Wright_Digby_The Siberian Village

Wright_Digby_The Siberian Village - U Slberxan laborers A...

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Unformatted text preview: U} Slberxan laborers. A photograph in hlqh the dlfferent types of faces are of remarkable mterest THROUGH SIBERIA AN EMPIRE IN THE MAKING BY RICHARDSON L. WRIGHT AND BASSETT DIGBY NEW YORK MCBRIDE, NAST & COMPANY 1913 162 THROUGH SIBERIA back, pathless course, through woods and across streams, up and down hare~tracks on craggy ravines, to the little village of Ookteechenskaia. got some sleep after the cont ty—five hours. I Here in the post station we mucus labors of the past thir- CHAPTER XI THE SIBERIAN VILLAGE AND THE VILLAGERS a row of log huts sprawling for a mile along the river front, a schoolhouse, a blue—domed church with a crazy fence, andalfioststation.‘ Beyond it stretched the village fields, and on the hilltop above lay the grave- yard with its scattering of three—armed crosses and its little pent—house sheltering an ikon of the Mother and her Child. In this out-of—the-way corner We lived for several days, subsisting on such rations as the natives could spare. The food, for a matter of fact, consisted of an egg a day, chunks of coarse rye bread, a very thin cabbage soup, and tea. It was spring with you in America and daisies whitened the fields. With us it was still winter, and the lands were unplowed and the Shilka locked in an ice jam from shore to shore. OOKTEECHENSKAIA was but a tiny village— the post rider with,hissaddledmgspfemail stofiiedfland changed horses at the postantia, told the gos- sip of the river hamlets, and then passed on. Of other wayfarers there was none. We were the first foreigners to have honored the village with a stay. There were not many amusements in Ookteechenskaia, and we had to make our own fun. Each afternoon we gathered the kiddies in our room at the post house and gave them toys —— distorting mirrors, electric pocket lights, and stars painted with phosphorous that glowed in the 163 1645 THROUGH SIBERIA dark corners beneath the table. On the second day they brought their big brothers and sisters, their fathers and their mothers. Some even brought their grandparents. Then our room was filled with a gaping, oh-ohing crowd of cow-faced natives to whom electricity was an unknown marvel, and who, when we told them that New York had many buildings over twenty stories high and that we really do not have dust storms on Broadway, spat on the floor and declared to one another that We were mad. But while we were teaching the Ookteechenskaians, the Ookteechenskaians taught us many things, not the least of which was how to pronounce the name of their town, and how the Siberian village or M ir is constituted. For the former all one needs is a long, deep breath and patience. Of the latter, it must be understood that the Siberian village is the type of Siberian life to-day. I Siberia, the northern half of Asia, is at present pri- marily an agricultural country. It harbors no upper classes outside the few high officials, governors, well-born officers in garrison, who live in a handful of large towns. ‘ There are absolutely no residents in the rural districts drawn from what one is accustomed to call the upper class. Again, there is practically no middle class. You find a sprinkling of them in towns——-eommercial agents, big shopkeepers, bank officials, and so forth, and, scattered at long intervals up and down country, are the doctors and their assistants the velschers, the mining engineers, mine managers and mine agents, the occasional schoolmaster and the banished politicals of education. There are next to no employers of labor, no prosperous farmers, no fruit growers or small capitalists interested in profitable rural industries. Why? Socialism is the answer. All the army of wranglers (t artels >2; church terme . , .3.» us.) -mzrw . "_——A w- am. A I me— spa-ia—mrA—uu; , sub-— )—,———— .. I THE SIBERIAN VILLAGE 165 about socialism, the pros and the antis, scattered around the seven seas, are too busy over their theoretical argu— ments and theses, apparently, to be aware of the fact that the population of one—half of the globe’s five continents is to-day practicing and has been practicing for the past fifty years, an actual, workable kind of socialism. When, away back in the ’ 60s, Tsar Alexander II freed the serfs, he formed them into village communes or Mira, each man being given a hut, a yard, and a share in the agricultural lands of the village. The present ratio of distribution allows about 100 dec- itima (a decitima is equal to two-thirds of an acre of land, to a family, with five additional decitima for every man and male child. At the end of each fifteen years a new division is made to accommodate the families that have grown up. A certain amount is set aside for common pasturage. A peasant may rent land but not sell it. The head of the Mir is the Selski Starosta or village elder who is the representative of law