Altai (also spelled Altay) is a general name used to describe a group of Turkic peoples living in the region o the Altai mountains in southern Siberia in the Altai Republic. Also known as the Altai, the Altaians, the Altai Turks and the Kizhi, they hail from a mountainous region that stretches into Mongolia and Kazakhstan and is regarded as homeland of all Turkic people and people which have spoken Altaic languages which includes Mongols, Mongolians, Kazakhs, Koreans and a host of other people.

The Altai people comprise several Turkic-speaking tribes living in the Altai and Kuznetsk Alatau mountains. Several collective terms have been applied to the overall group, including "Oirot," which was used in tsarist times. The Altais first came into contact with Russians in the eighteenth century, when colonization of the region began. Some conversion to Christianity occurred in the nineteenth century, but substantial numbers of Altais returned to their previous Mongolian Lamaism in the early twentieth century, as part of a general movement against Russian domination. In the post-Soviet era, most of the republic's population is Orthodox Christian. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

There are about 70,000 Altai in Altai republic in Siberia near the Mongolian and Kazakhstan borders, forming 28 percent of the population there. Among the Altai groups are the Chelkan, Kumandin, Telengit, Teles, Telut and Tubalar. Most Altai are bilingual in their native Turkic tongue and Russian.

Altai Region

Altai Region (480 kilometers south of Novosbirisk) is a mountainous area in central Asia where Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan and China all come together. Situated between the Gobi Desert and the Siberian Plain, it is regarded as the homeland of the of the Mongolians, Turks, Koreans, Hungarians and Parzyrks (famous well-preserved 4,000-year-old Parzyrk mummies have been found here). Ural-Altaic languages are named after the region. Ancient petroglyphs found in the area are believed to have been made the ancestors of the Altai.

The Altai (also spelled Altay) region is one of the wildest and most interesting parts of southern Russia. It is a varied region with forest, steppes, wild river, lakes, deserts, snow capped mountain and abundant wildlife. On windward sides of the mountains are some of the wettest places in Mongolia, with glaciers, streams and numerous lakes. On the leeward side are some the driest areas. The most important rivers are the Biya, Katun, Bukhtarma, Kondoma, Ursul, Charysh, Kan, Sema, and Mayma. In lowland areas where the soils are accommodating there is some farmland. Otherwise most of the landscape comprised of steppes and meadows, some of which are used for grazing animals.

Natural vegetation in the region includes steppe grasses, shrubs and bushes and light forests of birch, fir, aspen, cherry, spruce, and pines, with many clearings in the forest. These forest merge with a modified taiga. Among the animals are hare, mountain sheep, several species of deer, bobac, East European woodchucks, lynx, polecat, snow leopard, wolves, bears, Argali sheep, Siberian ibex, mountains goats and deer. Bird species include pheasant, ptarmigan, goose, partridge, Altai snowcock, owls, snipe and jay, In the streams and rivers are trout, grayling and the herring-like sig.

Altai Mountains

Altai Mountains (near the Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan border) stretch for 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) across southwestern Mongolia from Siberia to the Gobi Desert. The mountains are of moderate height. There are several peaks over 4,500 meters. Those that are higher than 3,000 meters are snowcapped throughout the year. The region is rich in lakes and streams. The Ob, Irtysh and Yenisei all have their sources in the Altai mountains. The Altai people live mainly in the broad plateaus, steppes and valleys of the ranges, where water is plentiful. The Altai complex of mountain ranges embraces the water divide mountains for all of Asia: the South Altai, the Inner Altai and the east Altai. The Mongolian Altai is connected to this mountain complex, rising to the southeast of the Siberian Altai region. The highest peak, 4506-meter-high Mt. Belukha, is in Russia near the Kazakhstan border.

