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ALTERNATE NAMES: Tuvinians, Tyva; Uriangkhais; Urianghais; Tannu-Uriankhaitsy; Soyots
LOCATION: Russia (southern Siberia), China (northern Xinjiang province), northwestern Mongolia
POPULATION: 243,442 (2002, in Russia), 70,000 in Mongolia, 2,400 in China
LANGUAGES: Tuvan; Russian, Mongol
RELIGIONS: Native religious practices; Tibetan Buddhism


The Tuvans are a native people of southern Siberia mainly found in the Tuvan Republic (also known as Tuva) of the Russian Federation. Substantial Tuvan communities are also found in western Mongolia and in the Altai Mountain region of western China. The Tuvans' name for themselves is Tyva. They have also been referred to in ethnographic writings as the Uriangkhais, Urianghais, Tannu-Uriankhaitsy, and Soyots. Archeological, linguistic, anthropological, and historical evidence indicates that the ancestors of the modern Tuvans were formed during the first millennium ad from a mixture of Turkic-, Mongol-, Ket-, and Samoyedic-speaking tribes. Most Tuvans have traditionally been nomads who raise cattle, horses, sheep, yaks, and goats, although some Tuvans in the mountainous forests of northern and eastern Tuva have customarily bred reindeer instead. Tuva was conquered by the Mongol armies of Chinggis Khan around ad 1207 and was subsequently administered by a series of Mongol rulers. In the 1750s, Tuva's Mongol rulers were defeated by the Manchu Qing dynasty that had conquered China during the previous century, and the area passed under Manchu rule until the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911. The Russian Empire declared Tuva its protectorate in 1914 and allowed Russian settlers to move into Tuva, much to the dismay of the Tuvans, who occasionally attacked them. In 1921, Russia's new communist government proclaimed that the protectorate declared earlier by the Russian monarchy was illegal and that, henceforth, Tuva was to be independent. In reality, the "Tannu-Tuva People's Republic" that existed from 1921 to 1944 was a Soviet puppet state. During the 1930s, its government engaged in policies identical to those of the Soviet government—for example, religious persecution and the imprisonment and execution of suspected political opponents. At this time, steps were also taken toward the collectivization of animal husbandry. In 1944, the Soviet Union annexed Tuva; soon thereafter, thousands of Russian settlers arrived to work the land and construct factories and coal and gold mines. The Tuvans were forced into herding collectives similar to agricultural collective farms. Many Tuvans slaughtered their animals in protest and engaged in anti-Soviet uprisings.


The total Tuvan population is about 310,000, slightly more than 200,000 of whom dwell in the Russian Federation's Tuvan Republic. The geographical center of the Asian continent has been calculated to lie just outside the Tuvan capital Kyzyl, and this spot is marked by an obelisk. The Tuvan Republic borders on the Gorno-Altai Autonomous Region (Russian, avtonomnaia oblast) to the west, the Khakass Autonomous Region to the northwest, Krasnoyarsk Territory (Russian krai) to the north, Irkutsk Region (Russian oblast) to the northeast, the Buriat Republic to the northeast, and Mongolia to the south and southeast. About 9,000 Tuvans live scattered throughout the rest of the former Soviet Union's territory. An additional 70,000 Tuvans dwell in the northwest of the Mongolian Republic, and 2,400 more are to be found in the People's Republic of China's Xinjiang Province. The Tuvans are divided into two distinct ethnographic groups. The first are the western Tuvans, or Tuvans proper, numbering about 305,000. The second is a much smaller group, the Tuja Tuvans (Tuvintsy-todzhintsy in Russia), who live in Tuva numbering 4,442 in 2002. In 2002 approximately 55% of Tuvans were rural dwellers, and 45% were urban.

Because more than 80% of the Republic of Tuva is covered by mountains (even the lowest points are 500 meters [1640.4 feet] above sea level), the most typical landforms are naturally alpine ones—mountain meadows and taiga forest—although valleys contain some steppe and semi-desert areas as well as a limited amount of arable farmland. The climate is dry and sharply continental: winters are long and very cold, with January temperatures sometimes dropping as low as –61°c (–78°f). Summers are short and hot, with June temperatures reaching 43°c (109°f). Tuva is rich in wildlife, particularly bear, fox, mountain goat, snow leopard, wild reindeer, wolf, squirrel and antelope. Vegetation varies widely. Grasses and wormwood trees are common in the mountain meadows and steppe valleys inhabited by cattle-breeders. Larch, cedar, fir, and birch forests appear in the northern and eastern areas occupied by hunters and reindeer herders. Sparse grasses and shrubs are found in the semi-desert areas south of the Tannu-Ola mountain range.


The Tuvan language belongs to the Turkic family; its closest living relative is the language of the Tofalars (also called the "Karagas" or "Toba") who live to the north of Tuva. The four dialects of Tuvan are classified according to the parts of Tuva in which they are spoken: Central, Western, Northeastern, and Southeastern. The modern Tuvan literary language is based on the Central dialect. The Tuvan dialects differ from each other mainly in vocabulary and pronunciation, and the differences between them are not significant enough to prevent speakers of different dialects from understanding each other. Until the 20th century, the few Tuvans who could read and write did so in Classical Mongolian, a literary language that uses a flowing vertical script in which words are written from top to bottom in columns of text read from left to right. The use of Classical Mongolian, along with centuries of continual contacts between Tuvans and Mongols, has had a significant influence upon the development of the Tuvan language, especially its vocabulary. Many Tuvan words are identical to Mongolian words with the same meaning: for example, mal means "cattle" or "livestock," and nom means "book" in both Tuvan and Mongolian. Chettirdim means "thank you."

The Tuvan language did not have a written form until the late 1920s, when Soviet linguists created a Tuvan writing system based on the Latin alphabet. This alphabet was replaced by the Cyrillic (Russian) alphabet in 1941. Although the form of the Cyrillic alphabet used to write Tuvan includes several extra letters for Tuvan sounds that do not exist in Russian, many
Tuvan scholars feel that the present writing system is still inadequate for representing the sounds of spoken Tuvan and is in need of reform. Because Tuva was not formally annexed by the Soviet Union until 1944 and the Tuvans make up a larger percentage (70%) of their officially recognized homeland's population than any other native Siberian people, and they tend to live in compact groups separate from the local Russians, they have a higher degree of native-language retention than any other indigenous Siberian group. A full 99% of Tuvans speak Tuvan as their mother tongue, and only 1% speak Russian as their first language. Young and middle-aged Tuvans are also proficient in Russian, which is taught in all Tuvan schools.

Many Tuvan personal names are based on common Tuvan words that have a pleasant meaning. Chechek (female) means "flower," Maadyr (male) means "hero," and Belek (both sexes) means "gift." Suffixes are often added to such words to specify male or female names: the male ending -ool and the female ending -kys are added to words such as chechen ("eloquent"), mergen ("wise"), and aldyn ("golden") to produce the male names Chechen-ool, Mergen-ool and Aldyn-ool and the female names Chechen-kys, Mergen-kys, and Aldyn-kys. Because most Tuvans practice the Tibetan form of Buddhism, many Tibetan names have been adopted, including Seren-Chimit (male) and Dolgarzhaa (female).

A child might even be called by the Tibetan word for the day of the week on which he or she was born: Baazang ("Friday"), Davaa ("Monday"), and so on. Russian names such as Nikolai (male) and Maria (female) have also become common in the last few decades. Family names are based on the surname of a male ancestor; for that reason, many surnames end in the suffix - ool.


Although the Tuvan language was unwritten until this century (except for the scholarly transcriptions of linguists and ethnographers), the Tuvans have long possessed a rich heritage of oral literature. Tuvan folklore contains a variety of genres—fairy-tales, stories about animals, riddles, songs, folk sayings, and long epic tales about the battles and exploits of heroic warriors that are very similar to the epics of the Mongols. There are also myths about the origins of the constellations. For example, Chedi khan (The Seven Khans), a myth of the reindeer-breeding Tuvans, tells how the constellation Ursa Major was formed. According to the myth, Ursa Major's seven stars are actually seven khans. They were journeying separately through the Upper World where the spirits dwell when they happened to meet. The seven khans decided to have a meal together, but none of them knew how to cook. To this day, they are standing there deciding how to prepare the meal. Tuvan folklore was formerly passed down orally from generation to generation and recited by toolchus (bards). Scholars at the Tuvan Scientific Research Institute of Language, Literature and History (Tyvanyn Dyl, Literatura, Bolgash Töögünün Ertem Shinchilel Institudu) in Kyzyl have worked together with the toolchus to collect and publish Tuvan folklore to ensure that it will be available to future generations of Tuvans.


The ancient religion of the Tuvans is shamanism. According to Tuvan shamanism, mountains, forests, rivers, animals, and the sky all possess their own spirits that must be honored in order for man to survive and flourish. Most Tuvan shamanists believe that the universe is divided into three worlds: the Upper, or Heavenly World (Üsütüü-oran), where the spirits of nature and various other deities dwell; the Lower, or Earthly World (Ortaa-oran), which is inhabited by humans; and the Subterranean, or Dark World (Aldyy-oran), which is inhabited by the spirits of the dead. (Some Tuvans believe that there are only two worlds—the Upper and Lower—and that the dwelling place of the dead is located at the edge of the Lower World.) The shaman, a tribal priest similar to the Native American "medicine man," is a man or woman who is adept at traveling between the worlds and communicating with spirits through rituals that involve dancing, chanting, and beating on a large, flat round drum called a dünggür. The shaman's prayers are believed to heal the sick and improve the luck of those who have lost cattle to disease or experienced other misfortunes. The shaman also foretells the future and presides at sacrifices (ydyk-kylyr) during which young bulls are killed in honor of holy mountains. The profession of shamanism is usually hereditary. Most shamans are therefore the sons and daughters of shamans, although men and women without shamans as ancestors may also become shamans if they feel that they have been chosen by the spirits.

The Tuvans' belief that animals have spirits that must be respected has led to the development of many taboos concerning hunting. For example, Tuvan hunters may not refer to certain animals directly by their usual Tuvan names, but must instead allude to them by a host of elaborate euphemisms. (This custom is shared by some other Siberian peoples—for example, the Buriats.) Thus, a bear is not spoken of using the ordinary Tuvan word for "bear" (adyg) during the hunt, but is instead referred to as khaiyrakan ("the sovereign"), kara chüve ("the black thing"), choorganyg ("the one who has a blanket [i.e., fur]"), irei ("grandfather"), or daai ("uncle"). The Tuvans consider trees with oddly twisted trunks or other unusual features to contain spirits; they call such trees "shaman-trees" (khamyiash), and when passing by them, they leave bits of food, brightly colored ribbons, drops of milk, tea, or vodka, and strands of horsehair as offerings.

The Tibetan variety of Buddhism was brought to Tuva by Mongolian lamas (Buddhist monks or priests) during the 18th century and soon claimed many converts. Instead of abandoning shamanism, however, the Tuvans continued to practice it along with the new religion. Besides filling religious needs, the Buddhist monasteries (khürees) of Tuva served important cultural functions as well. They provided literacy in Mongolian and Tibetan and contained libraries of religious and secular works in these languages. During the 1930s, the Tuvan government, in imitation of its Soviet model, destroyed the monasteries and imprisoned or killed many Tuvan lamas and shamans. Tuvan religious practices emerged from underground in the 1980s when the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev put an end to the Soviet government's war on religion. Since then, several young Tuvans have gone to Mongolia's Buddhist monasteries for religious training, and Tuvan Buddhists have made plans to rebuild some of the destroyed monasteries.


The most popular Tuvan holiday is Shagaa, the New Year's Festival. Because the Tuvans formerly used the lunar calendar, Shagaa falls on a different day each year in the Gregorian calendar. Tuvans also celebrate the Western New Year's Eve and New Year's Day on 31 December and 1 January. In Tuvan, the new year is welcomed by saying " Chaa Chyl-bile " ("happy new year"). Shagaa is celebrated by feasting, wrestling matches, archery contests, and horse racing. While under Soviet rule, Tu-vans celebrated Soviet holidays such as May Day (1 May), the anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany (9 May), International Women's Day (8 March), and the anniversary of the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917 (7 November). Most Tu-vans undoubtedly stopped observing these Soviet holidays after the collapse of the communist regime.


In traditional society, childbirth took place at home and was assisted by a midwife. As soon as the infant emerged from the womb, the midwife washed it with strong tea in order to strengthen it. The afterbirth was wrapped up in the sheepskin upon which the mother had given birth and buried. The umbilical cord was tied with string; when it fell off, it too was buried. The practice of burying the afterbirth seems to have passed from observance, although the umbilical cord is still buried.

A Tuvan child is given his or her first haircut at three years of age. This is an occasion for celebration by the child's family and relatives, because he or she has now survived infancy. The parents take the boy or girl to the homes of relatives, who each cut off a small lock of hair and present the child with gifts. Before the Soviet ban on arranged marriages, girls underwent an additional rite of passage involving hair. Young girls' hair was kept short like that of small boys until they reached eight or nine years of age, at which time the hair was allowed to grow out. When a girl's hair had grown long enough for it to be woven into a braid, she was considered old enough for her parents to choose a husband for her.

The oldest son held a privileged position in traditional Tuvan society. According to the Buddhist patriarchal social organization of the Tuvans, the oldest son was always given to the temple to become a lama (Buddhist monk). Also, the flocks (animal breeding was the basis of the economy) were not divided among surviving children, but always inherited entirely by the oldest son. Needless to say, this privileged group never worked, and this situation limited the society's economic opportunities because a large number of potential workers remained idle. It was also hard on younger sons, who often resented their subordinate role in society. With Soviet support, these younger sons formed the core of a revolutionary organization that overthrew the power of the lamas in 1926.

In traditional Tuvan society, the dead were either buried in the ground or placed in a wooden casket that was then raised on poles or placed in a tree. Food and drink or items of everyday use were placed in the casket along with the corpse. Sha-mans were laid to rest with their drums. Sometimes, corpses were wrapped in cloth and laid on the ground to be devoured by vultures. This practice is similar to a traditional Tibetan method of disposing of the dead and was especially widespread among Buddhist Tuvans, although some Buddhist clergymen chose to be cremated instead. Tuvans now bury their dead in the ground in caskets or cremate them.


Over the centuries, the Tuvans have adopted the Tibetan and Mongolian practice of presenting respected guests with a khadag— a band of silk that is about one yard long and a little under a foot wide. When presenting the khadag to a guest, a Tuvan host lays the khadag across his or her outstretched arms, which are bent at the elbow. The guest also places his arms in this position, and the host transfers the khadag from his or arms to those of the guest.


The most common traditional dwelling of the Tuvans is the ög, or yurt, which is covered with felt cloth stretched over a wooden frame. The frames of Tuvan ögs have customarily been imported from Mongolia. An iron stove in the center of the ög is used to cook food and provide warmth. A flap in the center of the roof is opened to allow light to enter, and an iron stove-pipe removes smoke. The ög is well-suited for a nomadic way of life, because it can be quickly taken apart and reassembled when a family drives its herds from pasture to pasture. Tuvans of the mountainous northern Todzh region, who herd reindeer and hunt instead of raising livestock, have traditionally lived in chadyrs, conical tents similar to the teepees of some Native American peoples of the Great Plains. The wooden frame of the chadyr is covered with reindeer skins in the winter and birch-bark in the summer. In traditional Tuvan society, the homes of two or three related families that shared herding and hunting grounds were grouped into a small settlement called an aal. After Tuvas' annexation by the Soviet Union, aals were abolished and their members moved to large collective farms. Since the 1950s, traditional Tuvan dwellings have largely been replacedby the one-story wooden houses common on Soviet collective farms. Tuvans in Kyzyl and other cities live in prefabricated concrete apartment buildings that are indistinguishable from those in urban areas of the former Soviet Union.

