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22. Plants

The Tungus are in great dependence upon the vegetation of the regions occupied, so their attention is turned to the problem of plants, as one of the conditions of the milieu.

The Tungus distinguish plants from minerals and animals. According to some Tungus, the plants possess a certain quality which is lacking in the mineral realm. The distinct character of the plants is that they grow. However, this opinion among different groups and among the individuals of the same group, is far from being generally adopted.

The Tungus accept the idea that all plants have, «animus» in the sense given in Chapter IV, e.g. a tree possesses «animus». When it is cut down it becomes simple wood, good for making fire and manufacturing, so that the tree loses its animus. Besides the animus, the plants possess elements which may be called «life» manifested in growth, production of flowers, fruits etc. Therefore when the tree is cut into pieces of wood it loses its «animus» and «life». The nature of «life» will be discussed in the next section, so that now I shall confine myself to the general remark that the Tungus opinion differs as to whether the «life» of plants and animals is the same or not. Usually the Tungus abstain from speculation regarding this question. If one presses them with questions they give some reply to satisfy the persistence of questioner, but this will not mean that they are sure of what they say.

Plants in general have no designation in the Tungus dialects. They are classified according to the scheme: the trees — mo (all dialects), the same term being used for «wood», «stick» of no special use etc.; shrubs — sekta (RTM Bir. Kum. Ner. Barg. Khin.), the same term referred to special kinds of shrubs, e.g. willow shrubs, and even to the thin branches of trees unknown to the Tungus; grass — cuka (Ner. Barg.) (Neg. Sch.), coka (Bir. Kum.) (Neg. Sch.), coka (Mank.), cuka (Ur. Castr.); all kinds of green grass is so termed but if the Tungus is asked about the kind of grass he will give a special name if there is one; the mushrooms are named according to the special kinds of mushrooms, there being no general name unless mogo (Bir.), moko (Khin.), mege (Manchu Writ.) [(cf. mogu (»), mugu (Mongol, Rud.)] is such one; the hydrophites, known under different names, are distinguished from the grass.

The Tungus may produce the impression that they are indifferent to the flowers for which they have very few names, and with which they do not embellish their wigwams. However, it must be noted that they name flowers which may have practical importance for them, e.g. the iris which is used for manufacturing the lilac colour. In connection with this it may also be noted that they know the colouring properties of several plants, as for instance, the alder-tree bark, leaves of some other plants etc. They know different flowers which they may describe and of which they may very often make a good picture. The reason why they do not cut the flowers is that the flowers are «homes for ants and other insects». However, they have no special ideas as to ants and other insects, but they simply believe that it is useless to destroy the flowers since they may be admired growing and since they may be needed by other populations of the taiga. This Tungus attitude will be better understood when the Tungus point of view as to the exploitation of the taiga is discussed.

The above given classification is based chiefly upon the size and partly upon the character of plants. Therefore a young willow tree may be classified as sekta. However, the Tungus would distinguish a young shrub-like birch-tree, or larch-tree as small mo («tree»). The Tungus have special names for all trees which are found in their territory. Some of these names may be of non-Tungus origin, or confined to a limited group of dialects. So we meet with several tree names borrowed from Mongol, and perhaps reintroduced into the Northern Tungus dialects from Manchu. Also it is very likely that some names are not Tungus at all but were borrowed from the local populations when the Tungus occupied new regions. The trees are very well known to the Tungus from the point of view of their utility, as firewood and as material for implements. The most useful of them are especially appreciated and attract special attention, such as the white birch, and larch-tree. However, for fire they prefer the ulmus, the wood of which gives more heat than any other fire wood. The same is true in reference to the shrubs which are named when they have special importance, e.g. the shrubs producing berries, colours, and these used for incense. The Tungus distingtush trees according to the form of the leaves and seasonal changes of the green cover, e.g. the larch-tree is regarded as a tree similar to the fire-tree, and pine-tree, i.e. as coniferous trees which are covered with needles [ciga (Bin), dekta (RTM)] and not with the leaves [avdanda (with variations in all dialects)] but since it changes the green cover, it is regarded as a tree of special type. The plants of grass type are also named when have some particular value for the Tungus, e.g. as kinds of pasturage, as hygroscopic material for the shoes, kinds remarkable by their structure, e.g. euphorbia, spurge etc., or those supplied with organs of self defense like nettle, thistle, and others. The names of these plants are very often borrowed from the neighbours. Yet there is a very detailed classification of all kinds of grass which may be eaten - leaves and roots [124]. The same is true in reference to the mushrooms, which are also classified, according to the mushrooms of the Tungus and the animals. Indeed, the Tungus know very well which mushrooms may be eaten without harm by the man and the animals.

