Friends of Tuva
Celebrating Richard Feynman's spirit of adventure
The Friends of Tuva newsletter. Ninth issue: Shagaa, 1994
Edited by Ralph Leighton
Published by Friends of Tuva
Box 70021, Pasadena CA 91117 USA.
Hotline and Fax: (213) 221-8882
(If fax doesn't turn on automatically, press 33)
On February 10, the second new moon after winter solstice will occur, and the Year of
the Dog will begin. (Actually, the formula is probably not so simple: throughout Chinese
history, imposing a calendar that made the Emperor look good--no matter how arbitrary the
calculations--was a requisite for effective rule.) Lunar New Year is the biggest holiday
in China and celebrated in Chinese communities around the world. It is also celebrated in
Tuva, which was ruled for centuries by China, and where the holiday is called Shagaa.
In the next issue, I'll try to have a report on how the holiday was celebrated in Tuva
In the meantime, perhaps February 10 (or thereabouts) would be a good time to invite
some friends over and put on a video, CD, or tape of Tuvan throat-singing, and celebrate
the Lunar New Year. I propose we all say "Shagaa-bilé" ("[I greet you]
Lunar New Year-with") and "Long Live Richard Feynman" sometime during this
Good news! The little girl from Tuva named Tanya, whose plight was described in the
seventh issue of the Friends of Tuva newsletter, has been accepted by Interplast, Inc., a
charitable foundation located in Palo Alto, California. If all goes well, the surgeons at
the Stanford Medical Center will perform what amounts to a miracle: they will correct the
birth defect that made Tanya's face abnormally wide. All of the surgery and hospital care
will be provided free of charge.
Interplast, Inc., helps children around the world, most often by sending surgeons into
the field to operate on children with facial disfigurements. In the "Third
World," such children are often regarded as cursed by the Devil; thus they suffer an
additional burden that is usually impossible to overcome.
If you would like to donate to a non-profit, tax-deductible organization that will
benefit someone in Tuva, here's your chance: please send a check payable to Interplast,
Inc., to: Any Laden, Interplast, Inc., 2458 Embarcadero Way, Palo Alto CA 94303. Please
write "For Tanya" as the memo on the check.
Friends of Tuva will pay (if we can't get free or reduced-rate seats from an
airline--does anyone have a contact at Delta?) for Tanya and her mother travelling from
Tuva to the US and back. FoT will also cover incidentals (Disneyland, etc.) for them after
Tanya recovers sufficiently from her surgery. If you would like to make a direct
contribution to the costs involved for this project, you may write a check payable to
Friends of Tuva (put "For Tanya" as the memo), and send it to: Friends of Tuva,
Box 70021, Pasadena CA 91117. (Of course, if you buy a dozen pins, or any other items from
the Tuva Trader, you'll be helping, too!)
Throat-Singing Workshop March 13
Fot Paul Pena, who has made a "Throat-Singing Tutorial" available on
cassette, will conduct a workshop at Clarion Music, 817 Grant St, San Francisco on Sunday,
March 13. Interested persons should call (415) 391-1317 to reserve a spot. (There's a fee
that is dependent on when you sign up.)
To receive Paul's tutorial on cassette, send $12 (cash, or check made out to Paul Pena)
and an address label (important!--Mr. Pena is blind) to: Paul Pena, 1212 Willard St. # 1,
San Francisco CA 94117. Mr. Pena likes to communicate by e-mail: his address is
. (The last dot was the end of the sentence!)
E-mail Group Talks Tuva
If you have access to Internet's Usenet, try alt.culture.tuva and check out the
latest Feynman and Tuva news.
Sainkho Sends Greetings
Dear Friends of Tuva,
"Mountains can't meet other mountains, but people can meet people
everywhere"--so goes an old Tuvan saying. Last year I had many concert tours, but my
tour to USA was most extreme and long. I had four weeks of an intensive performing
schedule, many nice meetings, and I have now many friends in America. What is very special
for me is I found "Friends of Tuva," who are not only music fans but who would
like to learn about everything and everybody from Tuva.
People say, "Don't be rich by money; be rich by friends." I wish for you, and
for myself, too, to find many new friends in the new year and be happy about that. So,
Happy New Year, "Friends of Tuva," and Shagaa-bilé (Happy Lunar New
Tuvans to Tour Canada in May--With Detour to California?