Tuvans have ridden horses and used them as pack animals for as long as there has been recorded information about them. Because of Russian influence, Tuvans have begun to use horses to pull carts and sleighs as well in recent decades. Reindeer-breeding Tuvans ride domesticated reindeers and use them to carry loads. Yaks and oxen are also occasionally ridden in the southern areas of Tuva where they are bred, although they are used for transport far less frequently than horses. Automobiles, bicycles, taxis, and buses are common in cities and towns, but Tuva's rugged mountainous terrain has severely limited road construction between cities. For the same reason, there are no railways in Tuva. There are still many rural areas that can be reached only by airplane, horse, or reindeer.

Herbal medicine and the incantations of shamans were the chief forms of medical treatment in traditional Tuvan society. Lamas trained in Tibetan medical practices at Buddhist monasteries also served as doctors before the anti-religious campaign of the 1930s. Western medicine first became available to Tuvans in the first decade of the 20th century when Russian doctors moved into Tuva to serve Russian farmers who had settled in the region. It has become much more common since Tuva's incorporation into the Soviet Union (a large modern hospital was constructed in Kyzyl during the first years of direct Soviet rule). The Soviet government provided medical care either free or at low cost, but it was not always available in remote areas, and most rural clinics provided only the most basic care. To these existing problems must be added the dire economic conditions in which post-Soviet medical facilities now find themselves.


For many centuries, related Tuvan families were grouped into clans (sööks) that shared hunting lands and helped each other in time of need. Members of a söök were forbidden to marry each other. Although the clan system's rules (such as the prohibition on marriage among members) have passed from observance during this century (and in some places even earlier), many Tuvans are still aware of their clan affiliation and feel a vague sort of kinship with other members of the same clan. The Tuvan language has also preserved elements of the clan system. The word aky means both one's own elder brother and the younger brother of one's father (uncle), and the word ugba refers to both one's own elder sister and the younger sister of one's father (aunt).

The small nuclear family consisting of a man and woman and their unmarried children has been typical among modern Tuvans throughout the 20th century. Wealthy Tuvans formerly had two or more wives, but polygamy was relatively rare and there have apparently been no cases of it since the 1920s. In traditional Tuvan society, marriages were arranged, with the average age of marriage 15 or 16 for girls and between 18 and 20 for boys (although marriages sometimes took place with one partner as young as 13). The legal age for marriage in Tuva is now 18, and marriages are no longer arranged.


Tuvan traditional clothing is very similar to that worn by Khalkhas, Buriats, and other Mongolian-speaking peoples. The typical garment for men and women is the ton, an ankle-length robe fastened on the right side with buttons or hooks. Light cloth shirts and trousers are worn under the ton. Summer tons are made of calico, silk, velvet, thin felt, or deerskin. Th ose worn in winter are made either from sheepskin or from felt lined with the thick skins of reindeer slaughtered in the winter. Both sexes wear fur and cloth hats of various cuts and boots. Stiff boots with thick, multilayered soles, felt linings, and toes that curl upward are called kadyg idiks. High, soft boots made of thin leather, reindeer, or goatskin are called chymchak idiks. There is little difference between the traditional clothing of men, women, and children, although men usually wear a belt over their tons to hold pouches for tobacco, fire-lighting flints, and various small tools used in herding and hunting work. Underclothing for both sexes was formerly limited to under-shirts and underpants made of cloth in the summer and leather in the winter, but these have been replaced by cloth shorts and undershirts for men and cloth bras and panties for women since the mid-20th century. Mass-produced items of Western outer clothing—cloth dresses, shirts, trousers and suits, and leather shoes—have also become common, especially in urban areas. Traditional clothing is still widely used in daily life in the countryside, however, and it is worn on holidays and other festive occasions by both rural and urban Tuvans.


Many traditional dishes of the cattle-breeding Tuvans are made from milk and are identical to those of the Mongols. Curds (aarzhy) are dried during the summer and eaten year-round. Sour milk (khoitpak) is either drunk, whipped into a sweet, creamy substance called eezhegei, or pressed into a sour, hard cheese (kurut). Mare's milk is fermented to make a drink called khymys (called kumys by other Turkic-speaking peoples) and distilled into arak, a vodka-like alcoholic beverage.

