The Traditional Wooden Houses and Chur Flutes of Tuva Villages in China’s Altai Mountains

  In the southwest of the Siberian Plateau, adjacent to the Mongolian border is the center of the Asian continent. Historically, it was called “Tangnu Wulianghai”. During the thousand years from the Tang Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty, it was a vassal state of China. The Huns, Xianbei, Turkic, Huihe, Mongolian and other ethnic groups have all come here. Today, it belongs to the Russian Federation and is known as the Republic of Tuva.
  About 10,000 kilometers away from the Republic of Tuva, the Altay region of Xinjiang, China, also has a place where Tuva people live together. There are only three remaining Tuva villages in the world, namely Hemu Village, Kanas Village and Baihaba Village. There are currently less than 3,000 Tuva people in China. They live on nomadism and hunting. They enjoy the “most beautiful” mountains and rivers and the “sweetest” rivers.
One of the only surviving Tuva villages in the world, the “paradise” of the Tuva people

  Cross the Tianshan Mountains in central Xinjiang and head north to the Altay region. The Altai Mountains, which run from northwest to southeast, lie here. The climate on the southern slope is affected by the uplift of the mountains, and the rainfall is relatively abundant, creating a regional environment with abundant surface runoff, lush forests and rich meadows. Hemu Village, where Tuva people live in a concentrated way , is located in such a landform environment.
  The north-south ridge is sandwiched between the east and west sides, surrounding a relatively open sub-alpine meadow terrace. The Hemu River on the west side gathers melted water from the mountains and flows meanderingly from north to south, nourishing the forest and grassland on both sides. Hemu Village Located on the terrace on the east side of the river, the wooden houses in the village look like stars in the sky dotted on the meadow. The rich animal and plant resources such as forests, pastures, and streams in the Altai Mountains have created people who live here to be mainly hunting and nomadic.
  Hemu Village is one of the three villages in my country where Tuva people live together. The other two Tuva villages, Kanas Village and Baihaba Village, are also located in the Altai Mountains. They have the same production and lifestyle and similar surrounding environment. Kimura is the largest and farthest village among them.
  The wooden house architecture of Hemu Village is its most notable feature. These houses are called “woodcuts” by local herdsmen. There is no nail or foundation in the whole house, and the shape is simple and natural. The building materials for the construction of the wood carving are all made of local wood. Two male herdsmen work together, and it only takes two to three days and simple labor tools to complete the main building. Each layer of wood is filled with thick dry moss, and the upper and lower layers of wood are tightly bonded to absorb moisture and keep warm.
  Kanas has a long winter with abundant rain and snow. In order to prevent the houses from being crushed by the snow, the roofs of wooden corrugated houses usually adopt a pointed triangle structure. When the snow accumulates on the roof to a certain extent, it will slide down the slope. In the ravine on both sides of the house. The small woodcut embodies the wisdom of Tuva people derived from life.
  For thousands of years, the Tuva people, who are rich in legendary tribal history, have been in harmony with this magnificent and beautiful green mountains and green waters, creating a rich national culture. They are good at riding, archery and skiing, and their folk customs are bold and tough. Most of them believe in Tibetan Buddhism and Shamanism, and they also relatively completely retain the ancient tribal and clan concepts and religious beliefs. Every year, religious activities such as offering sacrifices to heaven, lakes, mountains, fish, and fire are held. In terms of festivals, Tuva people can be said to be eclectic. They not only celebrate the traditional Mongolian Obo Festival, but also celebrate the Spring Festival and Lantern Festival of the Han people, as well as the unique local Zoulu Festival.
  When you are a guest in a Tuva family, meat and wine are an excellent match. Eating meat in large pieces and drinking in large bowls is the background color of this ethnic group. The wine is pure milk wine made from milk. Tuva people graze in summer and have sufficient milk sources. The housewives use the most primitive method to ferment milk into milk wine and put it in wooden barrels for later use. After three bowls, you will feel dizzy , as if stepping on cotton, you will be ecstatic.
  With the development of my country’s tourism industry, Hemu Village, once hidden in the mountains and forests, has gradually become a tourist attraction for tourists. The lives of Tuvan people have also changed. They realized the importance and preciousness of their traditional culture, and began to develop from unconsciously inheriting Tuvan culture to consciously maintaining, inheriting and disseminating traditional culture. Dongfeng has regained its “new life”.
Ancestor legends, Aobao offering sacrifices to the common ethnic memory of Tuva people

  The Tuva people, one of the Turkic-speaking peoples, belonged to the Wuliangha tribe in the Ming Dynasty. In the Qing Dynasty, they were called Altai Nur Wulianghai or Tannu Wulianghai. The area now belongs to Russia. Modern Tuva people mainly live in the Republic of Tuva, and there are also a small number of ethnic groups distributed in the Altay region in northern Xinjiang, China.
  There are different opinions in the academic circles about the origin of the Tuva people. The Tuva people do not have their own written language, nor do they have written records of history. Where did they come from, who were their ancestors, how did they live, etc. There are almost no records in cultural and historical materials, and there is nowhere to find out how the name “Tuva” was even formed. If you want to understand the past history of the Tuva people, the myths and legends circulated among the Tuva ethnic groups are the best breakthrough.

