Select language:

People from the Heart of Asia

 /  / Russkiy Mir Foundation / Publications / People from the Heart of Asia

People from the Heart of Asia

01.10.2014

I first got to know Tuva not through sight, touch or smell but rather by hearing. Although in my semi-conscious childhood, when I collected post stamps, I remember coming across strange, rhomb-shaped stamps reading “Touva”.

At the Perm ethnic festival Kamwa, in the full house of the opera and ballet theatre, the famous Tuvan choral group of throat singing Huun-Huur-Tu was performing and the ancient hall covered with gilt was suddenly filled with the voice of wild Asia, where people discerned the howling of the wind in boundless steppes of South Siberia and the roar of mountain streams, the ends of them following as two impetuous tributaries (Biy-Khem and Kaa-Khem) into the great river Yenissei, and voices of freely grazing herds and flocks… The magic of singing cast its spell not only on those present. One of the group’s participants told later that during their tour of the United States, great Frank Sinatra invited them to his villa and they had to spend there more time than they expected. Sinatra asked Tuvans to sing again and again and repeated: I cannot sing in this way

Indeed, for Europeans and Americans trained in the classical tradition of sound extraction its next to impossible to fathom the vocal secrets of those who have literally got used to not opening their mouths wide. The perpetual nomads of Tuva never speak unnecessary words, given the fierce winds and sand storms in their steppes

The gallery of Tuvan glory

Even if you ask a casual passer-by he would tell you that Tuva is a very far-off land. But if you ask a geography-savvy person she would explain that Tuva lies in the very heart of Asia, which is visibly confirmed by the obelisk stationed in this area. And the experienced researcher would illumine that this land reminds of a huge cauldron, surrounded on all sides by mountain ridges of different height. Translated from the scientific, this means: No way to pass for a walker, driver or pilot. This remains largely true: Tuva still lacks railways and one can only get there over the only federal route M54 or by plane, though the airport is very small in Kyzyl.

Today Tuva can be visited in several halls of the All-Russian Museum of Decorative, Applied and Folk Art. The republic has never made its appearance in Moscow in the form of such a detailed composition. The exhibition Tuva in the flight of time, as is the custom, is timed to the grand jubilee date – 100 years ago on April 17, 1914, Tuva (officially named Tyva nowadays), then under the name of Uryankhaisky krai of the Yenissei Governorate, accepted the protectorate of the Russian Empire. There is also a minor jubilee: 85 years ago the Aldan Maadyr Museum was founded in the Republic of Tyva. Nevertheless, Viktor Chigzhit has frequented Moscow of late: in June he opened the exhibition of Nadya Rusheva (Tuvan on her mothers side) and now a greater part of her heritage is kept in this museum.

Rusheva is a well-known persona. Other people who are the glory of Tuva are not so well-known and so the exhibition opens with a sort of Tuvan Hall of Fame. Places of honor there are taken by such persons as Mongush Buyan-Badargy (1892-1932), the founder of Tuvan statehood, and Chamzy Ondar Lopsan (1857-1930) who was the spiritual leader of Tuvans for many years. In spite of the fact that Tuva (Peoples Republic of Tannu-Tuva) was formally an independent (in fact, buffer) state, both men were executed by local chekists.

Among the other celebrities is wonderful Tuvan actor Maxim Munzuk (1910-1999) who starred as Dersu Uzala in the famous film of Akira Kurosawa valorous cavalryman, Hero of the Soviet Union Tulush Kechil-ool (1919-1945). For some reason we do not see in this pantheon the legendary general of Genghiz Khan and Batu, Subudey-bagatur, who came form Uryankhaisky Land On the other hand, we see in the Hall of Fame well-known scholars who did not have any Tuvan blood running in their veins: Vladimir Yermolaev (1892-1982) who devoted almost half a century to the National Museum of Tuva, and Sevyan Vainshtein who also developed a passion for this magnetic land in his youth.

Be careful with the aragy

Their finds constitute a large part of the exhibition built on the full day principle: morning-afternoon-evening-night The lovers of pungent museum emotions have almost nothing to relish on: seemingly routine objects of nomadic household (and Tuvans are still nomads today). Some may like a horse harness, others typically tall Tuvan hats, still others clay flasks, different in size, shape and ornament, called kogeerzhik in Tuvan.

They are normally utilized as vodka containers. The local brand of vodka named aragy is prepared from milk. They use special hooch still called shuuruun, usually made of whole wood trunk after the core is removed. After the first distillation the drink having a strong milk smell contains little alcohol (usually not more than 13%), but you should better be careful, as with the Japanese sake: your mind can be sober, but your legs Tuvans will tell you a story of the first Russian President who drank too much of this national beverage.

