Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/397

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
383
THE SUANETIANS AND THEIR HOME.

the population to increase beyond the limits that their territory would support. They had even caused it to diminish. Their system was simple and effectual. They put a pinch of ashes, at birth, into the mouths of all superfluous female babies. They took a masculine view of superfluity. At the last census there were four males to three females in the Ingur Valley.

Poetry, where it exists—above all, primitive poetry and local ballads—often gives a nearer insight into the condition of life and manners of a race than religious rites and beliefs. Dr. Radde has fortunately preserved a number of very curious Suanetian ballads, such as are still sung under some ancient tree, or on the march along the mountain-path. They celebrate the golden time of Thamara, past forays across the great chain into the lands of the Baksan Tartars, or among the Abkasians to the west.

Under Russian rule a change is slowly coming over the people; schools, perhaps the only effectual civilizers, are doing their work. Everywhere I noticed in the rising generation an absence of the wild-animal expression which was the characteristic of the free Suanetians twenty years ago, and which all travelers have observed.

The Suanetians are not mainly a pastoral people. They keep a few flocks of sheep and herds of horses. Bullocks are used to draw sledges, and are eaten in winter. But flocks and herds are seldom found, as among the Tartars beyond the chain, on the high pastures, and consequently there are no paths to them. To reach the upper glacier basins you must find and follow almost untraceable hunters' tracks. Pigs, the smallest breed I ever saw, and geese wander round the homesteads, which are guarded by dogs. The villages are surrounded by barley-fields fenced in with neat wattling. The paths between them are pleasant, and less stony than most Alpine mule-roads. The inhabitants have learned to cultivate potatoes and other vegetables. They cut a certain amount of hay on the high pastures. Sometimes they cross the chain in summer, and let themselves out as laborers to the indolent Tartars; but there is no love lost between them. The Mussulmans look on the Suanetians with contempt as pig-eaters. I heard the Suanetians hiss "Cherkess!" at our Kabardan Cossack; and the Cossack—a mild and amiable creature, the reverse of the popular idea of a Cossack—despised and distrusted every Suanetian from the bottom of his soul. A race-hatred of centuries was recognizable in its ashes.

Variety is the marked type characteristic of the Suanetians. One village head-man, huge and bull-like, was like a figure from an Assyrian monument. Of the three men who led our baggage-horses from Ushkul, one wore the clothes and had something of the air and manners of a Persian gentleman. Another was a