Nivkh People of Sakhalin and
in Finnish as PDF tion
journal was originally written in my native Finnish, but has
now been translated both into English and Russian also.
Nivkhs and their music have been an enormous inspiration to
me, to our orchestra Ensemble
and to our conductor, Lygia
Before my first field trip in 2004, Lygia
the conductor of Ensemble
initiated the first contact with the Nivkhs on her field trip
to meet them in Sakhalin. At that time she met the
who introduced her to the legendary Nivkh singer, Tatiana
During that first encounter, Lygia O’Riordan recorded Tatiana
singing. These songs provided me with the vital material for
my composition, “Nivkh Themes”. On that same trip, Lygia
travelled to Nogliki to see Nivkh performances first hand and
to meet with the Nivkhs themselves. Armed with ancient
recordings of Nivkh singing given to her by Natalia Mamcheva,
as well as her own recordings, Lygia
introduced me to the Nivkh music. It was then that we both
became convinced that the indigenous peoples of Sakhalin and
of Russia must play a great role in the life of Ensemble
This diary is the first of many that we plan to publish during
our voyages throughout Russia to meet and work with its
indigenous peoples. This has also inspired Ensemble XXI’s
Circum Arctic Expedition to the indigenous peoples.
idea of my journal is to give a contemporary picture of the
indigenous Nivkh people of Sakhalin and to underline the
threat that their livelihoods and lives are under today, both
because of the oil industry and because of climate change. The
indigenous people are on the edge of this climate change,
which will sooner or later affect all of us.
fact that time is of the essence for the preservation of these
ancient cultures (a task which can be compared to trying to
save materials from an archaeological dig before they are
swept away by a landslide) is evident in the fact that two of
the sources of this beautiful music, Tatiana
died as I was beginning to compose “Ulita’s
died before the ink had dried on my work for Solo Violin.
I should mention that, in regard to the names of the Nivkhs,
the reader might find it confusing that their names are often
Russian (Tatiana, Lidia etc) and even include Patronymics.
This is because of the Russification of the Nivkhs during the
Soviet period. Nivkhs do not have Patronymics in their own
language. Unless otherwise stated, the persons mentioned in
this journal are Nivkh. All the Nivkhs whom I met, the Nivkh
terminology used and the names of instruments are all included
in glosaries at the end of the journal to help guide the
entry for that first day was as follows: ‘I am living in
the guest room of the hostel of Yuzhno Sakhalinsk’s
College of Fine Arts hostel. There is a shower, a TV and a
fridge, which despite having a thermostat never stops its
loud humming. This room is referred to as the “luxury
suite”. In order to be able to get to sleep tonight I am
going to unplug the fridge. The room has been cleaned, but
just to be sure I decided to wash the dishes and cutlery (4
cups, 2 plates, 3 knives, a fork and a spoon). The first
thing that I am going to do is to go to the local shop to
buy the delicious Sakhalin black bread and to get a local
SIM card, which is called “THE FAR EAST MEGAPHONE”!’
it was a long weekend, we went to the mountains to pick wild
rosehips and gather pine nuts from cedar tree cones. Then we
made traditional fish soup (Ukha) on a camp fire from
the fish that we had bought from the fishermen, but then it
began to sleet…’
that same trip to Nogliki in 2004, I had been riveted on the
train as Natalia Mamcheva related to me the legends of the
Nivkh people, explaining to me the intrinsic role that music
plays as a magical power in the Nivkh culture.
Interestingly, there is no separate word in the Nivkh
language for music, because it is so much part of the
spiritual lives of the Nivkhs. She also explained the
complexity of Shaman singing and how, through it, one can
recognise the various stages of a Shaman’s trance and his
communication with the spiritual world.
time, I met Natalia Mamcheva on my first morning when she
gave me all the latest news about her work. She told me that
about a month ago, an English ethnographer had visited the
North of the island, but was not interested in meeting with
any Nivkhs, but rather only in visiting ethnic museums.
gave me a long list of people with their contact details
whom she felt I should meet in the North of the island.
I also telephoned Margarita Buldakova’s family in Nogliki. I got to know Margarita and her family in 2004 when I lived with them in the former Nivkh Fishing kolkhoz (a collective of Nivkh fishermen). That had been in the summer when we travelled by boat to the Nivkh summer settlements on the narrow peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and the gulf. The vegetation on this windy stretch of heath is made up of grass and shrubs with dark berries called “Siksa” (crowberries).
low-lying wooden huts were built along the shores of the
gulf. The interiors were very simple with only a fireplace
and a large bench to sleep on, which comfortably fitted all
of us - 5 adults and four children and the two dogs slept
outside. As soon as we arrived the men left to check the
nets. On that occasion, while Margarita was cooking, Natalia
Mamcheva, the children, the dogs and I set off towards the
ocean (the Sea of Okhotsk) to collect suitable branches to
teach the children the rhythms of the ancient dances of the
bear ceremony. We found many beautiful branches whose shape
had been formed by the sea. The wind was chasing us along
the coast, but soon the rain forced us to turn back; for the
rest of the day Natalia and I taught the children in the hut
how to drum. When a storm arose from the ocean, we were
stranded for several days and then the adults joined us as
recounted how they were treated in the boarding schools
where they had been removed to by the authorities. They were
not allowed to speak their own Nivkh language and so the
“Russification” of the indigenous people was extremely
rapid. The Russians referred to the Nivkh people as
“Gilyaks”, which the Nivkhs insist means “dog” in
Russian, despite the fact that I heard them using this term
themselves on more than one occasion.
as a result of intermarriage between the Nivkhs and
Russians, there are fewer and fewer pureblooded Nivkhs.
Nevertheless, they all consider themselves to be Nivkh.
During the Gorbachev era, rights improved for minorities.
Nowadays there are over 5000 Nivkhs, of which almost 3000
live in Sakhalin.
now, to continue with my present journey…
I rang, Margarita Buldakova wasn’t at home in
Nogliki, but was in fact travelling by train and heading
towards Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. However, the children said that I
was most welcome, “our door is never locked and there is
always someone at home”. Then they asked me did I need to
be met. I said that there was no need to meet me because the
time of arrival was very early in the morning. By accident,
I had bought the ticket in Moscow for an earlier train
because I had forgotten that no matter what time zone you
are in, in Russia, all departure and arrival times on
tickets refer to the time in Moscow, which I suppose is one
way to centralize power in a country with 11 time zones!
day I also went to the Sakhin Centre (the administrative and
business centre in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk) for meetings and for
access to the Internet. In the evening I met the local
chamber orchestra’s conductor, Alexander Zrazhaev,
who had asked me to listen to their rehearsal. The music
was not very interesting and the musicians were struggling
with a difficult rhythm. They asked me for advice and I
showed them how they should practice it and what kind of
bowings they should use. They tried this and were greatly
relieved when it worked. So was I, since I was still very
jetlagged and wanted to sleep.
OVERNIGHT TRAIN TO Nogliki
my compartment in the train was a Russian lady on the way to
Timovsk. We immediately began to discuss life in Sakhalin.
She told me that since the collapse of the USSR, life had
got worse - a very typical sentiment from a person of her
generation in many parts of Russia. However, what she had to
say about the oil industry on the island did surprise me, as
in Moscow for example, one only hears environmentalists
criticizing the oil industry or deforestation.
She accused the oil companies of causing pollution
and also of robbing the land’s resources and said that
they are going to leave havoc behind them. She also
lambasted the lack of controls in regard to poaching as well
as the insane felling of trees at a time when most people
living in rural areas are either are out of work or are not
paid salaries for the work that they carry out. She was
angry at everybody and at everything, which was
understandable. Later on a youngish woman joined our
company. She was an environmental inspector and on her way
to check the areas of the gas pipeline. She announced (with
a grin!) that a young man had just raped her in her own
compartment and that she was not willing to go back there.
