Today, we will be shifting our attention from our previous post in China southwestwards to the Mongolians! However, before we begin, let’s run through some of the terminology, as people might mix up the differences (or similarities) between Mongols and Mongolians.
Mongol is the noun to describe a member of pastoral groups of people living mainly in Mongolia, of Mongolian tongue. Whereas Mongolian is the noun that describes not only the person, but can be also used as an adjective to describe the Mongol culture or language. For the sake of this post, we will be using both terms interchangeably!
The Mongols are a people with a vast history and deep culture, such that attempting to cover their entire history would be impossible in a thesis paper, much less a blog post. As such, we will be focusing on three main areas of the Mongols today: We will be taking a brief look into their culture, sports and contribution to trade in the silk road. This will give us a better perspective into the lives of these Mongols, and allow us to understand better the values, trials and lifestyles these people once led and still do.
The Mongols lead Nomadic lifestyles, up till this day. This means that they travel with the seasons, moving according to optimal climate and living conditions. They are well known for their hospitality, serving refreshments to the passing travellers and leaving their gers open for them to rest, should there be a need to. Their travelling route follows an exclusive routine, with each clan moving to a specific grazing field as used by the same clan members the year before. This ensures that there are no clashes in 'territory' between the clans when it came to a certain season in the year. Due to their nomadic lifestyle, agriculture alone is not enough for sustenance. Therefore, since ancient times, the Mongolians relied on trades with nearby civilizations for grain, rice, tea, silk, etc. One of which would be their active involvement in Silk Road, which we will be discussed later.
While it is stereotypical to have the impression that the Mongolians are a barbaric and violent bunch, as displayed in MANY of our class crash course videos, they actually have a pretty artsy side to them - did you know that they are also very much involved in music, as we are? :D
Despite being cut off from the typical music industry, the Mongols are excellent musicians themselves - masters of the art of Khoomi singing (or throat singing), and the playing of the Morin Huur. Khoomi singing, basically producing two or more notes in a breath, is sung by dividing the mouth into two cavities and changing the resonance pitches of each - this produces a base pitch with one cavity, and an accompanying harmonic note with the other. A listener would hear a very clear bass note, accompanied by a crisp overtone, which is the accompanying note that is created. This form of singing is usually accompanied by a Morin Huur - a two stringed fiddle that usually has a head of a horse carved into it, due to their ‘almost-worship’ of the horse, hence giving it the English name of Horse Head Fiddle. While it is used in performances today, it was initially used for rituals and everyday activities by the Mongols, from dancing to even taming of some animals!
When discussing about the Mongolians, how can we forget about their sport history? Mongolians have three main traditional sports in which they pride very strongly. They are collectively known as the “Three Manly Skills”. These traditional sports have been passed down for centuries; they are archery, horsemanship and wrestling.They are usually played during the Naadam festival where the mongolians celebrate and recognise their rich history, even till this day! Out of the three, Bökh or Mongolian wrestling is the main highlight. And if you think that mere brute strength is all that is needed for this sport, you are truly mistaken! Besides strength, good execution technique and intelligence (tactics) are crucial to bringing your opponent down.
In the past, wrestling was a way to keep the Mongolian army fit and combat-ready. Today, Mongolian wrestlers adopt that spirit and embody the ancient ideas of nobility, strength and chivalrous sportsmanship. Watch this video clip to see how SIZE and STRENGTH do not always win you battles :)
In 1206, Genghis Khan was announced the ruler of all Mongol tribes. In his project of world conquest, he undertook numerous military campaigns. Some tribes he conquered included the northern parts of China, Tibet and Beijing. From 1218 to 1220, he dominated the central parts of Asia. His sole rule of the Silk Road connected the trade that centers across Asia and Europe, allowing for Pax Mongolica to be established. Pax Mongolica (Mongol Peace) describes the easiness of transport, unified rule and period of peace following the Mongols’ conquests. The period of Pax Mongolica allowed for the flow of goods, information, ideas, people and culture to take place. With the unification under the Mongols, it allowed systematic administration, increased trade and assured security for traders. As such, we cannot deny the efforts of the Mongolians in creating the improved Silk Road.
However, everything has its ups and downs. While the exchange of goods and resources may have positively benefited many regions in the world, it brought about negative impacts, as well, that should not be sidelined. With this improvised interconnection, the spread of diseases was easily intensified. The Black Death, also known as the Bubonic Plague, took place in the fourteenth century killing about 60% of Europe’s entire population (or 50 million people). The disease circulates among wild rodents that lived in great numbers, and a plague among humans arose when these rats became infected. These black rats, also known as ‘house rats’ and the ‘ship rats’, lived near human vicinity, which made it even more dangerous. Historians have asserted that this is said to be the greatest catastrophe ever. Effects of the Black Death, coupled with civil wars staged by opposing forces weakened the Mongols' empire, eventually causing its decline and collapse, and leading to a permanent shift of world power from the east to the west.
Today, the Mongols continue to live Nomadic lives, travelling according to the seasons, as they have been doing since their origin. In this day and age, where diplomatic ties play a huge role between countries, the once fearsome roar of the Mongols have simmered down into a quiet purr. Nonetheless, the Mongol's role in the silk road and their involvement in trade have helped shape the world we live in today. While they continue living tucked away in the vast plains of Mongolia, their traditions remain intact, as it had been throughout the generations, maintaining the rich lifestyle they are so well known for having, till this day.