The Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland

The journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland

London, 1895

[Pages 388-407]

NOTES on the SAMOYADS of the GREAT TUNDRA, collected from the journals of F. G. JACKSON, F.R.G.S.; with some prefatory remarks by ARTHUR MONTEFIORE, F.G.S., F.R.G.S.

[page 388]SINCE the days of Castrén, ethnologists have generally adopted his classification of the Mongoloid races of Northern Asia; and until some traveller equally skilled to observe, and laborious to record, devotes himself to a study of those races as thorough as that made by Castrén, it may be well to leave undisturbed his main results and the nomenclature he has adopted.

Following Castrén then, we find that he has applied the term Ural-Altaic to the five great groups of Mongoloid man in the north of the Old World, and that these groups consist of the Tungus, the True Mongols, the Turks, the Finns, and the Samoyads. To the Tungus belong the Mantshu, the Shapodghir, the Lamuts, applied to those Tungus who dwell on the shores of Okotsk (from lamu = the Sea), and the Chukchis. Under the name of the Mongols we have the Tatas, or eastern Mongols, the Kalmuks and the Buriats, all of whom have professed Buddhism though still Shamanistic, and the Hazara. Under the Turks we find a great variety of races, of whom perhaps the chief are the Osmanlis, Yakuts, Turkomans, Nogaians, Kirghis and Kazaks. The Finnic group may itself be subdivided into five branches, the Ugrian, Bulgarian, Permian, the true Finn ; and lastly, there is that fifth subdivision which is called by the Russians, Samoyedi, and with which I have now to do.

Undoubtedly the Samoyedi, to adopt for a moment the Russian term, are of all these groups most nearly allied to the Finnic; so nearly allied in fact, that when the time has arrived for a proper revision of Castrén's labours, I apprehend we shall find the Samoyads placed in the Finnic group, and the number of branches contained in the Ural-Altaic family thus reduced to four.

[page 389]The chief races of the Samoyads, beginning in the south, and following them as they spread northward and westward to the shores of the Arctic Ocean, are as follows:—Soiots, Karagasses, Kamassintzi, Koibals, Tawgis, and Yuraks. Their geographical range still includes the region of their primitive home-the Altai Mountains; for on the northern slopes of this range we still find the Soiots in the neighbourhood of the Saiansk Hills ; the Karagasses still at the head waters of the Ob and the Yenisei; the Kamassintzi yet on the steppes near the Kam and Mana rivers; and the Koibals lingering as a pitiable remnant to the southwest of Lake Baikal. Descending, however, the waters' of the Yenisei we meet with that small group which has presented some difficulty to ethnologists, and which may be called the Yeniseians ; while in somewhat the same latitude on the banks of the Ob we find the Ugro-Ostiaks. But it is not until we reach the lower waters of these mighty rivers, until—in fact—we have passed beyond the region of trees, and entered on the wide Tundras of the Arctic shores that we encounter those two great branches of the Samoyads on which the interest of civilised man has chiefly turned. Here it is that we find the nomads who hold much the same relation to their environment in Northern Asia and Europe, as the Eskimo maintains in the Western Hemisphere. Here we have the great family of Tawgi and Yurak Samoyads, the former leading a nomadic life between the Yenisei and the Lena, and the latter oscillating between the Yenisei and the White Sea. Properly speaking, the Yuraks are a small tribe in the delta of the Yenisei, but their name has been applied to all those who have ranged westward to Kanin.

Through all these branches we find that their physical characteristics, moral attributes, ethical ideas, and even the arts and occupations of their daily life are more or less similar; for while, as is natural, the environment of forest and the elevation of country determine and limit character, so we find the hill-men as closely allied to each other as in their turn are the forest men, and lastly, those inhabitants of the tundras whom we may call the swamp-men. The hillmen dwell in huts and live chiefly by trapping, though partly also by the help of their herds of kine. The forest men dwell in yourts, use dogs and horses for transport, and in the main live by fishing; and the swamp-men dwell in the chooms or tents essential to their nomadic life, and traverse the marshes of the tundra with the aid of the broad-footed reindeer, whose skin protects them from the climate and whose flesh yields them their chief food.