At first I was shocked, but then I started to feel that she
had also had a hand in it. Certainly she didn’t lose any
sleep over it and soon a happy snoring duet began between my
two fellow travellers, accompanied by the clackity clack of
was suffocatingly hot in airless the compartment. I decided
to brave the possible prowling rapist and go out into the
corridor to gaze at the nighttime scenery through the dusty
window. My fellow passengers disembarked in the early hours
of the morning in Onora and Timovsk.
Still sleep did not come to me and I killed the
time by reading the fascinating book written by the
Kreinovich about his expeditions to the Nivkhs in
Sakhalin at the beginning of the 20th century and
the dawn of Soviet Russia.
the snail’s pace of the train, the 700-kilometre trip took
16 hours. The Sakhalin railroad was built during the
Japanese occupation and therefore the width of the gauge is
narrower than in the rest of Russia. I wondered if that was
the reason why the carriage was bouncing from one side to
the other, from one side to the other, from one side to the
fed me warm soup with tea. Despite my protests, they emptied
the end room for my use alone. In the other two rooms nine
people were sleeping.
unpacked my things, made some telephone calls and visited
the local Administration’s Nivkh representative, Elena
also met Galina Deminyanovna Lok, a Nivkh Linguist to
ask for her advice. For many years she has collected and
recorded the Nivkh language and music and has been
instrumental in helping visiting ethnographers and linguists
during their field trips. She enthusiastically invited
herself to join me on my journey to the North.
During our first meeting in 2004, I had noticed that she always began singing from the note D. That made my task a lot easier because we were able to quite naturally continue on from her singing.
was clearly delighted to meet again. I knew that since we
had last met, she had undergone a very serious operation.
She greeted me with the words: ‘After my illness a new
song was born within me, which is better than all those that
I have sung for you before, but I just can’t get it
out’. I wished her patience in the birth of this new song
and taking my violin, we performed her old song together. I
also played one of the tunes used during the recitation of
Kalevala (the Finnish historical legend). Lidia Muvchik said
that it reminded her of a Nivkh lullaby, which she then sang
for me. I immediately notated it. She also sang an old
legend and I noticed that she was singing motives that I had
not heard her using before. However I did not want to
question her about this, as I was afraid to interrupt her
intuitive singing. What do I mean by this? Herein lies the
crux of the matter.
is very common amongst indigenous cultures that singing or
dancing is used as a form of communication, in the way that
we use words. Singing and dancing is an intrinsic part of
their human expression. A story or even a conversation can
suddenly change to singing and asking someone to repeat what
he or she have already just sung would be the same as asking
someone to repeat woord-by-word and with the same
inflections, what they have just said. A repetition would
most likely result in perhaps more or less the same meaning,
but with a different turn of phrase. Therefore, when
collecting material from traditional singers, one never asks
them to repeat a specific song, but rather asks them
to tell a certain story by singing. If they repeat exactly
what they have already sung once, one immediately knows that
modern singing has influenced them.
Before we left, she gave us a bag full of fresh fish called Navaga as well as some dried fish. Back at Margarita’s the girls suggested that we eat the fresh fish raw, but I didn’t realise yet what kind of a delicacy that would have been. So instead they fried it and from the rest we made soup.
the afternoon I went to meet the Nivkhinka-Klub,
which is a group of Nivkhs that meets every week to uphold
the Nivkh traditions. Unfortunately Zoya Chikhavrun,
whom I knew from my last visit, was so ill that she
couldn’t come. Neither could Vasily Sangi, the only
male singer left, who is able to sing in the traditional
style. Fortunately I had recorded both of them on my
Deminyanovna (Galina Deminyanovna Lok’s
older sister) was in the middle of playing the Tinrin (a one
stringed instrument, which resonates through a fish skin
that is tightly pulled over a round birch frame) for us when
suddenly loud Russian pop music started blaring out from
nowhere! The tiny elderly Nivkh lady reached into her pocket
and pulled out layers of cloth from which emerged her Nokia
mobile phone! What an advertisement that would have made!
home the girls are playing another traditional instrument,
the Brevno (please see a description of this
instrument in the glossary). ‘Tomorrow
I have a very early start…’
sun was already up. Galina Deminyanovna Lok
(hereafter referred to as G.D. was not at the kolkhoz
bus stop where we had agreed to meet, but I guessed that she
had already left for the railway station from where the bus
to Okha would leave and I was right. There she was, already
happily ensconced in the waiting bus without any
explanation. Although it was now 7.30am and the bus appeared
to be about to leave, a rumour was circulating that it would
only leave at 10.00am.
people than could possibly fit into the bus began to queue
up and as usual, nobody knew whether there would be a Marschrutka
(shuttle bus) going as well.
In the meantime I was desperately looking for a
toilet at the station, because I knew that I had 6 to 8
hours of non-stop travel ahead of me. I had also forgotten
to recharge my mobile phone. Fortunately, the railroad
officials had imaginatively found a great way of making some
extra revenue and were charging for recharging passengers’
phones! I was just getting my phone back, when I realised
that there was an enormous commotion outside. The long
awaited Marschrutka had arrived and three times the
amount of passengers than could possibly fit inside it were
trying to get in. At the same time, everyone in the big bus
decided to get off to try to get into the Marschrutka, since
it would leave two hours earlier than the big bus, where
everyone had been shivering and waiting for it to go.
was at this moment I realised, that despite her great
difficulties in walking, G.D. had already long
deserted the big bus and had beaten everyone into the
shuttle bus! There she was, guarding the last seat – mine!
grabbed my phone from the railway men and then saw that G.D.
had abandoned her luggage and my rucksack in the middle of
snow filled pavement. I struggled through the heaving crowd
to retrieve them and once inside the Marschrutka, the driver
pushed and secured them into a corner.
another Marschrutka appeared and in the end after all
this chaos, everybody was comfortably seated in some form of
transport or other.
are passing Viena. The road is icy. We are travelling
through a desolate landscape with kilometre after kilometre
of burnt down forests. The blackened, charred tree trunks
are still standing following the forest fires 20 years ago.
This sight continues endlessly. Even without the signs of
the forest fires, there is some sort of melancholy in this
landscape, just like in the North of Finland before the
mountains of Lapland appear. We are heading on the icy roads
towards the village of Val, which will be our first
we stretch our legs and our travelling companions, two
youngish Russian men in the back row, notice that I am
carrying a violin case and ask me where I am going. I tell
them that I am on my way to meet the Nivkhs and collect
their music. When, out of courtesy, I ask them the same
question, they answer “We are bandits” to which I reply
that I don’t believe them. They ask me why not. I reply
“Potomu chto banditi
ne yezdyat na marsrutkax” (because bandits don’t travel
in shuttle buses). After
they recovered from the shock of this answer, they replied,
“but we are only small bandits”.
we continue our journey, the bandits enquire from the
other passengers about the fishing opportunities in the
North. Later on I found out that in fact they were poachers,
which is in itself a profession in Sakhalin.
indigenous people, called the Ulchi or the Oroki
live in Val. There are only three hundred of them
left and their main livelihood is reindeer herding. However
the oil companies have almost totally destroyed this
livelihood by running a gas pipeline through their herding
fields. There is an oilrig nearby in the sea. There are
roads and barrack like camps, built for the temporary oil
company workers and their contractors all along the gas pipe
route. The fingerprints of the oil industry are visible
everywhere in the nature. There is a general atmosphere of
apathy - almost a stigma because everything is only
of the Nivkhs are unemployed. Their fishing has been
restricted, but the poaching is not controlled. The oil
industry and the general pollution are also reducing the
fish population at an alarming rate.
is an old thin Russian man sitting in the front of the bus.
