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UDC [39+94](571.52)(093)
Kashbyk-ool, Saylyk
Expedition to the Tuvans

Abstract. The review introduces shortly the publication of the results of the expedition to the Tuvan ethnic groups in Russia, China and Mongolia, written by Marina V. Mongush and edited at the Bulletin of the National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku), where the author was engaged in 2009-2010 as a visiting professor at the museum.

Key words: the Tuvans, national minority, ethnic identity.

The article “The Expedition to the Tuvans in China, Russia, and Mongolia in 2012: The Preliminary Report” [1] is written by the Russian professor of ethnology Marina V. Mongush and printed in Bulletin of the National Museum of Ethnology, Issue 38, Numer 1, 2013 in Osaka. The report is the result of the international expedition to the national minority of Tuvans in China, Russia and Mongolia, which has been conducted in summer of 2012 by the Japanese National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku). Besides Marina V. Mongush, who is a leading researcher of the Russian Research Institute for Cultural and Natural heritage and a Professor of the Institute of Tourism and Service in Moscow and further more is also a leading researcher of the Tuvan Institute of Human Researches in Republic of Tuva, the expedition crew consisted of Japanese, Chinese and Mongolian scholars, whose expert knowledge backed up the best quality of field-work. The article upgrades results of her previous ethnological publication “One People, Three Fates” (in Russian) (2010) [2], which was and still stays the first monumental paper sui generis on the field of research of Tuvan ethnic groups, their historical background and contemporary situation.

Mongush (2013) focuses the attention on the specific feature of Tuvan ethnic, which is their status of the national minority in three countries – Russia, China and Mongolia. The claiming aims of the expedition were to highlight the question of the political and cultural assignment of Tuvans as minor ethnic group in communication with other peoples like Mongols, Kazakhs, Russians, Chinese and other ethnic groups, to illuminate the problem of the influences of surrounding peoples in on the economic way of life and culture of the Tuvans, to identify the main tendencies in the functioning of language, ethnic consciousness, ethno-demographic and ethno-cultural development of the Russian, Mongolian, and Chinese Tuvans, to disclose the nature of their interaction with the center in each country and to reflect specifics of the adaption of Tuvans to conditions of Russian, Mongolian and Chinese statehood (Mongush 2013, 37).

The article introduces three groups of Tuvans – Tuvans in Chinese region Xingjiang, Todja reindeer breeders in Republic of Tuva and Tuvans of Tsengel sum in Mongolia, and refer briefly their population numbers, status and identity questions, economic, social and language situation. In all three countries Tuvans count as the national minority, but the majority of the Tuvan ethnic groups lives in the Russian Federation and have a recognized position and territory – the Republic of Tuva. In the territories of China and Mongolia, however, Tuvans do not have national-territorial status (Mongush 2013, 37).

When analysing of the research object – reindeer breeders in Republic of Tuva, mentionable is Mongush's understanding of Todja people as an ethnic minority group within the Tuvan ethnos in Russian Federation. According to many Russian and foreign researchers the Todja people from historical, cultural, and ethnic points of view are closer to other ethnic groups occupying the East Sayan Mountains, than to the Tuvans living in central, western and the southern steppe zones of Tuva, though in household consciousness they are perceived as a part of the Tuva ethnos (Mongush 2013, 44). That is why, Mongush could set these ethnic group equal with Tuvan minority groups in Mongolia and China, those who in the Russian researching tradition are usually named as “foreign” (not “Russian”) Tuvans (Mongush 2013, 37).

Knowing that the majority of the Tuvan population in China lives in the Habahe and Burjin Districts of Kazakh Autonomous Province, the fieldworkers went to Habahe and Burjin Districts: Hanas, Khom, Adyg-Dyt, and Ala-Khaak. In Mongolia, the scholars did their field work among Tuvans living in Tsengel sum (district) of Bayan Olgii aimag. They are considered to be one of the well-preserved groups of Tuvans in Mongolia (Mongush 2013, 50). In her previous and updating investigations Mongush (2013) abides focusing aspects such as language's survival, and identity understanding of the Tuvans. One of the most important information of the current issue has been that Mongush could compare social arrangement, keeping of cultural traditions and language skills of Tuvans in China, Mongolia and Russia in year 1990 and in year 2012.

Over the period of fieldwork time Mongush could observe several changes characteristic respectively a particular region. Distinguishing for the Chinese Tuvans is on the one hand decreasing of language skills of Tuvan by reason of increasing influence and dominance of Chinese language, or increase of inter-ethnic marriages, which according to Mongush (2013) were 20 years ago quite unusual for Tuvans in China; on the other hand the economic situation affects negatively traditional behaviour and rituals, like marginalisation of Tuvan cultural traditions and universals for the tourist purposes. In contrary Tuvans in Mongolia outnumbers the Chinese Tuvans, especially the Tuvans in Tsengel sum, whose use of native language is noticeably better, and the problem of its survival has not been a serious one for them (Mongush 2013, 21). As for reindeer breeders in Todja Mongush specifies the problem of establishment and support for the state protection of the primordial habitat of the Todjа inhabitants, and also their traditional way of life and livelihood and identifies a serious problem of the Chinese expansion, which regards the use of natural sources of Todja region in Republic Tuva.

Mongush (2013) makes following conclusions: First, having lived in a mixed ethnic environment for a long time, Tuvans have to mix with other peoples and accept their languages and culture. This leads to the natural process of their partial assimilation. However, in spite of this, they still retain such important components of ethnicity as their native language, ethnic consciousness, and some features of traditional culture, which allows them to be identified as Tuvans. Second, the process of inter-ethnic integration is characteristic of most of the Tuvan groups: this means the interaction of different ethnic groups without their amalgamating. This process is typical for Mongolia and China, where cultural and economic interaction between different peoples is the main measure for solving national problems (Mongush 2013, 56).

This paper is especially advisable for ethnologists, anthropologists and linguists, who are gathering data for their further researches, and among other things could be important for the publication of history books for educational institutions.


[1] Mongush, M. V. (2013). Expedition to the Tuvans in China, Russia, and Mongolia in 2012: A Preliminary Report. Bulletin of the National Museum of Ethnology 38(1): 35-62, Osaka.

[2] Mongush, M. V. (2010). One People, Three Fates: Tuvan of Russia, Mongolia and China in Comparative Perspektive. Senri Ethnological Reports, 91. Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology.

University of Bern, M.A. “Central Asien Studies” (Bern, Swiss),
e-mail: saylyk.kashbyk_ool@gmx.de


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