A group of Tuvan throat-singers headed by Gennadi Tumat (who, along with Kaigal-ool
Khovalyg, was chosen to serenade the Dalai Lama in Kyzyl) will tour across Canada in May.
Here are the places and dates. If you haven't received an update by April, call the
Friends of Tuva hotline (213) 221-TUVA (221-8882) to hear the latest information.
Montréal: May 5 and 7
Toronto: May 6 or 8
Ottawa: May 6 or 8
Winnipeg: May 13
Edmonton: May 14
Vancouver: May 15
As May 11, Richard Feynman's birthday, is in the middle of the schedule, perhaps we'll
have a special concert at Caltech (in Pasadena) on May 11. Please call the FoT hotline
(213) 221-TUVA in late April or early May for details.
Esoterica Part I
Did you know that 40 degrees below zero is the only temperature for which you don't
have to ask, "Is that Fahrenheit or Celsius?" The two scales coincide at that
temperature, which also happens to be the temperature at (and below) which children in
Tuva don't have to go to school. (Unlike in Canada, windchill is not figured into the
"The Best Mind Since Einstein" Will Air Again on NOVA-- But When?
Just after mailing out the eighth issue of the Friends of Tuva newsletter in December,
I found out that Christopher Sykes' latest documentary on our patron saint, Richard
Feynman, would be aired on December 21 on PBS's NOVA series. As of this writing, it is not
known when "The Best Mind Since Einstein" will be rebroadcast on NOVA. The
earliest date would be in May--and I have suggested May 10 or 17, in honor of the Chief's
birthday on May 11. The place to find out for sure is WGBH in Boston, at (617) 492-2777,
extension 5400 (programming).
Feynman, Volume 1 to become a CD in 1994 (?)
I have received several letters in regard to Safecracker Suite and Feynman,
Volume 1 (see the Tuva Trader, pp 7-8) informing me that technology is available to
reduce the tape noise on the recordings I made of Richard Feynman. As I would like to
release Feynman, Volume 1 on CD later this year, it would be wonderful if such
technology (a software package, perhaps?) could be applied to this tape before I transfer
it onto CD.
As I am not in a position do perform this sound-reduction operation myself, I appeal to
any FoTs out there to help. Please contact me if you, or someone you know, might be able
to do this service in honor of our patron saint so that his words may live on, loud and
Travel to Tuva: How About This Summer?
FoT Shep Kopp biked around Tuva and into western Mongolia in the summer of 1993. His
extensive report is available from the Tuva Trader. Shep plans to return to Tuva
this summer, and welcomes fellow travellers--even if they prefer to see Tuva by jeep or
car. He has made many useful contacts there and definitely has the Feynman spirit of
adventure and fun. Those interested in travelling to Tuva this summer with Shep as their
guide are requested to fill out the following questionnaire and send it to me as soon as
Age ______ Physical condition __________ What would you like to see and do in Tuva?
When would you like to go? From _____________ to ____________, a total of _______ days.
Assuming airfare to be about $2,000 round trip, how much more are you
prepared to spend for the trip? $ __________ .
Please indicate your enthusiasm (on a scale of 0 to 10) for the following activities
(10 = absolute must; 5 = take it or leave it; 0 = no way!): hiking ___ biking ___
horseback riding ___ sightseeing by jeep ___ sightseeing by bus ___ sightseeing by private
car ___ sleeping in a yurt ___ sleeping in a lousy hotel ___ squatting in a fly-infested
outhouse and not falling into the latrine ___ sleeping in someone's apartment while
they're at their dacha ___ visiting the Tuva Republic Museum ___ seeing a throat-singing
concert ___ being personally serenaded by a throat-singer ___ witnessing a sheep
slaughtered Genghis-Khan style ___ eating blood sausage and fat-of-lamb's tail ___
drinking arak ___ drinking vodka ___ having my fortune foretold by a shaman or a lama ___
seeing a wrestling championship, complete with eagle dances ___ visiting a lamasery under
construction ___ going without a bath or shower for a week ___ seeing yaks ___ seeing
camels ___ seeing Möngün Taiga, Tuva's highest peak ___ climbing Möngün Taiga ___
Your telephone number: (____) __________________ . Please mail this questionnaire to:
Tuva Travel, Box 70021, Pasadena CA 91117.