Indeed, to give a complete list of botanical terminology is impossible for an investigator who has to pay attention to all branches of special terminology, but as conclusion it may be formulated that the Tungus have their rough classification of groups of plants; they have special terms for the plants of importance, from their practical point of view; and they have special terms for those plants which attract attention owing to their peculiar character.

It may be also noted that the Tungus know that the plants may grow in a «normal» and in a «abnormal» way, in the sense of the unusual. They know, for instance, that the larch-tree sometimes revolves around a longitudinal axis and the trunk of such a tree is very good for certain implements. They have a special term for it. They know that the tree may be affected by overgrowth of wounded parts which they produce artificially for industrial purposes. They know the anatomy of plants in the sense of the structure of the trunk covered with different layers of bark, special structure of roots and organs of supply. Yet, they also have certain ideas regarding the physiological processes going in the plants which they compare with that in animals. The physiological function of plants in reproduction is not beyond their attention and naturalistic explanation. (I will return to this question). They know that the roots possess great power of destruction of rocks, which they illustrate with well selected examples. Moreover, they know the particular characters of most of the plants in respect to their survival in different environments. They observe how the plants grow, how the rate of growth varies at different seasons etc. When a Tungus observes the facts he is not only stimulated by a utilitarian result of his observation for his own benefit, but he observes plants as he would observe animals. However, the interest in the plants is inferior to that in the animals.

The interest as to the life of plants and their classification, is certainly stimulated by the practical needs of the Tungus, for conditions of life in the midst of nature require a good knowledge of plants too. In fact, for the sake of survival the Tungus must know geographical distribution of plants, as trees, grass etc. and the character of these plants. Also he must know degree of danger when, for instance, he is going across a forest in which the trees being rotten or burnt may fall down at any moment. He cannot exaggerate degree of danger for otherwise he would lose his time in making useless turnings. He must know the difference of danger when the wind is strong or not. Sometimes the Tungus would recommend avoiding a forest during windy weather, and not during the calm weather. If one insists on the explanation of the difference, the Tungus will refer to the wind, but if the questioner does not understand, perhaps, the Tungus will not be able to explain in a foreign language, very few travellers being familiar with the «native» languages, and the traveller by putting more and more questions may easily come to the conclusion that there are special spirits which may kill a man during the windy weather. Yet, if the investigator is ready to collect facts as to primitive «illogism» and «prelogism» he may always find some ambiguities in the Tungus speech which may be reworked by the investigator and suggested to the Tungus who would not wish to say that the forest is not peopled by the spirits, the meeting of which is undesirable for the Tungus. I now wish to point out that many of the spirits of investigators and many conceptions of this kind have their origin in the misinterpretation of the Tungus ideas and behaviour, which is due to the defects of investigators and not to a confusion reigning in the Tungus mind.

124. Among the Tungus this terminology is not as rich as it is among the Manchus (in Manchu Sp.) for this kind of food is rather limited among the Northern Tungus but it is very important among the Manchus. I have recorded over fifty names among the Manchus and about twenty amongst the Tungus.

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