and order, the last of that great line of Russian officials which begins with the Tsar himself. The village elder is elected by the members of the Mir. He it is who visées your passport in the small town and to whom are brought village spats and the question of debts. According to the Mir con- stitution, the entire family is held responsible for the misdemeanors and liabilities of one of its members. Civil cases including sums up to 1,000 roubles are tried by a justice of the peace (M cram: Sadie) who sits at a county seat. There is a justice to each three or four counties. As robbery without murder is exceptional rather than customary in rural communities, there is no law for petty offence, the natives settling it among themselves. The usual procedure is that followed the world over — a fight. And the Siberian peasant fights in a novel though some- 166 THROUGH SIBERIA what Biblical manner. Instead of hurling themselves into a good, soul-satisfying fisticuff—the give and take of ordinary lands —-the contestants stand and glare at each other like enraged beasts for a time, then one steps for— ward and smacks his rival on the check with the palm of his hand, the rival remaining stock-still With his arms to his side. Then the other man gets in his smack. That is all. There are no more blows. Mutual satisfaction has been gained. They part. As an outcome of this socialistic system, the peasant has no master but the will of his compeers, and he would not work for wages were a capitalist farmer to come into the neighborhood and offer to employ him. He would. rob that man but he would not work for him. Should he, by any chance, be ambitious enough to earn a little money working for wages, he must get the consent of his come mune before he may sign himself. Thus the peasant has to bow to the will of his 00mpeers in all matters concern- ing the tilling and sowing of the soil, and the reaping of harvests, and his income is that of hisyfellows. In the majority of cases, if a man wishes to follow enlightened farming methods, whether concerning an innovation in instruments, a new crop rotation, or a suggestion that exhausted lands be given a rest, he is taken before the al— most invariably obstinate head man of the commune, lec- tured on the error of his ways, and sent back home an embittered and thenceforth nonchalant being. This very phase of Mir life was commented on by a butter merchant, a Dane, whom we met in Omsk. Many of the steppe farmers, though it is to their advantage to do so, refuse absolutely to use a separator for their milk, call them “devil machines” and are content to jog along as did their forefathers. ' Instead of rising to a higher level of civilization, the WW‘H WNM m. THE SIBERIAN VILLAGE I67 Siberian method of socialism ——— each man working not for himself but for the weal of the commune-gives abun— dant opportunity for the laziness that is apparent on all sides, and in a most emphatic manner is killing all enter- prise and is pulling the better men down to a shockingly low level of slothful mediocrity. This apathy is evidenced in the way the Siberian farmer i’ tills his soil. Fundamentally, he is a poor husbandman. " In many regions he is still content simply to scratch the ‘ ground with his rude solsha or barrow-plow rather than ' use modern machinery. He will not rotate his crops nor fertilize the ground. Manure he burns for fuel. He will grow three successive crops of the same kind on a plot and then let it lie idle for from five to ten years. Half the land is untilled in the neighborhood of villages, and when the crops fail on the land that is tilled, then famine comes. The winter of 1910—11 saw suffering untold throughout Siberia, famine much more terrible than: that of _ 1907. To be sure, the summer was very hot and drought killed the crops, but the peasant who lives from day to day had little laid up against it. In twenty eastern Russian and western Siberian provinces that have a total population of 36,000,000, 19,500,000 people were actually starving and in need of immediate State assistance. The crops of that year, not only of grain, but of fodder and hay, en- tirely failed in regions both sides of the Urals. Conse— quently cattle, horses, and household goods were sold at ruinous prices by the peasants at the very beginning of the fall and they were forced to satisfy the pangs of hunger with acorns, bran, weeds, ground bark of trees and in some known cases, even with clay. Mixed with a little flour these substitutes are turned into a heavy black paste called “ bread.” Sickness ——hemorrhage and colic— are 168 THROUGH SIBEBIA the usual sequels of such food, but eventually scurvy and typhus follow in the wake of famine. It appears from reports of that winter’s famine that two and one-half cents were sufficient in famine districts to save one life from starvation for one day, and $4 for saving it till the next crop. The Western mind naturally asks, “ Why does not the farmer save a little money?” The answer