1911 - 1912

From Yakutsk to the Russkoe Ustye (1911-1912)

National Library of Republic Sakha (Yakutia)

The virtual exhibition "From Yakutsk to the Russkoe Ustye" - a visual diary of Vladimir Mikhailovich Zenzinov. The photos were first picked up with the text of the diary V.M. Zenzinov, thereby allowing to dive into his life in the Russkoe Ustye.

January 21
I don’t know and don’t understand where I went. After a journey of a month and a half across the Yakuts with their incomprehensible speech and alien life, I suddenly found myself in Russia again. Light chopped huts, washed wooden floor, scraped tables - and pure Russian speech. Faces open, simple, Great Russian features - no hint of Asia. This is, of course, Russia, but Russia of the XVIIIth, perhaps even the XVIIth century. Strange, ancient words and words, completely patriarchal, almost idyllic relationships. At meetings and at parting, relatives kiss, in the evening they come to me with a wish of good night and pleasant sleep. "Jesus Christ", "Mother of God" - do not leave their language. In the village stands a naive chapel with an old heavy icon of the Mother of God. "Only She keeps us," one of them told me with conviction. Probably, our great-great-grandfathers also believed.

Russkoe Ustye consists of 6 "smoke". Not a single literate - except for the old criminal exile, who plays the role of clerk here. Village stands on the shores of the wide Indigirka among the boundless snowy desert. 120 miles rode here on dogs along the tundra - the first 60 miles still met small willow bushes, then everything disappeared, there was not a single twig. Exactly as on the table. And so to the sea - from the Russkoe Ustye of another sixty miles away. He took off a separate house with a barn - 20 rubles for half a year. While not afraid of the loneliness coming to me. I think that I will be able to find a lot of interesting things around and in people and in nature.

February 2/15
So I settled more or less. It took ten days to do it. During this time I was a carpenter, mechanic, stove, and I don’t know who else and what. My fingers are all scratched, as if I was fighting with a horde of cats. But now I enjoy.

Here is my home. It consists of one single room - steps six squared. All four windows go to the east and south - it means the sun is from morning to evening - it sparkles with thousands of sparks in transparent ice floes that replace window glass. In one corner there is a small chamber, the thing turned out to be extremely imperfect: when it burns, it smokes, it goes out it is cold. Every now and then you have to run to the roof to close and open the pipe. With myself, I therefore brought from Ust-Yansk an iron stove, which, finally, I set up a stove instead. Now warm and neat. Just resurrected with her. In another corner I have three shelves with books - below them is a calendar, around which I pasted views of Florence, cut from an illustrated magazine.

It’s my house on the very bank of Indigirka - the only thing, they say, is a dry place here in summer. It has the comfort and convenience. Of course, there are dark sides in it: it’s difficult to warm it, as it should, and rarely does the temperature in it rise above 10 degrees. Nothing, I'm dressed warmly. But overnight, when the stove goes out, everything around freezes: ink in the inkpot is frozen, water in the kettle and the washbasin, and I dance in the morning until I melt the stove.

March 15/28
The other day I was walking at the wedding. Once a year, a priest comes here from Allaikha (through which I rode - 120 miles south of here) and immediately fulfills all the requirements: he baptizes, crowns, buries, confesses, communes - for which he receives 10 fish from each family. This is probably the only place where you can get married in the great post: it is clear that the climate and geography are not at odds with the canonical rules.

The arrival of the priest here is a great event. Since the Russkoe Ustye for the whole Verkhoyansk bourgeois society, which lives only along the course of the Indigirka River, is the main residence where the bourgeois government is located and the burgher elder and clerk live, and besides there is a chapel, everything is collected here "fasting" (i.e., willing to go to the beck), all in need of baptism, wedding and funeral, living on the Indigirka between Allaich and the sea. The congress is large, since by this time the assembly is also being adjusted, at which it is necessary to discuss the question of the starving. By March, they always happen: fish ends when there is a bad catch, the geese, which they managed to get in the summer near the sea, were eaten. The starving declare their need to society, and from the public "mangazei" (barn) they are given fish, which they must return to the society in the spring with a 10% surcharge.

June 11-24
Spring passes. 10 days ago, the river opened and passed. It has long been started to fish.

Herring, omul, chiri and muksun are hauled from lakes and rivers. Sometimes a nelma is pulled out with a net - a yardstick of 1 1 / 2–2 in size and more than a weight. I also go for fish - I study and search.

When I sat down in the “vetka” for the first time, to tell the truth, it seemed scary to me, but soon I got used to it and, on the fourth day, swam across Indigirka. And the other day I went to pick goose eggs, made 20 miles on the "vetka" and came back along the big waves on the lake, on which my "vetka" jumped like a shell.

