By: Joachim Otto Habeck
Many authors included the reports of Russian and Tungus (Evenki) eye-witnesses in their studies. However, as far as I know, none of the books, films, web pages etc. mention how the native people themselves explained the apocalypse that affected them and their land. Therefore, I want to quote a Soviet ethnographer who was travelling through this part of Siberia in the 1920s.
Innokentiy Mikhaylovich Suslov (b. 1893, d. 1972) worked as
ethnographer and geographer in the Far North of the Soviet Union.
He was also involved in organising Soviet power in the Tunguska
region. The following quotations are extracted from a text
written by Suslov, based on his 1926-8 fieldwork on the religious
ideas of the Evenki in that very region. The text dates from
approx. 1930 and, apparently, was to be published, but this did
not happen in Suslov's lifetime. Karl H. Menges translated the
text into German and made it available to the public in 1983.
The remarks on Suslov given above were taken from Menges's introduction. The exact title of the text is as follows:
Materialien zum Schamanismus der Ewenki-Tungusen an der Mittleren und Unteren Tunguska. Gesammelt und aufgezeichnet von I. M. Suslov 1926/1928. Eingeleitet, übersetzt, mit Anmerkungen, etymologischen Glossar und Indices versehen von Karl. H. Menges. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz 1983. xv, 131 pp.
The text was translated from German into English by myself. Russian and Evenki names are transliterated according to The Times Atlas of the World and The U.S. Board on Geographic Names.
"[page 4] The Tungus have only one expression for the thunder - agdy -, by which they also describe the old man, the lord of the thunder as well as all the thunderbirds that come down to earth and cause the thunder. The Agdy birds are as big as black grouses, are made of iron, and their eyes are fiery. The thunder arises from their flight above the earth and their eyes flash like lightning. All the Agdy have close relationships to certain shamans, because the ancestors of the thunder live in Khergu(1) where also the souls of the shamans can be found perpetually. Some old shamans were great friends of the thunder, and this friendship has passed to their descendants. That is why any wicked shaman can call the Agdy in order to do harm to a group of people he hates or even to a whole clan.
The famous story of the Tunguska meteorite, which L. A. [page 5] KULIK tries to investigate since 1927, (2) was explained to me by the Tungus at the mouth of the Chunya on the Stony Tunguska (3) in a very simple way. When, in 1926 at the Chunya, I talked with the Tungus about the catastrophe of 30 June 1908 - in order to obtain more exact data to be used for the forthcoming search operation for the meteorite - they persistently kept silent and deflected the inquiry into this event again and again; however, I persisted in my questions and they reported the following:
For a long time, there had been tribal feuds between a group of Tungus clans in the basin of the Stony Tunguska and clans living along the right tributaries of the Lower Tunguska. Eventually, this hostility resulted in the shamans sending their evil spirits against each other to cause diseases. Then one of the shamans called the Agdy to destroy the hated enemies. In the early morning of the 30th June 1908 an interminable legion of Agdy came flying down upon the grounds of the Shanyagir clan (4) and brought disaster to many families of the Shanyagir: some tents flew into the air, «higher than the forest», and the people sleeping inside suffered from bruises; (5) From [the herd of] Andrey Onkoul, a Tungus, 250 reindeer vanished without any trace; other Tungus' dogs and some reindeer were killed; the storage platforms with bread and equipment were destroyed; the forest, a real, ancient taiga, was flatened within a few seconds to an expanse of approximately 10,000 km² in the catchment areas of the rivers Chambe, Zhilushmo and Khushmo; there was a tremendous thunderous noise, which caused crevices in the earth (at this moment, the seismograph of Irkutsk recorded a really extraordinary type of earthquake). Owing to these impressions, the inhabitants of that part of the taiga fled in panic in all directions, leaving every last one of their belongings behind. All this is blamed on the Agdy.
Now many Tungus believe that only the Agdy can live at the place of that catastrophe; it has already been 20 years since then, and still nobody dares turn up in this area."
"[page 63] Already in the years 1912 to 1914 I had the opportunity to listen to not a small number of stories, which I was told by the Tungus from the Ilimpiya, (6) about the «miracles» of [the shaman] Magankan. It seems that there is not a single Tungus among the ten clans of Ilimpiya who has not heard about how Magankan wanted to punish the spirits that resisted submission to his Khargi (7) and abided in his body: he got those present to shoot directly with a rifle at him. He then caught the bullet when it came out of his body and showed it to all people present. Similarly, Magankan stabbed a knife to his chest with all his force, but no wound and no blood could be found. The members of the clan Shanyagir ascribe the impact of the famous Tunguska meteorite, which at present is searched for by L. A. KULIK between the Stony Tunguska and the Chunya, to Magankan, too."
- (1) [Khergu is the lower world. It is inhabited by the deceased, but the souls of the (living) shamans are found here as well. Most of the encounters between shamans and spirits happen in this world (cf Suslov/Menges, pp. 2-3). JOH.]
- (2) [Annotation 15 as given by K. H. Menges, pp. 98-99:] In the meantime, the problem has been solved to the most part, but research is still not finished, cf. Bol'shaya Sovetskaya Entsiklopediya, vol. 26 (1977), p. 303, where, for some strange reason, the coordinates of the impact are missing. A short account was recorded by VASILEVICH in 1936 at the [river] Chuyungo in the Stony Tunguska area; there the catastrophe is also presented as having been caused by the Agdi [sic]: "Istoricheskiy fol'klor evenkov", M., L., 1966, pp. 375, 379. Some Evenki from the Tokma, nomads living to the east of the area where the meteor came down and thus not immediately affected, told VASILEVICH in 1925 that a piece came off the sun, fell on the earth and burnt the taiga "Evenki", Leningrad, 1969, p. 211.). KHM.
- (3) [Stony Tunguska (russ.: Podkamennaya Tunguska) and the "Mittlere Tunguska" which is mentioned in the title of the text are one and the same river. Compare the map. JOH.]
- (4) [Annotation 16 as given by Menges, p. 99:] Report according to the words of Ivashka, 70 years old, son of Okhchon of the Shanyagir clan, who himself had suffered from the catastrophe.
- (5) [Annotation 17 as given by Menges, p. 99:] Cf I. M. SUSLOV: "K rozysku padeniya bol'shogo meteorita (On the search for the impact of the big meteorite)", in: Mirovedeniye, No. 1, 1927.
- (6) [The Ilimpiya is a tributary of the Lower Tunguska (russ.: Nizhnyaya Tunguska). However, the term "Tungus from the Ilimpiya" refers to a much larger area: the northern half of what is nowadays the Evenki District. Compare the map. JOH.]
- (7) [The spirit named Khargi has considerable influence on the shaman, especially during his shamanic sessions, indeed, it is actually the Khargi who gives instructions to the shaman (cf Suslov/Menges, p. 22). JOH.]
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