“Don’t make noise, don’t touch the stones!” How the “sleeping dragon” became a sacred place for the Nanais

Journalist and ethnographer Elena GLEBOVA has been studying the history and culture of the indigenous peoples living on the Amur for many years. She is the author of two books, Space Moose and Fish Skin Metamorphoses, in which she collected her observations about places and people, as well as legends and traditions. Today in our section “Unfamous Sights” – her story about one of the sacred places, located near the Nanai village of Kondon.

Village condon in the Sunny region of the Khabarovsk Territory is considered one of the most ancient in the Amur region. It is no coincidence that for many decades the attention of the scientific world has been riveted to it. It was here that such unique finds as a basalt figurine of a bear, a figurine of a woman later called “Kondonskaya Venus” were discovered. Archaeologists note that more than 50 settlements existed in the vicinity of Kondon in different eras, and this fact has not yet been associated with any place on the Amur.

Kondon, stretched along the winding Devyatka River, which originates in Lake Evoron, is, as it were, fenced off by a large Kondo-hureni hill. The place is sacred, associated with an ancient legend.

Old people say that once upon a time a winged dragon flew here. It can be seen that his path was not short, and he decided to rest. I lay down on the opposite bank of the Nine and fell asleep. He probably slept for a hundred years, and when he woke up and was about to take off, nothing came of it – the trees and shrubs that had grown on his body during this time were firmly chained to the ground. So the winged deity slumbers to this day, but his sleep is sensitive, and his temper is severe. He should not be disturbed unnecessarily, and if someone comes here to pray to the gods for good luck, he behaves with extreme caution. After all, it was not in vain that the old people instructed: “If you went to the” head “of the Kondo hill, go carefully, do not make noise, do not touch the stones.”

Until now, in Condon, they remember the story of how the winged dragon was seriously angry and severely punished those who violated his age-old peace. The story is incredible and quite scary.

In the second half of the last century, a team of workers from a Transcaucasian republic came to the village. They were hired to build residential buildings. To save on material, we decided to use a stone from Kondo Hill for the foundation. The local old people were then indignant and warned of impending troubles.

But who listened to these “fairy tales” if there was a plan, and with housing in Condon at that time it was tense. Several local men, apparently the most desperate, joined the brigade. Part of the sacred hill was demolished, houses were erected, visiting builders returned to their homes. But when, after a while, an earthquake occurred in their homeland, the old men, timidly pointing in the direction of Kondo Hill, shook their heads: “The spirits punished …”

The inhabitants of Condon, who participated in the desecration of the local shrine, faced an equally tragic fate. Once, their brigade was driving a car, and at a railway crossing it collided with a train. All died…

The “head” of the dragon is considered the most powerful in terms of magical effects. It was here that sacrifices were made in ancient times, and even today they leave refreshments for the spirits. In the center of the “torso” stands an abandoned house where a local shaman lived 20–30 years ago. The owner has long been dead, and only the wind peers through the open windows of the orphaned dwelling.

The “tail” also has its own purpose: before, in case of difficult childbirth, women were brought here, and the dragon eased their suffering.

Rumor has it that Kondo Hill has owners – an old man and an old woman. One local resident who had no children once had a dream. As if an old mistress comes to her, takes her by the hand and leads to the hill. And there is the door. They enter and suddenly find themselves in a Nanai hut with warm mounds-kans and embroidered carpets. The owner-grandfather sits on the couch, puffs on his pipe.

The old woman began to question the woman about her sorrows, and then reassured: everything will be fine, you will become a mother. With that, she saw off the guest. And after some time, children were actually born in this family.

Here I would like to make a small digression and recall a story that is not connected with the Kondo-khureni hill, but is related to children and vividly shows how a magical ritual can affect a person’s fate.

Somewhere in the Sunny District, in one of the Nanai villages, there lived a childless woman. She almost despaired and with the last hope turned to the shaman. He talked with the helper spirits and said that her children, or rather, their souls are being stolen by an evil shaman (among the indigenous communities of the Lower Amur, they are divided into light and dark). And he advised the woman to sew a wedding robe, since this is one of the main amulets of family and motherhood, decorating its back with a special embroidered plot: “plant” birds on the branches of a large and sprawling tree of life – the souls of unborn children, next to place a small dried tree that belongs to a shaman plotting intrigues, and next to him is the villain himself. Then the storyline becomes more complicated, as a brave hunter (embroidered, of course) appears on the back of the robe and hits the evil shaman with a well-aimed arrow.

Following these “instructions” and, of course, believing in the power of the ritual, the woman pored over the embroidery for quite a long time and did everything as she was told. What is the result? She, as it were, “lost” the mystical plot, changed the alignment of her own fate and soon became a happy mother of three children.

But let’s return to Kondon, guarded by a sleeping dragon, surrounded by mighty birch trees with ornamental branches. In the intricate carpet of his chronicles are not only legends and traditions, but also real stories that, over the years, acquire fabulous features. Here, for example, was how the Kondon secondary school, the oldest in the Khabarovsk Territory, was created.

In 1900, representatives of nearby camps – Yamihta, Sorgol, Kondon and Sindan – gathered for a big council. Probably, they smoked more than one pipe, but they decided: we need to teach children to read and write, and for this, first of all, build a school. All men who paid taxes to the royal treasury were ordered to harvest wood and, in general, take an active part in construction. So the whole world mastered the school in a couple of years – a small house consisting of one room. But again, bad luck: who will teach the children? There are no literate people in the camps.

Then the most courageous men got into boats and set off on a long journey. Along the winding Nine we went down to the Gorin River, from there we went to the Amur. So we got to Nizhnyaya Tambovka, which at that time was the center of the Nizhnetambovskaya volost. We arrived and told the local authorities everything as it was: the school was built, now we need a teacher. Surprisingly, there was a man who took a chance and went on the same boats to the unknown Condon, and even with his wife and eight-year-old niece. No one remembers the name of the brave teacher, only the surname, Ageev, has been preserved. And miraculously survived a tiny photograph of a handsome bearded man, which today is carefully stored in the school museum.

Ageev’s beard made a strong impression on the local people and especially on the children. In the sense that they were very scared. Seeing the teacher, they ran away shouting: “Amba, amba!” Apparently, it seemed to them that the devil himself appeared to them. But gradually they got used to it, and the everyday life of the Kondon parochial school began to flow.

The teacher lived in the village for six years. He settled with his family in the very only room intended for classes, fencing off a small nook with a screen. The Russian man Ageev, whose fate is so intricately intertwined with the Amur region and the distant Nanai camp, became a milestone for Condon. After all, his students are the very first literate people of the village.

Later, already in the years of Soviet power, the time of “red yurts” came. Age-old foundations were broken, a new and incomprehensible ideology was introduced into the minds of the Nanai, Ulchi, Udege and other peoples of the Amur. And again in the Amur region, including in Kondon, people came to help “the natives join the ranks of cultured peoples.” Among them were Alexandra Putintseva, Wilhelmina Pyakhel, Maria Kaplan. By the way, among their students is the first Nanai poet Akim Samar. It must be said that the owners of the “red yurts” left a good memory of themselves. Especially sunk into the soul of the inhabitants of the aboriginal villages of Alexander Putintseva, who was simply called Shura. They say that after her departure, letters from small Amur camps with a short note on the envelope flew across the country: “Leningrad. Sura Putincha.”

Although, perhaps, this is also a legend …

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