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27. Migrations

In the previous Chapter V, I have already shown how the Tungus mind behaves in reference to the natural phenomena of primary milieu. In accordance with the acquired knowledge of the primary milieu the Tungus have worked out their system of migrations, also imposed by their chief industry of hunting and reindeer breeding, and the substitutes for the reindeer-breeding. We have seen that the Tungus have created a system of communications, the paths. Indeed, in the eyes of the people accustomed to the railways and artificially erected high-roads with bridges, dams, the system of Tungus paths would not seem to be a technical achievement, a cultural adaptation. However, it is not so when one looks more closely at the phenomenon.

The Tungus roads are made with quite concrete aims, namely, to reach certain points, e.g. the hunting region, the pasturage for reindeer or horses, the best localities for the campment etc. The choice of the directions is also conditioned by consideration of the ability of the draught animals, in carrying the loads, anatomical characters of the animals as the form of the leg seen e.g. in the reindeer and horse, their psychomental character, and their power of resistance to the hardships of traveling. Indeed, the Tungus must know perfectly well the degree of danger from natural agents such as the rivers changing their water level during different seasons, fire in the forest, the falling of trees under the pressure of strong wind etc. If a Tungus is not familiar with these conditions he may sometimes lose his own life, those of the members of his family and exhaust the energy of the animals, that of his family members and his own when terrified by the non-existent or wrongly overestimated danger. So in nomadism the system of roads is created in the same manner as that of the railway which is cut. into the sections with stations where the fuel and water may be supplied and the servants changed (in the Tungus conditions they take rest); the roads are adapted to the least loss of energy of the animals and men. Yet, this system is also correlation with the needs of hunting and others, as for instance, the hay storing, pasturage etc. When one is familiar with the actual conditions one may see that this system is the best one in the given conditions and it shows that the Tungus are very keen observers, people who arrive at perfectly good conclusions and the best forms of practical solutions of the problem.

As one of the interesting facts it may be pointed out that in the creation of the system of communications there are engaged not only men but also the women. In fact, the Tungus women very often, if not to say usually, perform duties of the leaders of the caravans. During the travelling they very often have to change, at least slightly, the local variations of the direction, and thus they also take their part in the improvement of the system of communications.

Sometimes it happens to the Tungus to meet on their way the spirits which may very often lead the people astray. These cases are considered by the Tungus as due to the weakness of the people and ill-natured character of some spirits. Since according to their ideas, the spirits are particularly dangerous at night and when the people are drunk, after heavy drinking they avoid travelling during night, especially when they are not familiar with the locality. Yet, some localities are almost permanently either visited or even inhabited by the spirits and these places are avoided, especially during night traveling. So that with certain preventions, and when the migrating groups are numerous, this factor affecting the rational system of communications is not of great importance, amongst the Tungus who are using the system There are many reasons for that. Let us suppose that a Tungus brings in evidence that a certain locality is affected by bad spirits. This information may be accepted and the Tungus will avoid his region until some other Tungus happens to visit it. If nothing happens and no confirmation of spirits activity is found the first idea will very likely give place to restoration of the idea of the original safety of the place, according to the Tungus, perhaps, temporarily affected by the spirits. The need of having as much as possible of the territory free of spirits will bring them to the «cleaning» of the territory from the spirits. Yet sometimes the spirits may be removed by special method, which will be later discussed. It is, however, different with the Tungus who do not very much depend upon their migrations. Such groups of the Tungus who do not hunt extensively and live on sattle breeding or some other trade practice in a limited region, believe much more in spirits located in different places, which they do not want to visit. It is very likely that in this case the peopling of these regions by the spirits is one of the forms of justification for the Tungus for abstaining from the hunting and preferring the quietness of life in the settlements, (e.g. some groups of Birarchen, the Nomad Tungus in Transbaikalia and others). It is interesting to note here that the Manchus who live on agriculture refer as one of the reasons for their abstaining from hunting, to the numberless Tungus (oroncun) spirits which people the taiga, and whom they are afraid to meet. According to the Tungus living on the taiga, the Manchus are wrong.

If a Tungus were asked the cause of misfortune, for instance in the case of a tree falling on a traveller, he might give the reason as the activity of a certain spirit. He might choose the road across a forest, where there are many half-rotten trees, in fair weather, but he would avoid it during the stormy weather; he would know perfectly well that the forest in which there are no half-rotten trees even during a storm is not dangerous. The conception of spirit in this case would approach very near that of the «luck» and «bad chance». Thus the record of similar explanations of accidents must be always carefully checked up and analysed.

For protecting themselves against different accidents the Tungus must know exactly what they must do in various conditions. For instance, if a Tungus is surprised by the snow and rain, which is, typical of Manchuria and Transbaikalia during transitory periods (sometimes in August and September which depends on the altitude), he must stop immediately, make a big fire and not become chilled. This is practiced by all Tungus groups. In spite of relatively high temperature, — zero centigrade, — a Tungus, after his clothing is wet, little by little begins to lose his ability of controlled movements and dies very soon. In the case of heavy cold and snow storm a Tungus must take off his shoes, lie down bringing together as nearly as possible the head and legs, and cover himself with the snow. He must remain in such a position up to the end of storm which may last several days. If there are two men, they must do the same and lie down together. It is impossible to enumerate various methods of self-protection which may seem to be strange when the observer is not familiar with the conditions. Naturally, all these methods have been formulated after long experience and they are the best solution in the given conditions [169]. Indeed, this is also one element of the cultural adaptation.