Something about his appearance reminds me of an army
officer. He tells us that he is a native of Okha and
recounts the history of the region in detail – the
earthquake in Neftegorsk when the buildings collapsed
like houses of cards. He also tells us how the
“imbecile bureaucrats” (as he refers to them)
drained a bog, resulting in the two lakes (the main water
supply) drying up completely.
about a five-hour drive we arrive in Okha. The town
is not surrounded by mountains like Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk or by
forests like Nogliki. It seems much bigger than many other
towns that I have seen on Sakhalin. We get out of the bus
stiffly after the long trip and walk to the nearby shop, to
wait for G.D.’s youngest sister, Alexandra Hurjun.
She is visiting Okha on business from Nekrasovka and
when we see her we agree to meet in the evening to travel
together to her home in Nekrasovka.’
all laughed when I tried to imitate the Nivkh language. I
have noticed on several occasions that when I ask how to say
something in Nivkh the answer is always unclear.
It turns out that many of our words and concepts
simply don’t exist in Nivkh. For example, the concept of
weekdays or indeed a week does not exist for them; a month
is counted from the first moon. This is actually logical
because a week has nothing to do with nature’s concept of
time. For us it has come from the fact that God created the
world in 6 days and on the seventh he rested.
were well fed at Natasha Propka’s (left) with wonderful
food that included fish in various forms. Nivkhs eat fish
salted, cooked, baked, fried and prepared in the middle of a
fire. Smoking has only been introduced in modern times as a
result of the Russian influence. In fact I never ate
anything smoked when I was with the Nivkhs. With the fish
they eat fresh berries, i.e. blueberries, cloudberries, red
whortleberries, cranberries, Kamchatka bilberries and
crowberries. Nowadays many Nivkhs have become allergic to fish and they
say that it is because the fish have become “sick”.
we discussed fish and fishing. Baba Raija indignantly
sniffed as she told me how the waters have been polluted
with rotten fish. ‘In my day’, she said, ‘we used
every part of the fish, even the skin. Now the poachers just
remove the caviar from the fish and throw the rest of the
fish back in the water or onto the beaches to rot.’
Baba Raija had only been in Okha for a short
time, she doesn’t want to stay there and wants to return
to her village where, despite being blind, she had managed
for many years. She felt that there wasn’t enough air in
the apartment, although despite it being November, the
window was open.
conversations with Baba Raija mainly took place in
Nivkh; I didn’t find it appropriate to ask her to sing
immediately and decided to wait until our return when we
would stay overnight with her and her daughter, Natasha
is a journalist at the only Nivkh language newspaper. It is
published in Nekrasovka. She studied in Leningrad
where she had been a member of the famous Severnayoe
Siyaniye Ensemble. Unlike most of her generation, I am
told that she speaks excellent Nivkh. If anybody is an
example of a modern and confident Nivkh, it is Alexandra
Hurjun, but this is not surprising as her foster mother,
the late Olga Anatolievna Njavan was one off the most
famous masters of the Nivkh traditions. Njavan had
heard authentic Shamans in her childhood and had memorised
the beats of the Shaman drum. She was one of the few
masters of the Tinrin and also played the Vargan.
kept her flock in control. Apart from her children,
grandchildren and some relatives, the two orphaned children
of her late friend were also living with her. Before we left
to spend the night in her late friend’s empty flat, she
fed us with seal meat and other delicacies, which she was
very surprised that I ate. We watched the “Stars on Ice”
show on TV, but I thought that I would have preferred to
watch the stars in the sky or even more than that - to go to
bed. Before leaving Alexandra, we made arrangements for the
next day. I was a bit worried because Alexandra Laigun
of the Sakhalin Administration in Yuzhno Sakhalinsk had
organised for me to stay with her friend, Zoya Lyutova,
but I couldn’t be impolite to my hosts either. However, I
asked permission to telephone Zoya Lyutova. ‘What
do you want?’ she asked me bluntly when I rang her. I
decided to be equally blunt back and said that I was calling
at the recommendation of Laigun and I would like to meet,
but I hadn’t been able to call her from Nogliki.
Obviously, I couldn’t explain to her why I couldn’t stay
with her, but we agreed to meet the next day.
we left for the flat where we would spend the night. It was
in a two-storey block of flats and had recently been
renovated. For the first time since leaving
Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk I was able to have a shower.
Nekrasovka (Old Nekrasovka) is
an old kolkhoz from Soviet times. It is a grey and
run down village with wooden houses, which are built on a
hilly landscape overlooking the gulf.
ancient times and until the early 20th century
the Nivkhs lived in covered dugouts or in Ambars.
During the Soviet period the settlements were
transformed into combined villages, which then became
fishing kolkhozes (fishing collectives). These
included, amongst others, Rybnoe, Rybnovsk, Tengi and
these were abolished, the villages became deserted and the
people from the Northern villages mainly moved to
Nekrasovka, which was then expanded with apartment blocks
and became known as Novaya Nekrasovka (New
were on our way to meet Zoya Lyutova, who lives in
the last house of Novaya Nekrasovka, which is on the very
edge of the Gulf. En route we went to a shop to buy her some
gifts. A Nivkh never goes to visit another Nivkh without
bringing something. Fortunately Alexandra had no inhibitions
about advising me what to buy – tea, chocolate and
walked through the small corridor into Zoya Lyutova’s
cosy and neat kitchen. Upon seeing it I so wished that I had
stayed there overnight. On the telephone I had had a
completely different impression of our hostess, who in fact
was all smiles and extremely hospitable. We were immediately
invited to the breakfast table, which was filled with fried
fish and crowberries mixed in mashed potatoes amongst other
is the former choreographer and coach of a local folk
ensemble. She dressed up for us in her beautiful national
costume, which I photographed. In order to show my gratitude
I played the violin for her – first something classical
and then part of my composition on Nivkh themes. I was
struck by their immediate appreciation. Music changed the
atmosphere immediately and all barriers came down. Zoya took
out Natalia Mamcheva’s book on Nivkh music and asked me to
play some of the melodies notated there. They eagerly kept
asking me to play one melody after another, sometimes asking
me to play a little slower and nodding their heads in
we left together for the school where the Pila Ken Folk
Ensemble was already waiting for us. They didn’t
perform at our 2004 Pacific Rim Music Festival in Nogliki
because the museum in Nekrasovka had just burnt down
and all their instruments and costumes were destroyed. Alexandra
Hurjun’s colleague, Larissa Lukinichna Ivanova
came instead to sing at the festival as the representative
of the northern Nivkhs.
children were ready and waiting for us in their national
costumes. The announcement of each peace to be played was
blasted through a microphone in the very small schoolroom.
After this the leader sang a song and all the children ran
on to the stage, beating their sticks in a monotonous
manner. However, the boys’ pieces with rope jumping were
very skilful and a joy to watch. Alexandra asked me to play
for the children and I began with some Vivaldi, which they
listened to completely motionless. Then when I played
excerpts of their own music, they suddenly had the bright
idea that if they sang songs to me, I could play them on
tape for them so that they could use them in the future,
which I did happily.
little girl sang a very modern version of an old Nivkh song
into the microphone. That made me reflect on how quickly
they are losing their old traditions even though they live
quite far from the mainstream culture. Yet how could it be
otherwise when TV and radio are blaring out the same things
for them as they are for us, making our aural world
when we drank tea together, I tried to encourage them to
listen to the recorded material, which is included with
Natalia Mamcheva’s book of notations, in order to find
more interesting rhythms.
next person we visited was another Zoya, Zoya Vasilievna
Laigun, who originally comes from the Smidt Peninsula,
the most northern part of Sakhalin. She showed us old
pictures and told us how they lived there in the 50’s and
how the children were moved to schools in dog sleighs in the
winter, only seeing their parents during the holidays.
