by Captain Mikhail TSIPORUKHA, retired
It has been 250 years since the Russian traveler and ethnographer Academician Stepan Krasheninnikov wrote his fundamental study, "Description of the Land of Kamchatka". Living for years over there, he studied the nature of those parts, and the way of life of aboriginal ethnic groups.
Their odissey began on the fourth of October, 1737. On that day the ship Fortuna left Okhotsk, a seaport in Russia's Far East, and set sail for Bolsheretsky Ostrog, or Big River Fort, on the Kamchatka Peninsula. Stepan Krasheninnikov, then a student at the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, was among those on board. All of a sudden the hull sprung a leak, and the cargo on deck found itself dashed overboard. The poor youth lost what he had in his bag-pen and paper, victuals, and some of the seed he aimed to sow on Kamchatka soil.
Ten days after, the Fortuna approached the Big River's mouth but, as ill luck would have it, she shipwrecked just offshore. It took the survivors another eight days to reach the community of Bol-sheretsk by boat. Our young voyager was among the party. On that day - 22 October 1737 - he began his first journey over the Kamchatka land.
PICKED FORA RESEARCH PARTY
His full name - counting in the patronymic - was Stepan Petrovich Krasheninnikov. Born in Moscow in 1711 into a soldier's family: his father saw service in the elite Preobrazhensky Regiment of the Guards. At thirteen Stepan entered the Slav-Greek-Latin Academy, Moscow's first institution of higher learning. Upon graduation, late in 1732, he was among the graduates selected by the governing Senate to
take a course at the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. The following year, in August, the young man was enlisted in the Academy's research party within the Great Northern Expedition captained by the famous Commodore Vitus Bering and exploring the vast expanses of Siberia*. The party was led by Academicians Gerard Friedrich Miller (historian) and Johann Georg Gmelin (naturalist). It was from him, Johann Gmelin, that the young scientist learned the ropes, for one, of geography and natural history which were not taught in the Slav-Greek-Latin Academy. His probation-acid test!- took several years, between 1733 and 1737. The youth was a standout for his diligence and inquisitive mind. That is why the science chiefs sent Stepan to Kamchatka for all-out exploration of what used to be a terra incognita in those times, a land populated by strange tribes. Besides, the young Krasheninnikov was to provide for the planned arrival of academic chiefs in person, but none of the bigwigs came to have a look...
CROSSING THE PENINSULA TEN TIMES
Once in Kamchatka, Stepan Krasheninnikov did thorough research work in exploring various facets of the land. He collected a wealth of information on geography, botany, zoology, ichthyology (the branch of zoology dealing with fish), ethnography, and the like. His interests also extended to the history of this land and the languages spoken by the indigenous population. He had to do most of this work single-handedly: a few aides, army soldiers and Cossacks attached to him, had no scientific background at all.
The routes of the journeys undertaken by the young researcher are impressive indeed. In 1738 he crossed the southern part of the peninsula twice, reaching the Baanyu (now Bannaya) river valley in January 1739, this river being part of the Big River basin. It was there that Krasheninnikov detected and described geysers. "...The springs at the rivulet Baanyu burst forth on both sides. In between the springs on the southern shore is a remarkably worthy place... with a countless number of wells, different in their diameter, spurting the water with much noise as high as two Russian fathoms or so up..." In March of the same year (1739) Krasheninnikov inspected the Pauji river valley and its geysers.
The selfsame year he explored the Avachinskaya sopka (volcano) and pointed to the characteristic structure of the tall volcanoes of Kamchatka. "...Mount Avachinskaya rises on the northern side of the Avachinskaya bay, a good way off, but its foot stretches almost to the bay: all the high mounts take in neighboring mountains, with their ridges rising ever higher, and their tops often in the form of a marquee. The mountain ridges are forested, while the marquee is bare, for the most part of snow-covered rock."