In the big picture on the left page, winter is coming, and the Altai Mountains are covered with snow. In the small picture on the right page, a man of an ethnic minority is kneeling on the ground, holding a traditional weapon of his ethnic group in his hand. In the small picture below, the house is covered by heavy snow in the Altai Mountains.

The elderly among the Tuva people often tell such stories to their younger generations: Tuva people are members of the army of Genghis Khan’s eldest son, General Jochi. When Shuchi led the army to march westward, the ancestors of the Tuva people came to Xinjiang with the army. Some old people will add some plots: For example, when Jochi’s troops crossed the Altai Mountains, they encountered Kirgiz people. The two sides fought fiercely and suffered heavy casualties. The Tuva people living in Xinjiang now are the descendants of Mongolian, Uyghur, Kirgiz and other warriors who were injured and could not move on. In Qinghe County and other places in Altay, you can still see many stone tombs, which are the tombs of soldiers who died in the battle. As a legendary story passed down by the Tuvan population, this is their common memory. It is based on this common memory that the Tuva people firmly believe that they are the descendants of Genghis Khan.

  Walking into the homes of the Tuva people, almost every household has a statue of Genghis Khan. Some people hang the portraits of Genghis Khan side by side on the left and right of the Buddha statue, and some people hang the portrait of Genghis Khan on the bottom of the Buddha statue.
  With the passage of time, there is no way to verify the authenticity of this legend about the ancestors of the Tuva people. However, for the Tuva people living together, this constructed history is worthy of belief. It has been passed down from generation to generation of Tuva people, and it has been deeply engraved in the minds of later generations. Reminiscing about the common ancestors also continues the identity of the ethnic group.
  In addition to the myths and legends passed down orally, the sacrificial ceremonies of the Tuva people are also an important part of the common memory of the ethnic group. The Obo sacrificial activity of the Tuva people has a long history. Due to some special historical reasons, it was once interrupted, but it was resumed soon after.
  Aobao, in Mongolian, is a “stone pile”, “earth pile” or “wooden pile” piled up by people. The worship of Obo originated from the worship of nature, that is, the worship of “heaven and earth” or “heavenly father and earthly mother”. Under normal circumstances, the ceremony of offering sacrifices to Obo and heaven in the sacrificial activities is carried out at the same time. For nomads, the sky and the earth are their lifelines. Without a well-seasoned natural environment, it is impossible to talk about a comfortable and happy life. Therefore, in order to seek the grace of heaven and the gift of the earth, they piled up Obo as a symbol of soul and life, a symbol of heaven and earth.
  The Aobao Festival in Hemu Village, Hanas Village and Baihaba Village in the Tuva area of ​​Altay, Xinjiang is generally held in early to mid-June every year.
  On the day of the ceremony, people dressed in festive costumes, or riding horses, or driving, gathered at the Obo venue from all directions. In the early morning, the worship ceremony begins. I saw a table facing Obo, and the lama sat behind the table and began to chant sutras. People who came to participate in the worship of Obo sat around in a fan shape on both sides of the lama. While the lamas were chanting scriptures, people put the tributes such as milk wine, cheese and Baoersak (a kind of fried food) in the place designated by the lamas. When the lama recited the scripture “Praise the Altai Mountain”, people turned towards the direction of the Altai Mountain and lit a raging fire. The tribute was placed in the fire and burned. Everyone followed the lama and chanted the scriptures that meant summoning blessings. Then, with the lama chanting sutras praising the heaven and the earth, people walked around Obo three times with the sheep’s head and heart in their hands, and then placed them on the half waist of Obo facing the sun. At the end of the sacrifice, people got up and tied the colorful cloth strips that entrusted their wishes to the long pole on the top of the Obo, shouted again the scriptures that implied calling for blessings, and walked around the Obo three times. . So far, the sacrificial activities of Obo have come to an end. People sat around Aobao and began to enjoy the food of Aobao.
  The entire ceremony scene is solemn and solemn, with a strong religious atmosphere. The tall and majestic Aobao, sitting upright at the banquet, is not only the object of people’s worship and prayer for health, but also a member of the banquet. The towering, long pole covered with blue hada is connected to the celestial body. The blue hada, dancing in the wind, seems to be the messenger of “heaven and earth”, flying to the sky with people’s prayers and expectations.
The traditional musical instrument “Chur” of the lonely Tianlai Tuva people

