FOBOS: Weather in Kyzyl/Tuva
Kyzyl Weather

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 this year.

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 auspicious day.

Tanya to Come to the US

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 Year)!

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 calculation.)

"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 clear!

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 possible:

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 Spirit."

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!

Pin Project

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 course throat-singing.

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 accurate.

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) 335-1434.

(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 Trader).

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 in Tuva.

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.