Before passing to consider in some detail the characteristics [page 390] of the Samoyads, a word should be said about the tribes which dwell on the Ob and Yenisei, and interpose a barrier between the Northern and Southern Samoyads. I allude to those tribes which the Russians call Ostiaks. It was long since shown by Klaproth that the application of the name Ostiaks to those who dwell on the Yenisei is misleading, for they are not of the same race as those who dwell on the Ob. For while those who dwell on the Ob are connected with the Ugrians, and may therefore be conveniently termed Ugro-Ostiaks, those who live on the Yenisei are most nearly allied to the Tungus and the Yakuts who border them on the east. I have therefore followed Klaproth and adopted the term Yeniseians, which he was the first to give. Thus the Yeniseians are surrounded on the east by Ugrians, Turks and Tungus, and on the west by the Ugro-Ostiaks of the Ob, and consequently interpose a barrier, as I have said above, between those Samoyads who dwell to the north and those to the south of them. There is little doubt, as Latham remarked (" The Varieties of Man," 1850, p. 266), that the Samoyad race was at one time continuous in its distribution ; and it helps not a little to this assumption to remember that while the Samoyads and other " hyperborean" races are nations of a receding frontier, the Turks, Tungus, and Ugrians (in relation at any rate to the " hyperboreans "), are nations of an encroaching frontier; and the southern limit of the Yuraks, according to Latham and others, might be placed in the locality of Turokansk on the Yenisei and of Tomsk on the Ob; while the northern limit of the southern Samoyads has been placed near Krasnoiarsk on the Yenisei, and about the head waters of the Ob.

It will be noticed at once that there are other systems of nomenclature applied to the Samoyads, and other divisions of the branch to which they belong. I have not space, however, to deal with these, but may mention in passing that the method adopted by Dr. Brinton in his "Races and Peoples" (New York; 1890; p. 197, 214), is to be deprecated. For while classing the Samoyads with the Sibiric, as opposed to the Sinitic division of the Mongoloid race, he has added a group which he calls “Arctic,” and in which he places the Chukchis and Kamschatkans. Now, as the Tawgis and Yuraks dwell on areas within the Arctic circle, and under conditions essentially polar, the selection of the Chukchis and the Kamschatkans for the exclusive enjoyment of the term, is not merely illogical, but misleading. And I think that Dr. Brinton, when he issues a new edition of his valuable work, will himself modify a classification which is far from doing justice to his shrewd judgment and great learning.

[page 391] To return, however, to the Samoyad and, first, to deal with the history of his name. It will be within the recollection of anthropologists that a variety of opinions has been maintained for many years concerning the meaning of the word Samoyad, and I will endeavour if possible to show that the opinions arrived at long since, and their general acceptance in Russia are not correct. In the first place, the Russians got the name from the Zirians, an Ugrian race dwelling in the basin of the Pechora; but although references to the Samoyads are found in Russian chronicles as early as 1096, and mention is again made in the travels of Plan Carpin, a century and a half later, we find that in the Russian chancellary the Samoyads were called at one time Sirogneszi. Now Samoyad was supposed to mean " self eater," and hence a cannibal; but it is important to notice that Sirogneszi merely meant " eaters of raw meat," which of course would include the cannibal, but not exclude the Samoyad as we know him to-day, the eater of uncooked flesh. Classical writers found in the Lithuanian Samogitae the origin of the name, and German philologists discovered that the root Sam meant " self." and ged = " to eat." It was a plausible derivation in those times, and was quickly accepted as a further proof of the barbarous character of the Samoyad, whom so recent a writer even as Mr. Charles L. Brace (" The Races of the Old World, " 1863, p. 129) has described as " savage." This derivation has been widely accepted, and although more than a generation ago it was shown to be unlikely, an explanation so graphic and, to the popular mind, so characteristic of a primitive race, riveted the attention and is still the vogue. I have said, however, that the language, and indeed all the attributes of the Samoyads are more nearly allied to the Finns than any other branch of the Ural-Altaic group; and it will not therefore be cause for surprise if I show that it is in the Finnic language and its dialects that we may find the origin of the name, and a confirmation of the views held by the Samoyads themselves. Now, in the Finnic tongue Suomi or same means a marsh or swamp; lad, lat, and laisat, mean " man" and " men," and the Finns to this day reject the German synonym (by which they are known to us) for the Finnic term they give themselves. Same-lat means the Fen-man, and Same-adnam means the Fen country; and among those Lapps who dwell in localities not greatly dissimilar, we still find exactly the same [page 392]name for both country and people. So, too, with the Karelians, who call themselves somae.-maies, people of the swamp. The word " Samoyad," then, would have precisely the same meaning—the Swamp Men—and I think we find confirmation in this when we enquire of the Samoyad himself as to the meaning of the name bestowed upon him by the Zirians (who, being Ugrians, are naturally related to the Finns). For the Samoyad will repudiate with scorn the fact that he and his race have ever been habitual cannibals, but will explain it by saying in his simple way that it merely means "that we were born. here," or, as we should say, "are indigenous to the soil."