  Humai is a magical singing art created by the aborigines of the Altai Mountains. The singer purely uses his own vocal organs to sing two or more parts at the same time. It is unique among the folk songs of various ethnic groups in China. According to rumors, the first Khoomei people were Tuva people. In addition to the unique art of Humai, the Tuva people also have an amazing musical instrument – Chuer.
  Chuer, which can also be called Chuwuer, is the earliest record of Chuer in the Qing Dynasty’s “Imperial Map of the Western Regions”: “Chuer, shaped like a flute in the mainland, made of bamboo, the whole body is two feet and three feet long. Inch nine cents six centimeters, all four holes are two feet one inch three cents from the end of the pipe, the last hole is one foot nine centimeters three cents three centimeters from the pipe end, the next last hole is one foot seven inches two cents from the pipe end, and the top one The hole is one foot five inches two centimeters away from the end of the tube, the upper diameter is nine centimeters six four centimeters, and the diameter of the end of the tube is six centimeters three centimeters, and the tongue side touches the upper mouth of the tube to make a sound.”

Obo, for the Tuva people, is a very important spiritual symbol. Every year, they hold a grand Obo sacrifice to pray for good weather, peace and happiness. The big picture on the right page shows that the “Drawing the Sheep” movement is also one of the traditional sports of the Tuva people. The New Year is the time for the “Drawing the Sheep” movement. Only the bravest people can win the final victory of the movement.

  What is puzzling is that the “Imperial Emperor’s Map of the Western Regions” states that Chuer is made of bamboo, but after consulting the relevant classics of the Western Regions, there is no evidence that bamboo was once planted in Xinjiang. Even the Kazakh national musical instrument Sibusi, which is very similar to Chuwuer, is not made of bamboo.
  In fact, Chuwuer is made of Zatra grass (also called “Mandresh” in Tuva language) at the foot of the Altai Mountains. In the Altai Mountains in May, the sun is shining brightly, the grassland is revived, and the zatra grass breaks out of the ground, covering the hillside with a layer of green. In early September, white flowers bloomed on the top of the Zatra grass, and the stems more than one meter high swayed in the autumn wind. At this time of year, the Tuva people will go to the lake to pick Zalat grass by themselves. After picking it, cut off the two ends and put it in a ventilated place to dry for making Chuer.
  There is also an interesting legend about the origin of Chuer: One day, when a young Tuva hunter was chasing his prey, he came to a grass covered with zatra grass. Suddenly a strong wind blew, and a row of zatra The grass was cut off by the wind. Then a wonderful thing happened, the dead grass cut off by the strong wind began to sing, making a pleasant sound, so the hunter had a whim, cut down a zatra grass, and made the first zur.
  To make the zatra grass stalks of Chuer, it is necessary to choose thick ones at the top and thin ones at the bottom. When making, use a knife to chisel 3 pronunciation holes in the thinner part of the pipe body. The total length of the pipe body is 3 fingers plus 4 fingers, and the length is about 60 cm, which is consistent with the player’s arm length. When measuring the hole spacing, place the fingers together horizontally, with 4 fingers and 3 fingers from bottom to top. The upper part is 1 cm to 2 cm wide, and the lower part is 1 cm wide. There is no reed or blowing hole at the upper end, and the sound is made entirely by the tip of the tongue to control the size of the damper. After a chuer is made, it can be played for at most one year, and a new chuer needs to be made in the second year.

Tuva people are good at skiing, and fur skis are their skiing tools. As nomads, archery is also an essential skill for them. In winter, in addition to fur skis, they also usually use horse-drawn sleds to travel. Chuer is a unique musical instrument of the Tuva people. In the small picture on the right page, an old Tuvan is playing Chur.

  The herdsmen in Tuva are all folk masters who play chuer. They sit on the grassland, holding the top of chuer, and other herdsmen sit around him, singing along with the voice of chuer: Flowers, gorgeous flowers, the fragrance is overflowing to attract bees and butterflies. The rising sun is bright and lovely, and my hometown is full of flowers…” Chu Er’s voice is deep and soothing, melodious and melodious. After playing a piece of music, the tune does not change much. But very unique, wonderful and magical.
  The Tuva people always believe that those who can play the chur have the ability to communicate with nature. The elders of the tribe once told the juniors: If the hunter plays the chur while hunting, the prey will stop running; the shepherd plays the chur Er, scattered flocks will follow the sound.
  Winter in the Altai Mountains is cold and long. Chuer, an ancient musical instrument, has accompanied generation after generation of Tuva people through the lonely winter. The melodious sound of the flute resounded through the sky, which is the best gift that nature bestows on the Tuva people.

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