Irkoutsk is the see of an archbishop; and, being the residence of a governor, is regarded as the capital of Eastern Siberia. The police of the city is so excellently regulated, that a person can not walk out after dark, without being challenged in all directions by a watchman. As a substitute for the watchman's rattle or club, and as a mode of communicating with each other, these guardians of the night carry with them a mallet, with which they beat a plank of wood, when the signal is repeated in succession by each of them. The society of the upper class is quite European in its character, but many persons belonging to it have the misfortune or stigma of being exiles. The inhabitants generally appear to be very comfortable. The population is from twenty to twenty-five thousand.
Kiakhta (or Kiachta), and Mai-matshin (or Maimachen), constitute a sort of double-town (or more properly two towns, on the boundary between this government and the Chinese territory of Mongolia, one hundred and seventy miles southeast of Irkoutsk; the one town, called Kiakhta, belonging to Russia, and the other, called Mai-matshin, to China). It stands on a small river of the same name, two thousand feet above the sea-level, and was founded in 1728, on the conclusion of the commercial treaty between the Russians and the Chinese. It derives its importance from being the only recognised entrepot for the trade between the two countries, and presents a singular appearance from the striking contrasts it exhibits. In the Russian portion of the town, the houses of merchants of the better class have stairs and balconies in front, occasionally painted and embellished with architectural ornaments. Toward Mai-matshin, or the Chinese portion, a narrow door opens in front of a long wooden building, and leads into the inner quadrangle of a Russian warehouse. On the opposite side, a corresponding door opens upon a wooden barricade, and this barricade is the barrier of China, the door of which is closed at sunset, when Chinese and Russians must betake themselves to their respective quarters. The Russian side has an eagle above it, with the cipher of the reigning emperor. The Chinese side, forming the entrance to Mai-matshin, is surmounted with a cone or pyramid. The effect produced in passing it is described by Erman as almost magical. The sober hues of the Russian side are, all at once, succeeded by fantastic, gaudy finery. The streets consist of a bed of well-beaten clay, kept neatly swept, but so narrow that two camels can scarcely pass each other. On either side are walls of the same clay, with perforations, forming windows of Chinese paper. These walls are the sides of houses, but are not easily seen to be so, in consequence of the flatness of the roofs, and the gaudy paper lanterns and flags with inscriptions, which line the streets, and stretch across from roof to roof. There are two Buddhist temples in the town, containing five colossal images and numerous smaller idols. The trade carried on is very extensive. The Russians receive tea to the amount of about five millions of pounds annually, together with silks, nankeens, porcelain, sugar-candy, tobacco, rhubark, and musk; and give in exchange furs, skins, leather, woollen and linen cloth, cattle, and reindeer-horns, from the latter of which a gelatine is obtained that forms a much-esteemed delicacy among the Chinese.
The vast government or province of Yakoutsk extends from the Altai or Stanovoy mountains on the south to the Frozen ocean on the north, having the governments of Irkoutsk and Yeniseisk on the west, and Okhotsk and the Pacific ocean on the east, and occupying at least three fifths of Eastern Siberia, or one million four hundred thousand square miles.
The province is watered by the great rivers Lena, Yana, Indijirka, and Kolima, which supply vast quantities of fish. Iron, salt, and excellent talc, are the chief mineral products: game, of many kinds, is abundant. Large herds of cattle, &c, are reared near the town of Yakoutsk; and, notwithstanding the severity of the winters, rye, barley, and even wheat, are said to succeed well throughout the province, except in those parts which are so far north as to render the summer too short to ripen grain.
Yakoutsk, the capital of this government, is situated on the Lena, about eleven hundred and fifty miles northeast of Irkoutsk, and has all the character of the cold and gloomy north. It stands on a barren flat, near the river. The streets are wide, but the houses and cottages are poor in appearance, and surrounded by tall wooden fences. Here are fivechurches, a convent, a stone building (gostinoi dvor) for commercial purposes, and an old wooden fortress with its ruined tower, built in 1647, by the Cossack conquerors of Siberia. The town has, however, undergone great improvements in the last forty years. The Yakute huts have been replaced by substantial houses ; the windows of ice, or talc, have given way to glass in the better class of houses, and the more wealthy inhabitants begin to have higher rooms, larger windows, double doors, &c.
