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Tent Life in Siberia eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 392 pages of information about Tent Life in Siberia.

[Illustration:  Small Adze with bone headpiece]

CHAPTER XVIII

WHY THE KORAKS WANDER—­THEIR INDEPENDENCE—­CHEERLESS LIFE—­USES OF THE REINDEER—­KORAK IDEAS OF DISTANCE—­“MONARCH OF THE BRASS-HANDLED SWORD”

The Wandering Koraks of Kamchatka, who are divided into about forty different bands, roam over the great steppes in the northern part of the peninsula, between the 58th and the 63d parallels of latitude.  Their southern limit is the settlement of Tigil, on the west coast, where they come annually to trade, and they are rarely found north of the village of Penzhina, two hundred miles from the head of the Okhotsk Sea.  Within these limits they wander almost constantly with their great herds of reindeer, and so unsettled and restless are they in their habits, that they seldom camp longer than a week in any one place.  This, however, is not attributable altogether to restlessness or love of change.  A herd of four or five thousand reindeer will in a very few days paw up the snow and eat all the moss within a radius of a mile from the encampment, and then, of course, the band must move to fresh pasture ground.  Their nomadic life, therefore, is not entirely a choice, but partly a necessity, growing out of their dependence upon the reindeer.  They must wander or their deer will starve, and then their own starvation follows as a natural consequence.  Their unsettled mode of life probably grew, in the first place, out of the domestication of the reindeer, and the necessity which it involved of consulting first the reindeer’s wants; but the restless, vagabondish habits thus produced have now become a part of the Korak’s very nature, so that he could hardly live in any other way, even had he an opportunity of so doing.  This wandering, isolated, independent existence has given to the Koraks all those characteristic traits of boldness, impatience of restraint, and perfect self-reliance, which distinguish them from the Kamchadals and the other settled inhabitants of Siberia.  Give them a small herd of reindeer, and a moss steppe to wander over, and they ask nothing more from all the world.  They are wholly independent of civilisation and government, and will neither submit to their laws nor recognise their distinctions.  Every man is a law unto himself so long as he owns a dozen reindeer; and he can isolate himself, if he so chooses, from all human kind, and ignore all other interests but his own and his reindeer’s.  For the sake of convenience and society they associate themselves in bands of six or eight families each; but these bands are held together only by mutual consent, and recognise no governing head.  They have a leader called a taiyon who is generally the largest deer-owner of the band, and he decides all such questions as the location of camps and time of removal from place to place; but he has no other power, and must refer all graver questions of individual rights and

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