I'll keep in mind that magic spring,
Purling brooks and tulips'fairy light,
That charming smile the Kalmuck queen
Granted me when taking flight.

Mikola Lihodid, Zaporozhye

Women play a prominent part in the process of strengthening ethnos-protective functions of Kalmyk national culture as well as in restoration and rehabilitation of historical monuments, literature, folklore, morals and manners, artistic folk traditions...

KALMYKS are the only Mongol-speaking ethnos on the European territory; they are descendants of nomadic people taking its origin from medieval Oirats of Dzungaria (actually Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous region of China). They live for four centuries in the South of Russia.

Nomads always treated women with great respect and special deference. In their beliefs woman embodied the image of Woman-Mother whose cult was infinite and correlated with the image of Mother-Earth. The conception of Woman-Mother should have been bound to «nine virtues»: - «bright and pure, soul and body; - good hand in all trades; - loving and caring mother; - neat and tidy mistress of the house; - when married: husband's prop and faithful wife; -respectful and reverent toward elders; - well-disposed to everybody around. » Moreover, woman should avoid five main vices: «- not to entice men; - not to envy others; - not to yield to bad intentions; - not to be greedy; - not to engage in unnecessary blank deed. » Parents tried to instill these qualities into their daughters since the childhood.

Processes of global modernization have deeply transformed the ethno-cultural system that existed for centuries in Kalmyk society; due to various circumstances, the people deviated from their Mongol origins. Small people as they are, Kalmyks are concerned that these radical transformations of the society will lead to the assimilation of the ethnos and to its further disappearance; therefore they try to preserve their ethnic identity, their unique Kalmyk culture. In these processes, a special role belongs to women, inasmuch as since the beginning of time they kept and transmitted ethnic and religious traditions and supported kinship ties.

Socio-economic transformations ongoing in the country and their aftermath had a significant impact on the status of woman changing her role in different spheres of modern society. This topic is the subject of many works of Russian scientists, who made a significant contribution to the study of gender aspects in diverse specific historical and ethno-cultural conditions and among them are: I. M. Semashko, E.-B. M. Guchinova, A. N. Sed-lovskaya, I. A. Snezhkova, E.B. Fadeeva.

However, despite a substantial number of scientific publications on women's issues (mostly historical and ethnographic), are scanty the works treating the participation of women in regional ethno-cultural processes of modern Russia. This problem has not become the matter of special study of Kalmyk scientists. It is virtually impossible to find works, where this subject would be analyzed in terms of sociology, psychology or philosophy. The relevance of this article is that the author analyzes the role of women in preserving the ethnic identity of Kalmyks, the development of their unique traditional culture from the position of interdisciplinary involving such sciences as ethnic sociology, cultural studies, art history, ethno-pedagogics, folklore and social statistics. As our article will state, women do a lot to preserve the ethnicity of their people.

Let us consider the main roles played by women in ethno-cultural processes of the region. First of all, women form the ethnic (national) identity, reproducing ethnic and cultural boundaries between «insiders» and «outsiders». From long ago the Kalmyk's woman-mother enjoys well-deserved authority, she determines the spiritual and moral atmosphere in the family, and she is the first and often the main educator of children transmitting to them the centuries-long educational experience of the people.

The next function of women is to «denote ethnic (national) peculiarities in the form of national unity symbol, i.e. woman's image appears as an important ideologem designed to consolidate the members of the group» [17, C. 110]. Mainly, it is the image of «the Motherland», which is the entire principium. One of the Kalmyk proverbs says, «homeland is a venter and foreign land is stepmother» [15]. In each nation, a special attitude to motherhood has been cultivated within centuries as to the major spiritual and moral value worthy of veneration and worship. Folk art works glorified the image of the Mother, her spiritual and human qualities, and, of course, her kindness. Another Kalmyk proverb says, «people spring from a mother and water springs from a well».

In a patriarchal society the man was considered as the head of the family, its defender and breadwinner and the woman - as homemak-er, mother and educator of children. This differentiation can be illustrated by the proverb «The woman enjoys home life, but the man finds pleasure in camp life (to be on the road). » [15]. The woman considered her husband, and a man in general as erdni (jewel). He was an object of worship and this attitude was instilled to woman since childhood. Contrariwise, the Kalmyks had not such a deification of the husband (as they did in India, for example); there was not either the strict isolation of women. Woman in Kalmyk society was always sovereign mistress of the house («gerin kun»). All beyond the household was the prerogative of men.

Radical changes of gender roles, brought in the first years of the soviet power, were dramatic as, for example, the fight for women's veils removal in Central Asia and traditional camisole removal in Kalmyk prairies. Camisole is a woman's clothing, which was worn by girls from the young age in order to tighten their breasts so that to hinder the development of the bosom. Kalmyk writer A. Amur-Sanan wrote in the 20's, "Girls put on new clothes ... They burnt out their camisoles that had a deep impact on the minds of young and old Kalmyk women. This fact signified the destruction of these harmful costumes and with them, of all the ancient prejudices, which caused great sufferings to our people» [3, C. 210].

The society on the way to modernization (opposed to the traditional one) directs the fair sex toward self-realization in professional activity more than in family. The modern culture supposes that the woman performs a wide range of social roles: she exercises a particular profession and she is mother. Nowadays women are not only mothers and housewives, but also workers, on a par with men involved in economic and political life of the society. A modern Kalmyk woman is educated, ambitious and energetic; she takes important decisions by herself, she actively participates in all public activities [9, C. 6]. According to Z. V. Sikevich, «the share of women participating in public life (politics, economy) indirectly indicates the level of modernization of the society and the overcoming of traditional stereotypes » [17, C. 111]. The example of the Republic of Kalmykia confirms this principle. E.-B. Guchinova states that «in the Kalmyk society women claim to leadership in the family and seek to make a professional career as zealously as men» [9, C. 124]. From 2010 to 2012, a woman headed the government of the Republic of Kalmykia, four representatives of womenfolk are in charge of ministries (Ministry of Finance, Ministry of housing and communal services, Ministry of education, culture and science, Ministry of land estates). These examples demonstrate gradual transformation of gender stereotypes and, in particular, of the principle that «politics is not for women».

Traditionally, men and women were involved in definite spheres of activity, in different types of social activity. Z.V.Sikevich writes, «.It is considered natural for men to practice activities associated with management and creation, whereas women - with execution and subordination» [17, C. 108]. Men are involved in management system, in production industries, as women's work is used in non-production fields: education, culture, medicine and social welfare.

Let us analyze the contribution of women in two main institutions of ethno-cultural identification: education and culture. The role of women of Kalmykia in the process of ethno-cultural identification of society is invaluable. We understand by the ethno-cultural identity the awareness of the individual or group of its belonging to a particular community on the basis of shared culture, the awareness and psychological perception of this unity. Women of Kalmykia play a prominent part in the process of strengthening of national culture's ethnos-protective functions and in the restoration and revival of monuments of history, literature, folklore, morals and manners, artistic folk traditions.

A system of culture and art institutions of the Republic of Kalmykia is the basic element of the ethnic socialization. At the end of 2012, this network included 2 theatres, 1 museum, 1 college of fine arts, 157 libraries, 156 other centers of culture and leisure. The vast majority of cultural professionals of the Republic are women and most often the executives of institutions in this field at villages, townships, districts or in republican level are representatives of the fair sex. A woman is at the head of the Republican National Museum - the main repository of cultural heritage of Kalmykia, where more than 52 thousand exhibits are stored. In eleven exposition halls are shown flora and fauna of Kalmykia, archaeology of nomadic cultures of Caspian lowlands, history, ethnography and culture of Kalmyk people, pieces of Buddhist cult and ancient Kalmyk art.