Yakoutsk is the centre of the interior trade of Eastern Siberia. All the most costly furs, as well as the more common kinds, walrus-teeth, and fossil remains, are brought here for sale, or barter, during the ten weeks of summer, from Anabor and Behring's straits, the coasts of the Polar sea, and even from Okhotsk and Kamtschatka. It is not easy to imagine the mountain-like piles of furs of all kinds seen here; their value sometimes amounts to nearly three millions of roubles. Almost all the Russian settlers in Yakoutsk employ their little capital in purchasing furs from the Yakutes during the winter, on which they realize a good profit at the time of the fair, when they sell them to the Irkoutsk merchants.
As soon as the Lena is clear of ice, the merchants begin to arrive from Irkoutsk, bringing with them for barter, grain, meal, the pungent Circassian tobacco, tea, sugar, rum, Chinese cotton and silk stuffs, yarn, cloth of inferior quality, hardware, glass, &c. But at the annual fair there is not the appearance of animation and bustle which might naturally be expected. The goods are not exposed for sale, and most of the purchases are effected in the houses or enclosures of the citizens.
The traveller Dobell says that the inhabitants of Yakoutsk are hospitable and gay. Several balls were given during his stay, and the dress, manners, and appearance of the people, far surpassed what he expected in so remote a situation. The variations of climate here are extraordinary; for, though, on the whole, cold predominates to a very great extent—the thermometer in winter often falling to fifty-six degrees below the zero of Fahrenheit—the heat in summer is sometimes-not inferior to that of the torrid zone! Yakoutsk has a population of about six thousand.
The government of Okhotsk forms a comparatively narrow tract, about one thousand miles long, with a breadth varying from eighty to about two hundred miles, stretching along the sea of Okhotsk, which washes it on the south, and partly separates it from the peninsula of Kamtschatka, and is bounded on the northeast by the country of the Tchouktchis, and on the northwest and southwest by the government of Yakoutsk. It has an area of one hundred and seventy thousand square miles.
The coast-line of Okhotsk is indented by several large sea-arms, among which are those of Penjinsk, Gijiginsk, and Tanish; and its interior is traversed centrally, and nearly throughout its whole length, by the chain of the Stanovoi mountains, which here form the water-shed between the Pacific and the Arctic oceans ; sending to the former numerous comparatively short and rapid streams, which fall into the sea of Okhotsk, and giving rise to several large rivers—the Omolon, Kolima, and Indijirka— which flow into the latter.
Notwithstanding the rigor of the climate, there are considerable tracts of heathy pasture and scattered clumps, chiefly of alder and birch, frequented by animals valuable for their furs. The coasts are well supplied with fish, and are often visited by large shoals of the whale-tribe. The only domestic animals are reindeers and dogs. Amber is occasionally found along the shores of the gulf of Penjinsk. The government is chiefly used as a penal settlement for the most hardened offenders, and the inhabitants consist, for the most part, either of them, or their descendants.
Okhotsk, the capital of this government, is situated on a narrow tongue of land projecting into the sea of Okhotsk, at the mouths of the Okhota and Kuchtiu. It consists of several irregularly-placed clusters of indifferent log-houses, including a large magazine belonging to the Russo-American Trading Company; a church, several government-offices, a school of navigation, and an infirmary. The building-yards annually turn out or repair a considerable number of small vessels; and the harbor, though so shallow-as not to admit large vessels, yet, being the best in the sea of Okhotsk, has a considerable trade. The population is about one thousand.