Nowadays people only travel to the Smidt Peninsula for
fishing or berry picking and hardly anyone lives there all
the year round any more.
us with fish, tea, berries and biscuits.
Whilst sitting on her sofa, I started to feel
terribly itchy, but didn’t think much of it and once again
played my violin in gratitude, which was received very
wind outside had developed into a snowstorm. Alexandra was
very hesitant about walking back on the icy path that was so
full of snow, but there was no transportation between these
two parts of the village. I was actually quite happy to walk
after all the sitting, eating and tea drinking. During our
visit to Old Nekrasovka I had not seen a single car,
but suddenly, one appeared in the middle of the snow. To my
astonishment it was Vitya (the Marschrutka driver who had
brought us from Okha) with apparently the only car in Old
Nekrasovka! He took us back to New Nekrasovka via
a longer route. I thanked him and went home to practice a
little and to write down my experiences.
Whilst I practised and rested, my travelling companion from Nogliki, G.D. had been going from one visit to another and was now having a rest with her sister, so I had a chance to be by myself for awhile. In the evening I waded through the snow for dinner at Alexandra Hurjun’s (via the shop). I joined the whole family in making varyeniki (minced meat in dough in boiling water), which we ate with salted fish. By now the itch in my arm had grown worse and a row of red dots had appeared. Everybody was sure that I had some kind of allergic reaction to fish and the doctor in the neighbouring flat gave me tablets to take. I personally did not believe that it was an allergy and was convinced that fleas, which had smelt an exotic foreign skin on Zoya Vasilevna’s sofa, had decided to take a nip at me. I didn’t take any of the tablets that were given to me and sure enough, no further “allergic reactions” occurred and in a few days the bites stopped itching.
we visited a former primary school teacher of the Nivkh
language, Svetlana Filimonovna Vidain. She vividly
described her childhood in the village of Tengi and
related how the Nivkhs lived in great harmony in their
settlements, i.e. if someone hauled in a great catch of
fish, he automatically distributed it amongst all the clans.
She also told me a very funny story about her meeting with
the legendary ethnographer, Yerukhim Kreinovich, when she young and was studying in Leningrad. He had come
to visit one of her fellow Nivkh students in order to hear
the Northern Nivkh dialect. However he didn’t identify
himself to the young Svetlana in case she would be
shy in front of him. Svetlana, who had no idea who he
was, asked her friend in the Nivkh language, ‘So who’s
this old greybeard?’ Her eyes nearly popped out of her
head when Kreinovich with a twinkle in his eye and in fluent
Nivkh introduced himself!
started to teach the Nivkh language at the beginning of the
80’s. In her childhood the children were not allowed to
speak Nivkh in school, although she told me that some of the
children actually succeeded in teaching their Russian
teachers some Nivkh. In those days everybody spoke Nivkh at
home. When I asked her, she told me that she had never seen
Shamans in her childhood. This confirmed what I already knew
- that the children who were born in the Soviet period had
never seen Shamans because Shamanism was forbidden in the
was surprising for me how the Nivkhs discussed environmental
problems; Svetlana told me how the temperatures had
definitely risen and that the periods of the so called
“weather breaks” (a term used throughout the north for
the period when the ice begins to crack and the snow crust
softens, making the roads or any territory impassable) had
become shorter. She said that formerly winter had always
arrived by this time of year. There was also a great
difference in the way the Nivkhs had lived in earlier times.
They never left any waste behind, as everything was used
completely. There was also a great respect nature. For
example, when her father cut down a tree, he made an
offering to the earth for forgiveness and an appeal that the
wood might be good and strong for the building of a boat or
again we ate like kings with whortleberries, crowberries and
mashed potato mixed with raw and cooked fish. I was told
that in the “old days” the fresh berries were mixed with
the fish and that sugar was never added to preserve the
am now skidding over the slush of mud and ice on the
potholed road to Old Nekrasovka, where I want to take
some photographs. Along the road some Nivkh children on
their way home from school greet me. I ask them what the
best way to get to the sea is and in a very friendly manner
they tell me which way to go. Since I am passing my
favourite shop “Smile”. I pop in to buy a bar of
chocolate. Inside two drunken Russians are having a fight.
incidents occur completely by chance, yet they create an
impression of a country and of its people. The shorter a
visit to a country the more quickly one’s conclusions are
formed from such incidents.
it’s raining and I am starting to get wet through and
it’s difficult to walk in this slush. I look across the
road and spot a hilarious sight. In the middle of the grey
and run down courtyard opposite, there is a new, shiny
bright blue Toyota, looking for all the world as though
it’s been put there to decorate the dull landscape!
completing my photographic excursion, I go home and dry my
clothes before going to Alexandra’s for dinner. My shoes
are dripping with water. Suddenly there is a ring on the
door. Alexandra, realising what the weather was like, had
sent her daughter’s friend (who was also living with her
child at Alexandra’s) with a huge pair of galoshes for me.
In order for my feet to stay in the boots, I put on layers
evening, Alexandra interviewed me for the Nivkh language
newspaper and also gave me a recording of Larissa
Lukinichna to listen to. I notated some of the melodies,
but they already represented the modern way of singing. In
the old style, the melody either finishes when the
words stop, or simply comes to an abrupt end. However in
this new style, the singers make a ritardando
(slowing down) at the end.
earlier times the singers were not “performers” and
actually the Nivkh language has no word for “performer”.
Stories were told through singing, work was accompanied with
singing and children were put to sleep by singing. Sometimes
people gathered together in the evenings to compete with
each other by singing.
each song on Larissa Lukinichna’s recording,
Alexandra Hurjun had recorded descriptions of the old
Nivkh traditions, whilst the ancient instruments played in
the background. Suddenly, during her final explanation of
ancient Nivkh costumes, Pachelbel’s Canon rang out in the
instantly recognisable recording by the Jean Pierre
Paillard Chamber Orchestra. “What on earth is
Pachelbel’s Canon doing here?!” I cried. I got an
equally astonished exclamation back: “PACHEL CHIVO??” (PACHEL
ZOYA AGNYUN VERSUS JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH
14.11. – Tuesday
Back to Okha. It is an early start back to Okha.
the night the weather had gradually started to get colder.
By the time G.D. and I arrive in Okha, the pools of
water on the roads have all turned to ice. Everywhere along
the road we saw fully operational oil-drilling sites. We
arrived at Baba Raija’s (Baba Efkuk’s) where we
were going to stay that night. We leave our luggage and have
a morning cup of tea. Alexandra Hurjun was with also
us. Afterwards she told me that Baba Raija reminded
her of her foster mother, Olga Nyavan, whom she had
nursed at home until she died. She also gave me a piece of
advice. If I wanted to get Baba Raija to sing, it
would be advisable to buy a small bottle of vodka!
and I went to visit the Russian head of the Department of
Culture, Lena Alexandrovna Koryeva. She
received us very warmly and was very eager to organise
concerts by Ensemble XXI in Okha. We were
shown the “House of Culture” concert hall, which was
acoustically far superior to anything in Yuzhno Sakhalinsk.
also visited the music school where we met the Rector and
some of the music teachers. One of the violin teachers was
delighted to meet me because she had heard so much about our
orchestra. Some of her colleagues had even travelled all the
way to Yuzhno Sakhalinsk to observe our master classes
there. Since then they had been hoping that we would come to
Okha to give a concert too. Had I not had so many meetings,
I would have loved to stay longer to chat with them. We
briefly visited the Okha Regional Museum and
had tea with the Russian curator who is a colleague of Alla
Siskova’s, the Ethnomusicologist whom I had originally
rung for contacts when she was in Vladivostok. However, I
knew that the most important purpose of my visit was yet to
my stay in Nekrasovka, I had studied Natalia Mamcheva’s
book and discovered several examples of Baba Raija’s
singing. They had all been recorded between 1981 and 1990
when Baba Raija was still living in her home village
of Rybnoe. Natalia Mamcheva had clearly not expected
me to meet Baba Raija (Efkuk).
