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On the Run in Siberia

On the Run in Siberia

Rane Willerslev
Translated by Coilín ÓhAiseadha
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    On the Run in Siberia
    Book Description:

    On the Run in Siberia is the chilling tale of living in exile among Yukaghir hunters in the stark Siberian taiga region—a story of idealism, political corruption, starvation, and survival. It is also a striking portrait of the Yukaghirs’ shamanistic tradition and their threatened way of life, a drama unfolding daily in one of the world’s coldest, most enthralling landscapes.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8147-1
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xix)
    (pp. 1-3)

    I run my fingers down over my face. My cheeks are hollow, and my eyes feel as if they are sinking into my head. After a week without any food at all, I no longer feel the hunger gnawing at my stomach. But my physical strength has been used up long ago. My arms, my chest, and my legs, my entire body is weakened from exhaustion. Every movement takes such an effort that it feels as if I am stuck in a vise. I know it will not be long before I am too weak to hunt. And then we...


      (pp. 7-17)

      Kolya shalugin wears an old navy suit with broad, dark stripes. The material is smooth and shiny and has a metallic glint in the midday sun when he steps out of the transit area in Kastrup airport in Denmark to meet Uffe and me. As he stands there in the throng of stylish businessmen and relaxed holiday guests, Shalugin in his suit looks like a curiosity from a bygone era. But he wears it with pride: this was the uniform the powerful bureaucrats wore when they left the office buildings of the state farm to pay the hunters a visit....

      (pp. 19-33)

      Uffe is one of those people whom I would without hesitation call a calm character. He always encounters problems of any kind with an almost stoical calm. Whether it is because he lived for decades in a remote cabin in the Swedish forest, or because he studied Tibetan Buddhism in his youth, I cannot say. But the fact is that it takes a lot—an awful lot—to worry him. But that day in January 1996, when Uffe steps in through my front door, I can see that his trip to Siberia has been unusually harsh. Not only does he...

      (pp. 35-57)

      One day in july 1999, I am tramping down the dry, dusty dirt road that serves as the main street of Nelemnoye. Almost three years after Uffe’s last visit in 1996, I am back in the village. I was here for the first time during the film expedition in 1993 and have come back twice since then, both times in winter. The fur project is more or less dead since Shalugin’s decline, and instead I am visiting the village to continue my field studies of the Yukaghirs and their spiritual culture.

      Like a Wild West town, the two-story houses stand...


    • 4 OUT OF RANGE
      (pp. 61-71)

      I caress helene with my gaze, her fine, pale face, plump red lips, and jet-black hair that falls in wisps around her ears. Quite slowly and tenderly, I lay my arm around her throat. With my other hand, I open a button on her shirt and glimpse her white, round breasts, which peek forth from beneath her lingerie. She leans forward and whispers in my ear, “Rane, come home to me.” Her words dart through me like a stream of light, and I give in. At once I feel my whole body shake.

      “What’s happening? Who’s there?” I roar, jumping...

    • 5 SOFT GOLD
      (pp. 73-85)

      Only a day after our arrival at the hunting cabin in the mountains near the source of the Omulevka River, Yura and Sinitskiy head back to Nelemnoye. Our parting is brief and unsentimental. Everyone knows that Ivan and I will now have to look after ourselves in the taiga and that it will undoubtedly be a challenge, but no one mentions it. This is just the way things have developed, and from here on, we must focus on practicalities. We watch the two disappear between the trees, and soon we can no longer hear the noise of the engine. Then...

      (pp. 87-101)

      A month and a half has passed since we arrived at the hunting cabin. The sack of sable furs is bulging, but the chunk of meat has long since been eaten. Several times, we have gone to get meat from the moose Yura shot, but without building an actual rack for the meat. We decide to make another excursion to the moose meat and bring more back to the cabin. When we reach the place, it stinks like an old urinal. A wolverine has been there and finished off the meat.

      “Damned thief!” Ivan snaps and spits in the snow....

      (pp. 103-121)

      I fling my backpack off the snowmobile and step into Spiridon’s log cabin. It is very similar to the one Ivan and I were living in but is much more spacious and better equipped. And it is situated in the middle of the Omulevka Delta, with a large open hunting area around it. Everything is bigger and better than where I have come from.

      The men’s sleeping bags lie neatly rolled together on the bunks, which are covered with moose fur. And the joints in the wall are sealed so that we are not exposed to drafts. In the middle...

      (pp. 123-137)

      The end of april brings about some striking events. First, the long-awaited spring arrives. The young bright light grows and becomes warmer and more powerful day by day. In the course of just a week, the temperature rises from minus 22 to 50 degrees. There is certainly still frost at night, but there is a lovely warmth from the sun by day. And along with the warmth come the wild geese, whose wing feathers’ sonorous swishing resonates almost constantly through the air. In long, wedge-shaped rows, they fly north to breed on a vast hatching area near the Arctic Ocean....


    • 9 THE CURSE
      (pp. 141-153)

      The danger of desperately clinging to one single goal is the disappointment felt once it is achieved. This is how it is with our return to Nelemnoye. For far too long, I have been completely consumed by the desire to escape from the wilderness and get back to the village, back to people and civilization. During meals in the taiga, my longing for the luxury goods of the village—vodka, chocolate, and cookies—became an uncontrollable desire.

      When I walked alone in the woods, I fantasized that the larch trees transformed into young village women in elegant leather boots and...

      (pp. 155-167)

      Being with the old Yukaghir couple instills a warmth in my heart that I have been missing for too long. I can feel how their affectionate care dispels all my gloomy thoughts. Akulina is constantly laying tidbits on the table in front of me: boiled moose muzzle, raw kidney, and marrow, which I have gradually come to regard as genuine delicacies, but also more conventional treats such as caramels, chocolate, and condensed milk with sugar.

      All the while I sit gorging myself, she strokes my hair affectionately, or else she tells one incredible story after the other. Some are ancient...

    • 11 SCREWED
      (pp. 169-177)

      I am sitting in Zyryanka’s small airport, waiting for the propeller airplane to Yakutsk. A whole year has passed since I returned to Siberia to carry out my field study of the Yukaghirs and revive the fur project. The trip is over; I have finally decided to go home to Denmark. I am neither happy nor sad at the prospect of going home, as I do not know what to expect. Is Helene still waiting for me? Since I last saw her in St. Petersburg, I have received only a few letters, all without much affection. Where am I to...

    • 12 THE WAY BACK
      (pp. 179-186)

      It is a cliché to claim that the return home is much harder than the departure. But it is true. I had hoped to slide gently back into my life at home, but instead I experience a crisis that I find much more difficult to recover from than the cold, the hunger, and the privation in the Siberian wilderness. During my long absence, I thought that the world I left would stay the same, that time and change only happened to me. But naturally, that is not how it is. Life takes it course everywhere, at home too.

      This fact...

    (pp. 187-190)

    Early in the morning I am woken by a peculiar dream. I see myself lying on a reindeer skin, dreaming that I am lying on a reindeer skin, dreaming that I am lying on a reindeer skin, dreaming. I sit up in my sleeping bag and know right away that I am still not awake. Then I jump from one dreamed reality to the next and to the next again in the space of a few seconds, but none of them offers anything but the same repetition.

    When I finally come to myself and look around, I am lying on...

    (pp. 191-200)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 201-208)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 209-209)