Kamtschatka, a long and rather narrow peninsula, lies between the fifty-first and sixty-first degrees of north latitude, and the one hundred and fifty-fifth and one hundred and seventy-fourth degrees of east longitude. It is bounded north by the country of the Tchouktchis, west by the government and sea of Okhotsk, south and southeast by the North Pacific, and east by the sea of Kamtschatka. Its length is eight hundred and seventy miles; its breadth is very irregular, owing to numerous deep indentations, which exist on the eastern and contrast with the regular uniformity of the western side. At the middle, where it is widest, the breadth is two hundred and eighty miles; toward the north it varies from eighty to one hundred and fifty miles; while in the south it narrows rapidly on both sides, till it terminates in the low and narrow tongue of land which forms Cape Lopatka. It contains eighty-four thousand square miles.
The country, as seen from the sea, is rugged and desolate. Through its whole length, from north to south, it is traversed by a lofty chain of the Stanovoy mountains, crowned with numerous volcanoes, many of them extinct, but many also highly active. That of Kliutshewsk is sixteen thousand five hundred feet in height. It is particularly described by Erman, who, in 1829, ascended within eight thousand feet of the summit, and saw it in sublime activity, pouring forth a continuous stream of lava, which, at first opposed in its progress by masses of snow and ice, soon burst the barrier, and precipitated itself into the sea, with a noise which was heard for a distance of more than fifty miles! This mountain rises from a large base, which swells in an elliptic curve, furrowed by deep ravines, and crowned by four cones. There is nothing in its structure resembling a granitic mountain, or any other primitive rock. It is an augitic, amorphous, and strongly-blistered mass, with large crystals of Labrador felspar. Thevolcanoes of Kamtschatka are evidently part of a continuous line of volcanic action, which commences in the north of the Aleutian isles, near Russian America, and extends, first in a western direction, for nearly two hundred miles, and then south, without interruption, through a space of between sixty and seventy degrees of latitude, to the Moluccas, where it sends off a branch to the southeast; while the principal train continues west, through Sumbawa and Java, to Sumatra, and then in a northwestern direction, to the bay of Bengal. No part of Kamtschatka' appears to be of primary formation. Supposing it divided into two sections, by a line drawn near its centre from north to south, the eastern section is wholly of igneous origin. The western section may be divided into two bands : one of which, comparatively narrow, running north and south, consists of the tertiary formation ; while the remainder, forming the western side of the peninsula, is wholly secondary.
The only river of any extent is the Kamtschatka, which rises at the foot of a mountain-knot in latitude fifty-four degrees, and at a level far lower than might have been anticipated in a country abounding in lofty mountain-ranges, the height of the source, above the level of the sea, being not more than thirteen hundred feet. It has a course of about three hundred miles, and is navigable for about one hundred and fifty miles. Its basin, forming the valley of Kamtschatka, becomes hemmed in by precipitous rocks toward the mouth of the river; but, farther south, it swells out sometimes to forty miles, and is by far the most fertile part of the peninsula.
The climate is very severe, and much more so on the eastern than on the western coast. On the seacoast, vegetation does not begin before the end of April; but in the vale of Kamtschatka, in good shelter, it is a month earlier. Notwithstanding the severity of the climate, forests of considerable extent occur, consisting of several species of birches, pines, poplars, and willows ; while there is an undergrowth of shrubs, on which numerous berries grow, among others the raspberry and currant. On many of the tundras, or moor-levels, particularly when the ground is dry or strong, grows a Lonicera, called by the inhabitants Jimolost, bearing a close resemblance to the Lonicera cerulea of our gardens, with berries of a particularly pleasing taste, and said to be very nourishing. The natural pastures are also numerous, and their rank luxuriance sometimes so great as to make journeying across them almost impossible.
Agriculture is necessarily restricted to a few favored spots, as both climate and animals fit for proper tillage are wanting. Erman, however, says that on the southern slopes, near the village of Kliutshe, are seen patches of turnips and potatoes, and also stems of hemp of the tallest growth. He adds that both summer and winter sown wheat, barley, and oats, thrive so well, that, were the surrounding plains carefully cultivated, they could furnish enough to supply the greater part of the inhabitants of the peninsula with bread-grain. In the same neighborhood, also, he got richer and finer-flavored cow's-milk than he had ever tasted.
