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p. 102


In former times, the Yukaghir acted in the following manner. When the grave-box of a member of their own kind decayed on account of extreme age, they gathered the dry bones. They prepared a bag of harlot skin, and put the bones into it. That done, they built a small storehouse on wooden supports, in which to keep the bones. The bag of bones served them as a means of divination. In their hunting pursuits they wandered about in various directions. As soon as they were ready to depart, they spoke to the bone charms, "See grandfather! answer us! How is our present hunting trip going to turn out?" With this they would try to lift the bag. Whenever it felt heavy, it was a sign that the hunt would not be successful. The grandfather advised them not to go. Sometimes it felt so heavy that it was impossible to lift it from the ground. That foreboded misfortune and possible death, and they would stay at home. Another time, on the other hand, the bag would feel lighter than a feather. This foreboded good luck, and they would start off merrily.

The same was done when they wanted to go to Russian settlements for trading purposes. "Eh, grandfather, what is going to happen to us?" Sometimes the signs would urge them on, and at other times it would make them desist. Another day they would be ready to depart; but the "grandfather" would forecast ill luck, so that they would stay at home. After three or four days, they would go to the bag; and the "grandfather" might have changed his mind, and feel quite light when lifted. This meant that the bad influence had passed, and they went forth to resume their enterprise. In due time they would come back from their hunting; then they would visit the "grandfather," taking him the best morsel of meat and fat, marrow and blood soup, also tea and sugar, tobacco, and hard tack. They would put all this into the bag. About midwinter, it might happen that the people would lack tea or tobacco; then they would go to the "grandfather" for a loan from his stores. First of all, they would ask him, "Eh, grandfather, will you let us have a loan from your stores?" and then they would lift the bag. Sometimes it would consent, and feel quite light. Another time it would refuse the loan, and feel heavier than lead. Then they would go back empty-handed.

Every house and family had such a bag as their own protector. They would bring sacrifices to it, and it in turn would defend them and keep them in good condition.

My uncle told me one time how his "grandfather" saved him from an

p. 103

evil spirit. 1 One summer my uncle went in a wooden canoe down the river to inspect his deadfalls. He came to his autumn fishing place, where he had a hut with racks for drying fish. He wanted to get some fishing nets from there. When he was entering the hut, he heard something stir behind him; and on looking back he saw a "fright" coming. He nearly lost his senses. What was to be done? The return was cut off, and there was no chance to run ahead. Moreover, his feet nearly refused to serve him. All at once it came to his mind that his "grandfather's" house was close by. So he rushed to it, climbed the ladder, tore open the door, and fell across the sill. "O granny! save me!" After that he remembered nothing. He came to himself late in the evening; and, lo, he was lying in the place of the bag of bones, and the "grandfather" lay close to the door and across the sill. The bag had moved the man to its own place, lain down near the entrance, like a sentry. My uncle felt quite uneasy, "Ah, grandfather!" said he, "What is to be done? Shall I go? I am sorely afraid. Please give answer! I will lift you. In case you want me to go, be light like feather down; but in case you want me to stay for safety, please be heavier than cast iron!" He tried to lift it, and it was lighter than a cobweb. "Oh, you permit me to go."--He put down the bag, and put it back to its former place. Then he went down to the bank of the river, boarded his canoe, and paddled off. The "fright" never came back. So he reached home without any hindrance.

Told by Nicholas Vostryakoff, a Russianized Yukaghir man, in the village of Omolon, in the Kolyma country, summer of 1900.

Next: 28. A Story of Machekur