Peasant Autonomy
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Story 37

Siberia, Russia – 1902

The fur trapper

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(Photo: Tatters)


“Well, they are good people,” Dersu Uzala thinks, sitting by the campfire, “but, they are not hunters, they don't know the forest, they are city folks.” Involuntarily, he has to smile. “They don't see a track until you point at it, they can't build a shelter quickly when a blizzard suddenly comes up, and also they can’t cross a river with a raft when there is a strong current.”

Dersu, a short, stocky man, with an Asiatic appearance and a thin moustache, belongs to the Nanai, a Siberian people. He doesn't know exactly how old he is, but he is not so young any more. He has lost his wife and children during a smallpox epidemic. Since then he lives alone in the forest. He is hunting sables, selling their furs, and doing fine. But he was still glad to see traces of a small group of men with some horses. It turned out to be a military expedition to survey the territory. Fortunately, Dersu speaks a few words of Russian. The captain asked him to become their guide. It brought some comfort to his solitary life.

Dersu and the captain have become close friends during these months that they have travelled together. The captain comes and sits by the fire, next to Dersu. “Tomorrow our expedition is finished. We will arrive at the railway station, and travel back by train. Would you like to go with us? You are alone here, and you are growing a bit older. In the city, life is comfortable. You can stay with my family. My home is your home.”
Dersu looks at the captain inquiringly. He is touched by the friendly offer, but he still is reluctant. Now and then he visits a neighbouring town to sell his furs, but he doesn't like to be there. “What would I do in the city? I cannot hunt there, not even build a hut. I would rather remain here. Now and then I have to make offerings to the spirits of my wife and dear children. I belong in the forest.”


The fine nature film Dersu Uzala (1975) from the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa shows what it takes to survive in the vast Siberian forests.

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Two hundred guilders in advance - a village in Friesland, the Netherlands – 1902, story 38.
= the Table of contents, story 37.