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.

There can be no doubt whatever that the Koraks and the powerful Siberian tribe known as Chukchis (or Tchucktchis, according to Wrangell) descended originally from the same stock, and migrated together from their ancient locations to the places where they now live. Even after several centuries of separation, they resemble each other so closely that they can hardly be distinguished, and their languages differ less one from the other than the Portuguese differs from the Spanish. Our Korak interpreters found very little difficulty in conversing with Chukchis; and a comparison of vocabularies which we afterward made showed only a slight dialectical variation, which could be easily accounted for by a few centuries of separation. None of the Siberian languages with which I am acquainted are written, and, lacking a fixed standard of reference, they change with great rapidity. This is shown by a comparison of a modern Chukchi vocabulary with the one compiled by M. de Lesseps in 1788. Many words have altered so materially as to be hardly recognisable. Others, on the contrary, such as "tin tin," ice, "oottoot," wood, "weengay," no, "ay," yes, and most of the numerals up to ten, have undergone no change whatever. Both Koraks and Chukchis count by fives instead of tens, a peculiarity which is also noticeable in the language of the Co-Yukons in Alaska. The Korak numerals are: -

  Innin, One. 
  Nee-ak deg.h, Two. 
  Nee-ok deg.h, Three. 
  Nee-ak deg.h, Four. 
  Mil-li-gen, Five. 
  In-nin mil-li-gen, Five-one. 
  Nee-ak deg.h " Five-two. 
  Nee-ok deg.h " Five-three. 
  Nee-ak deg.h " Five-four. 
  Meen-ye-geet-k deg.hin, Ten.

After ten they count ten-one, ten-two, etc., up to fifteen, and then ten-five-one; but their numerals become so hopelessly complicated when they get above twenty, that is would be easier to carry a pocketful of stones and count with them, than to pronounce the corresponding words.

Fifty-six, for instance, is "Nee-akh-khleep-kin-meen-ye-geet-khin-par-ol-in-nin-mil-li-gen," and it is only fifty-six after it is all pronounced! It ought to be at least two hundred and sixty-three millions nine hundred and fourteen thousand seven hundred and one - and then it would be long. But the Koraks rarely have occasion to use high numbers; and when they do, they have an abundance of time. It would be a hard day's work for a boy to explain in Korak one of the miscellaneous problems in Ray's Higher Arithmetic. To say 324 x 5260 = 1,704,240 would certainly entitle him to a recess of an hour and a reward of merit. We were never able to trace any resemblance whatever between the Koraki-Chukchi language and the languages spoken by the natives on the eastern side of Bering Strait. If there be any resemblance, it must be in grammar rather than in vocabulary.

The religion of all the natives of north-eastern Siberia, wandering and settled, including six or seven widely different tribes, is that corrupted form of Buddhism known as Shamanism. It is a religion which varies considerably in different places and among different people; but with the Koraks and Chukchis it may be briefly defined as the worship of the evil spirits who are supposed to be embodied in all the mysterious powers and manifestations of Nature, such as epidemic and contagious diseases, severe storms, famines, eclipses, and brilliant auroras. It takes its name from the shamans or priests, who act as interpreters of the evil spirits' wishes and as mediators between them and man. All unnatural phenomena, and especially those of a disastrous and terrible nature, are attributed to the direct action of these evil spirits, and are considered as plain manifestations of their displeasure. It is claimed by many that the whole system of Shamanism is a gigantic imposture practised by a few cunning priests upon the easy credulity of superstitious natives. This I am sure is a prejudiced view. No one who has ever lived with the Siberian natives, studied their character, subjected himself to the same influences that surround them, and put himself as far as possible in their places, will ever doubt the sincerity of either priests or followers, or wonder that the worship of evil spirits should be their only religion. It is the only religion possible for such men in such circumstances. A recent writer [Footnote: W.E.H. Lecky, History of Rationalism in Europe.] of great fairness and impartiality has described so admirably the character of the Siberian Koraks, and the origin and nature of their religious belief, that I cannot do better than quote his words: -

