The Tofa community

The Tofa (also Tofalar, Karagas) nation numbers about 600 persons, inhabiting three remote villages in the Sayan mountains of southern Siberia. For ten months of each year, these villages can be reached only by helicopter or by small, 1950′s vintage bi-planes. In the dead of winter, one can drive along frozen rivers in an all-terrain truck to reach Tofa villages. Their extreme isolation has proved to be both a hardship and a benefit, as the Tofa struggle with the collapse of their traditional hunting and reindeer herding lifestyle and the impending loss of their language and cultural traditions.

The Todzhu-Tyvan reindeer herders

Reindeer herding in Tyva is almost exclusively confined to the Tozhu-Tyvan people, a distinct ethnic subgroup who live in the remote Tozhu kozhuun, or region, of northeastern Tyva. The Tozhu-Tyvan reindeer herders should be viewed not as nomadic pastoralists per se, but rather as hunters and gatherers who maintain small herds of reindeer to facilitate their hunting lifestyle (as pack and riding animals and for their milk products).

The Tsengel Tuvans of Mongolia

About 1,400 ethnic Tuvans reside in Mongolia’s westernmost Bayan-Ölgii Aimag, in the small administrative district of tsengel sum. Referring to themselves simply as “Tuvans” (tyvalar),they are referred to by scholars geographically as the “Tsengel Tuvans,” “Altai Tuvans” (Taube 1994), or (referring to the nearby and much less numerous group residing in the P.R.C. the “Jungur Tuva”.

The Tsengel Tuvans make up one of several distinct sub-communities within Mongolia’s diverse Tuvan diaspora. Despite the lack of any state-sanctioned cultural institutions that would foster a distinct (e.g., non-Mongolian) ethnic identity, the Tsengel Tuvans appear to have successfully maintained much of their traditional practices, language, and cultural identity. Given their small numbers, their isolation and their position on the extreme periphery of the Tuvan culture area, the Tsengel Tuvans may represent an exemplary case of linguistic and cultural survival. Most of them still live as (semi-)nomadic herders of yaks, camels. goats and sheep. Moreover, they appear to have preserved their language and social structures to a much greater extent than have Mongolia’s other Tuvan groups.