I am aware that my spelling of the word Samoyad is somewhat of a new departure, and I may say at once that I do not accept responsibility for introducing it. I have simply followed the views of my friend Mr. Frederick G. Jackson, who in his work (" The Great Frozen Land," London, 1895) has adopted this spelling on the grounds which have been set forth in the notes to that work. The following forms are familiar to readers of the earlier travels:—Samuter, Samoit, Samoed. More recently Samoied, Samoyed, Samoyade, and Samoyede have been employed, and the last is perhaps that most generally adopted. When Mr. Jackson left England, he had this " Samoyede" in his mind, and its pronunciation was that to which he then adhered; but after living for some months with the people (who have practically adopted the name) he came to the conclusion that the pronunciation of the word, spelt phonetically, would be Sam-o-yad; and further, that in common use the o is so slurred that it might even be more correct to spell the word Sam-yad. As I have only had personal experience of a degenerate group of this race, and one much affected by contact with Russians, I am not entitled to speak; but it is my opinion that the y as a vowel should be got rid of, and that we should in all these cases adhere to the system of spelling as laid down in detail by the Royal Geographical Society, and only use y as a consonant.

Before leaving the subject I should like to point out that the Samoyads still retain in their different tribes the names given them by other neighbours as well as, of course, those they bestow upon themselves. The Ugro-Ostiaks call them Yergan-yak; the Tungus, Dian-dal; the Voguls style them Yarran-kam; and the Zirians of to-day call them Yarang. The northern Samoyads, of whom I am now speaking, style themselves either Hasovo or Nainek, both words meaning simply "men." Of course, many parallel instances to this may be adduced; e.g., the Inoits, who explain their name by saying that it simply means " men."

[page 393]Coming to the language of the Samoyads, we find that we are more than ever indebted to the researches of Castren for our facts, and even our theories; and although I do not pretend to give here even a résumé of his most valuable work, it will be seen that I have recognised and incorporated his more important conclusions.

From the point of view then of language, the Finns and the Samoyads are practically the same race. So great indeed is the resemblance, that in these two tongues we alone find the highest development of the agglutinative process in the Ural-Altaic languages. As with growth, so with material; and in root forms also they present the closest affinity, an affinity which can only be remotely traced to the remaining Altaic languages. The nature of the agglutination of the Finnic and Samoyad tongues is such that it differs little from the inflection peculiar to the Indo-Germanic group; and thus Finnic and Samoyad form, as it were, a nexus between the Mongoloid and Aryan tongues. Taking language as a basis, Castren has divided the Samoyads into three great branches—the Yuraks (whose name he connects with Ugria), the Tawgis, and the Yenisei Samoyads, whom he calls, but improperly, as I maintain, Ostiaks. All these dialects have one common feature—a distinct preference for weak sounds—a preference so decided that even the hard consonants are pronounced more softly than in Indo-Germanic languages. And it is to this innate preference that we may attribute the origin of the unusually large number of vowels, diphthongs, and triphthongs. Altogether, there are nine vowels in Samoyad, and thirty-three consonants; but no one dialect possesses them all. I may mention here that the aspirate h occurs in the Yurak and Yeniseian dialects, and is sounded on the whole like the English h, although in Yurak it often has the force of k. Thus it is a closer transliteration to spell " Habarova " without the K preceding the H, as the usual sound is more correctly indicated in English in that way. I may say here that this also applies to Russian, for it was my experience when travelling through the north of Russia that the term Khorosho ( = good) was far more frequently pronounced as if there were no k.

There is a consonant which I must here notice, and it is that nasal "n" which is common to all dialects, and the sign for which is borrowed from the Lapp alphabet. It has the force perhaps of ng, and it may be placed before every initial vowel, when it is usually represented thus " ˜ " Yurak, I may add has neither nor f, q nor x

I subjoin the following classification of the Samoyad alphabet, which I have taken from Castren :—

[page 394]
classification of the Samoyad alphabet

Passing from the letters to the parts of speech, we notice at once that the nouns have much affinity with the verbs; that they do not possess gender, and are not defined by "articles. Adverbs and post-positions are generally mere equivalents of nouns and verbs ; and conjunctions have no separate existence, but are affixes to the words they modify, and become so much a part of them that they are inflected like nouns. Featherman in his " Social History of the Races of Mankind" (vol. iv, p. 569), says, "The root word, signifying quality, and having therefore adjective value, partakes both of the nature of the noun and the verb. As attribute it has the meaning of a noun, as predicate it assumes the office of a verb, forming at the same time the copula; as sawa = it is good; tici = it is cold. A substantive may at the same time perform the function of a verb ; as barba = (it) is (a) master; jale = (it) is day." As a matter of fact Featherman is merely quoting Castrén, who shows in some detail also that nouns may be both declined and conjugated although the conjugation does not extend beyond the indicative.
Castrén points out that verbal suffixes are freely added to the nominative, and in other cases of the noun as niseam =: I am a father ; niseants = I was a father; niseyum = I became a father.

