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: http://www.FOTuva.org.
(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
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 Feynman.com 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 (www.scs-intl.com/online/)
and the Tuva Trader Online, which can be reached
through the FoT home page, or directly: www.tuvatrader.com/.
For diehard Luddites, I'll send an outdated paper copy of the Tuva Trader if you send in a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
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
www.genghisblues.com 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
http://www.tc.umn.edu/nlhome/g057/sklar001/hhttour.html. (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 www.imnworld.com. (click on Artist Roster, then select
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
Ondar records Back TUVA Future for WB
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."
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
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!
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?
(Please send or e-mail photos of other Feynman sightings --- we'll post them on www.FOTuva.org).
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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...