Photo： By Bikin River.? With A. カンチュガ Kanchuga 氏 of Udege (left).? (Photo by Takayuki NAKAMURA)
There has been increasing discussion on the difficulties of habitat segregation with wildlife recently, triggered by the frequent appearance of bears in human habitats, or crop damages caused by increased dear populations.? Meanwhile, urban people are also finding it a “healing” experience to co-exist with a variety of animals and plants in the more natural environment, as seen in the popular idea of “immigration” to the countryside.? This shows that an environment where wildlife cannot exist is not the ideal environment for human beings.? Modern people have long believed that “civilization” meant controlling nature and kept cutting down the forests.? However, now, we may be realizing the importance of forests as a place we eventually “return to”.
Forest loss is a threat to a way of living, particularly for hunter-gatherers.? It is not only because forests are important as the source of food, but also because their existence is intertwined with forests on a very deep level.? The forested area in the Maritime Province of Far East Russia has been inhibited by indigenous people such as the Udege.? This region, which featured in the film “Dersu Uzala” provides a habitat for tigers.? We would have thought that for hunters, tigers may be considered as a “pest” since they may drive away hunting prey such as deer.? But the people there revered tigers instead of hunting them.? The number of tigers decreased due to the over exploitation for their skin and bones, but this was mainly caused by hunters from outside the region.? On the other hand, the true responsibility for the plight of tigers in the region may be logging companies that deprived tigers of their habitat by clear-cutting the forests, especially overseas companies including Japanese ones.
“Protecting forests will protect our lives and traditional culture”; Udege began their actions based on this principle.? Many of them no longer speak Udege, and the destruction of the environment that enables traditional living is not unrelated to the decline and disappearance of the languages of ethnic minority groups around the world.? These languages contain memories developed through long histories, and once the basis of their lifestyle is taken away, the language also loses the basis of its existence.? It is true that the ethnic minority groups cannot completely refuse “modernization” and return to tradition, and that such choice should not be forced on them by external pressures.? Udege’s example of recognizing the importance of “protecting forests” should be followed on by other indigenous people and their effort must be supported.? A Japanese NGO ? FoE Japan ? has already begun its effort to protect the forests in collaboration with Udege.? FoE Japan also attempts to revitalize the village through ecotourism etc., whilst publicizing the importance of these forests to external audiences.
Dersu could not get used to urban life and wanted to return to the forest.? However, he did not make it back to the forest in the end.? Are there still forests for Dersu to return to now?? I believe that letting more people know about Udege through publicizing key words such as “Dersu” or “Tigers” will eventually lead to attracting international attention to these forests.? I also believe that it may then contribute to the preservation of culture and languages of Udege by restoring their confidence and price in their own culture and languages.
From “Forests for Dersu to return to” in Northern Museum Exchange vol. 17, published by Hokkaido Northern Museum Exchange Association, March 2005