"Terror is everywhere the beginning of religion. The phenomena which impress themselves most forcibly on the mind of the savage are not those which enter manifestly into the sequence of natural laws, and which are productive of most beneficial effects; but those which are disastrous and apparently abnormal. Gratitude is less vivid than fear, and the smallest infraction of a natural law produces a deeper impression than the most sublime of its ordinary operations. When, therefore, the most startling and terrible aspects of Nature are presented to his mind - when the more deadly forms of disease or natural convulsion desolate his land, the savage derives from them an intensely realised perception of diabolical presence. In the darkness of the night; amid the yawning chasms and the wild echoes of the mountain gorge; under the blaze of the comet or the solemn gloom of the eclipse; when famine has blasted the land; when the earthquake and the pestilence have slaughtered their thousands; in every form of disease which refracts and distorts the reason, in all that is strange, portentous, and deadly, he feels and cowers before the supernatural. Completely exposed to all the influences of Nature, and completely ignorant of the chain of sequence that unites its various parts, he lives in continual dread of what he deems the direct and isolated acts of evil spirits. Feeling them continually near him, he will naturally endeavour to enter into communion with them. He will strive to propitiate them with gifts. If some great calamity has fallen upon him, or if some vengeful passion has mastered his reason, he will attempt to invest himself with their authority, and his excited imagination will soon persuade him that he has succeeded in his desire."

These pregnant words are the key to the religion of the Siberian natives, and afford the only intelligible explanation of the origin of shamans. If any proof were needed that this system of religion is the natural outgrowth of human nature in certain conditions of barbarism, it would be furnished by the universal prevalence of Shamanism in north-eastern Siberia among so many diverse tribes of different character and different origin. The tribe of Tunguses for instance, is certainly of Chinese descent, and the tribe of Yakuts is certainly Turkish. Both came from different regions, bringing different beliefs, superstitions, and modes of thought; but, when both were removed from all disturbing agencies and subjected to the same external influences, both developed precisely the same system of religious belief. If a band of ignorant, barbarous Mahometans were transported to north-eastern Siberia, and compelled to live alone in tents, century after century, amid the wild, gloomy scenery of the Stanavoi Mountains, to suffer terrific storms whose causes they could not explain, to lose their reindeer suddenly by an epidemic disease which defied human remedies, to be frightened by magnificent auroras that set the whole universe in a blaze, and decimated by pestilences whose nature they could not understand and whose disastrous effects they were powerless to avert - they would almost inevitably lose by degrees their faith in Allah and Mahomet, and become precisely such Shamanists as the Siberian Koraks and Chukchis are today. Even a whole century of partial civilisation and Christian training cannot wholly counteract the irresistible Shamanistic influence which is exerted upon the mind by the wilder, more terrible manifestations of Nature in these lonely and inhospitable regions. The Kamchadals who accompanied me to the Samanka Mountains were the sons of Christian parents, and had been brought up from infancy in the Greek Church; they were firm believers in the Divine atonement and in Divine providence, and prayed always night and morning for safety and preservation; yet, when overtaken by a storm in that gloomy range of mountains, the sense of the supernatural overcame their religious convictions, God seemed far away while evil spirits were near and active, and they sacrificed a dog, like very pagans, to propitiate the diabolical wrath of which the storm was an evidence. I could cite many similar instances, where the strongest and apparently most sincere convictions of the reality of Divine government and superintendence have been overcome by the influence upon the imagination of some startling and unusual phenomenon of Nature. Man's actions are governed not so much by what he intellectually believes as by what he vividly realises; and it is this vivid realisation of diabolical presence which has given rise to the religion of Shamanism.

The duties of the shamans or priests among the Koraks are, to make incantations over the sick, to hold communication with the evil spirits, and to interpret their wishes and decrees to man. Whenever any calamity, such as disease, storm, or famine, comes upon a band, it is of course attributed to some spirit's displeasure, and the shaman is consulted as to the best method of appeasing his wrath. The priest to whom application is made assembles the people in one of the largest tents of the encampment, puts on a long robe marked with fantastic figures of birds and beasts and curious hieroglyphic emblems, unbinds his long black hair, and taking up a large native drum, begins to sing in a subdued voice to the accompaniment of slow, steady drum-beats. As the song progresses it increases in energy and rapidity, the priest's eyes seem to become fixed, he contorts his body as if in spasms, and increases the vehemence of his wild chant until the drum-beats make one continuous roll. Then, springing to his feet and jerking his head convulsively until his long hair fairly snaps, he begins a frantic dance about the tent, and finally sinks apparently exhausted into his seat. In a few moments he delivers to the awe-stricken natives the message which he has received from the evil spirits, and which consists generally of an order to sacrifice to them a certain number of dogs or reindeer, or perhaps a man.

