Une métamorphose (chez les Yukhagirs)

Nikolai Likhachev, chasseur de rennes, raconte une expérience de métamorphose :

“It was during the war. In those days we mostly hunted reindeer, because there were very few elk. I had been following a herd of reindeer, a hundred head or more, for a long time, about six hours, I believe. I was at the Popova River. That night I made a fire and drank tea but could not sleep. I had nothing to eat and was hungry and cold. At dawn, I put on my skis and continued following the herd. As I searched the track, I had a strange feeling I was being watched. I looked up and saw an old man about twenty meters ahead of me. He was dressed in the old fashion. He smiled at me. I asked him who he was, but he did not answer me. Instead, he gestured with his hand, showing me that I should follow him. I thought he had a cabin close by and some food, so I did so. I was really hungry. All the time he did not speak. I noticed his footprints were those of a reindeer. “Strange,” I thought, because the man was wearing kamus [skin-covered skis]. But then I thought I was just hallucinating because I was tired and hungry. We walked up a hill and behind it was a huge camp, with thirty or more tents. We walked into the camp. There were people of all ages, children playing, old men sitting smoking, and women cooking. The old man took me to his tent. He spoke to his wife by grunting just like a reindeer, and she grunted back. I did not understand. “Who are these people?” I thought. The woman served me food, and I saw it was not meat but lichen. I ate it because I was so hungry, and it was not too bad. As time passed and we sat there in the tent, I started forgetting things. I thought, for instance, about my wife, who was waiting for me back home, but I realized I had forgotten her name. Then we went to sleep. I dreamt that I was surrounded by reindeer. Someone said to me, “You do not belong here. Go away.” I do not know who spoke. I woke up and thought I had to get away. I sneaked out of the tent and started walking home. In the village, people were very surprised to see me. They said they thought I had died. “What do you mean?” I asked them, “I have only been away for a week.” “No,” they said. “We have not seen you for more than a month.” . . . It seems that the people I met were reindeer, and I should have killed them, but at the time I did not know. Maybe it was all a dream. But then why should I have been away for such a long time?”

Rane Willerslev, Soul Hunters Hunting, Animism, and Personhood among the Siberian Yukaghirs, University of California Press, 2007, pp 89-90.