The wild animals were at one time very plentiful, but have been much thinned by the hunters. Among them may be mentioned reindeer, wild-sheep, bears, otters, and beavers. The skins annually obtained, consisting chiefly of those of the fox and sable, have been estimated at thirty thousand! Wild-fowl abound. Ducks, of which at least twelve kinds are enumerated, are seen in all quarters; and lakes which, from being fed chiefly from hot springs, never freeze, are the winter resort of flocks of swans. The rivers and coasts teem with fish. In the former are several varieties of salmon, some of them peculiar to the peninsula; and on the latter are shoals of herrings and cod. Large numbers of seals are caught, and whales occasionally make their appearance.
The Kamtschatdales are a peculiar race, and present many remarkable features. They are in general below the common height, have broad shoulders, and a large head. The face, and particularly the nose, is long and flat, the eyes small and sunken, the lips thin, and they have scarcely any beard. Their legs are short, yet they walk much, and with rapidity. Notwithstanding the rudeness of the climate, they enjoy great vigor of constitution, and are proof against every vicissitude of the seasons, and are subject to few maladies. Their character is mild and hospitable, and they live together in great harmony. Indolence may be considered as their predominant vice.
Their principal food is fish, which they devour with eager avidity, and without the least regard to cleanliness or delicacy. Having caught a fish, they begin with tearing out the gills, which they suck with extreme gratification. They cut out, at the same time, some slices of the fish, which they devour raw, and mingled with the blood. The fish being then gutted, and the entrails given to the dogs, the rest is dried, and is afterward eaten, sometimes dressed, but more commonly raw. The fish, however, which is reckoned most delicious, is salmon, dressed in a peculiar manner, called tchaouitcha. As soon as it is caught, they bury it in a hole in the ground, where it remains till it sours, or, properly speaking, becomes perfectly putrid. In this state, when a European can scarcely approach without being suffocated by the stench, the Kamtschatdale feeds upon it as upon the most delicious morsel! Their plates are never washed, and serve indifferently the dogs and their masters ! The eggs of the wild-duckare also collected by the natives, and, being preserved in the oil of fish, form one of their favorite articles of food.
The manners of the Kamtschatdales are lively and cheerful. Their songs are full of gay images; and they possess the talent of mimicry in a remarkable degree. They are passionately fond of dancing, in which exercise they shake off their natural indolence. Their fayorite dance consists in imitating the motions of the bear—its gestures and attitudes in pursuing its prey, and in all other actions and situations. They are also fond of singing, and have agreeable voices, but their tunes are very rude. Unfortunately, this mirth is often purchased at the expense of decency; and the rules of chastity are little regarded by either sex. The women, at a particular season, go out to collect roots and vegetables for winter consumption; and this is a grand holyday with them.
They have two kinds of habitations; one for winter, and the other for summer. The winter habitations are sunk some feet under the ground; the walls are formed of trees laid over each other, and plastered with clay; the roof is made slanting, and covered with coarse grass or rushes. The interior consists of two rooms, with a large lamp, fed with train-oil, and placed so as to warm both rooms, and at the same time to answer the purposes of cookery. These houses are often large enough to contain two or three families; and fifty persons have been known to take up their abode in one of them. In that case, the dirt, stench, and the smell and soot issuing from the lamp, are such as only a Kamtschatdale could endure.
The summer-house is of a more singular construction, A number of posts, placed at regular distances from each other, and, serving as pillars, raise it to the height of ten to thirteen feet from the ground. These posts support a platform, made of rafters, and covered over with clay, which serves as the floor, whence the house ascends from five to eight feet, the roof covered with thatch or dried grass. This apartment composes the whole habitation, and here all the family eat and sleep. There are several summer-houses to one winter-house, and the inhabitants pass on a plank from one to the other. The object of this singular construction is to have a space sheltered from the sun and rain, yet open to the air, in which their fish may be hung up and dried. It is afforded by the rude colonnade which supports these structures, to the posts and ceiling of which the fish are attached.
