Submitted by: Yuri Klitsenko
Fighting against so called “noble savage myth” American professor William Urban wrote that Pagan religion is nothing but “war plus hard drinking”. I don’t study the “noble savage myth”. I am interested in developing an understanding of the symbolism and mythology of Tungusic folks and other Natives of Siberia.
“The White Dawn” (1974) shows Canadian Inuits taking clothes from dead body of American sailor. I don’t know much about Inuits, but I know well that such act would be absolutely impossible for Evenkis and other Natives of Siberia, including Natives of Kamchatka. And very few Evenkis (except totally ill alcoholics) would accept "second hand" clothes - because of "spirits from other tribe or even from other folk".
I have heard lot of stories about different kinds of spirits, including the most terrible "bear-ghost". Human being dies because evil spirits eat soul and body. Thus to collect dead man clothes means to collect evil spirits. Even at the threat of death no Evenki would agree to do that.
Just one example from modern life – one Evenki female teacher in Surinda (Mrs. Martha Konorenok) arranged a small museum for Evenki children at school. She knew the place of the labaz (a stilted storage unit for seasonal supplies) deep in the forest where her parents kept very interesting ancient things. When she decided to bring things from labaz to school the Evenki community strictly prohibited her to do that – these things belonged to her parents who already died. “Ekel”! “Ngolomo”! Means “Never touch”. I have heard two Evenki words “ekel” and “ngolomo” so often, that I wrote an article about “ekel” and “ngolomo”. Amazing ancient Evenki artifacts get lost in the forests because of these two words - “ekel” and “ngolomo”.
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“The White Dawn” (1974). This film, based on James A. Houston's fine book, is a fascinating glimpse into the Inuit way of life. The Inuit (commonly known as the Eskimo) culture remained unchanged for thousands of years but, as with all Native American people, their culture rapidly became threatened once Europeans arrived onto the continent. This film reveals a clash of cultures that will haunt you for some time.
The White Dawn is definitely a film of the 1970s, with a kind of hippie message that Dances With Wolves would years later carry to Oscar gold. It suggests that the savages are really gentle and wonderful and we civilized folks are really savages.
In the 19th century, three sailors from a whaling ship are stranded and rescued by Eskimos . Dubbed the "dog children" the Eskimos take them in and treat them as family.
The entire story is logical and can do nothing but end in tragedy for all concerned, the Eskimos included.
My friend from Alaska wrote:
“I can’t comment on Athabaskan and Eskimo ideas. For Tlingit, if there is an accident, the clothes are burned. But normally, the clothing of a person who died is distributed to various people in the family and community according to genealogy. As far as I know, not the clothes the person died in, but the clothing which belonged to the dead person - his or her wardrobe. Special clothing such as embroidered tunics or blankets are kept as clan property and used ceremonially. So, for Tlingit, there is no taboo against re-using the clothing of the deceased”.
My Nganasan friend replied that rules are more strict for women. Nganasan proverb says: “When woman dies she takes all tent with her” “or “Woman has gone – all tent has gone”. Proverb means that not only diseased lady’s personal clothes and her tools should be sent to distant journey, but everything made by that woman – including male clothes and even covers of the tent she sewed.
I have read interesting Even (Even – not Evenk) story about spirits of used clothes. One Even lady was lazy to repair clothes and left used clothes in the abandoned nomadic camp – eventually spirits of used clothes and shoes attacked her.
Yuri Klitsenko is a Russian living in Moscow. He works for the Russian Orthodox Church.