vember, the driftingice upon the Irtuish though, if proffered, it will sometimes having united into a solid sheet, Mr be accepted. In this manner Mr Erman joyfully made final preparations Erman and his companions were ac- for his journey to Obdorsk. They

were commodated in the upper storey of a few, and soon completed. A Kosak well-built wooden house ; and here guide and interpreter, a fur dress, a their progress eastward was arrested copper kettle, bread and ham, salted by the character of the weather. It salmon and caviar, were stowed in a

couple of sledges, one of which was the bait is still untouched, or as a fish light enough to be drawn by dogs or pulling at it has freed a check put to reindeer. It was held advisable also the elasticity of the rod, and is thus, to take out a fresh passport, signed in consequence of its own efforts, by the governor of Tobolsk, in lieu of drawn nearer to the surface of the the one delivered at St Petersburg, water.” The ingenuity of this confor, in places far removed from the trivance would avail little, however, great road across Siberia, people have were not means found of rousing the confused and indistinct notions of the sleepy sturgeon from their winter power which issues from the capital slumbers. They lie in muddy hollows of the empire. The larger sledge was in the bed of the river, quite motionprovided with otvódi or guides--two less, and clustered together for the strong bars placed lengthways on sake of warmth. To awaken them, either side the carriage to prevent an hard balls of clay, heated in the fire, upset. - Towards the end of winter, are thrown from time to time into the the snow-ways, which are constantly water, below the line. Driven from travelled upon, have an undulating their resting-place, they swim up surface, like that of a stormy sea, and stream, according to their custom, and give the sledge a motion so like that come upon the bait. This mode of of a ship tossed on the waves, that fishing is very productive. Fishing, of travellers unused to it often grow sea- one kind or other, is the principal ocsick on the road, and the use of otvódi cupation of the Ostyaks, in the heart is a very necessary precaution.” of whose country, after three or four Russian travelling, delightfully rapid, days' journey, Mr Erman found himhas many drawbacks. Upon the log- self. The rivers abound with excelroads, (formed of tree-trunks,) the lent fish-eels, especially, being very violent and incessant jolting is said to abundant, but not much eaten, alhave even worse effects than the ex- though their skins are in great request cessive undulations of the sledge. as window-panes. These are rubbed After a few years, it not only brings with fat, to make them more transon a complete paralysis of the mental parent, but there are small roundish faculties of the Russian postilions, swellings in the skin which refract and but also occasions spinal disease, to confound the rays of light. A better such an extent as to have obtained substitute for glass is a flake of ice, for those roads the significant name used by the Sosnovian Ostyaks, % of spine-crushers.

tribe further north. The flakes are On the 22d November, when Mr about a foot thick, and are propped Erman began his slide northwards, from without by a pole, whose lower traffic had not yet given the road that end bears obliquely against the ground. wavy configuration so uncomfortable The fire, kept burning in the hut, to the bilious traveller. The post thaws the inner surface of the ice, from Tobolsk to Beresov had made rendering it smooth as a mirror. A but one journey on the winter-track, whiter and brighter light penetrates and the sledges glided rapidly and through these windows than through smoothly on the almost virgin snow. the fish-skins, which the Sosnovians way. Beyond Tugalova, a village use for boots, and even for clothes. 140 miles from Tobolsk, they travelled Strong and air-tight, and well rubbed on the frozen Irtuish, and frequently with fat, they are almost as warm as passed the self-acting machinery used fur, and better against the wet. for the winter fishing. This consists The commencement of a fishing of a strong pole in an inclined position, season or expedition is celebrated by with its lower extremity frozen fast in the Ostyaks with all manner of the ice. “At the upper end of this queer saturnalia. Although nomipole was a continuation made of nally Christians, and accustomed to switches, which, bending down, reach- attend chi once a-year, they are ed to the surface of the ice ; at that very heathenish in some of their point was a hole through which was rites and ceremonies, and make a let down the hook and line. The strange jumble of their old superstiupper part of the apparatus is seen tions and their new faith. The priests bent down more or less according as do not invariably set them a good example. “Our Russian informant sign of the cross to such an extent, so complained bitterly of the priest in his slowly and with such deep bowing of neighbourhood, who came into the vil- the body, as would be required by the lage on holidays so drunk, that the con- church only on the most solemn occagregation assembled to no purpose.” sions." With such pastors, no wonder if the Although much engrossed by fishsheep cleave to some of their ancient ing, the Ostyaks do not neglect the usages. Those who are departing on chase. Their thick woods abound in an expedition, slaughter a tame animal, the better kinds of fur animals, and and smear their faces with its blood, ac- the annual tribute of two sable skins, companying the sacrifice with a carou- payable by each family to the Russian sal. In one village Mr Erman found government, is not very difficult to the huts remarkably empty, and was