The Altai contains the highest mountains in Siberia, separated by deep valley rivers, with glaciers, passes, waterfalls, springs, lakes According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Altai Mountains are located at the junction of Central Asia and Siberia. The Altai has many summits around or even exceeding 4000 meters above sea level and many peaks capped with eternal snow. Towards the southeast, the Mongol Altai Mountain Range gets smaller and transitions into the Govi-Altai mountain range. In the Chinese and Kazakh parts of the Altai, the slopes in the montane and sub-alpine belts are covered in forests, whereas the Mongolian Altai has a much drier climate. The high ridges of the Altai descend to large basins and dry steppes, that extend eastward across vast areas dominated by great inland seas in ancient times.” [Source: Mongolian National Commission for UNESCO]

There are some trekking and hiking opportunities around ice-covered Mt. Belukha and 4173-meter-high Mt. Aktru. The treks in the 5-day to 2-week range generally begin at Tyungar (300 miles from Gorno-Altaisk on a daily bus). Destinations include Turkic stone sculptures, petroglyphs, Lake Kucherla, Kara-Tyurek Pass, Lake Akkem, Akkem Glacier, and Kiziyak Pass. Around the lakes there are some mountaineer huts where hikers and trekkers can stay.

Ukok Plateau (southwest Altai Republic) is a bleak area near where Russia, Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan all come together and is where many of the important Pazyrk tombs were discovered. The climate here is ideal for preserving the bodies in the tombs. Some of the mummified remains and artifacts are now in the Hermitage. It is difficult get to. Many of the archeologist who work rely on helicopters.

Golden Mountains of Altai

Golden Mountains of Altai were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. According to UNESCO: “The Altai mountains in southern Siberia form the major mountain range in the western Siberia biogeographic region and provide the source of its greatest rivers – the Ob and the Irtysh. Three separate areas are inscribed: Altaysky Zapovednik and a buffer zone around Lake Teletskoye; Katunsky Zapovednik and a buffer zone around Mount Belukha; and the Ukok Quiet Zone on the Ukok plateau. The total area covers 1,611,457 hectares. The region represents the most complete sequence of altitudinal vegetation zones in central Siberia, from steppe, forest-steppe, mixed forest, subalpine vegetation to alpine vegetation. The site is also an important habitat for endangered animal species such as the snow leopard. [Source: UNESCO]

The Altai Mountains can be called "golden" both for untold wealth hidden in the ground and unearthed in archaeological sites and for their abundance of natural beauty, glowing golden color at sunset and sunrise. The word "Altai" comes from the Mongolian word "Altyn" means "gold". The name for the Altai mountain range Altyn-Tu means "gold mountain."

The Altai Mountains are the highest mountains of Siberia. For centuries the harsh Altai region has attracted travelers, scientists, hikers, climbers, artists, photographers, as well as pilgrims, because many local mountains are local shrines. The mountains themselves have been shaped the forces of nature: heat and frost, snow and rain, wind and flowing water, which have is pulverized and carried away the top layers of rock and soil, revealing dense crystalline rocks — granite, porphyry and marble — underneath. In many places deep cracks have formed and pieces of rock have fallen off. On the slopes of the mountains are huge jumble of rock large pieces and smaller debris.

Altai Area Climate

The climate is continental with extremes in temperatures between the summer and the winter. The mountains help to mitigate the extremes to some extent by causing a winter temperature inversion that produces an island of winter temperatures that are warmer than those in the Siberian taiga to the north and the Central Asian and Mongolian steppes to south and east. Even so temperatures drop as low as -48 degrees C in the winter. The mountains are a gathering point for precipitation in a region that otherwise is dry. The most rain falls in July and August, with another smaller period of rain in late autumn. The western Altai receives around 50 centimeters of precipitation a year. The eastern Altai receives less: around 40 centimeters a year

During the winter this 7500-foot-high region is hit by such nasty winds the "grass stands free of snow." Ufok means "the end of everything" and people that live in this region believe it is a step on the way to heaven. People are not allowed to shout out of fear that it might offend the spirit who they believe reside are closeby. [Source: Natalya Polosmak, National Geographic October 1994]

The summer tourist season lasts from May to October. The average temperature is + 25°C in the summer. The contrast of temperatures in the summer can from 30°C during the day, to +5°C at night. The peak winter season falls on New Year's holidays and Christmas. Temperatures in the winter range from –10°C to −30°C. The weather depends on the area: the mildest climate is in the Chemal region, the driest and harshest is close to the border with Mongolia.

Altai Nature Reserve

Altai State Nature Reserve was established in 1932 for the protection of the Altai region’s taiga and alpine tundra ecosystems in the northeastern part of the Altai Mountains. Covering an area of 8,712 square kilometers (3,364 square mile, it is one of largest reserve in Russia and is part of the "Golden Mountains of Altai" UNESCO World Heritage List. In the reserve there are about 1500 species of plants, of which 22 are listed as endangered, and 60 rare and endangered animal species, representing about 52 percent of all protected animal species in the Altai Republic. The reserve is famous for its beautiful lakes, particularly Lake Teletskoye Lake and Lake Karakol. Also on the territory of the reserve there are more than 150 waterfalls, most of them unreachable or at least difficult to reach. There are virtually no roads in the reserve, only tracks and trails, which one should not explore without a guide. Visiting the reserve requires a permit.

