Stepan P. Krasheninnikov, Explorations of Kamchatka 1735-1741

Original in Russian, pub. 1755. Translated from the Russian, Oregon Historical society, Portland, 1972. pp. 246-258.


My commentaries are between [  ]. [I did not repeat the explanations given in “Shamans in Kamchatka”]

[Krasheninnikov asserts that only the women and the koekhchuch Kamchadals can shamanize, while Steller states the contrary. This chapter may show the reason of this discrepancy, since it describes ‘old men’ who have an obvious religious role, even if they do not shamanize as our prejudices want to define shamanizing]



Feasts and Ceremonies


All the Kamchadals have but one feast during the year in which they purify themselves of their sins. They celebrate it without fail in the month of November, which for this reason is called the month of purification of sins. Steller is of the opinion that this custom was instituted by their ancestors to thank God for his beneficence; but that in later times this real purpose was obscured by absurd stories. This seems likely, since after they finish their summer and autumn work they consider it a great sin to work, visit each other, or even to go hunting before this feast. If anyone deviates from this rule, he is absolutely obliged to expiate his sin and purify himself. This gives rise to the belief that their ancestors, when they had laid in their food supply for winter, were accustomed to offer to their god the first fruits of their labor and afterward to rejoice together and visit back and forth. When they celebrate this feast, they observe a number of customs, some so trivial they are not worth describing. However, since they always observe them in their ceremonies, I will give an exact description down to the last detail, without omitting even the most trivial event, not because I expect to please the reader, for the account of these silly bits of childishness will be more tedious than pleasing; but in order to show the extent of the superstition and extravagance of these peoples.

As the southern Kamchadals have certain ceremonies unlike those of the northern Kamchadals, I will describe their feasts separately. I will begin with the southern Kamchadals, whom I visited in 1738 and 1739 for the express purpose of observing this. I spent three days in one of the more important ostrogs [a fortified village] called Chaapyngan, situated on the banks of the Kyk-chik River.

The ceremony began by sweeping out the iurt, after which two old men, holding a small packet of tonshich [Cyperiodes]  in their hands, in a low voice spoke some words over the sweepings from the room and ordered them to be thrown aside. At the end of half an hour, they removed the old ladder from its place [This ladder is used to leave the yurt.To understand the organization of the Kamchadal yurt, have a look on this site at the drawing reproduced in “Sex and Shamanism” by Maria Antonina Czaplicka.];  they cleaned the area where it had stood, and one of the old men, after speaking several words in a low voice, put down in that place a small piece of wood entwined with tonshich. After that a new ladder was fastened in place, again several words were spoken in a low voice, and the old ladder was put against the wall. It was not removed until the feast was over.

Meanwhile, all the sleds, dog harnesses, traces, bridles, etc., were taken outside the iurt, for they believe that all this equipment is displeasing to the demons whom they expect for this feast.

A moment later they took into the iurt some dried grass which they scattered over the ladder. Then the old man who had previously spoken the words came up to the ladder with three women; he sat down on the right of the ladder, and the women on the left. Each of them had a mat in which there was some iukola [dried fish], sweet grass, dry caviar, and seal blubber enclosed in lengths of intestine and cut in pieces. They made a kind of hash out of the iukola which they wrapped in sweet grass, and after everything had been prepared according to custom, the old man and the old women each sent a man into the forest to cut a birch tree. They tied tonshich to their waistbands, to their hatchets, and to their heads, then gave them the mats wrapped around food to eat on the road; they saved out a bit for themselves.

After this the old man and the women rose up from their places, made a circuit around the ladder, shaking the bundles of tonshich which they held in each hand, and spoke the word “alkhalalalai”; they were followed by the men who were to go into the woods after the birch tree. These latter, after walking around the ladder, left to go into the woods. Then the old man and the women put their tonshich on the hearth and threw any food which was left to the small children as if to make them scuffle over it. The children grabbed it and ate it.

Meanwhile, the women made a kind of whale out of their sweet grass and iukola; this was taken out of the iurt and placed on the balagan. Then the iurt was heated and the old man dug a shallow trench in front of the ladder, brought in a fish wrapped in tonshich and placed it in the trench and spoke certain words. Then he turned himself around three times in the same place. Thereupon all the men, all the women and even the small children did the same thing.

