It all started when a Soviet engineer decided to straighten out the road. The old road curved in this one spot just outside the village. So he brought in a lot of people and tractors and started ripping right through the hill where in the old times we held round dances.
They got only half-way through before all the machines they brought had
broken. So they left it just like that - the earth all exposed, all torn up. And
there's been trouble here ever since."
The woman shook her head so that the gold threads in her kerchief glistened
in the gas-light. Last year one of the machinists was driving a tractor there
and suddenly it just stops. This is a man who can fix anything, but nothing he
tries helps. So he decides to walk to the village because it was getting dark.
He takes only a few steps when he sees a flickering light. He walks towards
it and sees it's a bonfire. And around the bonfire there are many dancers
dancing a yoxor, just like in the old days.
At first he is happy to see the dancers in the distance, but as he approaches
he realizes that those are not people dancing, but spirits."
The Aginsk Buryat Autonomous Region lies two days drive to the east where the
borders of Mongolia China and Siberia come together a solid day's drive to the
west of Lake Baikal.
In 1997 I first traveled to the Aginsk Region, where we collected folk songs
and legends for our piece Flight of the White Bird. The following year we
performed our piece at the National Theatre and then toured the remote villages
of the Aginsk Region where we originally collected the songs that inspired this
With the demise of the Union there has been a resurgence of Buryat culture
throughout Buryatia and a revival of interest in shamanism. Since the Angara was
dammed in the 1950s, it has flooded a large part of its basin, spreading so wide
that the locals refer to it as the Angara Sea.
We started our expedition in the two districts that are located west of the
Angara: Nukuty and Alar. The first village we visited in Nukuty was Khadakhan,
home of one of the richest farm collectives in the area.
We were guest of the Culture Club which arranged for us to listen to several
of the village elders recite epic tales, sing songs celebrating the deeds of the
Geser and stump us with traditional puzzles.
After a brief ritual with a local shaman, we were treated to a traditional
dinner and introduced to the complex customs governing drinking and toasting in
this area. In each village my colleagues Sayan and Erzhena Zhambalov would pull
out their guitar and sing the songs that have made them the most popular Buryat
singers of their generation. This area is known for its unique renditions of the
yoxor, or round dance.
Afterwards we drove to the regional center of Kutulik where a woman sang us
many songs and then related her family story.
Any practitioners of traditional culture were particularly vulnerable.
Next day in Kuita we heard beautiful songs and great stories about local
shamans from the elders who gathered in a schoolroom.
Our theatre piece Circle was based on one of the stories that made our skin
crawl that night.
After our stay in the Alar District, we traveled to eastern half of Ust-Orda
- to the regions: of Bayanday, Bokhan, Osa and Erkhirit-Bulagat, which are
located between the Angara and Lake Baikal.
We stopped in Ust-Ordinsk, the capital of the Ust-Orda Region that night and
met the woman who had arranged our trip.
We visited her family and met Baba Sara, who told us many interesting
traditional tales, as well as fascinating stories about meeting Japanese
prisoners of war in her village when she was a child.
Summary of an article by Virlana Tkacz -
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