Nomadic Culture

One of the most unique phenomena in world history is nomadic culture, which has been formed over the course of three millennia. From ancient times the Tuvan land has been the home of the first nomadic tribes and the people that came after. Lifeways, cultural norms, and traditions have formed over the centuries. Nomadic pastoralism became the basis of economy and culture, or in some places, reindeer-herding. Even through globalization, urbanization, and the transition to a settled way of life, Tuva still managed to maintain the basic traditional forms of its culture. Even to this day it is possible to encounter families who change their pastures a few times a year, driving their herds of sheep, goats, and cows on horseback, mounted on native Tuvan horses. Connected to these constant movements is the Tuvan choice of dwelling, made many centuries ago – the yurt. Folk wisdom was intelligently applied in the creation of the Tuvan home, composed of a light wooden frame, covered in felt – moreover, the Tuvans tried to use white felt, a symbol of purity and good fortune. A yurt can be assembled and disassembled in the space of an hour. Furniture and implements made from leather, wood, and felt are also adapted to the nomadic way of life. Dishes and utensils were specially made from light, unbreakable materials. The cuisine correspondingly is composed of animal products, with the most honored food always being milk. All food made from milk is called “ak chem,” dairy products. The mistress of the yurt always gave the first milky tea made in the morning to the spirit of the fire, which from ancient times up until the present has been considered the protector of the hearth, and then she sprinkles the milk to all the directions of the world, greeting and appeasing the spirits of sky and earth. Guests and travelers are also always welcomed with milk or milky tea. The tradition of Tuvan hospitality is widely known and respected to this day. Special rules of conduct have been passed down from one generation to the next within the walls of yurts, and today many of them are considered rules of good conduct for Tuvans. The nomadic way of life affected the folklore, musical culture, folk-arts, and crafts of the Tuvans.

The Tuvan reindeer herders are also nomads, and they do not drive their herds to new pastures, they follow after the reindeer, who know very well themselves where to go. These inhabitants of northeastern Tuva preferred their own style of traditional chum to the yurt. The cone-shaped frames were covered with bark in the summer, and in the winter with bark and reindeer hides. In modern days they also use small log-houses in their travels, and automobiles as well.