After this ceremony the other old man cooked some sarana in bowls heated with red-hot stones. They believe they can avert the evil spirits with this sarana. Meanwhile, those who had the idols called Urilydach with them wrapped them in sweet grass; and the others made new idols called Itung, and pushed them into the roof above the hearth.

At the same time, one old man of the group carried the trunk of a birch tree into the iurt and began to make an idol called Khantai. When it was finished, the chief of the dwelling fastened it to the first sweet grass or tonshich. After this offering, the new statue was placed on the hearth beside the old Khantai.

The old man previously mentioned took two small rocks and wrapped them with tonshich and spoke several words over them. He then set them into the ground in the various corners of the chamber, kindled a fire, and placed the small children around the ladder to catch the idols which must be thrown into the iurt through the opening. The children caught them and wrapped them in sweet grass and one of them took the new Khantai idol and dragged it around the hearth by the neck; the other children followed, crying “Alkhalalalai”; then they put it back in the same place.

After this all the old men in the iurt sat in a circle around the hearth. The one who had spoken all the words we have mentioned took into his hands a scoop wrapped in tonshich and addressed the following words to the fire: “Kutkhu has commanded us to offer a victim each year, and this is what we have done. Therefore we pray you to be kind to us, to protect us and to keep us from harm, from misfortune, and from fires.” The old man spoke these words not once but several times. Meanwhile all the other old men rose, stamped their feet, clapped their hands and cried, “Alkhalalalai.” When this ceremony was concluded, all the old men left their places and joined hands and began to dance, crying out “Alkhalalalai,” which was repeated by everyone in the iurt.

During this shouting, the women and girls began to leave their corners, all the while making their eyes fierce, twisting their mouths and making grotesque faces; they approached the ladder and raised up their hands. Then they made strange motions and began to dance and shout with all their might, after which they fell to the ground one after another, as if they were dead. The men carried them away and put them in their places where they stayed, lying as if bereft of all feeling until an old man came to speak certain words in a low voice over each one of them.

This spectacle seemed stranger and more bizarre to me than the witchcraft of the Iakuts, since there the sorcerer alone enters into a kind of frenzy, instead of this being communicated to everyone in the dwelling, as happened here. The women and girls over whom the old man had spoken the words shouted a great deal and wept as if they were experiencing an intense grief, or as if they had been overwhelmed by a great misfortune.

Meanwhile the old man made his magic over the ashes and then twice tossed them high into the air with a scoop, and then everyone in the iurt did the same thing after him; finally this same old man filled two bark baskets with ashes, and sent two men to carry the ashes out of the iurt. They left through an opening not generally used called the shopkhad, and poured the ashes on the path. After some time they stretched around the iurt a rope made of grass to which they had tied some tonshich in various places.

The day was spent in this ceremony; but in the evening the ones who had been sent out to find a birch tree returned, and were joined by a certain number of Kamchadals who had gone out. They brought back to the iurt one of the largest birch trees, which had been cut close to the roots. With the birch they began to pound on the entrance to the iurt, at the same time stamping their feet and shouting as loud as possible. Those inside the iurt replied in the same fashion.

This shouting continued for more than half an hour, after which a maiden in an ecstasy of madness hurled herself out of her corner and swiftly darted up the ladder and seized the birch tree. About ten women ran up to help her, but the toion of the dwelling [toyon (as explained by Czaplicka) is a Yakut word meaning ‘lord’]. stood on the ladder and kept them from touching the birch. Eventually the tree was lowered into the iurt and when those below could reach it, all the women took hold of it and pulled it, dancing and making weird cries; but those on top of the iurt outside pulled it back forcibly. After this all the women fell to the ground, as if they were possessed of a devil, except for the young girl who had first seized the birch; she continued to hold on and never stopped shrieking until the end of the tree was on the floor. Then she fell down as if she were dead, just as the other women had done.

The old man brought all the women and girls out of their spells the same way as before and revived them promptly by speaking wards in a low voice over them. There was only one girl over whom he lingered for a considerable length of time. This girl came back to life, began to cry that she was deathly ill, and then confessed her sins and accused herself of having skinned some dogs before the feast. The old man consoled her, urged her to bear bravely the grief she had brought upon herself by not being purified of her sins before the feast and for not having thrown fish gills and fins into the fire.