There are a number of taboos regarding the handling of milk. For instance, it is forbidden to spill milk on the ground. If one does inadvertently spill it, one must cover it with a sprinkling of soil. One may not take milk outside after dark. It is generally considered amiss to take milk away from one's household; if someone cannot avoid giving another person milk to take away, he must pour the first few drops into one of his own containers before giving away the remainder.

In addition to beef, the cattle-breeding Tuvans consume mutton, camel, yak, and goat meat. Boiling is the usual method of preparation. The traditional fare of reindeer-breeding Tuvans centers on reindeer meat and milk. Reindeer milk is drunk fresh and added to tea; it is also dried and stored in leather bags for later use, or else made into cheese. In the fall, reindeer meat and milk are frozen in the open air to be thawed and boiled during the long, bitter winters. Hunting is a common occupation for both cattle- and reindeer-breeding Tuvans, so the meat of wild reindeer, bear, and squirrel often graces Tuvan tables. Millet, barley, oats, and wheat are grown in the fertile river valleys. Common traditional dishes from these ingredients include millet soup, noodles, and pancakes. Russian influence has made fruit, vegetables, pork, bread, and various canned goods an integral part of the Tuvan diet in the last 50 years.


Before the 20th century, the Tuvans' only educational institutions were Buddhist monasteries. The languages of the religious rituals students were made to memorize and the texts they used were Mongolian and Tibetan. Because these languages (especially Tibetan) are very different from Tuvan, some students memorized their lessons without understanding their content. During the 1920s, a few secular schools were founded by the Tuvan government. Buddhist monks, who were practically the only literate Tuvans, were employed as teachers, and textbooks and homework were written in Classical Mongolian. In the 1930s, the creation of a Tuvan written language and the return of young Tuvans who had studied to become teachers in the Soviet Union significantly aided the growth of education. Still, only half of Tuvan school-age children attended school until Tuva's annexation by the USSR in 1944, when funds from the Soviet government allowed the development of a modern educational system. All Tuvans now attend primary and secondary schools, and many go on to study at technical institutes, teachers' colleges, and universities in both Tuva and the rest of the Russian Federation.


The aspect of the Tuvan cultural heritage best known outside Tuva is its music. Tuvan singers are famous for a special type of singing called khöömei, known in English as "overtone," "throat," or "harmonic" singing. A khöömei singer produces two tones at once: a low, droning tone that produces the melody and a higher "overtone" that has been compared to the sound of a flute. The "overtone" is produced by vibrations in the throat and mouth caused by the lower tone. Khöömei is a very difficult art that requires years of training to coordinate the muscles of the vocal cords, throat, soft palate, tongue, and lips. There are several styles of khöömei singing: sygyt has a whistling overtone, whereas kargyraa has a very deep lower tone and hoarse overtone and is similar to the harmonic chanting of Tibetan Buddhist monks. The ezengileer and borbannadir styles use overtones that have a pulsing rhythm similar to a galloping horse. Khöömei singers such as Kaigal-ool Khovalyg have performed in many countries, including the United States.


Tuvans have long been skilled metalworkers. The profession of blacksmith is a highly respected one, and in traditional society only the sons of blacksmiths could enter it. Tuvan blacksmiths produce items of everyday use, such as knives, ploughshares, arrowheads, locks, trivets, axes, nails, and even rifles from scrap iron. Another type of metalwork widespread among the Tuvans is casting. Copper, bronze, lead, and a silver-tin alloy called khola are poured into stone or clay molds to make bridles, stirrups, chains, chess pieces, and decorative plaques that were fastened to saddles. Mass-produced metal goods have become more common since the 1950s, but items custom-made by Tuvan metalworkers are still highly sought for their attractiveness and durability.


The Tuvans' favorite sports are horse racing, archery, and wrestling. Tuvan wrestling (khüresh) is very similar to Mon-gol wrestling. The rules are the same, and Tuvan and Mongol wrestlers even wear the same type of uniform. The uniform of a Tuvan wrestler (mögö) consists of heavy, knee-high leather boots; a leather or silk "shirt" that covers only the shoulders, upper back, and arms; and leather or silk shorts similar in cut to men's briefs. During a traditional Tuvan wrestling match, the two competitors square off and grab each other by the shoulders. They grapple with each other in a standing position until one of them is forced to touch the ground (usually with his knee or elbow). The wrestler who forces the other to the ground is declared the winner.


