English translation from the official periodical of RAIPON “Мир коренных народов - живая арктика” (Indigenous Peoples’ World - Living Arctic) No. 14, 2004

The cross on the sacred Shor mountain

Tatyana Tudegesheva, Shor poetess, Member of the Union of Russia ’s Writers
Reprinted in an abridged version from the “Kuznetskiy rabochij” newspaper, 9 August 2003

Casting an eye over the past and present of my little homeland, Shoria, one feels sadness and no future ahead. The young generation cannot speak its language; ancient traditions are being lost and the very roots of the people are fast disappearing. There are a great number of other problems.

A metal Cross has been raised on the Mustag Mountain through the endeavor of the Kemerovo and Novokuznetsk eparchies. It has been done without taking the opinion of the primordial inhabitants of the Kuznetsk area, the Shors into consideration. It is sad to think that this happens in a democracy-oriented country. And this event is far from being as innocent as it might seem on the surface. To understand it properly, it is necessary to cast a glance at the past.

The Altai Orthodox mission was established in 1828. Its policy became a further extension of the colonial aspirations of the Russian czarism. The mission’s objective was to covert the local heathens inhabiting the Altai-Kuznetsk region to Christianity, being anxious to save their souls. At the same time pastors accelerated the process of Russification of the indigenous population. The land issue became extremely topical with the establishment of the mission. In practice it looked like this: when founding a new village the priest would initially erect a wooden Cross and the land for five versts around became property of the Christian settlement.

We should do justice to czarist administrators – they often took pains protecting aboriginal rights. The Church, on the contrary, always acted in the interests of Christians, at times openly showing its displeasure with certain actions of the authorities and even opposing them. However, let’s try not to be deluded, it was precisely the ecclesiastical missions that used to be the most rigorous champions of the czarist colonial policy. And here we are, the enlightened 21st century has come. So what, is everything recurring?

Since time immemorial Mustag has been a sacred mountain of the Shors. A good number of legends and superstitions have been in circulation about Mustag. It is the most revered mountain in Shoria. It has a terrible Master. To mitigate its bad temper the Shors have performed the ritual of “shachig” (aspersion, sprinkling) from time out of mind. No matter how far away from Mustag they would happen to be they pray to it with their faces turned in its direction. Old hunters say that the Master of the Mountain does not like noisy crowds, fights, scandals, and foul language. He takes a liking to friendship, harmony, and diligence. The old generation’s attitude to these popular beliefs was full of fear and trembling. They contained an entire system of taboos, which had to be strictly observed. They also had an esthetic educational function, implications of which regulated human behavior in various situations. The images created by the legends, popular beliefs and rituals carried knowledge about the surrounding world, about the man’s place in the Universe, about morality and immorality. The Shors’ entire philosophy of life was oriented at inner improvement rather than reconstruction of the world.

Man was waging a struggle with himself rather than with the nature around him. He learnt how to patiently bear hunger, endure cold, overcome maladies without resorting to medicine, and mobilize the reserves of his organism, when needed. He could give orders to himself since he had preserved habits well defined over the centuries and based on the huge information about moral conceptions.

No matter how objectionable the following fact may sound, it was Peter the Great who dealt a major blow to the Shor people ordering by his proclamation to build pubs and inns in the Kuznetsk region trading vodka in exchange for furs. Drink has become the beginning of the people’s destruction. Nature has failed to endow them with the ability to resist the vinous temptation. At present, with the perestroika, the Shor people seems to be about to awake from a distressing dream, and their interest to ancient traditions has been aroused again. The erection of the metal Cross on the sacred mountain has dealt a heavy blow to the people, for whom Mustag is one of the main spiritual sanctities. The Shors have taken the raising of the Cross as the mountain’s profanation. For the Shor people, Mustag is the main house of prayer, but in the open air. Let us be tolerant to other religions. There is a special wisdom in religious toleration.

Let us take Ghenghis Khan, the great “shaker of the Universe”, as an example. The Mongol invasion subdued quite a number of states all across the vast areas of Asia and Europe . By its size, the Mongol empire exceeded all the states, which existed in the world at the time. Not only could the armies of Ghenghis Khan conquer but also keep a firm grip on the subdued, often far more cultured states. Scholars analyzing this phenomenon have attached a lot of attention to “the common sense of the barbarian”. Unlike Napoleon, the “enlightened European”, who plundered churches and profaned them by turning them into stables, Ghenghis Khan, the “barbarian” was tolerant to other religions, left churches and even priests inviolable. Even his grandson Batu Khan used to say: “Let those praying to the Heavens pray”. Having spent 300 years under the yoke of the Golden Horde, Russia survived thanks to its deep-seated faith only. Facing his own fate, Ghenghis Khan himself relied on the mercy of “the ever blue skies of Tengri”, treated all the religions with respect, assuming that God was one.

I also have great respect for all the world’s religions, including Christianity, assuming that the most compassionate grain of human relationship is planted in Christianity, starting with Christian dispensations of “Thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal”… and ending with “Love your enemies”. However, their realization by ordinary people with common human weaknesses and imperfections imparts deformation to these dispensations.

There is a lack of spirituality whatever you look at these days. The youth is most vulnerable to its impact, and the Shor young people are no exception. We, the older generation, take pains to help the young ones, get them acquainted with the old traditions and rituals, and now in full view of all the people the Cross is profaning our holy Mustag Mountain . What will the future generations say about us? What will we reply to them? Will we have to make excuses to them by saying that we ourselves have been losing our faith in justice bit by bit, that our “Big Brother”, under whose protection and “lofty hand” we live, does not want to stand upon ceremony with his “Younger Brother”?

Last August, I had a chance of attending a meeting of the Association of the Shor people. Among other issues, its agenda included the discussion of the problem of the unauthorized erection of the Cross on Mustag. Members of the Association complained that nobody had taken counsel from them. The issue was closed with these complaints; the claims remained understated. I understand the respected people of Shoria: some of them invested with full powers are anxious about their career making, others involved in commercial affairs are thinking about their happy future. However, sooner or later, the earthly deeds will come to an end, and one will have to ponder over the revelation that “neither the sword, nor money reigns over the world, but the One who owns the people’s souls does”. Thus speaks the ancient wisdom of Altai.

We were also surprised at the reaction of Aman Gumirovich Tuleyev who kept himself aloof from this problem, and the Shor people once supported his candidacy for the election as a deputy of Russia ’s Supreme Soviet. We find consolation in the fact that while giving a go-ahead to the erection of the Cross on the Mustag Mountain he inquired of this action’s initiators whether it had been agreed upon with the Shor people. He authorized the erection upon receiving a positive answer, though there was no consent of ours.

As is known, infinite lawlessness starts with impudence. Then, sense of proportion is lost, and tact becomes an annoying hindrance in doing things. With an attitude like this, would it be surprising if the Shor people, having lost its language and traditions, cease to exist as a people?