A woman is also at the head of the A. M. Amur-Sanan National library, the largest informational, cultural and educational institution of the Republic. The real pride of the library is the Fund of rarity editions where rare books published in XVII-XVIII centuries and monuments of ancient Kalmyk written language are collected. Almost all the staffs of the library are women who take an active part in the cultural life of the Republic: they organize hobby-clubs, literary and musical parties, new books presentations, meetings of readers with writers.

The Director of Elista College of arts, the unique culture and art personnel training institution in the Republic, is a woman too. Musical, choreographic, theatre, decorative crafts and fine arts education in the College is focused on Kalmyk ethnic traditions. Performers of folk music, songs, Kalmyk dance and masters of applied art receive here their first-grade education. More than 3,000 specialists graduated from the College, which permitted to staff all the children's musical schools, art schools, song and dance ensembles and orchestras, choirs and other artistic groups. College graduates, whether honored or beginners, perform in different regions of the Republic cultivating in audience the interest in cultural values of Kalmyk people, forming the young minds with respect to the historical memory and ancestors' heritage, arousing the desire to participate in the revival and preservation of original culture of Kalmyks.

Institutionally, modern professional spiritual culture consists of many components: creativity of musicians, artists, writers and poets, journalists. Further, we will consider the contribution of women to the development of musical culture, decorative and fine arts in Kalmykia.

It is quite impossible to imagine the modern Kalmyk music without songs of U. Lidjieva, V. Goryaeva, V. Iltsaranova, because their singing reflects all the beauty of the prairie, the wisdom and greatness of the people. Ulan Lidjieva is the first People's Artist of the Kalmyk republic; she left a rich song heritage. Many of her songs, very popular within people, continue to conquer the audience with their sincerity, deep feelings and cordial tones. During hard years of deportation to Siberia (1943-1956), after a day of backbreak-ing work, Kalmyks were gathering around Ulan Lidjieva to listen to folk songs she sang for them. Native tunes helped them to withstand, to overcome difficulties; the invincible spiritual power of the people was contained in these songs [1].

Another singer, Valentina Garyaeva, is the first Kalmyk to be awarded the title of People's Artist of Russia. Her creative life represents a whole epoch in the history of the Kalmyk song. Like anyone else, she managed to convey to the audience all the wealth of folk songs: oot doon (a long song without musical accompaniment) and ahr doon (verses sung to the accompaniment of dombra). V.Garyaeva is the People's Artist of Kalmykia, bearer of the order of Friendship of peoples, laureate of the O. Gorodovikov State prize, honorary citizen of the Republic of Kalmykia.

Valentina Iltsaranova, also People's Artist of Russia, is affectionately called «calandra-lark» for her high and net voice, rich in extraordinary modulations. Her repertoire comprises the very diverse works of folk music, the most beautiful and charming Kalmyk songs. Many of the songs performed by the singer became popular: «Ee-zhin Doon», («The Mother Song), «Harada», («Swallow»), «Calandra lark», «Elista waltz», «Song of the Daughters of steppes», «Kalmyk tea» and many others.

Tatiana Eveyeva is a composer; her creative activity makes a huge contribution to the development of arts in Kalmykia. Her musical creation is based on the songs written to the verses of Kalmyk poets and music performances are founded on original texts and scripts. Eveyeva is the author of a whole number of works: the collection of 60 songs written to poems of Kalmyk poets «Hongh tsetsg» («The Handbell»), a cycle of musical literature plays, fairy tales «Who has woken up the spring?», «Pink Tulip», «Children's island in the ocean», the musical and philosophical novel «Bogshurpa» («Sparrow») that tells about the animal world of Kalmykia. Tatiana Eveyeva is the composer, camera operator and screenwriter of the musical «Bamb Tsetsgas» ("Tulips"), a film-fairy tale about prairie flowers, which is included in the international project of the environment protection. Her music is permeated with the idea that we should live in unity with nature, because the surrounding world is a home for not today's generation only but also for future generations [18].

