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A Journey in Southern Siberia, by Jeremiah Curtin, [1909], at

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THE most important work in a Buriat house and of a Buriat woman is to keep the milk barrels full, and to distil the milk into tarasun, a liquor looking like alcohol or pure water. When the milk is sour enough for the watery part to separate from the curd it is ready to distil. As much milk as is desired is taken out of the barrel and put in a large iron pot, then the pot is sealed up with a heavy paste made of mud and cow manure, and is placed over a slow fire burning on the ground in the center of the Buriat house.

From the pot a pipe runs into a tub which stands four feet or so away. From the end of this pipe drips out the tarasun.

If strong tarasun is desired the first is redistilled. The strongest is made by distilling the liquor three times.

I should judge that the milk barrels in a Buriat house are never empty, for they look as if they had not been washed for years.

In some of the houses two or three barrels of sour milk stand in the room where the family lives. But, when there is a large herd of cows, and many people to be supplied with tarasun, the barrels are kept under a shed near the house. f These barrels are left uncovered, consequently the milk is permeated with dust.

The "arsá," or substance left in the pot after the liquor is distilled, is stored in barrels. It hardens and is mixed with rye flour and cooked for laborers. Arsá becomes so solid that an axe is used in getting it out of the barrel. These barrels are also left uncovered in a shed or outhouse.

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Buriats keep many cows, but nearly all the milk is made into tarasun; there is no cheese made, and very little butter. What butter is made is wholly unfit for use.


When a young boy and girl take a fancy to each other their parents, if in favor of the marriage, begin the regular negotiations through matchmakers, or one father may say to the other, "You have a daughter and I have a son, let us become relatives." This agreement made, the matchmakers' work begins.

The matchmakers, usually, if not always, elderly women, go to the father of the girl with the proposal from the father of the boy. The girl's father will entertain this formal proposal, or, if he has changed his mind, will definitely refuse it. In the former case he will receive another visit. This time five or six persons come. They enter the eight-sided yurta, and the two matchmakers sit down opposite the door; with them are men whose business it is to decide upon the sum to be paid. The father must always get "kalym"—the price of the girl. Now begins bargaining, one side asking a big price, and the other offering little. This is often a mere formality, for many times the question has been decided in advance. The girl's father reduces the price somewhat, the boy's father offers a trifle more, until finally they reach an agreement as to the amount.

This kalym is almost always paid in horses, cows, sheep, grain—anything of value among the Buriats; the amount varies from three to seven hundred rubles, according to the wealth of the two families. A day is appointed for the next visit, and the matchmakers and their assistants go home.

On the day appointed a large company goes to the girl's home. They sit on the ground, talk, and drink tarasun. Then dancing begins in front of the house. Sheep are killed, and if the father is rich he kills a horse also. The meat is cooked, and the crowd feasts. Only friends, relatives, and neighbors are present; neither the girl nor boy attends the ceremonies of this first day.

The second day of the marriage ceremony, which may be

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some weeks later, the bridegroom comes early in the morning to the bride's father, bringing provisions. If he is wealthy he has a horse killed and gives the head of the beast to his father-in-law. The ribs are cut out and given to those of the wedding guests who are most distinguished. All of the meat is cooked, then the best parts are distributed among the people present. Tarasun is dealt out in abundance. There is dancing and feasting. This entertainment takes place in the open air. Chairs and tables are unnecessary; every one sits on the ground to eat.

The third day the groom is at his father's. The house where the young couple are to live is made ready. In the room is a bed, and near the bed is fixed a place where the bride is to sit. Meanwhile she is at home. All at once a small party on horse-back is seen in the distance approaching on the keen run. They halt in front of the door, enter, seize the girl, put her on a horse, and race away to the new home. There. she is swept off the horse, taken into the house, and seated by the bed, where she remains with a handkerchief over her face. The groom is around everywhere, but does not approach to greet her. A table is placed near the bride and the Ongons or household divinities are put on it. Four of the bride's friends now inform the groom that the bride is there. He approaches, she rises and takes his hand, then three old men, of family and importance, appear. The bride and groom bow to the Ongons and are then led around the table three times by the three old men, who ask of the Ongons that the newly married may be prosperous, gain much wealth, and have many children to begin a new line. After this ceremony the bride returns to her father's house.

