Polite Missionaries

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A Man from the Moon

Generally, great Russian travelers were also outstanding enlighteners. Perhaps the most striking example in this sense is Nicholas Miklouho-Maclay. His work became an example of humane and considerate attitude towards the peoples whom he brought Enlightenment. He became the founder of elementary medicine and hygiene in New Guinea, and he also taught the local population, the Papuans, how to grow mangoes, oranges, and lemons. No wonder that the people of Guinea considered him a miraculous "man from the Moon" and a "good spirit".

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They had a belief, according to which, one day, a white man from the moon would visit them and transform their lives. And Miklouho-Maclay brought them axes and shovels from Russia and taught them how to use these tools. Until now, the Russian word "topor" for "axe" is still used in the Papuan lexicon. The traveler also taught them how to salt their food, and was the first to try to treat their diseases. He brought a cow and a chicken to the island, taught the natives how to raise them, and as a result, the Papuans began to learn the basics of animal husbandry. Essentially, the traveler saved them from starvation and extinction. They still call cows "bik Maclay", that is Maclay's bull, in memory of the Russian explorer.

The Papuans have yet another legend about the Man from the Moon. One day the tribe, in which he lived, began to prepare for war with a neighboring tribe. "What are you going to fight for?", he asked them. It turned out that there was no special reason for the war, and that it was "just tradition". Then the Russian traveler said sternly: "No wars! Otherwise I will set the sea on fire!". First, the natives were skeptical of this threat. But Miklouho-Maclay asked them to bring some sea water. He added some kerosene to the bowl and set it on fire. The water was in flammes! Startled, the Papuans realized that it was better not to argue with this man. And the constant senseless wars between the tribes stopped.

For the future happiness of Humankind…

The construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway brought Russia closer to the peoples of the middle Kingdom. More than once, our doctors have helped our Eastern neighbors in the most perilous situations. The activity of the Russian medical team during the Manchurian plague epidemic of 1910-1911 was a real medical exploit. They were volunteers or, as they used to say in Russia those days, "hunters". Following the call of the famous bacteriologist Danylo Zabolotny (1866-1929) and, of course, at the invitation of the local authorities, they went to Manchuria.

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We should tell you a little more about academician Zabolotny. After graduating from the Novorossiysk Imperial University, he worked at the Odessa bacteriological station, studied cholera and various forms of plague. Then, he graduated from the medical faculty of Kiev University as an external student. His life's work was the fight against epidemics. Zabolotny was the first one to treat children with an anti-diphtheria serum. He participated in expeditions to localize the plague in India, Iran, Mongolia, and Scotland. By 1910, he had gained a unique experience.

At that time, no one knew how to effectively cure those infected with deadly diseases, and the main task of the detachment was to localize this outbreak of pneumonic plague, which claimed at least 60 thousand lives. First, the Russian envoys had to collect the corpses and burn them, destroying the plague bacteria. Medics vaccinated Chinese people living in the infected area with Vladimir Khavkin's vaccine, but, unfortunately, it could not cope with this form of plague.

Khavkin invented his vaccine in 1896, and in India alone, more than eight million people living in infected areas owe it their lives. But while the vaccine worked perfectly against the bubonic plague, it was powerless against the pneumonic plague that Russian doctors encountered in Manchuria.

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It was a real war against the "black death". About forty medical workers died, treating local residents, keeping to the end the Hippocratic oath. The Student Ilya Mamontov's letter, which he sent home before his death, is still remembered in history:

"Dear mother, I’ve fallen sick with some insignificant [disease], but since you don't get sick [here] with anything but the plague, it must be the plague… The life of one individual is nothing compared to the lives of many, and sacrifices are necessary for the future happiness of mankind."

He didn't die in vain. By applying strict quarantine measures in Manchuria, the doctors managed to stop the spread of the plague. In February-March 1911, the disease receded.

Author: Arseny Zamostyanov, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the magazine “Istorik”