The majority of researchers of the name of one of the Baikal people, the Buryats, agree that the ethnonym of this word designates the Mongolian tribes that “lived in the thick of the forest, in the forest (buraa) growing in groups or lines in mountains or steppes”. They were forest people, and it corresponds to the concept “forest tribes”, by which “the Mongolians of steppes called the population living on both sides of the Baikal”. Besides this and other interpretations of the name of the people there is the opinion of State Duma of Russia Deputy V. Medinsky who supposes: “The Mongolians who wanted to live on the Russian territory (17 century – A.K.) were called “brotherly Mongolian people”, in short, brothers, the Buryats. And their lands were called Bratiya, or Buryatia”.
It is necessary to mention that the steppes near the Baikal, forest-steppes and valleys between the mountains are often called the land of Geser after the ancient Buryat hero Geser. There are a lot of legends about him in the memory of the nation. They maintained their primordial character and poetry, bright description of life of the Buryats and their leaders. The Russian version of the epic legend “Abay-Geser-Bogdo-Khan”, recorded by the Buryat ethnographer and folklorist M.N. Khangalov according to oral information provided by the national rhapsodist Petkov-Tushemilov and his father Nikolay Khangalov, was published in 1893 by the famous Russian traveler G.N. Potanin in the second volume of his description of travelling to Central Asia in 1884 – 1886.
Abai-Geser in his mortal life committed famous feats for the sake of people. The hero meets many different people and humanoid creatures in his home and foreign lands; he comes into confrontation with them as with both unknown and hostile forces. Having performed his mission on earth, ensured peace and comfort for his people, Geser was expected to return to the sky, but he refused from that happy fate and remained in his native lands:
On the beloved blooming land
That feeds both people and animals,
That pastures herds of cattle,
That gives spring water to drink,
Geser remained to live peacefully
And to protect people.
Apparently, we can and need to say that in ancient times for the Buryats who knew the Baikal it was not only a "food source", it was a place of worship and deification. A.M. Stanilovsky says the following about this feature of a Buryat from the Baikal: "He was born here; he became deeply familiar with this mysterious, mighty and menacing sea. He is used to think that it is his master, not he himself. The Buryat respectfully asks the sea for food, prays for him, and trembles when looking at it ...“.
One of the reasons for worshiping the Baikal and its surroundings by the Buryats was the presence in the area of high mountains. In fact, the cult of mountains takes a great place in the traditional beliefs of the Buryats, being the most popular, versatile and diverse cult, covering all spheres of tribal community.
Most likely, the origin of the cult of mountains reach back to the deep past, when the mythological consciousness of ancient men tied into a coherent whole the nature (the macrocosm) and men (microcosm).The image of mountains within this consciousness attributed them the role of a mediator between conflicting origins of the universe – heaven vs earth, spirit world vs human world, life vs death, etc. The sacred mountains neutralized and harmonized these oppositions, led them to the synthesis, let a human interact with cosmic forces.
Geographically mountains allowed having a clear guideline with the help of which the territory, where a family lived, could be identified, and this feeling unified fellow tribesmen. The ceremonies performed on the “clans” mountains led to social and psychological unity of the community, contributed to the feeling of mutual assistance and mutual readiness to help. Besides, some especially notable rocks sometimes played certain psychological roles. I have already described the shaman rock at the Angara River’s head water, the rock that “makes everything quiver”, and the Buryats ascribed the rock the ability to unmask lie or truth in a man, to be the criterion of the truth. Rocks represented the common true essence of nature: it does not stand insincerity and falsity either towards you or towards other people. And other various heaven forces led to that feelings too.
The Buryats in addition to worshipping the sky also worshiped the earth. The earth was considered a beneficent deity giving all sorts of goods. The Buryats imagined it an old woman, a virtuous mother, a nurse of all living beings on earth, and they endowed it with the epithets "golden" and "yellow". Besides the general reverence for the earth, sacred and revered were the places where people lived. The names of the spirits, the owners of native places, Uher (“happy”) and Bayan (“rich”), show that the gods were good creatures, the patron saints of family happiness and household economic welfare. The reverence for the earth combined with the worship of spirits, the ancestors who gave life and welfare. Digging the ground without need or a deliberate blow on the ground was considered a sin for the Buryats.