After an hour or an hour and a half, eight sealskins were thrown into the iurt, in which were wrapped iukola, sweet grass and some lengths of intestine stuffed with seal blubber. Then into the fire were thrown the four mats which had been given with the provisions to the men who had been sent to look for the birch tree. The chips from the birch were inside the mats and also the rest of their provisions. All the Kamchadals present divided among themselves the fish which was in the skins, the sweet grass and the blubber. They spread out the pelts at the foot of the ladder, and from the birch chips they made two idols with pointed heads in honor of those demons who they believe possessed the women while they were dancing. They called these idols kamuds. The sealskins just mentioned had been saved since autumn for these demons, from the time when the Kamchadals went out hunting seals; for this reason they are not used for any other purpose; they are content only to sleep on them.

When they had carved fifty-five tiny idols, they stood them side by side and began to smear their faces with cranberries, and then presented them with three bowls of crushed sarana and placed a tiny spoon in front of each idol. They left this food for some time and when they felt the idols were surfeited, they themselves ate the sarana. Then they made grass hats and put one on the head of each idol and around the neck they fastened sweet grass and tonshich; they tied them up into three packets which two men threw into the fire while shouting and dancing. At the same time they burned the little birch chips which had been left over when they carved the idols.

Around midnight one Kamchadal woman came into the iurt through the shopkhad, carrying a kind of whale strapped to her back; she had made it out of sweet grass and fish at the beginning of the feast. This woman began to crawl around the fireplace followed by two Kamchadals who carried some lengths of intestine stuffed with seal blubber wrapped in sweet grass. These two men uttered cries like the croaking of crows and beat on the whale with the lengths of intestine. When the woman had moved beyond the hearth, all the children in the iurt jumped on her and broke up the whale she was carrying on her back. The woman fled through the same opening by which she had entered, but one Kamchadal who had remained outside the iurt for this express purpose, seized her and brought her back to the iurt and made her go down the ladder head first. Several women and young girls rushed to catch her and uttered great shouts; after this they all began to dance together and to shout until they fell to the ground. Words were murmured as before; and the Kamchadals divided and ate the whale the children had torn from the woman.

Immediately afterward they heated up the iurt and the women started to prepare food, each having brought a bowl and a mortar; they began by crushing the roots of chelamain,1 some fish roe and some kiprei, with some seal fat, and after all of this had been ground into a kind of paste, the old man took a bowl, went up to all the women and took from each a scoop of what she had ground together; then he gave the bowl to another old man who spoke certain words in a low voice to take the spell off the women who had fallen to the ground in a kind of trance. This old man sat near the fire and held the food he had just taken, called tolkusha, and spoke some words according to custom; then he threw a small bit of the food into the fire and gave the rest to the first old man. This one gave back to each woman a scoop of paste to replace that which had been taken from her to make an offering. The night was spent in these ceremonies and none of the Kamchadals went to bed.

The next day, November twenty-second, around nine o'clock in the morning, two sealskins were spread out in front of the ladder, in the middle of which was placed a mat on which three old women sat. Each of them had a packet of small particolored twists made of thong and sealskin and tonshich. They were assisted by an old man who took the twists and set them afire and gave them back. The women rose from their places, marched single file around the inside of the iurt and incensed it with the lighted twists, and while they promenaded, the Kamchadal men as well as their wives and children pressed forward to touch them, as if this were a holy thing.

After everyone in the iurt had been perfumed, the women returned to their former places, and one of them took the twists from the others, walked around a second time and held them up to each pillar and post in the iurt. Meanwhile all the Kamchadals began to shriek and the old women who held the packets of these twists danced and went into a trance' as before. The third of these old women did the same thing, after she had promenaded around the iurt. Finally, they all fell to the earth as if they were dead.

The one who helped them took the twists from the old woman who fell and put them on the ladder and held them there until everyone in the iurt, without exception, had touched them; then he distributed them into each corner where each woman took some, according to the number in her family; they waved them over each man, having first perfumed themselves, their husbands, and their children.

