September 18, 2015
In this week’s Ooh, Interesting!, we travel to Russia to take a look at a mountain town where every single inhabitant is able to walk the tightrope. But why?
Russia is a massive country, so there are bound to be a few curious oddities as you venture around their various villages in towns. One of these is set within the southern republic of Dagestan, a region perhaps most famous for its Greater Causcus Mountains.
Nestled within the contours of the landscape sits the tiny village of Tsvokra-1 (to distinguish itself from the town of Tsvokra), where each and every resident knows how to walk a tightrope. Legend has it that years ago the young men grew bored of trekking to court possible partners in a neighbouring hamlet, so strung up a rope instead. Not only could they catch a glimpse of the hamlet’s residents from afar but being able to walk the rope was a rather unique way of displaying prowess and manliness. Or so the young men thought...
Alas, that is the legend. Another theory is that this village, home to only 400 people these days, learned the circus skill to escape the harsh weather and difficult winters of the region. When snowfall became insurmountable, walking a tightrope to attain supplies was a practical approach to survival, especially when bridges got wiped out by the conditions.
A third theory is that in the 18th century, Tsvokra-1 decided to teach its younger inhabitants tightrope walking as a way to market themselves across the region of Dagestan. It would bring in money and recognition amongst the Russian population; no less than 17 former residents of the village became famous across the Soviet Union for tightrope walking in circuses in the wake of World War II.
And what of the village now? Tsvokra-1 has just 400 inhabitants, with many fearing their unique skill is dying out. It is true that every resident does still know how to walk the tightrope but with the younger generations tempted away by the bright lights of city life and escaping the political instability of the area, the village of Tsvokra-1 may not be able to continue its centuries-old tradition for much longer.
Thankfully, this seems a little way off yet. Although the villagers are struggling to find funds and facilities to train their residents, the schoolchildren continue to study the art amidst Russia’s most famous circus village.
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By Henry Fosdike