Tuvans have enjoyed chess for centuries. Some scholars believe that chess was brought to Tuva by Chinese settlers after the Manchu conquest of Tuva. The chess pieces used by Tuvans have more or less the same functions as those in other cultures, but they have been modified to depict camels, kings and princes in traditional dress, and other themes from traditional Tuvan daily life. Daaly, a game similar to dominoes, is another favorite pastime.


Stone carving has long been practiced by Tuvan craftsmen. Pyrophyllite, a substance similar to soapstone, is carved into chess pieces and small sculptures. Common themes are wild and domesticated animals, Tuvans in traditional dress, and everyday activities such as hunting. Wild animals are often depicted in complicated poses that show them hunting or fighting each other.


Some of the most pressing issues facing modern Tuvans are ecological ones. The ecology of Tuva, like that of the other native Siberian peoples' homelands, has been damaged by Soviet economic projects that did not take into account their effects on the environment. Hydroelectric dams have flooded river valleys traditionally used for agriculture. The replacement of the small aals by collective farms has concentrated livestock into excessively large herds that overtax Tuva's grass and water resources. Gold, uranium, and coal mines have scarred the landscape and polluted Tuva's once-pristine air and water, and the absence of environmental safeguards at the open-pit asbestos mines dug since the 1970s has led to fears that cancer rates will soon rise sharply.

Ethnic conflicts between Tuvans and Russians have increased sharply since the relaxation of censorship in the 1980s. All Tuvans are now keenly aware that their annexation by the Soviet Union took place without their consent, and they blame the Russian-led Soviet government, the native political leaders whom they view as traitors, and the uninvited Russian settlers for the present damage to their homeland's environment and economy and the destruction of Tuvan religious and secular traditions. There have been interethnic fights and even murders. In 1990, three Russian fishermen were murdered at an isolated mountain lake, and many local residents suspect that Tuvans killed them for fishing at a place sacred to Tuvan shamanists. The result has been the flight of thousands of Russian colonists: between 1989 and 1992, the proportion of Russians and other non-Tuvans in Tuva's population dropped from 36% to 30%. Some Tuvan nationalists have advocated the forma-tion of an independent Tuvan state. Although it is very unlikely that the government of the Russian Federation will allow Tuva to secede, Tuvan political leaders have managed to gain greater autonomy in economic matters and have succeeded in increasing the use of the Tuvan language in education and government.


Tuvan women and men now have equal legal rights, but this has not always been the case. A woman's role in the family was in some ways subordinate to that of men in traditional society. A woman was forbidden to speak the names of her father-in-law or mother-in-law and could not appear before them with her head or feet uncovered. She could not inherit property from her husband, as this was a privilege reserved for male family members. Still, a woman possessed that property (including the family dwelling) which she had brought to the marriage and to which neither her husband nor her in-laws had any right. Although men and women performed different economic tasks—men usually herded and hunted, while women milked the cattle or reindeer, cooked the family's meals, and cleaned house—a woman's work was highly valued, and her husband often sought her advice on matters affecting the running of the household. Tuvan gender roles changed considerably after Tuva's annexation into the Soviet Union, with the integration of the Tuvans into the Soviet economy and Soviet society, and with the increased educational opportunities from which many women were able to benefit.


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— — —. "Tuvintsy" [The Tuvans] in Narody Rossii: Entsiklopediia [The Peoples of Russia: An Encyclopedia]. In Russian. Ed. V. A. Tishkov. Moscow: Bol'shaia Rossiiskaia Entsiklopediia, 1994.

— — —. Tuvintsy-todzhintsy: istoriko-etnograficheskie ocherki [The Tuvans of the Todzh Area: An Historical-Ethnographic Outline]. Moscow: Izdatel'stvo vostochnoi literatury, 1961.

Van Deusen, Kira. Singing Story, Healing Drum: Shamans and Storytellers of Turkic Siberia. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2004.

— — —. Woman of Steel: A Tuvan Epic. Vancouver, Canada: Udagan Books, 2000.

—revised by A. Frank