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TIGER TALES

Book highlights cultural significance of critically endangered species

Posted: Thursday, October 09, 2008

Animals have long played important cultural roles in societies around the world. A new book by Juneau resident Alexander Dolitsky highlights the cultural significance Siberian tigers have held in the Russian Far East.

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Courtesy Of Alexander Dolitsky
Courtesy Of Alexander Dolitsky

"Spirit of the Siberian Tiger: Folktales of the Russian Far East," interweaves translated Russian folktales with ethnographic information, poetry and illustrations to provide a greater understanding of the tiger's role in the area, Dolitsky said.

"The tiger is a part of the native environment in the region," he said. "They're inseparable in some ways."

The significance of the tiger to the cultures of the Russian Far East is comparable to the importance that many animals have in the cultures of the indigenous people of Alaska and the Arctic regions, Dolitsky said.

"It is a courageous character, so you will find the tiger character in the mythology and the legends and folktales of these people that see the tiger with admiration," he said. "It's the same as some Native people see the wolf, for example, with admiration as well."

A reading and book signing will be held from 7 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 16, at Hearthside Books in the Nugget Mall. The book is scheduled to be available in Juneau bookstores on Thursday, Oct. 9.

"Spirit of the Siberian Tiger" is the 15th publication by the Juneau-based Alaska-Siberia Research Center, of which Dolitsky is the director. Dolitsky worked on three previously published books of authentic folktales with the late translator and anthropologist Henry N. Michael and had sought to do another.

Around 2000, Michael translated four folktales about tigers written by Dmitriy Nagishkin from the Russian Far East and sent them back to Dolitsky, but they remained unpublished. Michael's death in 2006 was the catalyst for the new volume of work, Dolitsky said.

"I decided, well now I'm going to edit this work and add some more information, not just folk tales, and dedicate this book to him," he said.

The new book differs from the other folktale books published by the Alaska-Siberia Research Center not only in content, Dolitsky said.

"It is literary folktales," he said of the new book. "These are not authentic folktales because these folktales have an author."

It is similar to translations of the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen, in that there is more than one translation of the tale, Dolitsky said. The four folktales written by Nagishkin have been translated before, but these translations add new context to the stories, he said.

"I thought it would be a nice angle and flavor to make a book not only about the folktales, but the ethnographic information about the tiger and a little bit of poetry to bring the romance into it."

"Spirit of the Siberian Tiger" includes the poems "The Tyger," written by William Blake, and "Tiger Tiger Revisited," by Gordon J.L. Ramel. Dolitsky said Blake's poem depicts the ferocity of the animals and was written during the 19th century when there were roughly 100,000, while Ramel's contemporary poem touches on the vulnerability of the species at a time when there are only about 2,500 tigers left in the wild.

"It was contrasting one another, so hopefully when an educator reads this book they can educate the students about the tigers' physical abilities and features, about the ethnographic area where the tiger is historically distributed, and also bring some poetry to see how people viewed tigers before and how they view them now," he said.

Another goal of the book is to highlight conservation efforts, Dolitsky said.

"We have to preserve our wilderness for the next generation," he said. "We have to make an effort and understand and preserve other species that are on the verge of extinction. The book is Russian folktales but also it addresses the issue of conservation of the Siberian tiger as one of the critically endangered species."

And while many folktales are intended for children, Dolitsky said "Spirit of the Siberian Tiger" is presented for all ages to enjoy.

"It's not just a folktale to read before a child goes to bed, but it has more connection and more depth," he said.

•Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.



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