THE PASTORAL TRIBES OF THE STEPPE
A Journey to the Steppe Region of the Southeast—The Volga—Town and Province of Samara—Farther Eastward—Appearance of the Villages—Characteristic Incident—Peasant Mendacity—Explanation of the Phenomenon—I Awake in Asia—A Bashkir Aoul—Diner la Tartare—Kumyss—A Bashkir Troubadour—Honest Mehemet Zian—Actual Economic Condition of the Bashkirs Throws Light on a Well-known Philosophical Theory—Why a Pastoral Race Adopts Agriculture—The Genuine Steppe—The Kirghiz—Letter from Genghis Khan—The Kalmyks—Nogai Tartars—Struggle between Nomadic Hordes and Agricultural Colonists.
When I had spent a couple of years or more in the Northern and North-Central provinces—the land of forests and of agriculture conducted on the three-field system, with here and there a town of respectable antiquity—I determined to visit for purposes of comparison and contrast the Southeastern region, which possesses no forests nor ancient towns, and corresponds to the Far West of the United States of America. My point of departure was Yaroslavl, a town on the right bank of the Volga to the northeast of Moscow—and thence I sailed down the river during three days on a large comfortable steamer to Samara, the chief town of the province or “government” of the name. Here I left the steamer and prepared to make a journey into the eastern hinterland.
Samara is a new town, a child of the last century. At the time of my first visit, now thirty years ago, it recalled by its unfinished appearance the new towns of America. Many of the houses were of wood. The streets were still in such a primitive condition that after rain they were almost impassable from mud, and in dry, gusty weather they generated thick clouds of blinding, suffocating dust. Before I had been many days in the place I witnessed a dust-hurricane, during which it was impossible at certain moments to see from my window the houses on the other side of the street. Amidst such primitive surroundings the colossal new church seemed a little out of keeping, and it occurred to my practical British mind that some of the money expended on its construction might have been more profitably employed. But the Russians have their own ideas of the fitness of things. Religious after their own fashion, they subscribe money liberally for ecclesiastical purposes—especially for the building and decoration of their churches. Besides this, the Government considers that every chief town of a province should possess a cathedral.