Let us dwell on the analysis of the role of women in the development of such types of professional culture as decorative arts and crafts, fine arts, which «act as a cultural symbol of the people, carrying the traditional features of its artistic perception of the world» [6, C. 107]. Changes in lifestyles, disappearance of the elements of nomadic life-way provoked disappearance of many household items (tableware, furniture, utensils) which were used in nomadic cattle breeding farms from old. Since the late 80 of the twentieth century, the process of ethnic cultures preservation made increase the interest in traditional elements of the ancestors' material and spiritual heritage. Thus, development of ethnic art products received a new incentive.

Women, and especially needlewomen, are involved in this process on a par with men reviving ethnic traditions, giving new meaning and transforming them to fit with the conditions of modern life. Craftswomen reconstructed ancient crafts representing nomadic life of Kalmyk cattlemen: artistic processing of felt and fabrics, leather and bones, sewing, embroidery and applique of folk costumes. Kalmyk women also manufacture a variety of souvenirs made of wood, metal, stone, and jewelry. Silver (earrings, bracelets and rings) made by Galina Ushanova and repeating the shape of ancient Oirat decorations imported in the early XVII century from Dzungaria, are known far outside the Republic. [6, C. 113].

Kalmyk fine art owes its development to the following artists-women: N. Evseeva, I. Badmayeva, G.Nurova, E. Manzheeva, D. Vaskina-Sangadjieva and many others who consistently go from ethnographic fixing of an historic episode to monumental generalization of the destiny of the people, from the statics of a fixed image to the dynamics of creative comprehension of existence [5, C. 549]. In the course of these searches, the works of Kalmyk artists expand the ethnic picture of the world; contribute to the growth of people's ethnic consciousness.

The activity of many women -representatives of the creative artistic intelligentsia - is awarded with state honors. While analyzing the section «Figures of culture awarded with Honorary titles of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Kalmykia» of the book «Masters of culture of Kalmykia», we have found that within the period from 1995 to 2009, eleven women were awarded the title of Honored Worker of culture of the Russian Federation, 41 women became Honored Artists of the Republic of Kalmykia (that amounts 80.4 % of the total number of laureates), 35 women are Honored Workers of culture of Kalmykia, 3 women received the title of Honored Worker of arts of Kalmykia [4, C. 95 170].

The educational system of the Republic of Kalmykia is the main institution of the ethnic socialization, which is building an effective system of cultural revival. Mostly women are involved in the educational activity; they create conditions for the best perception of the elements of ethnic culture and for the formation of national consciousness among young people. Their educational activity aims the transfer to the younger generation of respect for the language and culture and knowledge of the traditions and life experience of the ethnos. This aim can be attained through educational programs «Todo bitchg» («Clear letter» «Old Kalmyk writing»), «Fundamentals of Buddhism», «History and culture of the native land», which were created with the participation of teachers and are successfully taught in the schools of the Republic since the mid 90's. School academic competitions are organized almost on twenty subjects having regional focus: Kalmyk language, epic "Jangar", execution of songs, dances, knowledge of proverbs and sayings and other genres of folklore. Children of other nationalities than Kalmyk also take part in theses Olympiads.

Teachers of the Kalmyk language and literature organize various events, such as traditional Republican folklore-ethnographic festival «Jan-grin Achnr» («Grandchildren of Jangara»), dedicated to the great Kalmyk epic "Jangar". When elaborating their works, researchs, theatre performances, students show real interest in the glorious history of the Kalmyk people, demonstrate the desire to learn more about the art life of their ancestors, thus, they become partakers of eternal values and highest ideals they have inherited. After such cognitive, productive work, many participants decide to study at the Department of history of the Institute of Kalmyk and Oriental Philology under Kalmyk State University [13, C. 301].

In the framework of the triad «Children art school - College - University», an active search for new models of Kalmyk education and culture is led in recent years with the view of preservation of the best training traditions in the field of culture and art that are simultaneously innovative on its form. In the framework of this activity, the priority belongs to the support of gifted children in national arts learning. Therefore, in the fall of 2010, a specialized boarding school (ethnic school) was opened for gifted children where the major part of the pedagogical staff consists of women - creative workers, teachers and educators.