After half an hour, the Kamchadals spread out a seal skin in front of the ladder and tied a child to each of the two posts beside the ladder. Two old men entered the iurt and asked these children when their father would return. All the Kamchadals replied, “This winter.” The old men left after they had placed in front of each child a length of intestine filled with seal blubber and wrapped in sweet grass; but they returned shortly, and began to shriek and dance, and everyone in the iurt uttered great shouts following their example.

Meanwhile, a woman entered by the second opening, the shopkhad, holding in front of her a wolf made of sweet grass and stuffed with bear fat, with intestine stuffed with seal blubber, and other things to eat. This woman was followed by the chief of the dwelling, who held a strung bow; the woman and he had their heads and hands wrapped with tonshich. The chief's belt and his arrow were ornamented with garlands of the same grass. The woman made a tour of the iurt along the walls followed by everyone in the iurt, dancing and shrieking. When she came to the ladder several Kamchadals grabbed the wolf she was carrying and rapidly climbed to the top of the iurt. All the women around the ladder did everything they could to climb up and get back the wolf. But the men on the ladder prevented them; and although the women knocked down some of the men from the top of the ladder to the bottom, they were unable to accomplish their goal. As they could not succeed, they fell down, overcome with fatigue, and they were carried to various places where they were brought out of their spells in the same fashion as before. After this the chief, who had remained somewhat back from the ladder holding his strung bow, approached and drew it against the wolf. The other men below dragged down the wolf and after they had torn it to pieces, they ate it, leaving only a bit of bear fat to appease the Khantai idols.

Although the Kamchadals were no better able to make sense out of this ceremony than the whale was and although they do not know whether or not the ceremony is related to their superstitions, or indeed why they perform it, none­theless it seems to me that this is only a simple entertainment or a symbol of their wish to capture and eat whales and wolves as easily as they did the ones made of grass. They tell the following story about this.

A Kamchadal lived on the bank of a certain river and had two very young sons; when he went off to hunt, he had to leave them alone in the iurt and he tied them to the posts so they would not get into mischief. While he was gone, some wolves asked the children if their father would be back shortly. The children replied, “In the winter.” They were terrorstricken and were unconscious a long time. The father returned from the hunt and when he learned what had happened, he went after the wolf and killed it with arrows. In regard to the ceremony with the whale, the one made of grass represents the dead whales which sometimes float on the ocean and are washed up on shore by the waves. The crows made of intestines represent these flesh-eating birds which devour the whale carcasses; and the little children who tear the whales to pieces repre­sent the Kamchadals who strip off the blubber.

When the wolf scene was over, an old man lighted some tonshich, a packet of which he took from each family, and put it all together to offer it to the fire. He incensed the iurt twice with this grass. He set all the tonshich afire on the fireplace except one packet which he hung from the ceiling above the hearth where it was to remain the rest of the year.

Soon afterward birch branches were carried into the iurt according to the number of families. Each Kamchadal took one of these branches for his family and bent it into a circle and had his wife and children step over it twice; then they moved away from it and began to spin around. This they consider the purification of sins.

When they had been purified, the Kamchadals left the iurt with these little branches through the zhupana or the first opening; they were followed by all their relatives of both sexes. When they were outside the iurt, for the second time they crossed over this birch circle, after which they pushed these wands or small branches into the snow, with the tip pointing east. After the Kamchadals had thrown down all their tonshich in this place, and had shaken off their garments, they re-entered the iurt through the real entrance, not through the zhupana.

Among those who were in the place where the purification was performed, there was a young girl who was ill, whom the old man made sit on the snow. He leaned on his walking stick and bent over her and spent nearly half an hour whispering words over this girl. At last after having brushed off her clothing with a switch, he allowed her to enter the iurt.

When the purification had been completed, the Kamchadals brought in a small dried bird and a fish, which had been specially prepared; after these had been lightly broiled, they were cut up into pieces; the men approached the fire and three times cast pieces into it as an offering to the evil spirits who come to their feasts and possess their women. The Kamchadals say these spirits live in the clouds, that they resemble men except that they have pointed heads, that they are as big as a three-year-old child, and that they wear clothing made of the pelts of fox, sable and wolverine.

Since they believe that up to fifty or more of these spirits enter into the mouths of the women, I asked them how such a large number of spirits of such size could enter through an opening so narrow that it would seem impossible for even the hand of a child that size to pass. “That is just as amazing to us,” they replied, “but perhaps they are actually smaller, although they seem this size to us.”

