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9 December 2011

TIGI Expedition to Mongolia and China

Uran Dongak, TIGI. Translated by Heda Jindrak

TIGI Expedition to Mongolia and ChinaChina and Mongolia have become the location for field research of a group of scientists from TIGI, in the framework of the project: "Tuvans of Tsengel: folklore and literature" (2002-2011).

International folklore-ethnographic expedition to Xinjiang- Uighur autonomous region of  people's Republic of China and Kobdo aimak of Mongolia of  TIGI scientists U.A. Dongak, Z.B. Samdan, B. Bayarsaikhan and doctor G. Zolbayar (Bayan-Ulegei institute of sociologic research of Mongolian AN) is a continuation of this scientific project which began in 2002 at TIGI as "Tuvans of Altai: folklore and literature", in cooperation with Bayan-Ulegei science center for sociological research of AN of Mongolia. In 2006-2007, the work was performed with support of RGNF grant.


As a result of this expedition, which took place thanks to financing by an international grant of RGNF and Ministry of Education, Culture and Science of Mongolia (leader of the Russian side of the project is U. A. Dongak, from Mongolian - G. Zolbayar), a manuscript of a collective monograph was prepared in 2006-2010, as well as a manuscript of a collection of texts of folklore and literary works of Tsengel Tuvans will be supplemented by comparative scientific material collected from oral communications in Tuvan villages Khom, Khanas, Ak-Khava of  Xinjiang - Uighur autonomous region of China and in Kobdo sumon of Buyant-Kobdo aimak of Mongolia.


The expedition took 22 days. The visa regime was the first obstacle for us. There was only a short period of time available to work in China - 7 days. However, thanks to the support of professor Tsengel, director of Peking Institute of History of the Center of Eurasian Research of Academy of Social Sciences of China, doctor Batbayar from State pedagogic University of Urumchi, and a young research worker Buyanbat as a translator from Chinese, we had the opportunity in this short time period to immerse ourselves in Tuvan culture on the wide grandiose background of Chinese civilization.


It was a long trip: Mongolia and China. It was Ulangom - Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) - Peking - Urumchi - Burchin - Khom - Khanas - Ak-Khava - Taikeshken (China) - Bulgun - Kobdo - Buyant - Kobdo-Ulangom (Mongolia). About 15 000 kilometers by almost all kinds of contemporary transportation (car, airplane, railroad). The expedition to China demanded great financial outlay, of course, for transportation and check-point fees on the way to Tuvan villages, where fees have to be paid to visit the area.


We read on a small sign on one of the barriers: "We were told that Khanas was God's garden, but the great mystery of Khanas is that: god left the land, Khom, (and left) for them (I.e. for us) in his garden. Untouched snowy mountain peaks, frozen lakes, alpine meadows and primitive Tuvan villages make up the magic picture of natural ecology". (This is an approximate translation English - Chinese - Russian -  back to English-HJ).


Three Tuvan villages which we managed to visit, are now located within a zone of tourist excursions and active vacationing. Tuvan way of life and culture, serpentines of roads in the high mountains, taiga trails on horseback, emerald waters of Khom river and Khanas lake, pure air - all this attracts thousands of tourists. We were witness to endless stream of buses and automobiles full of tourists heading to these places.


On the way, in Peking, Urumchi and Burchin, and on the way back all the way to the Mongolian border we needed a translator from Chinese, and our Chinese colleagues, Buyanbat and the teacher from Tumen-Olziy school helped us with this. In the villages, working with Tuvans, of course, a translator was no longer necessary, we understand each other very well.  Knowledge of Mongolian and Kazakh of our colleague B. Bayarsaikhan helped in some cases, and of course, our previous work of several years in the Tsengel sumon in Mongolia.