of the Rus- sian Government, whose care of the peasant is theoretic— ally paternal, is that the farmer can save if he will permit the Government to lend a hand. At the present time the Russian Government has nearly $40,000,000 of government moneys invested in the farm- er’s cooperative credit system. The peasant deposits his money with these credit societies and after his death his funeral expenses will be paid or the sums will be returned to him on the coming of age of his son or the marriage of his daughter. The Government has two distinct aims in maintaining this credit system: (1) to educate the peasants along lines of modern farming; (2) to encourage them to save their earnings. In the first case, for example: the Government, appre ciating the possibilities of the butter producing section ~— there are about 160,000 square miles of this —the dairy products of which constitute one of Siberia’ s largest peas~ ant outputs, has established dairy schools and is, subsi- dizing them at 3.2001 million of idollars‘each year. They are situated at the chief centers of the industry, at Kainsk, Omsk, Kourgan, Somernagorsk and Barnaoul. An agro- non, or instructor of dairy farming, is in charge, and [the peasant is given a three months’ course in all subjects pertaining to the care and tilling of the soil, the modern methods of making butter, and the breeding of stock. The THE SIBERIAN VILLAGE 169 Government oifers gold medals for which the farmers can compete. This State interest has given the butter busi- ness great impetus. In 1893? there"rpiasmbnggggpggig in! all Siberia. To-day they number over 3,000eachwwith an output of from fifteen to thirty hundredweight of. but- ter every week. These dairies are conducted usually by artels which makes the cost of hand labor low though the labor is concomitantly low in efl‘iciency. Wages infil- beria are about one—tenth of those, given in “Angie: In thedairy district's,”awworkman gets about $1.7 5 a week for six days, working twelve hours a day. The credit system was instituted in 1895 and now in- cludes some 10,000 farmers’ artels. The Siberian village is ugly and squalid invariably. It has an unpleasant note of individuality that picks it out from the villages of any other country—— the utter absence of shade, of trees. As matters stand, the village, espe- cially on the banks of the big rivers, would often be quite presentable in summer had it those avenues of foliage, those big gnarled trees cropping up in odd corners that give so much of their charm to the villages of western Europe and America. But the Siberian peasant will have none of them. If a tree manages to drag its dusty, parch—rooted self up to adolescence within the confines of the village, it is hacked down by a peasant. Nor is there any attempt Whatever at outdoor gardening, individual gardening as we know and love it. There is the socialistic commercialized shar— ing of the market gardens situated on the outskirts of the village, and perhaps one log cabin in four boasts of half a dozen flowering shrubs and plants kept in tubs and old biscuit tins in the living-room during the winter. No one grows flowers out-of—doors or makes the slightest at- tempt to beautify the bare wooden walls of the home with 170 THROUGH SIBERIA creepers or the yard with shrubs. Ivy is never seen out- side a building, and is rare indeed in the forests. Siberia with its fifty-two or so feast holidays in the year is in an uniquely favored position among the lands of the world to gain a reputation for gardening. Instead of sheer lazing about and vodka drunkenness to pass the time on feast days, the men might welluse their spare days making their villages a pattern to civilization; but they seem to have little or no sense of esthetics. The state of their homes, the slipshod dressing of their women and children tell the same tale. Small wonder that the Japanese look upon them with such deep contempt, and consider the Russian peasantry in general as barbarians. Until 1904 fines or short terms of imprisonment were imposed on those who persisted in working on holidays. These were abolished because the idleness they occasioned was a great drawback to the agricultural interests of the people, whole crops sometimes being spoiled by the refusal of the devout to work on a church holiday. From what we saw of holidays in the villages We were led to believe that the natives do not take advantage of the liberty al- lowed them. For, despite the new law, the holidays are still kept, and the tracter business thrives. The Russian Government makes some effort to care for the intellectual and physical welfare of the next genera- tion of peasants. Each village, even the smallest, has a narod'nija utchilistcha, an elementary school where the three R’s are taught. To each log schoolhouse is attached a playground, grassless, treeless and dusty, fitted with swings, giant strides, parallel bars and wooden horses. And that spot is by far the cheeriest spot in the village, for