What is the history behind the developement of khöömei?

The phenomenon of Tuvan throat-singing, with its various styles of performance, continues to amaze people. The spiritual world of the Tuvans, like their lifestyle itself, consolidated and embodied the freedom-loving impulses of the steppe dwellers, the inhabitants of Inner Asia.

If one imagines how endless a steppe road is, how unhurried a Tuvan horse’s tread or pensive a camel’s step is, how far steppe roads and mountain paths stretch, then it will not be difficult to realize that the life of a Tuvan in the steppe is inconceivable without sygyt-khöömei, a symbol of the Tuvan steppe that is as quiet, measured, and interminable as life itself. It is not without reason that Tuvans puzzled ethnographers when they could not answer the question: “How old are you?” The matter was not that they were unable to count. This question itself made no sense to them because time per se was an abstract notion.

Nature created a striking acoustic effect in the mountains and steppes of Tuva, where every loud word echoes with deafening reiterations. Over time Tuvans learned how to extract from these sounds the incomparable melodies that are the hallmark of the Tuvan national singing tradition. This is why from time immemorial Tuvan throat singing has been the eternal companion of singers and storytellers.

A khöömeizhi was a welcome and honored guest in any yurt, who always gave his listeners the gift of his music, born in the heart and soul of his people. The melodies of khöömei accompanied the Tuvan people in all their joys and sorrows.

Khöömei Is a phenomenon close to the soul of the Tuvan people a means of expressing the Tuvan worldview, a symbol of Tuvan spirituality, and the key to the spirit of the Tuvan people. It is in khöömei that Tuvans found consolation in their hour of need ancient times khöömei has helped Tuvans persevere, overcome hardships with dignity, and preserve their humanity.

If a nation loses its own unique identity, it will disappear from the face of the earth. Current data make it abundantly clear that not only of researchers, but also members of the younger generation are trying to preserve the art of singing, as well as the customs, rituals, and traditions of the Tuvan people. By exploring and researching Tuvan throat singing, we are able to revive all genres of musical culture long songs (uzun yrlar), short songs (kiska yrlar), refrains and ditties (kozhamyktar), as well as instrumental works for such traditional instruments as igil, byzaanchi, doshpuluur, khomus (mouth harp), and other bowed, plucked, wind, and percussion instruments

Khöömei is an art that attracts the attention not only of connoisseurs of folk music, but also of all those who would like to learn about the history of the music and the spiritual world of the Tuvan people, and of their lyrical and ritual songs. Every ethnic group has contributed to the development of human civilization and global cultural heritage. Tuvans likewise have their own contribution of great value, which has been passed down for centuries from generation to generation, and that is khöömei. Locals have preserved in memory several techniques of this art, including khöömei, ezengilleer borbangnadyr kargyraa, and sygyt.

Is there a connection between khöömei and shamanic rituals?

The shaman acts as the physical manifestation of supernatural forces. As a representative of an animistic religion, the shaman, like ancient priests, used to heal people with the melodic, droning sounds of khöömei and with the khomus, which was known as aza dyly – the “devil’s tongue.” A few small silver bells were sewn onto the back of the shaman’s robe. According to the Tuvan shamaness Dürzü from Tsengel sumon (county) in the Bayan-Ölgii region of western Mongolia, simply the glint of the silver bells made all the evil spirits which are around immediately fly away.

The khomus a sounds of khöömei were traditionally considered to be paraphernalia of female shamans. Tuvan shamans believed that the ringing of the bells made black clouds disappear and evil spirits go away. Tuvans always thought of the bells that were attached to the back of shamanic robes as living beings, in many ways similar to humans.The belief in the beneficial effect of the bells sewn on the back of a shaman’s robe is based on the fact that humans’ inner organs are attuned to certain tones, and the whole body is a sensitive musical instrument that resonates with the surrounding sound field. The lower tones of khöömei have a calming effect, while the higher tones have a stimulating effect. The ringing of bells heals children with mental disorders. It was even a custom in Tuva to put people “possessed” by spirits “under the shaman’s robe,” as the evil spirits that beset such people could not endure the sound of bells. The same would be done to children who had suffered a severe fright. And when a woman gave birth to a child, the shaman would sing kargyraa.
Why were khöömei and kargyraa, when performed as part of shamanic rituals, associated with treating women during childbirth? Could it be that khöömei is a central energy “channel,” the “core* of the human body or of the spinal cord? The problem is how to teach every person to turn his attention inward, inside himself. Our internal being is the manifestation of that energy that is called the energy of the universe.





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2 responses

  1. Very interesting. I am nowhere near Central Asia (I’m in Switzerland) but the khöömei feels so familiar to me and seems to synchronize with my heart beat. It makes me feel “at home” when I hear it. Maybe I was in a past life?

    07/09/2019 at 12:44

  2. Pingback: Nature's Voice: Tuvan Throat Singing - Scrolls & Leaves

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