obtain. It is seldom found necessary told that the men had just gone a- to pay an equivalent in other skins. fishing, and that their wives were Although quite the beginning of drinking brandy in the kabak or winter, Mr Erman's host, in an public-house. The sale of spirits in Ostyak village, showed him a fine Siberia, as in all the Russian do- sable skin, which he kept in a strong minions, is a government monopoly, box, like a treasure, concealed in a and brandy is only to be had in cer- corner of his dwelling. Its value tain houses, to whose keepers the was diminished by a yellowish tinge, privilege is farmed. In a small dark ascribed to the animal's having lived room, scarcely ten paces wide, Mr in a wood where there was too much Erman found ten or twelve Ostyak light. Besides sable and squirrel, the dames clustered round the bottle, and reindeer, the fox, the glutton, and the benevolently drunk. His account of elk, are objects of chase. Mr Erman their maudlin state is amusingly grave tried to get at the fact of the enmity and sentimental. “A number of short said to exist between the two latter anicorpulent figures, with black sparkling mals. The reply to his inquiries was eyes, could be just seen, moving and the old story current in Europe—how mingling together, in the narrow the glutton leaps from a branch on the space. They all talked with anima- elk's neck, and keeps his seat till the tion, and with remarkably delicate death of his steed. No one, however, voices, which now gave expression had seen any thing of the kind : it was only to soft and joyous emotions. matter of tradition, handed down from They embraced, one after the other, their dead fathers. The ermine is the Yamschik, who entered with us; taken in traps. The fox is in great and their soft voices, now almost variety, the most esteemed being the whining, seemed attuned, not so much crossed stone fox, whose colour is to words of old acquaintance, as to the partly a grayish yellow, partly white, endearments of young and growing so distributed that the grayish parts love." The ladies having emptied unite prettily to form a cross, one bar their purses without quenching their of which extends along the back, thirst, the good-natured German, who whilst the other stretches obliquely observed that “the pleasure of drink- down the middle ribs to the belly. ing had but just risen to its highest The fur of this animal is greatly prizpitch," opened them a credit with the ed by the Russian clergy, for whom kabak-keeper.

“ They now took pelisses, covered with natural crosses, especial pains to show themselves de- are made from it. The latitude of the serving of the European treat, by town of Beresov is the headquarters good Christian observance. Devout of the Siberian beaver, hunted not Russians are in the habit of neutralis. for the fur but for the precious castoing the Satanic operation of spi- reum or beaver-stone, to which such rituous liquors by a rapid movement of great medical virtues are ascribed. the right hand, intended to describe Attempts have been made in Gerthe cross, or by a softly-ejaculated many to obtain from the beavers of prayer, or merely by blowing the that country a product which might breath upon the glass. But the good- replace that of Siberia ; but all in humoured Ostyaks, novices in Chris- vain. The fine quality is only to be tian prayer as in drinking, made the had in the far north, where, as Mr

[ocr errors]

Erman fancifully observes, nature The most northern tribe of Ostyaks, scatters animal perfumes in place of who dwell between the rivers Obi and fragrant flowers. “The Kosaks and Yenisei, surpass their southern neighRussian traders have exalted the bours in venatorial skill, as they, in beaver-stone into a panacea.

their turn, are surpassed by the To the sentence, God arose, and Samoyedes, who live in the northernour enemies were scattered,' the most regions of Siberia. The men of Siberians add, very characteristically, the Yenisei kill wolves, which, on acthe apocryphal interpolation, and count of their long soft hair, are we are free from headache.' To en- reckoned greatly superior to the forest sure this most desirable condition, and steppe wolves of middle Siberia. every one has recourse, at home or on They are also fained for their dextehis travels, and with the firmest faith, rity in killing and capturing reindeer. to two medicines, and only two, viz., " Tying leathern cords between the beaver-stone, or beaver-effux, as it is tops of the antlers of their tame deer, here called, and sal-ammoniac." From they turn the animals loose, one by the strength of the castoreum, the one, in the neighbourhood of a wild Siberians infer that other parts of the herd: these do not fail to attack the animal must possess peculiar virtues. strangers, and their antlers becoming Gouty swellings are said to subside entangled in the cords during the conrapidly when rubbed with the fat, test, they are held fast by the tame and the beaver's teeth are popularly deer till the men arrive. These believed to cure toothach.