But mentioning Mother Earth almost in all religious rituals was not necessarily accompanied by specially established sacrifices. In the Buryats’ opinion, it is so plentiful and good, that it does not need any offerings:
The earth and the sea are rich,
They won’t ask to eat and drink.
Among the Burkhans (gods, spirits) that are respected by the Buryats there were good deities: the owner of the Olkhon – a Tall White Prince, who possessed three magnificent palaces with 33 government offices; the owner of Goloustnaya. According to the mythology, the Tall White Prince was regarded a brother of Erlek - Khan and the Dalai - Lama. He could create people, and these people were considered to be very enterprising, energetic and strong willed.
Like for many nomadic peoples, the basis of livestock management for the Buryats were five species (taba hushuun maya): horses, sheep, cows, goats and camels. Many peculiarities of the Buryats’ everyday life were connected with these animals. For example, the Buryat first and last names. There are men's names with the root meaning "horse, a mare": Azarga (“stallion”), Daagan (“colt”), Aduun (“shoal”); with the root meaning "cow": Bukha (“bull – producer”), Buruu (“calf”), Mukhar (“poll-cow”). With the root denoting a "goat" there are such names as Amagay (“female goat”), Ukhana (“young goat”) and a “sheep” – Khurgan (“lamb”), Khousa (“bell-wether”).
The Buryats have a lot of first names and last names associated with the names of wild animals: Baakhalday (“bear”), Bara (“leopard, tiger”), Bodon (“wild boar”), Buga (“deer, red deer”), Guran (“roebuck”), Khermen (“squirrel”); Khulgana (“mouse”), etc. Among the names associated with names of birds are: Burkhuud (“Golden Eagle”), Galun (“goose”), Turlaag (“crow”), Naman (“falcon”), Kharsaga (“hawk”). The names of fish are presented in the names Angana (“perch”), Zoodoy (“ruff, crucian carp”), although such names in the Buryat language are quite few. More often the Buryat names are associated with plants: Zandan (“sandalwood”), Nogoon (“greens, grass”), Khusha (“cedar”); Taryaan (“kern, bread, cereals”), Seseg, Tsetseg (“flower”), etc. (See 192). As mentioned above, these names were yet another link between the world of man and the world of nature.
The main line of our book – the story about the Baikal – includes obligatory coverage of the Buryat attitudes towards water. They had their own realm of kings of seas, lakes and rivers, the so-called Ukhan Khat. The first place among the deities of Ukhan Khat belongs to Ukhan- Lobson and his wife, Ukhan-Daban, the patrons of seas, rivers and lakes, who shared with other deities of the Ukhan Khat the dominance over the water element. These deities live at the bottom of deep waters, and from there they dominate not only over the water element, but also patronize the Buryats, protecting them from evil spirits, as they themselves belong to the kind beings, favourably disposed to people. But at the same time the water and the earth were inhabited by many lower creatures, called Ukhan bokholdoy ("bad water spirits"), and they were nothing but the souls of drowned people both male and female. These water spirits live in the water and try if possible to drown a man for his soul after drowning to join them. When a man drowns, his body covers with blue spots. This was explained by the water spirits grasping a person by his hands tight and pulled him to the bottom so that he could not go out of the water.
According to the Buryat legends, the forest and taiga had their own master Oin ezhin, just as that of the animals – Anyi ezhin. And the latter, unlike the first one, were numerous in different places: when the number of some animals reduced in a district, the Buryats said that the owner of those animals had crapped them out to another master. The owner of the forest was considered a very rich deity, and his wealth consisted of all sorts of animals: he had herds of elk-cows with stallions, female Siberian stags with stallions. He rode huge black elks, and that is why the Buryats considered it a sin to hunt dark brown elks. Once a Goloustye Buryat killed a huge dark brown elk that falling down dead, according to the hunter’s words, gave a long-drawn groan, like a sick man with a voice penetrating the soul. The hunter told people in the camp about it, and at night he had a dream "that he was standing in front of a white (with grey hair) old man who started to beat him with a cane reed saying: "Why did you kill the best, the biggest of my horses?" With every punch of the old man, the Buryat lost his consciousness, as he said. In the morning that Buryat woke up sick and delirious. He was taken home. And the Buryat recovered only after the sacrifice to the master of animals made by a Tungus shaman".
