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19. Measures

Since we have mentioned the subject of the exactness I shall add some facts in order not to return to this question. The Tungus have sometimes been described as people who do not know how to count. This is a great misunderstanding, — they easily manage within the limits they need for counting their herds, days, months, and hunting spoils. Indeed, they do not need to operate with the numbers which exceed a few hundreds [104].

When they do not count their debts to the merchants it is not because of their ignorance, but because they know perfectly well that they are not in position to bargain with the merchants. Moreover, in the Tungus mind, minuteness in the matter of money is something which is not permitted by their pride. I have observed it very often amongst all groups. Amongst the groups which are now under a strong foreign influence, and when the old complex is lost, the Tungus make their accounts as well as other ethnical groups, e.g. the Chinese, and Russians.

In the previous section we have already discussed measurement of time and we have seen that the Tungus do have the units for measuring time, i.e. the solar and moon movement, of which the day is perhaps the smallest unit. However, besides the unit-day [the stem is inan, with suffixes and modifications (sometimes contracted e.g. in'i Goldi, Sch)] which consists of the day time (inan) and night (dolbon) the Tungus divide into two parts: from midnight (dolbondulin, i.e. the night middle) to midday (inandulin, i.e. middle of the day) and from midday to midnight. There are distinguished the moments of sunset and sunrise, and special periods: the morning, the period between the morning and midday ogdi dulga (Bir.), the moment about three hours before the sun set — uyahyin (RTM) ; the moment about one hour and a half before the sunset — s'iksdyi (Bir.), [105] the period after the sunset — boror (RTM), that about sunset — lurjur (Ner.) and others. Such a division of the day permits the Tungus to give, with a good approximation, time in their relations and for appointments. Every Tungus knows how to judge the time by measuring the direction and length of the shadow. Indeed, they would not express it in the terms of hours, which they do not need, but they know the principle [106]. It may be added here that the Tungus know rather well the time even during cloudy days and in the night [107]. Also, they know perfectly well how long a time (in terms of periods) is required for traversing a certain distance. Let us remark that the idea of a smaller unit of time does exist. This is that of the winking of the eye, the pulse, and breathing. However, these units are rarely used.

We have touched upon the problem of the methods of measurement of time which brings us straight to the problem of measurement of length in general. Referring to the unit-distance of travelling we shall see that the Tungus measure both time-unit (the travelling distance) [108] and absolute measure are not practically expressed in numbers of name unit.

The Tungus have the following units.

1. The fathom which will be understood as the distance between the fingers of the outstretched arms. As known from the anthropology it is subject to the variations depending on the stature and relative length of the arm and bi-acromial diameter. Practically amongst the Tungus it may be expected to be 165 centimetres. It is called dar (Bir. Khin.) [cf. darambi (Manchu), — to «stretch the arms»] da (Neg. Sch.) (Manchu Writ.) [cf. dari (Goldi), — to measure] alda (Man) (Ur. Castr.) [cf. alda Mong. Writ and Sp.]

2. The «half fathom». It is called by a term delim (Bir.) borrowed from the Mongols (cf. delim, aldadelim. Mongol, Rud.).

3. The distance between stretched thumb and little finger, — tongor (Bir.).

4. The distance between the stretched thumb and the articulation of the first finger, sum (Bir.).

5. Four fingers together anga (Bir.).

6. The finger — unaka (Bir.) (there may be one, two, and three fingers).

7. The elbow (foot) — the distance between the elbow and root of the fingers — ica (Bir.)

8. The inch, the length of the middle part of the index (first finger)

9. stride, g'iras'ikta (Bir.).

The smaller lengths have divisions into 8 and 16 parts, of unaka, also divisions of all other units. All the measurements are considered as of average man. They cannot be considered as very exact, but they are sufficient for the needs of the Tungus [109]. They have also a system of measures for volume, but they are rarely used. The units are e.g. reindeer bags (for loading), handful, hollow of two hands, etc.

As it may be seen the units are found in human body and they are met with amongst other ethnical groups in different parts of the world.

It may be noted that the Tungus distinguish geometrical elements such as the sides of right angled triangle, hypotenuse, diagonal, triangle, square, circle, ellipse, cylinder, etc., — for which they have special terms [110]. For drawing they also use callipers for marking circles. Indeed, those of the Tungus who have become familiar with standard measures as used amongst the Russians and Chinese use them without any difficulty. In such a case the terminology is borrowed or the old one is adapted.

Indeed, the Tungus, when necessary, can give good approximation in «fathoms» or «strides», e.g. for the distance of the arrow effectiveness, which is perfectly known; also for modern fire-arms the use of which requires a very exact estimation of distance, — even a minor mistake in the elevation of the rifle for a long distance may cost to the Tungus a day of work. So the greater distance, like that between two geographical points may be expressed in the same unit. However, for practical purposes in the conditions of Tungus life they do not need the unit like «kilometre», or «mile». However, under the influence of an alien complex they do adopt such units. For instance, the Tungus of Transbaikalia use a Russian term — versta (about 1065 metres) [111], while the Tungus of Manchuria use bo (Bir. Kum.) which, according to the Tungus, is a contracted form of buya, the «territory, place, distance», and which is used in Manchu as term for the Chinese unit li [112].

104. As a matter of fact the Tungus dialects possess no Tungus words for «thousand». It may be borrowed from the Manchus, Mongols, and Russians, while in some dialects it is replaced by «ten hundreds» e.g. jang-rin'ama (Lam.). In some dialects n'ama — «hundred» is replaced by the Manchu word tangu which also means «the number» and «great number».

105. From a common Tungus stem s'iksd (with modification) «the evening», met with in many dialects. There ought to be added x'ie ye cin (Turn), x'eyedn (Lam.), ayiltana (RTM) with the same meaning.

106. In connection with this it may be noted that they also know how to estimate the length of a tree by measuring its shadow, which shows that they have the idea of proportion. I do not need to bring more facts to show that this simple principle is known to them, -which will be evident when we go through other details of their psychomental complex.

107. Amongst all the groups I have made many experiments by asking day periods and checking their statements with my watch. This is quite common amongst the Tungus, almost general, while a «good feeler of time» is rather rare amongst the Europeans.

108. This may be used as a pretext for endowing the Tungus with the idea of relativity. The reader will not expect me to do for the reasons why I rejected a similar attempt on the part of an ethnographer. Cf. North Tun. Migr. where the case of W. Bogoras is discussed. This author did not confine his explanation to the Chukchi and published another work Einstein and Religion (in Russian, Moskva-Petrograd, 1923) which in the eyes of ignorant people may look as it would be very learned ethnographical treatise.

109. The Manchus possess very detailed standards of measures and weight, which were copied from the Chinese system.

110. Indeed, many terms of such special meanings are mere adaptations of the Tungus stems, e.g. triangular is ilan kirci (Bir.) which means: -having three «peaks» or «tops»; they may be borrowed as it seems to be in the case of the cylinder bumbo (Bir.) from Mongol; they may be descriptive, e.g. like «ellipsoid» — tungorin — which is derived from tungo — to bend, etc. However, these terms as they are used, now have geometrical meanings.

111. in Yakut biarista (Pek.)

112. In Buriat (Podg.) we find the term modo, modon, which mean the «wood», i.e. the wooden post, the mark of versta used by the Russians.

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