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The Friends of Tuva Newsletter
Celebrating Richard Feynman's spirit of adventure

The Friends of Tuva newsletter.
Farewell issue (#20), January 9, 1999
Published by Friends of Tuva, Box 182, Belvedere CA 94920 USA.
Fax: (415) 789-1177 (If fax doesn't turn on automatically, press 33)

Home Page on the World Wide Web:
(from the very bottom of that page, look for a link to the Tuva Trader Online)

Whuzzat? Farewell Issue?

Yes, it's true. Friends of Tuva is going on line in 1999. No more newsletters on paper, folks! It's time to go down to your local library and learn how to explore the Internet. Libraries are free, they're fast (usually the connection at the library is much faster than a connection at home), and you're usually limited to one hour, so you won't become addicted!

I will be working on some special projects this year and next, and will save the self-addressed, stamped envelopes I still have on hand to announce the results in 2000 and 2001. So when you've long forgotten about getting something in the mail from Friends of Tuva, you'll get a little surprise...

For those of you who have been receiving newsletters since 1991, thanks for humoring me along! It's been a fun side trip to a great adventure.

Special thanks to Kerry Yackoboski, who created the home page for Friends of Tuva, and has kept it in good order for all these years. Carry on, Kerry! (Pun intended.)

Big thanks also to Dr. Bill C. Riemers for generously donating space on one of his computers, which he named after Richard Feynman (thus the designation) to Friends of Tuva.

Feynman Online &
Tuva Trader Online

When you get on the Internet, be sure to check out two sites created by FoT Eric Slone: Feynman Online  ( and the Tuva Trader Online, which can be reached through the FoT home page, or directly: For diehard Luddites, I'll send an outdated paper copy of the Tuva Trader if you send in a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

Genghis Blues to
Screen at Sundance

Genghis Blues, the ongoing creative collaboration of Tuvan master throat-singer Kongar-ol Ondar and San Francisco bluesman Paul "Earthquake" Pena, is not only a great CD; it's also an exciting documentary film that has been selected by the Sundance Film Festival at Park City, Utah.

The film by Roko and Adrian Belic chronicles Pena's extraordinary journey to Tuva, where he won the 1995 World Throat-singing Championships. For all you friends of Tuva in Utah, screening dates and times in Park City are:
Sunday, January 24, at 8:30am at the Prospector Square Theatre; Monday, Jan. 25, at 7:00pm at the Holiday Village Cinema III; Sunday, January 31, at 1:00pm at the Holiday Village Cinema III.

For information and tickets, please call (801) 521-2525.

Genghis Blues also screens at the Rotterdam Film Festival in early February. With luck, it will show in theatres in 1999 and 2000, and perhaps will also make it onto PBS. Visit for more information.

Tours USA in 1999

Kaigal-ool Khovalyg, Anatolii Kuular, and company are coming to the USA again to showcase their latest music. After dispensing with hats and boots, rumor has it they won't be in Tuvan robes this time.

A current tour schedule is available online at (Note that this link is no longer useful and is not reachable.)

At the time of this writing (January 1999), according to the International Music Network, their tour schedule is:

  • Jan 28 & 29: Minneapolis MN Cedar Cultural Center
  • Jan 30: Batavia IL, Ramsey Aud.
  • Feb 1: Bloomington IN, John Waldron Arts Center
  • Feb 4: Ann Arbor MI, The Ark
  • Feb 6: Rochester NY, Nazareth College
  • Feb 7: Cambridge MA, Harvard U Sanders Theatre
  • Feb 8: Northampton MA, Iron Horse
  • Feb 9 & 10: Brunswick ME, Bowdoin Coll. Kresge Aud.
  • Feb 13: New York NY, Town Hall
  • Feb 18: Santa Cruz CA, Mainstage
  • Feb 19: San Francisco CA, Great American Music Hall
  • Feb 20: Seattle WA, U of Washington Meany Hall
  • Feb 21: Portland OR, Aladdin Theatre
  • Feb 25: Boulder CO, Boulder Theatre
  • Feb 26: Santa Fe NM, James A. Little Theatre
  • Mar 5 & 6: Santa Monica CA, McCabe's Guitar Shop

More dates and places may be added, so if a city near you was not listed, visit (click on Artist Roster, then select Huun-Huur-Tu).