On the fourth day of the marriage ceremony the bride again goes to the new house (or yurta), puts on a mask and bows before the Ongons. There is a fire made on the ground in the center of the yurta; she bows to this fire, and throws a piece of butter into it; then she takes a piece of fat mutton, perhaps a pound or two pounds, cuts it into bits, rolls it into a lump and throws it into the hands of her father-in-law; in this way she assures him that she will be bountiful and kind to him. The ceremony over, the bride sits down near the milk barrel, which

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always stands at the northwest corner of the fire. Taking her place at the milk barrel concludes the marriage ceremony, for this denotes that she takes formal possession of the milk of the house. Thereafter she is mistress of the milk, and everybody must go to her for it. It is her business to make, or to cause to be made, the tarasun.

In Balagausk, where another branch of the Buriats lives, the marriage ceremony differs slightly. On the day that the bride is first taken to the home of the groom, a man, taking with him a large arrow, goes ahead of the party having the bride in charge. When he arrives at the new home he sticks the arrow into a pillar in front of the house, and calls out that the bride's party is coming. When they are within a short distance of the house a man appointed for the purpose throws the meat of the second joint of an animal—a cow, sheep, or horse—to the boys of the village who are waiting to catch it. The bride leaves her father's house either on horseback or in a wagon, but always approaches her new home on horseback. She rides up at full gallop, is swept from the horse, and conducted with covered head and face to the bed, where she sits down on the chair placed there for her. The more speed with which this is accomplished the greater the good luck of the bride will be. The horse she rides is ornamented with a bell. The bell is removed, rung, and hung on the western post near the door.

The day following the last day of the ceremony the women of the ulus, or village, come to visit the bride. She must meet them with cap and handkerchief on. She must not call certain persons by their names, but always by the relationship. When they come to the house they cough outside the door; this is done simply for fun and to confuse the bride.

On the second day of the marriage ceremony the bride sits in the house and begins to cry, and some of her girl friends come and cry with her. Then she lies down on the bed with her most intimate friend. They take each a tress of their hair and sew it to the other's shoulder. Then they clasp each other firmly, friends come in, girls and boys, and try to pull them apart, to tear one from the other; there is laughter and screaming. This ceremony is to show that after marriage the young

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woman will be true to the friends of her girlhood. If a bride is enceinte she is not permitted to bow down to the Ongons. Such an act would bring misfortune to the whole community.


Just before the birth of a child a "receiving mother," or mid-wife, is summoned. As soon as the child comes into the world the father takes a broad arrow-head and cuts the umbilical cord. The infant is then washed in warm water, wrapped in a lamb skin, and put into its father's fur coat. The friends and neighbors assemble, and an animal, either a cow or sheep, is killed and the meat cooked. Then a man accustomed to perform such ceremonies makes libations of the meat and of tarasun, in this way sending it greatly multiplied to the gods, asking, meanwhile, that the master of the house may be blessed with many children and an increase of flocks.

From the animal they have killed is reserved the leg bone below the knee; this they boil. On the second day the meat is cut from the bone, and the bone is tied to the outside of the child's cradle, on the right-hand side. If the baby is a boy, a boy stands by the cradle ready to answer questions and to give the child a name. If it is a girl, a girl stands by the cradle.

We will suppose the child to be a boy. The receiving mother holds the infant in her arms in front of the cradle and asks, "Which are we to rock, the child or the bone?" She asks the question three times, then the boy answers, "The child!" Then she asks three times, "Shall we rock up or down?" the boy answers, "Up!"

The baby is put into the cradle and tied in, then the receiving mother asks, "What is the name of the child?" and the boy repeats the name which the parents have selected.

The third day, if the father is well-to-do, a second animal is killed; this one is divided among the most distinguished people of the village, those who have not been present at the ceremonies attending the birth and the naming of the child.

On the third day the tomta (placenta) is buried. Two planks are removed from the floor near the mother's bed, a hole is dug

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in the ground, and dry juniper is burned near it. The tomta is put into the hole, covered up, and the planks are replaced. Then the mother is purified. Only women are present during this ceremony.

The tomta has a sacred significance among the Buriats. If you ask a Buriat where he was born, he will answer, "My tomta is buried in that house;" or will say, in such or such a village "is the house where my tomta is buried."