Empty the Russkoe Ustye. Of the 7 houses, only three remained, but only in my house did the population not decrease - everywhere a part of the fishermen migrated to the fishery. Tomorrow another one sticks, and in two weeks and the last smoke will stop smoking - I will be completely alone. However, I, if the weather permits, do not expect to live in one place for a long time - I will drive around on my “vetka” to all the nomads with my tent, farm and Fight, I now have friends everywhere.

June 19 - July 2
Ten days later, the "gusevshiki" go to the sea. All kinds of "yes" and "no" fight in me. I have long dreamed of gusseting. But the closer the day of departure, the more the pros and cons. On the one hand: the Arctic Ocean, new, unprecedented places, adventures, plenty of new experiences, the ability to use birds as postmen, and probably many, many wonders for me. On the other: a tiring path on the "vetka" (more than 100 miles at one end only), moving through a stormy sea bay, all kinds of misfortunes - wind, snow, frost, rain - and water, water ... The land thaws only a quarter there, the grass rises to the length of the finger, everything is flooded with water in the very place of the goose, you have to sleep on the water (under the deer skins, underlay poles and boards), boil kettles - put several layers of turf one on another to make a dry place for the fire - and God He knows what horrors I have spoken. Gusseting lasts about a month. "You will die there, uncle!" The devil knows what it is - and I'm afraid and want to go. No, I feel that I will go!
90 miles from the Russkoe Ustye, July 5-18
The third day I'm on the road. At night, along with other gusniks, I got to the sea lip - here it is, “the sea is blue, the sea is stormy, the wind is furious, wild.” Here the most dangerous place - crossing the sea. On frivolous "vetkas" an enterprise is dangerous, and therefore all the gusniks usually get together and, after waiting for calm weather, move at once. So we are waiting for those who are lagging behind, and therefore by the day, to which I am very happy, because yesterday I was tired insanely - the loin as if broken and my hands hurt like hell. After all, during these 3 days I made 80-90 miles.

The last dwelling remains 50 miles away - in the wild and harsh desert around and in, where deer and arctic fox run, seagull, white owl, duck and goose fly. The hard way, especially the sputum and dampness depress me. I have to go to bed in wet clothes, and when I fall asleep, I pray every evening to wake up healthy the next morning - to be sick in such conditions would be a certain death.

This is an agreed place - “Yarok”: here we meet “mermen” (set off by the water, like us) with “horsemen” who go by mountain. Today the conditional term expires, and tomorrow we can move further on the road and begin to "gusevat" if the weather permits. Difficult portages are coming: from the lake to the lake one has to drag a “vetka” along the ground.

July 15
This is a week, as I live in a dugout among swamps and lakes (Badaran and Laydi), from which we go around to indulge geese. We walked four times - three of them successfully: they extracted more than four thousand geese all today. Weather is badly interfered with frequent fogs and winds (rain in itself is not considered an obstacle). Days and nights were mixed up - sometimes due to weather and fatigue, we slept for 17 hours in a row, sometimes, on the contrary, whole days on the legs. The places around are cheerless - or water, or swamp, there is no dry place where you could put your foot, - she leaves in the water and slips in the swamp. Moss and mischievous sparkling grass are the only vegetation. Frequent rains and fogs, and my thermometer haven’t shown more than 9 degrees of heat. In the yurt, we have nine people, my head is constantly knocking on the ceiling and my legs stick to the wall when you stretch out. The floor is a swamp, and therefore "bed" (deer skins) are laid on wood, which, by the way, it is necessary to bring here with them, because there is no wormwood. The fire on the sixth side casts a face, the rain breaks the earth walls, and the water runs on the pillow, the blanket, spreads over the bed.

There are many birds here: geese, seagulls, all sorts of ducks, little pearls - the water is teeming with them. Geese are visible from afar - like black islands among the waters. They gather in huge flocks. Having seen and heard them from afar, the gusniks hastily work out a strategic plan, the party divides itself into several detachments and tries to surround them with “vetkas”. The frightened goose seeks salvation necessarily on the water, and when the whole flock of several thousand heads rushes from the shore into the water, there is a noise like a waterfall. Geese are surrounded on the water - here they are kept for an hour and more to tire them.

All the time they shout, giggle, rush from side to side, trying in vain to rise above the water on the now useless wings from which feathers fell. They are scared, screaming, splashing with oars - to keep together. Only a few brave men manage to break through the ring of "vetkas".

In the meantime, a network is put on the neighboring shore with a large loop, to which the geese are then gradually and fitted. Noise, tramp, scuffle rises among them when they are driven out to the shore.

Their strength is so great that they sometimes knock down a person’s feet. In one paddock, 2.400 geese were caught at once (and there were cases when they caught 7, 8, and 9 thousand at once).