this though, the son of the late Zoya Agnyun had invited
us to his home. Zoya Ivanovna Agnyun was an Amur
Nivkh who had been one of the most important masters of
the Nivkh traditional heritage. Her Shaman singing had
captured my attention from Natalia Mamcheva’s books and
recordings. Lidia Muvchik believed that Zoya
Agnyun had Shamanic powers because when she performed in
concerts as a Shaman, she actually went into a trance and
could not be stopped and had to be taken off the stage.
had heard her on tape, but when I saw her on a video I felt
that her singing was coming from far far away - from ancient
times. During her lengthy Shaman performance, she stopped
only once to have a sip of water. The same themes that I had
used in my composition in 2004 were recognisable with
variations when she sang them. The Nivkhs have a saying:
“what comes into my head, I sing”.
This is a typical phrase, but only a few can do it in
practice In Zoya Agnyun’s case this phrase became a
Agnyun’s son is an engineering specialist in the oil
industry. The wealth was evident when I entered his
apartment. The table was groaning with the usual Nivkh
hospitality, but he already represented a new generation of
Nivkhs. Such Nivkhs can only be found in business and
am playing part of Zoya Agnyun’s song to her son on
my violin. He reacts as though I am desecrating a relic. It
hurts me deeply. I ask myself, why am I doing this work? Am
I doing the right thing? Am I destroying the original music,
although what I want is to instil it in people’s
conscience? Suddenly his rejection clarifies my thoughts and
I address these to him directly. I tell him that my
relationship with the Nivkh music is completely subjective.
I tell him that I am not trying to arrange it or
pretending that this is the way it was originally played,
because that is impossible. I am reacting to this ancient
music, with its roots in the Stone Age and this is my
natural response, which I express through my violin. I use
the Nivkh melodies as building blocks and by their very
nature they influence the whole structure that will evolve.
It doesn’t need to please anyone –not even the Nivkhs.
The only thing that I need to do is to be honest to myself
and that for me is enough.
this I play the Andante of the Bach A Minor solo sonata. I
am still under the influence of Zoya Agnyun’s
Shaman singing and of her son’s reaction to my playing; it
can be heard in my playing – almost as if I were answering
Zoya Agnyun on the other side. The son becomes silent
and I see that his eyes are tearful. The music has affected
him. “What was that music?” he asked. I told him that it
was music composed over 300 years ago by Johann Sebastian
Bach. The name seems to be familiar to him. “Of course I
know of Bach”, he answers. I love his Moonlig
ht Sonata” I try to discreetly correct this mistake,
mentioning that actually it was Beethoven who wrote this
piece, but he does not believe me. I give up. Does it really
matter, whether it was Bach, Beethoven or the Nivkh master
Zoya Agnyun? When music effects - that is the miracle.’
ht Sonata” I try to discreetly correct this mistake,
mentioning that actually it was Beethoven who wrote this
piece, but he does not believe me. I give up. Does it really
matter, whether it was Bach, Beethoven or the Nivkh master
Zoya Agnyun? When music effects - that is the miracle.’
our first shots have been drunk and before I get the tape
recorder started, Baba Raija has already begun
singing! I immediately recognised the Northern (Amur
Nivkh) style of singing, which is rhythmically clearer
and sharper than that of the Southern Nivkhs. Unlike the
Southern Nivkhs there is clear structure of verses, which
varies each time. She then stopped singing and so to
encourage her I took up her song on the violin, whereupon
she immediately began singing again enthusiastically. After
this G.D. asks Baba Raija to sing a particular
song, but her daughter, Natasha reacts with irritation in
her voice saying ‘let mother sing as she wants’. Baba
Raija reacts to all this with an indignant exclamation,
‘are we not getting another shot of vodka?!’ We all
burst into laugher and pour another round, but Baba Raija
is silent. I am terribly disappointed and decide to use
another tactic. I take my violin again and tell her that I
will play for her. When she hears me plucking the strings of
the violin she wants to touch it. The blind Baba Raija
gently caresses the curved outline of the violin and then
touches the strings. I play her the Kalevala theme.
Everyone listens in silence. Then I imitate the sound of the
Tinrin for her.
is already familiar to her and she answers me with a long
song – a song that is more complicated than the ones that
she has sung for me before.
of being in 4, it contains 3 or 5 beats. The Minor and Major
thirds interchange. Her
voice is low and strong and she is in full flight. She also
begins to sing about me and how I have come from far, far
away and made a long journey to hear her sing. She sings
that I am half a century too late. Everyone becomes tearful
and silence descends on the room. Even G.D. is
fighting back tears. I think to myself that the whole
journey was worthwhile for this alone.
are all fifty years too late; we are a hundred years too
late. The continuation of this unique tradition of singing
is dependant on only a handful of old masters. They know
themselves how valuable their heritage is, but they have
rarely been listened to. The younger generations have not
learned the same way as their parents did from the older
generations, because they were sent away from home to the
boarding schools, thus breaking the oral tradition.
Efkuk (Raija) rises from her chair in a
dignified manner because she is already tired. That night
she sleeps a long, good and deep sleep. Even in the morning
when we wake up she is still sleeping. I start to get
worried. Was yesterday too much for this old lady? However,
Natasha laughs and says that she hasn’t seen her mother
sleep so soundly and for so long in many years. Luckily
though, Baba Raija (Efkuk) wakes up before I
leave. I am able to say good-bye to her and she wishes me a
very safe trip.”
flanked by local supporters before boarding the Ensas!
the sun shone through the filthy windows so that one
couldn’t even see the scenery, I pulled the curtain
across. The “tank” made regular stops, but I only got
out once in Val.
when we arrived at our destination, the Nogliki train
station, I decided to find out about the train timetables to
Chir-Unvd. I travelled “home” to Margarita’s
from the station in a Marschrutka
and found her in the middle of a big clothes-washing
day. I was so tired that I didn’t go anywhere that night,
but went straight to bed.
once more went to see G.D. to thank her for
travelling with me to Okha and Nekrasovka. She seemed to be
satisfied with the trip and promised to send me some salty
fish when her sister travelled to Yuzhno Sakhalinsk in some
The rest of the day I spent chatting with Margarita and her family. She seemed to have lost some of her old enthusiasm. On my previous trip to Sakhalin she had been full of ideas and had managed to find funding for them. For example she had founded her own organisation for the rehabilitation of alcoholics and had funded their treatment. One of these alcoholics, a young woman, was still living with her and Margarita was trying to find work for her. She had also sought funding for the reconstruction of an authentic Nivkh village and had got that too. All her children were weaving and sewing traditional Nivkh handicrafts. She had also founded a folk ensemble, Plaiuf, which had given one of the most successful performances in Ensemble XXI’s 2004 Pacific Rim Music Festival. At that time they had moved away from Russian pop music and had instead started to use their own national rhythms making great progress in a very short time. That is actually an extraordinary list of achievements for one person who, apart from all of this, feeds her whole family and accommodates anyone who needs help in her home. Is she too successful? Too capable? There are many envious people around her and that tires her out. She wants a change. A new start somewhere else.
arrived at the Ada-Timova
station in the early evening in the middle of a heavy
snowstorm. The conductor (in Russian trains every carriage
has a conductor who looks after the passengers, providing
bed linen, cups of tea and wakeup calls) told me to be
careful getting off as one can sink into the snow.
sank into the snow right up to my hips. The train stopped
for only one minute and I was the only passenger getting
off; the snow was swirling around me and I cursed my heavy
rucksack. Why on earth had I taken all my violin music and
my camera weighing at least a kilo? Somewhere in the midst
of the snowstorm I saw the lights of the car that I had been
told would be waiting to drive me to the village of Chir-Unvd.
