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67. Death

I shall now proceed to the last moment, namely, death when the soul is irreversibly removed from the body, while the methods of managing souls during the life, I shall reserve as matter to be treated in other chapters.

In the Chapter VII I have shown that the Tungus, as well as the Manchus, regard death as a natural phenomenon if it occurs in old age, but they do not regard it so if it occurs at the age when the people are still strong and efficient. The Tungus attitude towards death of children is not like that towards the death of full-grown people. It is silently admitted that the children may much more easily die than adult people for their souls are not yet stabilized and they are not so much regretted by the relatives. The death of adult people is usually regarded as an abnormal phenomenon due either to an accident, or disease in which the responsibility is usually put on the activity of the spirits. In this respect the Tungus do not differ from the Europeans who usually regard death is due to the factors which by human art may be eliminated, e.g. infectious diseases social conditions etc.

Death is recognised by the loss of consciousness which is due to the fact that the soul leaves the body; by the arrest of the heart action which may sometimes be temporarily suspended, but must be resumed within a certain short period [404]; and by the arrest of breathing as an important sign of life, although it may stop (as it is supposed to be observed in hibernating animals who do not breathe), but it must also be resumed soon. During this uncertain period between «life» and «death» there may be undertaken special steps in order to revive the heart and breathing, — the life — erga - and to turn back the soul if it be absent. The Reindeer Tungus of Manchuria observe that when the soul (and «life») leaves the body, the latter becomes heavier than it is during the life [405].

As a matter of fact, the Tungus would accept any method of saving life if it should be possible. Methods which they have at their disposal are not numerous. In order to continue breathing and heart action the heart of he reindeer (observed amongst the Barguzin Tungus) may be put on the chest and the body must be covered with several clothes in order to keep it warm. Yet, the number of clothes put on perhaps may also play some role for nine are always used. If the person «is dying because of lack of breathing», the reindeer may be brought in, put on the dying person with the mouth to mouth.

When the soul (consciousness) is absent they call it back, and ask the spirits to bring it back, if it has left the body owing to the intrigues of other spirits or bad people. The soul may be called by the people whom the person (soul) knows. The spirits may be addressed by any one who knows how to do it [406]. When a child is dying the mother would sit with it, call the soul back with all possible tenderness which a mother may have. They would put some food, for instance, milk near the child, placing for soul etc.

In case the sickness were caused by a well established spirit, the struggle for life would be taken up by the shaman who would do his utmost in respect to the spirit. If the soul had left the body and was already on its way to the lower world, he would proceed there for catching the soul and putting it back into the body. The shaman may greatly help in such a case if the soul is not yet far. They also try to influence the spirits in the sense of compelling them by prayers and menaces to leave the ill person alone. Among the Barguzin Tungus it is supposed that if the death should occur during a thunder storm it is easier for the shaman to call the soul back for his spirit («thunder») is near. Yet, if there are many people present, it is also good, for amongst the present people there may be some «happy persons» and the soul would return. It is supposed that the soul of a child is much easier to call back than that of an adult person.

When the consciousness is not lost the dying person usually knows and is prepared to die; an elderly person would be surrounded with the near relatives to whom the person would give last orders, if any were needed. I have observed once a Manchu, a young boy of twelve years old who was very sick. The «doctor's» diagnosis was that the mother was responsible for it because she had scolded her boy who being badly offended, took some water and fell ill. Indeed, the mother was very sad about it. The boy was recollecting his short life: he remembered all members of the family who had taken care of him, pointed out that his school work was useless, since he had to die. He expressed his regrets that his death would produce a bad impression on his parents. The people did not deny that that he must die, — in their ideas they will live in another world, if their souls are safely brought there.

However, it does not at all mean that these people would not struggle for life even when the situation is considered hopeless. Yet also, it does not mean that they do object their departure to the lower world. They would struggle for life as long as possible, which is especially evident in the case of accidents with animals and other «natural phenomena». So that the Tungus attitude towards death is that of submission to the inevitable for a premature death sometimes may be avoided. Most of cases of suicide which I know, — and according to the Tungus and Manchus all cases, — are committed in a state of psychic depression, unusual amongst these groups, or as a result of an effect or temporary excitement due to the influence of spirits or feeling of vengeance, as it is in the case of daughters-in-law amongst the Manchus and children, who by their death want to make suffer the people whom they should like to have persecuted by their own souls. The old people are prepared to die and yet sometimes the shamans predict death (cf. SONT, p. 321). Under the Chinese influence the Manchus also prepare a coffin and women prepare for themselves special shoes with lotus flower ornamentation. Yet, the Tungus must also have some special shoes prepared for this occasion. Voluntary death after the age of sixty or self-isolation is known amongst the Manchus, but according to them, they do not practice it.

404. The heart work is recognized by the Birarchen and Kumarchen by the pulse at the wrist, — majin-sudala or erga-sudala, - or a direct observation of the heart beating.

405. The same they say about heavily drunken people. The same idea is shared by the Russian population of the Argun River. Indeed, they did not weigh with the weighing instruments, so this is an impression which may be well understood.

406. I have witnessed a few cases of death. In a case amongst the Barguzin Tungus after several attempts at reviving the body by pushing it and especially the head, calling back the soul, the Tungus asked me to help them by calling spirits, too. A group of men rushed to the near standing trees, — northwest from the wigwam, — hung up on a tree a small bell, made four marks with the axe on the tree and heating another tree with an axe, they called with tears burkan omokol! (burkan come!), nikola-ugodang omokol! [Saint-Nicolas (vide supra) come!]. They asked me to join my voice. I knew that I must produce something new, unusual. Since I had in mind nothing rhythmic except Latin exceptions and propositions I rhythmically and with all possible expression recited them: caro, arbor, linter, cos, merces, guies, seges, dos, etc.; and later: ante, apud, ad, ad-versus… and so on! The impression was such as I never expected, — they stopped their prayers and were listening to me as a marvellous man who knew how one can influence spirits. I do not need to add that the corpse or the woman dying under nine overcoats did rot revive.

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