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15 May, 2009 05:08

Siberian traditions still alive in today’s youth

In a remote Russian village listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site, age-old traditions are competing with modern trends.

People in the village of Bolshoy Kunaley still sing the songs which Russians sang in the Middle Ages, and they cherish the ancient rituals practiced by the Orthodox Church before the 17th century.

The old believers in Siberia are a conservative community. They're known as the “semeyskie” – a Russian word which refers to family living.

People there are happy to show their way of life to tourists, and teach them how to dance in the local style.

“A girl needs to watch her legs don't go up too much during the dance, she must be modest,” Olga Rymareva, a good-natured woman in her sixties explains.

Seventeen-year-old Nadya is from the same village. She now studies in the city, and dances at a club. She puts on her costume and the traditional amber necklace only when she comes to visit her grandmother Galina.

She has been teaching Nadya traditional dances since she was five. Although still clinging to old traditions, Nadya's grandmother says she approves of her granddaughters interest in modern dance.

“I do dance contemporary dances, because I would like to keep up-to-date with this modern world, but still I would like to keep my background – how my ancestors lived – and this is my treasure,” Nadya says.

Their attachment to the church brought Nadya's ancestors to this remote land, east of Lake Baikal, about 250 years ago. They were exiled and persecuted for not agreeing to the Orthodox reforms introduced in Russia in the 1600s. They wanted to maintain their time-honored rituals.

The old believers still bow and cross themselves with two fingers, not with three as they do in modern Orthodox churches in Russia, and never kneel when praying.

Local Orthodox priest Sergey says it's not so much the rituals they cherish as the moral principles. With more and more young people leaving for big cities, the fear is the old believers' culture could be in peril.

Nadya says she doesn’t consider this a danger.

“Young people choose urban life, because they don't want to devote their lives to agriculture. But I think it's not necessary to live in the village to remember your traditions and to keep them,” she believes.

Nadya plans to continue her studies abroad. Her grandmother says that, wherever she goes, as long as the tunes are fresh in her memory then so is the culture.