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10. Direct Ethnographic Observations

Rich as it is, this material is far from including the actual gathered material. The latter consists of direct ethnographic observations. I include here all stories which cannot be formally incorporated into folklore for either they were individual communications made by the Tungus and Manchus, or they were not always transmitted, or they did not assume one of folkloristic forms. For instance, only a very small part of facts regarding Tungus ideas about milieus could be found in the records of folklore. Indeed, the same is true of spirits, hypotheses and shamanism, the stories about which do not usually assume a definite, or more or less fixed form good for transmission. From the point of view of record, these observations are especially numerous and at the same time the most difficult for I have tried to record in so far as possible every fact. However, a great number of them could not be recorded at all because of (1) shortness of statement confused with other statements; (2) unreliability of the informers; (3) very commonly, impossibility of immediate recording; (4) their character is my too personal «impressions».

The shortness of statement, as for instance, «the wolf is cleverer than the fox», found in a text of a conversation dealing with a different subject may be easily omitted, but if it is repeated several times in similar conditions it is remembered. Some Tungus generalizations assume a short form of truths well known to the Tungus which do not need to be supported by evidence, and which at the same time perfectly coincide with the «good sense» of the European complex. Indeed, this group of statements is very large and they constitute the main body of acquired knowledge and thinking, but usually they remain unnoticed by the observers because the latter have the same ideas, which seem to be natural, like the air, the breathing of which is not perceived until a different mixture of gases is substituted. When the observer is looking for exotic elements he naturally does not pay attention «air». As a matter of fact, the record of all these facts is physically impossible, but it is possible to keep in mind that on specific points no difference was found in approach or in statement which may be noted from time to time [71].

In carrying observations one very often finds that a statement is not worthy of record owing to its individual personal opinion conditioned by an aberration, wrong information etc. In fact, among the Tungus groups the individuals are not equally equipped with the knowledge of their own complex, and there is also a certain specialization among them, i. e. degree of competence is not the same. Moreover, in some cases one meets with conscious or unconscious liars whose information may have only special interest. However, when the investigation into the essential elements of the complex is completed then it becomes possible and instructive to record the cases of liars. In the same class there may be also included information received from «abnormal» persons, e. g. affected by neurotic and maniacal conditions. The latter are interesting only when one masters the «normal» complex, i. e. practically after a certain period of work in the population investigated [72], while these cases must be carefully avoided at the beginning of investigation.

Physical impossibility of immediate record is a very common occurrence in the field work. In fact, a great number of observations are gathered e. g. during travelling when it is physically impossible to write, during darkness, when no light can be used, as in night performances [73]. The impossibility of recording is especially common when the material is gathered from the conversations. In fact, if the investigator during such a conversation pulls out his note-book to write, the effect would be about the same as that in Europe at a social gathering if one of the guests should pull out his note-book and take notes on the conversation. Indeed, owing to rather rough manners of Europeans he would be asked as to his notes, would receive a well deserved reprimand, and probably would never be received again, while among the Tungus his tactless behaviour would be observed, probably the subject of conversation would be changed, and the Tungus would in the future abstain from self-expression in his presence [74]. Indeed, if the investigator is not merely a «guest», but an official person, his position would not become better, for the Tungus would hesitate to be absolutely frank, and in some cases they would try to be pleasant to the investigator and supply him with the supposed facts [75].

I have also mentioned a group of records which I made only in rare cases, i. e. my own personal impressions which in olden days used to form the bulk of travellers' records. I do not deny the value of such impressions. In fact, even in the case when they give no real picture of groups investigated they may be used as an ethnographic picture of the author seen from his reactions on an alien group. Such documents are of interest, but from the point of view of the investigator himself they are of little value, for he cannot directly use them. In spite of this in my diaries I have made some remarks of this kind, their chief purpose being a comparison of impressions received at different periods of investigation. Indeed, some of those «impressions» were subject to the changes which did mark the stages in the process of penetration into the essential of the Tungus complex, which greatly helped a critical analysis of the records themselves.

To the thousands of facts recorded there must be thus added a much greater number of facts which have not formerly been recorded but observed and some groups of which could even be put in the form of generalizations.

The facts contained in documents such as collections, designs, ornaments, photographic and photographic records, and specimens of materialized manifestations (ethnographical collections) form a special group of materials for the psychomental complex. As a matter of fact, a detailed technological analysis of some specimens of the so called material culture may bring important light as to the mentality of the manufacturers; the specimens of «placings for spirits» (including pictures) may give very important hints as to the Tungus ideas about the spirits; a detailed comparative study of complexes, as for instance, shamanistic paraphernalia, may give important facts, as to the diffusion of some elements and complexes. However, since these collections are beyond my present reach, all of them being in the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography of the Russian Academy of Science at St. Petersburg, — I can only partly use this source, viz. in so far as it has found its reflection in the diary and in so far as I can rely upon my memory. This hindrance in presenting material at first had seemed to me greater than it appeared after the other material from diaries and folklore was brought into a form ready for writing. The amount of facts being at my disposal seemingly is quite sufficient for giving a detailed picture of the psychomental complex. I do not think that the facts based upon the collections would be superfluous for the present work, but their lack does not affect my analysis of the complex; it chiefly affects the outer form of the work which would be better if illustrated. Perhaps, in the future, it may be possible to give additional illustrations with special explanatory notes.

71. Among the field workers, and especially among the beginners, the looking for «differences» results in relative paucity of diaries. Days pass sometimes during which no «facts of interest» as to the psychomental complex are recorded, while the observer actually misses the most essential elements of the complex only because those elements do not differ from his own. When the material is submitted to the description, the observer completely forgets what he observed and comes to the formulation of «primitiveness», «paucity», «simplicity» if psychomental complex even in the cases when he understands all the cultural elements of the groups under the investigation, which let us add, is a rare occurrence amongst the investigators. Still worse is the situation when the material gathered is not presented by the investigator himself. In this case the most essential part of the complex observed, but not recorded and even very often not perceived, remains hidden and the whole picture is perfectly artificial and unreal. As shown still worse the situation when the observer is supplied with the selective apparatus in the form of theories. It may be pointed out that another peculiarity is also observed among the investigators, namely, they become «blind» as to the differences. This case is especially common among investigators poorly equipped with general knowledge, and impressed by the idea of similarity.

72. Cf. infra Part 4, where difficulties of investigation of these conditions are pointed out. However, a great number of investigators begin from this point, e. g. by attacking the problem of shamanistic practices with «abnormal» cases. Indeed, the most extraordinary pictures may be constructed with the facts of this kind.

73. A particular case is that of shamanizing. When the shaman is asked to reproduce his «songs» etc. for being pleasant to the investigator he may do it, but how reliable will be this record is another question. As will be shown, the shamans are not sometimes even conscious of what they are doing and singing. What may be recorded in this way is a small part of the performance, i. e. the incantations formalized and stylised, a kind of prayer, which from the point of view of shamanism have a very secondary importance.

74. Indeed, it is possible even publicly to take notes, but this ought to be arranged very carefully and under some decent pretext. All depends on the investigator's sense of tact.

75. From this point of view investigation of groups like Manchus is still more difficult, for the Manchus, in accordance with the Chinese ideas of politeness, and under the stimulus of gaining sympathy of the investigator may supply him with imaginary facts by adapting themselves to the investigator's complex.

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