Tuva Republic – The land of the Blue-eyed and Fair-haired People of Siberia

Tuva: Russia’s Tibet


Tuva, like Tibet, consists of a mountainous, underdeveloped region tucked away in the Eurasian heartland, traditionally inhabited by Buddhist herdsmen, and relatively recently added to the state’s official domain as a strategic buffer. Both Tuvans and Tibetans chafe at the cultural and demographic dilution of their homelands as Han Chinese and Russian influence has grown in past decades. Portions of both populations strive for independence from a metropole vastly more populous and powerful. Both look to the Dali Lama to champion their cause on the world arena, and have partisans in the West; this Tibetan torch is carried by Hollywood personalities such as Richard Gere, while Tuva is best known in America among the California-based ‘Friends of Tuva’, an informal organization inspired by Ralph Leighton‘s Tuva ot Bust; Richard Feynman‘s Last Journey.17

The Ket People


The Ket

The Ket people are a group which lives in Siberia, near the Yenesei river valley. They look like Asian people, and live much like the Eskimos, herding reindeer and living like Arctic nomads. Their language is thought by some to resemble the North American Athabaskan Native Americans. Some linguists see an affinity between proto-Yeniseian and such Native American languages as Tlingit and Navajo, as well. The Ket language, still spoken by about half of the Ket peoples, is entirely different than any other language in Siberia. The Ket language is part of a superfamily called Dene-Causasian which includes Yeniseian (includes the Kets) as one of its branches. Studying modern Ket is essential for piecing together these ancient relationships.

Today the Ket live in small, riverside villages and are no longer nomadic. They are nominally Christians, but shamanistic beliefs persist. Fewer than half of the 1100 Ket speak their native language with any fluency, while nearly all speak Russian. During perestroĭka (1988) an alphabet based on Cyrillic (which is the name of the Russian style of alphabet) was devised for Ket, and today the language is taught in the first three grades of the local schools, but it is losing ground to Russian in everyday life. There is increased intermarriage with Russians, and the survival of the unique Ket language as a medium of everyday communication beyond the next two generations is in doubt.




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