the children study and play with boisterousness un- restrained. I While only one town in a dozen boasts a. doctor, each The typical Siberian but is low and substantially built of logs THE SIBERIAN VILLAGE 171 has its velscher, a male nurse trained in simple material medical. The doctor makes a continuous circuit of his villages, leaving the simpler cases to his assistant who is in residence. At points along the railroads and postal routes are small hospitals, a room with one cot—those we examined had the dirtiest bed linen — a row of bottles and drug packets, innumerable ikons, a picture of the Tsar taken when he was about nineteen, and a row of charity boxes. Ordinarily the peasant is a very rugged and robust specimen, but when he falls ill his attitude is quite in line with his general apathy. If he feels the least touch of sickness he goes to bed. and refuses to stir until his family routes him out or he dies. The neglect of disease among the natives of Siberia is appalling. A government statute prohibits the sale of patent medicines without a physician’s order, so the native, too poor or too lazy to summon a doctor, succumbs to his disease. It would be well, one thinks, if the Russian Government would devote some of the energy it now expends on ailing talkative university students to a serious study of the diseases that are scourging its people. Typhoid fever is prevalent in all Siberian towns. Water is taken, in the river villages, directly from the river. Possibly the fact that all Russians drink tea, which necessitates the boiling of the water, is what has preserved whole communities. Cholera is a regular summer visitant, though in the cities the authdrities post up warnings to householders to drink no unboiled water nor eat uncooked fruit. In some places, as at Omsk, the melon market is closed during cholera scares. But even worse diseases are sapping the strength of the people. To pick out one example from many, one that is staggering: the leading physician at Omsk stated that eighty per cent. of the people in that city are syph- l l l 172 THROUGH SIBERIA ilitic, and that, in consequence, the insane aSylums are overcrowded with unfortunates. Physicians in Irkutsk gave a rate for that city of not much lower percentage. In the gymnasium for girls at Blagowestchensk there were 700 pupils enrolled in 1911. Of those over fifteen years of age, thirty-five per cent. were suffering from the same disease. In many Tartar and Cossack villages, the preva- lence is one hundred per cent. Each village maintains a zemstkaia kvatvm, often a single room where travelers may put in for the night and get a samovar and black bread. The cuisine at these houses will never gain a world-wide reputation for va- riety or pleasurable palatability. The furniture of the room is crude, usually one table, a bench or two, and some chairs. The decorations are hideous chromos and still more hideous family photographs, and we found with singular regularity the table ornamented with a stack of empty beer bottles. The traveler furnishes his own bedding and sleeps on the floor. Beside the zemstkaia kvatm’a there is maintained by the Government along rural post roads postantia, post houses, where a guest room is reserved. The keeper issues tickets for a nominal sum that cover the price of horses or taran- tass and a guide to the next post house. The postantia affords a floor to sleep on and hot water. You provide the blankets and the tea. The guest room is kept compara- tively clean and the floor of broad pine boards proves a refreshing bed after ten hours in the saddle. While traveling through Siberia one often meets wan- dering bands of carpenters—artels they are called—— sometimes a dozen men with their saws and axes on their backs. They are an outgrowth of the socialistic atmos- phere, and, to hark back to the original theme, the best development it has taken. They have no master. While THE SIBERIAN VILLAGE 173 the artel will not guarantee the efficiency of its individual member, it holds itself responsible for his honesty. This is due to the fact that remuneration is shared equally. Should you want a house built, you call in an artel, and, without having to bicker and contract with a small army of plumbers, masons, roofers and nondescript hodcarriers, as in countries more advanced in civilization, the artel takes the entire matter out of your hands. When you pay, you pay the artel. The artel system, however, is not confined to carpen- ters. The artelschik can be found in offices, on the streets, in the factories, shops and railroad stations, and on the farms. Even the convict settlements have their cartels who look after the interests of the penal community and arrange for the purchase of its necessities. The low efficiency of the Siberian laborer is not the fault of the Russian Government. He is inherently lazy. Were the Government less kind to {her children, they might, in time, develop stamina enoughtomake a self— , supporting people. As