Steppes of Summer: Yordinski Games

The Yordinski games stretch out on the Tajeranski steppe, Olkhon region of the Irkutsk territory. In the distance you can see all the way across lake Baikal.

The Yordinski games stretch out on the Tajeranski steppe, Olkhon region of the Irkutsk territory. In the distance you can see all the way across lake Baikal. The hill in front of the man in black is Ekhe Yordo, or Big Hill.

Opening ceremonies at Yordinski Games 2013.

Opening ceremonies at Yordinski Games 2013.

Summertide embraces the Tajeranski steppe, and the land releases a tangible sigh, relishing the ticklish rush of life. Tender blades of grass wriggle toward the sky, petals pop, visual songs all lavender-violet and canary. In Buryat “Tajeran” means something like “summer pastures” or maybe “summer home”; a place where Western Buryats brought their families and herds for the summer. According to legend a multi-ethnic nomadic gathering “Yordoin Naadan” took place under the kindly watch of “Ekhe Yordo” a symmetrical hillock seemingly misplaced on the floodplain of the river Anga. Buryats, Mongols, Sakha, and Evenks would come to browse, contest and carouse. Summertime in Siberia, it is all the relish, drama and swagger of a block party on a hot July eve. Obligatory horse dashes, grappling matches and archery heats awaited their champions’ claim. Shamans beat their drums and sprinkled offerings, children disappeared on all day adventures, mothers chatted in the kitchen fire smoke, and fathers compared horseflesh as they drew on pipes. Nomadic rubbernecking abounded as indigenous cowboys ever virile and all bowlegged, searched the sparkling dark eyes and generous cheekbones of the female persuasion for an alluring steppe mate. The green and the golden alike took up their neighbors hands and rhythmically circled the fire, frolicking like sparks who whirl up into the sky in hopes of attaining star hood.

Grapplers butt heads in their bids to become Yordinski champion.

Grapplers butt heads in their bids to become Yordinski champion.

Yep, they've heard of Jack in Siberia. In a nod to their herding past, contestants shear sheep. Glad I'm no sheep.

Yep, they’ve heard of Jack in Siberia. In a nod to their herding past, contestants shear sheep. Glad I’m no sheep.

Members of the Bulagat tribe take in the opening presentation.

Members of the Bulagat (center) and Khori (right) tribes take in the opening presentation.

Bowman of the Ekhirit tribe.

Bowman of the Ekhirit tribe.

Nomadic cowgirls

Nomads are the original cowboys. They were roping, shooting and riding long before Columbus started across the sea.

Then the red star waxed over Russia’s vast tracts, and the Red Czar dethroned the White Czar. On horsebacked hooves a tidal wave of repression, expatriation and collectivization engulfed Russia and expunged countless sparks. The rhythm of the Steppe and Taiga nomads halted. The song became discordant.

Tying on a prayer flag after opening prayer for the Yordinski Games.

Tying on a prayer flag after opening prayer for the Yordinski Games.

A generation after the dissolution of the Soviet Union the song of renewal has sprung from the lungs of Siberia’s indigenous. The people in their golden years are remembering, and teaching those in their green. And they gather under the summer star to laugh, grapple, shoot, eat, race, dance and sing at the foot of Yordinski hill.

Yohor around the Ekhe Yordo. The culmination of the games come when the hill is completely surrounded with people dancing the Yohor.

The culmination of the games come when the hill is completely surrounded with people dancing the Yohor.

A smiling Yohor round Ekhe Yordo.

A smiling Yohor round Ekhe Yordo.

In the midst of proffered prayers and colored pageantry a summer storm rolled in and towered over the festival. After the rain, around our campfire my friends from Irkutsk with whom I had made the journey to the Yordinski games grasped hands, gathered me in their circle to dance a yohor; a traditional round dance. I felt privileged to dance this yohor in the company of friends. Not as a performance, but for fun, to dance, to celebrate summer, friendship, life, restoration. As we spun around our fire, sparks shimmied up into the steppe sky.

Yohor at Yordinski Games 2013

These Ekhirit friends ring the Yohor ’round the rosie, who happens to be me!

Under the Umbrella Glow. I feel like even now she is protecting my head from the rain.

Under the Umbrella Glow. I feel like even now she is protecting my head from the rain.

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