The local cuisine does not go on tours, as a French saying goes, and this is doubly true in respect of Tuvan cuisine. There is a legend that on one occasion the Persian king made a captive Spartan prepare a famous broth for him from bulls blood, lentils and salt disgusting to taste, but rarely fattening. Now I understand why you are such excellent warriors its easier to die than to eat this shit! said the king. In order to cook this broth, one has to bathe in Eurotas (a river in Sparta) first, answered the Spartan. The same is true about the Tuvan cuisine: to appreciate arzhy (dry curds), kurut (dried young cheese) and boorzak (deep fried pieces of dough somewhat resembles the Tartar chak-chak, but contains much less sugar), you need to be a nomad somewhere in the foothills of the Western Sayany or Altai mountains.

Steam engine in Tuvan steppes

It is good and convenient to roam in the daytime. And what will you do in the evening and during long-long nights, when beyond the threshold of the yurt securely covered with skins the frost is minus 40? For instance, transforming any prosaic-utilitarian thing like a cradle hook (a lot of them are on display at the exhibition) into an object of art, or carving toys for kids out of wood which is a scanty resource in the local steppes. Tuva is famous for a very soft stone called agalmatolite, or wax stone, or soap rock. It may have different color shades, but the one found in Tuva is white or yellowish. And it shines from within like selenite, now vanishing in the Urals.

Youll become a stone carver here against your will, I was told at the opening ceremony of the exhibition by Kombu D. Bizhek, an old craftsman, also known in Tuva as ethnographer and writer. And our craftsmen never studied at any art schools or academies! Small agalmatolite figurines reveal all facets of Tuvan everyday life which is now threatened and red-listed. The point is that talks about laying a railroad to Kyzyl began long ago. It will certainly facilitate communication with the remote land, but its frightful to think of what may happen to numerous established camping grounds after rails transverse this territory. The experience of European parts of Russia is rather telling: once upon a time local authorities did their best to divert a railroad from Suzdal, Borovsk, Pereslavl and other places. The lack of railway communication actually benefitted those towns and helped preserving their historic image and way of life, on one hand. But on the other hand, where can you hide from progress? Not even in Trans-Baikal steppes!

The exhibition will last until November 30.

Georgy Osipov
Rubric:
Subject:
Tags:

New publications

Dostoevsky is online, Tolstoy shared a life hack from country life, and Chekhov posted something funny... Many Russian classic authors have pages in social media, including English-language ones, and they have millions of subscribers. People from all over the world want their news feed to feature posts about new translations of Dostoevsky or a memorable date associated with Leo Tolstoys life, not just sales ads and pictures with cute kittens.
Argentina has received, possibly, the most important gift before Catholic Christmas Sputnik V vaccine from Russia. 300,000 doses have arrived by the airplane that spent almost 24 hours in flight. The Russian vaccine promoter, the Russian Center at the Buenos Aires University has played important role in this action.
Translation of the Holy Scriptures into Chinese is carried out by the parish of the Russian Orthodox Church in Taiwan. Over the eight-year period, a translation of the Gospel of Mark has been completed, and the Gospel of Matthew is in the process. The translators have made a basic glossary of biblical and theological terminology, and it is fair to say that they are working on the development of the Chinese Orthodox liturgical language. The project supervisor, rector of the Holy Cross Church in Taipei Kirill Shkarbul told the Russkiy Mir about his hopes that this translation would be able to convey the Word of God unaltered and would not be a mere retelling as other Chinese translations of the Bible.
Guzel Yakhina has gained international fame and appreciation with Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes and The Children of Mine, her two books translated into 31 languages, as well as with the Big Book literary prize and Book of the Year award. The writer told Russkiy Mir about the choice between screenwriting and literature, her attitude to criticism and scandals, as well as her understanding of the historical novel in general.
The fact that the Russian chess school is the second to none in the world is well-known to everyone in Africa who is aware of how the pieces move on the board. The fact that this is so is best known to Nadezhda Marochkina, an athlete and coach living in Senegal. On the continent, Russian chess players are treated with true reverence and even concealed fear - almost as if they were magicians.
There is a monument to Helena Antipoff, a Russian woman, in Brazil. She was a child psychologist and teacher who transformed the entire school system in this country. It was Helena Antipoff who managed to make a difference in attitude towards children with special needs. She also developed an education system for gifted children. Her legacy includes departments of psychology at local universities, a network of rural schools, and centers for gifted children, as well as the very system of public school education in Brazil that she has founded.
This year marks the centenary of the Russian exodus. Above all, it is meant to commemorate our compatriots who greatly contributed to the achievements of mankind with their work and talent. Alexander M. Poniatoff, the creator of the video recorder, was one of those people. His name was inscribed in the world history of inventions.