Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

one step in the forest, to ascertain how far the report was founded on truth.

Though the thickets of the district of Berezov are deemed to be the birthplace of bears, still it is not the custom of these animals to venture near human habitations, and they usually remain in the depths of the forest. The town of Berezov is, it is true, surrounded on every side with wood, but the appearance of these animals, and the damage they cause to the inhabitants, are facts gathered rather from ancient traditions than from experience. Most of the accounts circulated with respect to the pranks and characteristics of this shaggy and ungainly animal, are fabulous, and are rendered still more so by the admixture of new stories of the same wonderful stamp. With the Berezovians the bear forms, during the long winter evenings, the favourite topic of conversation, and the anecdotes related of · him are commonly listened to with as great curiosity as ghost stories with us.

A popular myth, moreover, contributes in a great degree to heighten their effect. According to this fable, the bear is a fallen man, doomed for his sins to pass through the animal shape, but

during his metamorphosis still preserving a portion of his former disposition and inclination. He is believed even to be able at times, and under certain conditions, to resume his primitive human form and nature; though not frequently, and only for a short time.

I felt tired of sitting for several days in the room, as if in a prison ; and, at last, to the great dismay and astonishment of every one, I went to the forest, and was the first who attempted the feat. But in my ramble I met neither bear, nor man, nor could I see any trace of the bear, though I went to the very spot where he was seen devouring a black

On my way home, I met four men with hatchets on their shoulders; they were carpenters, who were just proceeding in search of the bear, in order to relieve the neighbourhood from depredations, as well as from fright. These carpenters were not Siberians, but Russians, who arrived to seek employment in their trade.

Accustomed as I had been to witness hunting-parties in Lithuania, and to hear ac

COW.

counts of the courage, if not fool-hardy intrepidity with which all sorts of ferocious beasts were attacked by the Lithuanian hunters, I could not account for the craven spirit of a people born in the midst of forests, and from the very nature of the locality destined to make hunting their vocation; and the wonder was the greater, as venison is their principal food, and the skins of animals their only clothing

In this respect, the Berezovians may be considered to be wholly unfit for their most natural pursuit. Indeed, the men are, with very few exceptions, effeminate and cowardly. Enjoying undisturbed security, they have lost all courage ; and the facility with which they obtain from the Ostiaks, for a mere trifle, ample supplies of food, as well as commodities for commerce, has rendered them incapable of any vigorous exertion. They do not dislike hunting, if it be easy, and they are not exposed either to much hardship or danger.

Nets and traps are their instruments of venery, and they cannot even handle fire-arms with anything like skill.

The Ostiaks are the reverse of all this: the skill and courage persons of that race display in hunting is astonishing. I have often seen Ostiaks lacerated all over by personal conflict with a bear, a result which, it is said, cannot be avoided by the most dexterous hunters. Hunting a bear requires great courage, and a particular -skill and presence of mind. When the Ostiaks are on these expeditions, they endeavour, in the first place, to find out the bear's lair. This done, one of the hunters, armed with a large sharp knife or cutlass, goes to the spot, and does everything he possibly can to irritate the animal. The bear, at length, excessively provoked, stands up on his hind feet, and in that posture rushes at the offender, who allows him to advance, and just at the moment that the bear is about to give him a rude embrace, rips up

his belly.

The Ostiaks evince a degree of veneration for the bear, ludicrously inconsistent with their treatment of him. Though they kill him, and eat his flesh, they never omit, after they have flayed 'him, to ask his pardon. His paws, when cut off, are hung beside the images of their

household gods, and they are all worshipped

alike. *

The bears of Berezov are in colour a dark brown. Their coats are valued at from ten to

* This superstitious awe is easily explained by the superior sagacity of the bear in the presence of danger, by the love it shows for its offspring, and the wonderful instinct with which it is endowed by nature. The Kamtschadales, as Cook during his sojourn among them observed, regard the bears as their instructors in the little science they possess. “They confess themselves indebted,” he says, to those animals for all their knowledge of physic and surgery; for, by observing what herbs they have applied to the wounds they have received, and what methods they have pursued when they were languid and out of order, they have acquired a knowledge of most of those simples which they have now recourse to, either as external or internal applications. But the most singular circumstance of all is, that they admit the bears to be their dancing-masters. The evidence of our senses places this matter beyond all dispute; for, in the bear-dance of the Kamtschadales, every gesture and attitude peculiar to that animal was faithfully exhibited. All their other dances are similar to this in many particulars, and those attitudes are thought to come the nearest to perfection, which most resemble the motions of the bear."

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »