Tuva (or Tyva or Tannu Tuva) is an autonomous republic of Russia, located between Mongolia and Siberia. Surrounded by jagged mountains, Tuva is today largely populated by people who trace descent back to Genghis Khan. The country experiences severe temperature fluctuations over the course of the year - bitterly cold in the winter, extremely sultry in the summer - and the terrain is mountainous and forested. Many Tuvans (or Tuvinians) are pastoralists, as their ancestors have been for generations, and the region is a major supplier of "soft gold" or fur for the former Soviet bloc. Animals herded include horses, camels, yaks, and reindeer.

Although very remote by today's standards, Tuva has long been integrated into the Eurasia region. Tuva was part of the Eurasian Turkish Khaganate between the 6th and 8th centuries, and the Silk Road passed through here. The area was then conquered by Genghis Khan and incorporated into his empire; it remained an important supply base for the Mongolian army until the empire collapsed. After a period of independence, Tuva fell under the control of Manchuria, and finally, in 1914, it became a protectorate of Russia. In 1921 a People's Revolution made Tuva a sovereign state, though still with strong ties to Russia; in 1944 it was formally annexed by the Soviet Union. The capital, Kyzyl, was founded in 1914 at the confluence of two rivers; the country has many rivers and lakes which figure in the art and culture of the people.

Physicist Richard P. Feynman, like many westerners, became acquainted with Tuva through its colourful and unusually shaped postage stamps; he was obsessed with actually visiting the country. His friend Ralph Leighton wrote a book, Tuva or Bust, about their ultimately futile attempts to reach it. Perhaps the best-known Tuvan art-form today is throat singing or hoomei. In this unique style of vocalization, the singer produces two tones simultaneously: a low drone kind of like a bagpipe, and a higher harmonic which sometimes resembles a flute or whistle. Tuvans are among the most virtuosic of throat singers in the world, though the technique is also used by Mongolians, Tibetans, and Inuit. You can hear throat singing and see footage of Tuva in the documentary "Genghis Blues", about blues musician and self-taught throat singer Paul Pena's trip to Tuva.

For information about Tuva: www.scs-intl.com/ondar/ or Friends of Tuva at www.fotuva.org
For a Scientific American article on throat singing: www.sciam.com/1999/0999issue/0999levin.html