Let's Speak Tuvan!
by Kira Van Deusen
On my recent trip to Tuva I recorded native speakers reading the text of K. A.
Bicheldei's book, Let's Speak Tuvan. It is possible to make this into a
language-learning course by inserting English translations and leaving space for the
learner to repeat the Tuvan phrases. There are twenty lessons which not only cover
everyday expressions, but also introduce the basics of Tuvan grammar. The readers come
from Kyzyl, from the town of Erzin in the south, and from Chadaana in the west. This tape,
along with an accompanying booklet, would take a considerable amount of work to produce,
so I'd like to check for interest before embarking on it.
If you would be interested in a package of two 60-minute tapes and a booklet explaining
the grammar of Tuvan and containing all the text of the tape, please let me know. The cost
would be about $50 US. If you have any suggestions about language learning materials in
general or about this project in particular, please let me know that, too.
Chettirdim! (Thank you!)
Kira Van Deusen can be reached by writing to her at 16 Salal Drive, Hornby Island
BC, Canada V0R 1Z0. (Those are ones and zeros in the postal code.) Her fax number is
(604)335-1434. I'm going to sign up for the course; I hope you do, too!--RL
Adelaide or Bust!
"Feynman Spirit" to be Powered by Photons and Electrons
Every three years the World Solar Challenge--a race from Darwin to Adelaide by vehicles
powered entirely by the direct rays of the sun--is held in Australia. A group of electric
car enthusiasts from Southern California, including veterans of the 1990 and 1993 races,
is discussing the idea of entering the 1996 race.
The group also includes Michelle Feynman (don't miss her on the rebroadcast of
"The Best Mind Since Einstein"--see article, p. 1) and yours truly. Several
members of the team have been influenced and inspired by Richard Feynman's spirit of
adventure; consequently, we are thinking of naming our entry, "The Feynman
Our top priority is to find solar cells of reasonable efficiency (i.e. 15%) at a
reasonable price (i.e. free, if possible). We are also looking for other equipment (a
specific list is available) as well as where we might receive monetary support. Anyone
with suggestions about these topics is encouraged to contact me at Box 70021, Pasadena CA
91117. Thanks, maite!
In October, when Kongar-ool Ondar came to New York to represent AT&T at the Audio
Engineering Society trade show, he told me that Parliament Chairman K. A. Bicheldei had
sent him on a mission: to procure some pins of the Tuvan flag for government officials to
hand out to visiting dignitaries. I said the pins made in Tuva looked fine to me, but
Kongar-ool explained--with a plaintive look sweeping across his expressive face--that
compared to the pins handed to them by the visitors, the Tuvan pins were embarrassing. He
showed me a shiny cloisonné pin of the Turkish flag, and I saw what he meant.
I was about to send the artwork for the Tuvan flag to a pin manufacturer when I
realized that the seal of Tuva, depicting a horseman flying across the sunlit sky, would
make a much better pin. I took matters into my own hands and simplified the woodcut print
that I had received earlier in the year from Tuva (see Issue # 8, page 6) and enlarged the
lettering. The result can be seen on page 8 of this issue.
Several pins have already been sent to Tuva for K. A. Bicheldei's approval; in the
meantime, they are available from the Tuva Trader as a fun way of showing your support for
Tuva and Friends of Tuva projects. In addition to looking good on lapels, caps, and coats,
they make great tie tacks--and can even be adapted to make those "secret decoder
rings" that some of you have wanted for years.
Shamanism in Tuva
by Tamia Marg Anderson
Our group of 10 academic and practicing shamans from the Foundation for Shamanic
Studies traveled to attend the first east-west seminar on shamanism in Tuva in July 93.
Coming from America, Canada, Finland, and Austria, we all met in Moscow and from there
flew on to Krasnoyarsk where an overloaded Yak 40 flew us to Kyzyl. We were greeted on the
tarmac by Professor Mongush Kenin-Lopsang, the founder of the Tuvan Shamanic Society, and
Dungur, who was to become our fearless leader through a whirlwind week in Tuva.
