The Russians do much harm to their subjects, by tempting them to buy brandy. There is nothing which the Ostyaks are so eager to obtain, as this dangerous drink. On one occasion, a traveller was surrounded by a troop of Ostyaks, all begging for brandy, and when they could get none, they brought a large heap of frozen fish, and laid it at the travellers feet, saying, “Noble sir, we present you with this.” They did get some brandy in return. Then, hoping for more, they brought a great salmon, and a sturgeon, as long as a man. They seemed ready to part with all they had, for the sake of brandy.
Thus you see how much harm the Ostyaks have learned from their acquaintance with the Russians. The chief good they have got, has been learning to build houses; for once they lived only in tents.
This tribe lives so far to the north, that they see very little of the Russians, though they belong to the emperor of Russia. They live close by the Northern Sea. Imagine how very cold it must be. The Samoyedes inhabit tents made of reindeer skins, such as the Ostyaks used to live in. They are a much wilder people than the Ostyaks. The women dress in a strange fantastic manner; not contented with a reindeer dress, as the Ostyaks are, they join furs and skins of various sorts together; and instead of veiling their faces, they wear a gay fur hat, with lappets; and at the back of their necks a glutton’s tail hangs down, as well as long tails of their own hair, with brass rings jingling together at the end.
But if their taste in dress is laughable, their taste in food is horrible, as you will see. A traveller went with a Samoyede family for a little while. They were drawn by reindeer, in sledges, and other reindeer followed of their own accord. When they stopped for the night, they pitched the tent, covering the long poles with their reindeer skins, sewed together. The snow covered the ground inside the tent, but no one thought of sweeping it away. It was easy to get water to fill the kettle, as a few lumps of snow soon melted. Some of the men slept by the blazing fire, while others went out, armed with long poles, to defend the deer from the wolves. There was in the party a child of two years old, with its mother. The child was allowed to help himself to porridge out of the great kettle. The traveller offered him white sugar; but at first he called it snow, and threw it away; soon, however, he learned to like it, and asked for some whenever he saw the stranger at tea. At night, the child was laid in a long basket, and was closely covered with furs; in the same basket also, he travelled in the sledge.
One day the traveller saw a Samoyede feast. A reindeer was brought, and killed before the tent door; and its bleeding body was taken into the tent, and devoured, all raw as it was, with the heartiest appetite. It was dreadful to see the Samoyedes gnawing the flesh off the bones; their faces all stained with blood, and even the child had his share of the raw meat. Truly they looked more like wolves than men.