A Name Untethered


Lake Khuntami in the Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve is not a place you’ll find on the map; not because it lacks the significance to be noticed by cartographers, but because it bears a name rinsed from history. The word—Chinese in origin—means The Mountain that Looks like a Buddhist Pagoda, and was a name once shared by the lake, the river that flows through it to the Sea of Japan, and the mountain itself. But “Khutami” became untethered from this place in the early 1970s; a casualty of declining Sino-Soviet relations. Incensed by border disputes, Russian officials at the time demanded that mapmakers hastily rename rivers, mountains, and settlements from the original Chinese, Manchurian, and native Udegei names to cement Soviet dominion over the southern Russian Far East. In doing so they severed ties between the land and the thousand years of Chinese and native history. Slide your finger along a map of Primorye today and at Lake Khuntami you’ll find the name Golubichnoe—Blueberry Lake—named in Russian for the vast bog of these berries that cushion its shores.

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