Introduction / History
More than 200,000 Tuvinians live in Russia, and smaller communities can also be found in Mongolia and China. They inhabit the Tuvinian Autonomous Republic, which is located near the Mongolian border. They speak a Turkic language called Tuvin.
The Tuvinians live in a harsh mountainous region that has an intense climate. The summers are hot and dry with temperatures reaching 110 degrees Fahrenheit. The winters are bitterly cold with temperatures dropping to -78 degrees Fahrenheit. Still, this region has up to 300 sunny days a year, and the extremely dry air helps people to withstand the cold winters and the hot summers.
Formerly, the Tuvinian Republic was under Mongol rule. However, in 1911, it became independent "Tuva," under strong Soviet influence. In 1944, Tuva was integrated into the Soviet Union. Although the USSR dissolved in 1991, the territory remained part of Russia.
What are their lives like?
Most of the Tuvinians raise livestock for a living. They also hunt and do a limited amount of farming. Oats, barley, wheat, and millet are the principal crops raised. Recently, farmers from northern China have introduced the Tuvinians to vegetable farming.
Many Tuvinians still live as nomadic shepherds, migrating seasonally with their herds. Those who inhabit the plains traditionally live in large felt tents called yurts. Those in Siberia usually live in round tents made from bark.
The main industrial activity in the Tuvinian Republic is mining, especially for asbestos, cobalt, coal, gold, and uranium. Other industries include processing food, crafting leather or wood items, and manufacturing building materials.
The Tuvinian diet primarily consists of meat (mutton, beef, horse, goat, camel, reindeer, and wild game), fish, roots, cedar nuts, and dairy products. The Tuvinians enjoy drinking airag (fermented mare's milk) on special occasions.
In times past, Tuvinian marriages were arranged by the parents, and couples married when they reached the age of 12 or 13. Today, the minimum age for marriage is 18, and parental consent is no longer necessary. A young bride formerly lived with the husband's family, but now the couple's home is determined by their economic conditions. Divorce is common among the Tuvinians, and abortion is often used as a form of birth control.
The Tuvinian culture is noted for its rich, oral epic poetry. The Tuvinians love music and play more than fifty different musical instruments. Traveling ensembles often perform outdoors.
What are their beliefs?
The Tuvinians were traditionally Shamanists (a belief in an unseen world of gods, demons, and ancestral spirits) and Tibetan Buddhists. Today, one third of the Tuvinians are Buddhists; one third are Shamanists; and the remaining one third are non-religious.
Tibetan Buddhism was first embraced by the Tuvinians in the 1700's. In the 1930's, the Soviets destroyed nearly all of the Buddhist monasteries, and all the monks were dispersed; some were even shot. Recently, however, a Buddhist community was officially registered in the Tuvinian Republic, and efforts are underway to rebuild a great monastery.
The influence of Shamanism is still obvious among the Tuvinians. Ceremonies are held on the seventh and forty-ninth days after someone's death. The soul is believed to remain in the body of the deceased for seven days, then depart for the "kingdom of the dead," reaching its ultimate destination on the forty-ninth day.
Tuvinians believe that all natural elements contain spirits that must be appeased with offerings. The people are dependent on shamans (medicine men) to cure the sick by magic and communicate with the spirits.
What are their needs?
Until Tuva become a part of Russia, very few of the Tuvinian men and none of the women could read.
* Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to Russia and share Christ with the Tuvinians.
* Ask God to use Tuvinian believers to share the love of Jesus with their own people.
* Pray that Christian radio and television broadcasts will be made available to the Tuvinians.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Tuvinians toward Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Pray that God will open the hearts of Russia's governmental leaders to the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Tuvinians.