The inclination of children to different types of art as well as their knowledge of the Kalmyk language is taken into account when selecting students for this ethnic school. Children extend their knowledge of the native language, develop their literary skills, study the Kalmyk literature and poetry, epics, folk songs and dances, master decorative arts.

The fact that children and young people show recently a growing interest in studying national history and culture is a great merit of the teaching staff. The Republic appreciates at the true worth the high professionalism and creative initiative, hard work, and patriotism of many representatives of pedagogical community. Analysis of the materials published in the book «Education of Kalmykia: yesterday and today» gave us the opportunity to state that among teachers who are bearers of the title «Honored teacher of the Republic of Kalmykia», women make up to 82,2 % and among teachers awarded the title «Honoured teacher of the Russian Federation» they amount 76.6 %.

The problem of cultural identity preservation is not enough studied from the point of view of gender, despite its topicality and importance. In this respect, Z.V. Sikevich is right to consider that «the gender cannot be analyzed without taking into account its cultural component, as the ethnicity cannot be studied without the gender structure of the ethnic community» [17, p. 114]. In this connection, let us analyze the results of a questionnaire survey conducted in 2010 by the department of socio-political and environmental research of the Kalmyk Institute for Humanitarian research under Russian Academy of Sciences (WHR RAS). 283 respondents of Kalmyk nationality were questioned, 47.7 %, of them were men and 52,3 % were women. In their majority, they were students of full-time or distant education of Kalmyk branches of Moscow universities.

One of the tasks of the survey was to identify the major types of identity. To this effect, we used the methodology applied by the scientists of the RAS Institute of sociology. We based the analysis on respondents' answers to the question: «How often do you feel affinity or similarity with people listed below? About whom could you say "WE"? » (Proposed answers were «often», «sometimes», «never», and «no answer»). Summarized data on the answers «often», «rarely» were considered as evidence of the positive identification [11].

For the preservation of traditional moral values the ethnos appeals to its origins, to the unwritten national norms, which «deliver» specific images to the bearer of the culture so that the latter can assess a phenomena basing on them. Such specific teachings are contained in folklore proverbs, fairy tales, sayings serving to bring up every child [17, c. 68]. One of the closed questions in the questionnaire revealed the extent to which Kalmyk women were familiar with different genres of rich Kalmyk oral folk-art. Unfortunately, most of our contemporaries know nothing of folklore genres (33,8 %) or have minimal knowledge (36,6 %). In general, women are better informed in this matter than men are. More than a quarter of respondent women (27, 7 %) are well aware of folklore genres. In the questionnaire, they indicated the genres they know. It turned out, that prevailing genres are Kalmyk songs and traditional yorials (incantations), followed by Kalmyk dance. It is upsetting that only few and far people know Kalmyk proverbs, sayings and fairy tales.

Feeling their belonging to the ethnos, women are focused towards action aimed at ethnic culture preservation; therefore, a quarter of respondents believe that belonging to an ethnic group commits to adhere to traditions and customs of this people. This interpretation can be explained by the important role that women play in transmission and formation of ethnic identity, by the fact that they reproduce, when bringing up children, ethnic and cultural boundaries between «insiders» and «outsiders» [17, p. 110].

In modern Kalmyk culture, as well as in Russian culture, mother is responsible for the childrear-ing of daughters and sons and father plays an auxiliary role of «disciplinary coercion». The study of the main component that the Kalmyk women consider important for the ethnic self-identification has a special significance. The ethnic identity means perception of the belonging to a certain ethnic group, as well as the way they represent their Republic and how they correlate with it, to what extend the processes ongoing in the region are understandable and close to them» [2]. The main components of the ethnic identity of women are «national traditions and customs» (35,1 %), «language» (27 %), «the historical past» (13,5 %).