Then they heated up the iurt and when the stones were red-hot, they cooked dried fish in their cooking vessels and ate it, after pouring the broth on the Khantai, the idols, and on the birch tree which was still in the iurt.

When they had to take the birch out, two men climbed to the top of the iurt by scampering up the tree, for they were not allowed to climb the ladder. Then everyone inside the iurt gave the birch to those outside, and the latter, after walking all around the iurt outside, carried it over to the balagan, where it remained all year, without anyone paying the slightest veneration to it. This is the manner in which the feast is concluded.

The northern Kamchadals differ considerably from the southern in their ceremonies. I went to their feast on the morning of the nineteenth of November. It was already under way, for the entire iurt had been swept before I arrived. They had made partitions on the benches above which they had placed horizontal poles with crudely carved heads called urilidaches.

In addition to these heads, they had placed around the fireplace dry wood to be used during the feast. The northern Kamchadals search out the wood and poles for the heads with the same rituals the southern peoples use when they go out after the birch tree.

Some time after my arrival, all the women left the iurt and dispersed into the balagans. When they came back, the old women were the first to descend, then the young girls and the other women; but before entering the iurt, they tossed some sweet grass inside, to which the women had tied kiprei and iukola. Two Kamchadals, whom I shall refer to hereafter as servants, and who were especially chosen for this feast, took this food and hung it from the heads ranged around the places where they were to sit. Each woman who came into the iurt placed some tonshich on the hearth and then sat down in her place.

One of the women came down into the iurt with young twin girls. The woman had sweet grass in her hands, and the girls had tonshich in their hands and on their heads. This woman, who had raised these two girls, removed the tonshich from their heads and put it on the hearth, and the girls tossed the tonshich they had been carrying in their hands into the fire. Their mother entered the iurt alone.

After this a crippled old woman was brought in front of the hearth, in the same way as the others, with tonshich on her head and in her hands; she threw it in the fire and shook herself while she mumbled some words.

Immediately afterward two men left the corners of the iurt and sat down beside the ladder holding hatchets and pieces of wood. The servants brought them iukola from each corner and put it on pieces of wood which they carried in their hands; they cut it into pieces while saying, “May the iukola last a long time and may it never be lacking in our balagans.” The servants brought back the iukola cut in halves to the same corners, and after breaking off a small piece and tossing it in the fire, they returned the rest to the persons who had given it to them. Then they began to eat, both rushing from one corner to another, and so ended the first day of the feast at eleven o'clock in the evening.

The next day early in the morning one man and one woman from each family left to go find a friend in the neighboring ostrogs, to gather food for the feast, for although they had enough, it is customary to secure some extra food at this time from their neighbors, just as we try to obtain eggs for hens we want to brood.

They returned in the evening and the women heated up the iurt and began to prepare food, to grind roots and berries together; these preparations lasted almost all night. Meanwhile they took care not to let the fire go out on the hearth before the food was ready, for they believe it would be a bad omen to let it go out.

They closed up the iurt two hours before daybreak, just after preparing the meal, and the women were busy until dawn making grass ropes, wrapping fish heads in tonshich, and fastening little garlands of grasses around their necks. They spoke words which were not understandable. After this ceremony had ended, the servants began to gather up the fish heads wrapped in tonshich to make offerings to the fire; they placed them on the hearth, and each time they laid down a head, they sat down near the ladder on a large tree trunk or a kind of stump. After this, everyone of both sexes in the iurt, from the biggest to the smallest, tore apart their tonshich garlands and walked up to the fire and cast them in. Some families made circles of the grass ropes; they stepped over the circles and put them on the hearth. This was considered the purification of sins.

Immediately after this purification, an old man approached the hearth and whispered over the grasses and tonshich which had been thrown onto the hearth. Then he began to make ropes or a kind of chain from them, which he shook twice, while murmuring some words in a low voice, which the others repeated after him. This meant that they were ridding the dwelling place of all sicknesses.

Then a Kamchadal near the hearth purified the twin girls by laying on the hearth a fish called khakhalcha,2 and some grass called omeg,3 which he took from small bags which hung beneath his bed.