Professor Kenin-Lopsang had refused the good life of a soviet scientist, of one who
would tow the party line, and instead dedicated his life to keeping alive the stories of
his peoples' shamans. Stalinist repression took an enormous toll on shamanism as well as
Buddhism, but now, since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, these practices are
beginning to flourish once again. Shamanism is the ancient native soul of Tuva, while
Tibetan Buddhism is the relatively recent institutional' religion of Tuva. The two
traditions not only coexist peacefully but also overlap with shamans practicing Buddhism
and lamas shamanism. While shamanism has been virtually extinct for centuries in the West,
the tie with the ancient spiritual tradition was never completely lost in the nomadic
culture of the Tuvans.
Though officially this meeting was to be an academic conference, we came with the
additional intention of assisting the Tuvans in their efforts to rehabilitate their
shamanism and reintegrate it into their culture and daily life. Shamans from all over Tuva
came to Kyzyl to participate in this seminar'. Many told their stories, how they found
their power and what they do with it, and they listened to each others' stories with rapt
attention. This was essentially the first sanctified coming out' in three generations and
it was taking place in the ex-communist headquarters!
We also toured several days through the countryside with an entourage of Tuvan shamans
and others interested in shamanism. Our now large group visited yurts and towns, met with
local people, and participated in shamanic events. Whenever we formed a circle of drummers
the Tuvans joined in without inhibition. People crowded into auditoriums to see what kind
of healing the traveling shamans would do. Our Tuvan hosts took us to one of the sacred
springs of Tuva overlooking the snowy peaks that form the southern border of Tuva with
Mongolia. They continuously honored us with lavish feasts, great hospitality, and of
Back in Kyzyl we had audience with the first President of Tuva as well as with the head
of the supreme soviet of Tuva, both of whom recognize the importance of shamanism in their
culture and listened seriously to our comments. The Theater Ensemble of Tuva performed a
play they had prepared to coincide with the seminar on shamanism. The play depicted two
shamans, Siberian archetypes of good and bad, fighting each other for power. Each of our
days in Tuva was filled with dynamic interaction and magic.
A special edition of the Foundation's newsletter, Shamanism, devoted to our time
in Tuva is now in production. If you are interested in finding out more about our trip
there, please contact the Foundation of Shamanic Studies at (203) 847-9447 or by mail at
PO Box 670, Norwalk, CT 06852.
Shamans and Epics
Report from Tuva: October, 1993
by Kira Van Deusen
"Shyaan am! Longer ago than the earliest times, more ancient than the most
ancient times, when the tail of the camel still trailed along the ground and the horns of
the mountain goat reached all the way to heaven. . . ."
I have spoken these words many times in North America, at concerts and storytelling
festivals, in schools and living rooms, alone or accompanied by Tuvans playing the igil
and byzaanchy. At last I heard these words in their real context, sitting at the
feet of Tuvan epic-tellers! These are the words traditionally sung at the beginning of
every Tuvan folktale or epic. Shyaan am means something like "What's
next?" or "Listen to this!" and it should be said by listeners to encourage
the teller, or by the storyteller himself to call attention to the action.
Storytelling was a serious thing in times gone by. Stories carry the history and
beliefs of a people and those who told them were highly respected. But there were
responsibilities, too: a storyteller may not refuse to tell. To do so would bring down the
displeasure of the Spirit of the Stories, and this could result in poor hunting for
everyone. And once begun, a story must be finished with all its details, even if it takes
a month of evenings.
I spent the month of October, 1993, in Tuva. The main purpose of my trip was to hear
storytellers and to learn about folklore traditions as they survive today. And I did
indeed hear them--in yurts, in schools, and outside under the trees. Soyan Berden, Andrei
Chuldum-ool, Borbak-ool Saryglar and others told about shaman contests, clever mice,
heroes and how a girl survived having her hands cut off. But I also learned something
else: that in Tuva, like so many other places, you can't separate the culture into
elements. Stories don't exist without music. Music calls on the spirits of nature. The
shamanic tradition is based on mythology. Everything is related and interwoven. And all of
it reflects nature--the steppe, the mountains and forests, the river.
All these traditions were suppressed by the Soviets, but today they are gaining
momentum. Instrument makers are studying old photos and museum pieces to learn how to make
drums for shamans who are openly conducting healings. Language is taught in schools and
Tuvan dress is seen more often than before. But storytelling progresses more slowly. Only
the old men now tell tales, and they tell them mostly to researchers. They are tired of
being studied, and very few young people carry the tradition on.