Our dauntless explorer likewise studied the tsunami phenomenon and its terrific effect. Thus he makes mention of a "terrible shaking of the earth" in the southern extremity of the peninsula and of "tremendous Hooding"; the quake began in the small hours of October 6, 1737-the violent tremors went on for a quarter of an hour, destroying many of the yurta huts and booths. Stepan Krasheninnikov continues his account thus: "There rose a terrific noise and storm out in the sea, and suddenly beachcombers, about three Russian fathoms high [6.4 m], fell upon the shore and ebbed fast a good distance off. There came another shaking of the earth and a mighty tidal wave, which then swept off far into the sea..." Our explorer says the tsunami wave hitting upon the shores of two Kurile islands in the north was as high as thirty Russian fathoms (sazhens), or 63.9 m. That violent earthquake was followed by aftershocks.
In less then six months, from November 1738 to April 1739, Stepan Krasheninnikov traveled from the Big River mouth along Kamchatka's western shore as far as 533(Г N; from that point he trekked farther north up to the Middle Range and, crossing it, approached the upper reaches of the river Kamchatka and went downstream to its mouth. That is, our tireless explorer crossed the Kamchatka Peninsula for the
* See: A. Shumilov, "On the Way to the Pacific", Science in Russia, 3, 1995.- Ed.
third time, northeast. Upon inspecting the eastern shore all the way to the Avachinskaya bay, he made a fourth crossing of the peninsula before returning to the Big River Fort.
In August 1739 Krasheninnikov embarked upon another journey and crossed the peninsula for the fifth time, traveling from the community of Bolsheretsk to Nizhnekamchatsk, and making a thorough study of the northeastern coast down to the estuary of the river Karaga. Crossing Kamchatka to its western coast (his sixth crossing of the peninsula), he explored the land southwards and, cutting across the peninsula for the seventh time, pushed southeast down to Nizhnekamchatsk. In March 1740 our hero returned to Bolsheretsk along the Kamchatka river valley, crossing the peninsula coast-to-coast for the eighth time.
Late in 1740 Stepan Krasheninnikov leapfrogged from Bolsheretsk to Nizhnekamchatsk (ninth crossing) and, traveling up north as far as Verkhnekamchatsk, reached the Sea of Okhotsk coast (at 55N). His "tenth circle" came full swing!
All in all, Krasheninnikov covered over 3,500 kilometers. These long journeys enabled him to make a true description of Kamchatka's relief features. Most of the peninsula, he found, is mountainous. The mountains stretch norwards in a solid range, dividing the land into two nearly equal parts. This range branches out into other ridges, with rivers in between flowing to the sea on both sides. Lowlands are found only near the seashore, with mountains at a notable distance off. The ridges, stretching east and west, extend far into the sea every here and there; for this reason they are called "noses" or capes. But there are more of such promontories on the eastern rather on the western shore... Such was the gist of Krasheninnikov's survey of the Kamchatka peninsula.
He described promontories in Kamchatka's east - the Shipunsky, Kronotsky, Kamchatsky and Ozerny capes and respective bays of the same name. Likewise, he explored rivers, for one, the biggest one, the Kamchatka, 758 km long, as well as lakes (Nerpichye, Kronotskoye and others). Surveying the Kamchatka's mouth, Krasheninnikov indicated safe harbors for seaships as well as convenient sites for beacons and seamen's barracks.
Our fearless traveler climbed up the highest "burning mountains" (that's how the Cossacks dubbed active volcanoes) - Avachinskaya, Koryakskaya, Kronotskaya, Tolbachik (rising 2,741, 3,456, 3,528 and 3,682 m high, respectively) and Eurasia's highest active volcano, Klyuchevskaya (4,750 m). His keen eye was quick to take in Kamchatka's immense natural wealth. Krasheninnikov said there might be iron and copper deposits, too, pointing in particular to the presence of ochre, a mixture of clay and iron oxides used as a pigment. He came upon rock crystal, cerise in hue, and "great chunks of flux, looking like poor green glass in color, of which aboriginals used to make knives, axes, lances and arrows" (Stepan Petrovich meant obsidian, or volcanic glass). He made special mention of Kamchatka amber. "Herewith note should be made of ambre of which a good deal is collected at the Penzhinskoye Sea, particularly at the river Tigil and further north..." Here Krasheninnikov meant the Sea of Okhotsk. He adds he made a shift to procure a pouch of this substance which, among other materials, he dispatched to His Majesty's Kunstkammer, or museum of curiosities, in St. Petersburg.