In Samoyad the nouns have three numbers, singular, dual, and plural; but the dual is defective in some of the dialects, and is usually only perfect in the nominative case. Ordinarily, Samoyad nouns have seven cases ; the nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, ablative, locative, and prosecutive, while a few dialects even add the instructive and vocative. If referring to things, the locative would be used in place of the preposition "in" or "upon " ; if to persons, in place of the prepositions "by" and "with." Motion towards, or rather along a region is expressed by the prosecutive, and the instructive, when used [page 395] at all, designates the instrument. Flexion, by letters or syllables, indicates the number and case, and in the nominative we find the root word. Passing to adjectives, it may be stated that they are usually derivative, and although declined like nouns, the declension is defective. They are not compared in the usual sense of the word; but the comparative and superlative are sometimes expressed by using the ablative or prosecutive case, sometimes by using specific participles, and sometimes by adding a diminutive or augmentative, as the case may be. The numeral adjectives were, at one time, no more than seven, and we must therefore regard the later development of their numeral system with discrimination. The multiples of ten and the intermediates, of course, are formed merely by combination of simple numbers. Cardinal numeral adjectives, it may be added, are declined like nouns. The function of pronouns, I may mention here, is exercised by either an absolute pronoun or a personal affix. This personal affix we find usually in connection with nouns substantive; particularly is this the case with regard to possessive pronouns, which we find forming personal affixes to nouns, verbs, and participles. The extent to which these affixes operate is remarkable, for they may indicate that the word to which they are joined is the subject of an action, or the object of a verb, that it includes the predicate, or is in possession of an object. They may even have a reflexive force, and indicate that the person is both subject and object. To put it briefly, the Samoyad verb is derived from a root word, which may be called a verbal noun, but takes on numerous modifications by the addition of suffixes and particles. The moods are indicative, subjunctive, optative, imperative, precative, and infinite. The precative of course indicates the making of a request. Although there are three tenses, present, past, and future, any one of them frequently represents the others; but the past and the future are indicated by signs. I need hardly add that no Samoyad literature, except that which is traditional, is in existence; but of course we must remember that Castrén and one or two other writers have attempted to reduce the language to some grammatical system.

I now proceed to give a summary of Mr. Jackson's notes on the Yurak Samoyads with whom he lived when traversing the island of Waigatz and the Great Tundra beyond the Pechora River. For further details I would refer the reader to his book (" The Great Frozen Land." London: Macmillan and Co., 1895), in which there will be found much interesting information concerning a race very little known to Englishmen. Meanwhile, the notes I now submit may be of interest to anthropologists.

[page 396] The Samoyad has the marked physical appearance of the Mongolian type. Thus we find that his head is wide and depressed; his face is broad and short; the angle of the forehead is often considerable ; the brows arched and slight; the nose in profile flat but straight; the mouth only slightly prominent; the lips everted and thick; the teeth white ; the eyelids full; and the small black eyes oblique and wide apart. The general profile view is flat, and the cheek bones conspicuous, though less so than in the case of other Mongolian races. The colour of the skin (taking the scale in "Anthropological Notes and Queries " as a guide) is yellowish-brown; although in childhood. youth, and early manhood reddish-brown cheeks are frequently met with. On the head the hair, which is jet-black, is luxuriant, straight, and coarse; but the cheek is nearly bare, the moustache but slight, and the beard which commonly hangs from the chin, rarely exceeds 3 inches in length.

Mr. Jackson measured, for the purpose of obtaining their height, twenty average male Samoyads, nine women and four children, and the results of these measurements I now append.

Measurement table

The general characteristic of their physique is its sturdiness, for although they are usually spare of flesh, the Samoyads are broad shouldered, stoutly planned, with short strong legs and well developed arms. In proportion to the height the head is large, while the neck is short. They are very quick to see and [page 397] hear—the characteristic they share with the rest of the Ural-Altaic group ; swift to run, steady to hold, and with capacity to endure, they survive in a climate of great severity by reason of their physical fitness.

The women are much smaller than the men, although the disproportion is not so marked as in some other parts of the world. From our point of view of course they are ill-featured and unpleasant in appearance, but their features are often comparatively delicate, and when young their round plump faces, well-blooded cheeks and red lips, constitute a standard of beauty which is appreciable.

As to their moral character Mr. Jackson contends that while extremes may be found among them, as among all races, the average character is good. For although they are actuated by no lofty motives, ethical ideas, hopes of future reward, or fears of a future punishment, they are affectionate, even-tempered, honest, and possess a certain pride of independence, which it would not be difficult to convert into a sense of self-respect. They work hard, and to beg they are ashamed ; hospitable to a degree, they are pre-eminently a sociable people. Naturally they do not possess the sentiment of a highly civilised and over-refined race, e.g., they exhibit no great affection for the deer who serve them so well, and their sorrow for the loss of a good driving deer seems to be called out on purely pecuniary grounds, and not from any sense of affection due to association. Men and women alike slaughter the deer in a rough and ready way, but without any more cruelty than probably obtains in our own slaughter-houses. As is the case with us, the Yuraks number among themselves men who are vicious and men who are virtuous; the idle as well as the industrious, the active as well as the inert; but Mr. Jackson specially mentions that he found many of them—indeed, the greater number of them—useful members of their society, and, although indescribably filthy, honest, cheery, capable compagnons de voyage; and in one of them he specially mentions that he found united most of the qualities of the man whom all civilisation respects—a man who was honest, sober, industrious and polite ; who was a good husband and a good father ; who cared for his person, and was neat in his clothing; who took care of his deer and his dogs, and kept them in good condition. This being so, we may assume that the Samoyad is capable of exhibiting those virtues which most of us like to claim for ourselves.

