Well, here we go:

October 31, 2009

Welcome to “Boutades, Babeldom & badinage”. This where I’ll be sharing with you my insights, thoughts and discoveries on…well, just about anything. I hope you leave here having found what you were looking for, or maybe even something you weren’t.

All ado aside, the topic of this essay will be a small turkey leg-shaped country in central Asia called Tuva.

Political map of Asia showing Tuva.

Sometime in late 2007, a copy of Ralph Leighton’s “Tuva or Bust!” cam into my possession. It’s a fabulous account of how he and his close friend, physicist Richard Feynman, tried valiantly to travel to Tuva, which was then a part of the USSR. It’s a very heart-breaking book because just as you feel that Ralph and Richard have finally jumped every political/beaurocratic hurdle, Richard Feynman is diagnosed with cancer and, sadly, dies before ever setting foot on the country of his dreams. These days, travel to Tuva is still difficult, but much easier than when Richard Feynman made the attempt. This has resulted in a massive influx of Tuvan culture and people and the country is gaining a lot of recognition here in the states.

A little history:

From 1207 to 1757, Tuva was a part of the Mongolian empire and was known as Tannu Uriankhai. It was then brought under the control of the Qing Dynasty in China and remained that way until 1911. Soon, Russians began to immigrate in to the area and a treaty was struck between Russia and China allowing the migrants to stay provided they live in boats or tents. Later on the Russians where allowed to live in buildings and finally in 1911, tsar Nicholas II took advantage of the Xinhai Revolution to claim Tuva as a protectorate. During the 1920’s Tuva was an essentially independent republic called Tannu-Tuva, but by the end of WWII, a Kremlin-orchestrated coup would distance the country from Mongolia, eventually annexing it into the USSR in 1944, there it remained until the early 1990’s when it signed on to a treaty of federation allowing Tuva to have an autonomous government with a constitution and a parliament of it’s own and the ability to lobby for independence.

Tuvans in traditional garb.

Tuvan music:

Tuvan music is among the most fascinating folk musics of the world, mainly because of it’s “throat singing” or, as they call it, khoomei (translated means whistle). In order for a singer to sing khoomei, he (traditionally only males sing khoomei as it’s believed it can lead to infertility in women) must be able to sing a note, then by manipulating the position of his tongue, jaws and lips, increase the volume of the resonant pitch. The result is a sweet, whistle-like (hence the name) sound along with a lower droning sound that is quite entrancing.

Interesting (yet useless) facts:

– Tuvan stamps from the 20’s and 30’s are highly decorative and collectible.

Tuvan stamp.

– Nomadic Tuvans recognize no national borders which has led to quite a few of them to reside outside the republic’s borders in China, Mongolia and Russia.

– Kyzyl is the capital city of Tuva and lies at the exact geographic center of Asia. There is a stone monument there which says so.

– An annual festival is held in Kyzyl in memory of Richard Feynman.

I could go into the folklore and geography of Tuva and a million different other things here, but that’d just ruin you’re own process of discovery. A great resource for anyone interested is fotuva.org, a site run by Ralph Leighton with “Richard Feynman as it’s patron saint”. Well, that’s about all for now. Till next time,

– Jordan