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February, 15, 2017

Milky Wine and White Old Man: Unusual Traditions of Siberians

Despite the severe climate and difficult temper, the peoples of Lake Baikal are very hospitable, and their folk traditions are full of love to nature and romantic traditions. A mysterious lake which has not yet disclosed all its secrets to scientists attracts ordinary tourists and researchers, as well as fans of shamanism and esoterics. And any of them will be welcomed with honors.

Buryats, carefully preserving their traditions and the ceremonies of ancestors who have been living on the territories adjacent to Lake Baikal since olden days, are considered one of the most hospitable peoples. The difficult conditions and nomadic way of life - all these had little to do with visiting friends and relatives. And if this happened, it was done on a large scale. Therefore, hospitality traditions are the key ones for the peoples of Siberia.

They thoroughly prepared to paying visits: the hosts made a list for several months in advance and surely came to meet their guests to the borders of their tribal lands. This tradition has been preserved until today. But even if a visit is unexpected, the guests who come to the house will be treated at the highest level.

According to the tradition, guests were seated at the best place and treated with all the best dishes. The obligatory rite is slaughtering a sheep for a treat. The head was served to the most honored guest at the table.

Siberians have many important traditions connected with accepting guests. For example, a special place is occupied by the tea ceremony. A guest is welcomed and seen off with a bowl of this fragrant drink. The residents of Baikal consider it to be sacred, so it is customary to express gratitude and good wishes during the tea ceremony.

However, the guest is offered to drink not only tea, but also a special drink - milky wine (“tarasun”). The host serves it to his guest in a special way – in his right hand, but holding its elbow with his left hand. It symbolizes the purity of thoughts and friendliness, from heart to heart. The guest accepts the bowl in the same way, responding to the openness and reciprocity.

In addition, it is not customary to pay visits empty-handed. You cannot refuse from accepting a gift in any case. And, of course, the donator will be given a reply offering.

From olden times each Buryat tribe had its own territory. And it was believed that they were guarded by spirits. Stone constructions – “Obo”- were built in honor of the invisible land owners. Each person driving or passing by these constructions had to leave something there - a flap of clothes, a coin or some food.

The natives of the Baikal Region take the surrounding world with special care. Many places are regarded as sacred, and shamans still conduct rites. It is obvious that you shouldn’t litter or do harm to nature – even evil thoughts are not permitted.

The locals have a special attitude to Lake Baikal. You mustn’t desecrate it, throwing litter or washing clothes in it. They say that Genghis Khan, when he stayed in this region with his army, introduced death penalty for “insulting” Baikal.

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The respect to water is in the blood of the indigenous inhabitants. 

You should take care of it, you cannot pollute it and hinder the flows. In Soviet times the respect to nature changed by a consumer attitude. The man was not waiting for the nature’s mercy, but took it at once. Rivers were turned around, the dams were built. The Lake and the rivers flowing into it didn’t avoid such a coarse invasion. Now people are reaping the fruits of their thoughtless intervention in natural harmony.

But the Siberians have always been faithful to their traditions and treated the surrounding world with an extraordinary respect. They perceive themselves as a part of this world. And this part is not one man, but a family. Indigenous peoples of Siberia treat their family trees with great respect and affection. Any child will easily name all his/her paternal ancestors up to and including the eighth generation back. Just like for many peoples, the birth of a boy means happiness for the family. Perhaps this is the result of the harsh living conditions. After all, men’s strength is needed for obtaining food, hunting. So the sons are taught horse riding, weapons handling from an early age. All children are raised with understanding of and respect to the natural world, the world of spirits, with deep veneration to the elders, since early childhood.

The most important holiday is Sagaalgan (the beginning of the White Month). It is celebrated on the first day of the first spring month according to the lunar calendar. It is very close to our New Year in its nature. The celebration also begins the day before. Special prayers are told all the night long. Buryats also have their own Father Frost - his name is Sagaan Ubgen (the White Old Man).

Another great holiday is Surkharban, the day of honoring the spirits of the Earth, which is very reminiscent of the Tatar Sabantui. The traditional rites of sacrifice are followed by mass celebrations, games, competitions, treats. Surprisingly, family holidays are not usually celebrated in a noisy way. It is customary to hold sacred rituals, in order to protect your nearest relatives from evil spirits. For example, during the wedding the groom and the bride invited a sorcerer who accompanied the pair throughout the journey from the church to the house. If anything seemed suspicious to the sorcerer – a chip, a stone - he conducted a special rite, pronounced spells, so that nothing threw a shadow at the happiness of the newlyweds. Moreover, he helped to lay the new husband and wife into the marital bed. In some villages this tradition has been preserved until now.

The people of Baikal is severe and mysterious, believing in spirits and keeping up with the times. A book will be not enough to tell about all the mysteries of the local people and the region inhabited and cherished by them..

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