By Vassily YESSAKOV, Dr. Sc. (Geography), S.Vavilov Institute of Natural History and Technology, Russian Academy of Sciences; and Vyacheslav MARKIN, Cand. Sc. (Geography), journalist
Back in 1913 Fridtjof Nansen, a celebrated Norwegian explorer of the Arctic and Honorary Member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, made a journey to Siberia, "a land of the future", as he put it. He traveled all the way to the city of Khabarovsk in the Far East, where he met a kindred soul, Vladimir Arsenyev-a tireless trailblazer and pioneer, a man who had discovered tribes hitherto unknown to the rest of the world (at a later date Nansen prefaced his book published in German). As explorer and pathfinder, Vladimir Arsenyev devoted all of his life to the Far East, the PRIMORYE (Maritime) and Amur River regions. Unlike other geographers who traveled far and wide, he was not much of a globe-trotter though...
RUSSIAN OFFICER'S CHOICE
His full name is Vladimir Klavdi-yevich Arsenyev. Born in St. Petersburg in 1872. His father was a common railwayman with no education to speak of. First employed as clerk and then as cashier, Arsenyev Senior worked his way to the chief of the Moscow Ring Railroad (it is still there encircling the inner city). Very fond of books and reading, the railroader would make vicarious trips on maps, and he passed this hobby to his son. The youth had a good streak of luck: enlisted in the St. Petersburg Cadet School, he took his geography lessons from Lieutenant M. Grum-Grzhimailo who, together with his brother, Grigory Grum-Grzhimailo, a famous traveler, journeyed to the Pamir and Tien Shan mountains in the late 1880s. Voyages became a lifelong dream and passion for the young Vladimir Arsenyev. And his fortune favored it.
In 1900 Lieutenant Arsenyev had his first encounter with the Far East on being posted to an infantry regiment near the military fortress of Vladivostok. And he fell in love with that land-so much so that he would never part with it till the end of his days. He made the best of his trips in the line of his duties to broaden his mind and learn more about the nature of that virgin region, visiting such spots as the rivers Iman and Suifun, Lake Khanka and the Possjet bay on the shore of the Sea of Japan. The young lieutenant joined the Vladivostok Huntsmen's Society and then the Amur Exploration Society, and struck up an acquaintance with local explorers. He dug into the specialist literature on natural science and ethnology, and used the knowledge thus culled for studying, among other things, such local ethnic groups as the Goldi (Nanais), Nivkhi, Tazi, Udekhes...
And Arsenyev could bless his stars again. Put in charge of a Vladivostok commando of mounted huntsmen, he made long journeys in the southeastern part of the Ussuri region down to the Gulf of Saint Olga. As commander, he had to reconnoiter in the locality and collect intelligence data on the aboriginal population. The young officer used this opportunity for topographical surveying and studying the geography of the places he was visiting: he took rock samples and tried his hand at archeological excavations. Now and then he spent his furloughs on that. And he summed up his findings in his first work that saw print in 1905, which was a report on the activities of the Vladivostok Huntsmen's Society. Besides the descriptions of the natural environment, the author offered bold ideas, for one, about the impermissibility of rapacious, predatory raids on the taiga forestland and its inhabitants.
With the end of the Russia-Japan war of 1904-1905, Arsenyev was transferred to the city of Khabarovsk, where he was attached to the staff of the Amur Military District for carrying out reconnaissance operations. An excellent chance for more journeys and voyages!
THREE PARTIES TO SIKHOTE ALIN
Setting out from Khabarovsk, Vladimir Arsenyev undertook three long journeys which, in length and duration, could measure up with the voyages of such eminent travelers and explorers of the day as Nikolai Przhevalsky, Pyotr Kozlov (Central
Asia) or Pyotr Kropotkin (Eastern Siberia). Now Arsenyev had a concrete objective before him-find a convenient passage to the Sea of Japan through the taiga and mountain wilderness so as to lay a road then. He had to work in Sikhote Alin, a rough, virtually impassable terrain covered with dense forests that had many relict plant species and unique wildlife including well-nigh extinct species like the Amur tiger, Manchurian deer, Himalayan bear, among others.
Arsenyev agreed to head this enterprise. He filed a report to the Russian Geographical Society and warned about the perils involved. The last of the twelve planks of that report said this in part, "No matter what obstacles might be in the way, we shall never turn back: there is but one route, on to to the Imperatorskaya Gavan and forward, according to our itinerary."
The first expedition took place in 1906. The route passed north of St. Olga's Gulf as far as 45 N, where the party explored the sources of the Ussuri and some of its tributaries as well the passes across the Sikhote Alin mountain range. Together with a small detachment Arsenyev trekked to its foothills. Their guide was Derchu of the Ochzhal kin made famous as Dersu Uzala, the hero of the Arsenyev novel of the same name. The party slipped up the river Tetyukha, where it discovered shows of complex metals, and then, crossing Sikhote Alin and going downstream the Iman, gained access to the sea. En route Arsenyev and his men made topographical surveys and carried out daily meteorological observations. The party mapped a district set aside for settlers from Central Russia-the map replaced the old rule-of-the thumb chart drawn largely on the basis of interviews from the indigenous people. The new map was an exact and large-scale work. Having spent 190 days and nights wandering in the wilderness, the Arsenyev party returned to its home base at Khabarovsk.
It brought rich collections of plants, insects, fishes and stuffed birds, and had them sent over to St. Petersburg's Museum of Botany and Zoology; the ethnographical and archeological materials went to the Russian Museum of St. Petersburg.
The following expedition, in 1907, took in the mountainous district of Sikhote Alin between 45 and 46 N, in the upper reaches of the tributaries of the Iman and the Bikin. When the field season was drawing to a close, Arsenyev sent a man with samples to Khabarovsk and himself, together with Dersu Uzala and two Cossacks, stayed on in the taiga to cover the fag-end of the route by November. But the bitter cold snap of the approaching winter ruined their plans, and the men had to see in the year of 1908 by a bonfire in the taiga wilderness. Their odyssey lasted as much as seven months, and
they passed more than a thousand kilometers through the mountains and along the seashore, never neglecting their surveying job for a moment.
The third expedition, in 1908 to 1910, was timed for the semicentennial since the accession of the Amur territory to Russia. That venture was financed by the Russian Geographical Society. Arsenyev and his party were now to reconnoiter in the northern part of the Ussuri region and survey a summertime route from Khabarovsk to the Sea of Japan shore. Besides, the Resettlement Board gave a special assignment: collect information on the local population and its mode of life; pinpoint, describe and chart suitable sites for would- be colonists; inspect the available roads, pathways and water routes.
Arsenyev and his men set off on June 24, 1908. The initial leg of the journey was down the Amur, to the confluence of this water artery and its tributary, the Anyui. At this point the party took boats and slipped upstream to the foothills of Sikhote Alin, where the men had to negotiate a mountain pass. Meanwhile winter set it. Arsenyev and his party found themselves in a bad fix on the rivers of the eastern range: both guides fell sick, and the rations were out. A rescue team located the party on the Hutu stream-Arsenyev and his men had spent three weeks there without any food... Back in Khabarovsk, on 2 February 1909 Arsenyev made a report on the tentative results of the expedition and returned to the taiga. In May his party reached what is now the port Sovetskaya Gavan (the then Imperatorskaya Gavan) on the Gulf of Tatary. From that point Arsenyev and his men went north along the coast, and in a month's time they made their way as far as the Gulf of De Kastri. Halting for a week to take some rest, they moved on, up the streams of Sikhote Alin towards the mountain passes, but had to turn back: fearing the approaching whiter cold and hunger, the guides would not budge further. Arsenyev and two riflemen stayed on. That was a very bitter winter. And yet the hard-bitten explorers persevered: mounted on skis and hauling their sledges with samples, provisions and instruments, they crossed the desolate, snow-driven mountain range. Their journey, which was rather like an arduous Arctic passage, took two months and a half. It was only at the beginning of 1910 that the doughty men reached the Amur and then Khabarovsk.
The results of that two-year-long expedition were spectacular indeed. Arsenyev and his party set twenty-six astronomical reference points needed for precision mapping, and they did a huge amount of topographical
surveying, 120 sheets in all, en route. The detachment crossed the mountain range seven times, explored dozens of rivers flowing into the Amur and the Sea of Japan. And it brought a wealth of rock samples, herbaria and archeo-logical specimens.
"WHERE MAN HAS NEVER SET HIS FOOT"
Such was the title of Arsenyev's travel notes published much later, in 1927, by the Khabarovsk-based newspaper Tikhookeanskaya zvezda ("Pacific Star") in which the author told the saga of his third expedition in the Ussuri territory. Getting ready for it, Arsenyev wrote this in part: "... We shall have to be out in the field over five months, of which time the party will spend 120 days walking in absolutely desolate and wild parts... This will be a highly intriguing voyage, though a very dangerous one, to tell the truth." These words fit aptly each and all of his numerous journeys-intriguing and dangerous alike.
Drawing on his predecessors' experience, Vladimir Arsenyev devised his own method. He mapped out several parallel itineraries for each expedition, something that ensured high reliability of topographical surveys and registry of natural landscapes on all levels in the Sikhote Alin mountains; certain regularities of such landscapes and their transitions could be identified thereby. Another conspicuous feature of the Arsenyev style: parties were sent to definite localities both in winter and in summer. Arsenyev and his men did not just study the conditions of landscapes-they sought to probe into their origin and the attending destructive processes (erosion).
In his three expeditions of 1906-1910, Vladimir Arsenyev "camped out in the field" thirty- two months in all, he explored a vast territory dozens of thousands of square kilometers large. He and his parties crossed the Sikhote Alin range on 25 occasions; discovered 22 new peaks and mountain passes, and gave a name to each of them. Dozens of obscure rivers appeared on the map-they were charted in full, from source to mouth, with all the tributaries and even freezing-over and high-water dates indicated.
The materials of his expeditions in hand, Arsenyev made reports in Moscow and St. Petersburg; the Russian Museum of St. Petersburg displayed an exhibition of his ethnographic collections. The last Russian Emperor Nicholas (Nikolai) II, who took a particular interest in archeology, visited that exhibit. The Russian Geographical Society and the Russian Museum were awarded silver medals.
Back in the Far East, Arsenyev made two trips into the Ussuri taiga for a bit of extra evidence he needed; and then he buckled down to the sorting job. Toward the close of 1911 the researcher wrote two volumes of his fundamental work on "military-geographical and military-strategic features of the Ussuri territory". In fact, it was a book on regional geography of this vast land.
Arsenyev the explorer made grandiose plans for the future. Russia's extreme northeast had long been a major attraction to him, and he thought of a sound expedition to the Bering Strait and Chukotka. He was eager "to get in touch with Pyotr Kozlov and Sven Haeddin, and go with them to Central Asia" (he had met Kozlov in St. Petersburg who must have told him about Sven Haeddin, the Swedish explorer of Tibet, Mongolia, Eastern Turkestan).
Yet the fates decreed it otherwise. In a way, Arsenyev had to take the old path and go back to the Ussuri wilds-this time in the service of the new governor-general who needed his know-how and experience to fight the taiga gangs of Khunkhuzi so-called (related to the Huns) who, infiltrating from China and Korea, made marauding raids on the region. And even though his interests lay elsewhere, Arsenyev did the job. Dozens of Khunkhuz forest huts and cabins with the chattels-traps, tackles and other gear-were spotted and wiped out. More than a hundred poachers engaged in illicit hunting were chased away. Burdened with suchlike duties, the dedicated explorer did not leave his scientific pursuits-for one, he delineated a clear boundary between the areas of the Okhotsk and Manchurian flora.
Administrative duties were certainly not his forte. Yet one particular commission he fulfilled quite readily, taking a census of the maritime aborigines on the coast, from the Golden Cape all the way to the Ternei Bay. This work helped Arsenyev in studying the mode of life of the Orochis, an ethnic group populating the southern part of the Khabarovsk territory, and in collecting precious ethnographical materials. As Arsenyev confided, he had a bent for ethnography and archeology. His studies of the nationalities and ethnic groups of the Far East were without peer. On his numerous journeys Arsenyev the ethnographer made it a practice to meet aboriginals at every opportunity, he sought to understand their language, customs and material culture. Anthropometry and archeology were an important sideline of his activities.
One small ethnic group, the Udekhes, attracted his interest most of all. Part of the Orochi people, they lived in Sikhote Alin valleys. Way back in 1910 Vladimir Arsenyev had published a short article, "The Udekhe Woodlanders", and he thought of writing a book about that tribe (the monograph was left incomplete, but there remain manuscripts). In this work Arsenyev emulated the 19th century Russian ethnographer Nikolai Miklukho-Maklai. As a matter of fact, their aim was the same: show that peoples left intact by civilization are an integral part of humankind. Each people is unique and significant as part and parcel of the human race.
This is how Arsenyev describes the social order of the Udekhes:
"Any kind of government is absent among them. They live as one solid family, and no one will take it into his head to domineer over others..." He admires the way the woodlanders treat one another. "Should an Udekhe be short of food, he just goes to his neighbor knowing he will never
be refused. What an egregious sin in not supporting another family! One man in danger means all of the kin and all of the people in danger. In this regard the Udekhes are devoid of soulless egotism..."
For a few years the new governor-general would not let Arsenyev go on long research expeditions-only short business trips, period! True, one such trip took him as far as the Manchurian cities of Harbin and Dairen. Still, while in Harbin Arsenyev made reports on his studies, and the magazine Asia's Herald carried his article, his first publication abroad.
His new post-that of a commissioner for "the affairs of the aliens"-enabled Arsenyev to undertake journeys in the Ussuri area again. Thanks to a gratuity he received late hi 1917, the tireless explorer could set out on an expedition to the northeastern part of the Amur territory, an ethnologist's terra incognita in the vicinity of the Yan-de-Yang ridge. Nearly all of January 1918 Arsenyev and his party moved along this ridge toward Lake Bolon, surveying. It was only with the help of Nanai sled dogs that the men could get out of the deep loose snow and return to Khabarovsk in early February. The handwritten account of this trip is lost, but the vivid impressions of it are told in Arsenyev's two short stories.
That year Arsenyev succeeded, be it only partway, in realizing his longtime plan for explorations in the Far North. On a mission of the Resettlement Board he went to Kamchatka so as to make a feasibility study of its economic development. The party slipped up the river Kamchatka by boat and was the first to visit settlements of the peninsula's aboriginals. Besides, it collected archeological and ethnographical data (Arsenyev visited Kamchatka again in 1922 and 1923).
As the Russian Academy of Sciences was marking its bicentennial jubilee in 1925, Arsenyev received an invitation to take a job at the Leningrad Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography. Yet he declined. "It's too early for me to be seated in the museum, I am strong enough to work in the field."
The work was great indeed-among other things, in exploring lands for settlement. Arsenyev took part in an Anyui river expedition (1926). The Anyui is the largest tributary on the right side of the Amur. Arsenyev had been to these parts twenty years before. And now he was amazed: what used to be a wild, turbulent river had become a quiet, languid stream good for timber rafting.
The next year, in 1927, Vladimir Arsenyev led four expeditions to mark the route for a railway between Khabarovsk and the port Sovetskaya Gavan.
In 1930 he set out for the lower reaches of the Amur for land surveying and caught a bad cold. He came back with croupous pneumonia. It
was a fatal disease. Vladimir Klavdiyevich Arsenyev died on the third of September of 1930.
IN HARMONY WITH NATURE
Little by little Arsenyev the traveler turned into a man of letters. That came by itself, he said, in a natural way, because his works of fiction were based on diaries he had to keep during his expeditions. There were quite a lot of them, those diaries, piles accumulated in the thirty years of journeyings. Some have been lost, unfortunately, but others are still in the archives. Judging by the published fragments, Arsenyev had a keen eye and excellent observant faculties. Arsenyev the writer displayed a talent of scientific, precise descriptions of nature combined with lyricism. Another eminent Russian writer, Mikhail Prishvin, likewise a great lover of nature and a superb word-painter, called Arsenyev a "pristine literary man" endowed with "an ear for natural rhythm".
Before his expedition of 1908 Arsenyev made an arrangement with the editors of the newspaper Priamurye about sending in his travel notes. For four years the paper was publishing his "letters from the taiga" in which Arsenyev described the natural features of that sylvan wilderness, his encounters with the aborigines and the travails of field life. Altogether 44 reports saw print. Some were included into his books published in after years.
The first one, In the Ussuri Land, was completed in 1916. Yet it was off the press only in 1921-the author had it published on his own money. Two years after, his second work of fiction, Dersu Uzala, came out, a book that made Arsenyev famous overnight. It is a standout in more ways than one. Offering a captivating, variegated panorama of vestal nature, this travel book portrays as its hero a woodlander and guide, Dersu Uzala by name, of the Goldi (Nanai) nationality, an ancient ethnic group of the Primorye (Maritime) territory, all but extinct. Dersu embodies a colorful, vivid image. The narrator-an army officer and explorer-met him by a bonfire in the depth of the taiga in 1902. The fifty-three- year-old huntsman was a longtime denizen of the woods. Arsenyev liked him at once. "His eyes were the most remarkable of all", he wrote. "Calm, they were a bit ingenuous in their look. They exuded resolve, candor and kindness."
Joining the party, Dersu was never tired of amazing the travelers by his subtle knowledge of the taiga. He perceived nature as a living organism, and he made it human. Every living being-wild goat, wild boar, bird and even the menacing (and yet tractable after all) tiger-all were human to him with whom one could get along and make friends. Mount and dale, river and forest were "people" to him, and the sun-"the chief among the people". Mikhail Prishvin certainly had a point when, upon his meeting with Arsenyev, he mused that the author "had more of Dersu in him than it was in the savage woodlander". Vladimir Arsenyev idealized the image of the pathfinder and imparted his own outlook, his own ethical principles to him.
RESEARCHER, WRITER AND PUBLIC FIGURE
In the 1920s Vladimir Arsenyev became a great authority on what concerned the Far East. He joined in the work of drawing up a strategic plan for the development of this fabulously rich land, of its productive forces and natural wealth. "You are a real bonanza for the local authorities, for you know everything and can help in resolving most sophisticated problems", said Academician Vladimir Komarov, an outstanding Russian botanist and geographer, in his letter to our hero. Yes, Arsenyev was a man of multifarious interests that took in a broad spectrum of research as well as writing, public activities, and scientific and cultural education.
Arsenyev set forth his ideas and plans for the exploration of the Far East in his speech during the celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Touching on the colossal wealth of Primorye, he stressed the need of "intensive research work to tap resources and productive forces for many years ahead".
Our science, he said, should "be in the vanguard of bringing the Russian people closer together with the great nations of Eastern Asia. This task calls for a thorough and deep study of the East Asian culture, so original and so difficult for the European mind to grasp".
Arsenyev's research activities gained broad recognition at home and abroad. In 1919 the Russian geographer and traveler was elected honorary member of the Washington National and of the British Royal Geographical Societies. His works have lost none of their relevance today, as shown by the regular Arsenyev Readings held in various Russian cities and by many editions of his book, Dersu Uzala above all: it has seen more than 40 prints in our country. In popularity it is one of the firsts among what has been written by Russian geographers and explorers.
His name is much alive in Primorye. It has a city named after him, Arsenyev, which lies near the river Arsenyevka; one of glaciers of the Avachinskaya sopka (volcano) on Kamchatka bears his name, and so does another volcano on the Kuriles. His monuments stand in Khabarovsk and Arsenyev. And there is also a memorial to his taiga guide and literary hero Dersu Uzala-a granite boulder amidst pines at a small community where he met his death...
Vladimir Arsenyev has lived thirty years in the Far East. Yet his very first encounter with this land a hundred years ago was something he remembered for the rest of his life. "... A young man from St. Petersburg, I was overwhelmed-as if I came to another planet."
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