Journey to Tuva – Otto Mänchen-Helfen- 1929

Otto John Mänchen-Helfen ( 1894 in Vienna, Austria – 1969 in Berkeley, California) was an Austrian academic, sinologist, historian, author, and traveler.

Between 1927 and 1930 he worked at MarxEngels Institute in Moscow, he then he moved to Berlin from 1930 to 1933, till the rise of Nazisms when he then decided to go back to Austria. By 1938 he emigrated to the United States becoming a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Along his career he wrote several books and studies about central Asia and the Huns..

A recurring and fascinating characteristics of academic on the beginning of 19th century is their classical background and flexibility in shifting to vary languages quite far one to the other. Otto Manchen spoke Russian, Ancient Greek, Chinese and Japanese, which allowed him to proceed in his philological studies.

An example of his comparative studies is “Journey to Tuva“, a book composed by a collection of his travel notes assembled by his widow, Anna Maenchen in 1987.

Journey to Tuva, 1929

The link to , here.

Otto J. Mänchen in summer of 1929 went on an expedition to Tuva while it still was an independent country known as Tannu-Tuva, very close to Soviet Union and which it eventually joined. Otto Maenchen often compares Tuvans with Khakas or Mongols.

Journey to Tuva”  caught my attention because I’m fascinated about the witnesses of Western travelers which visited Central and Eastern Asia between 1800’s and 1900’s, which I’m reading and collecting.

Moreover, Tuva has special place in my heart because of my family and because it’s such an unique place.

Otto J. Mänchen is very respectful when he comments and describes Tuvan society. He often makes comparisons with Turkic and non-Turkic societies in Siberia and Central Asia to describe from different angles the changes in the traditional society  and its political situation.

Otto Mänchen describes the life in Kyzyl, the origin behind reindeer of Todzha, the importance and rules of hunting in Tuva. The economy of Herds (goats, camels, horses and yak) costumes, the role of man and women in the society, the Lamaist Buddhism and shamans, medicine and the relationship with the Russians.

I would recommend this book to anyone who would like to know more about South Siberian Asians, Tuva, and nomadic societies shifting to modernity just few years before entering in the Soviet Union.

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