Mongolain Culture and Traditions
Mongolia is one of the nomad countries in the world. Since the Hunnu Empire Mongolians raising their five domestic animals (it is including sheep, horse, cow, camel, and goat) in the broad region of forest, steppe and Gobi desert. Especially they respect their horses. Mongolians see their horse is their best friend. Mongolian nomadic people move into place to place 2-4 times a year as well as it is depending on livestock's pasture. Mongolian nomad people always following their livestock.
Mongolia is one of the few countries that still has nomadic way of life but pretty much modernly developed in the capital city. Since the ancestors, Hun Empire, Mongolians raise five animals as livestock; sheep, horse, cow, camel, and goat in the broad region of mountain, forest, steppe and Gobi desert. Particularly, Mongolians respect their horses very much and they dwell in traditional Ger (covered felt), which is easy installed and very suited to natural conditions all year. Nomads move their ger and animals a few times a year for following better grazing, water and weather. Most families band together in family groups called ail of between five and eight ger. They normally relocate to a winter camp from November to April, which has some stone shelters for the animals. During the summer, camels are left unattended for months at a time, at a distance of up to 50km away. The life of nomad and thereof Mongolia is inextricably linked with the environment and the animals. Nomads learn to ride as soon as they can walk to a horse.
Mongols are shy by nature. They often hide their confusion or embarrassment behind a smile. Foreign people remark on their friendliness and hospitability. The host is well aware that the wayfarer entering his Ger is perhaps tired and still has a long way to go on. Of course, he has also found himself in similar situations more than once, so he welcomes with great hospitability. Such specific features as Mongolia’s vast sparsely populated area, its rigorous climate and nomadic economy could not fail to make their imprint on the people’s behavior and the manner in which they express their thoughts and sentiment.
Mongolian livestock. Mongolia is rich in livestock over 40 million heads and huge percent of the country’s prosperity depends on these animals. Goats herd with sheep, can only herders explain why. Benefits of sheep are meat, wool, leather and milk products. The goat provides cashmere, milk and company for the sheep but if the number rises high it would affect the pasture leading to desertification because they eat with the roots.
Breeding of cattle is for beef, milk products, leather etc. In western part of Mongolia, you find yak grazing with cattle. Yak's milk contains more fat than cow and seems more active as one approaches a mixed herd, the yaks – hairy as terriers – are always the first to run off, lofting their feathery tails like pennons. Also there is hainag, yak-cow hybrid. (The reverse hybrid of Mongolian bull with a female yak is possible but not used.) The male hainag is stronger than either parent. It is burly beast with hair longer than its mother's and shorter than its father's. The female hainag produces more milk than the female of either parental stock. But its calf, the ortom, is a weakling, and breeding is not taken further.
Mongolians respect their horses very much and is used for ride, milk products and for racing. You would come across twenty to thirty horses as lined near Ger for milking. Mongols say they milk better if you let the foal start them. A popular drink product from horse is airag. It’s color white and tastes milky but can get you drunk when you consume much.
Nomads use camel as means for transportation. When you ride its wool is warm and comfortable between big two humps as they walk slowly and gently. Also man load on their belongings and camel is tough, it can travel week without consuming water. And it is not eaten, nor the milk is commonly used, perhaps it’s only viable livestock that survives the harsh Gobi terrain.
This native religion is not unequivocal, with an unequivocal doctrine, but rather a diversity of local beliefs and practices, which by a number of common characteristics can be lumped together. Central in this belief is the worship of the Blue, Mighty, Eternal Heaven (köke tngri, erketü tngri, möngke tngri). There is a total of 99 tngri or heavenly creatures of which Köke Möngke Tngri (Eternal Blue Heaven) is the chief. According to European sources from the thirteenth century this would be one god, from whom it is believed he is the creator of the visible and invisible. In Asian Mythologies it is referred to as monotheistic with multiple gods. Next to Köke Möngke Tngri there is Qurmusata King of the Gods. He has a special relation with the origin of fire. It is said that “Buddha struck the light and Qurmusata Tngri lit the fire”. And fire still is considered sacred among Mongolians. One of the much etiquette that applies in a ger is to never stamp out the fire, or put rubbish or water on it.
