The Epic Heritage of the Altaian People
Affiliation: Department on a non-material heritage, Ministry of culture, Republic of Altai Russiа

The Altaian people are considered to be one of the most ancient Turkic-mongolian folks of the Central Asia. All the Turkic- mongolian legends declare the territory of Altai as their ancestral home, their golden cradle.

The unique phenomenon in the altaian folklore and the spiritual heritage of the Altaian people are epic works or heroic legends, basically, executed by throat singing. Today among the folks who saved the versions of that most ancient form of arts are the Kalmyk people and other Siberian indigenous people like the Shors, the Tuvinians, the Teleuts, and also the Mongols and Oirat people such as Uryankhay, Bayad people, Derbed and Torgut people, the Kyok soyons from Mongolia and China.

In the Altaian epos the spiritual history of all the centuries is synthesized in the poetic form in the context of mythology, religion, national culture, political and social moral principles.

Today there are 212 records of heroic-epic works of the Altaians, including 104 published works. And 108 of these work are stored in manuscripts, 62 legends were translated into Russian and German languages.

The history of legend studying and collecting. The Altaian legends started to be published in the mid-XIX-th century by V.V. Radlov – an outstanding turkologists -orientalists Radlov [Radlov 1866], and G.N. Potanin [Potanin 1883], V.I. Verbitsky [Verbitsky 1893] in cooperation with the Altaian writer and educator M.V. Chevalkov. In the beginning of the XX-th century “The collection of sagas from Anos” appeared, edited by G.N. Potanin. It was made by one of the first collectors of the altaian folklore N.Y. Nikiforov. This collection contained heroic legends and fairy tales [Nikiforov 1915].

In 30-40’-s of the XX-th century, during the Soviet period, folklore works, especially epic legends began to be published actively for the general reader. It is necessary to note the collecting activity of the Altaian writer P.V. Kuchiyak (1897 – 1943), who perfectly the native folklore. He wrote down texts from the known Altaian storytellers and throat singers.

In 40-50’-s of the XX-th century of the legends were written down and published later by the well known turkologist N.A. Baskakov who lived in evacuation in Altai during the Great Patriotic War [Baskakov 1965, 1972, 1985]. Since the research institute of history, language and literature was created in 1952 under the guidance of the known specialist in folklore S.S. Surazakov (nowadays it is the Institute of research on Altaian culture, named after S.S. Surazakov) purposeful collecting of materials on all folklore genres has been developped.

Since 1959 under his edition a series of publications «Altai baatyrlar» has been published. [Altai baatyrlar 1958, 1959, 1960, 1964, 1966, 1968, 1972, 1974, 1977, 1980, 1983, 1995]. In is the first digest of the epic memorials in the folklore of the indigenous people in the Southern Siberia written in a source language, since V.V. Radlov records were published.

15 volumes of these series which have been pudlished by now, contains more than 90 texts of the epos, including more than 50 texts published for the first time. One of the best Altaian - Russian editions of the epic memorials is the legend "Maaday-Kara" (seven thousand poetic lines). It is edited in a series, called «Epos of the people of the USSR» [the Maadaj-Kara 1973]. This storyteller made huge contribution into the spiritual heritage of the Altaian people in the XX-th century.

Significant contribution into studying the Altaian epos was also made by other Altaian researchers. So, S.S. Katash studied a theme of comparative-historical research on the Altaian and Kazakh epos [Katash ]. The Other researcher - S.M. Katashev concretized and theoretically generalized the whole amount of elements of the Altaian epic poems that form a system [Katashev 1974].

T.B. Shinzhin studied the repertoire of storytellers, he also wrote down a considerable quantity of texts by the storytellers, including, the text of the "Dyanar" from a storyteller N.K. Yalatov- in a volume of 36 thousand lines in total [Shinzhin 1986].

Special features of the epos development in a context of a spiritual heritage of the Altaian people were investigated by E.E. Yamaeva [Yamaeva 1998]. We studied specific relations of the Altaian legends with fairy tales and the forms of their existence in the ethnic life of the altaian people, also we studied the links of throat singing with ceremonial culture of the altaian people [Sadalova 2008].

In 1997 the volume of «The Altaian heroic legends» was published in a series of «The spiritual heritage of folklore of the Siberian and the Far Eastern people», prepared by S.M.Katasheva and Z.S. Kazagacheva [The Altaian legends, 1997]. Uniqueness of the Altaian volume of these series is that it contains the epic heritage which have been written down at the end of theХХ-th century from three hereditary throat singers– Alexey Kalkin, Tabar Chachiyakov, Saldabay Savdin. The important fact is that till the very end of the XX-th century there were throat singers, who get the talent of throat singing directly from their teachers. And most of them also could transfer their mastery and knowledge of texts directly to the followers.