The religion of the Samoyads is now-a-days that of their masters, the Greek church, but it is merely skin-deep—the fashionable and the proper one to profess. Lying below this, however, there remains the old faith which undoubtedly was [page 398]reared on the basis of nature worship, and from my point of view the most reasonable form a purely savage race can contrive for itself. The primitive Samoyad looked up into the sky, and there he saw the sun and the stars, the rainbow, and the lightning. He recognised that they were far beyond his understanding, and endowed with power inconceivably greater than any he possessed. Does it not speak well for that simple child of the Tundra that at sunrise and at sunset he invoked the sun as a manifestation of his god ; that he should regard the rainbow as the coloured border of the divine robe; that the whole wide arch of the sky should represent the immensity of the divine being; that the millions of twinkling stars should personify that being's knowledge and power of perception of what transpires on earth ? The great god Num lived, and still lives, according to the deep-rooted belief of the Samoyads, in the air; and the thunder and lightning, the rain and the snow, the wind and the storm are his direct expressions. It is true that the primitive Num was somewhat impersonal, for although his attributes were benevolent, his attitude to man's. lot was neutral. Far removed from the diminutive nomads who wandered across the frozen plain, Num seldom (if ever) interfered to prevent catastrophe or accomplish their well-being; and in the provident actions and over-seeing which some of the Samoyads now ascribe to him, we can clearly enough trace the influence of the missionary and the suggestion of the Christian faith. When all is well with the Samoyad he belongs to the Russian Church, but the moment misfortune overtakes him he resorts to his old god and some of the ancient practices of the Shamanistic priest; he produces from his little household bag or box " Chaddi," though there hangs at the same time round his neck the distinctive cross of the Russian Church.

But in earlier times there was a general, and at present there is still a partial recognition of certain natural and artificial objects as impersonating divinity. A curiously twisted tree, a stone with an uncommon shape would receive, and in some quarters still receives, not only veneration but actual ceremonial worship. These fetishes, if one may so use the term, once accepted, occurred in various other forms; for example, they were and still are made of snow and even earth; and further, since the fetish gods are too large for transport, miniature models of wood are carried about, and known as Chaddi. Thus Mr. Jackson describes a Chaddi (used by the Samoyads with whom he travelled round Waigatz) as a piece of stick with the bill of a duck lashed to the top of it to serve for a head, and wrapped up in a bit of rag. itself secured round the waist by a thong. Opposed to this would be the Bolvan, or [page 399] god, a representation of which he found on Bolvanski Noss, an upright stake of wood 12 feet high. These Chaddi or household gods are no longer carried on a special sledge in a box which we may regard as a shrine, because the Russian traders with whom the Samoyad now comes in contact are zealous proselytisers, and would immediately visit any exhibition of idolatry in a rough and ready manner. Nevertheless there can be little doubt that Mr. Jackson is right in maintaining that they still perform in secret acts of propitiation to the great god Num, and repose more confidence in that little bundled-up stick of a Chaddi than in the Christian cross, which many wear ostentatiously round the neck.

Pictures of Chaddi's

No notice of the Samoyads, however brief, would be complete without reference to their so-called " sacrificial piles." These are to be found at certain intervals along the coast between the [page 400]Pechora and the Yenesei, but the Island of Waigatz—the Holy Island of the Samoyad—contains a number of piles, and these the most sacred. On the peninsula of Yalmal, too, sacrificial piles have been found. Mr. Jackson met with several on the south, west, and north coasts of Waigatz, and with one in the interior. They vary but slightly in character, and are uniformly rude heaps of sticks, antlers, and bones. They are erected on some slight natural eminence, and this is often further emphasized by a rough layer or platform of stones and driftwood. On this eminence there usually are placed, without any attempt at arrangement, the bones of bear and deer; particularly the skulls and marrow-bones. The skulls of the deer have their antlers attached, and so many of these are usually found that the bones form a close bristling circular palisade. Among this mass of bones, many odds and ends occur—chiefly broken vessels and instruments of metal. From the midst of all this there rise a number of sticks and poles—some being less than a foot and others as long as 6 feet. They are stuck firmly in the ground, and at and near their summits are roughly cut to resemble the features of the human face. There may be a dozen of such " gods," and there may be as many as fifty or sixty. A goodly proportion will hold aloft the skulls of bears and deer; the coronal of the skull being in each case pierced with a roughly square hole to admit the " bolvan." Although these piles are often surrounded by driftwood no Samoyad will venture to take a single piece, however much he may need firewood. At these piles the Samoyad was wont, and Mr. Jackson believes is still occasionally addicted to sacrificing deer; and on these occasions the blood of the sacrifice is smeared on the slits which represent the mouths of the gods. It may also be noted that the carcases of the sacrificed deer are never eaten, but left to decompose (or be consumed by beasts and birds of prey) on the site of the sacrifice.