The native religion of Mongolia is, like the language, related to the Turkish tradition and would also have similarities with the Tibetan Bön. In general this religion is referred to as shamanism. Rather often shamanism refers to a specific form of these religious phenomena present in Siberia, and although there is a relation with this form it is not the same. Above this `shamanism´ implies that a religious specialist is needed and central to it’s faith and practices while in fact it is an animist religion with an arsenal of beliefs and practices in which a shaman not necessarily is involved.
Larry Moses traces the first contact of the Mongolians with Buddhism back to the 4th century A.D. By that time the T´o-pa Wei dynasty would have some influence on the Juan-juan dynasty which dominated Mongolia at that time. A later Buddhist influence is that of the Kitan in the 10thcentury, from which at the time of writing a stupa in Kerulen Bars Khota and the remainings of Buddha statue at Khalkhin Gol. In 1125 the Kitan dynasty falls and Mongolia reverts to a disorganized collection of warring tribes in which Nestorianism, Manicheism and shamanism are the main religions.
It is in the time of the Great Khans that the Tibetan form of Buddhism gains influence in Mongolia. In the beginning of the 13th century Chinggis Khan conquers Tibet. The leader of the biggest empire ever was known for his religious tolerance, having Nestorian Christians, Moslems, Manicheïsts and shamans within his realm. When after his death trouble arises in Tibet his grandson is send to settle things. Allthough doing this with a trail of destruction he makes friends with Sakya (Sa skya) Pandita, the patriarch of the Sa skya sect. With these two the special Tibetan lama-patron relationship starts. Godan´s successor Khubilai Kahn continued this relation with Sakya Pandita´s nephew Phags-pa. He was kept at the Mongolian court, but more for political than spiritual reasons. By holding a representative from the ruling Sa skya pa, Khubilai hoped to realise a friendly attitude of the Tibetans. While being at the Mongolian court Phags-pa converted great parts of the ruling class including Khubilai. So for the first time Mongolia came under major Buddhist influence, although it seems to mainly have been limited to the upper class.
Mongolian traditional dwelling, Ger, is used over centuries as suited to its harsh climate and nomadic lifestyle. Ignorant foreigner look at it as a yurt but it has been developed over centuries and very advanced and if you get to know much one perhaps admire the intelligence of our ancestors. It is designed round shaped not allowing strong wind to blow it away and covered by waterproof and durable felt. It keeps warm in winter and cool in summer. When you travel Mongolia you get to know it that it’s everywhere at tourist camps, very interesting. Nowadays, people still dwell in Ger in the rural areas of the city as result that they do not have sufficient money to buy modern apartments and town houses.
Mongolian Ger contains mainly of wooden structure and felt cover, which is portable and easy to install. Depends on the size, commonly there are eighty eight separate wooden poles each measuring around 1,5 meters and central columns to support the entire structure. On top, there is round window enabling the smoke out and sunlight in. the door always faces south for more light. In summer, you can lift up the felt skirt to enable more air in and enjoying beautiful and green summer.
The khoimer, which is directly opposite the door, is where valuable objects are stored or displayed, such as small Buddhist display. Most families also keep a collage of photographs of the family, relatives and close friends at the khoimor. This is the most respected part of the ger and guests are often invited to sit at the khoimer.
When you travel Mongolia and stay sometime at Ger, where you can feel and taste the difference in world.
Traditional Clothes of Mongolia
Dell is the traditional Mongolian clothing and worn for centuries. It is made of various materials such as cotton, silk, cashmere, wool, suede and brocade etc. Dell looks like thick, knee-length togas - burgundy, olive, khaki, violet and marine blue are the most popular colors, with a silk sash cinched around the waist - usually orange, but sometimes yellow, green or blue. They're more functional than beautiful, as befits a rough nomadic people living in such northern climes, but there's a definite charm in this minimalist accoutrement. Winter dells are distinguished from their summer counterparts by their sheepskin lining and extra-long sleeves that protect hands in –40 degrees Celsius temperatures. Each ethnic group in Mongolia and in Central Asia have their own style of Dell distinguished by its design, style, color selection, trimming, purpose and season. All social strata in Mongolia have their own manner of dressing. Livestock breeder for instance, wear everyday dell made of cotton and inexpensive materials. The khantaaz is a shorter traditional jacket, often made of silk, which is also buttoned to the side, and usually worn over the Dell.