Feynman Stamp Update

After receiving confidential advice to wait until the backlog of stamps that commemorate the 20th Century has cleared, I am trying to determine the best time to unleash all the letters and petitions on the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee.

The Apple "Think Different" campaign (see pages 3 & 4) will help our cause, as will a project which should come to fruition in 2000 or 2001 in Los Angeles. Patience and persistence will prevail! Stay tuned by visiting the Friends of Tuva home page.

Ondar records Back TUVA Future for WB

Ondar - Back Tuva Future

Kongar-ol Ondar teams up with Willie Nelson, Randy Scruggs, Bill Miller, and Richard Feynman (yes, that's right --- the Chief's drumming, chanting, and storytelling are featured) on a new CD, Back TUVA Future. It's an exciting collaboration of Tuvan and American, of old and new. This CD is definitely something different, and great!

Special inside information for friends of Tuva: the CD has a 'hidden track' (#12) which explains all about how the CD was made.

You're welcome to order it from the Tuva Trader ($18, tax and postage included), but I'd rather you help create a buzz by asking for it at your local record store. Thanks!

For more information, check out www.Listen.To/Ondar. (.To is for Tonga, which rents out cyberspace --- as does Tuvalu, whose suffix is .Tv.)

More inside information for FoTs: the password on the 'secret decoder card,' to be used when you visit www.Listen.To/Ondar, is . . . you guessed it . . . KYZYL.

Music and Shamanism in
Tuva and Khakassia

An excellent article by Kira Van Deusen appeared in the winter' 1997-8 issue of Shaman's Drum. Here is an excerpt:

Traditionally, Tuvan music was never intended as a concert activity to entertain or enlighten other humans --- it was a spiritual practice designed to help a human being relate with all of nature, both physical and spiritual. There were songs to be sung while riding, and others for tending the herds, for working at home, or for relaxing beside the river. Some music was never meant to be heard by other people but was performed alone in the steppe or taiga [forest], in orde to hold conversations with the spirits of the rocks, trees, and water.

The spiritual function of music in Tuvan and Khakass shamanism has been little studied by outsiders. [Tuvan musicologist Valentina] Süzükei observes that this oversight came about partly because of the shaman's reticence to discuss the inner aspects of shamanism, but mainly because traditional ethnographers have been unwilling or unable to delve deeply into the inner world of shamanism. Most Russian and foreign anthropologists were trained to focus on the material aspects of shamanism --- the costumes, drums, and other physical objects that could be collected and catalogued for museums. 'They take only what can be seen or touched,' Süzükei told me. 'Instruments are described and measured, but the music is little experienced in its true setting.'

When Süzükei first began to study Tuvan music, she discovered that it was very difficult for traditional musicians to analyze and explain their music in her terms. As she delved deeper into traditional music, she realized that the problem was due not to the skills of the musicians but to her attempt to analyze Tuvan music from a Western perspective. 'I came to understand that such terms as pitch, scale, interval, timbre --- traditional musicians can't use those terms. Furthermore, they learn their music by imitation, not by analysis. This is a different culture with different values and criteria. I began to listen for those criteria.'

Süzükei ultimately concluded that Tuvan music should not be analyzed in terms of Western harmony and form but in terms of the times, places, and means of playing it. She illustrates this observation through a conversation with a traditional musician. 'He began to play the khomus [jaw harp], and I asked, --- How do you think that melody is built? How can you describe it?' He said, "How can I explain it to you? Look at those mountains over there. They have layers of brown and blue with snow on top --- different colors as it gets further away. Then, the nearer mountains --- shadow and a patch of sun --- then, shade again. And then, in the heat, everything is moving, like a mirage. You see that movement of the air with your eyes. So, there you see how the khomus sounds. And that's when it's hot and sunny. But in the evening or at night, when we start to play, you can imagine such waves moving."

Feb 15-16

Monday, February 15, is New Year's Eve, according to the traditional Tuvan calendar. (Some say that the Chinese borrowed the twelve-year zodiac from the ancient Turks.) February 16 will be the first day of the year of the Rabbit.

Just in Time
(I hope!)

