Jersey Roots, Global Reach

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2011 Festival Information
Kalmyk encampment
Traditional Kalmyk tent (Ger) encampment [Date unknown. Wikipedia: public domain]


Male Saiga
Male Saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica) Wikipedia: public domain

The saiga is a gravely endangered species of antelope that is seen as an intermediate stage between an antelope and sheep.

During the Ice Age the saiga ranged from the British Isles through Central Asia and the Bering Strait into Alaska and the Yukon. At the beginning of the 18th century it was still distributed from the Shores of the Black Sea, Carpathian foothills and the northern edge of the Caucasus into Dzungaria and Mongolia. Today the range has shrunk to Kalmykia, Kazakhstan and parts of Mongolia.

The saiga was a significant part of the life of the pastoral nomad Kalmyks, serving as a major food source. As such, it was a deeply respected and protected by The Steppe Law—the traditional law code of the Kalmyks.

Brought to the edge of extinction in the 1920’s during the ravages of the Russian Civil War, the saiga made a significant recovery by the 1950’s.

It is, again, endangered; this time by loss of habitat and poaching for the horns of the male animal, to be used in traditional Chinese medicine.

The Kalmyks, as pastoral nomads, lived in close contact with nature—more dependent on it than farmers, they were among the very first ecological conservationists.


Steppe Notes 1-2010

This first issue of Steppe Notes describes the project of Kalmyk participation in the New Jersey Folk Festival (NJFF) as a featured Heritage Group. Here we introduce the fieldworker/consultant, who is working with the Kalmuck1 community in Howell, and other places, and the Festival.


Nikolai Nikolaevich Burlakoff (pen-name Olefer) was born as a post-war refugee in a DP camp in Lienz Austria. His biological parents were, both, born in Yugoslavia from Russian immigrants. A student of Russian literature, history, politics, and folklore he has published a book, a number of articles, and has given talks at various venues including the American Folklore Society, and most recently at a UN Buddhist conference in Hanoi, Vietnam. A practicing Buddhist, for many years, he first came to Howell in 2009. This journey was in quest of finding traditional Buddhist practices by the Kalmyk people who originally came from Russia. The inquiry was part of his research for a paper regarding Buddhism in the Russian Federation. During some of the visits to the temple Nick raised the question if the Kalmuck community would like to participate in the NJFF.


The New Jersey Folk Festival is a course, an annual event, and a small non-profit that is part of Rutgers, and has been, for the past 36 years. One of the very few student-managed folk festivals in this country, the NJFF has, for nearly four decades, brought traditional folkloric cultural expressions to the Rutgers campus.

In 2011 the Festival will feature the Kalmyk ethnic group and, particularly the Kalmuck community found in Howell, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and New York, as its focus Heritage Group.

The participation of the Kalmucks in NJFF will be among the very first events to celebrate the arrival of the first Kalmyk families in the United States from post-war Europe in 1950. For further information about the 60th anniversary please see: website.

The Kalmyks will be the very first Mongolian and the first traditionally Buddhist group featured at the Festival.


The NJFF will be held at the Rutgers, New Brunswick campus. Specifically, it has always been held on the Great Lawn of Douglass College, and is a founding part of Rutgers Day.


In 2011 NJFF will be held on Saturday, April 30th.


The participation of the Kalmuck community in bringing the story of the Kalmyks to the New Jersey Folk Festival is a wonderful example of public/private partnership that clearly demonstrates the Rutgers adage “Jersey roots, Global reach.”

The success of this partnership, in part, depends on the work of the consulting fieldworker whose task is to help the Community bring out the important aspects of general and local culture, do it in a way that informs and educates the public, and has minimal negative impact on the Kalmuck community.


1 When referencing the whole ethnic group, this publication will use the term “Kalmyk”; when referencing the people who settled in New Jersey and Philadelphia, we will use the term “Kalmuck” to underline the specific cultural sub-group that evolved since 1950.

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