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strangest aspect; groups of Ostiaks, clad in reindeer-skins or Siberian Russians, with axes at their girdles, baskets in their hands, and fishing-nets on their shoulders, all moving about with the greatest caution and in the most perfect silence. The extraordinary silence and complete lethargy which prevail at this season is easily accounted for, as all the feathered tribes, unable to bear the extreme cold, take flight, at the approach of winter, to southern climes ; and all the animals that remain, clad so as to brave any degree of frost, shun the vicinity of man, and seek refuge in the impenetrable recesses of the forest, where they cannot easily be tracked. Thus the country wears the appearance of a desert.
The animals found in the forests adjacent to Berezov, are—the elk, the bear, the reindeer, foxes, squirrels, martins, ermines and white hares. The latter are so little esteemed that they are not considered worth chasing. The Russians, from prejudice, do not eat them ; and hare-skins are so cheap as scarcely to repay the transport to Tobolsk, where they are tanned, and brought to market. Hence, if a hare be
ever killed, it must be by some unlucky chance to the animal, just as some are caught in traps placed for other game.
Neither wolves nor boars come near Berezov, and the neighbourhood probably does not furnish proper food for them, especially acorns, on which the boars principally subsist, no oaks growing in this latitude.
Game constitutes the chief article of food of the inhabitants of Siberia, and more especially birds. But as all the birds are migratory, flying away for the winter, the most is made of the season while they are here. Autumn is the most favourable period for catching them. It is then that the people pack their pantries with the spoil, partly through their own efforts, and partly from supplies purchased of the Ostiaks.
The preservation of this stock of provisions all the year round does not cause any trouble. The birds are kept fresh in a frozen state. On the approach of spring, when the atmosphere gets warmer, all the game which has not been consumed is stowed in cellars filled with ice, and covered with snow,
The snow, by keeping off all access of air, preserves the game perfectly
fresh till the hunting-season comes on. the winter setting in, when the frost is strong and the roads good, supplies of beef are sometimes brought from Tobolsk. This meat is called Khirgies meat, and is very fat. It is sold by puds to the inhabitants, and when buried in snow, in the same manner as the game, it is kept in a complete state of preservation till June and July, without losing a particle of its freshness, or even of its colour.
In imitation of the Russian Berezovians, the Ostiaks keep their stock of game in a congealed state, only in smaller quantities, relying for their means of subsistence mainly on fishing and hunting. They, however, often suffer severely from want, in case of their failure in those pursuits, and their winter provisions being prematurely exhausted, they run the risk of being starved. The Government, as far as it can, has taken steps to obviate this evil, and established at Berezov stores of corn and flour, to be sold to the natives in their need, at most moderate prices. Yet, beneficial as this measure may appear, only families which are settled in the immediate neighbourhood can conveniently profit
by it, while by far the largest part of the population living at a distance, separated from the town by large rivers which, at different seasons of the year are quite impassable, are absolutely debarred from obtaining this relief. There is moreover, another obstacle to its extensionnamely, that the Ostiaks neither have any ovens nor knowledge of the art of baking ; so that if they even possessed flour, they know not how to use it in any other way than boiling it with fish and water.
In order to convey an idea of the frightful situation to which these poor people are frequently reduced through want of provisions, I shall relate one occurrence, which took place in the district of Berezov, a few years before I arrived there. An account of it is preserved in the archives of the town, and I heard it confirmed by eye-witnesses, competent judges of
An Ostiak family, consisting of an aged mother and two sons, one married and the father of two children, and the other a boy of twelve years old, and consequently not able to give much assistance to his elder brother, on
whom the maintenance of the family had devolved, happened to fall short of provisions at the end of the year. . The fishing season had not yet commenced, the return of the birds was unusually retarded by the cold, hunting proved unsuccessful, and even fish bones, from which in time of dearth a sort of nutritive jelly is obtained, began at length to fail. Situated as the family then were, hunger deprived them of all energy and strength, and nothing remained but to await a lingering and cruel death from starvation. In this conjuncture a council was held, and it was decided that rather than all should perish thus, one should be made a sacrifice for the food of the others. Meanwhile the spring which was fast approaching, opened them a sure prospect of deliverance ; in a few days, they thought, birds in flocks would return from their winter-quarters, and afford them plenty of food, and could they hold out but a short time, they would be saved.
Having adopted this awful resolution, which appeared to be the only means of saving their lives, they next proceeded to draw lots, to see who should be the victim. The lots were drawn,