Preservation and revival of national habits and customs is one of the most important questions for any nation, any state. Tuva republic is not an exception.
Tuvans are one of few nations who managed to preserve their ancient traditions and custom till nowadays in spite of different external factors.
Tuvan national traditions are one of Tuvan nation cultural heritage constituents. They include celebrations, rites, customs and games.
Let us together try to dive into Tuvan atmosphere – take an interest in which customs and traditions prevail among Tuvans and to what extent they are maintained today.
The traditions you cannot imagine Tuva without are throat singing “khoomei” spread over the world as Tuvan brand, national fight “Khuresh” and stone (agalmatolite) carving.
Traditional Tuvan beliefs include ancestral, family hearth.
Fire cult is from time eternal universal, widespread in life.
It reflected in mortuary rites such as burning of a burial, in everyday life – in feeding the fire, its worshiping. Till this day there are superstitious bans concerning clarity of home. In Tuva family hearth cult is considered care and fate of women. Fire itself is impersonated in feminine image “Ot-ine”. It is likely to be a remnant of maternal-tribal system. Tuvans smoked their homes with artysh (juniper) to hoodoo evil spirits.
There was a good custom among Tuvans in ancient times – to invite a person passing by aal to the yurt. He was necessarily invited to have a rest from the way and served with the most valued drink – hot tea with milk and different other viands. People used to say: “Akhty amzadyr, ajak ernin yzytyr” – “To try white food, to take a sip from piala”. It was a form of showing good attitude to the guest, who is served dairy, “ak chem” by many Asian nations. And over a cup of hot tea they used to ask each other about life, everyday issues, health, family, and also exchange news.
Next ancient custom is worshiping and consecration of bushes and trees. In traditional view tree is a symbol of everything living. According to Tuvans, the spirits of irregularly grown together trees are protectors of lonely strangers or supporters of shamans. Notice, that larch was the most valued by Tuvans tree.Tuvans worship spirits-hosts of separate natural objects – mountains, lakes, rivers, taiga. In local spirits worshiping is clearly traced the fact that they have family and tribe origin. This old custom reflects family property on particular lands (encampments and pastures, hunting lands) which existed in the past and is here and there preserved till nowadays. Holy clan mountains were worshiped by Tuvans as elder relatives. Annual collective prayers of masculine half of the clan were devoted to them, together with deference and feeding the host-spirit. Until now separate Tuvan clans perform collective prayers to mountain and river spirits considered to be their protectors. Any particular name for this custom is not defined among Tuvans, but the same ban took place.
Community norms and customs existed among Tuvans also in hunting. Game cults of Tuvans represent a complex of rites in order to provide success in hunting. Game rites are held by the hunters in time of and after the hunting. The main part in game cults of Tuvans is general worshiping of nature, taiga and all animals host. There was a traditional belief in a spirit-host of all animals – spirit-host of taiga “Taiga Eesi”, whom the hunting luck depends on. It was believed, that spirits will endow the person with game if only he shows proper respect to them and fulfills all demands to hunting. Rule breaking and disobedience is punished by lack of game. Obtained game was necessarily shared between hunters independently from quantity and quality of the game. Then there is a custom to share the meat between one all inhabitants. If somebody from the aal stabbed his cow, every inhabitant of it, according to ancient and beautiful custom, had to get at least a piece of “izig-khan” (boiled blood sausage, small intestine). To every family they gave at least a bit of raw meat to cook one dinner. This custom is strongly connected to the next one – “khap-dupteer”. The essence of the custom is the sack in which relatives brought each other any food (presents etc.) was not given back empty. It was given back with at least a little peace of some product. To little children the guest brought presents, to old people – tobacco or other treat, it was a sign of love to children and respect to elders.
The belief that spirits have material nature, although thinner than physical world objects, is connected to the custom of their feeding. Even today Tuvans bring ribbons from “chalama” material to spirits-hosts of particular places; they bind them up to “ovaa” poles or rite trees. Usually the mountain next to encampments was chosen, because praying took place in August or beginning of September. There are also “khozhuun” prayers and those connected to “ovaa” arrangement. “Ovaa dagyr” rite is linked to particular kind of cattle dedication to “ydycky”: Tuvans preferred “ydyck-bull”.
Ancient melioration channels are called “buga suu”, and field notes analysis led to the conclusion that this name is connected to existence of spirit-host of water notion, who comes in image of ash grey bull – “kel buga”. Tuvans especially worshiped, in contrast to Khakasses, spirits-hosts of curative springs “arzhaans”, and healing was perceived as a gift from the spirit-host of the spring.
Two religions are spread in Tuva: Shamanism and Buddhism.
Shamanism was known among Tuvans from deep antiquity. Buddhism in shape of Tibetan-Mongolian Lamaism came to Tuva in XVII century. Shamans and Buddhist lamas got on very well. Many Tuvan celebrations combine features of both religious traditions. This rite, often attracting hundreds of people, implied building “ova” – shelter of branches and stones – on top of the mountain; sacrifice animal was taken thrice around it. Before the celebration ceremony Ova had to be consecrated, “cleared” from evil spirits. It was performed by either shaman, or lama, or often both of them together. Ministers of different religions went into the shelter together and each, performing his own ritual actions, approached “the host of mountains” with the same request – to gift prosperity to people arranged the celebration.
Historic and cultural heritage of Tuva has specific features. And Soviet Union collapse in its turn catalyzed the increase in national self-consciousness. Today with efforts of local intellectuals many customs and rites are revived. Clearly, Tuvans managed to preserve traditional beliefs which demand further development and maintenance.
If you decided to visit Tuva and get acquainted closely with Tuvan culture, feel like a local if only for a moment, then when you come we highly recommend you to visit one of the listed customs.