Though all but forgotten today, Polish-born anthropologist Marie Antoinette Czaplicka rightly holds a distinguished place in the history of Arctic scholarship. Her pioneering contributions to the field came at a time— in the early 20th century—when the fledgling "science of man" was almost wholly a male preserve, and northern exploration was exclusively so. She was remarkably productive during what was a very brief career; she published three books and numerous papers in a single decade before her death at the age of 38 in 1921.
Moreover, her work was distinguished by her specialization in Siberia, the very name deeply ingrained in the consciousness of every Pole living under czarist rule as a place of banishment and harsh labor. "Unlike that of many of my countrymen," Czaplicka explained in My Siberian Year (1916), a memoir of fieldwork in the Enisei (Yenisey) River region, "my year's exile was a voluntary one ... and I was urged on through the difficulties of the journey not by the Cossack's knout, but by the friendly encouragement of an English University" (p. 4). Not so for many of the Russian and Polish ethnographers whose work she drew on in her own writings. For the likes of Waldemar Jochelson (Vladimir Il'ich Iokhel'son), Bronislaw Pilsudski, and Lev Shternberg, studying native life was a calling embraced while in exile for revolutionary activities.
Czaplicka's first, and arguably her most important, contribution to Siberian scholarship was completed before she ever set foot in that vast country. In
Aboriginal Siberia: A Study in Social Anthropology (1914), she introduced readers in the English-speaking world to a wealth of ethnographic information on the populations of the Russian empire's far north, most of it gleaned from a sizeable Slavic literature dating back to the 18th century. The book offered more than a synoptic treatment of what were then little-known peoples who she classified as either Paleo-Siberians or Neo-Siberians on the basis of cultural-historical affinities, not the purported racial criteria more common to the day's ethnological practice. Reflecting the scholarly preoccupation with "primitive religion" of her Oxford tutor, R.R. Marett, the work also examined in detail the various forms of shamanism and important psychosocial and environmental factors underlying traditional beliefs and practices, including those about the gender identity of shamans. Her closing chapter considered possible connections between these factors and the pathologies normally known by the term "Arctic hysteria."
Moving quickly from the library to the field, Czaplicka organized and led an expedition to north central Siberia beginning in June 1914. Oxford University and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology jointly sponsored the trip, while the American Henry Usher Hall arranged the museum's participation after the failure of overtures to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. Hall, an aspiring anthropologist whom Czaplicka met at the University of London, accompanied his friend into the field as research associate. Artist Dora Curtis and ornithologist Maud Havilland completed the party, spending the summer months with their companions at Golchikha, near the mouth of the Yenisey, before returning to England. The anthropologists remained until the following summer, passing the formidable Siberian winter on the tundra stretching eastward from Turuchansk, then heading upriver as far as Minusinsk before embarking for home. In all, they spent 13 months in the field.
Czaplicka chose to visit the lower reaches of the Yenisey in order to flesh out the scanty ethnological knowledge of the area's different resident nomadic groups. Modest progress was made in the early stages, and the expedition's base on the river's far northern course brought them into contact with northwestern Siberians of Dolgan and Nenets (Samoyed and Yurak) origin. Of greater importance, however, was her determination to find "the most primitive and comparatively the purest type" of Siberia's most widespread peo-ple—the Evenki or northern Tungus (Czaplicka, 1917: 290). She and her team found them among the reindeer herders and hunters with whom they stayed east of the Yenisey, particularly those of the Limpiisk tundra, a precinct, then little affected by Russian influence. Accompanied by Michikha, a Tungus woman, Czaplicka and Hall traveled extensively across the frozen landscape—upward of 3000 km altogether—visiting families in their widely dispersed winter quarters. Apart from enduring the long season's many rigors, they gathered anthropometric and linguistic data, collected sundry ethnographic details, including notes on shamanism, and obtained artifacts for their sponsoring institutions. Czaplicka's aptitude for language enabled her to conduct a good deal of this research unaided by Michikha's interpreting. (She had also acquired rudiments of Samoyed and Yurak the previous summer.) Back in Turuchansk to await the opening of navigation on the Yenisey, the anthropologists did some work with Enesei Ostiak (Ket), the lone group among all those they encountered who are classified as Paleo-Siberians. Finally at Minusinsk, in the steppe country south of Krasnoyarsk, they paid a brief visit to two Turkic-speaking groups, the Kachin and Sagay. Traditionally horse nomads, some of their number had since taken up a settled, agrarian life.
World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution drew heavily on Czaplicka's intellectual and emotional capital in the years following the expedition. The fate of her native Poland, no less her hopes for an independent and democratic Siberia, figured prominently in her writing and lecturing. She also contributed directly to the war effort, preparing intelligence reports bearing on the Russian empire, and publishing her third book, The Turks of Central Asia (1918). This text was a thinly veiled, anti-German polemic purporting to examine the "Pan-Turanian" (that is, Pan-Turkic) self-determination movement in the light of ethnological evidence. With seemingly limitless energy, moreover, she managed to write a steady stream of conventional papers on the Evenki and other Siberians—aboriginals and colonials alike—in addition to her expedition memoir, My Siberian Year. A planned volume on Evenk society and culture was never completed, however. According to a 1928 document attributed to Hall, an employee of the University of Pennsylvania Museum since his return from Siberia, Czaplicka had finished writing two of three planned sections: one containing the text of two transcribed Tungusian tales with English translations and annotations, and ten other texts in translation only; the other a vocabulary and grammatical sketch of the Limpiisk dialect. The unfinished portion was to contain a general description of Tungus life and customs. The whereabouts of this manuscript are presently unknown.
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