WONDERS OF KAMCHATKA'S FLORA AND FAUNA
With reference to the peninsula's plant life, Krasheninnikov makes a particular note of trees, shrubs and grasses that could be of some use to man. For instance, he mentions the grass "sarana used as a cereal. It belongs to the lily genus [ Liliumflore atro rubente ] , but hitherto has not been found elsewhere save in Kamchatka and Okhotsk... It flowers in the middle of July in much profusion so that no other blossoms could be espied in the fields from afar. Kamchatka wenches and Cossack wives dig for the root of this grass in the fall or, which is oftener, recover it from murine holes and, drying it in the sun, add to their mash, pies and hodgepodge. A stew of sarana, cloudberry, great bilberry and other berries is a common palatable dish on Kamchatka."
In his book Stepan Petrovich Krasheninnikov also praises "the sweet herb Sphondilium' a cow parsnip umbellate ( Heracleum dulce ) , which, he says, is likewise as delicious to the local people as the sarana (saranka) herb; the denizens of these part use it as an essential condiment to their dishes. The Russians found it good for wine-making as well: so none other wine except one distilled from this herb is available, Krasheninnikov observes.
He gives many other particulars, for one, how nettle is made into thread, or how seaweeds are utilized. Besides, we learn a lot about Kamchatka's animal life, first and foremost, about such fur- bearing animals as foxes, sables, polar foxes, ermines and gluttons, otherwise known as wolverines. Krasheninnikov tells us about local bears and deer, both wild and domesticated, and about the ways the skins and meat of wild animals are utilized. Eskimo dogs are of particular importance for the Kamchatka aborigines - employed above all as draft-dogs.
One chapter deals with marine mammalians - seals, sea lions, fur seals, sea otters, sea-cow manatees - likewise known as Steller's sea cows (Hydrodamalis gigas), because these animals were first described in the early 18th century by Georg Steller, a Russian naturalist and member of His Majesty's Academy of Sciences. Unfortunately in the 1750s-1760s these wondrous animals, weighing as much as 200 puds (3.2 tons) each and inhabiting the coastal waters of the Commodores, were completely wiped out for their meat
We learn something about whale - and fish-hunting as well, the way all the various tribes of Southeast Asia do it in search of sharks, skates, rays, codfish, flatfish and other varieties. The author does not bypass the choice of "red fish" either-the fish of the salmon family which, he says, is consumed in a variety of ways: baked in the yukola bread, pies, pancakes, fritters, flapjacks and what not. Salmon fish gives fat and oil used instead of butter, it gives glues and other domestic essentials. Krasheninnikov enlarges on many other varieties of local fish, such as chum salmon (that goes into the making of the yukola "rye bread"), humpback and blueback salmon, river salmon and many other kindred species.
We might as well cite many other instances of the relevancy of Krasheninnikov's scientific findings. But here is one striking example. Trekking along Kamchatka's eastern coast in 1739, he described a silver fir variety in the bay of Semyachik, the only site where this tree grows in Kamchatka.
DEAN OF RUSSIAN ETHNOGRAPHY
In his book Stepan Petrovich Krasheninnikov gave a circumstantial account of the life styles and beliefs of Kamchatka's indigenous population represented by such ethnic groups as Itelmeni (Kamchadals), Koryaks, Kurihans, among others, and of their tools, household utensils, boats and homes, the mud yurta huts and booths supplied with a wooden framework and turf covering. He admired the workmanship of local craftsmen who, using primitive stone knives and axes as tools, performed real miracles. Ivory articles, for one. Krasheninnikov describes an ivory chain, about a foot long, composed of ever smaller chains; he says it was carved from one solid tusk. Its workmanship is superb-no one would tell it was the handiwork of "wild Chukchi" tribes.
And yet local tools and implements were not as primitive as they seemed at first glance. Thus the folks would not change those articles for iron-made things brought in by Russian colonists. The aboriginals preferred to use their own devices-sticks of dry wood- for striking fire from a flint, not the regular steel. Every Kamchadal, Krasheninnikov notes, always carries about such sticks wrapped in birch bark rather than the Russian steel.
Our explorer made a detailed description of the Kamchadal trades, of male and female dress, and of local dishes and beverages. He supplied a wealth of evidence on primitive society, its beliefs, idols and spirits, its idea of the creation of the world, human beings and animals. Reading his thrilling account, we learn of local festivals, rites and customs. This is precious material for an ethnographer and historian. So our contemporary Lev Stemberg, an eminent scientist and Corresponding Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences, had a point in calling Krasheninnikov a Nestor (dean) of Russian ethnography.