The original mailing date of this newsletter was not chosen at random: January 9, 1999 is the last day a first-class, one-ounce letter can be mailed for 32 cents in the US.

Long Live the Chief!

Side of a building

One fine fall day in San Francisco, looking northeast up Mission Street. Who could that be, five stories high, on the side of that building?

Feynman - Think Different

(Please send or e-mail photos of other Feynman sightings --- we'll post them on

Tuva in the News

In 1998 several interesting articles appeared that featured Tuva. As you can see, Tuva can now lay claim to fame for more than postage stamps and throat-singing!

Link to US Indian origins:
Russian geneticist claims best match yet of native American and Siberian DNA

By Judith Matloff
Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Moscow - A leading Russian geneticist claims he has taken a giant step toward identifying the precise origin of native Americans, based on his genetic studies of the Tuvan people in Siberia.

Ilya Zakharov, deputy director of Moscow's Vavilov Institute of General Genetics, says an expedition he led last year proved a DNA link between American Indians and the Ak-Dovorak region 2,100 miles southeast of Moscow.

The idea of a Siberian connection is not new. But Dr. Zakharov says he has nailed it down.

"This is a big breakthrough,'' he told the Monitor. "We had examined a lot of populations before --- and by pure chance the results proved it was the Tuvans."

He says he believes DNA matches in two neighbouring regions may be even greater.

Tuva today is one of Russia's poorest and most mysterious regions, with ancient cultural traditions that include shamanism. The area, bridging Siberia's huge taiga forest and the steppes, or plains, lies north of Mongolia.

The Tuvans are mainly Turkic-speaking nomadic pastoralists who herd camels, yaks, sheep, goats, and reindeer. Tuva formed part of the Chinese empire in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Scientists have long established that some 30,000 to 40,000 years ago people of some Asian roots migrated across the ice sheets of Siberia's Bering Strait to Alaska, probably in pursuit of animals such as wooly mammoths. Some recent reports have pointed to genetic links between indigenous peoples of the Pacific Rim and Siberians.

Previously geneticists speculated that America's first inhabitants, numbering perhaps no more than 5,000 people, originally came from Northern China or Mongolia.

But Zakharov says his team was able to greatly narrow the focus with hair samples taken from about 430 Tuvans. DNA data from the hair roots was analyzed and then compared with that of Eskimos and Amerindian people including the Navajo and Apache.

What Zakharov found was that the Amerindian DNA makeup exactly matched the Tuvans --- by 72 percent of one group of 30 samples and 69 percent of another group of 300.

"This represents the highest frequencies of Amerindian DNA types ever found," he says. "Several years ago some American, Russian, and Mongolian scientists investigated Mongolian and Chinese populations. the frequency of the same DNA type was nearer to 45 percent."

The geneticist now wants to look at the DNA makeup of people from the Khakassia and Altai regions, which border on Tuva. These people are also Turkic speaking, and may even have a higher DNA match with Amerindians, he believes.

His problem, however, is that of many scientists in financially strapped Russia - money. The paint on the genetic center's wall is peeling, broken chairs line the corridors. Zakharov looks puzzled when asked for his email address; such amenities are beyond budget.

His hope is that Italian, American, and Brazilian scientists who contacted him after reading about his findings will pick up the ball.

Zakharov and his group posted a summary of the Tuva studies in a recent issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics.

"I think this discovery is fascinating, but I have no grants to continue this project," he laments.

In the meantime, his claims were welcomed by Tuvan officials, who appeared amused to imagine hereditary links, however tenuous, with the US.

"It was a total surprise," says Orlan Cholbeney, head of the Tuva Republic mission in Moscow. "If we have a mutual past, then we hope it will help promote cooperation with the Americans."

Tiny Tuva Outstrips the rest of Russia in syphilis cases

By Genine Babakian (from USA Today)

Though they couldn't be more different, the USA and the tiny, isolated Asian Republic of Tuva share an unwelcome distinction: their residents are among the the most likely in the world to be infected with a sexually transmitted disease (STD).

The USA leads the industrialized world in rates of STDs, while the latter leads Russia in rates of one particular STD, syphilis.

USA Today examines the factors that have contributed to the two nations' STD epidemics. Ironically, the syphilis rate in the USA is at its lowest point ever, due largely to concern about the AIDS virus and increased condom use. But in Tuva, where AIDS is practically unheard of, conservative social mores frown on condoms.

