The Centre Of Asia
Tuva is a magical and mythical country. From 1917 until 1991 this South Siberian
country was inaccessible for foreigners. The Chinese, who ruled it after the Mongolian
Khans until the 19th century, called the Tuvans "the people from the far
forest". It was not until the beginning of this century that the first Westerner came
to Tuva. Douglas Carruthers travelled through this area in 1910, he called it Unknown
This autonomous republic within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), is
snuggled against the northern Mongolian border. The Tuvan capital, Kyzyl, is embellished
with the monument of the geographical centre of Asia. Nowhere on earth one can be further
away from the sea. This location entails an extreme continental climate: +35°C in the
summer and -45°C in the winter. The country is four times the size of the Netherlands (a
good 170.000 kmsē) and is situated between the Sayan mountains in the north and the Tannu
Ola mountain range in the south. This relatively small piece of Siberia contains almost
every type of landscape; suffocating taiga, vast steppes, dusty semi-desert (the beginning
of the Gobi) and snowy chains of mountains.
Tuva is the cradle of the Turkic language and its culture is strongly related to the
Mongolian. The population consists predominantly of cattle-breeding nomads. They herd
sheep, yaks (in the west), reindeer (in the north) and camels (in the south). The nomads
strike their small white felt tents (yurt or g in Tuvan) four times a year in order to
find better pasture land. The national sports are, very Turkic, horse races and wrestling
(khuresh). The two main important religions are Buddhism (Lamaism) and Shamanism.
As one of the few Soviet Republics, Tuva knew a short period of independence. During
those years, between 1921 and 1944, they even issued a series of stamps, which are
extremely rare nowadays. Until 1928 the Buddhist lama (teacher) Donduk led the country.
The communists took over when he issued an act banning all anti-religious propaganda.
The communist take-over was led by the little Tuvan Stalin called Toka. To this day his
statue graces the capital of Kyzyl. During the Toka regime a dark period began in which
shamans and lamas were extradited to the Russian authorities and disappeared in the Gulag.
Not even one of the 37 Buddhist temples still in use in the early forties, survived the
first ten years of Toka's anti-religious policy. In 1944 the Tuvan communist government
officially applied father Stalin for protection and became part of the Soviet Union.
Journalist Ben Lange travelled in 1993 and 1995 for several months through Tuva,
together with photographer Jean-Pierre Jans. For exhibitions in the Etnografisch Museum
and the Hessenhuis, both in Antwerp, Belgium, he made two accompanying video items. Both
short videos are on this cassette.
- Tuva, Centre of Asia, 7 min. 15 sec.
- Images showing the many aspects of the Republic of Tuva, accompanied by throat singing.
A wide range of landscapes pass by, together with images of reindeers, camels and the
daily life in and around the yurt, including the traditional slaughtering of a sheep.
- Winter Ceremony by Ay Churek (Moon Heart), 7 min. 30 sec.
- After the Perestroika Tuva experienced an enormous religious renaissance. One of the new
shamans is Ay Churek (Moon Heart). She travels together with her assistant from village to
village in order to offer her services as a medium.
- This winter ceremony was recorded in November 1995 in the central Tuvan village of Ak
Tal. A family invited Ay Churek to call upon the gods and invoke a safe and sound winter.
After a sheep has been slaughtered the best pieces of meat are sacrificed. Moon Heart
contacts the gods by chanting and drumming.
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