There was a Buryat tradition that existed for a long time, and can be described as predacious and even fatal according to modern standards. In the historical past it also existed in other ethnicity cultures of the earth and even earlier than that of Asian ethnic groups. It is called according to its nature the battue hunting, that is, a collective baying of animals to use them as food. There was only one reason for such occupation. The notorious battue hunting for hares in the Russian history was arranged by Prince Vsevolod of Kiev in 1088, and after it the Russians also participated in such activities. Let us consider this tradition in more detail to better understand the traditions common to many peoples on the example of the Buryats who lived near the Baikal.
Zegeete-aba is a type of battue hunting of the Mongols that had been practiced since ancient times. They were popular in Irkutsk among the Buryats of the Lena, Angara and Baikal (a gathering place for battue hunting was called tobsha). M.N. Khangalov, one of famous Buryat ethnographers, was one of the first to describe such events in 1880, then together with D.A. Klements, a political exile, prepared and published an article entitled "Public Hunting of the Northern Buryats”.
The name zeegete aba D.A. Klements and M.N. Hangalov translated as “hunting wolverines” (zeegen – “wolverine”, aba – “battue”). Consequently the original meaning of the word expanded, and they began to use this word to denote a collective hunting for all animals. This meaning of the word entered the modern vocabulary of the Buryat language.
But E.M. Zalkind, for instance, does not agree with this interpretation. He is convinced that the phrase aba zeegete should be translated as “battue hunting” or just “battue”. Expressing confidence that battue hunting had never been the basis of life of Buryats, E. Zalkind showed that it contributed to the increased food supply, it was well-known communal-tribal in its nature and in the past, from the time of Genghis Khan the battue hunting was a part of military training.
The D.A. Klementz and M.N. Khangalov’s opinion is also called down by S.P. Baldaev. He believes that the word zeegete comes from zeege – “a glutton”. He corroborates his opinion with the following argument. Battue hunting of the Buryats arose at the dawn of their history, when the technique of hunting was at a very low level of development. The hunters went out hunting with either bare hands or armed with sticks or stones. If unsuccessful hunting, they were starving for weeks and months, forced feeding on berries, herbs, roots. In case of a successful hunt, they attacked their prey, ate till their full satiety – zeeglekhe. The Zima Buryats still call the meat obtained by hunting zeege, and about eating such meat say zeeglekhe.
S.G. Zhambalova in contrast to the views given above, on the basis of folk records linked the name of the battue with the number of people participating in it: “If there were up to 300 people in the battue, it was called zegete-aba, if it involved up to 500 people – hakta-aba. Later on it was suggested that with the participation of 300 archers the hunt was called zegete-aba among the Pribaikal Buryats, and it was called aba haydak among the Zabaikal Buryats; with the participation of more than 500 shooters – hushuuta aba, more than 1000 people – galshata aba”.
The Buryats went to battue hunting with the whole uluses (villages), families and even tribes. Some hunting battues numbered from three hundred to a thousand of hunters. The chiefs were elected to lead such teams: they were tubshins, galshins, hulushins, garshins and others. The tubshin was the head of a clan, tribal or a multi-tribal hunting; the galshin was the head of a tribal hearth; the garshin was the head of flanks; the gazarshin was the person who knew hunting areas.
Battue hunters were armed with bows and arrows, swords and spears. Everyone had thirty arrows. They were kept in the quiver. A hunter also had a knife, an iron shovel for digging edible roots, and an ax.
Arrows were attributed a special magic power. It was prohibited to touch them without need. Arrows were treated as alive, they were given names, and there was a belief that arrows had the ability to guess the intentions of strangers, to determine the right and the culprit in a dispute, to revenge for an offense, and so on. Equally strictly the quiver was guarded; it was decorated with signs of white hair, expressing (especially white) good luck and happiness in the hunt.
The battue hunting was organized in late autumn, winter and spring, always in cold weather. In summer battues were not organized. Before leaving for zeegete aba, the hunters committed the ritual of sprinkling – Sasali (from the word Sasali “sprinkle”). When performing the ritual they cleared at the campfire all that was sacrificed: the wine, dairy food and meat. The hunters themselves were purified with fire as well. The Buryat battues had the traditional for Mongols structure: two flanks (wings) and the center. On a signal of tubshin the blanchers of the flanks moved towards each other. Gradually the circle was closed; both wings bound up and formed a circle. The radius of the circle of hunting was sometimes very large. Moving to the center of the circle, battue hunters bayed the animals, and killed them there.
