Изображения страниц

and the marriage therefore is more a transaction of commerce than one in which affection or generosity is concerned. The higher the price set on a maid, the more honour does it reflect on herself, on her family, and on the bridegroom. Rich parents, though they accept what is offered them in the shape of kalim for their daughter, give her in turn a dowry either in reindeer or in furs; the poor people disposing of a daughter are content with a small kalim. The wife of a poor Ostiak often does not cost him more than the value of a reindeer, which is about five assignat rubles ; whereas the daughters of rich parents are frequently purchased at a price ranging from one hundred to two hundred rubles.

According to the Shamanic creed, which the Ostiaks formerly confessed, and to which a great part of them still adhere, polygamy is not prohibited; yet those who have accepted Christianity confine themselves to one wife. Nevertheless, though they are baptized, and every means taken to introduce among them Christian doctrine and feelings, they cling so pertinaciously to their old manners, usages and superstitions, that an Ostiak cannot live without them. He may wear the symbol of redemption on his breast, but he follows his idolatrous prejudices in every act of his life. Finding himself unable to comply altogether with either ritual, the Pagan or the Christian, he endeavours to reconcile as well as he can his ancient faith with the new; and, according to his judgment, the cross on his breast and the Shaitan in his pocket, effect this desired end.

Shaitan is the household god of the Ostiaks, and no family circle is complete without him. As the guardian of all they possess, he receives from them both worship and tribute. Being, afraid, after admission to the rite of Christian baptism, to place the idol in his yourta, the Ostiak conceals him in his pocket. During a search made on an Ostiak by a Russian employé, one of these idols accidentally fell out of his pocket; and being immediately confiscated by the officer, was by him presented to me.

This Shaitan idol was the figure of a man, carved in wood. The body was belted with a girdle, enclosing a small silver coin, and over

this was a dress of the Ostiak fashion, including no less than seven shirts and caftans, with ample hoods, and decorated with beads and other ornaments. The Ostiaks who have not yet accepted Christianity openly, exhibit these idols in their yourtas. They are then much larger, and have a place assigned them in one of the corners. To Shaitan they first offer their meals, all the dishes being placed before him; and they abstain from partaking of anything until the idol, who eats invisibly, has had enough; whereupon the family then sit down with their guests. Sometimes the master of the house, as a token of reverence and good will towards Shaitan, besmears the idol's lips with the food previously to helping himself. The Ostiaks, as I have before observed, also worship old larch-trees ; but young ones come in for no share of their veneration.

Their priests are designated Shamans, and being regarded as the depositories of the sacred mysteries of religion, as well as of prophecies, exercise a great influence on their minds. The caste of the Shamans are supposed to be versed in magic, and to possess the power of working miracles. That the priests resort to every kind of jugglery to encourage this belief may readily be conceived, and none of their disciples doubt that they stand in immediate and most intimate connection with the supernatural world. The priests are able-as I was assured, not only by Ostiaks, but also by Russians, who said they had been witnesses of the spectacle—to plunge the whole blade of a long knife into a man's breast, and draw it out without leaving a single trace of a wound. These wonder-workers can also chop all the limbs off a body, and then restore them uninjured. I was told that they burnt Russian paper-money before a number of spectators, and afterwards picked the notes out of the ashes entire. Many other marvels of a similar kind were related to me, but none came under my own observation, the Shamans taking good care, when selecting witnesses of these astounding performances, to require in the first place belief.

In my own country these legerdemain tricks, and even much greater feats of jugglery, would be passed by unheeded, without astonishing any one, even of the lowest class, as our Jews, who

have possessed themselves of all these necromantic secrets, will exhibit them at any time for a few farthings. But it is not so in the land of the Ostiaks, where not only the natives, but the Russians of all classes, hold them to be the result of supernatural agency.

Belief in supernatural powers is general among the inhabitants of Northern Siberia. Not knowing the boundaries between what is real, probable, or possible, imagination takes unbounded flights, predisposing the mind to believe what is marvellous. The very tales that are narrated in the domestic circle, the more wonderful and more improbable they appear, are the more eagerly listened to; and, in fact, are alone considered worth hearing or reading. Many go so far as to assert that the Shamans

power of reconstructing the human body after it has been cut in pieces, and by some means known only to themselves, restoring it completely to life. I was told of a number of instances in which this resuscitation had been effected.

The Shaman priests enjoy the reputation of being excellent soothsayers, and much weight is

possess the

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »