- Project Runeberg -  Through Siberia - the land of the future /
214

(1914) [MARC] Author: Fridtjof Nansen Translator: Arthur G. Chater - Tema: Russia
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THROUGH SIBERIA
came back ; it was no go, he said ; they had too much
liquor in their heads to talk business ; they would have
to leave it till the morning, when they could see more
clearly.
He had much to tell us about the Yenisei-Ostiaks.
They were a poor, miserable people, who were dying
out, he thought. They were all deeply in debt to the
traders, some owing as much as 500 roubles each, or more,
and during the last few years they had not been able to
pay much of their debts, as the squirrel-catch had been
poor, and this year had dwindled almost to nothing—
nor had the fishing been particularly good either. And
on account of their poverty there were very few of them,
if any, who had proper nets. The main trouble was
liquor, he thought ; unless the traffic could be stopped,
they were bound to go steadily downhill. Of course,
the sale of vodka was prohibited ; but what was the
use of that, when they got it just the same ?
The Ostiaks had arrived only a few days before in
these travelling boats of theirs, to make their purchases
for the winter ; chiefly meal, which they get on credit,
against an undertaking to seil their skins to the trader,
when they get them. He said that as a rule they were
very honest, and paid their debts when they could ;
but they had little idea themselves of what they owed.
" And let me tell you, I’m not such a dishonourable man,
for a trader. When I ask one of the Ostiaks if he knows
what his debts are, he may answer that they must be
500 roubles ; and then I tell him that he only owes me
200 roubles."
When asked what he thought was necessary to
preserve the Ostiaks from ruin, he replied that the only
thing would be for the Government to take everything
into its own hands and keep "us traders " out. This was
plain speaking ; but when the man went into the next
214

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