Another striking peculiarity of Kamtschatdale manners consists in the use of dogs for the purpose of labor and draught. Great attention is paid to the rearing of the sledge-dog, a pack of which, consisting of from six to twenty, every Kamtschatdale justly regards as one of the necessaries of life. These dogs are not remarkably large, though strongly built, rather long, with a high step, and short, smooth hair, of a color varying between yellowish-fawn and jet-black: in their general appearance they resemble the mountain or shepherd dogs of Europe. They are sagacious, and seem to enter into the very feelings of their masters. In summer, when their services are not required, they are set loose, and left to provide for themselves, by ranging over the country, and along the sides of lakes and rivers ; but, at the approach of winter, they return home in the most punctual manner. They are harnessed two and two, in trains perhaps of forty dogs, to sledges called nartas, consisting, in their most primitive form, of a box of boards about three feet along and one and a half in width and height, fastened to wooden runners, with which they often travel, at a rapid pace, forty miles a day. They are used in this manner, not only for travelling,. but for conveying all sorts of commodities from place to place, one particularly well trained being placed in front as leader. The driver usually sits side wise, like a lady on horseback, and urges the dogs by throwing at them a stick, which he afterward catches with great dexterity. Occasionally parties travel in company; and then, the eagerness and impatience of the dogs, and the rivalry of the kyoorshiks, or drivers, are worthy to be compared with the exertions of the high-blooded horses at our race-courses ; nor does the management and driving of the dogs require much less skill and attention than are needed in the latter case, to arrive at perfection, and gain the palm of victory.
About a third of the inhabitants are Russo-Cossacks. The remainder, forming the native population, consists of Koriaks, or Korjaks, and Kamtschatdales, the latter of whom we have already described. The former belong to the nomadic tribes of the north, and appear to have chosen Kamtschatka as an asylum after their defeat by the Tchouktchis. The western coast, from Tigil northward, and indeed the whole peninsula beyond latitude fifty-eight degrees north, is occupied by them. They are of middle stature, lank and sinewy, with black, smooth, and rather long hair. Their language differs so much from that of the Kamtschatdales as to indicate a different stock. Their great occupation is hunting the reindeer. The Kamtschatdales present considerable diversity of both speech and exterior ; and the Sedankaers, on the west, regard themselves as a different race from the inhabitants of the valley of the Kamtschatka. One of the best features in the national character is the love of hospitality. The stranger is always sure of a welcome reception. The inhabitants are nominal converts to Christianity, but in some parts, particularly in the northeast, the old superstitions are said to linger. There evil spirits, and what are called kutcha, are the objects of worship.
The trade of Kamtschatka, owing to the exactions of the Russian governors, who, in consequence of their great distance from St. Petersburg, or even Tobolsk, have few checks on their own cupidity, is of course extremely limited. Taxes are taken in skins; and the people complain bitterly that no equitable system of taxation has been authorized by the imperial government. Hence, wholly left to the mercy of individual officers, they justly apprehend the insecurity of property, and want the chief motive for improving the natural resources of the country. Labor is confined to the supply of merely temporary necessities; domestic comforts are little known or cared for, and affluence is scarcely ever attained even by the most provident and laborious. Furs and dried fish are exported from the port of St. Peter and St. Paul, chiefly by the Russians and Dutch, who bring in exchange rice, flour, coffee, sugar, brandy, and whiskey.
Kamtschatka was first known to the Russians in 1690; but it was not until 1696 that Vladimir Atlassov, with a body of Cossacks from Ana-dirsk, invaded the peninsula, and made great part of it tributary to Peter the Great. Successive expeditions were afterward sent, and the Russians advanced farther and farther into the country, erecting forts and levying tribute. The conquest was completed in 1706, all Kamtschatka being surveyed and occupied by the invaders.
