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CHAPTER VI.

The Arctic region north of Berezov-Obdorsk fair

Zirani - Fur-tax — Perfidy of Russian merchantsDivision of the native population of Watahy-Chiefs of the tribes—The Prince of Obdorsk-Catherine II. -The Prince's threat to burn Tobolsk-Assault on him-Curious trial-Integrity of the native races.

Our landlord being, like most of the inhabitants of Berezov, engaged in commercial pursuits, went in December to the Obdorsk fair, which lasts four weeks. It is held in the town of Obdorsk, the most northern point of the government of Tobolsk, or rather, its extremity, beyond which no human habitations are found. There, indeed, exists a large peninsular territory extending along the Oby Gulf northwards, and advancing far into the Polar Ocean ; but that stretch of land is entirely uninhabited.

Occasionally, no doubt, parties of Samoiedes and Ostiaks may be met straying in these barren regions of eternal snow, driven there by the accidents of the chase, but they are merely wanderers, who make no sojourn.* The town of Obdorsk, therefore, may justly be considered the last inhabited point of the province of Berezov, in the direction of the Frozen Ocean.

Obdorsk is situated at the mouth of the river Oby, where that great river falls into the gulf to which it gives its name, and which is likewise called the Oby Sea. The number of its inhabitants, of course, is exceedingly small; but owing to its famous fair, the place is not without some importance.

Once every year, about the middle of December, the nomadic Samoiedes and Ostiaks, and their different families and watakas (clans), not only of the district of Berezov and the more

* This is the farthest northern region described by our authoress ; and her account of it acquires the more importance from the tract of land lying, if not exactly within the range, close on the boundaries of the unknown regions, which Lieutenant Pim proposed to explore in search of Sir John Franklin.

remote government of Yenisey, but of all the wildernesses bordering on the extensive shores of the Frozen Ocean, repair to Obdorsk, for the purpose of barter, and to provide themselves with the objects they require.

These tribes of native savages bring with them skins and furs of all kinds, and the Russian merchants from Tobolsk, Surgut, and Berezov, and even more distant towns, bring other exchangeable commodities; travelling a distance of many thousand versts to dispose of their wares, as needles, pins, ribbons, tape, and the like trumperies; together with horrid pictures and engravings, such as the Susdal school alone is able to produce. Many arrive even from the government of Archangel, and among them are the Zirani, a people dwelling on the banks of the Petchera, and constituting a peculiar race, well-built, courageous, and eminently skilful, and possessing a distinct language of their own, though they speak Russian remarkably well.

At the first fall of snow, as soon as the rivers are covered with ice, these people start from the Petchera, on nartas drawn by reindeer, and crossing the Uralian mountains, a distance of

many thousand versts, arrive at Obdorsk, and some even at Berezov, to dispose of their produce, and their manufactures. These for the most part are butter, worsted stockings, woollen vests, harness, ropes, fishing nets, thread canvas, and linen. In exchange, they take down of ducks, skins of reindeer and other animals, mammoth bones, furs of all kinds, and flour.

Though nearly the whole population of the district of Berezov is nomadic, living for the most part dispersed in forests and amidst morasses, and constantly moving to and fro, yet on assembling at the time of the fair at a single point, it becomes, as it were, once in the year stationary. Trade and barter bring natives and strangers together, and on this occasion, the Sprawnik (director of police) of Berezov, proceeds to Obdorsk, to collect the annual yasak, or tax on furs, for the Imperial Treasury.

The director, immediately on his arrival, publishes a proclamation, prohibiting any attempt at barter in furs and skins, until the fur-tax has been duly paid. In the meantime, however, an immensity of mischief is done. The Russian dealers, who surpass the whole word in perfidy and cunning, ferret out those Samoieds and

Ostiaks who have the greatest stock of valuable furs, and calling on them in their tchoums, frighten them with all sorts of absurd fabrications, making it appear that the imperial functionary had learnt from his spies, what a large collection they had brought with them, and that if they ventured to appear in the town, he would invent some pretext for confiscating the whole. When these representations have infected the poor Cossacks with a panic, they offer in a friendly way, to purchase clandestinely whatever they may have to dispose of, and by this means possess themselves of the furs at a fourth of their value.

The Samoied and Ostiak population, like all people in a semi-barbarous state, is divided into different tribes. The government raises no objection to these divisions, as they in a great degree assist it in carrying out its measures of administration. In the government phraseology, the various tribes are called watakas. At the head of each wataka is a patriarch, or chief, whose dignity is hereditary, descending from one generation to another, and in him is vested the judicial and administrative power. In his relations with the Russian government,

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