Altai State Reserve is one of the first places in Russia to be declared a biodiversity reserve. Located in the northeastern part of the Altai Republic in the Turachakskiy and Ulagan areas, it embraces mountains, coniferous forests, alpine meadows, alpine tundra, rushing rivers and lakes. There are 1275 lakes. All of them are small, except 30-kilometer-long Teletskoye, one of the largest lakes in South Siberia. The reserve stretches 230 kilometers into the high mountains to the southeast of the lake and has an average width of 35 kilometers. The area under protection includes Teletskoye Lake and taiga. Among the critically endangered birds and animals protected here are sable, snow leopard, argali, demoiselle, saker falcon, the black vulture and osprey. Elk (moose) and deer are also found here.

Recognized as an area of high biodiversity and isolation from human intrusion and included in the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves, the Altai Biosphere Reserve has an elongated shape running from the northeast to southwest along the Teletskoye basin and into the high interior. Elevations rise to 3,500 meters (11,500 feet). Lake Teletskoye is in the upper northwest end of the reserve. The Chulyshman River runs into the lake, with the Chulyshman valley forming part of the western border of the Altai Reserve. Most of the reserve is the plains and alpine ridges of the Chulyshman Highlands. Over 20 percent of the territory is rock, scree and gravel.

The Altai is located in the Sayan montane conifer forests ecoregion. This ecoregion is characterized by mountains dissected by river valleys, high levels of precipitation, and high biodiversity. Flora is generally dependent on the elevation and terrain, with forest having three main subzones based on altitude: light needle-leaf sparse taiga, dark needle-leaf taiga, and dark taiga. The Altai reserve has been for the most part undisturbed by human activity, and is one of the few remaining pristine areas of this ecoregion. It covers 9.4 percent of the entire Republic of Altai, and there are no roads in the reserve.

Earliest Human History of the Altai Region

One of Russia's biggest peaks — 4,506-meter-high Belukha mountain — is in the Altai mountains. It has many caves. In some of them traces of Paleolithic people have been discovered. Evidence of humans dating to the Lower Paleolithic Period 150,000 years ago has been found in the Ulalinskoy area precincts of the capital of the Altai Republic, Gorno-Altaysk. In the Golden Mountains of the Altai there numerous prehistoric sites, some with petroglyphs, burial mounds, and stone sculptures.

Denisovans, an extinct group of hominins who coexisted with the Neanderthals and modern humans around 30,000 to 50,000 years ago, are named after Denisova Cave in the Altai region. Not much is known about them other than what can be gleaned from their DNA and a few rare fossils. Scientists first learned of their existence from an incomplete finger bone and two molars discovered in the Denisova Cave, near where Kazakhstan, Mongolia, China and Russia all come together. The finger bone and two molars have been dated by some 80,000 years ago, but generally placed to in the 30,000 to 50,000 year old range.

Denisovans and Neanderthals appear to have the same common ancestor, but both are genetically distinct from one another. Neanderthal and Denisovan are believed to have split apart between 400,000 to 500,000 years ago. Humans and Neanderthals divided into separate groups as far back as 765,000 years ago. Denisovans and Neanderthals ultimately disappeared – perhaps because their lineages were absorbed by modern humans. Evidence of Neanderthals has also been Denisova Cave

See Separate Article DENISOVANS

The indigenous population of the present-day Altai Region — the Altai — moved to Altai in ancient times from the upper Yenisei, their close relatives are Kyrgyz in Central Asia. Origins of the Kyrgyz. The forefathers of the modern Kyrgyz and Altai lived on the upper reaches of the Yenisei River in present-day Siberia. The origin of these people is still a matter of some debate. Based on common burial customs, animist traditions and herding practices, it is believed that they originated in Siberia. Kyrgyz is one of the oldest ethnic names in Asia. It was first recorded in the 2nd century B.C. in the "40 girls" legend of 40 original clan mothers.

The Kyrgyz and Altai are believed to have descended from nomadic tribes, the "Yenisey Kyrgyz," from the Yenisei River area in central Siberia. Their homeland is an Ireland-size chunk of land, covered by steppe and mountains, in the upper Yenisei River Basin near present-day Krasnoyarsk, They occupied this region between the 6th and 12th centuries, and are believed to have begun speaking a Turkic language around the 9th century.

The "Yenisey Kyrgyz” created an empire that stretched across Trans-Siberian and Central Asia from Kazakhstan to Lake Baikal from the 6th to the 13th century. They established ties with the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907) in China and were in the 8th century Orkhan inscription. In 840, the Kyrgyz defeated the Uighar tribes and occupied their lands in what is now northwestern Mongolia. The Kyrgyz in turn were driven off these lands by the Khitan the 10th century.

People of the South Russian Steppe

Peter B. Golden wrote in the “Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia”: “Below a line running approximately from Kiev through Riazan to Kazan, lie the south Russian steppes. The region north of this line gives way to a transitional forest-steppe (lesostep') zone before becoming the densely wooded tracts of the Russian and Siberian forests. The latter, in turn, become the taiga and tundra zones in the far north. The great contrast in physical setting is reflected in the economic activities that evolved in these regions. The steppe, in historical times, was largely populated by pastoral nomads of Iranian and Altaic speech. The early population of the eastern Russian forests, our area of concern, consisted primarily of fishing and hunting peoples who spoke Uralic languages. The forest-steppe region became the contact zone between the southern nomads and the northern hunters and trappers. The former, when they entered the contact zone, made certain adaptations in their life-style, becoming semi-nomadic with ever greater emphasis placed on sedentary pursuits. Those Uralic elements that entered the forest-steppe zone, in turn, were drawn increasingly to the steppe and its mode of existence, becoming in time stereotypical, equestrian nomads. [Source: The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia, edited by Denis Sinor. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990]

“The rich grasslands and abundant rivers of the Ponto-Caspian steppes, a continuation of the great Inner Asian plains, constituted a natural gravitation-point for the nomad migrating or ejected from the Asian hinterland. Given these favorable conditions, the long-distance nomadism common to Inner Asia tended to be muted and not infrequently transformed into a semi-nomadic system with increasing emphasis on permanent winter camps. Urban life and the practice of agriculture and other settled pursuits were more in evidence amongst the nomads here. A nomadic life-style, as we know from the Khazar and Hungarian models, became more and more the perquisite of the aristocracy, a badge of social distinction. Those tribal groupings that adopted the semi-nomadic model tended to be more stable and better able to withstand the vagaries of steppe life.

“In times of turbulence the tribal and ethnic composition of these steppes became a richly hued mosaic, the colors and textures of which are only partially reflected in our sources. The latter largely stem from and were written in the languages of the surrounding sedentary societies. They are frequently incomplete, on occasion ill-informed and universally tend to view the nomad through the prisms of their own cultures.

“The movement of the Huns toward Europe undoubtedly introduced new ethnic elements into the Ponto-Caspian steppes. These included Turkic speakers who later became the dominant ethno-linguistic grouping in this region. We have, however, scraps of evidence that appear to indicate that Turkic nomads were present here even before the Huns crossed the Volga.”

Turks and the Altai Region

The first Turkish tribes are thought to have originated from the Altai region. There are perhaps 135 million Turkic people in the world today, with only about 40 percent of them living in Turkey. They rest are scattered across Central Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and northern and western China, making them one of the most widely scattered races in the world. All these people descended from a small tribe of horseman that originated in the Altai region

The word "Turk," is derived from the Chinese character Tu-Kiu, which means "forceful" and "strong." The Chinese believed these Turks descended from wolves and the Great Wall of China may have been built to keep them out. According to legend a gray wolf led the first Turkic tribes from their homeland in Central Asia into Anatolia.

The first Turks were nomads who spoke an Ural-Altaic tongue similar to Mongolian, Finnish, Korean and Hungarian. Other Turkic people include the Uzbeks in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyz in Kyrgyzstan, Turkmen in Turkmenistan, Kazakhs in Kazakhstan, Mongolians, Tartars in Russia, Uighars in western China, Azeris in Azerbaijan, Yakuts in Siberia. Some even regard Koreans and Hungarians as the relatives because their languages are similar.

Turks have been known throughout history for their fierceness and fighting skills. Most of the warriors in the Mongol armies were Turks. Turks also dominated the Mamluk forces and beefed up the Persian Safavid and Indian Mogul armies. Turkic tribes were a threat to the Byzantines and Persians starting in the A.D. 6th century. They absorbed Islam during the Arab invasions which began after Mohammed's death in 632.

Ancient Turks

The Turks were such excellent horsemen the ancient Chinese called them “horse barbarians." Turkish women reputedly could conceive and gave birth while riding. Based on excavations and stele observations in Mongolia, archaeologists say that early Turks dressed themselves in silk, wool and animal skin garments; men wore daggers in their belts and earrings in both ears; and both men and women braided their hair.

These ancient Turks raised millet, lived in felt yurts like Mongolian nomads today, and worshiped a fertility goddess, a god of the underworld and their Turkish ancestors. They made swords and spears from iron and were known for their metal working skill. Some of their leaders wore armor made from golden plates.

Throughout Central Asia, Mongolia, the Altai area of Russia and western China they left behind large stone figures known as balbals or man stones. Dated to the A.D. 6th through 8th centuries, they are thought to be memorial erected to honor warrior who had fallen in battle. Almost all face east towards the rising sun. Most hold a sword and a bowl and wear a distinctive belt and earrings. They are often found with lines of stone slab that perhaps represent the number of men killed by person the man stone honors.

The ancient Turks were adept hunters, preying on roe deer and mountain goats, which they sometimes drove into pens. They were one of the first groups of people to use saddles with stirrups. This enabled them to swiftly attack their enemies because they could stand up and shoot their long bows while riding. Ancient Turks were so attached to their horses that rulers and warriors often had their fully harnessed mounts buried with them after they died.

Early History of the Altai Turks

Turkic people trace their ancestry back to the A.D. 3rd century Altai Turks, who came from the Altai Mountains in southern Siberia, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia. The Altai (also spelled Altay) Turks were united in A.D. 552 under leadership of a chieftain named Bumin, who, with the help of the Chinese, defeated the overlords that ruled the tribes in the Altai region and then subjugated the tribes on the Mongolian steppe. Later, with the help of the Sassanid Persians, Bumin conquered Central Asia, which gave the Altai Turks control over the Silk Road trade route between China and the West.

The Altai controlled much of southern Siberia and Central Asia from the A.D. 6th century. They were one of the first Central Asian groups to realize the importance of trade and the wealth the trade brought them allowed them to establish permanent settlements.

The ancient Turks of the Altai region developed a written languages which they left in on runic stones as far away as the Yenisei Valley in Siberia to the north and Orkhon Valley in Mongolia to the east. This writing system resembled the script of early Germanic tribes. Later the Uigar script was adopted by many Turkic-speaking peoples. The Uigar script is related to the alphabets of Western Asia and was also used by the Mongols during the era of Genghis Khan.

Later History of the Altai

The Altais formed part of the ancient Turkic kingdoms of Central and East Asia, such as Kok Turk, and later the Kara Kitay and the Khitan, who briefly lived in China at the end of the 12th century and in the Altai region and part of the Mongol Empire in the 13th to 15th centuries.

In the 15th century the Altai came under the rule of the cruel Oryats of western Mongolia and the Dzungarians The Oryat are now a small minority that live in the Altai area of China and Russia. They were a western Mongols clan that converted the Tibetan Buddhism. They established the Zhungarian (Dzungaian) empire in eastern Kazakhstan, western China, western Mongolia and the Tien Shan area which lasted from 1635 and 1758.

The Altai came under Russian control in the mid 19th century at the time of Russian incursion into Dzungaria and were un the middle of power struggle between the Russians, Chinese and Central Asians. In the late 19th century Russian peasants began migrating into the region. They introduced things like beekeeping and the iron plow.

In the early 20th century there were still a large number of semi-nomads running around the Altai region. The early Soviet government made an effort to settle them. By the late 1930s, 93 percent of the population was settled. Transmigration practices persisted especially in the southern Altai where raising livestock required seasonal migration to find pastures.

Altai Religion

Some Altai are Orthodox Christians. Other practice a unique religion known as Burkanism, which combines Buddhism and Oryat folk religions. The religion has strong anti-Russian elements and consequently the Altai were persecuted during the Stalinist era. Some aspects of the religion remain, such as the hanging horse hides from branches.