The home of the Samoyad is the choom, and it may be noted in passing, how widespread is this form of dwelling. From the Chukchis in the far east; among the Samoyads from the Lena Valley to Mezen ; among the Lapps from the White Sea to the Lofoten Islands, and right across the whole continent of North America, both north and south of the Arctic Circle, we find the same rude tent, covered in the summer with birch bark, and in the winter with skins. It is true of course that in some localities the form is more highly developed than in others ; that in some localities it seems but a mere survival of the original. Just as the choom of the well-to-do Samoyad may be taken as a sample of the highest development, so the rude summer talta of the Lapp may be cited for its lowest.

[page 401]There is reason for both. The Samoyad knows no other home, and seeks no other protection from the climatic extremities to which he is subjected; the Lapp, on the other hand, dwells during the winter time in huts, and only needs his tent during the short but hot summer of the north. The choom of the Samoyad consists as to its framework of about twenty poles of varying thickness, and some 16 feet long. They are first of all lashed together near the top, and then hoisted and opened out. Over these poles in the summer are lashed strips of birch bark, softened by being boiled, about 18 inches wide, and sewn together with stout sinew threads ; and in the winter the skins of reindeer, foxes, and even sometimes, but rarely now, of bear, are put in the place of the bark. Those Samoyads who are most in contact with the Russian traders, as for example those of Mezen and the Malaia Tundra, have learned long since to know the value of the bear-skin, and as Mr. Jackson tells us, are sufficiently alive to the income derivable from the deer-skins, as not to hang upon their chooms the fine skins that may be seen in the Great Tundra, and in the valley of the Ob and Yenisei; and yet even there he records noticing many old worn-out articles of skin clothing put together as a sort of patch-work to take the place of perfect skins. The inside of the tent is also hung—in cold weather at any rate—with additional furs ; and skins of the deer form the only flooring, the only beds that can be seen. A good choom undoubtedly protects the traveller from the cold and from the piercing winds that sweep across the tundra; but this merit is only attainable by making it a very heavy article for transport. Thus, while on the one hand it possesses merits which every Arctic explorer would know how to value, it derives from those very merits a disadvantage which places it quite out of the question as a marching tent. Mr. Jackson has, however, been able to adapt one or two of its features to the travelling tents he has taken with him on his expedition, e.g., the reindeer skins for floors and inside hangings.

For about 18 inches from the top, the poles protrude from the choom uncovered by skins, and this omission provides the chimney and an escape for the fumes of the blubber fires. At a height about 3 feet from the ground a light pole stretches across the choom lashed at either end to one of the vertical poles; from this cross-bar there hangs a long hook, and on this hook the cooking-pot. Thus the pot can be dragged at will across the choom and each inmate in turn help himself to food.

The dress of the Samoyad, of which numerous illustrations appear in Mr. Jackson's book, is exceedingly interesting. Common experience in the Arctic regions has proved that there [page 402] is no fur so well suited to withstand cold and resist wind as reindeer skin; and men, women, and children from the North Atlantic to the Behring Straits are clad by this useful animal. The male Samoyad wears a tunic with the hair inside, which is called the militza; it only has an opening at the neck and at the hem; the rukavitza or mitts are themselves attached to the sleeve of the militza. It is an ample garment reaching below the knee, but in cold weather the Samoyad girds it up round his waist with a leathern girdle of an usually decorative character, and thus, leaving it baggy round the upper part of his body, secures to himself a layer of warm air which cannot readily escape. Of deer-skin, too, are his breeches, and deer-skin his boots or pimmies. These pimmies are very deftly worked boots, with—for better protection from the wet—seal-skin soles, and are built up with long strips of brown deer-skin, with narrow insertions of white deer-skin for ornamental effect. Just below the knee in the pimmies for men, and just above the instep in those for women, two or three cross bars of brown and white deer-skin, with a piping of red or green cloth, are inserted. The boot, which reaches at least to the knee, is as useful as it is handsome, as light as it is effectually protective. Undoubtedly it is the best form of Arctic boot that we know. I should add that when the weather is exceptionally severe, the Samoyad puts over his militza a sovik, which is a looser and larger tunic, built up on the same plan as the militza; but it is not girded, no rukavitza are attached to the sleeves, and the hair is outside. Moreover, it has a hood of great capacity attached to the collar. Under these circumstances, too, the Samoyad thrusts his legs into lieupthieu or stockings made of the skin of fawns. The belt to which I have referred above is usually studded with brass nails, and clasped with large brass buckles of quaint and various design. From the belt there hangs attached by a brass chain the sheath knife of the Samoyad. This knife is usually made from an old file and kept with a keen edge ; the handle is decorated with tin which has been poured in a molten state into patterns incised on wood. The sheath is variously made of leather, bone, and walrus ivory.

