Three warriors from the Small Salchak clan

   Inna Printseva,, translated by Heda Jindrak
24 August 2010

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Three warriors from the Small Salchak clanThe next trip of the “Nine Treasures of Tuva” project is to the settlement Seserlig of the Pii-Khem district. Specifically, we are going to the place named Ush Kozhee (Three standing stones), to visit the three nomads incarnated in stone, who are protecting their territory to this day. The three stelae from Early Scythian times, located in a small valley rimmed with mountains, still show depictions of chains, rings, and belts with daggers. Their faces are practically faded. Obviously, they are warriors.

Steppe pyramids of Ush Kozhee

Next to them is a stand with description of this archeological monument and a small roof. But that is already a thing of 21st Century. We read: “In the opinion of scientists, the stone images of Ush Kozhee belong to early forms of Scythian stelae, which are monuments of archeology and are a part of the same complex with the kurgans of the Valley of the Tsars, (Arzhan-I and Arzhan-2).”

West of Ush Kozhee is Mt.Choolen, and to the north is Mt. Bai-Dag, at whose foot the ancestors of the Small Salchak clan are resting; to the east is Mt. Maiyshashkan (Maa Shashkan, i.e. “buried here”). According to tradition, it was on this mountain where a large flagpole was stuck in the ground and a humongous flag was brandished as a sign to the people to gather when it was necessary to decide important matters.

The local experts have counted 17 kurgans and 10 memorial (so-called eight-stoners) structures, which consist of round  areas enclosed by 8 stones placed at regular intervals along the perimeter. In the words of locals, these stones symbolize the eight directions (cardinal points) of the world. Somehow they suggest sundials. Several of the stelae have fallen down in this area, having succumbed to time.

The Scythians showed up unknown from where and went away to places unknown, but they have become the connecting link between the ancient world, Slavic Rus’…and contemporary Tuva. Books of history say that in 7th century BCE the Scythians settled in the south of today’s Russia, and other, related but politically independent tribes grouped in the Altai and as far as the Yenisei.

What do we know about them? They were a serious political power. “The Scythians formed well-organized communities with a disciplined readiness to obey their chieftains. They were an unbridled nation, which got pleasure from warfare and robbery. Many times their bravery in battle caused serious problems for such mighty kingdoms as Assyria, Media, Parthia and Greece. In 7th century BCE, Scythians were feared throughout Asia Minor. But at the same time, their riches and their passion for luxurious adornments earned them the goodwill of large Greek merchants, who settled along the shores of the Black Sea, as well as of Greek craftsmen and artisans.

Even at such an early stage of their history the Scythians showed exceptional ability to understand and adapt to their own use all the best features in the art of the cultures contemporary to them, independent of its origin, writes Tamara Rais in her book “Scythians. Builders of Steppe Pyramids.”  Rais compares the burial kurgans of the Scythians to Egyptian pyramids.

The legends and traditions about the fabulous riches of the Scythians abound. In the early 17th century, systematic looting of Siberian kurgans became increasingly frequent. Tsar Peter I ordered the robbers punished, and the recovered burial treasures were sent to St. Petersburg. The collection of gold belt buckles, plaques, encrusted with gems and colored enamel was delivered to the capital. During the 18th, 19th, 20th and now already in 21st centuries, the finds from south of Russia and Siberia (including Tuva), have riveted the interest of scholars to this mystery of history – the Scythians.

What do we know about them? They lived in ingeniously designed tents, used wheeled vehicles, made fabrics and beautiful, but at the same time practical clothing, using furs and leather. They also had a certain culinary art. They drank koumiss, ate cheese, fish, game, horsemeat, mutton and goat, (and in places where in those far-away times grew vegetables, they did not even disdain those).

They had their own aristocracy. They loved adornments. Their genius artisans crafted images of real and imaginary creatures of bronze, gold and iron. These adornments were for both the living and for their dead. The kurgans contain burials of people and horses as well as astonishing metal objects.

The Scythians were superstitious. They believed in magic and in the power of amulets. They took advice of diviners, who could foresee the future, but a “lying” oracle would be seated in a cart loaded with dry wood branches and set on fire.

The Scythians worshipped the elements. They revered their dead, protecting their burial places. They placed rough stone human figures on elevated places and near some kurgans. Several hundred years later, local people would call these  figures  “stone women”. But those at Ush Kozhee are not “women”. They are very clearly warriors – tall, straight, angular.

Among the riches of customs that we inherited from the Scythians is the reverence for ancestors. Just what is it we do at the cemetery on the Parents’ Day? It turns out that we perform wakes and rituals for the dead, just like the Scythians. Somebody strews a handful of grains and brings some flowers, others “celebrate” until dark, being in the company of their ancestors. There are many examples. Even a circle dance around a birch tree was born in legendary Scythia.

But let’s get back to the warriors of the Small Salchaks.  Why are they small?

Why are these Salchaks small?