Burkhanism or Ak Jang flourished among the indigenous people of the Altai region between 1904 and the 1930s. Czarist Russia was suspicious of it and Soviet authorities ultimately suppressed it for fear of its potential to unify Siberian Turkic peoples under a common nationalism. Originally millenarian, charismatic and anti-shamanic, the Burkhanist movement gradually lost most of these qualities—becoming increasingly routine, institutionalized (around a hierarchy of oral epic singers), and accommodating itself to the pre-existing Altaian folk religion. It exists today in several revival forms. [Source: Wikipedia +]

In April 1904 Chet Chelpan and his adopted daughter Chugul Sarok Chandyk reported visions of a rider dressed in white, and riding a white horse. This figure, whom they called Ak-Burkhan ("White Burkhan"), announced the imminent arrival of the mythical messianic hero Oirat Khan. Chet and Chugul gathered thousands of Altaians for prayer meetings, initially in the Tereng Valley. These were violently suppressed by mobs of Russians. Chet and Chugul were arrested, then released in 1906 after the faith was shown to be no threat to the czarist government. +

Burkhanism accepts the "three worlds" of Mongolic and Turkic tradition. (These are the upper, middle, and lower worlds—in other words heaven, earth, and the underworld.) However, it rejects worship of traditional deities associated with the underworld. In addition, it imports into cultic worship many figures from Altaian oral epic lore, which were not worshipped in the "shamanic" part of the Altaian religion. Deities included: 1) Oirat or Galden-Oirat, mythological ancestor of the Western Mongols; 2) Amursana, a legendary Khoit-Oirat chieftain who fled Chinese territory for Russian after the 1756 Qing destruction of Dzungaria; and 3) Shunu ("Wolf"), the Altaian version of Ashina, the totemic lupine ancestor recognized by various Turkic peoples. Among the common rituals were: A) burning juniper (archyn) for blessing, purification, or healing; B) home or hilltop altars (kure or murgul), with candles and milk-offerings; and C) erecting of cairns (oboo).

Traditional Altai religion was characterized by the cultures of sky, fire and the earth and a belief in a pantheon of gods and evil spirits. Shaman were the primary religious practitioners. They used the rhythm of drums to work themselves into a trance and entered the spirit’s world to seek guidance, divine the future and solicit help to cure aliments. As part of their funeral ritual shaman conducted “meetings” with spirits to help guide the soul of the deceased to the afterlife.

Altai Life

Most Altai live in villages set up along rivers, lakes, farmland, mountain meadow and steppe lands, where they can farm, raise animals, hunt and gather firewood. Transportation was by boat in the rivers and lakes or by horse across the meadows. In the old day they lived in wooden huts, bark-covered conical dwelling, polygonal framework structures and yurts. Today most live in modern houses, some with yurts in their backyards.

While the ancient people that lived in this region were Mongol-like horsemen, the people that live in the Altai today are primarily settled farmers and livestock raisers. Most lives in farms or villages and raise cereal grains or cattle and sheep and other livestock.

Food traditionally came from grains such as rye, barley and wheat and from their animals. A good portion of the summer was spent making butter, various kinds of cheeses and dried curds. Clothes were made from animal parts and furs from animals they hunted.

A few are still nomads. Some are nomads in the summer when the move to the summer pastures and live in yurts. They raise sheep, goats, cattle, yaks, horses, camels and maral deer (whose antlers are valued for medicinal properties).

Altai Culture

The traditional Altai headgear is a round sheepskin cap with a silk tassel on the top. It is worn by Altai men and women ad local Russians. Other traditional garments include fur overcoats, boots and other kinds of headgear. Traditional wedding clothes worn by an Altai bride include a silk-covered fur coat, headdress and sleeveless jacket.

Society in the southern Altai has traditionally revolved around clans maintained by patrilineal customs. In the north territorial and village-oriented regional alliances were more important. In the old days villages were organized into districts ruled by hereditary aristocrats called “zaysan”

The Altai have traditionally valued the skills of storytellers and have a rich cannon of folklore. legends and epic poems. Storytellers often sang their tales accompanied a the “topshur”, a lute-like string instrument with horsehair strings, and a “temir-komys”, a kind of Jew’s harp. Tuvan sports such as long distance horse racing and wrestling are popular. See Tuvans.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia, China”, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company, Boston); New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated May 2016

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