Portal for tuvinology

Tuva.Asia / The New Research of Tuva

Russian version/Русская версия
Сегодня 25 June 2022 г.
13 September 2011

A time for everything: Svetlana Munzuk about her father - Maxim Munzuk. Part I

Center of Asia, centerasia.ru. Translated by Heda Jindrak

A time for everything:  Svetlana Munzuk about her father - Maxim Munzuk. Part I"Life can't be stopped, that means that time can't be stopped either. The saying - a time for everything - is not in vain. It really is like that: everybody is born in his own time and lives in his own times.

Do we have the right not to respect the past times? Do we have the right to pass judgment on the past?

Do we have the right not to forgive mistakes?

We have no such right. But we do have the right to analyze, to make choices and to prevent repeating mistakes. And mainly - to remember and to keep."

 This quotation comes from Maxim Munzuk's notes from 1994. He had such a habit to first concentrate the ideas on small fragments, then to develop his ideas based on these notes on  large pages.

To remember and to keep. Unfortunately, not all of his notes have been preserved. But those which remained became the foundation of this sketch about Maxim Monguzhukovich Munzuk - National artist of RSFSR and Tuvinian ASSR, laureate of State Prize of Tuvinian ASSR, Cavalier of the Order of Friendship of nations, and the actor of the title role in Oscar-winning film "Dersu Uzala".

And simply - about my father. Very much loving and very much loved.


Munzuk was born in a small place Uurgailyg of the future Tandy district of Tuva. His date of birth is 2 May 1910, but in his documents it is 15 September 1912.

He took off two years in his youth, before going to Moscow to school. He was concerned that he would not be sent to school because he was over the usual age. But he did not find out his exact date of birth until he was 70, from his age-mate Taskarakov, who came from republic Khakassia  to his countryman's anniversary.

The guest said that the Taskarakov family had lived not far from the aal where Munzuk was born. At the end of the '30's, Munzuk was already a well-known personality in Tuva, and even more so in his birthplace of Tandy. Whenever the artist came to his native place with an agitation team, the Taskarakovs would tell their son: "You were born on the same day - 2 May." They said that with pride, after all, artists at that time were the personification of everything new and interesting, and the arrival of the agitation team was a very significant event.

The two old men-countrymen talked for a long time, and during the conversation Maxim Monguzhukovich wrote down notes on a piece of paper. Later, when he could not find the notes, he was very upset, but then he calmed down. But since that time, all the way to his death, and he died at the age of 89 years - 28 July 1999 - we observed Papa's birthday twice every year, on 2 May and 15 September.


We did not know the origin of Papa's  name Munzuk, which later became his surname.

Possibly the secret is hidden in the seven-volume collection "Uriangkhai. Tyva Depter.", edited by Sergei Shoigu. While reading the Introduction in the first volume, I came across some interesting information on page 50:

" Attila, called "The Scourge of God" - the leader of Huns, i.e. western Xiongnu, who migrated from the steppes of Central Asia in the first centuries of common era, was the son of the leader of  Huns Mundtsuk (sounding astonishingly like Tuvan name Munzuk). From 445, at the head of  Hun confederation of tribes, he founded a huge empire which stretched from the Volga and Ural to South Germany, and from the Baltic to the Caucasus."

And really, the name Munzuk sounds very much like the name of the leader of the Huns - Mundtsuk. And what is curious is that sometimes Papa's name was spelled like that!  After the film "Dersu Uzala" was released onto the world screens  in 1975, many articles and reviews appeared. And the authors often made mistakes in writing the name of the actor who played Dersu: now Mundzuk, now Mundtsuk.

But in contrast to his possible ancient warrior relatives, Papa was not a warrior, even though in his youth he took part in the suppression of counter-revolutionary uprisings, and he even trained as a tank driver.


Munzuk almost did not remember his childhood. He often asked himself: why is this, could it be late development? Only  isolated moments without any chronology popped up in his mind, hazy images.

The image of his home - a place which was crowded, not by large numbers of people, but from large amount of some bundles. His relatives confirmed that the family did not have a yurt of their own, and lived mostly in places meant for storage of furnishings and  goods of the owners - tiny yurts or bark chooms.