Because the Great Salchaks, that is – the majority of the clan, live in Kaa-Khem and Bai-taiga districts. And those who now live in Pii-Khem, were pushed out from their usual nomadic grounds – Dogee, Kara-Khaak – by the bulders of Uriangkhaisk – Belotsarsk – which eventually became Kyzyl.

Even one of the first professional Tuvan ballerinas, Natalia Doidalovna Azhikmaa-Rusheva, comes from the clan of Small Salchaks. And she was born in a yurt, which stood in Ush-Kozhee. In 2006, her museum opened in Seserlig school.

Chingis Khomushku, a graduate of Seserlig school, tells us:

- Few people know that Natalia Doidalovna was also a part of the work front. She was born in 1926, that means that in 1941 she was only 15. She and her sisters and brothers were orphaned early – during a smallpox epidemic. Their maternal uncle Baldyp took the children into his household, and their grandmother Dunduulak brought them up. Azhikmaa was sickly, and did not go to school until she was already 10 years old. Her grandmother cured her – using traditional herbal medicines.

- In June of 1941 the Great Patriotic War started, and the girl, together with her age-mates, collected wood in the taiga, helped to prepare the Seserlig school for the new school year – the kids repaired, renovated, painted. In the winter they helped Aunt Cherlikpen – the school cook: washed dishes, mixed flour. The boys chopped cedar wood, and the girls dragged it to the classrooms to the stoves, which were for some reason called “kontramarks”.

- …One way or another, the name of Natalia Azhikmaa-Rusheva, the mother of a young artist of genius, Nadia Rusheva, is forever tied to Ush Kozhee. Here sitting at the table in an arbor, we listened to a recording of Natalia Doidalovna’s voice, as she was praising her countrymen for participating in the “Nine Treasures of Tuva” project, and expresses her wishes: more weddings, and that the young people would go back to visit Ush Kozhee, and that they would not forget the native place of their ancestors, and would keep singing Tuvan songs!

- A little bit further away from the archeological monument by a hill is the winter herding station of the most respected members of the Salchak clan, Demir-ool Salchakovich and  Dinzonma Maadyevna Dotpaa. The spouses have been together for 48 years, and will celebrate their gold wedding anniversary in two years. They brought up their own eight children as well as three kids of other relatives. Now they are helping with grandchildren. (How many grandchildren? Oh, about 30 of them, laughs Demir-ool Salchakovich. It seems that he won’t sit still even though he is 70, such good character he has).

- The Dotpaa household has 320 sheep and goats, 30 cows out of which 15 are milkers. Children and grandchildren have been helping to prepare feed for the animals, just like every year – about 100 tons.

- The children asked Demir-ool Salchakovich to put on his holiday jacket, the one with chest covered with tinkling metal. Among all the medals is also the Order of the Friendship of Peoples. A neighbor, Sergei Ivanovich Kamzalakov bears witness that the friendship of people exists even outside of medals. His 37 beehives; his summer house – a small wagon, stands 300 meters from the Dotpaa family buildings:

- We have been both working here for 16 years, helping one another.


A wristwatch that was never given

Seserlig, the school, and Natalia Doidalovna’s museum. The objects on exhibit bear witness to the life not only of the talented ballerina, but also of her daughter, Naidan – Eternally Living. The museum also tells the story of many people of Seserlig, who brought to life things of extraordinary worth.

For example, about I.C. salchak, merited artist of Tuvinian ASSR, Laureate of State Prize of Republic Tuva.

Ivan Chamzoevich was one of the first professional graphic artists of Tuva. His series of colored lino-engravings “Tuva of my birth” is now a part of the golden collection of visual arts of the republic. He produced an entire gallery of portraits – the stone-cutter Arakchaa, front-line soldier Baiysklan, sygytchy (throat-singer) Soruktu, scholars Vainshtein, Aranchyn, actor Munzuk…

The artist’s father, Chamzo Salchak, was one of the strongest khuresh wrestlers of the republic, who also became famous for being the only person to pick up a boulder weighing 150 kg, and carrying it to the top of the Dash-Ovaa mountain pass. Since that time, there was no other person who would manage to lift the boulder, which is known among the people as “stone of the warrior”.

But mostly, of course, the eye is drawn to the exhibits which tell of the life of Naidan. Her quick, exquisite signature can’t be mistaken for anything else. It seems that her drawings centaurs and little girl centaurs are saturated with the legends of not just Ancient Greece, but of Scythia as well.

Here’s a thin little book “Zayka-zaznayka” (Smart little bunny) published in 1957, “Murzilka” No.7 from July 1958 (children’s magazine), textbooks. Notebooks for Russian language and literature, history, anatomy. Books of responses from exhibitions in Abakan, Barnaul, Odessa, Orel, Zelenograd. A photo from May 1958: “Nadyenka gaught a gosling”.  Camera “Zenit”. A wristwatch “Chayka”, which her parents planned to give to Nadia on March 8 (International Women’s day), but the young artist died on March 6.

But then you take a look at the little centaur, and again you understand that all of us are a little bit…well, Scythians. And we have to hurry to leave something very beautiful to be remembered by.

The “Nine Treasures” contest is not even finished, but it is already obvious that it is working out.

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