Children of the White Mother Wolf

The production of four documentary films from a cycle “Turks of Russia”, about the people of Bashkortostan, Tatarstan, Tuva and Khakassia was finalized on the cinema studio “Mir”.

Users of the portal of Russian Geographic Society can be the first ones to see the films. The films explain what the Hungarian “Khurultai” and Tatar “sabantui” have in common, why almost every Bashkir family has members of unusual longevity, and what the expression “his wolf is howling”  means to a descendant of the Turks…

“…And the wolf saved the warriors, and gave them his own strength and a new name; and the warriors worshipped him, and went on marches, and conquered many nations, and called all of them by the same name.  And time passed, and the great warriors disappeared. But the name was preserved: and even today those nations are called Turks”.

Each of the four stories about the descendants of the brave  nomads starts with this legend; the descendants live on the territories of contemporary Tuva, Khakassia, Bashkortostan and Tatarstan. Two film teams  visited all these regions in the summer of 2010, with the aim explore the history  of Turkic peoples through the traditions and customs of people living there. Their goal was to elucidate where and which traditions have been preserved in a pure form, and which ones changed under new social conditions of life.

The participants of the filming met with many interesting people. You can see in the films the first president of Republic Tatarstan Mintimer Shaimiev, and Ilgizar Mardeyev, the pilot of a legendary team of racers “Kamaz-master”, and one of the first Tuvan veterinary doctors – Tamara Chashoolovna Norbu, as well as Robert Yuldashev – a famous Bashkir kurai (flute) player.

The heroes of the films are scholars and shamans, musicians and simple people who preserve the traditions of their ancestors, and the secrets of folk crafts. Various individualities and various fates, but they all have one subtle thing in common. It may be the strength of  their spirit and endurance – personality traits which they inherited from their ancestors, and without which they could not survive in the steppe.

And they all have a totally  remarkable relationship with horses.

During the filming, Ilgizar Mardeyev sat in the saddle for the first time in 10 years, but how difficult it was to believe that!  Only those whose ancestors were born and died in the saddle can handle a horse like that. In his daily life, he works with completely different type of  “horses” –  there are 800 of them under the hood of his vehicle.

Ilgizar is the pilot of a legendary team of racers “Kamaz-master”.  Each vehicle in the team weighs 9.5 tons, and can reach the speed of 100km/hour in 10-15 seconds, depending on the track. Or more accurately – the lack of it; these trucks specially meet for off-road races. Ilgizar has been racing these fighting machines since 1997, and since 2002 he has been the pilot. He has many victories under his belt,; the most valuable of which is the Silver in “Dakar” 2007.  The Turks used to say about people like him that “his wolf is howling”, meaning that anything he does meets with success.

“One who honors his language, remembers the customs and traditions of his people and does not forget his roots will obtain peace of mind and spirit in the natural course of things”, –  that is what a Khakass proverb says. Unfortunately, only 11% of residents of Khakassia consider themselves Khakass.  An original culture more than 1000 years old seems to be on the brink of extinction. That is why they speak so much about national rebirth in the republic.

The film team searched specifically for those who remember. In Khakassia they visited the national dramatic theatre, where Nina Sarazhakova Bainova – a pure-blooded Khakass, plays. She grew up in a remote village in the middle of taiga.  Her knowledge is a priceless gift to posterity. She remembers a multitude of folk stories and legends, which she heard from her grandmothers.

People like that are invaluable for those who are interested in ethnography, history and folk traditions. They also make it possible to compare analogous rituals in different regions, to find common traits and differences.  For example, in the film “Bashkirs” there is also a story about a traditional wedding, which was filmed in  Saitbaba village.

Bashkiria is a really unique region from the point of view of preservation of traditions. Here they still know how to cook an ancient delicacy – chewing gum from birch-bark, and remember the secrets of making a national beverage, which gives longevity – kumys.  And also, in Bashkiria they  gather wild bee honey to this day. The last specialists in this ancient craft (bortniki) in Russia are to be found only here.  The wild honey gatherers are original guides to the past: their equipment has not changed since the times of their great-grandfathers. A leather strap – kirem, a wooden stepstool for the feet, a container for the honey, a knife, a piece of dry rotten wood for smoking out the bees – and that is all that is necessary for their work.

