Page images

The Tungusians are the prettiest women in Siberia, and the men are the best archers. Some of them tattoo lines, curves, and figures on various parts of the face. It is done by drawing threads, blackened with soot, under the skin. The threads are soon withdrawn, but when the violent inflammation subsides, dark blue marks appear, which are never afterward erased. This painful operation is performed on children from six to ten years old. A wife is bought for a few reindeer, but not even the simple and universal ceremony of a feast takes place in commemoration of the event.

The Samoyedes have such squat figures, large heads, small eyes, flat noses, and wide mouths, that some old travellers described them as human beings with dogs' heads. The women are said to be somewhat less ugly than the men. A Samoyede has as many wives as he can furnish reindeer to pay for ; but no ceremonies of any kind consecrate their marriages.

The Tchuktchi are among the wildest of the Siberians. They consider it wrong and disgraceful to rob or murder one of their own tribe; but such actions are regarded as honorable, and even glorious, when committed upon the members of any other tribe. This is a good commentary on Christian and enlightened nations, who consider it a great sin to make slaves of their own people, but regard the self-same action as perfectly justifiable toward persons of different complexion. If savage nations could write our history, how ridiculous they might make us appear by

stating simple facts, without the varnish of sophistry with which we are accustomed to conceal them : But to return to the Tchuktchi; expertness in theft is considered so honorable, that a girl who has not given some such proofs of her abilities, stands a poor chance for a husband. These people, as well as the Koraiks, have as many wives as they can buy. Those who are rich in flocks often have one to tend each of their numerous herds. The poor serve their intended father-in-law for a stipulated time, or carry off some girl by force. The men of Kamtschatka are an uncouth looking race; but when the women are clean, they are said not to be altogether disagreeable. They have black hair and eyes, a ruddy complexion, and small hands and feet. The Kamtschadales take as many wives as they can, and abandon them whenever they think proper. The Siberians spend their time in hunting, fishing, smoking, drinking, and bartering away their furs to Russian traders, by the light of a brand, in a country covered with eternal snows. All the numerous and toilsome domestic occupations fall upon the women. They build the huts, tend the cattle, pack the sledges, harness the reindeer, weave mats, baskets, and cloth, dye worsted for embroidery, tan hides, make garments, cook the food, tend the children, and in some tribes catch all the fish. Their husbands are savagely jealous; yet they would consider it beneath their masculine dignity to reward the most virtuous and industrious wife with a kind word, or even a kind look. Women are not allowed to eat with men; and particular dainties, such as reindeer's head, they are never suffered to taste. Among many tribes they seem to be regarded as impure, unholy beings. They must not approach that portion of the hut which contains any sacred object; in loading or unloading the sledges, they are not suffered to step across the foot-marks of men or reindeer, but must go round the sledge; and it is deemed necessary to purify by fumigation the places where they have sat. When likely to become mothers their situation is peculiarly deplorable; for they are then obliged to live on stale, half putrid provisions, not being allowed to touch fresh food. When boys commit any fault, mothers are often beaten for it in their stead. Under these cruel circumstances, the love of offspring, naturally so strong in the female heart, is entirely destroyed. Wives deprecate becoming mothers, and use all the means within their knowledge to destroy innocent beings, who, if they drew the breath of existence, would only add to their cares and sufferings. They nurse their infants for a very long time. When busy, they hang them up in a sort of basket, while the older children tumble about on hay spread on the ground. Their cabins are parted into small divisions not unlike cow stalls, and each mother has her separate establishment. It is not unusual to see Samoyede women mothers at eleven years old, although they inhabit an intensely cold climate, on the very borders of the Frozen ocean. Throughout Siberia it is a common thing for a man who is too poor to buy a wife, and too lazy to work for one, to seize and carry off by main force the first woman he meets; indeed this is not a rare occurrence among any tribes where wives are purchased. If the depredator be overtaken, he is likely to receive a sound drubbing; but if he secures the prize within his hut, he can make much cheaper arrangements with the parents, than he could under other circumstances. The Siberian women are remarkably stupid and listless. In general they seem to be alive to no other emotion than fear of the cudgel. Yet, even in the rudest tribes, there are individuals who care enough about personal attractions to paint their faces red and white, or tattoo the face, neck, and arms in whimsical patterns. The Tchuktchi women, who wear merely trowsers and robes of dogskin, or reindeer's skin, with the hair outside, leave one half of the breast uncovered, tattoo the arms, and almost always contrive to have some kind of ear-rings and necklaces. The Kamtschadale women used to wear feather caps in winter, and wooden hats in summer; but Russian caps are now in general use; and commerce has made them so luxurious that a few of the rich paint their faces, wear garments of costly fur, with silk stockings and morocco shoes. Most of the Siberian women wear bark shoes, and wrap up their ankles in rags, until they resemble stumps, Tribes in the vicinity of trading stations are comparatively well supplied with the neces. saries and conveniences of life, and the women are less stupid and indifferent. Their dress is sometimes not altogether devoid of taste, and even elegance Their garments are neatly made, all the borders and seams being embroidered with colored worsted Their birch bark caps are adorned with coral, beads, shells, coins, or small plates of metal. Suspended behind these gay head-dresses are loose floating bands, or festoons of beads; and sometimes from each shoulder hangs a long strip of yellow leather or cloth, adorned with little brass images of horses, reindeer, and fish. Some hang from their girdles a collection of tassels, thimbles, buttons, and other trinkets, which make an incessant jingling when they walk. Indeed one of the smarter sort of Siberian women, in what she considers full dress, carries decorations that would be quite too heavy to caparison a horse. The Siberians have various uncouth pantomimic dances. Those in which the women are allowed to join, are generally of an amorous character, and not remarkably decorous. Cleanliness either in their persons, food, or garments, is a rare virtue among these tribes; some are filthy beyond description. The shamans of Siberia are priests, physicians, and sorcerers. Children of extremely irritable nerves are usually chosen for this profession, the duties of which are fatiguing and often frightful. The poor creatures are made to drink intoxicating liquors, and early have their imaginations filled with an idea of the awful supernatural power they are destined to receive from evil spirits. These preparations induce paroxysms of frenzy, during which their words and

« PreviousContinue »