The Buriats beyond the Baikal, when questioned about the origin of their people, will answer, "Our tomta is on the western side of the Baikal." They make libations to it. In this case the tomta is that of the recognized ancestor of all the Buriats. When they are making libations they sprinkle tarasun to the gods, naming them all, then to their ancestors, and finally to their tomta.


An account of the origin of the childbirth ceremonies as told me at Usturdi by two very old men.

Buhan Khan lived at Haugin Dalai, not far from the sea. He was a bull in the daytime, but always turned himself into a man at night. Not very far off, but on the west of the sea, lived Khunshai Khan, who had a beautiful daughter. One night Buhan Khan saw Khunshai's daughter and fell in love with her. After a time a son was born to them. When the child was placed in its cradle Buhan Khan stole it away, tied it firmly to the cradle, carried it to the edge of the sea, and with his hoofs dug a hole in the earth, and there buried the child and the cradle.

A Shaman named Usihun and his wife Asihan lived by the sea. They saw Buhan Khan digging the hole, and when he had gone they went immediately to find out what he had buried there. They found the cradle and took it home, but so tightly had Buhan Khan hooped it around that work as they might they could not open it. Then Usihun began "to shaman" and to ask how the cradle was to be opened. He was answered by Buga Noyon Babai, the god to whom he made libations. "Fasten

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the right leg bone (below the knee) of a two-year-old bull on the right side of the cradle," said the god, "and place a sharp knife by the cradle, then ask, 'How is it, shall we rock the bone or the infant?' A child must answer, 'The infant.' 'Shall it be head down or up?' 'Up.'" When the Shaman did as Buga Noyon directed, the hoops snapped and the cords untied, and there in the cradle was a beautiful child. Usihun and his wife reared the boy and named him Bulugat. When four or five years old Bulugat became very fond of playing by the sea. After a while he began to get up and slip away in the night-time. The Shaman's wife wondered where the child went; then she followed, and saw that two children, a boy and a girl, came out of the sea and played with him.

The Shaman and his wife were very curious to know what kind of children they were, so one evening they set out milk and tarasun and told Bulugat to give it to his playmates. The boy and girl came out of the sea, played till tired, then they drank the milk and the tarasun, and straightway fell asleep. The Shaman came from the reeds where he had been hiding and caught the boy, but the girl slipped away, turned to a seal, and sprang into the sea.

The Shaman named the boy from the sea Uhurut, and he and Bulugat, son of the bull, grew up together. All the Buriats west of the Baikal are descended from Bulugat, and all the Vepholensk Buriats are descended from Uhurut.


A hunter one day when out shooting birds saw three beautiful swans flying toward a lake not far distant. He followed the swans, saw them come down by the water, take off their feathers, become women, and swim out from shore.

These three swans were the three daughters of Esege Malan. The hunter stole the feathers of one of the swans, and when she came from the water she could not fly away with her sisters. He caught the maiden, took her home, and made her his wife. Six children had been born to them when one day the daughter of

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[paragraph continues] Esege Malan distilled strong tarasun, and after her husband had drank much she asked for her feathers, and he gave them to her. That moment she turned to a swan and flew up through the smoke-hole. One of her daughters, who was mending the tarasun still, tried to catch her and keep her from flying away, but only caught at her legs, which the girl's dirty hands made black. That is why swans, a sacred bird among the Buriats, have black legs.

The mother circled around, came back within speaking distance of her daughter, and said, "Alway at the time of the new moon you will pour out to me mare's milk and tea, and scatter red tobacco."

From this swan, the daughter of Esege Malan, came all the Trans-Baikal Buriats.


In case of sickness a Shaman is sent for at once. To discover the cause of the illness he burns the shoulder-blade of a sheep until it is white, then by the cracks in the bone he learns what the sick person has done to anger this or that Burkan. When he has thus found out which Burkan has caused the sickness he knows by experience what sacrifice must be made to appease him. If the illness is slight, an offering of tarasun may be sufficient; but in case of serious sickness, besides the offering of tarasun, an animal must be sacrificed.