Samoyed knife

From this belt also depend the [page 403]calculating stick of the Samoyad, as well as such articles of use as his snuff-box, and articles of "virtue," if I may use the expression, as his charms, usually represented by a bear's tooth.

Calculating sticks

The panitza or tunic of the women differs from that of the man in being open in front from neck to hem, and being made up entirely of strips of reindeer skin, cut in various patterns on a systematic plan, and in having two, and even three flounces of dog-skin round the lower part of the robe. Pieces of coloured cloth are inserted in a highly effective manner, and tabs of the same material depend from the shoulders. The bonnet of the Samoyad woman is a thick fur hood with a deep flounce, and [page 404]from the flounce there hangs round discs of metal, brass buttons, and other odds and ends of ornament so various, that on one bonnet we may see metal objects so dissimilar as a hollow spherical bell, and the lock of an old musket.

While the men let their fairly luxurious hair look after itself, the women twist it up into two pigtails, and lengthen them with plaits of twine and string, just as the Chinese do with their pig-tail; and, further, they adorn these tails with metal articles similar to those they attach to the bonnet. They are, in fact, very fond of metal ornaments, and brass crescent-shaped plates are often attached to their clothing, while rings of the same metal—or of copper—encircle their legs.

The children of the Samoyads are dressed precisely as their parents, sex for sex, and the babies are lashed with stout hide into little primitive cradles or rude boxes, undoubtedly the original type of the Lapp cradle, and possibly of that of the Indian papoose. Of games they have but few, but the children play with bows and arrows, and drag about tiny sledges, and in other ways ape their elders on a diminutive scale.

The food of the Samoyad when he camps near the rivers is fish, and this he prefers in a highly odoriferous condition; but the stock and staple of his diet is the deer's flesh, and this he would rather eat raw than cooked. Mr. Jackson mentions seeing them devour raw deer's flesh when there was plenty of cooked meat in the choom, and attributed this preference to the need for uncooked blood. As with the Eskimo, the Aleuts, and other hyperborean races, the Samoyad has a perfect passion for blood, and will open a vein of the deer and imbibe from the end a goodly draught, replacing the vein with some dexterity when satisfied. There must be something in this universal craving in the Arctic regions for the freshest of meat and for vitalising blood, and I attribute the immunity of both Eskimo and Samoyad from scurvy to their persistent use of this coarse but vitalising food. Of vegetables they know little and seek less, and the anaemic condition precedent to scurvy is successfully prevented by the blood and flesh diet. Bear's meat too is a delicacy, but it is tabu to the women. Perhaps, however, the tit-bits of the Samoyad cuisine are the contents of the reindeer's [page 405] stomach, his brains, windpipe, gullet, lungs, liver, and testicles, and these are all preferred raw. Those who have come most in contact with the Russians have learned to make a rough sort of bread by kneading a dough of rye-flower, and, sticking the lump upon a stick, scorching it before the fire until it is partly baked. Occasionally, too, within the loaf a fish is placed. Moreover, it should be added that during the short summer the geese which flock to the pools and swamps of the tundra provide a highly palatable food. One more article, and I have done with this particular point; while the antlers of the deer are "in the velvet," they are considered excellent eating and greedily devoured.

Of the reindeer, and the sledge, and the dogs of the Samoyad, I will say nothing in this paper, as I fear its length is already too great; but I will now devote a short space to one or two of the ideas and customs more common among the Samoyads.

First of all it may be mentioned that polygamy is not in disfavour, although it is very exceptional to find that a Samoyad supports more than two wives. A woman is bought from her parents, and the currency is reindeer, as many as a hundred deer being given occasionally for a Samoyad belle. Girls, in fact, are more or less valuable property, and the impecunious parent frequently sells his children at a very early age, in order that he may realise their value. If, however, the wife is unfaithful, or if within a year the husband has any good ground for returning her to her home, the money he paid is given back to him. Moreover, he may commerce with his wife, for marriage is not considered a binding tie. It is not uncommon for a Samoyad to sell his wife to another for the consideration of a few teams of deer, and he sometimes barters her for a lady whose husband may be willing to accept the view that exchange is no robbery.