The sway which they have established is represented as generally mild, with the exception of the inequality and favoritism in taxation. The natives are permitted to choose their own magistrates, in the same manner, and with the same powers, as they have always been accustomed to. The country is divided into four ostrogs, or districts, each of which is governed by a toion, or lieutenant, who is merely a peasant, like those whom he governs, and has no outward mark of distinction. He has another under him, called yesaoul, who assists him in the exercise of his functions, and, in his absence, acts as his deputy. Their business is to preserve peace, enforce the orders of government, and collect the tribute, iu furs, for the governor of Irkoutsk, the quantity of which varies according to the character of the governor, and the favor which particular persons happen to enjoy. Formerly it consisted of one sable from each individual, or more, if paid in an inferior sort of skin.
The inhabitants, like all savage nations coming in contact with civilized, have suffered deeply from the connection. The introduction of ardent spirits, their avidity for which knows no bounds, has been productive of most pernicious effects. The Russian traders, who are well aware of this weakness, sell it at an extravagant price, and inveigle them to give their most precious effects in exchange for it. The small-pox also has been introduced, and has made dreadful ravages. The consequence is, that their number, which was at first estimated at fifteen thousand, has been reduced to one half or one third. The Russian and Cossack soldiers have generally adopted all the habits of the natives, disuse bread, and even sell the ration allowed by the government; live dirtily on fish, use dogs for labor and travelling, and clothe themselves in skins. There is a class of criminals, convicted of murder and other atrocious crimes, who, as a punishment equal to death, are banished to this remote and inhospitable region: they amount to about one thousand, and are kept under the strict guard of the Cossacks and Russian militia. The commander of the troops resides at St. Peter and St. Paul, which for some years has been the chief place. Its population, however, is only about one thousand, while Nijnei-Kamtschatka, the former capital, has scarcely a hundred and fifty persons. There is an occasional and varying population of merchants, hunters, and seamen, who make a temporary residence in Kamtschatka.
The Aleutian Islands (from the Russian word Aleut, " a bold rock") are an extensive range of small islands belonging to Russia, in the North Pacific ocean, situated between Cape Aliaska, in Russian America, and the peninsula of Kamtschatka, in Asiatic Russia; extending from longitude one hundred and sixty-three degrees west to one hundred and sixty-six degrees east, or for about six hundred miles, and forming, it may be said, a connecting chain between the Russian possessions of both hemispheres. They were formerly divided into three groups—the Aleutian, Andrenovian, and Fox islands; but are now all comprehended under the name Aleutian, and are subordinate to the government of Irkoutsk.
The first known of these islands was discovered, in 1741, by Behring, the celebrated Russian navigator, whose name it bears, and who died there; the others were discovered, at different periods afterward, by various Russian adventurers, who sought these regions in quest of furs, particularly the sea-otter. They were subsequently visited by Captain Cook in 1788, who determined their exact positions. Those nearest Kamtschatka are Behring's and Miednoi, or Copper islands: the first situated in latitude fifty-five degrees north, and longitude one hundred and sixty-six degrees east. Southeast of the latter are the small islands of Attoo, Semitshi, and Agattoo, between latitude fifty-four and fifty-five degrees north. The An-drenovian group, or central part of the chain, lies between latitude fifty-two and fifty-four degrees north, and comprehends the islands of Kiska, Amchitka, Tanaga, Kanaga, Adagh, Atcha, and Amlia, with a number of smaller islands. Of the group nearest Cape Aliaska, called by the Russians Syssie Ostrova, or Pox islands, the principal are Oomnak, Oonalashka, and Oonimack. Beyond these, to the northeast, lies the large island of Kodiak, generally considered as belonging to the group called Schumagin's islands, on which there is a village of about four hundred inhabitants. The largest of the whole chain are Behring's island and the island of Oonalashka.