I waded towards it and spotting an SUV, made a mental note
of the life style of Chir-Unvd inhabitants. I did not
yet know that there is a total of three SUVs in Chir-Unvd
– all of them owned by the man meeting me! He turned out
to be the “Head of Chir-Unvd village” and the brother of
Nadezhda Laigun, the Sakhalin Governor’s
Representative of Sakhalin’s Indigenous peoples.
I approached the car, an automatic window slid down. I
greeted the driver and asked him if he was meeting me.
“Are you Pia?” “Yes”. He nodded brusquely. I opened
the rear door and struggled to haul my rucksack up on to the
backseat and then “mounted”
the backseat of the SUV myself. The brother of the
Governor’s Representative of Sakhalin’s Indigenous
peoples and “Head of Chir-Unvd village” remained seated.
set off on the winding road where the ice had not yet set on
the potholes in the road; it was only a journey of 20
kilometres, but we had to travel very slowly because of the
potholes, which were covered with snow. Finally I saw the
Nivkh village of Chir-Unvd dozing in the midst of the pure
white snow. I saw two story wooden houses in front of me; we
in front of one of them. Further down the village road, the
snow-covered gables of little houses were faintly visible.
a sweet elderly Nivkh lady and the curator of the
museum, with whom I would stay, welcomed me downstairs. We
climbed the stairs of the wooden house to her second floor
flat and were greeted enthusiastically by
two dogs. Lydia
Romanovna’s flat was neat, cosy and warm. In the
kitchen the fire was crackling. The fire also served to warm
the water pipes throughout the apartment – a kind of
independent central heating system. A cupboard in the corner
of the apartment had been turned into a little bathroom. The
water system consisted of a receptacle
above the sink with
two stems. When one jolted one of the stems upwards, water
poured out of the other stem into the sink and through it
into a bucket under the sink. The kitchen had the same
system. The used water was then brought outside and poured
away. Outside, beside the woodshed, there was a common
toilet used by all the inhabitants of all eight apartments
in the house.
water was drawn from one of three wells in the village and
carried home in buckets.
this time of the year Lydia Romanovna
apartment twice a day. Her cooking range, which was made of
bricks and covered with plaster, was cracked in several
places and as a result part of the heat escaped. Although
some warmth passed through into the other rooms, they were
still much colder. She had recently renovated the whole flat
herself and the difference between her flat and the
neighbours’ flat was like night and day. The people next
door invited us in to look at some handicrafts and every
corner of the flat was dirty and the whole place was run
down, shabby and smelly.
night Lydia Romanovna gave me a delicious supper in
the warm kitchen. Apart from the normal gifts, I had
her fresh bread from Nogliki because I had heard that
it was seldom available in Chir-Unvd.
was hard to believe that this slightly bent over old lady
who was standing in front of me had seen the world so
widely. Maybe her almost childlike openness came from the
fact that she had performed a lot. It took a great deal of
persuasion on my part for her to agree to sing for me, but
finally she did. The style of her singing was clearly
related to the way in which Tatiana Ulita or Lidia
Muvchik sing. The recitative like singing and the
gentle, constantly changing rhythms with the large tremolo
at the end of phrases is characteristic for all singers from
Chir-Unvd. This demonstrates the music’s ancient
origins. For centuries these Nivkhs have been more isolated
than those who live in the North and therefore their music
has been less effected by outside influences.
this Antonina also took the Kalni (the Nivkh trumpet)
and sang into it. Her voice strengthened remarkably. The
range of her tremolos was made up of major seconds and major
sixths. When she had played together with Anna Khadzigan
in former times, Antonina always started from a higher note
in the range of about an octave, changing the intervals in a
slower tempo. Khadzigan started from a lower note and
stayed “inside” Antonina’s range, which reached an
augmented fourth as she changed her intervals more
frequently in order to take regular breaths, since singing
through the tube is very strenuous. It created a most
interesting and melodically rich structure.
Nogliki I had also heard a Kalni duet. The intervals
and rhythms, both individually and between the players are
random, depending on each person’s voice range and
breathing technique. The final result however, was always
harmonious and reminiscent of the honking sounds made by
flocks of swans or cranes.
have experienced the same sensation in Orthodox Churches,
when the choir sings in one tonality and tempo and the
Priest responds in another tempo and in random intervals,
regardless of what the choir is singing.
the Soviet period many Mordovans (a Finno-Ugric
people in Central Russia) moved to this area, which resulted
in mixed marriages between Russians, Nivkhs and the
Mordovans. Chir-Unvd is located inland on the rich
plains of the Timovsk
and corn were grown and cattle were bred here. Now
everything has stopped and there is no work available;
however unemployment is not the only problem. Poaching is
the main problem in the coastal areas, but in Chir-Unvd
inland) the forests are being cut down to such an extent,
that when the rivers flood, the soil is washed away by the
water. This is because the trees are no longer there to keep
the earth together. In a place like Sakhalin, with its great
rains and snowfalls, this is disastrous.
tea drinking sessions can last all day as one story follows
another and in the old days they sometimes lasted several
days! I got a lot of interesting information about the
various Nivkh clans.
often refer to other Nivkhs as their sisters and brothers.
This in a way is true, since in earlier times the daughters
of one clan were given to another clan, but the sons of the
clan, where the daughters had come from, took their wives
from yet another clan. As a result there was no
intermarriage. The code of behaviour in regard to
faithfulness was also interesting. Whilst it was acceptable
for the younger brothers to have intercourse with the oldest
brother’s wife, the oldest brother was not allowed to
touch the younger brothers’ wives, as they were deemed to
be the same as his sisters. It was not unusual for women to
marry several times, as they generally outlived the men.
our conversation, they talked a lot about Russification.
This was clearly a very sore point for Antonina
Shkaligina, who on more than one occasion broke into
the conversation and repeated the same phrase ‘When we
were children, Russians derided us when we spoke Nivkh and
sneeringly cried, ‘aren’t you able to speak Russian or
what?’ Anything that was part of the Nivkh culture was
considered laughable and shameful. On the other hand, as the
Nivkhs themselves pointed out, when the kolkhoz was still
functioning, everybody at least had an income.
same day we bumped into Raisa (I only know her first name) a
writer of fairy tales. I had last met her a couple of years
previously, during our
Rim Music Festival
in Nogliki. She was now in Chir-Unvd
collecting material and “searching for inspiration”.
“Searching for inspiration my foot!” cried the Nivkhs
indignantly later. ‘She doesn’t speak any Nivkh and just
writes down our legends in Russian!’ However, she was
quite kind to me and gave me a tape of the rich and
expressive singing of a real Nivkh-Shaman, called
in the 1950’s in Japan), which I used as material
in my composition Nivkh Themes. At the end of
the Soviet – Japanese War of 1945, Nakamura was
taken to Japan along with the entire indigenous Ainu
population of Sakhalin.
is certainly not difficult to find inspiration in Chir-Unvd. The entire
village uses wood heating and all the water is drawn from
wells and there is neither drainage nor a sewage system.
Along the main village road one can see lovely
log houses, but they are all run down. The air is clean as
there is no transport. The public
transport between Chir-Unvd and Timovsk
is almost non-existent. One sees no cars, yet the “Head of
the Village” owns three newly renovated log houses in the
middle of the village. He uses them as garages for his three
SUVs. He also has a registered Rodovoe Hazyiastvo – a kind of
“Huntin’ Shootin’ and Fishin’ ” business.
This means having the legal right to make a livelihood from
hunting, fishing or private farming. Recently there has been
a proliferation of such organisations. Some say that they
are fronts for poaching, but there are some that are genuine
and trying to recreate the old Nivkh lifestyle. The fact of
the matter is that fishing, hunting or berry picking, either
legal or illegal, are the only means for most Nivkhs to
as the day ended, I walked around the older part of the
village before going “home” to Lydia Romanovna’s.
Before it got dark, firewood and water had to be brought in for the evening. She was
somewhat surprised when I offered to help, but I assured her
that I was no stranger to this and had often done it in
Finland. That evening we were invited to her son’s place
where there was a private Banya (A bath house). He lives in
the newer part of Chir-Unvd, which was built in the
1980’s. The houses are not privately owned, but rather
were built for the workers of the kolkhoz. The Banya
had no dressing room area,
so I tried to dress in the Banya itself and got wet through;
I stepped out into the adjoining corridor, which was
freezing and dressed there and not surprisingly I caught a
cold. The son’s wife was a friendly Russian lady who had
just baked delicious pies. According to Lydia Romanovna
this lady has “green fingers” and grows all her own
vegetables in the garden. I got the impression that the
Nivkhs, unlike the Russians, are not very enthusiastic
gardeners. They prefer to go into the forest to pick berries
or to go fishing and hunting. However, it is a fact that
with all the tumultuous changes over the last decade in
Russia, had it not been for Russians growing their own
produce and preserving it for winter from Moscow to
Sakhalin, many would not have survived.
Sakhalin is one of the richest oil producing regions in the
world. All the international oil companies are competing for
the profits from oil and gas. Yet at the same time many
Russian and Nivkh families in the villages and the towns
depend on the pensions of their babushkas. In order to
survive, the Nivkhs make their living from the nature, but
the condition of the nature is rapidly deteriorating. The
fish are disappearing at an alarming rate and it’s
difficult to catch even the quotas that are allowed.
Poaching has not been contained and the forests that
haven’t been destroyed by fires are either being razed to
the ground for senseless logging or brutally levelled to
make way for the gas pipelines. The berry harvests are also
seriously deteriorating. Both the nature and the lives of
the indigenous peoples are being destroyed apace.
in the evening Lydia Romanovna told me how she had
been part of expeditions organised by some Sakhalin and
international environmentalists. They had gone on foot,
along what should be pristine beaches,
to collect all the rubbish that had been dumped in the sea
by industry and by individuals and then throw on to the
beaches by the tide. Yet they refuse to lose hope and
continue to soldier on…
I have been amazed at how little the leaders of the various
ensembles ask advice from the older people, i.e. how to play
rhythms and how to dance. They just use the “grannies”
as an extra exotic flavour in the performances of individual
pieces, but they don’t take advantage of their skills or
knowledge. All the Brevno performers of the younger
generation play the instrument in a monotonous and dull
fashion. They dance in synchronisation, which is the
complete antithesis of the authentic bear dance, where every
individual dancer’s continuous and gentle movements
imitate the bear. The dancer is supposed to dance on one
spot only, until her feet have made a hollow in the ground
(this of course takes place outside). Whenever I have visit
these ensembles, I always advice them to consult with the
old people, who have heard the authentic Brevno playing and
seen a real bear dance.
who had joined us in the library for tea, now came to the
museum with some bark from a birch tree as well as roots,
which she had cooked in water. She wanted to show me how to
make a basket and how to bind the sides together with the
softened roots; under her watchful eye I practised this new
skill and she gave me the result of my labour as a present.
In return I paid for my lesson by buying some of the baskets
that she had made and so both of us were very satisfied!
told me how they had had an Ambar by the side of the river
and how she very much regretted that, in their ignorance,
they had destroyed it. The former summer cottages, known as
Ambars, were beautiful log huts standing on legs of high
tree stumps and were no longer used. They were extremely
practical since it didn’t matter how much snow fell, it
was impossible to bury them. When the ladder was drawn up,
the wild beasts couldn’t get in to eat the fish and
berries. The Ambars were used to dry the fish, known as
Yukola for consumption during the winter as well as to store
berries, which gradually either dried or froze. This was the
traditional storage method, which required neither sugar nor
salt. Ambars were also used to store food during the winter
when the Nivkhs would travel to them in their dog sleighs,
to take out the food.
pulled out a box of faded photographs. As she showed them to
me, she told me her life story. Needless to say, and once
again in the background, there was the inevitable and
unavoidable family member vying for attention – the TV was
playing Russian entertainment.
seems that half of Chir - Unvd’s inhabitants are Antonina
Vasilevna’s relatives. She had been married twice. Her
first husband, a Mordovan, had been killed in one of the
villagers’ feuds. Her second husband had been of Korean
descent. Altogether Antonina had eight children as well as
numerous grandchildren. Her daughter, who was there when I
arrived, seemed quite distant and left fairly soon. After
awhile she returned with her husband and an older sister who
had a child. Somehow we all fitted into that small room. I
was about to leave when Antonina asked me to play something.
When I began to play, the ice immediately broke between
Antonina’s children and me. Once again the violin turned
out to be the best form of communication and I ended up
staying for an intense discussion about subjects such as
unemployment and the loss of the Nivkh culture. It was hard
to believe that the owner of this poor little tilted hut
would have been the Ambassador of her Nivkh culture in New
York and Japan. It was already dark when I returned back to
Lidia Romanovna’s. The bark of the village dogs
accompanied me on my walk under the stars. Otherwise
everything was silent.
the concert, Lidia Romanovna, Galina Dmitrievna
Vogzibina, Antonina Shkaligina, Julia Miglut and
one of the schoolteachers and I sat down in the room where
the concert had taken place to eat salt fish and potatoes,
washed down with the ever available tea. Galina, the
librarian, suddenly handed me a big plastic bag full of
salted fish – four big kita (a type of salmon) one
of which I was to bring to Natalia Mamcheva. After the meal
I decided to go for a walk and Antonina joined me. We
went down to the banks of the River Tim, which
peacefully flows through the snow from Chir- Unvd to Nogliki
and then all the way to the sea. Although it was a freezing
minus 15C, the sun was shining. On the horizon behind the
river, was the mountain range. The scenery was so different
from the south of the island. The mountains were further
away and it was hard to say whether they were higher or
lower than those around Yuzhno - Sakhalinsk. The scenery
around Chir-Unvd, with its pine forests was just like
in Finland and wasn’t as barren as that found in
Sakhalin’s North. On the other hand I was told that are
not as many berries or as great a variety of fish around Chir-Unvd
because it is inland. I asked Antonina, who still
remembers the old way of life and speaks her own language,
which of her descendants can speak Nivkh and I urged her to
teach it to them.
was surprised and sad when she heard that I was already
leaving that night.