Nonetheless, people do recognize their folklore. At a concert in Kyzyl I was called to
the stage by Kongar-ool Ondar, dressed in a sexy rock and roll variant of the Tuvan silk
and sheepskin coat. I told the story of the camel--in English, with gestures--and the
audience loved it. They knew the story.
Mongush Kenin-Lopsang, Tuva's foremost expert on shamanism, spoke with pride as he
showed me the remarkable exhibit on shamanism at the Tuvan Republican Museum: "I have
collected these ceremonial objects and the poetry and myths of the Tuvan shamans all my
life. But only in the last two years have I been able to show them. The repression of the
shamans was a very great tragedy." This extensive exhibit shows unique costumes
covered with many-colored fabric snakes and sacred arrows which protect the home and
travel great distances to help the shaman discover the causes of disease. Kenin-Lopsang's
collection shows amulets and the 2500-year-old petroglyphs depicting themes still alive in
the Tuvan cultural world-view. And most important of all is the shaman's mirror, made of
brass, which shows other worlds and the health condition of the patient. On my visit to
Bora-Taiga in the west, shaman Borbak-ool Saryglar, also a fine singer of tales, diagnosed
my health using his mirror. He looked in the mi rror and felt my pulse while I held one of
the ties attached to the mirror in my left hand along with two stones and a bone from his
bundle. My right hand was on the rest of his bundle, over which he had placed another of
the strips of cloth attached to the mirror, making a complete circuit. His diagnosis was
Tuvans are irrepressibly musical. I had a talk with Valentina Süzükei, author of an
excellent book on Tuvan music. Some of the ideas she expressed may help us to listen
better, and to go beyond our simple amazement when we hear throat singing. "Tuvan
music is based on timbre, unlike western music with its basis in harmony and African music
with rhythm. Asian musicians have explored timbre to an extent unknown in the rest of the
world. Between the low tones and the overtones are masses of other tones, created by the
voice and by the multiple hairs that make up the strings of the instruments. These tones
are difficult to catch with a microphone, but they make up the essence of the music. Each
musician plays with his/her own timbre, which unerringly evokes that person's place in
nature. You will see the steppe or the desert. There is no mistaking the style of one
master for that of another. Each instrument is made to the measure of the player's body.
And the music is connected to shaman ist beliefs and rituals, calling the upper and lower
worlds, the spirits of nature. Tuvans are raised with sound, as the yurt walls do not
isolate humans from their surroundings."
I wanted to write about the lives of women in Tuva, but I find it difficult to be as
positive about that as I am about these other things. I met many talented, intelligent and
interesting women, and I found most of them frustrated by hard times, boring jobs and
difficult marriages. I heard tales of alcoholism and suicide, and of feeling blocked at
every turn. It gave me a feeling of going backward in time. This is quite different from
the women I have met in other parts of the former Soviet Union, who face the same hard
times but are stepping out as cultural and political leaders. Of course men too are
suffering in Tuva, but women seem to be at the bottom of the heap. In traditional society
women were respected for their wisdom. This seems to be another tradition pushed aside in
the name of progress. Let us hope that it, too, will return in the coming time.
On the way to visit Borbak-ool we stopped at mountain passes, a sacred tree, a sacred
spring, and a Buddhist shrine and at each place we left offerings of fabric strips and
food. The ancient spirits are being fed again. Let us hope they heal Tuva's problems as we
move into the twenty-first century.
Kira Van Deusen is a Canadian storyteller specializing in folklore of native peoples
of the former Soviet Union. Many FOTs have heard her in concert with Tuvan throatsingers
on their west coast and Canadian tours. Her tape, Tales of Tuva, is available
through the Tuva Trader.