In connection with the migrations it may be pointed out that the Tungus have arrived at great achievements as to the form and material for the harness, saddle and loading bags. They are adapted to the animals, to the character of the loaded goods, and the material used. Only after long experience in travelling does one arrive at the idea how rational and clever are the people who have invented and perfected this cultural complex through the long transmissions from generation to generation [170]. In my SONT I had the occasion to give a detailed description of the cradle loaded on reindeer back, so I will not repeat it here.

The Tungus are great specialists in choosing the place for campment. As I have already pointed out they select the places which may suit different requirements and seasons. Thus the character of the locality, seasonal direction of winds, potable water, and fuel are accounted before the choice is done. Again one begins to realize the practical value of their choice only after detailed investigation of the reasons. Sometimes the Tungus will give an explanation which may joyfully be taken by the ethnographer inclined to the search for mystic conceptions amongst the «primitives». Once in the upper course of the Kumara River we stopped at a long distance from the river, under the shelter of a rock. The choice seemed to be at first strange. The reason why we stopped there, and evidently the place was frequently used by the Tungus, was that «This is a good place; no bad spirits around». However, the reason became quite clear when a very strong wind began to blow. Under the shelter, in the cold season of the middle of October, we were safe, while in an open space near the river the Tungus sometimes perish, especially if the wind is combined with the snow mixed with the rain. Indeed, in the phrase of an old woman «bad spi-rits» indicated the accumulated knowledge of the region and the need of preventive measures and the «spirits» were not so concrete as they are when the Tungus deal with them. Yet, from further acquaintance with the same old woman I discovered that in her speaking she might give this reason as an abbreviated explanation of her behavior instead of giving to an ignorant (of local conditions) man the actual reason for her choice. Such explanations are very often given by parents to young children when they learn from their parents the art of safe migrations.

Considering the conditions of roads at different seasons, the animals used and purpose of travelling the Tungus have gradually created different systems of partially overlapping roads good for various purposes, and their abstaining from using some of them at certain periods would be explained in the same nature as the old woman made her explanations.

I have mentioned in the foregoing lines that the Tungus choose places which have good fuel. As a matter of fact, if the Tungus very often visit the same locality and if the forest is fresh, they will prepare fire wood by cutting trees which they may use perhaps several months and even years later. This is one of numerous instances of their foresight, which is directly opposite to the theoretical conceptions of «primitive mentality».

The Tungus canoe made of birch bark is one of the remarkable inventions of the populations living in the regions rich in birch bark. In fact, most of rivers in the regions inhabited by the Tungus are not good for navigation. They are very often interrupted by cataracts the crossing of which is out of the question. However, with the exception of short distances where the cataracts are found the rivers may be quite good for shallow canoes. The birch bark canoe is so light that one capable of carrying three men and some cargo may be easily transported on the shoulders of two men when it cannot be used. The Tungus who know perfectly well all conditions of the rivers, the rapids, the cataracts etc. may thus quite safely use the birch bark canoe. In spite of possible great age of this type of canoe it has perfectly survived amongst the Tungus groups living in the regions where other methods of communication are difficult. For instance, the Kumarchen use the birch canoe along the rivers, such as the Kumara and the Taga rivers, but their neighbours the Birarchen do not use it because the Amur River is too big a river for such a canoe. The Reindeer Tungus of Manchuria use birch bark canoes only for hunting, crossing rivers and when they go to visit the banks of the Argun and the Amur rivers in which case they go on, leaving the reindeer behind. Yet many groups prefer the birch bark canoe for hunting elk often found feeding on the hydrophites. The hunter may approach very near the animal without any noise in a very small canoe for one person. The survival of this form of the canoe is conditioned thus by considerations of utility and it may appear again as observed amongst the horse-breeding Kumarchen.

The Tungus are very careful in using fire. The fire must be carefully extinguished before the caravan leaves the campment. This regulation is very strictly observed in general and especially during the season when dry grass and leaves are found. Since the fire is a placing of a special spirit (vide infra) the explanation of the extinguishing the fire may be given in terms of possible activity and mischievousness of spirits. However, what the Tungus do. is merely prevention of accidental fire in the forest. The policy of prevention is the chief element of the Tungus economic system. They know and mention that the useless burning of the forest will affect the hunting, for many animals may live only in the forest, and feed on the product of forest, as e.g. squirrels, some cervines etc. The burning of the forest may result in spreading of the fire over the area whither they migrate and thus the people themselves may greatly suffer from it. Thus, this policy is based upon previous experience and upon foresight. However, the Tungus especially those living on horse breeding, e.g. the Tungus of Manchuria, very often burn the areas covered with the dry grass in early spring and late autumn in order to have better grass the next season. However, in such a case they would choose a good day in respect to the wind and possibility of avoiding a big fire in the forest. It may be noted by the way that the carelessness on the part of Russians (in Transbaikalia) and Chinese (in Manchuria) in dealing with fire is a constant source of Tungus dissatisfaction with these people whom they call «stupid» and «ignorant».


169. The non-Tungus travellers have to follow these practices too, e.g. et. V. K. Arseniev's report of his travellings.

170. The new arrivals in the region inhabited by the Reindeer Tungus very often criticize the methods of saddling and loading. However, after some personal experience and consideration of the experience connected with the change of this complex the new arrivals usually come to the idea that these methods are the best.

 
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