In these wild incantations the priests sometimes practise all sorts of frauds upon their credulous followers, by pretending to swallow live coals and to pierce their bodies with knives; but, in a majority of instances, the shaman seems actually to believe that he is under the control and guidance of diabolical intelligence. The natives themselves, however, seem to doubt occasionally the priest's pretended inspiration, and whip him severely to test the sincerity of his professions and the genuineness of his revelations. If his fortitude sustains him under the infliction without any exhibition of human weakness or suffering, his authority as a minister of the evil spirits is vindicated, and his commands obeyed. Aside from the sacrifices which are ordered by the shamans, the Koraks offer general oblations at least twice a year, to assure a good catch of fish and seal and a prosperous season. We frequently saw twenty or thirty dogs suspended by the necks on long poles over a single encampment. Quantities of green grass are collected during the, summer and twisted into wreaths, to be hung around the necks of the slaughtered animals; and offerings of tobacco are always thrown to the evil spirits when the Koraks cross the summit of a mountain. The bodies of the dead, among all the wandering tribes, are burned, together with all their effects, in the hope of a final resurrection of both spirit and matter; and the sick, as soon as their recovery becomes hopeless, are either stoned to death or speared. We found it to be true, as we had been told by the Russians and the Kamchadals, that the Koraks murdered all their old people as soon as sickness or the infirmities of age unfitted them for the hardships of a nomadic life. Long experience has given them a terrible familiarity with the best and quickest methods of taking life; and they often explained to us with the most sickening minuteness, as we sat at night in their smoky pologs, the different ways in which a man could be killed, and pointed out the vital parts of the body where a spear or knife thrust would prove most instantly fatal. I thought of De Quincey's celebrated Essay upon "Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts," and of the field which a Korak encampment would afford to his "Society of Connoisseurs in Murder." All Koraks are taught to look upon such a death as the natural end of their existence, and they meet it generally with perfect composure. Instances are rare where a man desires to outlive the period of his physical activity and usefulness. They are put to death in the presence of the whole band, with elaborate but unintelligible ceremonies; their bodies are then burned, and the ashes suffered to be scattered and blown away by the wind.

These customs of murdering the old and sick, and burning the bodies of the dead, grow naturally out of the wandering life which the Koraks have adopted, and are only illustrations of the powerful influence which physical laws exert everywhere upon the actions and moral feelings of men. They both follow logically and almost inevitably from the very nature of the country and climate. The barrenness of the soil in north-eastern Siberia, and the severity of the long winter, led man to domesticate the reindeer as the only means of obtaining a subsistence; the domestication of the reindeer necessitated a wandering life; a wandering life made sickness and infirmity unusually burdensome to both sufferers and supporters; and this finally led to the murder of the old and sick, as a measure both of policy and mercy. The same causes gave rise to the custom of burning the dead. Their nomadic life made it impossible for them to have any one place of common sepulture, and only with the greatest difficulty could they dig graves at all in the perpetually frozen ground. Bodies could not be left to be torn by wolves, and burning them was the only practicable alternative. Neither of these customs presupposes any original and innate savageness or barbarity on the part of the Koraks themselves. They are the natural development of certain circumstances, and only prove that the strongest emotions of human nature, such as filial reverence, fraternal affection, selfish love of life, and respect for the remains of friends, all are powerless to oppose the operation of great natural laws. The Russian Church is endeavouring by missionary enterprise to convert all the Siberian tribes to Christianity; and although they have met with a certain degree of apparent success among the settled tribes of Yukagirs (yoo-kag'-eers), Chuances (choo-an'-ces), and Kamchadals, the wandering natives still cling to Shamanism, and there are more than 70,000 followers of that religion in the scanty population of north-eastern Siberia. Any permanent and genuine conversion of the Wandering Koraks and Chukchis must be preceded by some educational enlightenment and an entire change in their mode of life.

Among the many superstitions of the Wandering Koraks and Chukchis, one of the most noticeable is their reluctance to part with a living reindeer. You may purchase as many dead deer as you choose, up to five hundred, for about seventy cents apiece; but a living deer they will not give to you for love nor money. You may offer them what they consider a fortune in tobacco, copper kettles, beads, and scarlet cloth, for a single live reindeer, but they will persistently refuse to sell him; yet, if you will allow them to kill the very same animal, you can have his carcass for one small string of common glass beads. It is useless to argue with them about this absurd superstition. You can get no reason for it or explanation of it, except that "to sell a live reindeer would be atkin [bad]." As it was very necessary in the construction of our proposed telegraph line to have trained reindeer of our own, we offered every conceivable inducement to the Koraks to part with one single deer; but all our efforts were in vain. They could sell us a hundred dead deer for a hundred pounds of tobacco; but five hundred pounds would not tempt them to part with a single animal as long as the breath of life was in his body. During the two years and a half which we spent in Siberia, no one of our parties, so far as I know, ever succeeded in buying from the Koraks or Chukchis a single living reindeer. All the deer which we eventually owned - some eight hundred - we obtained from the Wandering Tunguses. [Footnote: This feeling or superstition eventually disappeared or was overcome. Many years later, living reindeer were bought in north-eastern Siberia for transportation to Alaska.]

