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The Mysterious Tribe of Tuwa

On the banks of the Kanas Lake, there live 2,000 Tuwas, a Mongolian tribe that have existed in this remote area of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region for generations. They mainly inhabit the areas of Kanas, Hemu and Baihaba. Their primitive nomadic lifestyle seems to have been isolated from the modern civilization of the 21st century.

They believe in Shamanism and Lamaism and keep the primitive worship of fire and other natural forces as their ancestors did. They offer sacrifices to mountains, waters, Heaven, fire and Aobao (a kind of stone piles).

Tuwa people live a nomad life, residing in yurts or log houses roofed with straws. Due to the geographic conditions and natural environment, the Tuwas' habits and customs are similar to that of the Kazaks and Mongolians. They eat meat and dairy food, such as beef, mutton, milk, yogurt and milk-wine, in addition to potatoes and other vegetables.

They celebrate not only the Mongolian Aobao Festival but also the Spring Festival and Lantern Festival of Han Chinese. Every spring, they drive their herds of cows and sheep to leave their homes and start the grazing trip till July or August, when they would begin to make hays for feeding their livestock in the winter.

It's said that the Tuwas were originated from the old or wounded soldiers abandoned by Genghis Khan when he led his people to expedite westward. Some people hold that they're an independent ethnic group, while others believe they are a branch tribe of the Mongolian ethnic group. Up to now, a Tuwa is registered as a Mongolian when his or her ethnic identity is concerned. 

Tuwas have no written language. Their history has been passed down orally from generation to generation. Since there is no written archeological reference, the folk stories have inevitably added mysterious color to the tribe.

Due to the isolation of their residential areas, the Tuwas always marry their close relatives, which has made the quality of the people drop increasingly. According to the governmental prediction, the tribe will possibly disappear within a couple of generations.

(China.org.cn by Chen Lin, January 27, 2004)

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