Selenge Province - Custom & Culture

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Mongolia is a country that is landlocked between two super giants in the global community: China and Russia. While Mongolia has a rich history that dates back to the time of Chinggis Khan in the twelfth century, both countries have had a very profound and recognizable influence on the custom and culture of modern Mongolia.

Beginning in 1924 the Mongolian government was backed by the USSR and established itself under a communist structure. This communist system prevailed for much of the twentieth century up until 1990, when a democratic revolution ensued, bringing Mongolia into a new age of capitalism and more democratic government. This change has had a staggering effect not only on the economic and governmental environments, but also has influenced the ever-growing culture of the Mongolia.

A prime example of this new cultural hybridization lies in the country’s main religion, which incorporates a newly revived form of Buddhism. Mongolian Buddhism takes most of its practices from Tibetan Buddhism, while incorporating elements of the ancient Shamanism that has existed for centuries in the nomadic regions of Northern Asia; this all in a developing environment of secularism and a capitalist economy. The result manifests itself in a community that on the surface exercises many Buddhist/Shamanistic practices in daily life as customary tradition, yet stays transfixed within the global culture and new development that has come about in recent years.

Examples of these religious customs can be seen first and foremost in the use of the Khatas, prayer scarves, which ornament the land and city-scape throughout the country. These prayer scarves are generally tied anywhere from the sun visors inside of cars to the bases of statues. The most customary place, however, is on prayer poles that sit along the sides of main roads, inside of urban centers and near monasteries. The ritual of attaching a new prayer scarf to a prayer pole begins by attaching it to the pole, then touching the pole while walking around it clockwise three times and making a wish or thinking positive thoughts. It is also customary to honk three times when driving passed any prayer pole.

In addition to the prayer poles, there are other highly visited sites that relate to both Buddhism and Shamanism. Among these are monasteries run by Buddhist monks as well as natural sites that are said to contain considerable amounts of energy and are related to the spiritual power of nature derived from the Shamanistic ideals. These manifestations of tradition go beyond religion, also showing up in the highly regarded history of the Mongolian people. The nomadic lifestyle and communal traditions of the past are still important to the people in Mongolia. The conqueror, Chinggis Khan is the most iconic national hero in all of Mongolia. The shared history with Chinggis Khan ties the people together into a group with a strong sense of nationalism and pride in their heritage and culture. Naadam, an annual festival held throughout the country, celebrates the history of the country through active participation in three national sports: wrestling, archery, and horse racing. The history lives not only in celebration, but in daily activities as well. Instances of this include the specific ways by which various foods are prepared, vodka salutations, as well as the location and orientation of gers.

The use of gers instead of immobile houses has been important to nomadic peoples in Mongolia in large part because of the environmental awareness that has been prevalent in the country for years. The gers in the countryside are moved frequently, usually every two weeks, to ensure the effects on the environment are minimal. In addition, the transportable homes are always placed in a location at least 50 meters from local water sources so contamination is less likely. This custom, like many others, has been practiced for centuries and is rooted in the county’s rich history.

In the countryside the ger is the center of the community. Each family (including members of extended family) or small groups of families assemble gers in the same area, while tending and herding livestock together as well as carrying out various day to day tasks that have origins in the historical background of their ancestors. During the middle of the workday, free time comes up regularly because tending livestock is mainly in the morning and evening. This time is often filled with various card games, soccer, volleyball, basketball, or a number of other games. Recently, many nomadic people in the countryside have begun purchasing solar panels which have the capacity to power small televisions and lights inside of their homes.

Mongolian culture has been noticeably impacted by the rise of a democratic and capitalist society over the past 20 years. This change exhibits itself in the widespread use of the English language throughout the country (specifically in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar), as well as in the diffusion of primarily western entertainment throughout the country. Various cable and satellite television channels broadcast English language music that has been accepted by much of the younger generation and can be heard in nightclubs throughout Ulaanbaatar. This dynamic of culture has had a significant influence custom and culture as a whole throughout the country. From a broader perspective, Mongolia has been greatly affected over the past generation; elements of history and tradition have blended together with those of a new popular culture creating a hybridized custom and culture in the country.

Date Entered: June 2011