The Koraks are probably the wealthiest deer-owners in Siberia, and consequently in the world. Many of the herds which we saw in northern Kamchatka numbered from eight to twelve thousand; and we were told that a certain rich Korak, who lived in the middle of the great tundra, had three immense herds in different places, numbering in the aggregate thirty thousand head. The care of these great herds is almost the only occupation of the Koraks' lives. They are obliged to travel constantly from place to place to find them food, and to watch them night and day to protect them from wolves. Every day eight or ten Koraks, armed with spears and knives, leave the encampment just before dark, walk a mile or two to the place where the deer happen to be pastured, build themselves little huts of trailing pine branches, about three feet in height and two in diameter, and squat in them throughout the long, cold hours of an arctic night, watching for wolves. The worse the weather is, the greater the necessity for vigilance. Sometimes, in the middle of a dark winter's night, when a terrible north-easterly storm is howling across the steppe in clouds of flying snow, a band of wolves will make a fierce, sudden attack upon a herd of deer, and scatter it to the four winds. This it is the business of the Korak sentinels to prevent. Alone and almost unsheltered on a great ocean of snow, each man squats down in his frail beehive of a hut, and spends the long winter nights in watching the magnificent auroras, which seem to fill the blue vault of heaven with blood and dye the earth in crimson, listening to the pulsating of the blood in his ears and the faint distant howls of his enemies the wolves. Patiently he endures cold which freezes mercury and storms which sweep away his frail shelter like chaff in a mist of flying snow. Nothing discourages him; nothing frightens him into seeking the shelter of the tents. I have seen him watching deer at night, with nose and cheeks frozen so that they had turned black; and have come upon him early cold winter mornings, squatting under three or four bushes, with his face buried in his fur coat, as if he were dead. I could never pass one of those little bush huts on a great desolate tundra without thinking of the man who had once squatted in it alone, and trying to imagine what had been his thoughts while watching through long dreary nights for the first faint flush of dawn. Had he never wondered, as the fiery arms of the aurora waved over his head, what caused these mysterious streamers? Had the solemn far-away stars which circled ceaselessly above the snowy plain never suggested to him the possibility of other brighter, happier worlds than this? Had not some

  " - revealings faint and far, 
  Stealing down from moon and star, 
  Kindled in that human clod 
  Thought of Destiny and God?"

Alas for poor unaided human nature! Supernatural influences he could and did feel; but the drum and wild shrieks of the shaman showed how utterly he failed to understand their nature and teachings.

The natural disposition of the Wandering Koraks is thoroughly good. They treat their women and children with great kindness; and during all my intercourse with them, extending over two years, I never saw a woman or a child struck. Their honesty is remarkable. Frequently they would harness up a team of reindeer after we had left their tents in the morning, and overtake us at a distance of five or ten miles, with a knife, a pipe, or some such trifle which we had overlooked and forgotten in the hurry of departure. Our sledges, loaded with tobacco, beads, and trading goods of all kinds, were left unguarded outside their tents; but never, so far as we knew, was a single article stolen. We were treated by many bands with as much kindness and generous hospitality as I ever experienced in a civilised country and among Christian people; and if I had no money or friends, I would appeal to a band of Wandering Koraks for help with much more confidence than I should ask the same favour of many an American family. Cruel and barbarous they may be, according to our ideas of cruelty and barbarity; but they have never been known to commit an act of treachery, and I would trust my life as unreservedly in their hands as I would in the hands of any other uncivilised people whom I have ever known.

Night after night, as we journeyed northward, the polar star approached nearer and nearer to the zenith, until finally, at the sixty-second parallel of latitude, we caught sight of the white peaks of the Stanavoi Mountains, at the head of Penzhinsk Gulf, which marked the northern boundary of Kamchatka. Under the shelter of their snowy slopes we camped for the last time in the smoky tents of the Kamchatkan Koraks, ate for the last time from their wooden troughs, and bade good-by with little regret to the desolate steppes of the peninsula and to tent life with its wandering people.