Heritage and the Politics of Culture
Communities in the Tyva Republic grapple with a fraught historic consciousness surrounding political and religious repressions in the early twentieth century. Despite the independent status of Tyva from 1922 to 1944, Tyvan people experienced Soviet-directed purges and rapid social transformations. The inherited pain and collective memories from this period have not been fully acknowledged and reconciled in public discourse or scholarship. Our research attempts to fill this gap by examining contemporary memorialization practices of one horse from Tes-Xem District in south Tyva named Ezir-Kara (“The Black Eagle”), the celebrated winner of the national races from 1934 to 1938. After the horse’s owner Soyan Sandagmaa was accused of anti-Soviet activities, imprisoned, and killed, Ezir-Kara suffered a similarly tragic fate. Through collaborative ethnography with the descendants of Sandagmaa and residents of south Tyva, our research identifies a perceived imbalance in human-horse relations as a result of Ezir-Kara’s historic mistreatment that is experienced by people today. For many in south Tyva, Ezir-Kara’s legacy represents an ethical betrayal by Tyvan people of their horses that has been censored from national memory and perpetuated as a form of unacknowledged violence in symbols of identity. We record and analyze Tes-Xem herders’ testimonies about Ezir-Kara and discuss the role of song-based storytelling as a tool for collective catharsis in reconciling historic consciousness despite censorship that persists today. This paper contributes to research about traumatic heritage and the politics of culture in postsocialist Inner Asia and to the development of collaborative methodologies for ethical and community-based research.