One of the Mongolian traditional wears is the colorful head wear, varies in shape and purpose; for the men and women, young and old, summer and winter, holiday and ceremony, fashionable and everyday use. There are 400 different styles and they refer to social position and ethnic they belong. For ex; the cone shaped top of the hat (blue or red) had 32 stitching symbolizing the unification of 32 Mongolian tribes. Nowadays, Mongolians wear an astonishing plethora of hats: baseball hats have made inroads here as in most other places around the world, but felt or straw fedoras are popular in the summer, and herders are not loath to don a truly bewildering array of "cowboy" hats originating from dozens of Central Asian peoples. In the winter, the Russian shapka is preferred, but many men wear a sheepskin-lined Mongolian felt hat with ear flaps and a chin strap - perfectly adapted to the life of the horse-riding, steppe-dwelling herdsman.
The toes of boots are upturned, and several explanations have been offered for this unconventional style. If boots had upturned toes pre 1578 when Buddhism introduced to Mongolia , then this would be an example of religion using indigenous customs, beliefs etc. to support advance their own religion. Another explanation is that the upturned tip prevents a rider's feet from slipping out of the stirrups. However it's also true that boots are so thick and rigid that if they were flat, they would be almost impossible to walk in. these hefty boots are still worn in UB and are particularly popular in countryside. The boots are tall boots made from thick unbending leather “buligar” and the tops are decorated with leather appliqués. The right and left boots are the same shape. They do not have laces or zippers, making them easy and quick to slip on or off in a hurry. And they can be worn in all sessions with thick felt socks added in winter and removed in summer.
The most popular instruments is the “Morin khuur” –Morin Khuur ( horse head fiddle ). It is a square fiddle with the long, straight handle curved at the tip and topped with the carving of a horse's head. It is said to represent the movement and sounds of a horse. Every Mongolian family strives to have a morin khuur in their ger even though they are hand-made and fairly expensive instruments. In the beginning it was simply a ladle for airag on which strings were strung. At that time the instruments was called “shanagan khuur” (shanaga is ladle or dipper). Later the sounds and board took the form of a trapeze and the master carvers who made these popular instruments began to decorate them with whimsical figures. Then the head of horse, an animal greatly loved by all Mongolians, appeared on the neck, and the name was changed to morin khuur. Twelve animals are carved on the neck in accordance with twelve years cycle of the lunar calendar. The morin khuur has two strings and bow made from the hair of horse's tail. At the top of the morin huur's neck is a horse's head, but here too, there are 5 other animals –horse, camel, cow, sheep and goat, Mongolian symbols of wealth and plenty. The morin huur is most suitable to accompany the traditional long and short songs and Mongolian classical dance bielgee. Last year our president declared ‘Morin huur is our state instrument” so government founded Horse headed fiddle orchestra. In 13 th century Mongolia had those kinds of famous orchestra. Usually Mongolians use the horse headed fiddle; Naadam, Tsagaan sar, wedding and other big ceremonies.
It has ancient origins and is purely Mongolian musical instrument.
Once upon time there was a poor man. He had a wonderful steed. The horse was a special one; it was faster than bird and could instantaneously cover great distances. But one day he found his horse dead near his ger. So his heartbroken, he began to make a fiddle from his horse's bones, tendons and hair. Then he fixed the horse's head to the handle and overcome with grief, lay his own head on it to unite himself spiritually to his dead friend. So he started to playing the Morin huur describing his beloved steed's steps, gallop, hurdle, trotting, and neighing. Thus goes the ancient legend of the illians about the origin of the morin huur.
This song is originated to nomadic life and unlimited steppe. Long song is oldest form of melody. The singer vocalize amazingly long while modulating the vowels. This type of song, often melancholic, recalls the solitude of the nomad and the immensity of the steppe.
Short song: A more recent form , is quick and lively , often humorous in character. It is themes are love, the home country, horses, and women. Technically less trying than the long song, it is still very much part of everyday Mongol life.