He recalled that his parents never sat idle, and also that he was not allowed to enter a large white yurt which stood nearby. Sometimes in his memories there was an image of a lama whom his parents served. There were some joyful images, too: father returning from a successful hunt!

He did not recall the faces of his older sisters. He did not understand where they suddenly disappeared, only once, when he saw a lifeless body of one of them, he felt pain - somewhere in his chest.

And his twin sister, because the last time that his mother gave birth, she had a boy and a girl, also left for another world. He was the only one left to his parents.

And then his mother left too. He remembered that: the shaman beating his drum strongly, loudly calling on the spirits, praying to cure the young woman from sickness. But the spirits were powerless, and his mother died.

Only two were left now: father and son.


Tuvans did not say names aloud. Men could not say the names of their wives, young men those of their girlfriends, children - names of their mothers. Because of that, may names of those close to him did not remain in the little orphan's memory.

Only as an adult did Munzuk manage to find out from his countrymen and relatives more detail about his roots.

His  maternal grandmother was from Mezhegei by origin, and her name was Chodak-Kara. Small, black-haired, her name fully corresponded to her appearance. She was very talented, and she mastered throat-singing to perfection. One day a noyon - a prince - who lived in Samagaltai, heard her and invited her. From that time on, she performed throat-singing at his court. This is where she married and gave birth to a daughter. She lived for a long time.

Her husband was a skillful smith. He was especially valued as  a master in crafting Chinese bells, the sound of which carried far beyond Tuva. So he was called Kongu - short for konguluur - a bell, and his real name was forgotten.

Their daughter Daryimaa took after her father, and was an unsurpassable working woman. She could perform any kind of work without fearing it. She was very strong. Everybody was surprised: she could easily pick up a large bag of grain. Daryimaa gave birth to her first child in Samagaltai. The baby boy was given to good people who lived on the banks of Erzin river and adopted him.

Munzuk found out that he had an older brother in Erzin only after he grew up. The older brother's name was Soruktu, and his surname, taken from his adoptive parents, was Kyrgys. He inherited his grandmother's talent: Soruktu Kyrgys became a prominent throat-singer and for some time he also worked in the theater.

After the birth of her first child, Daryimaa returned to Mezhegei, and married Monguzhuk from the Oyun family.

Munzuk's paternal grandmother was a noyon's wife.  She was called Ulug-Attyg - a Woman with a Big Name. But her real name was Dolchanmaa, from the family of Kaa-Khem Salchaks.  She had only one child, Monguzhuk, Munzuk's father. She died young.

Monguzhuk became a shagaachy. During the New Year holiday Shagaa he traveled around the aals, offering his services of  butchering the bodies of any kind of domestic livestock. He was a great master in this: he could do everything in a fast, competent way, and he was often called at other times, not just for preparations for Shagaa.

This is how he made his living, but his wife Daryimaa was always complaining, displeased that a married man continued to work as a shagaachy and would not change his habit of  traveling from yurt to yurt.

People respected his goodness and modesty, and called him Mongu for short. He also was a khuresh wrestler, but one day he dislocated his opponent's arm and stopped wrestling.

And he was a knowledgeable hunter. After his wife's death, he always took his only son along hunting. Little Munzuk soaked in his father's lessons. Already back then he learned to read animal and bird tracks, and to respect the law of the taiga.

This became not just recreation throughout his whole life, but it helped very much half a century later, during filming in the taiga of the  Far East.  Papa, I think, was playing not only the Goldi hunter Dersu Uzala, the hero of Vladimir Arseniev's story, but to some extent also his father Monguzhuk.

However, his life with his father did not last long. Monguzhuk became sick - a tumor developed on his back. At first he continued to work, but soon he could not even move. So little Munzuk, instead of his father, became a horse-herder for one of the richest men of Tandy - Azhykai Oyun. His father, who was a strong, healthy man just a short time ago, remained lying down helplessly in the shadow of the yurt. And he died there.


In the  '20's of the last century it was still customary to bury the dead in open places, not giving them to the earth, buried in a grave.

The deceased would be carried to a mountain pass or to the steppe and left there under bushes, covered by cloth. The body was pulled apart and scattered by animals and birds.

In Mezhegei, there is a mountain pass over the steppe, and this is where seven men took his father's body. Seven, because the custom required that it should be done by an odd number of men, and women were not allowed to be present at the burial.

