Many of the carved standing stones from the Turkic period have been removed from the steppes and meadows of Altai. The Altai people deeply feel the loss of these ‘monuments’. Their removal makes it impossible to resurrect the original historical landscape or to study this type of monument in relationship to the surrounding natural landscape or other histroical monuments. I often hear it said, that ‘kamenye baba’ as they are referred to, are not a part of the Altai people’s cultural heritage. The creative pieces below by Aiaru and Alas, both members of the younger generation, cause one to consider this point.
‘My Fellow Countryman’ by Aiaru Toxtonova
The first time I came to Moscow was to sit my entrance exams. Never before had I seen so many people. In the metro, in the subways, on the streets and in the parks, they swarmed everywhere. I was amazed by the many storied buildings, packed trolley buses and traffic jams, by the massive bill boards, the beggars, and the coarse policemen.
After matriculation I returned home. It was the hottest part of the haymaking season. As we worked, I told of the capital, the metro and the institute. I breathed in the fresh mountain air, drank milk fresh from the cow. It seemed unreal that I should have to leave the village far behind for the noisy capital. The only town in our Republic, Gorno-Altaisk looked to me now, so small and familiar. And yet, I would indeed come and go from our bus station and purchase tickets home and back again.
September fluttered by like the autumn leaves and I gradually became accustomed to Moscow. It was hard to switch from the quiet and sedentary pace of the village to the noise and bubbling rhythm of the town. I dreamt of the haymaking constantly and of how in waking I had delighted in the wide open spaces of our land, listened to the whispering of the falling leaves, the babbling of the brooks and the breath of the autumn wind. I yearned for anything familiar. I missed the smoky ail (traditional Altai dwelling) and the crackling of the fire in the hearth. I longed for the warmth of my mother’s hands and grandfather’s unhurried tales. It seemed to me that Moscow would drain me of all my strength. I began to feel cramped. I couldn’t breathe. I wanted to go home. I needed to talk to someone.
Then, in the History museum, I met a fellow countryman. I recognised him immediately. He was greeting visitors sullenly and his eyes blinked from the flash of a camera. When the group of noisy schoolchildren had left for another room I went up to him.
Hello! I said. May I talk to you? My name is Aiaru. I’m from Boochi. Our winter cabin is under ‘Three Peaks’ in the Ursool valley, right next to your home! Say something! Talk to me. I’ve come to Moscow to study. I really miss Altai and have longed to meet a fellow countryman. It’s so dirty and stuffy here! I don’t think I can stand it any longer! I hate Moscow!
But what did you expect? You must see and experience everything in this life. Did you think you would simply arrive, learn it all and leave? The languor of you experience today is just the tiniest part of one difficulty of which many more lie ahead. You must get to know Moscow, learn to love her —for She has accepted you – you study here after all. Our homeland will always be waiting for you. You can always return to your father’s house. You are alive! Meet people, read, work hard and most of all, take care of yourself.
But what about you? I asked. You should be standing on home ground too! Why did they bring you here? You miss home even more than I do. Now is the most beautiful phase of autumn. The wind blows from Karakol, the smallest brooks are already beginning to freeze over, the tops of the mountains are going grey and the forests have shed their attire. After haymaking the cattle are brought down from the summer pastures to lower ground. This year the people were rewarded with an abundance of pine cones and many of the berries were plentiful. I wish I were in the silence of the valleys, where the blue sky shines above; the most trustworthy of roofs, where the stones, trees and starry night skies await us always.
He didn’t reply. He was as silent as all the other times I came to visit him…no doubt lost in reminiscence. The stone carving has much to remember. The calm face of a mature man, with long moustache and beard, wearing a small cap. In his right hand a full shaped vessel the left gripping a belt. It is hard for him to stand beneath the light of the bulbs on a granite base. For many years he showed people the way and guarded the grave of a fallen warrior at home in the Ursool valley. There are many ancient burials in our village and untouched stone carvings that to this day, guard the secrets of the ancestors. This stone helped me to bear the initial burdens of my time in Moscow and showed me the way on my road. I often visited him after that. He would doze off, wake up and fall asleep again under the hum of visitors. I have been in Moscow for six months now and recently returned home during the holidays. Many roads lie ahead leading through this many faceted life. I must learn to walk along them and find my one true path.
‘Kezer Tash’ (The Warrior Standing Stone) Lyrics from a song by ‘Alas’ a ‘skazitel’ from the Ulagan Region
In the depths of the sky the black kite soars, And in the bredths of the steppe stands Kezer Tash.
Suddenly, I hear a voice speaking in my native tongue: Who goes there?, asks Kezer Tash.
‘An Altai Telengit’, I reply. On hearing these words the eyes of Kezer Tash became moist and he said: ‘If you are a Telengit then it means that we live on. If the Telengits still live then I have won the warrior’s battle that lasted so many centuries. The life’s path that ended in misfortune I would now lay down on the strings of my topshur. But how can I guess at the secert of Kezer Tash who has stood here since the depths of time? Who mourned then in sorrow of the fallen warrior, laid to rest in the kurgan. And who placed Kezer Tash here as a monument for future generations to see? Century has given way to century, generation made way for generation. The lines on the face of life have changed a hundred times and the flame of the warrior’s age has faded, leaving only Kezer Tash as its messenger.
Who would now remove Kezer Tash – monument to the fallen warrior from its land, leaving the Kurai steppe an orphan in its abscence?
The Kurai Steppe stands orphaned, deprived of the reminder of the warrior’s saddle.