There are match-makers, too, among the Samoyads, and marriages are usually brought about by these universal media. A young man fancies a girl, and he confides his feelings to the match-maker. This individual will obtain a good fox-skin, perhaps, from the lover, and will proceed to the choom of the girl's father, and present him with the skin. Usually the father accepts the present with thanks, and in the next visit paid by the match-maker he will bring with him a stick with as many notches cut in it as the suitor proposes to give deer. Should the price be accepted, the stick is broken in twain, each party retaining one half. After this there is nothing left but the round of gluttonous enjoyment of raw flesh and bibulous dissipation in blood which accompanies their marriage festivities.

[page 406]Certain modifications are introduced among the Yurak Samoyads; for example, the match-maker is accompanied by the suitor in his visits, and cooked meat and even vodka enter into the articles of consumption. Moreover, while he is waiting for the final settlement of matters, the bridegroom in posse has to sit in his sledge outside the tent, while the reindeer he may have presented to his intended father-in-law is being feasted upon inside. The marriage broker, however, does not forget his client, and brings out to the bridegroom a sufficing portion.

Woman has generally been considered unclean, and she may not eat of that sacred beast, the bear, and on certain occasions her very presence is considered to be of the nature of a misfortune, and can only be condoned for by fumigation with bear's fat (Erman's " Reise," i, p. 681).

When a Samoyad dies, the corpse is treated with marked respect, although various precautions are taken to prevent the spirit of the dead returning to visit the living. For example, the dead body is not carried out of the choom through the usual opening, but under the skin or bark wall nearest to the spot where the body lay at the moment of death. So, too, a dead man is never mentioned by name for fear his spirit might hear it and wish to return. This feeling is carried to such an extent that the only service performed at the grave takes the form of a reassurance, addressed to the dead man, of the excellence of the country to which his spirit has gone, ending with the petition that he should not wish or attempt to follow his friends back to the camp. The corpse is usually dressed in the clothing worn by the deceased in his last illness, and is then wrapped up in birch bark or deer-skins, and securely fastened with strips of hide. With the well-to-do Samoyad, the body is placed in a roughly made box, but a shallow grave suffices the poor. The corpse is placed upon a sledge, and with another sledge bearing the possessions of the deceased, is driven to the place of burial. It is interesting to note that in grave or tomb the body lies on its left side facing the west, or north-west (the region of darkness), for the Samoyads fear that the light of the sun might possibly awaken the dead. With the body a lasso, cup, spoon, axe, knife, and even a gun, or at any rate a bow and arrows are deposited; but if the corpse is that of a woman these weapons are not deposited-needles, deer sinews for thread, and a scraper for preparing hides being substituted. It should be noticed here that everything deposited is somewhat damaged, even the sledge and harray which are placed beside the grave. Various reasons have been given for this, but the most probable is to prevent the unscrupulous from stealing [page 407] them. Finally, the deer which draw the sledge on which the corpse was placed are themselves slain, but the Samoyads will not eat of the flesh. It is interesting to note—bearing in mind the practices of tribes far remote from the tundra—that if children die in winter, their bodies are securely wrapped up in their box-like cradles and hung from the branch of a tree. This of course refers to those Samoyads who live in winter within the limit of the tree-line.

It will be noticed in the foregoing notes how many customs are similar to those of other races ; but particularly would I emphasise the close connection existing between the habits and practices of the Samoyads and those of the Eskimo of Northern America. Less surprising of course are the parallels afforded by the Chukchis on the one hand, and the Lapps on the other; but the general similarity which obtains among all the races living within the Arctic areas of both the Old World and the New must forcibly impress every student; and a field of inquiry of great fertility would be opened up by endeavouring to present a comparative study of all these races, and determining if possible what may be due to racial connection, what to geographical environment, and what, perhaps, to coincidence.

I append a list of the words collected by Mr. Jackson from the Yuraks, and for the sake of comparison place Castren's equivalents as found among the Yuraks and Tawgis. It should, however, be noticed that no fewer than five different dialects have been observed among the Yuraks themselves.


Samoyad objects exhibited on the occasion of reading the foregoing Paper :—

1. Reindeer-skin Militza (tunic), Sovik (over-tunic), pimmies (boots), and lieupthieu (fawn-skin stockings).
2. Model (made by a Samoyad) of a woman's panitsa (robe).
3. A Samoyad doll fully dressed in national costume (female).
4. A tress of hair.
6. Two knives with sheaths (one of walrus ivory) and attachments to belt.
6. Snuffboxes (birch-bark and pine) and walrus ivory snuff spoon.
7. Powder and flask (walrus ivory and iron).
8. Calculating sticks.
9. Thread, made of reindeer sinews prepared by chewing.
10. An implement (hide scraper ?) chipped from thick glass.
11. A rosary (of hide).
12. Chulkies (walrus ivory and wood harness-pulleys). Thirty photographs illustrative of the camp-life, occupations, costumes, sledges and implements of the Samoyads were also exhibited.

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