The Aleutian islands are of volcanic formation; and, in a number of them, there are volcanoes still in active operation. At present, there are upward of twenty-four in this state, varying from three to eight thousand feet in height. In 1796, a volcanic island, now called Joanna Bogoslowa, rose in the middle of the line or chain of islands. It was first observed after a storm, at a point in the sea from which a column of smoke had been seen to rise. Flames afterward issued from the new island, accompanied by a frightful earthquake. Eight years after its emergence, it was found, in some places, to be so hot that it could not be walked upon. It is now several thousand feet high, and twenty or thirty miles in circumference, and is still increasing in size.
Earthquakes, also, of the most terrific description, are of frequent occurrence in this region, agitating and altering the bed of the sea and surface of the land throughout the whole tract. The appearance of the islands is singularly dismal and barren: lofty walls of black lava rise perpendicularly from the sea; and beyond, steep mountains of rock shoot up to the clouds ; while the coasts are so encompassed with reefs and breakers as to render navigation among them exceedingly dangerous.
The soil is, in general, very poor; but, in some particular spots, esculent vegetables thrive well; and some of the most eastern of the islands produce potatoes, and maintain considerable numbers of domestic cattle, although the latter do not generally thrive on these islands. Springs of water are numerous ; and valleys clothed with a rich herbage, and capable of supporting herds of cattle throughout the year, are to be met with in some of the islands, especially Oonalashka. Bears, wolves, beavers, ermines, and river-otters, are plentiful; while the Pox islands, as their name implies, abound in foxes—black, red, gray, and brown. The kinds of fish most usually caught are salmon and halibut; the latter frequently of immense size. Seals and whales are abundant on the coasts.
The inhabitants—who seem to be a mixed race between the Mongolian Tartars and the North American Indians — are below the average stature, but stout and well proportioned. They have a round face, small eyes, a brownish complexion, a flat nose, and black hair. In the females, the complexion is of a lighter shade, and the hair approaches to brown. The dress, which is common to both sexes, consists of a frock of seal-skin, fastened round the neck, and descending below the knees. This simple dress is often ingeniously sewed and adorned with glass-beads, white goat's hair, and small red feathers. In their native state, they pierced the lower lip, the nose, and the ears, to suspend in them bones or crystal rings. The women wore around the neck, as well as the hands and feet, chaplets of variegated stones; and more especially, when they could procure it, amber. They also tattooed the body, adorning it with various figures; and, when the female belonged to a family of distinction, depicting on her person a symbolical representation of the deeds by which they had acquired renown—the number of enemies slain, or beasts of prey destroyed.
The most striking feature in the constitutional temper of the Aleutians is a kind of passive quiescence and patient endurance, amounting almost to insensibility. Left to themselves, they will pass whole days in absolute idleness, scarcely opening their lips to give utterance to a single syllable, or making the least exertion to satisfy the cravings of appetite; and, on the other hand, when placed under a master, they will toil at any task which may be appointed them, slowly, indeed, but without interruption, until it is accomplished. Instances are even given in which they have carried this implicit obedience so far as to sacrifice their lives in endeavoring to perform impossible tasks, which senseless or tyrannical masters had imposed upon them!
In the ordinary relations of life, the Aleutians exhibit much that is amiable. Parents are treated with great respect and deference, and children are the objects of the fondest affection. The husband is addressed by the wife as father, and he applies to her the name of mother. The whole family appear to cling to each other, and take a deep interest in whatever affects their common honor and welfare. To this happy state of domestic life there must, however, be numerous exceptions. The existence of polygamy, and the still more monstrous practice of polyandry, seem almost inconsistent with the very idea of what is usually understood by a family.
