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17 December 2011

Yakut khomus unites the nations of the world

Pravda.ru. Translated by Heda Jindrak

Yakut khomus unites the nations of the worldIn Yakuts, in an ordinary apartment building, there is a museum of world significance. It is the museum of the khomus - a national musical instrument of the Yakuts. Analogs of this instrument are known to many nations of the world - from Portugal to Papua New Guinea. But a museum of this instrument is only in Russian Yakutia. Correspondent of Pravda.ru visited the museum and talked with its leaders.


The excursion for Pravda.ru was kindly led by Elizaveta Varlamova, the head of the scientific section of the museum and khomus-player - improviser. She warned us that the voyage through the world of khomus will be long.


"Museum of the Khomus is the only museum of this kind in the world, even though the instrument is used by more than two hundred nations. It is not known exactly where it first originated, and it was not confirmed by any archeological finds. It is known that the autochthonic people of today's Yakutia had iron weapons and iron khomus. Here they began to mine iron ore and to make domestic tools and iron khomuses.

Unfortunately, archeological digs have not discovered any old khomuses, but we have instruments from the beginning of 18th century. The museum has khomuses of many nations of the world: African bambaro, French guimbarde English jaw harp. Iron was very expensive, so only rich people played iron khomuses. Simple people used wooden khomuses."


"Khomus is the only musical instrument which can transmit human speech. Argumentative women fought that way, and girls told each other their secrets this way, people in love  told their loved one about their feelings. In Europe on moonlight nights, , a young man in love would play this instrument under the window of his beloved girl. And in Central Asia, young men used to ask girls to meet them by the sound of the khomus. Kamys, komus, khomus…They called it different names, in Bashkortostan and Tatarstan it is called, for example, kubys.  Recently the president of Tatarstan visited us. He was very happy and proud that there is a Tatar kubys in the collection."


On one of the stands, the "Pravda.ru" correspondent saw a khomus with a portrait of  Chernyshevskiy, the author of the novel "What to do?"


"Beginning from 17th century, Yakutia became a "prison without bars". The Decembrists were here in Vilyuisk, the great writer Chernyshevskiy was exiled here. The craftsman made a portrait of the writer on the khomus. In Soviet era, they began to make khomuses to mark memorable dates. Fro example, this is a khomus dedicated to the "Day of Victory", and this is a khomus with the "Order of Lenin".


Yakut shamans used the khomus as a ritual instrument. It has kept its sacral significance to this day.  Khomus can unite people of all races and faiths.


"Turn your attention to the verses on this wall, they are verses of the founder of Yakut literature, scholar and philosopher Alexei Kulakovskiy, - our excursion guide told us. - One hundred years ago he wrote the poem "Khomus", which includes these lines: "One day this tiny instrument khomus will unite all two-legged creatures."  That is what he called people of all races.  "And it will speak in a hundred tongues." And really, the Yakut khomus spoke in a hundred different languages.


In Yakutia, even international actions are held dedicated to the khomus. "This summer there was the Seventh International Congress of khomus music. Khomus players from twenty different countries came to Yakutia, as well as collectors and aficionados and artisans-craftsmen. Yakut khomus took the first place twice at international contests.  Yakut khomuses are still made in the old way, by hand. A khomus made by our master Mikhail Nikolayevich was recognized as the best in the world. And a khomus made by master Kolodezhnikov took the third place in the world.  A young master Aisen Diadchkovskiy lives in the Sungari ulus. Look, what a beautiful khomus he made. You could say that it is the khomus of the Snow Princess. "


Then Elizaveta Yegorovna took us to the hall of khomuses of the nations of the world.


"Scotland. They call it trumbi there. In England - jew's harp, in Norway - muharp. This is Finland, they call it muniharpu there. In Estonia - parmuli, it means "buzzing of bumblebee" in translation. Germany and Austria - Maultrommel. Slovakia - trombola. Hungary - doromb.


These Austrian khomuses were found during excavations. Contemporary Austrians make them with machinery, they turn out souvenir quality. Our master Khristoforov was in Austria and together with Austrian master Josef Jofen they made a Sakha-Austrian khomus by hand.


French guimbarde is very much like the Yakut version. In 18th - 19th centuries, the whole Europe was twanging away on this instrument; it was spread around by peddlers. In Italy, they were (skachilinsirs), which in translation means "music in my thoughts". Supposedly Italian mafia transmitted code signals in this way. In Switzerland, it is trummli, in Portugal - birinbau, in Moldavia - drymba, in Russia - vargan. Russian vargan is mentioned in "Slovo o polku Igoreve" (Epic of Igor's army). Some scholars who study the khomus think that it is a war instrument. But there is also opposition, because the sounds of a khomus would be drowned out in the sound of war drums."


In Altai, it is komys, to the Buryats - it is khuur. "Turn your attention to the case of this Buryat khomus. It shows a Buryat shaman with a drum, here, on top, on the lid of the case there are the spirits of this shaman in the shape of running deer. Because Yakut, Buryat, Mongolian and Tuvan shamans use the khomus to heal people. Only the greatest masters used to make instruments for them. Valentina Suzukei, a scholar - musicologist from Tuva, notes in her monograph, that in the '50's, the Party made a law about the prohibition of this instrument because of its association with shamanism."


During the Soviet era, they attempted to eradicate the memory of the khomus. Master-craftsmen, khomus-makers helped to preserve it. Some of them made khomuses and gave them away to people, so that they would not forget the instrument of the ancestors.



"There were times when this instrument really was forgotten. In the '40's. the khomus was displaced by the guitar. Of course, the law that Valentina Suzukei spoke of also had an effect. Master Semyon Gogolev lived in Yakutia. And he, to keep the music from disappearing, simply made khomuses and gave them to peole. During  his life, he made two and a half thousand khomuses in his smithy.


In 1948, Luka Nikolayevich Turnin performed with a khomus in Moscow for the first time. He created an ensemble of 27 people, and made khomuses for all of them. In 1957 he performed in Moscow in Tchaikovsky hall.  That was at the celebration of the 325 anniversary of entry of Yakutia into the Russian State.


Ivan Yegorovich Alexeyev performed a great feat. In the walls of Yakut State University, in the '60's he founded an ensemble of khomus players with his friend Stepan Cheremkin. This ensemble then produced many virtuoso khomus players of the world."


In today's Yakutia, khomus and guitar have began to exchange their roles. It has become fashionable among the young to play the instrument of their distant ancestors.


"In Yakutia, it has become fashionable among the young to play this instrument. There are many family ensembles which include both the grandfathers and the grandsons. Students who study in Moscow and Sankt-Peterburg, and Novosibirsk, come in the summer and buy a khomus, and learn how to play it. Going back to school, they carry a little piece of their native country in their pocket."

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