Terra incognita Tuva
A journey among nomads, musicians and shamans Mysterious stories of travellers from the inner Asia – then and now. “It would have to be a very dull patron, who would not soon begin to be tormented in Tuva by the question what this country might have been once, what peoples lived in it.” (Otto Mänchen-Helfen 1929) The relationship of the Tuvinians to their homeland shows this characteristic expression: Mother Earth Tuva, while in the rest of the world the homeland is called Father Earth. This intimate relationship with their homeland is encountered at every turn in the country and this is necessary to understand if one wants to understand Tuva. The Tuvinian experiences nature as an intelligent and wise environment with an independent will. This book tells about shamans, musicians, writers, wrestlers and horses as well as nomadism and follows the history of the Tyulyush family over four generations.
Past & Present is a book series. After Lisbon and the historical book about New York, the book about Tuva, the mysterious republic on the border to Mongolia, is the third book of photographs with an unusual perspective.
These books are always connected with music from the respective regions. In the present volume, the connection to music is even greater, as the family history of one of the musicians of the Huun Huur Tu ensemble is also told here and then their music is heard.
We know little about the Russian Republic, located in the very south of the country on the border with Mongolia.
In 1927 Otto Mänchen-Helfen was one of the first Western Europeans to travel to Tuva and wrote a book: “Journey to Asian Tuva”. At that time it was more than difficult to travel there: “I went to a thousand places and offices, received certificates, stamps, signatures, confirmations, filled in the hundred sections of the questionnaires such as In 2019, as an author, I travelled without any problems via Moscow and Abakan in his footsteps to Tuva to deepen my knowledge, which comes from 22 years of collaboration with the music ensemble Huun Huur Tu.
The Western-centered view, shaped by the war events of the Second World War, is described in a report from the German magazine Spiegel (1948). It speaks of dirty, uncivilised people from Inner Asia. A country that was only briefly an independent state until it disappeared again from the international map: Tanna – Tuwa. Her famous triangular stamps bear witness to her national pride. In the 1940s the equestrian nomads fought with the Russian army against the Nazis and today the inhabitants are happy to be a part of Russia. The area between Gobi, Sayan Mountains and Altai was home to high and independent cultures in ancient times. Little of this treasure is known and excavated. Only the gold treasure of the Scyptics was discovered not too long ago, an archaeological sensation from one of the advanced civilizations of Central Asia (from the 8th – 1st century B.C.). In our world view, there were only the wild nomads on horseback, hired by Tschingis Khan, who rode to the gates of Central Europe with a firebomb. The Tuvinians were considered their bravest warriors, but Tuva is so much more and we know so little about it.
Situated on the border with Mongolia, one of the largest rivers in Asia, the Yenissei (the fourth largest river on earth) flows through it for more than 4000 KM. Seven hours flight time and four time zones away from Moscow, the country is now developing into a place of longing for people from all over the world. The most famous ambassadors are the above-mentioned musicians from the centre of Asia, who have been travelling the world for more than 30 years and communicating the culture of their country. I follow them to their home country and with the capital Kysyl. Nowadays we meet many foreigners there. They are mainly interested in shamanism and visit the shaman clinic there. The simple, nature-related nomadic life in the steppes of Asia has shaped this people. Today, however, as a matter of course, the jeep stands in front of the yurt and the satellite dish and solar panel are installed on the roof. National sports like horseback riding and wrestling are very popular and the best of their profession are celebrated as national heroes. Wrestling matches are held in front of several 1000 spectators in the stadium. Meanwhile the best overtone singers of the country meet once a year in the capital for a competition. I followed the sounds and visited the festival.
A journey of pictures with exciting stories and retrospective views should bring the “Terra Incognita – Tuva” a little closer to our world and give insights into a culture so foreign to us.
I would especially like to thank Radik Tyuluysh for the planning preparation and my two local companions Diana & Mergen Oorzhak, without whom this book would never have been written. The music of Huun Huur Tu has accompanied and inspired me for many years, but it is only now, when I have been there, that I can really understand the closeness to nature and the focus on the traditional and essential.
January 2020, Ulrich Balß