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21. Natural Phenomena

The Tungus take for granted that there are mountains and rivers. They do not ask themselves how the mountain ridges were formed, which may be explained by an inoffensive «explanatory myth», but they observe how the rivers were formed and how through the activity of the water the process of destruction of mountain ranges proceeds. The river deposits in the form of pebbles and sand, as well as clay and organic products, are understood to be the result of natural processes. The possibility of changes in the orographic system due to the destruction of mountains is understood in the same way as it is understood by European science [120]. The phenomena of active volcanoes (e.g. the group of twelve volcanoes in the region of Mergen), hot springs etc., have no satisfactory interpretation. Caves attract attention of the Tungus, but in so far as I know the Tungus have no satisfactory explanation of this phenomenon. However, a naturalistic point of view is not hostile to the Tungus even in these questions. For instance they call the Gobi Desert, which has been visited by some Tungus, olgon lamu, i.e. literally «dried out sea»; thus it is considered to be the bottom of a sea (the Birarchen). In the same way they sometimes explain the presence of shells in the mountains. However, in the case of the Tungus of Manchuria, it is not likely that they have become familiar with the modern geological theories (e.g. from the Russian source). Yet, the destructive influence of vegetation, particularly that of the roots of large trees, on rocks is well known among the Tungus.

The Tungus as stated (vide supra Chapter IV) distinguish different kinds of «stones» when this distinction is essential for them e.g. peculiar conditions of denudation of granites and porphyres, as compared with the line formations and sandstone. They may be distinguished by colour and character of structure

— small grained, large grained, etc. When the rocks may be used for practical purposes, e.g. as for colours, as grinding stones, whetstones, stones used for medical purpose («black and white stones»,) etc. they receive special name. The names of some rivers are connected with the particular characters of the local geological formations, e.g. daviksa, is applied to the rivers where ochre is found; ingali is applied to the rivers particularly rich in pebbles, etc. Elementary geological knowledge is very essential,

— water, wood, and shelter depend upon the character of the local geological deposits. Also the palaeontological remains do not escape attention of the Tungus, e.g. well preserved ammonites, and some bivalves. The explanations are variable and very often they are connected with the activity of rivers.

Let us remark that since the Tungus know how the rivers begin, by gathering water from the small valleys and springs into the streams, then changing from streams to the small rivers and at last to large rivers, they know perfectly well the natural causes of the change of the water level, and they do not need any hypothesis of spirits for understanding the behaviour of large rivers. The explanations with the spirits is typical of the populations confined to limited areas, near the courses of big rivers, as for instance the Manchus.

The phenomenon of rain is explained as due to the condensation of the water in the clouds, — from fog (the fog, clouds and heavy rainy clouds are sometimes designated by the same word tuksu) to a cloud, and to a heavy cloud. So if the wind brings the clouds together (e.g. the clouds cannot pass over the high mountains) the rain may fall. The phenomenon of lightning and thunder is clear to the Tungus and they accept it as a fact of nature in some cases venturing to propose various hypotheses chiefly based upon the activity of the spirits. These hypotheses are numerous for the ethnical groups differ in this respect and propose various solutions.

The phenomenon of hail is explained as freezing of the rain in the upper strata of the atmosphere. That the changes of temperature depend on the altitude, is well known to the Tungus who visit high peaks. The phenomenon of snow is also understood in the same manner. The winds are not understood as movement of the air, for the existence of the air and atmosphere is not clear. However, the wind is accepted as a physical phenomenon compared with the movement of the air when one blows. No inference is made as to who is blowing. The difference in the climate of various regions and seasons is explained as due to the sun, which may be nearer or farther from the earth, to the length of the days and altitude.

The above given description of the Tungus attitudes in reference to the conditions of topography and natural agents is characteristic of the groups which occupy large areas and live on hunting which imposes migrations and a perfect knowledge of the local geography. It is not so with the groups which have no such an experience. The populations, like the Manchus on the banks of the Amur River and even some Tungus groups (also the Dahurs) who have settled and live on agriculture, or fishing have different conceptions, in which the place of natural treatment of the phenomena is occupied by the hypotheses as to the spirits. However, these populations are more familiar than the hunting groups with the behaviour of big rivers, change of seasons and other facts of importance for their economic activity. The sum of facts, regardless as to whether causes are explained by the theory of spirits or otherwise, is large and the people adapt themselves not to the existing theories but to the facts. The knowledge of small details goes so far that e.g. the Manchus know the day of ice breaking in big and small rivers with an approximation of four or five days, which they may predict several months before the fact takes the place [121]. Of course, such knowledge of local conditions is possible only for a population which lives for a long time in the given locality, accumulates facts, classifies them, and makes correct inferences as to the probability of occurrence and correlation of the changes of weather.

