Our travel for the next few days after leaving the third encampment was fatiguing and monotonous. The unvarying routine of our daily life in smoky Korak tents, and the uniform flatness and barrenness of the country over which we journeyed, became inexpressibly tiresome, and we looked forward in longing anticipation to the Russian settlement of Gizhiga, at the head of Gizhiginsk Gulf, which was the Mecca of our long pilgrimage. To spend more than a week at one time with the Wandering Koraks without becoming lonesome or homesick, requires an almost inexhaustible fertility of mental resource. One is thrown for entertainment entirely upon himself. No daily paper, with its fresh material for thought and discussion, comes to enliven the long blank evenings by the tent fire; no wars or rumours of wars, no coup d’etat of diplomacy, no excitement of political canvass ever agitates the stagnant intellectual atmosphere of Korak existence. Removed to an infinite distance, both physically and intellectually, from all of the interests, ambitions, and excitements which make up our world, the Korak simply exists, like a human oyster, in the quiet waters of his monotonous life. An occasional birth or marriage, the sacrifice of a dog, or, on rare occasions, of a man to the Korak Ahriman, and the infrequent visits of a Russian trader, are the most prominent events in his history, from the cradle to the grave. I found it almost impossible sometimes to realise, as I sat by the fire in a Korak tent, that I was still in the modern world of railroads, telegraphs, and daily newspapers. I seemed to have been carried back by some enchantment through the long cycles of time, and made a dweller in the tents of Shem and Japheth. Not a suggestion was there in all our surroundings of the vaunted enlightenment and civilisation of the nineteenth century, and as we gradually accustomed ourselves to the new and strange conditions of primitive barbarism, our recollections of a civilised life faded into the unreal imagery of a vivid dream.
[Illustration: Ice scratcher used in stalking seals]
THE KORAK TONGUE—RELIGION OF TERROR—INCANTATIONS OF SHAMANS—KILLING OF OLD AND SICK—REINDEER SUPERSTITION—KORAK CHARACTER
Our long intercourse with the Wandering Koraks gave us an opportunity of observing many of their peculiarities, which would very likely escape the notice of a transient visitor; and as our journey until we reached the head of Penzhinsk Gulf was barren of incident, I shall give in this chapter all the information I could gather relative to the language, religion, superstitions, customs, and mode of life of the Kamchatkan Koraks.