Old Believers keep traditions alive in Siberia | SierraSun.com

Old Believers keep traditions alive in Siberia

Kara Fox
Sierra Sun

When many Americans think of Siberia, a frozen-tundra filled with exiled prisoners may come to mind.

But as Russia’s overall population declines, certain communities are bringing back their old traditions and beliefs, especially the religious groups that were banished during tumultuous political periods.

Take the small village of Tarbagatai, with rows of brightly painted wooden houses and the smell of perogies wafting out of kitchens.

This community of Old Believers is restoring its traditions and was recognized in 2001 by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization for preserving its heritage.

Residents couldn’t practice traditions during the Soviet era, so they revived religious holidays and traditions, as well as traditional clothes, said one Old Believer woman.

The town now has a museum that displays their great accomplishments and photos of traditional events. Tools adorn the walls, as does a plaque from UNESCO.

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Fedosia Dumnova, 73, lives in Tarbagatai and, along with her sister who lives down the dirt road, tends to bees. They sell honey in two-liter plastic bottles and make traditional dishes that include hearty soups and cucumber and dill salad.

Dumnova points to a “red corner” in her home, which consists of wooden religious icons. She recalls that when the Soviet government was in power they stole the wooden slabs and made tables and other utilitarian products out of them because the quality was so high. But today Dumnova displays them proudly next to a crucifix and photos of her daughter.

The main point of pride for this community, however, is its choirs. This town of 5,000 boasts eight choirs ” four adult choirs and four children’s choirs, with 12 people in each choir. Deep throat singing is unique to this group.

“Everybody wants to be in the choir because it is very traditional,” said one of the singers. She adds that the choirs have exchanges with other choirs world-wide, including choirs in the United States.