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Mongolian Culture and traditions | Mongolian Nomadic Culture | Mongolia

Mongolia travel | Mongolian national costumes | Mongolian ger |Mongolian music


Mongolian Culture and Traditions

Mongolian ethnic groups and Mongolian people
Most people probably think of Mongolia as being inhabited by a single ethnic group in view of the small population size of 2.9 million people with 1.6 people per square kilometer - the Mongols - this is wrong. The rich cultural and social fabric of Mongolia is made up of 20 different ethnic groups one of which is a non-Mongol group - the Kazakhs. 

More than 90% of the country"s population are Mongolian ethnic groups. The core Mongolian ethnic group, Khalkha, is distributed all over the country, making up 90 % of the population. The Mongolian group stemmed from the ancient Mongolian people and Mongolian tribes being parts of the Mongol Empire founded in 1206 by Chinggis Khaan. The other major ethnic groups, the Kazakhs, make up about 3% of the population and live in western Mongolia, mainly in Bayan-Ulgii Aimag come followed by Durbet, Bayad, Barga, Buriad, Zakhchin, Urianhai, Torguud, Darkhad, Myangad, and Tsaatan reindeer herders.

As for the linguistic reference of the Mongolian population, it relates to the Mongolian group of the Altaic family except for Kazakhs. This group is composed of Khalkh, Dorvod, Buryad, Bayad, Uriankhai, Zakhchin, Darkhad, Torguud, Uuld, Myangad, Barga and Uzemchin dialects.

Mongolian Traditional Attire, Mongolian National Costumes

Mongols do like to wear nice, richly decorated clothes which compensate the simple, ascetic nomadic lifestyle. A harsh climate and uneasy life demand attention to smallest details of clothes.  The nomads" wardrobe is compact but has many variations able to serve for different purposes. "It is amazing how this nation invented clothes that can fit all seasons and needs, well thought off and used in many different ways," wrote Medieval travelers from Europe. 

In general, Mongolian clothes follow the principle "What I have, do bear along." Sudden changes of weather with temperatures fluctuating up to 20 degrees, sudden snow or sand storms make nomads to be always ready in any situation. When a nomadic herder takes his sheep flock to pastures, he carries along everything needed to survive. Mongolian dress has changed little since the days of the empire, because it is supremely well-adapted to the conditions of life on the steppe and the daily activities of pastoral nomads. The deel is the Mongolian traditional garment worn on both workdays and special days. It is a long, loose gown cut in one piece with the sleeves; it has a high collar and widely overlaps at the front. Each ethnic group living in Mongolia has its own deel design distinguished by cut, color and trimming. 

Mongolian Hats and Mongolian Boots - Gutal
There were over 100 types of hats, different in shape and purpose - for young and old, men and woman, fashionable and everyday hats, for summer and winter, holiday and ceremonies. The Mongolian shoes are long boots made of cow hide with lifted toes and intricate designs and seams. The lifted toes have both a religious and practical meaning. From the Buddhist viewpoint, the lifted toes allow the person to see where he is stepping in order not to harm all forms of life including the insects. From a practical standpoint, the boots with lifted toes allows the rider to have a good hold of stirrups.

Mongolian Traditional Crafts
mongolian women, mongolia embroidery, mongolian crafts, mongolian artsMongolian nomads" homes, clothes, weapons and living conditions are impossible to imagine without crafts and embroidery. Unique arts have developed from common things used in everyday life of nomads over thousands of years. The beginning of decorative arts was cave painting. 

Fortune telling sets of animal figures and animal body parts characterized the art of the Hun and Bronze Age people. They also had the ability to make embroidery, applique and stitched felt art. As Hun goldsmith technology developed rapidly, they also developed ceramic art; especially creating vases by the returning method with lock up mechanism or by hand. 