Table 1

Breakdown of answers to the question
«Ethnos cannot exist without what?» (In%)


Since the beginning of the 90's, the Kalmyk Republic goes through processes of national and cultural revival as well as of religious activity rising. Experts believe that «faith, appeal to religion helped to very many, especially women, to survive when our country was undergoing terrible ordeal. At first, the activation of religious behaviour of women was largely associated with social factors and was a sort of defensive reaction to the economic problems» [2, c. 191].

The results of the survey proved that only a few respondents (3,4 %) position themselves as atheists. However, the majority (96.6 % of respondents) are aware of their belonging to a religious life. The fifth part or 22.3 % of the respondents, despite their religiousness, are not involved in the life of their religious community. Let us note, that almost a quarter of respondents (27.7 %), finding difficulty in defining their attitude to religion, howbeit participate in the religious life of the community. Researchers say that women still represent «a massive field of religiosity», the support and reserve of the Church. They play a special part in the spread of religious experience. Often, even without realizing it themselves, women are active bearers of religious knowledge and feelings at the level of interpersonal relations, in the family, contributing to the preservation and transmission of the religious traditions from generation to generation [8, p. 286].

One of the important constituent elements of cultural traditions for Kalmyks, as ancient nomadic people, are the folk calendar holidays associated with the economic activity, agricultural labour or season-marking and winter or summer solstice marking days. Actually, many of the Kalmyk traditions found their vivid expression in holidays, ceremonies, arts, folklore and ethics. They have not lost their value as the moral and ethical code of the people. Such folk holidays as Tsagan Sar, Ur Sar, Zul received a new impulse of development after they were given the status of State holidays, [12, p. 65]. In the framework of this process, women widely contribute to imparting the rich heritage of ancestors to ancestors from complete disappearance. Here is the paramount factor of the ethnic identity preservation.

Connoisseur of folklore, honored teacher of the Russian Federation, S.Z.Olzeeva is sure that the oral folk arts enrich the inner world of individual, increase the intellect, develop the mind. In 2007, she published the manual «Kalmyk folk traditions" printed in two languages: Russian and Kalmyk. This work describes all the diversity of Kalmyk traditions and customs, wide information is given about everyday life, ancient cuisine, superstitions, family relations and many others [14].

In 2011, the monograph of the young researcher T. I. Sharaeva «Life-cycle Rites of Kalmyks (XIX- early XXI centuries)» appeared. This work treats ritual complexes of Kalmyk people life cycle: birth, wedding, funeral [19]. The book of the young ethnographer, within short time, has become very popular not only among young Kalmyks, who felt the need for knowledge of national traditions and customs and their application in everyday life, but also among representatives of middle and elder generations, who occurred, because of different reasons, remote of national ritual culture. This book is in great demand among representatives of other nationalities, who are willing to extend and deepen their knowledge about Kalmyk culture.

Certainly, the books of C. Оlzeeva and T.Sharaeva are of great demand among modern Kalmyk women, who, despite being busy, remain keepers not only of the family hearth, but in general, of the elements of traditional culture, performing a major role in the socialization of the younger generation. These editions allow young mothers, young grannies enjoying the ethnic Kalmyk culture; these books help them to cultivate the esteem for tenets and traditions of their ancestors, the desire to maintain customs, the acceptance and recognition of modern Kalmyk culture.

Our research proved that since the late 1980s, the representatives of scientific, creative, artistic intellectuals got actively involved in the process of ethnic culture revival: traditional religion, holidays, ancient traditions and crafts. The Republic deservedly appreciates the contribution of women in identifying and designing the moral and ethical potential of Kalmyk national traditions, their transfer to new generations, in preserving ethnic and cultural identity of the Kalmyks, the development of unique ethno-cultural values.

Людмила Намруева
By Lyudmila Namrueva


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«Золотая площадь». Международный журнал культурной и деловой жизни.
The Golden Plaza. International Magazine of Culture and Business.
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