As might be anticipated, from the passive qualities of the Aleutians, they are not remarkable for their courage. Provided the destruction of their enemy can be accomplished, it seems absolutely indifferent to them whether it be by force or stratagem. The chief employments are hunting and fishing, and in both they show great dexterity. They will face the bear simply armed with a gun or a bow; and have even been known, when these weapons have failed, to encounter and overcome him with a knife. But the sea seems to be their proper element. In the pursuit of the whale and the seal, they are equally skilful and intrepid. The boat which they employ is a kind of canoe, called a baidar,consisting of a frame of wood or bone, covered with seal-skin. It is long and narrow, in general holding only a single person, whose bust rises out of a circular hole cut in the skin, which stretches from gunwale to gunwale, like a deck ; and is so light, that a man can easily carry it. Fleets, consisting perhaps of one hundred of these baidars, each managed by double paddles about eight feet long, will venture fifty or sixty miles to sea, and encounter all the perils of a stormy ocean, in quest of the sea-otter. While the men are thus employed, the women occupy themselves in covering canoes, and making mats, baskets, and other articles of straw, which display much neatness and dexterity. The food in common use is of the coarsest description—whale's flesh, almost in a putrid state, and fish often of similar quality. Could anything add to the disgust which the very idea of such a meal inspires, it would be the filthy manner in which it is cooked; both the place and the utensils being allowed to remain in the dirtiest state imaginable. Notwithstanding the grave and almost demure manners of the Aleutians, they are not strangers to amusements, and even theatrical representations. They have both songs and dances, and a kind of dramas, in which some striking incident connected with their history is exhibited. The popularity of these is so great, as to have more than once collected crowds which caused a famine.
The religion of the Aleutians was a ramification of Shamanism—a superstition before alluded to, prevalent in Siberia. They acknowledged a higher Deity, or Creator, but paid no worship to him, under the idea that he had left the charge of the world to certain good and evil spirits, calledKougakh, and Aglikaiakh. They worshipped the elements, and the heavenly bodies, particularly the sun and the moon, which were supposed to have great power in human affairs : the sun, when blasphemed, striking the blasphemer blind by its rays; the moon killing him by the stones which she throws down upon him; and the stars compelling him to count them— a task, the performance of which cost him his reason. They had neither temples nor idols; but near every village, on a rock, or other eminence, was a supposed holy place, which the old men alone, and the priests, or shamans, were permitted to visit. On these, with mysterious ceremonies, they deposited offerings, consisting usually of the skins of wild beasts, or the feathers of aquatic birds. Amulets, or charms, were also in general use, some of them being supposed to secure their fortunate possessor against all accidents, and bring him off scatheless and victorious in every combat. The most effectual of these talismans was a girdle, composed of cords or grass, with a particular arrangement of knots. In regard to the immortality of the soul, and the origin of the human race, the views of the Aleutians must have been originally derived from a Divine source. The strongest proof of their belief of the former is derived from one of the most horrid of their practices. On the death of a chief, his slaves were sacrificed on his tomb, that they might go and continue their services to him in the other world ! The general idea was, that the disembodied spirit returned invisible to its family, whom it accompanied for good or evil in all their excursions. It is'even said to have been invoked by them, particularly when engaging in war, to avenge some insult that had been offered to the family. The original form of government was patriarchal. Every village, which, from the frequency of intermarriage, in fact formed only one family, was governed by its toion, or chief; and a union of villages, under some superior toion, on whom valor or wisdom conferred the dignity, formed a kind of state. Under the dominion of Russia, all the primitive institutions and habits of the Aleutians have been greatly modified, and many of them have rapidly disappeared. Unquestionably, the best virtues of savage life have thus been lost; and one of the first effects of civilization was the introduction of its worst vices, and one of its most disgusting diseases. But these are partly compensated by numerous blessings. The Aleutians have already acquired some skill in mechanical arts. Many of them have learned to read, and actually peruse the Scriptures in their own tongue. Their abandonment of Shamanism for the religion of the Greek church, and the deep interest which they seem to take in its ritual, is probably much less the effect of conviction than of deference to the authority of their masters ; but the fact that there are already four churches in the islands, thronged by native worshippers—that the vindictive spirit 'which at one time prevailed, and made family feuds implacable, has in a great measure disappeared— gives reason to hope that the Aleutians, instead of being regarded as savages, will, at no distant period, be entitled to claim a place among civilized men.
Sears, Robert. An Illustrated Description of the Russian Empire. New York: Robert Sears, 1855