compared to the immigrant set- I tlers in our own West or in Canada, the Siberian peasant I is a pitiful specimen of humanity—nearer beast than man. Like mankind the world over, he is essentially gregari— ous. He will not live out in the country but must cluster in the town. He may have to ride miles to and from his fields each day, but nothing will induce him to erect his but out there on the plains and to fight for existence, as have thousands of settlers in other lands, against the elements and the loneliness of steppe life. Often the peasant is too lazy to ride out to his farm for days at a stretch. The fields, of course, sufier from want of his attention and he, in winter, from want of their productiv- 1ty. 17 4: THROUGH SIBERIA The peasant respects two persons, the Tsar and God. The former he is obliged to respect, or else he will be jailed as a political. He must likewise give him three years of his youth to serve in the army. But the ordinary private~and We encountered him under many condi- tions, favorable and otherwise — does not command much respect. Like the soldiers of many lands, he pilfers; he is slovenly in the care of his uniform; and he snatches at the least graft that comes his way. In the last instance he is hardly to be blamed. His officers do it, and be— sides, the private’s pay is so ridiculously small that he must get money somewhere. Think of it! The soldier of the Little Father is given seventy—five kopecks a month, thirty—six cents in our money! Out of this he must find shoe blacking and repairs to his uniform. And the sev- enty-five kopecks are given him in weekly instalments of about nine cents in our money, to prevent drunkenness! The return of the soldier from his term of service is the link the Siberian village off the railroad has with civ- ilization and the outside world. Following a policy cal- culated to deter local uprisings, the army authorities have adopted the old Roman military scheme of moving a man thousands of miles away from his home tOWn. Thus Polish soldiers are scattered throughout Siberia and vice versa. One such came home while we were at Ookteechenskaia. He was a strapping youth with an incipient moustache and an English vocabulary that was limited to “ all right” and “damn.” There was a general scurry among the women of the town and the show of Sunday frocks proved that even in Ookteechenskaia, the female heart loves brass buttons. That night the entire village gathered in to hear the experiences of the soldier. The older men who had served their time compared notes and sighed over THE SIBERIAN VILLAGE 175 the fact that the good old days of the army Were passed. There was much vodka and the showing of many photo~ graphs, for the Russian soldier has a fatal weakness for being photographed in his uniform; then the youth’s sword was hung up on the wall of the room near the ikon corner, the little sanctuary that is found in each house ‘ however humble. There it will hang until the Little Father calls on him for help. All men who have served their time in the army are enrolled in the reservists. They can be summoned back to the ranks at twenty~four hours’ notice. In time of war or of war scares, the reservist is not allowed to leave his village. During the altercation with China over the Men— golian border in the spring of 1911, we found the re— servists sitting in their huts awaiting the order to join a regiment. Incidentally, many of them took this en— forced holiday with no good will. As one peasant ex- pressed it, “ I’ve been to one war. I fought the Japanese, and I’ll not go to another.” Yet this man wore the Cross of St. George for valor in the trenches along the Yalu! The relation of the priest in the small town to the people is much akin to that which prevails the world over. The pope, as he is known to the Russians, mingles with his flock, accepting their hospitality with quaint condescen— sion, and taking his perquisites, it must be lamented, with an almost greedy hand. We saw much of these priests both in the towns and the villages. Their long blue cas— socks, their unshorn hair falling down to the shoulder, and their beards give them an eminently paternal appear- ance. At a distance they reminded one of the pictures of the Man of Galilee; yet, on approach, we found them very greasy and very ignorant. They know little more than their liturgy and the simple articles of faith. This, perhaps, is well, for their flocks are simple folk trusting 176 THROUGH SIBERIA the church Without the exercise of their intellects, a nec— essary confidence because the average peasant has little intellect to exercise. The priest has many perquisites in the Greek church. He must be present at births and deaths and must receive payment for his services. In some towns, it is rumored, the priest grows fat on his perquisites, but that is not the average state of affairs. We saw the village priest in a picturesque light at Feersova. It was the morning we landed on the bank before the little