Wild honey can’t be removed in the ordinary way – there are no frames in the wild bees nest – a hollow tree – so the wild honey is always mixed with wax and pollen. The flavor is very saturated, with a smoky aroma. There is only one place in Russia to taste this unique honey – in Bashkiria, in the Shulgan-Tash preserve.

Much attention in the films is given to folk crafts, such as making of musical instruments – the Khakass khomys or Tatar gusli, and to the astonishing secrets of the ancestors.

…according to an old Khakass legend, the mother of the Turks, a White Mother Wolf, who lived in the Sayan mountains, had 133 sons. During the day they were human, but at night they turned into wolves. The children were expected to grow up to be noble warriors who protect their native land. However, their enemies found out that the Mother Wolf is growing an army, and attacked them. Then, to protect her children, she turned her children-wolf cubs into beads, and threw them all over the world with the winds. Wherever a bead landed, a Turkic nation appeared.

According to the data from 2002 Census,  in Bashkortostan 57% of population are Turkic peoples; in Kabardino-Balkarskaya republic – 11.6%, in Karachayevo-Cherkess republic – 42% (Karachayevs and Nogai), in Dagestan – 20.5% (Azerbaijanis an, Kumyks and Nogai),  in Republic Altai 40%, in Yakutia – 47%, in Tatarstan – 55%, in Khakassia 12%, in Tuva 77%, and in Chuvashia- 70% of the population are Turkic.

The sources of the present and even of the future are hidden in the depths of the past, and the ancient Turks are the ancestors of many of the nations of Russia. Today, these two mighty ethnic masses, Turkic and Slavic, live side by side, mutually mixing. It is one of the basic ethnographic processes in contemporary Eurasia. That is the reason why the knowledge of these two cultures about each other mutually enrich them and facilitate mutual comprehension.

The filming team also visited the Hungarian village Bugacz, during the Khurultai of Turkic peoples. For whole three days, the people speak in all the dialects of Turkic language, and it is possible to  see with one’s own eyes, just how similar the cultures of various countries are. The Kurultai is very similar to Tatar sabantui, which is no less expansive and cheerful. Many Turkic languages have the expression “touching heaven with one’s head”, expressing the highest possible degree of joy.

According to Turkic beliefs, three divine powers – Heaven, earth and People – appeared at the same time, and the divine nature of the last lies in the fact that people stand on the earth with their feet, and reach heaven with their heads. The moment of highest joy in the Hungarian Kurultai was the ancient Turkic ritual of brotherhood, in which participated all the representatives of practically every Turkic country. These images appeared in several of the films.

While collecting  information about the Khakass and Tuvan nations, the film team spoke with scholars, who specialize in Turkic nations. Dmitriy Funk, the head of the department of the North and Siberia of IEA RAN and Marina Mongush, the head scientific worker of TIGI of Government of Republic Tuva, and the chief scientific worker of Russian institute of Culturology, participated in preparation of the collected materials.

Among the consultants who helped with the work on the film cycle are professors, academicians, as well as shamans – scientific worker of Museum “Ulus Khurtuyakh tas”, Leonid Gorbatov; director of ecologic-ethnic village “Altyn SUS” Tatiana Kobezhnikova, and the president of Tuvan shamans, famous scholar-ethnographer, Doctor Kenin-Lopsan Mongush Borakhovich.

The author of the films about Khakassia and Tuva is Dzhavanshir Danoguyev; director – Kirill Borisov; cameraman – Alexander Alexandrov. The director and cameraman of films about republics Bashkortostan and Tatarstan is Dmitriy Khodakovskiy, the author – Elena Zadneprovskaya.

You can watch the historical-documentary films of the “Turks of Russia” series in the “Video” department, and on the sites of regional departments of Bashkortostan, Tatarstan, Tuva and Khakassia. The cycle “Turks of Russia” is also to be shown on TV channel “Mir”.

The production was financed by a grant  from Russian Geographic Society.

Russian Geographic Society (RGO). Translated by Heda Jindrak

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