Many of the Burkans are very exacting about what is offered to them, others are indifferent. To some the offering must be a black ram, to others a white ram; to some a white goat, to others a black goat; and there are Burkans who cannot be appeased without the sacrifice of a bull or a horse.

The Shaman kills the animal by making an incision in the breast and pulling out the heart. The body of the animal is disjointed at the neck and at the knees, the skin removed, except from the legs and head, and the body carried away to be boiled. Then a long pole is driven into the ground and the skin of the animal is fastened to the top of it, the head facing the mountain, hill, or place where the Burkan who has caused

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the sickness is supposed to have his home. The pole leans slightly toward that same mountain.

The flesh of the animal is cut up and cooked, and bits of it offered to the Burkan, either thrown into the air or burned, the rest is eaten by the family and those who assist at the sacrifice. Tarasun is used freely at such times. During the ceremony the Shaman mumbles mysterious words and prayers.

There is a second way of offering the sacrifice. The liver, gall, and intestines are burned, the bones of the animal are broken into small pieces, and together with the pleura put into a bag and placed on a pole, where the bag remains until it rots and falls.

If the patient has pain in any particular part of his body the Shaman puts spittle on it and prays to the Burkan who has caused the pain; sometimes he touches the man's tongue with a red-hot iron, or he pours hot water over his body, and though the water is very hot it feels cold.

If after the first sacrifice the sick person does not recover, a second is made, and perhaps a third. The Shaman does not get discouraged, but continues his efforts until his patient recovers or dies. In former times he was paid very little for his labor,—whatever the family thought proper,—but at present the reward is sufficiently large.

The light Burkans, as well as the dark, can cause sickness. Sickness sent by a light Burkan is usually in punishment for the taking of an oath (to swear by the name of a Burkan is an oath); or for the killing of a sacred bird, which is a great sin, and if the man is not punished for the sin his children will be.

Berkut, the white-headed eagle, is a sacred bird. Ejin, the god of Olkhon, the sacred island of Lake Baikal, had no children; so he created the white-headed eagle and called him his son, adopted him. Ejin himself is the son of the Fiery Heaven, and is called Utá Sagan Noyón (High White Prince). He is counted a brother of Dalai Lama, who is also a son of the Fiery Heaven (Galta Tengeri Xubun) (Fiery Heaven son). The swan is a sacred bird. Vultures are not sacred, but they are often sent by the Burkans to locate persons whom they are about to punish.


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BONES OF THE RAM.<br> They will remain until the bundles rot and fall
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They will remain until the bundles rot and fall

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No one is permitted to kill a white-headed eagle. If an eagle alights on a sheep or lamb and scratches it, the owner kills the animal immediately.

The Buriats do not sacrifice to the eagle, but to its ancestors "the ancients of eagles." In some cases those ancestors are represented as people, in others as birds.


The Buriats usually burn their dead; occasionally, however, there is what they call a "Russian burial," that is, the body is placed in a coffin and the coffin is put in the ground.

But generally if a man dies in the autumn or the winter his body is placed on a sled and drawn by the horse which he valued most to some secluded place in the forest. There a sort of house is built of fallen trees and boughs, the body is placed inside the house, and the building is then surrounded with two or three walls of logs so that no wolf or other animal can get into it.

The horse which drew the body to the forest is led away a short distance and killed by being struck on the head with an axe, then it is left for wolves to devour.

If the man was so poor as not to have a horse, but had a cow, the cow is sold and a horse bought to take the body to the forest. If so poor that a horse cannot be purchased, the body is carried on a stretcher.

If other persons die during the winter their bodies are carried to the same house. In this lonely, silent place in the forest they rest through the days and nights until the first cuckoo calls, about the ninth of May. Then relatives and friends assemble, and without opening the house burn it to the ground. Persons who die afterward and during the summer months are carried to the forest, placed on a funeral pile, and burned immediately. The horse is killed, just as in the first instance.

Often the ornaments and the most valued trinkets of the dead are burned with them, as well as their best garments. Ordinary garments are left for their heirs.

A Shaman does not officiate at this cremating ceremony, which is conducted in the most quiet manner possible.

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As soon as a Buriat dies he is dressed in his best garments and his face is covered with a white cloth. On that day no neighbor or friend begins any work; to do so would bring misfortune. They call the day "mu udir," bad day.