Then they all left, and they left little Munzuk there alone to pray. He kneeled , with his head bowed.  Wind took the cloth from his father's cold body. He caught it, and covered his father again, and cried for a long, long time.

When the boy secretly returned to the pass three days later, his father's body was already gone. There was only a grazing herd of horses. The sun shone brightly, cranes soared in the pure sky, and Munzuk stood there alone and wept for a long, long time.

Only a mare with a tiny colt came up to him. Nobody else heard the weeping of the orphan child.


In this way, Munzuk began a totally new life at the age of eleven years - a life of a complete orphan.

He served for the rich man Azhykai Oyun, whom he remembered even years later with good words. Azhykai was quite lenient with his little worker, who often ran away. The little boy was driven by childhood curiosity: and what is there - behind the aal, what places, what people?

He wandered all over the area. In the morning he worked for Russian Old Believers, and they gave him food, bread, after prayers, which was the sweetest delicacy for Munzuk. In the evening he would go to work for  a lama, and they gave him some food again. He even worked for Chinese merchants.

And everywhere he learned something:  from the Russians - their language, from the Chinese - counting. He had to learn everything by himself. These were times of changes, there was much  that was interesting and unusual going on. The boy did not understand yet what  the revolution was about, independence, about the Reds and the Whites,  the Party and those not of the Party, but he watched the adults with attention, listened to their conversations and soaked everything in like a sponge.

For example - shii - plays, were very interesting. Amateur drama clubs were quite widespread in Tuva towards 1925, and improvised skits on the spur of the moment were performed right under open sky at herding camps.

By that time Papa turned 15. He still did not take part in amateur theatricals, but he was an enthusiastic spectator. Of course, they showed even the boss - rich man Azhykai - it was so funny!

The actor of the main role - Begzi Kudukaiovich Oyun - recalled the birth of that play like this:

"It was in 1925, I had jus become a member of  Tuvan people's revolutionary party. At that time things were very difficult for party men, and the responsibility was huge.

A very strong, active and clever comic Sonam-Bair lived in our area. He gathered all of us together and said: "This time, kids, we won't be singing any short satirical songs - chastushkas, we will produce a play!"

Our first one-act play was a criticism of a local rich man Azhykai. Agreeing with Sonam-Bair, we got to work right away. He suggested new words to us that he knew, who should say what. Of course, the play did not have a written text, none of us knew how to write, but we knew in our minds what we would say and play. I had the role of Azhykai, and Sonam-Bair was my servant-horse herder  named Dagba.

We went to take our show to Kok-Bulun, Mezhegei, Bai-Bulun, where there were many aals, and rich man Azhykai lived there as well.

His sons came to the show, too. They did not know what the play was to be about. The show started. The theme of the play was very simple, we ridiculed  greed.  And during the play, we see: Azhykai's sons were leaving. Laughing, we were already throwing replies at their backs.."

Of course, none of the texts of amateur plays like this one, played all over the republic, were preserved. The first one-act play in Tuvan language was printed only in 1931 in #32 of newspaper "Shyn" from 14 December. It had a terrible name: "We will destroy." The author was a teacher - Khakass -  L. Spirin.


1927 was a year of a great change in Munzuk's fate: the seventeen-year-old young man comes to Kyzyl and becomes a fighter in Tuvinian people's revolutionary army, and in 1929 enters the revsomol - Tuvan revolutionary youth union.

He met Kok-ool in the army; Tuvan Theatre of Music and Drama was later named after him. The future playwright and actor Viktor Kok-ool was by that time an experienced soldier. He served since 1925. They kept their friendship throughout their entire lives.

Both soldiers  had a cheerful personality and inborn artistic talents. They were always the center of attention - they played songs with the accompaniment of folk instruments, told humorous stories. They played spontaneous  scenes, and successfully dealt with the absence of actresses among the soldiers: Munzuk played the female roles.

In 1928 Viktor Kok-ool went away to Moscow, to study at the Communist university of the Workers of the East. And Munzuk became seriously involved in music in the summer of 1929: a decision was made to form a musical group of Tuvinian people's  revolutionary army and all the soldiers who had any musical tendencies were taught to read music and to play wind instruments. They were taught by the former partisan Semyon Korovin.

