Every two years the Altai Republic holds an annual, national festival called ‘El Oiun’ which means ‘the people’s games’. The festival which was originally created by Nogon Shumarov used to be held in a different region of the republic each time. Now however, it held regularly held just outside ‘Elo’ village in the Ongudai region. The festival is held over three days at the weekend after the first new moon in July. The event begins with a ceremony. The ‘knowing people’ walk into the hills early in the morning and open the festival with a blessing.
The programme includes dancing, folk singing, throat singing and traditional sports such as wrestling and ’Kok Boru’ (Blue wolf). Kok Boru is by origin an ancient, Turkic game played on horseback. Two teams of horsemen compete to raise the body of a sheep from the ground and secure it in a cup shaped mound at their end of the playing ground. The game is dangerous and exciting. It begins in traditional style with an oath. The players stand in a line, facing the crowd and the judges and swear to play fairly before the gods and the crowd.
Each region is represented by a yurt decorated and equipped in their own particular style where guests can be greeted and people can meet and talk. 2006 marked 250 years of Altai’s inclusion into the Russian Federation which featured as an important element of the celebrations. In 1756 the territory that is now called Altai was under great threat from China. The Altai people turned to Russia as an ally for protection and in that year officially became part of Russia. The historical events of being taken captive by the Chinese and freed by the Russians were played out on the main stage.