Animals caught in the circle were killed either with arrows or spears. If in the circle there were large animals, such as elk, red deer (Siberian stag), or bears, the battue hunters dismounted and struck the animal with spears. Such fights not always ended with the hunter’s triumph; sometimes the animal injured him seriously. There were cases when animals broke through the circle of the battue and ran away. But it happened very rarely during mass hunts, because battue hunters went narrowing the circle in two or three rows.
In late May, after a few battue hunts, all hunters headed to the place of lodging, where the bulks of wild animals had already been gathered and where they were butchered. The meat was divided among all participants. If the prey was big enough, the meat was saved in a special khan – a stock place from which it was taken in the case of a subsequent unsuccessful hunting or when battues were not conducted for several days because of the weather.
In the Buryat legend "The Shaman Cape”, recorded by D. Lorov in 1928, there is an episode that tells us about the battue hunting near Lake Baikal, conducted by Khan Ashkhabad and his relatives, and which was seen by a shaman. “Zegete - aba lasts the fifth day already. Khan Ashkhabad killed three elks, a red deer (Siberian stag), and two goats. The Khan’s sons, the hunters on horseback and on foot killed animals in the circle with arrows without rest. Only the shaman did not shoot arrows, he sat on a stump, motionless, and kept silent ... But his eyes sparkled, his hands were trembling, he felt excited.
The prey is laid in rows: red deer, elk, deer, wild boars. The hunters crowd round like crows over the victim. They are looking for arrows. They pull them out looking for the tamga (an individual sign): whether the tip is iron tetrahedral or flat with a bone zebe (tip). They find out who is more lucky, accurate, and brave in the taiga.
Bonfires are made, resinous logs burn, sparkles crackle, blue smoke rises. The skins are removed from animals, they are hung everywhere, and antlered heads are all around. Venison is roasted on larch roasting spit. They bring tarasun (dairy drink) in leather bags. Everybody sits in a circle, cuts the meat and drinks the acerb wine. The sounds of voices are humming in the taiga and do not subside for a long time”.
Naturally, from the contemporary ecological point of view these descriptions cause rejection. But in reality, this practice can not be put out of natural needs of the Buryats, as well as of other peoples, and those living in certain times and under certain conditions.
There is no doubt about the economic importance of battue hunting especially in the early stages of productive forces development. However, according to the data of the late 19 – early 20th centuries, there are other reasons for it, because cattle breeding, farming and individual hunting for meat and fur-bearing animals provided sufficient means of livelihood. Probably the battues had a great ideological importance. S.G. Zhambalova wrote that today's long-lived persons, representatives of the ethnic group, stressed that aba had not been conducted not for the sake of prey, but to comply with the custom of their ancestors. Aba is "a celebration of men".
I can draw a parallel to the story of zeegete-aba in modern times. And today all peoples near the Baikal have traditions of hunting goats, red deer and other animals in paddocks. And it often results in mass murder of our little brothers. The taiga runs out of its resources, and that is why the man loses himself. And it is not only because the environment is impoverished, but also because people are becoming more aggressive, ruthless, and hard-hearted in such actions. And now we need mercy not only towards people, but to the entire world around us.
Nowadays the Buryat people, as many others, actively reestablish their historical memory, their original traditions. The national festival Altargana is evidence of it, it has been held since 1994 in Mongolia and Russia. Altargana is a steppe bush that is called zolotarnik (“golden rod”) by the Russians. The name was given to the bush because of the light golden colour of its bark and its extreme vitality due to the strong system of roots that let it consolidate on the rocky and detritus mountain slopes, rocky deserts and sandy steppes. In 2002, 2006 and 2008 this Buryat and Mongolian festival took place on the territory of the Baikal region: first, in the Republic of Buryatia, and then in the Irkutsk Oblast, including the Olkhon Island. This festival unites the Buryats and other peoples, and judging by its symbol – two bushes of altargana – it will cause the accumulation of spiritual values gold mines of Geser’s descendants and fixing their national roots.
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