Ostyaks know also how to plant The beaver is the only fur animal spring-bows, which send the arrow in these latitudes that does not change against the animal's breast." But its colour in the course of the year. the Samoyedes, besides these ordinary This is probably owing to the circum- artifices, have other and ingenious stance, that in winter it dwells wholly ways, peculiar to themselves, of enin the water, thus enjoying a compara- snaring and slaying the brute creation, tively equable temperature. In the by putting themselves as much as river Obi, at Beresov, the water does possible on an equality with the aninot usually freeze below the depth of mals pursued, going on all-fours, and four feet eight inches, and the beaver imitating them in voice and clothing. always has two entrances to his dwell. The Polar bear is a common victim to ing, one high on the bank above the their cunning devices, and even to stream, the other below the freezing their open attacks; for their intimato limit. The architectural and wood acquaintance with the formidable cutting habits of the animal are the beast makes them regard him as an same here as in America ; but two easy prey. “ The Samoyedes assert assertions, new to Mr Erman, were that the white bear far exceeds the made respecting it by the Beresov black bear in ferocity and strength, hunters. He assured that whilst fully equal to it in cunning; yet, " among beavers, as with bees and owing to his unwieldiness, they enmen, there are distinctions of ranks; counter it without fear, and always each chief keeping a number of la- reckon on victory as certain. A man bourers, the toils of which he oversees will often go singly against a Polar bear, and directs without taking part in eight feet long, without any other them; and, again, it was stated that weapon than his knife, which he fastthe contents of the castoreum bags de- ens to the end of a pole. In spring and pend on the moon.” It was impos. autumn these animals are found upon sible to verify the veracity of these the ice, near the hole whence the seals two statements. As regards the come forth to breathe. There tho moon's influence, however, there is bear covers himself up with snow, ground for a suspicion that its advan- facing the hole, and with one paw tages are rather felt by the hunter, stretched into the water.” The Sathan essential to the virtues of the moyede seal-hunters imitate the bears, drug. Full moon is maintained, both and when the seal walks out upon the by Ostyaks and Russians, to be the ice, they shove a board over the hole propitious time.

and capture the phoca. Concerning


the bear the Ostyaks entertain pecu- set up a hideous howling, by way of liar notions, viewing it with a sort of claiming their daily meal, consisting superstitious respect. “A member of invariably of fish, which, for them as the court of justice told me that, in well as for their owners' consumption, suits between Russians and Ostyaks, is first dried in the sun and then it is still the custom here (at Beresov) pounded, bones and all. Except this to bring into court the head of a bear, evening concert, a bark or a cry is and that this animal, which is sup- rarely uttered by these dogs, unless at posed to be omniscient, is there ap- first starting when yoked to the sledge, pealed to as a witness by the Ostyaks. or on coming across a reindeer team In swearing they make the gesture of upon the road. Hydrophobia would eating, and call upon the bear to devour be a terrible scourge in this dog-disthem in like manner if they do not tell trict, but the disease is fortunately the truth.” Some similar reverence unknown there. Steller has stated for Bruin exists, we believe, amongst the same thing of the dogs of Kamscertain North American tribes. chatka, and Mr Erman concludes that

The draught-dogs, so faithful and the malady is a result of the European useful to the northern Siberians, often system of living in towns. And as the receive but scurvy treatment at their Siberian dogs are so very moderately masters' hands. The Ostyaks, who fed, he infers that excess, not want, are honesty personified, and who generates the morbid habit. We are laugh at the common European pre- inclined to attribute more importance cautions of locking up valuables and to the quality than to the quantity of bolting doors, cannot endure the pre- the food. Å fish diet may be more datory propensities of their canine conducive to a wholesome state of the allies, and fly into a passion whenever animals' blood than the masses of an unlucky dog sneaks into their horse-flesh, paunch, and other rank dwelling in search of warmth or food and unclean offal commonly given to The poor brute is immediately a mark dogs in Europe, and especially in for the blows and kicks of every body England, where the carnivorous addicpresent, the storm of abuse being tions of the bipeds induce a belief in justified by the cunning and greedi- the propriety of unlimited flesh-feedness of its object, who, if allowed to ing for quadrupeds. abide in the house, would soon reduce The large annual importation of its inmates to short commons. There exiles, the system of conscription, is some excuse for the dogs' voracity, and the advantages offered to public however; for, according to Mr Erman's officers volunteering for Siberian seraccount, they are considerably more vice, are the most important and than half-starved, and are rarely ad- efficacious measures by which Russia mitted to the fire to be fed, save when proceeds gradually but steadily with they return weary and distressed from the colonisation and civilisation of a long journey. Severe as is the cold her Asiatic dominions. The conin those regions, protection from it is scripts are sometimes drawn, not not essential to the existence, or even only from Tobolsk, but from the reto the health of these hardy dogs. motest parts of Siberia, and the term They sleep outside the houses, in holes of military service being twenty-eight which they thaw in the snow by their years, it is probable that only a small own warmth. At Obdorsk, where proportion return to their native vilthere are no pastures, and conse- iages. Those who do are looked up quently no horses, four hundred dogs to as oracles by their countrymen. are kept by sixty inhabitants, and each They are objects of pride to their of them is estimated to draw five poods' families and of respect to every body (two hundred pounds) weight in the else; the place of honour is theirs by loaded sledge. About eight o'clock in right, and they are addressed by the the evening these four hundred brutes title of Master Soldier. * The ferry

* Gospodin Slujitui. Gospodin is equivalent to the French Monsieor or Seigneur, and Slujivui means literally one who has served in the army.

« AnteriorContinuar »