They are beaten up in the nets, rolling their necks and throwing them out, which is why heaps soon form on the other side of the net. The beating is disgusting.

July 19
At night it was 2 degrees frost. The water in the kettles was covered with ice crust, the tents outside were frozen from breathing and the grass was covered with frost. Quiet fog floats. The morning is pale silver, the sun hardly disperses the fog.
August 1, Russkoe Ustye
I'll tell you how I got home. I also made the last entry overseas under a howl of a storm. When she subsided a little, they set off at night. There was fog and it was a nasty cold rain, which for my glasses was a real punishment. The last crossing over the sea lip was coming, and it turned out to be the worst: on the very “furrow” (against the confluence of the river Gusinaya in the sea) the weather again began to blink, and the walls of the former forest rose. It was scary, I admit frankly. But still they got over safely - from here, although it was still far from home (90 miles), but the road was relatively safe. My companions went to search for the mammoth's bone on the steep sea shore - they managed to find one canine near the fathom of a length. The road back was much more difficult: 50 miles along a narrow channel from the sea to Indigirka and 40 miles along the river - all against the current and in addition against a strong headwind. And the forces were not the same. In order not to delay others, and also from the desire to avoid towing that was unpleasant for my vanity, I usually drove forward ahead — I was driving and spending the night alone. So I managed to go forward forty miles along the canal. A sense of autonomy and complete solitude in the wilderness was completely tested. Dear shot the ducks, broke a tent for the night, cooked dinner and tea. On the banks there were a lot of wild deer. Sometimes, when they saw me, they stopped, then immediately threw themselves into the water with noise, swam across the canal, shook themselves off, and with the birds flew away to the tundra. I managed to kill one deer - and beautiful branchy horns are now hanging on my wall.
September 30
Yesterday I returned from the guests - I spent two days with the Yukagirs. Now is the hottest time for fishing foxes with dogs, and in pursuit of them the Yukagirs moved toward the Russkoe Ustye. This time they spread out three “tordokhs” (tents made from reindeer rovdug made from buckskin) just 30 miles away. The Yukagirs are a nomadic tribe, like the Chukchi, Lamut, and Tungus. They have no “home”, their homeland is tundra in general, “mo-ore,” (“sea”) as they call it.

In the summer, they roam the moors and the "stone", looking for the mammoth bone, chasing wild ("god’s", as they say here) reindeer, fish a little (but they are bad fishermen and do not know how to harbor fox).
But their main trade, which they live and breathe, is reindeer herding; herds have hundreds and thousands of heads — the deer feeds them, carries them, clothes them and shoes them. A deer can’t remain in place for a long time, it is necessary to change pasture - and the Yukagirs never and never heal in the same place for a long time.

Thanks to the proximity of the Russians, the local Yukagirs have become strongly Russified, they have sugar, stearin candles, some even wear Russian clothes (that is, more precisely Yakut-Russian), they know a few Russian words, although they don’t know how to tie them together. All this, of course, doesn’t prevent them from being the most perfect savages.

They greeted me very cordially: they came out with bows, held them up to tordokh - such was the “proforma” of the meeting of honored guests, put on a pile of deer skins, treated them to deer tongue, raw brain from leg bones, smoked meat, cut into small pieces, and melted deer fat. For the night they made it under a special canopy, like a canopy, in a place of honor, under an icon.

I got acquainted, considered, shot cards. The mistress of my tordokh was very stupid even from our point of view - she has a correct nose and thin, even elegant lips, but at another yukagirka in the next tordokh the nose and cheeks protrude on her face with three big cones, lips with two fingers thick, but blush brilliant. Perhaps, it seems to the Yukagirs beautiful.

Women have large copper plates on their breasts, a leather apron is embellished with beads, fashionable rings and glass beads - even the bell hangs, which melodiously rings with each movement. - When I saw you in the Russkoe Ustye, I was frightened - and now I am not afraid, - the beauty coyly explained to me through the interpreter and as a proof of her position she presented me a fox.

November 21
Tomorrow my parcels go to Ust-Yansk, and it is time for me to part with this notebook. She is destined to a better share than me - she will go far, far ...
National Library of Republic Sakha (Yakutia)
Credits: Story

Maksimova Sargylana,
Candidate of Historical Sciences, Associate Professor, Director of the National Library of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia)

Alexey Ivanov,
Honored Artist of Culture of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), author and curator of the project «Culture of Yakutia in the world place»( inclusion of regional cultures of institutions of Yakutia into the project Google Cultural Institute)

Neustroeva Valentina, librarian of Science and Research Center of Book Memorials, National library of Republic Sakha (Yakutia)

Credits: All media
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