Back in Yuzhno- Sakhalinsk I went to the shop and bought a pair of scissors, loo paper, black bread, carrots, apples and Chinese cabbage. I had a shower and then threw all my dirty clothes and washing powder into a bath full of hot water. Later that day Natalia Mamcheva came to visit me. She listened attentively and asked many questions in detail as I gave her a full account of all my meetings. She was amazed when I told her that I had met Raisa Nyengun (Baba Raija “Efkuk”)! As I had guessed, she had met Baba Raija the last time in 1990 in Rybnoe and thought that she was already dead. I also told Natalia that I had met Antonina and Tatiana Shkaligina in Chir-Unvd and that the latter had said she was coming to Yuzhno- Sakhalinsk to stay at her aunt’s place, which is where her grandmother, Tatiana Ulita lives. Although Tatiana Ulita had been in hospital, Tatiana Shkaligina had told me that she thought her grandmother would love to see Natalia Mamcheva and me. She had promised to let me know me how Tatiana Ulita was and Natalia and I decided that we would try to plan a visit to her the following day.22.11. – Wednesday
Finally I had a chance to practice the violin in the morning. In the afternoon Natalia Mamcheva and I visited the Folk Arts Society where I met many people who nostalgically remembered Ensemble XXI’s visit to Yuzhno Sakhalinsk. They told me that they had been in every single one of our concerts and wanted to know when we were coming back. I felt like a VIP. Later on that day, Natalia Deminyanovna from Nogliki came to visit me in the College of the Arts, with a plastic bag full of fish. I invited her to the college café downstairs and introduced her proudly to the Rector of the College.
however one of the highlights of my journey to Sakhalin was
about to occur – the meeting with Tatiana Ulita herself.
had had a difficult life and was seriously ill as a child.
However a Shaman cured her and predicted that she would live
a long life and indeed outlive the rest of her generation.
This prediction has already been proved to be true. She was
born in the small fishing settlement of Potovo and remembers
the Ainu and Japanese periods. She had followed her husband
to the mainland when he was in a prison camp in Khabarovsk.
Her memory is like an endless treasure chest - full of
legends, fairytales, stories and oral traditions. She
remembers old ritual rhythms and the words that they were
created from and how people mumbled them to themselves.
Tatiana Ulita can give a first hand account of what it was
really like to be at a bear ceremony (when the bear was
killed with one arrow straight to the heart) and how the
ritual dances were actually performed. She is a living
example of how the oral tradition develops at every
retelling. I remember the first time that I visited her and
she told me a mystical and somewhat frightening legend of
the mountain people, Gorni Chelovek – about a woman who was transformed into a bear and
gave birth to twins from a bear. They were considered to be
bears that could sometimes take on the human form, the
opposite of werewolves.
was very critical about her own singing. She complained
about her own voice, which she did not consider beautiful
because she did not have a wide tremolo. It was very
difficult to get her to sing. Like Baba Raija Efkuk
there was no singing if there was no Arak (vodka)!
She would cough and clear her throat and then complain that
it was so dry. A gulp of vodka immediately cured her larynx
and she would start singing until the vocal chords dried up
again… After each gulp, the singing became more powerful
and she was able to sing for longer periods at a time. When
she finally stopped she used to cry out, “what are you
thinking of - you are making an old woman drunk and then you
expect her to sing?!”
melodies were rhythmically very varied, but one could always
feel the pulse. When she was telling a story she might keep
repeating a note, depending on how many syllables were in
the word; if several words were leading to the main point in
a sentence, she would repeat one note for the unimportant
words and only change the note with the main word. One could
give her an idea of a story and she would make a song of it
straight away. I had witnessed a hilarious episode when I
was in Chir-Unvd, which demonstrated how mischievous Tatiana
Ulita could be. The day that I was having tea in the museum
with Antonina Shkaligina and Julia Miglut, Tatiana
Shkaligina (the granddaughter of Tatiana Ulita)
arrived with a recording made of Tatiana Ulita by
some people who didn’t speak any Nivkh and wanted to know
what she was singing about. They started to listen to the
recording and suddenly to my amazement they began falling
about with laughter. Tatiana Ulita’s singing was
flowing along as merrily as a stream in spring and I could
not imagine what they could be laughing about. It turned out
that Tatiana Ulita was merrily singing,
“Here I am singing total rubbish - but what
difference does it makes because they don’t understand a
Ulita was a real artist like her contemporary, Zoya Agnyun but unlike the latter, Ulita had never sung in a folk ensemble and her singing had not been effected by being performed on the stage and therefore had kept its originality.
and I arrived at Tatiana Ulita’s. She lay in her
bed, small and frail. The bones in her arms were poking
through her skin. We realised immediately that this time
there was no question of Arak (vodka). We greeted her
and she said that she remembered us, but I doubted that. I
decided straight away to open my violin case and I told her
that I wanted to play for her to thank her for all the songs
that she had sung for me. Without telling her what I was
going to play, I imitated the playing of the Tinrin.
She raised herself up slightly in the bed and said, ‘Tinrin
– that is the Tinrin.’
She said this in Nivkh, but her daughter translated it into
Russian for us. Then I asked Natalia Mamcheva to take
Ulita’s hand and hold it above my left hand as I
played a tremolo so that she could feel it and understand
how I was doing it. This was because of Ulita’s
blindness. On the Tinrin, the tremolo is produced with the
tongue vibrating the string. Ulita nodded with
approval and after I had played some of the bear dance
rhythms, she started to mumble the words, almost as if she
were casting a spell. It was Ulita herself who had
told us that while drumming the player always repeats the
ritual words in her mind, because the rhythms are based on
those very words.
took my hands and held them and said both in Russian and in
Nivkh ‘Good girl’.
felt as though the music had given her more life. She raised
herself up even more and started to speak rapidly in Nivkh.
She started to repeat the rhythms and accompanied them with
the movements of the bear dance using her arms and her
hands. Then she insisted that I was her relative from the
other side of the river. When I told her that I came from
far away - from the mainland over the sea, she replied
‘That’s right, that’s right’ and gestured towards
the right with her arm as if she was clearly seeing the
other side of the water. This was not a matter of old age;
it was part of her reality, of her world. Suddenly she got
right up in to a sitting position in her bed and started to
sing. We all held our breath. She had got her strength back.
Her voice was weak, but there was no need to persuade her
now, because this time the music had intoxicated her. We
were lucky that her daughter was present to translate Ulita’s
rapid speech from Nivkh into Russian. Without her we would
only have understood what Ulita said in Russian. Then
I played to her again, this time the Sarabande from Bach’s
D minor Partita. She listened attentively and when I had
finished she again took my hands and held them repeating,
‘good girl, good girl - your mother and I were sisters.’
I would have loved to know who she thought I was.
was heartbreaking to leave her. Her daughter told us that
sometimes in the morning Ulita would wave her hands
from side to side in the air. When she asked her mother what
she was doing, Ulita answered that she was chasing
away the spirits and that she had seen them when she had
visited the upper world. Ulita explained to her daughter
that the good spirits come from the sea where the fresh air
is blowing, but the bad spirits rise up from the pools of
the deep forest where the water stands still.
of this was as real to Tatiana Ulita as our visit had
been that day.
we were saying good by to her, she started to complain that
she hadn’t a kopeck and that this visit called for a
On return from this visit to the Nivkhs, I began to compose my work for string orchestra, Ulita’s Walk, which I have dedicated to Tatiana Ulita. The main theme is the singing motive of Tatiana Ulita - “the walking theme” (after the idea used by Mussorgsky in his Pictures at an Exhibition).
composition depicts Ulita’s life during which she pays
visits to other Nivkhs’ lives. The names in brackets are
those of the Nivkhs whose themes I have used.
(Ulita’s theme) becomes very sick as a child and the
Shaman cures her (Olga Nyavan, Ulyana Bagrina).
meets a jealous wife (Ekaterina Hitkuk, Olga Nyavan,
Ulyana Bagrina, Ulita)
visits the four layered underworld, which is described
by a 4-part fugue (Ulita’s moaning theme, Antonina Shkaligina, Anna Khadzigan, Ulyana Bagrina, Ulita)
the Underworld she meats a long dead Nivkh who tells her
a heroic legend (Odrain, Olga Nyavan, Ulita)
arises to the upper world amongst the birds, wind and
the spirits of the sea (Baba Raija Efku,
Olga Nyavan, Ulita)
began to compose this work in February 2007 and finished it
in May 2007.