Indeed, no exact formulae can be given by these populations and the finding of «causes» may be beyond their reach, but the practical inferences are sufficient for facilitating their economic activity and at least for reducing the harmful effects of seasonal or accidental changes. It is difficult to restore, in all its details, the logical process of reaching conclusions and generalizations, but the fact of their correctness is indicative that the process is good in respect to the aim. Indeed, since the facts are not statistically recorded but usually transmitted through the mechanism of tradition it is evident that (1) the facts cannot be kept in the mind and that the conclusions are accumulated by the generations who transmit them through tradition, and (2) the conclusions are reached by the method of repeated correction. This is possible only on the condition of non-repulsive reaction to the new inferences and a certain degree of scientific objectivity. Thus as a process and as a method of building up the system of conclusions the ethnical groups here discussed do not differ from the real scientists who have not yet mastered modern statistical methods» [122].

In so far as knowledge of minor variations of seasons is concerned the Northern Tungus are inferior to the Manchus, but still they also have accumulated a great mass of facts regarding seasons. As a matter of fact, the hunters do not depend in such a degree as agriculturists and fishermen on the variability of the seasons and for this reason less attention is paid to the variations. As to the change of weather the Tungus are quite experienced. They base their plans for hunting on the possible changes of weather. In some cases this is absolutely necessary, for certain kinds of hunting may be done only under certain conditions of weather, e.g. to be able to see foot prints, to find animals in certain kinds of weather feeding themselves on grass, salted soil, etc. Should the Tungus not know, at least approximately, the possible variations of the weather, they would not be able to hunt because of the risk of useless spending of energy. The hunting sometimes requires several days of a certain type of weather which the Tungus must foresee. Moreover, the effect of heavy snow fall and the degree of danger from it to the migrating family, as well as the length of stormy weather, especially miscalculation of danger may cost life to the hunter and his family. Again here the Tungus must have correct observations and inferences, and he transmits these to the growing generation. This is not scientific knowledge, but it is a body of very elaborate and detailed knowledge, which is rarely properly understood and valued by superficial observers [123].


120. From many instances of the kind I may quote a case when a Tungus explained to me how the system of the upper course of the Bystraia River (in North-Western Manchuria) might change its present connection and instead of running into the Argun River, run into the system of the Nonni, if a low range were gradually washed by the streams until the upper course of the Bystraia were on a higher altitude than a tributary of the Nonni.

121. I have used all opportunities for recording their predictions as to the breaking of the ice, appearance of frost etc. and in my collection of these predictions I find very small deviations from the facts.

122. Indeed, this in not typical of the Tungus alone - it is typical of other ethnical groups as well. There may be a difference of the correctness of inferences, which in its turn is greatly conditioned by the body of facts gathered and practical utility of the knowledge. The experience of the fishermen living along the Chinese coast goes so far that they know the character of typhoons, their seasonal variations, signs of their approach etc. The fishermen's movement back to shelter is always considered by the experienced European seamen. On the other hand, the latter do not know how these humble fishermen know of the approach of typhoons and in their eyes this movement may be as much mysterious as the behaviour of birds before a typhoon. On the other hand among the educated Europeans, living in cities, the idea persists that on certain days, e.g. Christmas, etc. the weather is always the same. This is a survival of approximations regarding the regulations of Europe worked out by the farmers (many of which are new settlers in the regions occupied by them) and meteorologists. The self-confidence of the latter as to their possessing the truth depends upon the same mechanism as that of the farmers and the Tungus.

123. Among the ethnical groups who possess the art of keeping written records, and especially among the Europeans, there is a curious ethnographical phenomenon, namely, they believe the science to begin with written records, so that science is not science until it is recorded in the form of treatises. Therefore the actually acquired scientific knowledge such, for instance, as the climatic changes and variations which permit the agriculturist to divide his work into regular periods, would not be considered as scientific knowledge, while a collection of anecdotes about «meteorological phenomena» explained with the most fantastic hypotheses as to their nature, published in book form commonly found till recently in Europe, would be considered as «science», Yet, the most accurate observations and conclusions made without following ethnographical features of European scientists would not be considered as science while the most unscientific treatise, lacking exact facts and filled with wrong inferences, if the outer forms of «science» be preserved, would be considered as a serious scientific work. The ethnographer when analysing these phenomena must be free of his ethnocentristic complex, which indeed is not easy.

 
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