The extensive material on musical culture of the Altaians and theneighboring folks has been received, thanks to musical-ethnographic expeditions to the highland Altai. Since 1984 researchers of ethnic misic from the Novosibirsk state conservatory under the direction of Y.I. Sheykin [Sheykin 1994] undertook 15 expeditions together with the Altaian specialists in folklore. Among the purposes of this program were studying live traditions of epic creation that allowed to create the largest collection of materials and phonorecords of folklore materials, including repertoire of the throat singers.

A huge contribution into studying the altaian epos was made by well known Russian scientist V.M. Gatsak [Gatsak 1989] and the Finnish scientist L. Harvilakti [Harvilakti 1987]. They were organizers and participants of the International folklore expedition to Altai at the end of the XX-th century.

Forms of execution and existence of the heroic legends in the altaian ethnic culture.The way of performing the Altaian heroic legends, preserved the archaic features that makes this genre original.

Performing the texts of legends by throat singing – KHAI is distinguished as a separate genre of the Altaian heroic legends – KHAI CHEORCHEOK- a fairy tale, told by throat singing.

The future storytellers usually remembered huge texts at the age from 6 to 9 years old. A fairy tale performing by throat singing could occur during several evenings and nights with breaks in the day-time to finish the legend in full without reductions that had sacral value. Although the text of one legend could consist from 1 to 7 thousand or more poetic lines. The Altaian throat singers – khaichy- were considered to be the elects of spirits – hosts of the Altai mountains, so they were deeply respected by people. The most talented storytellers are called EELU khaichy - the storyteller who could contact to the spirit of legends and in who this spirit can be instilled to perfom the throat singing. Possibility of such interpretation confirms that EELU khaichy’s musical instrument – topshuur can speak and it can continue playing even when the storyteller interrupts the legend to have a rest.

According to words of the throat singer A.G. Kalkin about EELU khaichy Z.S. Kazagacheva makes the following remarks: «People assigned this status to such a storyteller whom in compliance with the content of the epos, after having reincarnated into the athlete, goes to the lower world, and then comes back to the earth.

And, if after some time after performing such epos nothing happens with the throat singer ( for example goes mad, becomes deadly ill etc.), only then he can be named « EELU KHAICHY» [Kazagacheva 2002, with. 158].

Accompaniment of storytelling by throat singing is one of the basic ways to show a plot of the legend, and it is of the huge emotional and -semantic value.

When you describe what throat singing is, it is necessary to notice that throat singing accompanied by a string musical instrument – topshuur (a kind of a lute) is intoned in unusual sounding, named khai. In the intonational culture of the Altaian people khai takes the central place and is one of the steadiest sound ideals. Altaian khai as the type of binary phonation is formed on the basis of substandard compression of a throat at the level of false ligaments of the larynx. Thanks to it there are some specific versions of throat singing: melodic recitation (keonu khai), hoarse khai (kyrkyra khai), wheezing khai (sygyt, sybysky, sygyrtkysh khai), keomei khai [Shinzhin 1986]. The storyteller performs the text by throat singing on behalf of this spirit - the patron. The voice of the spirit helps him to disguise his natural voice.

Concerning particularity of forms in which the altaian national legends existist, it is necessary to allocate some aspects.

There are recorded facts telling that legends were performed during cults ceremonies. That is of great interest, especially historically when compared with genesis and early history of Altaian throat singing traditions.

So, legends are told during several ancient ceremonies: funeral and commemoration ceremonies, honoring the owner of taiga during the hunting season and nutting in autumn. Thus functions of telling the fairy tales in a complex of these ceremonial actions differ from each other. In funeral and commemoration ceremonies the stories were told for the purpose of magic clarification and to opposite to elements of a gloom and evil spirit. In the hunting ceremony and in honoring of the owner of a taiga by collectors of nuts telling a fairy tale had a magic orientation so to influence the spirits of mountains to get rich prey or a crop as a reward .

It is necessary to notice that there are direct analogies between traditions of throat singing and shaman traditions of execution such as traveling to irreal time of legends with simultaneous transfer of events occurring there to of listeners of the legend in real time, returning of the storyteller to the world of listeners after he "has calmed" the spiri of the legend and its heroes who should remain in their own world. Everything that is in a subject statement of the text is a component of the sacralized actions.

The basic subject structure of the Altaian epos and characters. As it is above already noted, the Altaian heroic legends represent motives, plots, images which were developed throughout many millenia: from a patrimonial society, tribal relations till the time when the new behavioural norms of the person appeared in social life. The Altaian heroic epos appeared as a heroic song glorifying exploits of an athlete.

According to the Altaian specialist in folklore S.S. Surazakov, from the very beginning, the type of the hero – the athlete-hunter (mergen) is put forward.

In the epos about hunting there are traditional plots of meetings and struggle of heroes against the owners of lands and waters, which are represented as images of animals. Frequent trips of athletes for hunting, birth of the son while the father is hunting, and a monster (enemy) attacking a camp oh the hero etc.

