Folk-Lore/Volume 30/Review/Études Archéologiques et Ethnologiques

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Folk-Lore, Volume XXX (1919)
Review of R. Torii’s Études Archéologiques et Ethnologiques. Les Aïnou des Iles Kouriles.
by Edwin Sidney Hartland

REVIEWS.


R. Torii. Études Archéologiques et Ethnologiques. Les Aïnou des Iles Kouriles. Extracted from the Journal of the College of Science, Imperial University of Tokyo, vol. xiii, 1919. Tokyo: Published by the University.

The Ainu are the aborigines of the Japanese Archipelago and of the large island of Saghalin to the north and the string of islands, called the Kurile Islands, to the north-east, stretching all the way to Kamtschatka. In Japan itself they have come under the influence of the dominant race and civilization, have probably, in former times at any rate, intermarried with persons of that race, and have been greatly affected by its civilization. Ainu words have found their way into Japanese speech, and Japanese words into Ainu speech. With the Ainu of the Kurile Islands it is different. Only quite recently have they come under Japanese influence. When in 1884 Russia recognized the islands as belonging to the Japanese Empire the inhabitants were scattered on the different shores of the Archipelago. Out of pity for their miserable condition, and to save them from complete annihilation, the Japanese Government collected them together (they were only ninety-seven in number, all told), and transported them to Shikotan, one of the most southerly and most fertile islands of the group, where they could cultivate the land. These well-meant efforts were vain. The Ainu were in a very low state of civilization. They did not understand the cultivation of the soil; and they pined for their rocks and forests, for their life as fishers and hunters, with all its toil and all its hardships and adventures. Their numbers have dropped from ninety-seven to sixty individuals; they are a dying race.

In these circumstances Mr. Torii, a learned Japanese, set himself a few years ago to ascertain and record all that was known about them. This volume embodies the results of his researches. It is illustrated by thirty-eight fine plates, including a number of photographs of the people, their dwellings, clothing and weapons, both ancient and modern, their graves and stone circles. The Ainu are peculiarly interesting. Physically they are quite distinct from all the surrounding peoples of Japan and Saghalin, as well as of the mainland of Asia. They have a folk-lore of their own, as readers of Mr. Batchelor’s books on the subject know. They are held by many distinguished anthropologists to be an outlier of the Alpine race, such remarkable physical resemblances do they show to it. But how they got so far afield is a problem still awaiting solution. Mr. Torii does not derive them from so distant a place of origin as Europe: he is content to bring them from the south of Persia. His reasons for the conjecture are set forth very fairly, though he is hardly abreast of European enquiries. The Ainu, he thinks, came over to Japan in more than one swarm, and the Kurile Ainu represent the first swarm, pushed out into the Kurile Islands by the subsequent intruders of the same race, whose common origin they had forgotten, and with whom their relations were hostile.

Mr. Torii enumerates eight gods, of whom the chief is Kannau-Kamoui, the thunder or heaven-god. The term Kamui for god will be recognised as that of the Ainu of Japan, and the probable origin of the Japanese word Kami; but the list of gods by no means tallies with that of the Ainu of Japan given by Mr. Batchelor. Long separation and a different environment are sufficient to account for this. The ceremonial slaughter of the bear, practised by their congeners in Japan and Saghalin, as also by the Gilyaks, is unknown in the Kurile Islands. But, as in Japan itself, the inao is a familiar object also in the Kurile Islands. It is the sign and symbol of religious worship. It is more than this: it is itself a sacred object, so sacred, at least in the Kurile Islands, that no woman dares to make it, and the men only after special purificatory ceremonies. Materially it is a stick of willow scraped, with the scrapings still adhering to it in long curls. This object is dedicated to the god and erected as an offering. It is well-known in Japan outside the Ainu communities, from which the Japanese have learned its use. It is perhaps, as Sternberg suggests, a supernatural agent to carry to the god the prayers and offerings of his worshipper. Its use is also found among the Gilyaks and other adjacent peoples of north-eastern Asia, to whom it has probably spread from the Ainu. Similar objects are made use of by the Bagobo of the Philippines, the Kayan of Borneo, and the Garos of Assam. The Arunta of Central Australia also use such objects for decorative purposes in some of their sacred ceremonies; and some of the native tribes west of Port Lincoln in South Australia adorned themselves for one of their dances with them in their hair. This sporadic employment over a very wide area is curious, and demands further enquiry.

The Ainu believe in a future life; and those of Japan practise the cult of ancestors. But Mr. Torii does not mention this as part of the religion of the Kurile Ainu. His account of their religion has indeed many lacunae. This may be due to their being for many years under the influence of Russian Christianity. Yet he shows that despite their nominal conversion they had not wholly abandoned their paganism, but secretly continued to practise it. Their marriage was polygynous. Kracheninnikof, the Russian traveller of the eighteenth century, is quoted to prove that the husband only came to see his wife secretly by night: an interesting point which raises a suspicion of mother-right. On this question, however, no information is given. Little, in fact, is said as to social organization. Probably the Kurile Ainu are too few in numbers, and too near extinction to have any definite organization left. A few traditions are narrated, but the volume of folklore of all kinds that is given is small, perhaps because the native beliefs and customs are decadent; but Mr. Torii’s short stay in the islands may account for it. He, however, does record their animism, their creation-legends and several superstitions not without parallels elsewhere.

His principal interest seems to have been to establish the identity of the Kurile with the Japanese Ainu. This he does abundantly by comparison of their language and by the results of excavation of the graves and kitchen-middens on the islands. On this side of ethnography the work is very full and valuable. As a race they seem to be not unalloyed with the blood of neighbouring peoples of the continent: this we might expect from the intermittent relations with them disclosed by their traditions and by the remains found on the islands. Mr. Torii has done much to rescue from oblivion a helpless and dying people; and we have reason to be grateful to him for his labours, conceived and carried out in a truly scientific spirit worthy of a young and vigorous university, the meeting-place of the learning and philosophy of East and West.