It is customary to keep a body three days, but often it is buried or burned on the second day. In the coffin a small sum of money is placed, each friend contributing. A sheep or cow is killed and bits of the meat put in the coffin, together with a small bottle of tarasun. "The spirit of the dead man will meet the spirits of friends and relatives who have died earlier, and he will wish to entertain them." Every necessary article, such as his coat, cap, pillow, and blanket, is put into the coffin, as well as his pipe and tobacco, even his whip for his horse, if he has owned one in his earth life, goes with him.

The family and friends eat the meat of the animal they have killed and drink tarasun. As they drink they pour out some to the dead man, pouring it on the ground and mentioning his name. For three days and nights refreshments of every kind are served in the house—the man's spirit is there among his friends and relatives and it partakes of the food.

The spirit has the form of the body but is invisible, except to persons having "second sight." The spirit is often sorry to go from among the living, and tries to prove to itself that it is still alive; that is, in the visible form. "It goes to the fire, steps on the ashes, and when it sees no track fears that it is no longer in a material body. It goes close to the chained dog to see if the dog will bark. If the dog barks it is a proof that he sees something, and the spirit hopes that it is visible. When the man's friends breakfast, dine, or drink tea, the spirit waits anxiously to see if any one will offer it food or drink. If four or five are drinking tea, the spirit takes a cup and wonders that they do not notice it; but the five cups are there, it has taken only the spirit of the cup. The man is there in spirit among his friends, he moans and weeps, hopes and tests the position; no one sees him, no one pays any attention to him. Poor man, he is sad indeed."

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When the corpse is taken from the house for burial it is carried out head first. During this ceremony, if a button or any small article drops it is lucky, and each person is anxious to pick it up, for the man who does so will have a child added to his family, or some other good fortune will come to him.

Sometimes the dead man is taken from the coffin and placed on the back of his favorite horse; a friend sits up behind to hold him on, and thus he rides to his own burial. But more frequently the body is left in the coffin and the coffin is carried on a sleigh or a wagon. Women and children take farewell of the dead at the house, only men attend the burial.

When they reach the spot where the body is to be buried they sprinkle the earth with tarasun, and then dig the grave. The saddle is taken from the dead man's horse, broken into small pieces, and put in the bottom of the grave, and if the body has been brought on a wagon the wagon is broken up also. This done, the coffin is placed in the grave so that the body lies facing the southeast. The horse is led aside and killed, either by the blow of a sledge hammer on the forehead or by a knife being driven into the spinal marrow; the latter is the nobler form of death. The skin on the horse's back is cut away to represent a saddle, and on his head and face a bridle is outlined in the same way; then he is either burned, or left for wild beasts to devour. The horse has gone to its master and is ready for use. The friends now return to the grave and fill it with earth.

Nine days of remembrance are incumbent on the nearest relatives; they must remain in their houses and think only of the dead. If a near relative lives far away he will come when he hears of the death, even if it is not for a month; he will bring food and drink and "make remembrance."

Where the dead are buried or burned, there are large settlements, houses, and buildings of every kind; but all this is invisible, except to persons with second sight.

The spirits of the dead wear not only the garments in which their bodies have been buried, but also their old garments, those they wore many years before their death, for they wear "the ghost" of the clothes.

When spirits take the form of living people, as they can if they

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wish, the effect is the same as if they were clothed in real garments. The spirit of a woman sometimes takes the form of a bird and flies around its old home, but this is considered unlucky and the bird is shot at, not to kill it, but to drive it away.

The Buriats believe that sometimes a person dies because the spirit or soul gets tired and sad, and wants to leave the body. In such a case the Shaman and friends talk to the spirit, tell it to come back, and it shall eat well, drink well, and have a good time. This effort to persuade the soul to return to the body is called "the invitation." "You shall sleep well. Come back to your natural ashes. Take pity on your friends. It is necessary to live a real life. Do not wander along the mountains. Do not be like bad spirits. Return to your peaceful home." (They think that the spirits of the dead wander about the mountains, returning to their homes from time to time.) "Come back and work for your children. How can you leave these little ones?" And the Shaman names the children. If it is a woman these words have great effect; sometimes the spirit moans and sobs, and there have been instances of its returning to the body.

Next: Chapter IX. The Origin of Shamans