Tuvan culture in China opened for us with ancient songs in contemporary rendition with musical accompaniment by young Tuvan woman Guvee (Chinese name Migoa or Meikhua). We heard the songs already in the car on the way from Burchin to the Tuvan villages. We had a trip of more than 160 km before us: the fall taiga landscape from the car windows, scenic stops for tourists with souvenirs made of  fox, wolf, bear, irbis and other furs, as well as melodies of ancient nomads. It included "Eevi-khem" (Eevi river), which we already knew from Tsengel Tuvans of Mongolia - a song about the land of the ancestors, which obtained stronger definition here, as well as the praise song "Altai chaagai" (Praise song to the Altai), which is well known in Western Mongolia. The long melodies of these songs are bewitching, they are saturated with the majesty of Altai mountains; the heritage of not a few generations of people who live here consists of a feeling of pride, relatedness and belonging to the land and culture of ancestors.


Xinjiang, as is well known, is a place inhabited by several dozen of nationalities. The streets are full of completely harmonious natural sound of Chinese, Mongolian, and several Turkic dialects. Different faces are seen in the crowds on the street. This is the variegated cultural environment where the Tuvans live. After finishing high school, some continue study, but the majority stays in their native villages, continuing the traditional herding, but in contemporary life, they learn about tourist trade services.


The name of Khom village (in the words of an informant, 145 orege) comes from the name of Khom river which flows here. According to one interpretation of local Tuvans: "Khom comes from Tuvan "khomdu", "khomalgan" - an elongated box with raised edges. Our first stop here was in the family of a local temple clergyman Mongebayar-bashky from Oorzhak lineage. His wife Sergilin had already set up the table with various Tuvan dishes. There were dishes already well known to us: dairy kurut, aarzhy, eezhegei; dough boorzak, boova, and real izig khan expected us in the evening. The names of the dishes, as well as other words, were different from ours in some cases. But after all, we were in Tuvan environment: Tuvan language, Tuvan faces and names (Arshan, Torlaa) - and Chinese realities. Chinese and Kazakh words slipped into the speech, the streets of the village there was a stream of cars and buses with tourists, local guys on horseback guided young Chinese along the trails, who came here, apparently, to relax.


After a thousand and a hundred kilometers, the famous nomad hospitality warmed us with hot tea with milk and melted butter, pleasant talk and readiness to fulfill any wish of the guests.  We asked them to invite the elders, those who know the old stories and ancient customs. And so, beginning with Mongebayar-bashky and Sergilin, and then in the Ak-Khava village in the home of young teachers Erkhembayar and Sengili, where we were offered to stay the night  in the most honored place in warmth and comfort, thanks to all those whom we met in those clear autumn days, we recorded dozens of folklore, ethnographic and historical data, and photographed their domestic life.


But in the early morning we saw Sergilin already at the stove in the yard; after some time, seeing us off, Sergilin performed a praise-blessing song for each guest, rare in our cultural life. This ancient  traditional genre was performed fro members of the expedition to Tsengel several years ago by  an elder, Servei.  Recently he left this earth, "oskeorancheattanypkan" - he rode off to another world, but what he sang remained in our recordings and our memories as a fact of our common Tuvan cultural heritage.


In China and Mongolia, on this expedition we got to record depositions by people  90, 93, 85, 72 years old and younger. In the Kobdo aimak of Mongolia, descendants of those who earlier lived on the territory of  today's Xinjiang and had to move away in 1940's shared their knowledge of historical past of the Tuvans with us. This expedition allowed us to meet with people of various ages, with various life experiences, and living in various countries, but with the same roots. We believe that despite the short period of time we spent with them, we got to document the material and spiritual realities of life of Tuvans in China and Mongolian their own understanding and significance.


The task of the expedition, to learn about the language, way of life and spiritual culture of Tuvans living in Xinjiang region of China was fulfilled. The recordings we made of samples of Tuvan speech, song repertoire, historical legends and other genres of oral folk art will later serve as basis for folklore, linguistic, ethnographic and other research. Work-up of the field notes, and preparation for scientific reporting and publications is still ahead of us.

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