A short time afterward the servants left the four corners of the iurt, passed each other, took some iukola, and presented it to all the urilidaches. All the Kamchadals and the servants smeared the idols with tolkusha or sarana or some other food; then they all amused themselves by going from one corner to another in order to eat together with a spoon.

When their meal was over, two Kamchadals took off all their clothes, took into their hands a khomiaga (a vessel in which they draw water), and they received from the servants, in place of garments, small garlands which had been taken from the urilidaches. When they had put these garlands around their necks, they left the iurt and went to the river to get water. They walked single file; the first carried in his hand a khomiaga and some tolkusha; the second also had a similar vessel and a length of fir, long and slender, which was set afire to be used as a torch.

Upon leaving the iurt, two Kamchadals sat for several moments near the ladder. The one who walked first had succeeded in making a hole in the ice to draw the water; he had beaten the ice around the hole with a kind of pestle, and then he drew water from it by first turning the khomiaga against the current, and then holding it in the stream of water. All the others did the same, and each carried as much water as he could draw at one time. Then they went off in the same order as they had come, and when they reached the iurt, they lowered the pails on ropes very carefully so as not to let a drop of water spill, which would have been considered a great mishap. Two boys who had remained behind for this purpose received the pails, for the servants themselves had left the iurt to get water. They remained on top of the iurt until all the pails had been lowered inside. Meanwhile they cried out four times as loud as they could, and clapped their hands and stamped their feet. The one who held the torch in his hand entered the iurt, placed it in the fire, soaked it in all the buckets of water which had just been brought in, took out a piece, of ice and threw it in the fire; then he gave each of his assistants some water to drink, as if it were holy water.

The women then went in to the balagans with whatever they had saved from the food they had been given, and remained there. After that the old men made all the other men leave. At their command, we were obliged to leave, for they had a secret ceremony to conduct, at which no one could assist except several old men and the two servants. However, by earnest entreaty, I obtained permission for my interpreter to remain, and he reported to me what took place.

First of all the servants heated the iurt, according to the orders of the elders, and carried in handfuls of dried grass and strewed them about. After that they spread grass mats around the iurt and on all the benches, and in two corners lighted vessels filled with oil. Then the elders began to tie up tonshich and when they had passed it from hand to hand, they hung it from small pegs fixed into the wall, and ordered the servants not to let anyone leave or enter. They closed up the entrance to the iurt, and lay down and talked about hunting and fishing.

After some time they ordered the servant to scratch on the door, and then to open it and to bring from the balagan a jawbone and a whole fish head. When these things had been brought, an elder received them and wrapped them in tonshich and murmured some words over them and sat down near the hearth. The other old men approached him and trampled on the jaw and head of the fish with their feet, and crossed the hearth and returned to their places. Then the servants left the iurt, and with that the first secret ceremony was concluded.

Two hours later all the Kamchadals, men, women and children, who had been ill or who had been in danger of drowning during the year, gathered together in the iurt; the women entwined tonshich around the heads of all the men and children; they gave them tonshich in one hand and sweet grass in the other and then they went out of the iurt; but previously they had twisted sweet grass around the ladder, and when they climbed out on top of the iurt, they made three turns around it, starting on the side where the sun rises. Afterward, still standing on the iurt, they shredded the sweet grass and tonshich into bits and threw them into the iurt; then they descended inside and placed on the hearth the tonshich garlands they had brought from above. The ones who had been ill during the year trampled them underfoot and returned to their places. As for those who had been in danger of drowning, they lay down in the place where the fire had been and made all the same movements they had made to fight the waves, and called out the names of those persons they had begged for help. These individuals went up to the hearth and bulled them from the ashes, as if they were rescuing them from the water.

Then the fish jawbone was brought in and was thrown onto the hearth, while people cried out, Tu, tu, tu. On each side of the iurt two fish were cut into bits and the pieces were thrown onto the floor. Meanwhile, the servants who had gone out extinguished their lamps, collected the grass mats with which the iurt was covered, lighted a small fire in which they placed a stone, and then set fire to all the garlands worn by the sick and the drowning and ordered the children to put out the fire with stones. So ended the secret ceremony, and nothing more was done that day.