Diphonic song (over tone singing )Khoomii: Is the most spectacular and probably the oldest form. Known as khoomii in Mongolian, it's a vocal technique by which a single performer can produce two or even three separate lines simultaneously. the notes are continued and low made by forcing air through a constricted throat and a series of harmonies made by the tongue which, rolled under the palate, guages the breath, producing sounds remarkable similar to those of a flute. The vocal imitation of the flute and the Jew's harp was traditionally the exclusive province of men. Khoomii is linked to shamanism and is characterizes by the production of sounds imitating those of nature; the soft noise of the wind cascades and rivers and birds songs are just a few.
Epic songs: Their remarkable epics are those of Geser and Jangar which are transmitted by bards in a sung versified form sometimes accompanied by a morin huur, tovshuur, and by khoomii throat song.
Ode (Magtaal): is another form of song that continued to play an important role in Mongol life? It is a poetic praise, an epic-like hymn with its origins in shamastic poetry. Dedicated to the scared mountains to a powerful wrestler, or to a victories horse, it is performed at all the important events of nomadic life. No naadam worthy of it s name would be without a magtaal.
Our classical traditional dance is bielgee, is a particular to the people western Mongolia . It is performed to the music of Mongolian national musical instruments, such as the morin khuur (horse headed fiddle) and yochin. Is performed in a ger in circle of people, in other, in other words, in limited small space, before the hearth, so the dancers make partially no use of their rhythmic movements express various aspects of their identities, such as sex, tribe, and ethnic group. Plastic movements of the dancer‘s hands and horse express everything in the dance.
Beilgee is a descriptive dance, actually a pantomime, with the dancer acting several scenes from everyday life of herders, such as milking the cow, cooking, hunting, etc.
The first part of Bielgee dance, called the Elkhendeg, is ritually solemn, with the dancer slowly spreading his arms, gracefully waving his hands and moving his shoulders. In the second part called the joroo mori, character of the dance suddenly changes. The body rhythmically swaying, the dancer's movements become light and challenging, in imitation of the gait of a horse.
Mongolian traditional games can be divided into 2 general types on the basis of their general form; games which are played using simple and readily-available materials such s stones sticks, or animal bones and games which are played using objects created by the artistic means; namely with painted or carved pieces. The games of the one category are characterized by a close figurative connection with nature and the herding lifestyle, often having a ritual of symbolic element to their playing & by a relative simplicity of their rules of play. The games of the latter category- which include cards, chess dominoes and interlocking puzzles –are symbolically associated with social and artistic activities and are usually more sophisticated requiring greater intellectual skill in their playing. Of the games played with really and natural materials, the simplest is “ail ger” (family home). The game is played with stones, much in the same way as children in western countries play “house” with dolls a small circle of stone is set up to represent a ger; further stones are placed inside it to represent furniture and house hold objects and stones of different shapes and colors are collected outside the home to represent the families herds. The most unique Mongolian game is shagai or anklebones, which as the name suggests, is played using the cleaned and polished anklebones of sheep. Each of the four sides of the anklebone represents a different animal; horse, sheep, camel, goat, although there are many games which can be played with the bones. In earlier times, families which managed to collect more anklebones than they needed would select an auspicious day and go to play the game of “multicolored turtle” on the top of a mountain leaving the bones afterwards as an offering to the mountain or to the sky. This game is played with a number of bones corresponding to one of the auspicious number in the Buddhist faith- most often 81 or 108. the placement of the bones represents the five elements and colors in addition to the body of the turtle itself, which is viewed in traditional Mongolian iconography as the symbol of the cosmos players take bones from different parts of the turtle or surrounding five elements on each turn corresponding to the throw of a die. Once the players have collected all the parts of the turtle's body the game concludes with the player in possession of the most bones the winner. One of the common games played with shagai is the “horse race” for 2 or more players. Games played using carved or painted pieces include cards, chess, dominoes and khorol (a game similar to dominoes, using the 12 animals of the zodiac and Buddhist symbols). Of these games chess remains one of the most popular as well as one of the oldest traditional games some Mongolian scholars claim that chess sets characteristically depict nobles, horses, camels, oxcarts and other identifiable elements of Mongolian life. Mongolian chess is more similar to the European than the Chinese version of the game, but there are several important differences in the rules for example: only the pawn in front of the Queen is only permitted to move one space at a time when moving diagonal.