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Nature volume 29, page 501 | Download Citation



THE first two volumes of this important work contained the results of the journeys by the author in 1876 and 1877. The third, which is in print, will contain the geographical materials collected during the journey of 1879, and the volume we have before us deals with the ethnographical part of the same journey. It begins with an enumeration of the Turkish and Mongolian peoples who inhabit the region: Tartars, Uryankhays, Kirghiz, Durbuts, Darkhats, and Buryats, with the legends current about their origin. There is no general sketch of the populations dealt with; the aim of the author seems to have been to give in this volume a collection of materials, rather than to enter the field of general conclusions. With regard to the former, the present volume is a most valuable one. We find in it interesting facts as to the family, social, and religious life of the inhabitants; a list of names of stars, plants, and animals, together with the beliefs about them, and finally, their legends and folk-lore. Of these, no less than 200 are given, containing a rich and new source of information. On almost every one of the 500 pages occupied by these legends and tales one is attracted either by their poetical beauty or by the light they throw on the mythology and popular conceptions of the inhabitants of this border region of Central Asia; while M. Potanin's name is the best warrant for the accuracy of the transcription of the legends reported. However rich this material, one hesitates to say which of the two is more valuable, the folk-lore published, or the annotations which follow them. These last cover 300 pages of small type, and we find there, philological explanations, comparisons with the legends of other Finnish tribes, most valuable materials for comparative mythology, and so on, all being the result of a thorough study of nearly the whole of the Russian literature of the subject, disseminated through periodicals of the most various descriptions. While perusing these invaluable materials one only regrets that the author has not yet been brought to summarise his wide studies and to draw therefrom some conclusions which may enter into the domain of science. In any case a careful index of all matter mentioned in the volume would much facilitate the researches. The plates represent mostly the pictured tambourines of the shamans and the ongons (holy pictures and idols) of the Tartars, Uryankhays, and Buryats.

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