Because Tuva remains a largely unknown republic, foreign visitors often mistakenly perceive Tuva’s cultural practices and social histories as homogenous, unchanging, and ‘traditional’. However, Tuva’s history recounts a marvelous pastiche of influences and innovations that currently manifest in Tuvan economies, industry, language, public art, performance, architecture, cultural narratives, and religious practice.
The photo above–taken on Kyzyl’s Arat square–illustrates the confluence of cultures that combine to form contemporary Tuvan urbanity: a statue of Vladimir Lenin famously pointing toward the “bright light of the Soviet future” is ironically offset by the Tibetan Buddhist mantra Om Mani Padme Hum imprinting the distant hillside. Beneath Lenin’s feet a flashing streetlight directs flows of traffic, whose rushed drivers operate automobiles from Japan, Russia, and the United States. A Tuvan businessman uses his smart phone on the way to a meeting.
Tuva’s rich inheritance of Soviet era architecture, public art, urban planning, and performance provides visitors a rare glimpse into Soviet life. Although much of the Soviets’ ideology has been abandoned in contemporary Russia, evidence of the prominent influence of Soviet thought on Russian citizens remains ubiquitous. For those interested in the history of Tuva’s role in the build up and eventual collapse of the Soviet Union, much can be learned by visiting the Tuvan National Museum, through walking tours of the city, home visits with locals who live in Soviet era buildings, and in conversation with Tuvans who came of age in Soviet Tuva.
Prior to Tuva’s inclusion into the Soviet Union, Tuva was an annexed territory of Manchurian China, administrated by Mongolian leadership. Cultural memory of Tuvan affiliations with Chinese dynastic governance is expressed in Tuvan architecture, both historic and contemporary, and in Tuvan decorative design elements. Turkic pastoral cultures likewise influence the contemporary life-ways of many Tuvans. After Soviet collective farms in Tuva were disbanded, Tuvan pastoralists took up the practice of semi-nomadic herding in the style of herders across Turkic Central Asia. The Tuvan language–of which there are close to 300,000 speakers–is considered a Turkic-Altaic language; this classification gives testament Tuvan’s Turkic cultural roots.
Archeological sites that dot the Tuvan landscape tell the story of thousands of years of habitation in Tuva. Ancient Scythian gravesites recently uncovered in Tuva continue to contribute new and fascinating insights to a growing body of literature that explores the history of habitation and migration in Siberia and greater Central Asia. Travelers interested in Tuvan archeological sites will find welcome reception by Tuvan and Russian archeologists at dig sites across the republic.
TravelTuva guides provide cultural interpretation during our tours to increase our clients’ understanding of Tuvan cultural and social life. Please Contact Us to learn more about Tuvan cultures, and to add an exploration of Tuvan cultural legacies to your TravelTuva itinerary.