In 1930, Tuva experienced a wave of uprisings against the government; Munzuk as a soldier took part in their suppression.

And for taking part in suppression of a counter-revolutionary revolt in the Tere-khol lake district, Munzuk was rewarded by a certificate by Presidium of the Small Khural of TNR. Certificat6e #43 was acted 19 December 1938 and signed by the chairman of the Presidium of Small Khural of the republic Anchima and secretary Talganchyk.

The certificate is not a simple one: it states that the holder is to receive serious benefits in three points.

First: 50% discount in farming and other taxes. Second: 25% discount for his phone bill, radio and electricity.

But the greatest privilege was the third one: free entry to the park, to the stadium, skating rink and skiing station!


Semyon Korovin, even at the beginning, when the musical group was only being formed, turned his attention to one of the soldiers - Munzuk, when he was improvising on a four-string folk instrument - byzaanchy.

And the pedagogue attentively watched his successes in the army orchestra. The student was learning musical notation with enthusiasm, quickly learned to play the trumpet, and his  eyes shone when playing marches.

It was precisely Semyon Grigorievich who advised to send the capable trainee to Moscow, to study music professionally. Korovin not just recommended him, but also gave him the name Maxim, in honor of the proletarian writer maxim Gorky.  So Papa became Maxim before his trip to USSR, and his name Munzuk became his surname; this was sealed in  document when after TNR became a part of USSR in 1944, passportization of the population was started.

Maxim Munzuk got to the capital of USSR only in November of 1932. He was late, the classes had already began in the music institute . But the student from afar was tested anyway and the teachers realized that this was a self-taught musician without any special training.

What to do, to go back with nothing - they did not take me?  Not for anything!

A trick saved him; he insinuated himself into a group of Mongols entering the Moscow vehicle and tank training school, and he was accepted. So what, if not a musician, why not a tank driver. The main thing was to stay in Moscow, to study!


Munzuk would have remained a professional soldier if they could have found even a single tank for him in Tuva at that time!

 But there was not a single tank in Tuvan army. And when in early 1935 the brave lieutenant returned to Kyzyl with his tank diploma and driver's license, he was assigned as a conductor to the army orchestra instead of  Semyon Korovin who retired. The first teacher's retirement did not mean that he broke off contact with the collective; Korovin was always there, and helped with advice and action.

The orchestra was getting more and more popular, no holiday in Kyzyl could do without it.

The driver's license from tank school was useful as well: in 1935 Munzuk was a driver for the chairman of the Soviet of Ministers, minister of foreign affairs, Sat Churmit-Dazhy for several months. And his association with this "leader of counter-revolutionary- espionage organization" had serious consequences for his temporary driver.

Munzuk was always being brought in for interrogations. The investigators were interested in everything: why he was invited to be the driver, the routes, Churmit-Dazhy's contacts, themes of his conversations with his driver. They were interested in Munzuk's past, even asking about the Chinese merchants where he worked as an adolescent.

After a fabricated case, Churmit-Dazhy was executed on 16 October 1938; he was rehabilitated in 1964.

Papa was very lucky: he was not executed and was not even imprisoned, he was only expelled from the party. Later on he was re-established, and in 1990 he was given a medal "50 Years in KPSS".

And this is an interesting aspect:  that summer of 1935, when Maxim Munzuk was a driver for Sat Churmit Dazhy,  became decisive in his personal life, and the beginning of his great love for our mother Kara-Kys Nomzatovna.

The love which lasted sixty years and then three years and seven months after mama's death on 18 December of 1995 that Papa lived on, missing her.



This site has an Orphus system installed. If you notice any mistake, please let us know by selecting the erroneous snippet and then pressing Ctrl + Enter. Your browser will not be redirected anywhere.

© 2009—2022, Tuva.Asia - portal for tuvinology, «The New Research of Tuva» - electronic magazine . All Rights Reserved.
Established in 2009
Registered as a mass media by the Federal Supervision Agency for Information Technologies and Communications of Russian Federation, certificate Эл №ФС77-37967 issued on November, 5 2009.

If quoted, hyperlink to Tuva.Asia obligatory.


География посетителей сайта