Shilka town and watched our tiny craft, the Why Not ?, crushed in the ice jams. As related be- fore, we expected to take a tarantass from the village and continue our journey down the Amur post road but were unable to find one in the town. The fact of the matter was, our landing at Feersova attracted little at- tention. We wondered at this because the manner of our arrival was somewhat out of the ordinary and, moreover, strangers and above all foreigners, which we obviously were, are not often seen in the town. However, the mystery was soon explained. We made house to house visitations and finally came to a large log cabin where, it seemed, most of the village had foregathered. In one of the rooms were crowded the men. They welcomed us eifusively, offering vodka and confections. Among them was a young cleric in his blue cassock. A cross hung on his breast, and in his hand was a glass of scnapps. First the refreshments were offered to him, then to us and the rest of the men. It was very pleasant indeed, but vodka and sweet cakes were not what we wanted most at that moment. We wanted a tarantass, horses —— anything to convey us down the Amur pike to Blagowestchensk. We rose to go. The natives would not listen to it. We must stay for the fun. After several more rounds of vodka and cakes, the pope carefully brushed the crumbs r- THE SIBERIAN VILLAGE 177 ed the front of his cassock and stood up. Everyone else stood up. He went into an adjoining room. We fol- lowed. And there we found the cause of the feast. Sur- rounded by candles and praying women, lay the body of a peasant. In the old man’s hand was a cross and a slip of paper. The latter, the natives explained, was his pass— port to St. Nicholas, for one must have a passport in death as well as in life according to the Russian. A service in the little church followed, then the body was borne up to the hilltop and laid away. A group of men formed a rude choir and intoned the responses to the priest, the women, meantime, standing respectfully behind them. During the entire service the body was uncovered. It was uncovered on the way to the grave. It was uncov~ ered when the earth was crumbled over it. The burial finished, the natives trooped back to the village for more vodka. Now, from the start to the finish of this solemn service, we did not see a single tear shed. What we saw at Feersova was only a small reproduc- tion 'of what we had seen many times at Irkutsk. The Russians like large funerals. The body is hauled on a hearse that would do honor to a king, the horses led by men in white and the pallbearers marching beside the body with unlit candles in their hands. Once in Irkutsk we were walking down the Bolshskaia quite unconcerned when we noticed that the pedestrians ahead of us were stepping out into the street, the men removing their hats, and making way for a little group to pass. In front of the group walked two little girls with wreaths of paper flowers. They both seemed very happy. Following them came two women in gaudy dresses, and then a man bearing under his arm a tiny coffin. Like the rest of Russian coffins, it had no lid, and the infant’s body that lay within was exposed to the gaze 178 THROUGH SIBERIA of the passerby. The procession was finished by the mother and the father, neither of them sorry looking— both, in fact, laughing and chattering. Somehow our experiences with the Russian funeral and the Russian priest proved a rebuke to our ultra—modern ideas. The peasant trusts his spiritual father and smiles at death. Possibly he is right. From the foregoing, it must not be inferred that all the Siberian peasants are members of the Greek Church. Re ligious freedom had always been permitted in Siberia, and consequently a significant percentage of” the popula- tion is made up of dissenters—Raskolinks, they are called. They include the Staravers, or old believers in the original dogma of the Greek Church before the re" forms of the Seventeenth Century; the Mullakons whose lives are marked for their simplicity and are like our Quakers; the Doukhobors, and the Baptists. These peo- ple came out in the early days of Siberia’s colonization and have thrived in the new land. We found that these sectants are not looked upon with favor by the orthodox Greek churchman. On the Shilka—Blagowestchensk boat there was an altercation one day between the mate and the engineer. The latter, having delivered himself of many purple oaths, finally topped ofi his expression of wrath by the worst name he could think of. He curled his fist under the mate’s nose and hissed “Mullakon! ” But the M ullakons, as we discovered in Amurland, are not to be discounted. The purity and earnestness of their lives stand out in rebuking contrast to the lives of the orthodox peasantry. The latter is devout. At all events, he observes each religious holiday—goes to church and gets drunk. This blind devotion is nothing exceptional. One finds it in many countries of the globe. The wooded banks of the Amur a“.