The animal called boranez

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In spite of Kazakhstan’s success during the last decades, the far-abroad foreigners’ knowledge about our country is very meager as compared to the size of our top-ten country. So, it’s not at all surprising that “authentic news” of the Great Steppe in the past centuries was often reminiscent of oily lagman (noodles) that witty steppe citizens successfully hung on ears of unsophisticated travelers who managed to penetrate into depths of Central Asia (to hang noodles on somebody’s ears = to draw the wool over smb's eyes).

The story with boranez is very illustrative. It roamed about “scientific sources” of the educated Europe during thousand years. And interestingly that smart Europeans never doubted the existence of such an animal inhabiting the distant Tartariya. The Dutch traveler and compiler, the sailmaker Jan Struys found himself at the very border of Nogai steppes in the period of Sten’ka Razin, and he describes it in the following way.

“To the east there stretches the great dry and deserted steppe… In this steppe boranez (or bornitsch as it’s sometimes called) grows: a fruit size of pumpkin and looking like a sheep with the head, legs, and tail, that is why it is called thus - Boran in Russian means sheep. Skin that covers this plant is particularly remarkable – with the shiny, white hair, fine like silk. These skins are of the extremely high value among Tatars and Russians, and I saw these on the market myself and I found out about them…Its described appearance and properties are very close to what Astrakhan citizens say about it: it grows in bushes three feet high… Besides, they say that wolves love this boranez very much, and that it has flesh, blood, and legs…”.

Struys spoke Russian, but treated his surroundings in quite European manner: haughtily. And I experience the true delights when I imagine such a scene: aboard some barge fellow travelers with serious countenances are making sport of the proud foreigner. And the whole Europe all at once. Making up lies about cartoon steppe monsters in process.

Hence, this notorious boranez emerged before the educated world, being the modest representative of those fabulous inhabitants of our Earth, which both distant lands and the World ocean expanses teemed with. Sort of leviathans, sea snakes, mermaids and grindylows, the reality of which was never doubted in the Middle Ages. Due to this, the Steppe abounded with the similar characters, probably, even to a greater extent.   

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