Moscow - Aside from a harsh climate, abject poverty, and a location at the center of the Asian continent, the Republic of Tuva has little to distinguish itself.

But the Tuvans have one claim to fame: when it comes to syphilis, they are No. 1 in Russia.

In a country where in recent years syphilis has reached epidemic proportions, it was not easy for Tuva to earn this status.

In just three years, from 1993 to 1996, infection rates throughout Russia jumped 680% --- from 33.9 cases of syphilis per 100,000 people in 1993 to 246.6 per 100,000 in 1996. Last year, another 392,000 new cases were registered, signaling an upward trend.

What is particularly alarming is the youth of those affected by the epidemic. According to a recent report by Moscow's Central Research Institute of Skin and Venereal Diseases, more than half the registered syphilis cases are among people 20-29. One out of every 100 in that age range has syphilis.

But the rising rate of syphilis among teen-agers is of particular concern to national health officials, who see the disease as a precursor to AIDS. Like AIDS, syphilis is most often transmitted by unprotected sexual activity. But syphilis has a shorter incubation period. Given the rising syphilis rates, health officials worry that a boom in HIV infection rates is not far behind.

In recent years, the groups logging the sharpest rate of increase in syphilis cases have been females 15-17 and males 18-19. In 1997, the number of cases among children 15 and under rose 34%.

According to Mikhail Gomberg, a specialist at the research institute, one out of 64 women 18-19 years of age in the Moscow region has syphilis. That region is about the size of Denmark, with a population of 6 million.

Tuva has them all beat, says Gomberg, who recently traveled to the southern Siberia steppe on a humanitarian mission to deliver medical supplies.

"Two and a half percent of Tuva's population (of 200,00) are infected," says Gomberg, whose trip was sponsored by the Austrian firm Biochemie with the participation of the Moscow Lions Club.

According to Gomberg, Tuva has some peculiarities that have encouraged the spread of syphilis. Isolation. Travel to Tuva is difficult, which means its hard to ship medication to the area. There is no railroad or regular air service to the republic. The closest city --- Abakan, which has the third highest rate of syphilis in the country --- is 800 kilometers (about 500 miles) away in the Republic of Khakassia. Lifestyle. While Tuvans are citizens of the Russian Federation, they are traditionally a nomadic people ethnically related to their Mongolian neighbours to the south. Throughout the entire republic of 170,500 square kilometers (about 66,000 square miles), there is only one town, Kyzyl. Outside this small city, most Tuvans live in the skin-covered yurts (tents) that pepper the steppe.

"They are an isolated community where sexual promiscuity is encouraged," Gomberg says. He says local customs also look favorably on girls who are sexually active before marriage.

"If a girl has given birth out of wedlock, she will be that much more actively courted as a wife. It means she is fertile," he says.

Two other important factors that have led to Tuva's syphilis outbreak also are the root of the rest of Russia's soaring STD rates: resistance to condoms and a reluctance to talk about sex.

Recent attempts to launch sex education and safe-sex awareness campaigns have been rejected by Russia's conservative population.

Last fall, a bus dubbed the "Streetcar Named Desire" drove around Moscow distributing free condoms and pamphlets on safe sex. It was pelted and heckled by angry babushki (grandmothers) who believe, as do many other Russians, that public discussion of sex is taboo.

Other socioeconomic factors that have contributed to the syphilis epidemic in Tuva and the rest of the country: Government-sponsored clinics don't always have money to pay for medication, let alone information campaigns. In depressed areas such as Tuva, where unemployment and poverty are greater concerns, personal health is not a high priority.

So far, the number of registered AIDS cases in Russia is a small fraction of that in Western countries. But as AIDS rates climb, particularly in cities with intravenous drug problems, state officials are getting nervous.

This year, Russian television launched a series of safe-sex ads. In one, a bespectacled man in his early 30s sits behind a desk. He tells viewers about his wife, daughter and the affair he had while he was away on a business trip. Needless to say, he didn't use a condom.

"And then I died," he says as the commercial ends. "What a shame."

Readers of Otto Mänchen-Helfen's Journey to Tuva won't be surprised at this...