On the third day the iurt was heated in the morning. In front of the fire were placed two bundles of dry grass and switches tied together. The feast servants stood near these bundles. When the fire had been kindled, they passed the bundles from hand to hand, untied them, and gave the switches to the men. Some broke them into small pieces, others bent them into hoops while uttering certain words. The straw was carried to one side of the fire place and the Kamchadals began to make Pom.

They either could not or would not tell me the significance of Pom, nor why they made it. It had a figure similar to a man's about a half-arshin tall. They made a phallus about two sazhens long, or perhaps even longer. This figure was placed with its head toward the fire and the phallus was fastened to the top of the iurt. While some were busy making Pom, several other Kamchadals each took a single blade of grass and left the iurt to go beat on the posts of their balagans. Then they returned and threw the grass onto the fire along with the switches which had been distributed.

When the Pom figure had been hanging for some time in the position I have described, an old man unfastened it; he bent the enormous phallus into an arc, held it in the fire a moment, and waved it around the iurt, speaking the word “Ufai.” Then this figure was burned; the iurt was swept and all the sweepings were gathered together near the ladder. Each of the Kamchadals kept a little of this to take into the woods to scatter along the trail he takes to go hunting. At the same time the women left the iurt and gathered together into one group.

The men returned from the woods, remained standing at the entrance, and four times cried out and clapped their hands and stamped their feet, and then entered the iurt. The women had taken their places and several times cried out, Alululu.”

Meanwhile the iurt had been heated according to custom and they began to throw the glowing coals outside. But the women out on the top of the iurt picked them up and threw them back inside; and so that the men could not throw any more out, they covered the entrance with mats and seated themselves on the edges of these mats. The men climbed the ladder, forced open the entrance, and went out and chased the women away from the iurt. Meanwhile the other men hastily threw out the embers, but as there were more women than men, some threw them out and others tossed them back into the iurt, until it was almost impossible to breathe because of the smoke and sparks; the embers flew constantly, high and low, like fireworks. This game lasted nearly half an hour. At last the women stopped trying to prevent the men from throwing out the coals, but then began to drag the men along on the ground who had come out to chase them. Others left the iurt to come to their aid and rescue them.

Afterward the women sang for a few minutes on top of the iurt and then they went down inside. The men were lined up on each side of the ladder; they tried to pull down the women who were climbing down, which gave rise to a kind of contest. The victor led off the woman he had taken as a prisoner.

After this contest, there was an exchange of prisoners; when one team did not have enough prisoners to ransom hack its own team mates, they used force to liberate them, and this led to new combat. When I was there, the number of prisoners was equal on both sides, so the Kamchadals were not obliged to take them back by force.

When the mock battle was over, a small fire was built and the tonshich garlands which hung on the urilidache idols and other places were burned. The servants brought in some bull trout, and when they were cooked they were cut into small pieces on a large somewhat curved board which was placed at the right of the ladder. Afterward an old man appeared and threw a large part of the fish into the fire and said “Ta,” which means “take.” The feast servants gave the rest to the Kamchadals who were wearing the little urilidache idols. The embers of this fire were not thrown out as the others had been, but were allowed to burn out; at the end they divided among themselves the omeg which was left in the sacks after the purification of the twin girls.

The last ceremony of this feast consisted of going into the woods and getting a small bird, which they roasted and divided into small pieces which were handed out to each Kamchadal who took a tiny bite and threw the rest into the fire.

The feast, according to Steller, was celebrated by the Kamchadals for a whole month before the Russians came to Kamchatka; it began with the new moon.

This leads us to believe that their ancestors had more reasonable beliefs based on observation of nature. Now these people, as can be seen from the foregoing, toss everything into the fire and regard everything that is burned during the feast as sacred. As a matter of fact, the new moon as well as the holy fire have always been venerated by many people, especially by the Hebrews; they are the only ones who thus observed the commands God gave them and the tradition of their fathers, and lost nothing of their real faith after the flood, while certain other nations, such as the Kamchadals, retain nothing but some vestiges; all the rest has been changed. In regard to the Pom previously mentioned, Lucian described similar ceremonies which took place in Syria. The same kind of phallic idol was made, and eunuchs were dressed in women's clothing like the Kamchadals.


1. Ulmaria fructibus hispidis, Steller.

2. Obolarius aculeans, Steller.

3. Cicuta aquatica, Gmelin.