Correspondence and invitations are welcome for storytelling/lecture/slide programs on
cultures of Tuva, the Amur River region, and Chukotka. Please contact Kira Van Deusen, 16
Salal Drive, Hornby Island, BC, Canada V0R 1Z0 (those are ones and zeros), or fax (604)
(Translation projects are underway by Rada Chakar and Alan Leighton on Süzükei's book
on Tuvan musical instruments, as well as on one of Kenin-Lopsang's works on shamanism. But
as these are labors of love, work is slow and meticulous. An example is Alan's translation
of Otto Mänchen-Helfen's Journey to Tuva, which took ten years to complete, with
400 footnotes added by the translator. Journey to Tuva is available thru the Tuva
Conference on Ancient Turkic Inscriptions in Tuva
by Kira Van Deusen
On October 7-8, 1993, I attended a conference in Kyzyl celebrating 100 years since the
deciphering of the ancient Orkhon-Yenisei Turkic stone inscriptions. All over Tuva and
parts of Mongolia, Khakassia and other parts of Central Asia, there are huge stone
sculptures and standing stones with writings which date back as far as the sixth century.
Most of these are monuments to heroes of the ancient Turks, great khans who were battling
for pasture lands and political power. These stones are now known to contain some of the
most important literature of their time, possibly the earliest Turkic literature.
Many of the writings are epitaphs, telling of heroic deeds and expressing the hero's
sorrow at leaving his land, family and people.
Before the end of the nineteenth century these stones had been noticed and studied by
scholars and travellers, some of whom tried to decipher the writings on the assumption
that they were the work of Finno-Ugric or Slavic peoples. But it was only in 1893 that the
Turkic scholars Clements and Radloff found the solution, and the existence of this early
Turkic poetry became known to the scholarly world.
One tragedy for the Tuvan people is that under Russian and Soviet domination they were
said to have been an illiterate people until the 1920s and 30s (when first the Latin and
then the Cyrillic alphabet was adopted), whereas in fact not only had there been written
records in Tuva before they existed in Russia, but even in the 1920s many Tuvans could
read both Mongolian and Tibetan.
Many of the stones, along with earlier petroglyphs and archaeological sites, have been
destroyed by bulldozers and inundated in the damming of the Yenisei River in Khakassia at
Shushenskoye to form the "Sayan Sea," the so-called Soviet lake which also seems
to be adversely effecting on the climate in Tuva. This, along with the attempted
suppression of Tuvan customs, dress, music, language, folklore and shamanism, has of
course had a very negative effect on the self-respect of the Tuvan people.
And so this conference helped celebrate the revival of culture in Tuva that has
accelerated in the last two years. Speakers were mainly from Tuva and neighboring
republics, with guests from St. Petersburg, Ankara, Mongolia and Japan. The political
events of the preceding days in Moscow [Yeltsin vs. the Congress of Peoples' Deputies)
prevented several other guests from arriving. Speakers addressed themselves to the history
of deciphering the stones, to questions of linguistic ties with contemporary Tuvan,
Khakass and Mongolian languages, to folklore, poetics, heroic epics, shamanism, folklore,
and the importance of these writings for Tuvan and other Turkic-language peoples today.
Participants also had the opportunity to see the large collection of stones held by the
local museum and to travel to western Tuva, seeing the magnificent expanses of mountain
steppe that informs the poetry, and looking for sixth-century Turkic inscriptions as well
as the reindeer carvings which date back to Scythian times, a thousand years earlier. We
were served Tuvan cheeses, berries, pancakes, arak, and kumiss.
On the way we stopped to give our respects, along with offerings of food and small
pieces of cloth, to the mountain passes, a sacred tree and a sacred spring. Observing this
ancient custom, revering the spirits of nature, is just one sign of the revival of culture
FoT-HQ Survives Another Southern California Disaster
It was observed by at least one commentator that Southern California indeed does have
four seasons: Fire, Flood, Drought, and Earthquake. Unlike the traditional seasons, these
occurrences are disorienting to those who experience them. As I write this, the computer
is literally shaking from one of the dozens of perceptible aftershocks of the
"Northridge Quake" that undoubtedly affected adversely several Southern
California FoTs. FoT-HQ, which is ten miles to the southeast of the epicenter (most damage
occurred to the north and west), came through fine, with the exception of some broken
Tuvan stone carvings. Time to get out the super glue.
The most remarkable result was the migration of ceramic tea cups from the upper levels
of the kitchen cabinets to the lower levels--without falling out or breaking. The only way
I reckon that this could happen is for the doors to have flapped open and shut at just the
right rate to catch a falling cup and push it back into the cabinet.