The 19th - 20th centuries made up an energetic period of development of craft and decoration. Painting, sculpture, embroidery, felt art, books and Buddha printing from plates, bone, wood, and fossil amber craftwork flourished. In the 20th century craft art almost became separated from herding life style and became an independent section of Mongolian art. 

Traditional Mongolian dwelling Ger
mongolian ger, yurts, mongolian nomads, erecting a ger, mongolian cultureA ger or “house, home” is referred as the White Pearl of the Steppe. It is not only practical in daily use but holds many meanings for Mongolians. The ger perfected to meet the demands of a nomad’s life, is a circular felt covered dwelling with lattice walls that can be erected and dismantled within an hour. The materials of the ger are lightweight that makes it easy for herders to transport the gers either on the back of a camel or on a horse-pulled cart. 

The gers are decorated with beautiful carved doors and pillars as well as handmade (woven and knitted) fabrics. The two pillars that hold the toono (roof in a shape of a round opening) symbolize the man and the woman of the household, and walking between them is not approved of. 

A herder can easily tell you what time of the day it is according to how the light comes through roof. The frame consists of one or more lattice wall-sections, a door-frame, roof poles and a crown. The wood frame is covered with pieces of felt. Depending on availability, the felt is additionally covered with canvas and/or sun-covers. The frame is held together with one or more ropes or ribbons. The structure is kept under compression by the weight of the covers, sometimes supplemented by a heavy weight hung from the center of the roof. 

Mongolian Cuisine
The Mongolian cuisine is primarily based on meat and dairy products, with some regional variations. The most common meat is mutton, supplemented in the desert south by camel meat, in the northern mountains by beef (including yak). Dairy products are made from mare"s milk (Airag), from cattle, yaks, and camels (e.g. clotted cream). Popular dishes include buuz (meat dumpling), khuushuur (meat pastry), khorkhog (a meat stew, usually a special meal for guests), and boortsog (a sweet biscuit). Starting in the second half of the 20 century, vegetables are increasingly becoming a part of the Mongol diet as well. In the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, there is a wide range of imported food available.

Traditional Mongolian staple is simple yet filling with hearty soups, cooked or broiled meat (beef, mutton), pasta and plenty of dairy products.  During summer it is customary to eat more of dairy products, pastries, and drink tea and airag. Herders tend to eat less meat in order to cleanse their body after long winter months. Mongolian tea is made of crushed tea leaves, salt, and milk and is a good thirst quencher especially in hot summer months. Airag, a fermented mare’s milk, is thoroughly enjoyed during summer.

Nowadays, Mongolian diet has come very close to international, with plenty of vegetables and salads. A variety of international dishes and cuisines can be enjoyed in Mongolia but mostly in Ulaanbaatar and other major settlements. The international cuisine spans from Thai, Japanese, Brazilian, Russian, French, Indian and Italian to German just to name a few. Traveling in Mongolia will give you a sense of travel in time but you will always be back for dinner to the 21st century.

Mongolian Traditional Music
Morin khuur, a two-stringed fiddle figures prominently in the nomadic culture of Mongolia. String instruments adorned with horse heads are referred to by written sources dating back from the Mongol empire. The fiddle’s significance extends beyond its function as a musical instrument, for it was traditionally an integral part of the rituals and everyday activities of the Mongolian nomads.

The Urtiin duu or “long song” is one of the two major forms of Mongolian singing. The other one is called Bogino duu or “short song”. Urtiin duu as a ritual form of expression associated with important celebrations and festivities holds a special place in the Mongolian society. It is performed at weddings, house warming, celebration of a child’s birth, branding of foals and other social events woven into the life of a herder. Urtiin duu can also be heard at the Naadam, annual celebration of the independence of Mongolia where the “Three manly sports” featuring wrestling, archery and horseracing take place.

Mongolian khoomei or throat singing has 4 ranges. During singing two simultaneous tones, a high and a low one are produced with the vocal cords. It is a rare skill that requires special ways of breathing. Khoomei is considered as an art form and not exactly a singing but using one’s throat as an instrument.



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