Heroic Epics of the Shors: In Search for Epic Texts Self-written by Storytellers

Heroic Epics of the Shors:
In Search for Epic Texts Self-written by Storytellers

Dmitry Funk

(53rd Annual Meeting of the PIAC, St. Petersburg 2010)

The Shors is one of Siberia’s smaller populations, 13,975 according to the 2002 Russian census. The Shors live mainly in the South of Western Siberia and mostly (about 70% of the entire Shors population) in towns of the southern part of the Kemerovo region, such as Novokuznetsk, Myski, Mezhdurechensk, Osinniki, or Tashtagol. Apart from many other cultural features this ethnic group is especially well-known thanks to its rich epic tradition, the examples of which have been recorded during the last 150 years by W. Radloff, A. V. Adrianov, N. P. Dyrenkova, G. F. Babushkin, A. I. Smerdov, O. I. Blagoveshchenskaya, A. I. Chudoyakov, as well as by many other scholars and enthusiasts. According to the author’s data, there are at least 280 texts of Shors epics stored in different archives and/or in private collections.

This paper discusses one of the most intriguing parts of the history of this cultural heritage, namely the self-recordings undertaken by the famous Shors storytellers, kaichy, Stepan Torbokov (1900-1980) and Vladimir Tannagashev (1932-2007).

The Shor storyteller and poet Stepan Semionovich Torbokov was one of the key figures on the cultural scene of Southern Siberia of the Soviet period. Trying to preserve the Shor culture, he transcribed his extremely rich epic repertoire. By now the author has managed to locate 48 of his manuscripts (normally their volume varies from 4 to 9 thousand verses) kept in different state and private archives.

The other storyteller, Vladimir Yegorovich Tannagashev, has been known at the beginning of the millennium as “the last kaichy” of the Shors. He practiced quite a lot and presented his craft — better to say, short excerpts from his incredibly rich epic repertoire mainly on various national holydays, in schools and kindergartens. The author has been working with this storyteller from 2001 till the end of 2006 and, apart from many records of living performances, persuaded Tannagashev to write down his repertoire. As a result there are 31 epic texts, ranging from 400 up to 3000 of prosimetric lines each, that have been recorded by Vladimir Tannagashev at the author’s request.

The paper discusses biographical details of both storytellers, provides descriptions of archival texts and touches upon some important textological as well as ethical issues related to working with these materials. Taking into account the considerable volume of the epic texts and difficulties arising in deciphering them (especially problematic is the hand-writing of Torbokov), the author suggests publishing plots of epic texts as the first stage of work with this unique heritage and/or publishing them on the Internet as jpeg of pdf-files. According to his opinion, it may significantly facilitate the following work with the texts, leading toward the publication of their full versions along with their academic translations. The first volume in the series “Shors Heroic Epics” (four epic texts in Shor with translation into Russian and thorough commentaries) will be presented at the Conference.