The athlete-hunter was endowed with abilities of the magician and the werewolf, with supernatural signs or attributes. In the further development of epic creation traits of the athlete-hunter have merged with traits of the athlete-soldier on a horse, who has replaced him. The domestication of a horse by ancient Turks and Mongols of the Central Asia was a turning point in their military life, also in folklore appeared a new hero– the athlete. the legends about athletes - soldiers necessarily contain the ceremony of initiation, then the hero receives a fighting horse, clothes and arms. Here the epos shows detailed image of the athlete: its portrait, typical places in its deeds and actions, dialogues etc.

The circle of deeds of the athlete-soldier has extended to some degree: struggle of heroes against monsters, struggle of athletes against the underground world, heroic courtship, struggle of heroes against monsters, struggle of athletes against the underground world, heroic courtship, struggle of heroes for preservation and strengthening the family, struggle against attacks which were made for the purpose of stealing cattle and slaves capture.

Thanks to preservation of a set of archaic plots, images and motives in the altaian epos, it gives us ideas about the rich and diverse epos in the period of a patrimonial system. It has appreciably predetermined the pattern of epic creation for the next epochs.

The second stage in historical development of the Altaian heroic epos isconnected with the beginning of the first feudal relations. In the history of ancient tribes of Altai this period is represented in «оrkhon monuments».

At the third stage in development of the Altaian heroic epos we can see the process of deep re-examination of the traditional epos. In the XVIII-XIX centuries the heroic legends on historical themes were composed. That fact testifies a tendency of the epos to show the real history ("Shunu", "Amyr-Sanaa"). The Altaian heroic epos during its long development, up to the XX-th century replenished with new works. It undergone quite difficult evolution, concerning ideas and images, plots and a composition »[Surazakov 1985].

The best samples of the Altaian epos are – "Maadai-Kara", «Altai Buuchai», «Khan Altai», «Ochy Balla», « Altyn Mize», "Alyp Manash" and others. All of them are recognized as national masterpieces of the Altaian language, and were included into the epic classics treasury of the people of Russia and the world.

The Poetic system of the Altaian legends. A verse of the Altaian epos is syllabic. It is constructed on the account of syllables in rhythmic units. Poetic lines are composed equally. An important role in formation of a rhythm and the organization of a verse of the Altaian heroic epos fulfill the sound repetitions right at the beginning, and inside the poetic lines, that is called alliteration and parallels. The neccesary stylistic elements of any heroic legend is the contrast principle. It is shown in a plot and a composition, in the image of positive and negative characters, in the poetic lexicon. Epic repetitions are the important elements of the composition, though they aren’t planned in the plot.

They signal about the termination of the previous episode and warn listeners that after the repetition of this well ground and learned episode the new motive or an episode will begin» [Katashev 1974, с.27]. In the Altaian epos there are widespread stylistic means as allegory – metaphorical replacement of the direct term by the figurative description of the phenomena. Thanks to it artistry and expressiveness of the image considerably increases, it underlines an originality of epic style

The Altaian heroic epos is full of the developed poetics of hyperbolism, art variations graphic synonymy, allegories, comparisons.

Descriptive and expressive possibilities of variation and synonymy are enddless. Due to it, images and pictures of the epos become more diverse andvisible. The athletes and the epic world look brighter and richer when the whole is detailed, the general is dismembered and concretized. All thatorganically conjoin with special, elevated style of a narration.

It is necessary to note that the melody of a tune of a storyteller is performed in a certain stereotyped way. The poetic text is adjusted to the tune. The melody played softly on topshuur, and a tune of the storyteller keep the size of a verse within a framework. The verse of the Altaian epos in its rhythmic basis is in a close connection with a rhythmic recitative tune- khai, and each step of the khai corresponds to the certain period in the text [Surazakov 1985, с.104].

Prospects of preservation and developing an epic heritage of the Altaian people. Questions of preservation of an epic heritage of the Altaian people became actual because by the all the well-known storytellers of Altai passed away.

But during the same period when modern Altaian youth began to look back at the traditional cultural bases of the indigenous people, a new interest to the storytelling art has arisen in 80-90-s' of the XX-th century. The International Kurultay (a festival forum) of performers of throat singing , established in2004 inthe Altai Republic, which is held periodically, was a special support to this art.

Among the altaian youth it’s very prestigious to master the skills of khai and playing the topshuur. Different regions of Russia and the countries like Kalmykia, Tuva, Khakassia, Yakutia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, China, Azerbaijan and Turkey pay a great attention to the International Kurultay of performers of throat singing.

The International Kurultay of performers of throat singing is not only reflection of this ancient art, but also represents the fact of its existence in modern life. In the Altai Republic young performers of throat singing become the scholars of the Government of the Russian Federation.

Nowadays not only actors and singers are involved in the storytelling art, but also pupils of schools and students of educational institutions are engaged to it. We create favorable conditions for free creation in this field. But at the same time, th traditional style of perforfing is preserved in the original form, inherited together with the epos itself.

Despite the disappearance of the epic environment and storytellers, the epic perfopmance doesn't die down and is cultivated in new conditions. During the recent years throat singing as the element of the storytelling art became very popular all over the world, because it’s one of the most interesting forms of ethnic music.


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