FIRST HISTORIAN OF KAMCHATKA
The Russian colonization of Kamchatka could not but affect the way of life of the indigenous population. At the end of his fundamental work Stepan Krasheninnikov, dwelling on the history of the discovery and exploration of Kamchatka by the Russians, pointed to the most significant changes wrought in the local mores. The old folks, who would stick to their customs, depart from the land of the living, he says. Nearly all of the younger set have embraced the Christian faith and are following the Russian ways in everything, they scoff at the living of their forefathers, their crude rustic manners and superstition. Every ostrog (stockaded town) is superintended by a chief who dispenses justice, barring criminal cases. Russian-style Ubas (homes) and chambers have been put up here and there, and often prayer chapels besides. Schools have likewise been set up, whither Kamchadals will send their children readily, the author notes.
Little by little local folks started using tableware and dishes made of iron and copper, they started wearing Russian clothes, women in the first place. In turn, the immigrant Cossacks adopted some of the local ways of husbandry, what with rigorous conditions of the north. Krasheninnikov approved of the assimilation of the colonists and local people and of intermarriages of Cossacks and local maids. They, the Cossacks, take local girls as domestics and concubines and, upon fathering children, marry their wenches in wedlock, in proper church ceremony. The same holds for serf and free maids alike... Children born in such families enjoyed the same rights and duties as their fathers.
CHAMPION OF RUSSIA'S INTERESTS
Stepan Petrovich Krasheninnikov was an ardent advocate of the Russian colonization of Kamchatka, whereby Russia could consolidate its foothold in the Far East. He took a sober view of the rigors of the land, in particular, what concerned agriculture, animal husbandry and commerce with other countries of the Far East.
The Russian scientist and explorer had to brave the hard conditions of the Far North in person. He lived in a primitive izba (peasant home) in which the stove had no chimney, with the smoke coming out right into an only living room. Now and then he had to make do even with worse lodgings, the shabby lean-tos attached to such izbas.
Upon his arrival in Kamchatka Krasheninnikov was entitled to a proper salary from the state treasury, or "bread allowance" in the parlance of those days. But he could not draw this salary, it was two years overdue, until there came a corresponding order from Okhotsk, the Russian administrative center in the Far East. Jacks- in-office played even worse tricks than that.
Leaving Kamchatka in June 1741, Krasheninnikov arrived in the then Russian capital, St. Petersburg, at the end of 1742. He came back as eminent researcher and explorer well versed in the natural sciences and humanities. At long last, in 1745, he was promoted to scientific assistant of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. Five years later Krasheninnikov became a professor of natural history and botany at this highest scientific and research institution. This meant he was now a full member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences.
Krasheninnikov began his all-out work on Kamchatka immediately after his return to St. Petersburg late in 1742, and he had completed it by 1751. The academic council then suggested that the book should be augmented by some of the evidence from Georg Steller's book.
The author revised his work accordingly. In August 1751 he reported that the revised text of the first two parts of the book was ready, and begged to consider the amended version in which Steller's evidentiary material was used.
In April 1752 Krasheninnikov was through with the third part of his fundamental study, and in March 1753 he finished the fourth, concluding part. The author died in February 1755 just as the last quire of his work was off the press. In 1764 it was published in English, in 1766 - in German, in 1767 - in French, and in 1770 - in Dutch.
This work is considered to be one of the best in the world literature of the 18th century, a model nature description for subsequent generations of geographers. Academician Dmitry Anuchin (1843- 1923), a prominent Russian ethnographer, archeologist and geographer, said that Krasheninnikov's Description of the Land of Kamchatka was "still relevant as one of the oldest, truthful and circumstantial pictures of the life and morals of the population on the shores of East Asia".
An outstanding savant he was indeed. Here's what Gerard Miller said in his preface to the Description of the Land of Kamchatka: "He [Krasheninnikov] was from among those who, not favored either by high birth or fortune, but, by dint of their good qualities and application, rose in the world; those who depend not on their forefathers but are worthy to be called masters of their own well-being."
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