Russia eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 819 pages of information about Russia.

For the student of sociology the past history and actual condition of the Don Cossacks present many other features equally interesting and instructive.  He may there see, for instance, how an aristocracy can be created by military promotion, and how serfage may originate and become a recognised institution without any legislative enactment.  If he takes an interest in peculiar manifestations of religious thought and feeling, he will find a rich field of investigation in the countless religious sects; and if he is a collector of quaint old customs, he will not lack occupation.

One curious custom, which has very recently died out, I may here mention by way of illustration.  As the Cossacks knew very little about land-surveying, and still less about land-registration, the precise boundary between two contiguous yurts—­as the communal land of a stanitsa was called—­was often a matter of uncertainty and a fruitful source of disputes.  When the boundary was once determined, the following method of registering it was employed.  All the boys of the two stanitsas were collected and driven in a body like sheep to the intervening frontier.  The whole population then walked along the frontier that had been agreed upon, and at each landmark a number of boys were soundly whipped and allowed to run home!  This was done in the hope that the victims would remember, as long as they lived, the spot where they had received their unmerited castigation.* The device, I have been assured, was generally very effective, but it was not always quite successful.  Whether from the castigation not being sufficiently severe, or from some other defect in the method, it sometimes happened that disputes afterwards arose, and the whipped boys, now grown up to manhood, gave conflicting testimony.  When such a case occurred the following expedient was adopted.  One of the oldest inhabitants was chosen as arbiter, and made to swear on the Scriptures that he would act honestly to the best of his knowledge; then taking an Icon in his hand, he walked along what he believed to be the old frontier.  Whether he made mistakes or not, his decision was accepted by both parties and regarded as final.  This custom existed in some stanitsas down to the year 1850, when the boundaries were clearly determined by Government officials.

     * A custom of this kind, I am told, existed not very long
     ago in England and is still spoken of as “the beating of the
     bounds.”

CHAPTER XVI

FOREIGN COLONISTS ON THE STEPPE

The Steppe—­Variety of Races, Languages, and Religions—­The German
Colonists—­In What Sense the Russians are an Imitative
People—­The Mennonites—­Climate and Arboriculture—­Bulgarian
Colonists—­Tartar-Speaking Greeks—­Jewish
Agriculturists—­Russification—­A Circassian Scotchman—­Numerical
Strength of the Foreign Element.

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Project Gutenberg
Russia from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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