Episode Two of the Tiger Podcast, features a rare interview with one of the Udeghe people, indigenous to the Russian Far East. Formerly nomadic, now living as Russians do in villages, the tribe’s survival is threatened by intermarriage with Russians, the loss of language, unemployment and the suppression of the practice of Shamanism as a religious belief.
The Udeghe term the tiger the “Lord of the Forest” and if you have experienced the Russian taiga and its greatest inhabitant, the Amur tiger, it is easy to see why. This is not so much a religious term, as an accurate description. The Siberian tiger is (if all goes well) never seen by people. Its manifestations are everywhere however: tracks, bloody kill sites, lay-down shapes in the snow. The tiger is perfectly camouflaged by the orange, black and brown of the trees and the white of the snow on the ground. They are constantly patrolling, constantly hunting, and constantly observing. You experience them, rather than merely ‘see’ them, as in a zoo. This is why I describe my research trip to the taiga as a pilgrimage not a ‘safari’.
One of the storylines in TIGER is that of Edit, an Udeghe huntress who decides to see if life raising her child alone in the forest in the ways her people used to do leads to a better, more possible existence, than the life decreed in the village: marriage to a Russian, and all the attendant cultural losses. I was astounded to follow Edit’s journey, discovering as she did, that sometimes physical suffering is preferable to emotional suffering. Meeting Alicia in the village gave me the courage to imagine this choice.