The Mūnkēsiŋ uj-ēriɣ (‘Song of the Creature of the Village of Munkes’), collected by Munkácsi in 1889, recounts the foraging activities, capture and death of a bear, followed by a bear feast. The narrator is the bear, who frequently refers to himself in the third person, Vojle-ōnle, ‘animal-majestic’. During summer, he gathers pine cones and berries in the forest, eating as he goes, to make fat for his back and belly so he can sleep through the winter. Noting that his Heavenly Father has descended (in other words, autumn has arrived), he finds a large mound of earth at the banks of the noble river, where he decides he will hibernate. He scoops out the earth with both paws (see below), lines the earthen house with moss, and enters, where he rests his plaited and beautiful head. His sleep is disturbed by men with dogs. The men hold axes and ice-breaking poles, and make an arrowslit in the roof of his lair. When the bear pokes his head out, his head is ‘run through’, he is bound with rope and dragged out. His five buttons are undone (he is skinned), the fat of his back and belly is placed on a sledge and taken to the village, where the hunting party is greeted by men and women whooping and throwing snow. The bear is placed on a dais inside the house, and sits in his splendid nest while fish is brought to eat. The men disguise themselves and performs songs and plays for five nights, then a blood sacrifice of reindeer is placed before the bear. His head and paws are cut off, cooked in a pot and shared out; the bear then gets up and, in the form of a mole, slips away with the blood sacrifice. He looks up (prays) to his Heavenly Father, who lets down the iron ladder from heaven, which the bear ascends with his blood sacrifice. He attaches the blood sacrifices to the iron pillar, enters the gold roofbeamed house where his Heavenly Father sits, and asks “whither will you direct me?” Numi-Torem replies he should hurry to the berry-laden, cone-laden grove, whereupon the bear, in his joy, jumps forward with a three-jump jump and a four-swing bound.
Archaica, Russians, animals in folklore
Bear narrators frequently recount their deaths by knife, lance or bow and arrow, while heroic songs feature warriors in armour using swords, despite the fact that automatic weapons had already been commonplace in the region for centuries. It seems that rifles have some taboo attached to them, described perhaps as a firing ‘noisy, loud-noised thing’, but in any case the animal’s death will be quickly passed over, and only referred to in an exceedingly circumlocutory way.
I say that the animal’s death is glossed over using ornate language because the bear describes ‘losing consciousness’ or falling into a deep sleep, and goes on to narrate the ensuing bear feast and performances, the ‘hand-turning, leg-turning’ plays. A bear feast for a male bear lasts five days, corresponding to the number of buttons the animals is said to have, four for a female bear, and three for a bear cub. The technology (tools) with which the bear was killed is sometimes blamed on the Russians, who provided tips for the spears and suchlike, but at any rate, the hunters go to great lengths to absolve themselves of guilt, for killing a bear is not something taken lightly. The supernatural abilities of the bear include an imputed ability to conceal its scent from men and dogs; performers of the plays often disguise their faces, bodies and voices so that the dead bear being entertained will not recognise them. Taboo words are discussed further in Marianne Bakró-Nagy, Die Sprache des Bärenkultes im Obugrischen, Budapest, Akadémiai, 1979.
Furred animals provided a form of currency, as well as a unit of measurement. G. F. Cushing’s article on the bear in Ob-Ugrian folklore cites a poem in which squirrel furs represent kopecks: the cunning Vogul offers to repay the Russian his 100-squirrel-fur debt with ‘hidden treasure’, a buried corpse. As they dig, the corpse moves and the Russian collapses in terror. The narrator declares to the corpse, ‘whether you come to life or not, it’s all the same to me’. (See G. F. Cushing, ‘The Bear in Ob-Ugrian Folklore’, Folklore, 88, 1977, 2, pp. 146-59.)
In the Mūnkēsiŋ uj-ēriɣ the bear, while preparing his hibernation place, fills five pine marten skins with soil with his right paw, and then six with his left (here, in Munkácsi’s transcription):
jḁmes-pāl ḁlnė kātläp-pālėm
at ńoɣs ḁsmäń ɣuri’
kwon ti patilāli;
vorti-pāl ḁlnė kātläp-pālėm
ɣḁt ḁsmäń ɣuri’
kwon ti patilāli.
Gyula Illyés translates this as:
Jobb felőli fél kezecském
öt nyusztbőrből varrt cihába
férő föld omol ki,
bal oldali fél kezecském
hat nyusztbőrből varrt cihába
férő föld bomol ki.
Illyés, ‘Medveének’, in Péter Domokos (ed.), Medveének. A keleti finnugor népek irodalmának kistükre, Budapest, Európa, 1975, pp. 39-46 (41).
One of the tasks of the translator is to render the repetition and parallelism (R&P) of the original. To the Western reader, R&P may seem cumbersome: no new information is given, but synonyms are employed to vary the repetition (see above, lines 1 & 5, and 2 & 6). It is crucial that the reader recognise the forms and role of R&P, not least because repetition aids reading. Illyés makes full use of his skills as a poet, and exploits the resources of Hungarian, balancing the literal with the creative. He recreates participial phrases (which participate in both noun and verb systems) immediately recognisable to the reader, thus kinsəlėnėm xaltə, during the course of my search, lit. ‘in my seeking’, becomes keresgéltemben, while ūnlėnėm xaltə, while sitting, ‘in my sitting’, is rendered ültömben.
Last, but not least, the raw materials for comparative Finno-Ugric morphology are contained within the poem: āmp/eb (dog); at/öt (five); ɣḁt/hat (six); xōs/húgy (star, here taboo for the bear’s eyes); xåsä/hosszú (long); ūləm/álom (dream); jåməs/jó (good); ńēlm/nyelv (tongue); lowint/(meg)olvas (to read), an instance of metathesis where, here, consonant and vowel exchange places. The past marker here is -m- (Cf. HU -t-). Such correspondences are central to the comparative method in historical linguistics, evidence-based internal reconstruction of language(s).