-- . . V , W _ Wwva~ f'Q‘ "*' “"" ' :\ 011g the Amur above Blagowestchensk THE SIBERIAN MILLAGE 179 But the drunkenness holds a story that is far from pleas- ant. Travelers in the kingdom of the Little Father often wonder at the prevalence of armless, legless beggars to be seen on all sides from Vilna to Vladivostok. Where disease is not responsible, drink is. The peasant goes to the tracter or wine shop, tosses oif a bottle of vodka, and then, after a time, turns homeward. The night is cold. The wayr is dark. He is very sleepy, so he drops by the road. In the morning, when he is found, if he is not frozen to death, part of him is. Nor will the peas- ant thank you if at that time you extend to him the Samaritan hand. In Tomsk we found a man half frozen in a pool not far from the door of a tracter. ‘We knew that arrests for drunkenness were rare in Siberia and that as this was a side street there might be no passerby except ourselves for some time. So we lifted him out and tried to succor him. When he awoke and was warm and sober, he cursed us for disturbing his rest! The Siberian peasant—and we have stayed or lived in fourteen of his villages and had dealings with another score — is not hospitable. He, or rather his wife, will not dream of cooking any food especially for a well~paying guest. It needs a distinct effort to obtain boiled eggs; a plate of soup is more the exception than the rule. Butter and milk are frequently refused in a prosperous agricul- tural village, and there is no joint of meat. Though earn- ing a fair sum each week, a family will eke out existence on bread and tea with an occasional treat of pirouskics or hashed meat balls. At a government post house you pay double the scheduled price for victuals and the man and his wife will grumble. In one instance —— there is no space to detail more — a woman met us at the door with a saucer 180 THROUGH SIBERIA g: 3613 used. It had an age-old crack. And the de- Inhe money on the grounds that we had caused it! utter zggmmant note of the Siberian peasant is that of uncomforirlgless. .Iie. seems to have something heavy and i .d a. e weighinghim down, or better, something ns1 e sapping his v1ta11ty, something which he himself cannot comprehend and which the casual observer mi ht erraneously define as sheer laziness. Gorki speaks of it as a spark wanting in his soul.” Whether that spark Is. the des1re to grow and better himself —a desire that W111 come only with decades of education—or the sense of .freedom and the right to grow and better himself —~ wh1ch is the product only of a voice in one’s own governin the making and keeping of one’s own laws —— is hard to said She peasant is the product of a system centuries old and e cannot be changed in a twinkling, for intelligence W1th him Wlll not, of necessity, be a concomitant with educatlon nor justice with liberty. At present he a ear I quite content. Abandoned completely to the griimal forces of his instincts, he wants nothing more than a little fpod, a little clothing, vodka enough to make his h (1 light, and the satisfaction of his lust. Ambition does hit rouse him. Initiative is denied him. He is a member oi? the commune. He is just like the rest of the men in 1118 Mir. He shru 3 his Sh 1d _ . does it matter? g on ers Neztchevol—what CHAPTER XII VOYAGING THROUGH AMURLAND 1 ‘ N 7HEN you swing round the bend in the Shilka and catch the drift of the Argun, the junction of which forms the mighty river Amur, you be- gin to appreciate the symbolism of the position of Alex- ander III’s statue at Irkutsk —— he who looks hither with such intense gaze. To this region the Government is directing the tide of immigration. The climate is less rigorous than, that of central and southeiTn'MSilieria”and'lthe"sheltered valleys among the steep hills"f0rm excellent agricultural land. Moreover, Amurland and the maritime __provinces touch Mahcliuria. ' ' West of Baikal the steppe land and taiga are dreary; east is a country whose scenery is more diversified, whose people are imbued with modern ideas, and, in a measure, have a freer hand to live and. do as they please. Amur— land and the maritime regions showed marked traces of American influence and of that inimitable Far East cos- mopolitanism. The people have a cheery slap—dash about them. In the cities, they seem to live, not barely exist; ‘1 The voyage through Amurland and northern Manchuria was made by Mr. Wright. 0n the loss of the Why Not?, the authors were obliged, after a short stay at Ookteechenskaia, to return by horse over the Shilka. Mountains to Stretensk. Mr. Digby, having a. passport, went south by rail, while Mr. Wright, who had no pass- port, had virtually to “escape” from Russian territory via. Man- churia. 181 ...
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This note was uploaded on 10/22/2009 for the course SLA 338 taught by Professor Sergueia.oushakine during the Spring '09 term at Princeton.

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