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The Tunguska Event: Eyewitness Account

Stepan Ivanovich Chuchana, Shanyagir Clan, Strelka-Chunya Trading Post

Interviewed, together with his brother Chekaren, by I. M. Suslov, 1926.

Our choum[1] stood on the banks of the Avarkitta. Before sunrise Chekaren and I arrived from the Dilyushmo creek, where we had stayed with Ivan and Akulina [Lyuchetkan]. We fell into a deep sleep. Suddenly we both woke up at once: someone had jogged us awake. We heard a whistle and felt a strong wind. Chekaren yelled to me “Do you hear how many golden-eyes[2] or mergansers are flying by?” We were both still in the choum, you know, and we couldn’t see what was going on in the forest. Suddenly someone shoved me again, so hard that I hit the choum’s pole and then fell on the hot coals in the hearth. I got scared. Chekaren also got scared, caught hold of the pole. We began to yell father, mother, brother, but no one answered. Beyond the choum there was some sort of noise, we could hear how the tree-trunks were falling. Chekaren and I crawled out of our sleeping bags and already wanted to leap out of the choum, but suddenly the thunder struck very strongly. That was the first thunderclap.

The ground began to twitch and pitch, a strong wind slammed into our choum and knocked it over. I was squeezed hard by the poles, but my head was not covered because the ellyun[3] had split. There I caught sight of a terrifying marvel: The tree-trunks are falling, their needles are burning, the dried ones on the ground are burning, the reindeer moss is burning. There’s smoke all around, my eyes hurt, it’s very hot, I could burn up.

Suddenly, above the mountain, where the forest had already fallen, something started to shine intensely, and, I tell you, it was as if a second sun had appeared; the Russians would have said “something suddenly flashed unexpectedly”; it hurt my eyes, and I even closed them. It resembled that which the Russians call lightning. And immediately there were agdyllyan[4], loud thunder. That was the second thunderclap. The morning was sunny, there were no thunderclouds; our sun shone brightly, as always, and here there appeared a second sun!

With difficulty Chekaren and I crawled out from under the poles and the ellyun. After that we saw something flash above us, but already in a different place, and there was loud thunder. That was the third thunderclap. A wind flew at us, knocked us off our feet, struck against the fallen tree-trunks.

We looked at the falling trees, we saw how their tops were broken, we looked at the fire. Suddenly, Chekaren yelled “Look up!” and pointed. I looked there and there was lightning again, it flashed and struck again, made agdyllyan. But the thump was a little less than before. That was the fourth thunderclap, like normal thunder.

Now I remember well that there was one more thunderclap, the fifth, but it was small and somewhere far away — there where the sun sleeps at night.

— translated by Bill DeSmedt

copyright (c) 2004 by amber productions, inc.


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[1] A “ choum” is an Evenki dwelling, not unlike a tepee.[Return to text.]

[2] A “golden-eye” (Russian: “gogol’”) is a species of duck (Bucephala clangula).[Return to text.]

[3] An “ellyun” is the leather roof of a choum.[Return to text.]

[4] The Evenki believe that the thunder is caused by birds sent forth by Ogdy or Agdy, the god of storms. These birds — said to be the size of a grouse, but made of iron — are called agdyllyan after the god.[Return to text.]

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copyright (c) 2004 by amber productions, inc.