|FATHER OF SICKNESS
One of our kinsmen, Nya Nganas, went walking one day in the snow-clad taiga to look for game. All of a sudden, however, the day turned foggy and he could not find his way home.
Although he searched this way and that he could not find the homeward path and eventually came upon a stream which seemed to have come from nowhere. When he tried to jump across he lost his footing and plunged into the water. Down and down he sank, far into the depths, until at last he came out on the other side, underneath the water.
The land there stretched to the horizon without a trace of snow; just the tips of the grass were slightly whitened as if touched by hoar frost.
He set out to cross this strange new land, looking to all sides for some sign of life. At last he spotted a young girl travelling along a track in front of him. She was riding a strangely coloured reindeer. As he ran after her, he called out:
“Hello there, from what tribe are you?”
But the girl did not seem to hear him, for she paid no heed. As he caught up with her he touched her lightly on the shoulder.
“Who are you?” he asked.
At his touch the girl cried out in pain.
“Why does my shoulder hurt so, as if someone is stabbing me?” she cried.
“What a strange girl,” Nya Nganas said. “She certainly looks like a girl from our parts, yet whatever I say she doesn’t hear me.”
So again he tapped her on the shoulder and once more she let out a cry of pain:
“Oh, oh! An evil spirit sickness has pierced my shoulder.”
“What a strange thing,” thought Nya Nganas. “I’ll travel behind her and see where she’s bound.”
On and on they went, with the girl constantly crying and groaning. Finally, a camp of some five or six chooms came into view: they were of the Tungus people. Arriving at the tents, the girl entered one of them, crying loudly:
“A sickness spirit struck me along the way.”
Nya Nganas followed the girl into the choom and sat down behind the tent pole some way from her.
“Where did the spirit strike you?” the girl was asked.
But she cried out in great pain and was too poorly to explain. So sorry for her did our man feel that he tried to wrap her in his parka despite her shrieks of pain.
All the while the fire in the hearth crackled and hissed as if hostile to the visitor.
The people in the choom said:
“Why is the fire behaving so? Why does it crackle and hiss? Something evil has entered our choom: the spirit sickness has come. What shall we do? Our poor maid will not last long unless we do something.”
One of the girl’s brothers then spoke up:
“Let us send for the old shaman who lives in the next camp; he may be able to cure our sister.”
It being agreed, he went off to fetch the shaman, returning with him that evening. The shaman was a wizened old man who at once began to weave his shaman spells and to talk with the spirits. Finally, he said:
“Three days will pass and the girl will get better.”
Thereupon, the shaman returned to his own choom. But the girl continued to moan as one gravely ill: day and night she lay in a fever and at the end of three days was even worse than before.
All the time, our man sat uncomprehending in the corner unseen by all.
At last, the girl’s father spoke up:
“Our daughter is doomed, the old shaman could do nothing for her. Somewhere I’ve heard there is a young orphan who has become a shaman; he even has his drum and powerful charms. Let us summon him.”
The old man’s eldest son again went forth and this time brought back the young shaman. Sitting alongside the girl, the orphan-shaman first took a bite to eat, then laid out his shaman’s attire and drum upon the floor ready for his work. Having eaten, he began to pull on the shaman’s bakari, the long fur boots. As he tied the laces of his boots, he stole a glance towards Nya Nganas. Having put on the remainder of his attire, he began to do up the thongs of his robe and again stole a glance in the direction of our man.
And our man thought to himself:
“This shaman knows that I am here.”
The shaman finished his dressing and now took up the drum; yet he still refrained from playing it. Nya Nganas meanwhile tried to hide behind the girl, pressing his face close to the girl’s back so that the shaman could not see it. First from one side, then from the other, however, the shaman peered behind the girl as he beat the drum.
Beating the drum now very hard and fast, he chanted loudly:
“A sickness spirit has come. It came to you on the road and pierced your left shoulder. Do I speak truly?”
“You do,” whispered the girl.
“You have the sickness of koga nguo, the evil one,” continued the shaman; and turning to our man, he said,”How is it, Nya Nganas, that you cling so tightly to the girl? You will tear out her soul. Tell us what it is you want; she shall have it, but let the girl go free.”
“Give me the strangely coloured reindeer on which the girl rode here,” our man said. “Give me that and I shall depart at once.”
The shaman now addressed the girl’s father:
“The sickness spirit asks for the reindeer the girl rode. Do you give your consent?”
“Yes, certainly, certainly,” said the old man quickly.
“Good, it is settled,” said the young shaman.”Now, brothers and sisters of the Tungus tribe, you must make a reindeer out of wood.”
So they set to making a reindeer out of wood; legs and horns and tail. And with the charred wood from the fire they drew patterns on its body. When the job was done, the shaman took up his drum and beat it loudly jumping up and down as if running fast. Our man, Nya Nganas, quite lost his senses from the drumming and dancing; he thought to himself:
“They’ve prepared the reindeer for me, I must mount it and get away from here.”
And he climbed on the wooden reindeer’s back and galloped away like the wind across the plain.
All the while the shaman played his drum and danced round and round in circles until he dropped down exhausted. At the same time, far, far away on the bank of a stream, our man came to a sudden halt on his reindeer. When he looked about him, he found to his surprise that he was sitting on a wooden reindeer on the bank of the self-same stream upon which he had stumbled in the fog.
“What sort of shaman did this to me?” he wondered. “The old shaman was not powerful at all; he did not even see me. But that young orphan-shaman was very strong; he made me lose my senses.”
Slipping down from the reindeer, he left it on the riverbank and walked home, soon coming to his choom. Once there he told his kinsfolk of his adventures in that other world.
“So I learned that some of us really are sickness spirits,” he said in conclusion. “One of you, my brothers, is a piercing sickness; another is a fever sickness, and another the terrible smallpox spirit. One of us, it may be, will one day find himself in that other world, and then the same orphan-shaman will not let him go. He is a very clever shaman.”
With these words, everyone present turned into sickness spirits. No longer were they people, they had each and every one become a sickness.
Henceforth, when someone is ill, folk say it is one of our kind who has come. And if the shaman cannot help, it is because he is like the weak old shaman. But should our sickness spirit find itself in a choom visited by the young orphan-shaman then he will see it and the spirit won’t be able to steal a single soul.