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MONGOLIAN CULTURE

In Mongolia, people speak several different dialects of the Mongolian language. The language itself, in a way to form the words by vowel harmony and the structure of "Subject+Object+Verb", was categorized into the Altaic Language group which includes Turkic, Mongolian, and Tungusic.

 

MAKING AIRAG

Airag (mare’s fermented milk), is one of the national pride and highly appreciated beverage in Mongolia. Airag -mildly alcoholic white beverage is the unique drink derived from traditional techniques and knowledge that inherited from ancient times to the different ethnic groups of Mongol nation and being used and served as a main and holy drink during various fests and in making offerings and ritual blessings.

It could be considered that the entire Mongolian nation is concerned with this tradition but main bearers and practitioners of this element now are Khalkha Mongol herders who mostly live in the central part of Mongolia. These nomadic people are the true custodians of the traditional knowledge and skills regarding the unique technique of making fermented mare’s milk - Airag in Khokhuur (cowhide vessel or bag) and also making the khokhuur. Those families who bear the traditional knowledge and skills of khokhuur making also concern with this group of people. A variety of socio-cultural entities such as local communities and co-operations of herders, airag makers, horse trainers, associations of long song singers, Morin khuur (horse-head fiddle) players, schools and others also are involved in and support airag making and transmit this national tradition.

Mongolians make the Airag in summer and autumn seasons. Airag is being one of the main food products of Mongolians in summertime, and besides this, it is being used as a treatment product. Foaming tasty airag has a unique dietetic value and is an important part of the daily diet of Mongolians. It is a nutritious and easily digestible beverage that contains different proteins, fat, minerals, A, C and some B vitamins and a sufficient amount of amino acids essential for the human body. In addition, scientific studies reveal that it is very effective for curing various diseases such as tuberculosis, neurosis, anemia, arteriosclerosis and the decrease of gastric acid secretion and etc. Therefore, this medical beverage is today included in the menus of the numerous health resorts of the country. The first Airag treatment hospitals and nursing places were opened in Mongolian in 1946.


The milking season for horses traditionally runs from mid-June to early October. Daily milk yield of mares varies from 3 to 6 liters.

The basic traditional technique of making mare’s airag consists of milking mares and cooling freshly milked milk, and repeatedly churning milk in a khokhuur with starter left inside to assist its fermentation. The liquid must be churned 5000 and more times to make a good fermented blend of airag. Mare’s milk undergoes fermentation by lactobacilli and lactic acid streptococci, producing ethanol, lactic acids, and carbon dioxide. The airag - mildly alcoholic white beverage emits a delicious smell and its pleasant taste can make your mouth watery.

For making the khokhuur, first, the cowhide is soaked and hide’s filament is removed, then it is dehydrated in the wind and fumigated. In such a process, the cowhide turns to white flexible leather. The khokhuur is made from this white leather and consists of mouth (orifice) neck, corner, body and cords. The buluur is a long-handled wooden paddle that is used for churning airag in khokhuur and furnished with the bored blade of the board at the end. Khokhuur can hold 40 to 100 liters of airag.

Airag is used and served as a main and holy drink during various feasts and in making offerings and ritual blessings.

Mongolians have a strong connection with their horses, and this tradition is observed from the traditional technique of making Airag in khokhuur and its associated customs. Airag is one of the respecting and welcoming expressions to the guests. Therefore, Mongolian people often say as "If there is no horse, it means there is no Airag, and if there is no Airag, it means there is no joy". 

 

MONGOLIAN MUSIC

Music is an integral part of Mongolian culture. Among the unique contributions of Mongolia to the world's musical culture are the long songs, overtone singing and morin khuur, the horse-headed fiddle. The music of Mongolia is also rich with varieties related to the various ethnic groups of the country: Oirats, Hotogoid, Tuvans, Darhad, Buryats, Tsaatan, Dariganga, Uzemchins, Barga, Kazakhs and Khalha.

Mongolian Traditional Folk Song and Music Instruments Inscribed in the UNESCO Cultural in Heritage

Mongolians like to sing, dance and play music. Music and art is a major form of entertainment. We sing about the vastness of the country and its beauty, express our love for freedom and encourage life in harmony with nature and the environment. It is unusual for a Mongolian not to be able to sing, as traditionally, we practice from a young age and it is common entertainment for a life in the countryside. Most parties and celebrations start with a song or music by the best singer in the community. As the singer goes into the verse, everybody picks up the melody and sings along. In the modern world, where people moved to the city, it is common for Mongolians to gather and sing in a karaoke fighting for the microphone. As for the professional artists, Tumen ekh ensemble, State Morin Khuur Ensemble, and the State Drama Theatre are famous for their incredible collection of varying arts and music.

Mongolian traditional songs consist of long folk songs, short folk songs, contemporary songs and, throat songs or khuumii. Out of these, long folk songs are famous for their advanced and unusual control of the vocals, and the khuumii or the throat song is admired for its distinctive sounds and the imitation of nature. Both are recorded as UNESCO’s world intangible heritage.

*This statue is made for Mongolian long song singer icon Norowbanzad, now located in Dundgobi province near Ikh Gazriin Chuluu. Her song “Uyahan zambuu tiwiin naran'' is  famous in Japan.

Urtiin duu - Traditional long folk song

Urtiin duu was incorporated on the UNESCO representative list of intangible cultural heritage in 2008. Urtiin duu is a classic form of Mongolian folk song. Researchers explained different ways how it is come to be called the Long folk song. The first assumption is that the song has a vast vocal range and free compositional form. The rising melody is slow and steady while the falling melody is often intercepted with a lively rhythm. It might also have derived from the timeline, where it is widely believed to have originated 2,000 years ago. The Urtiin duu has been recorded in literary works since the thirteenth century. The long folk songs often feature forever, reflecting; the meaning of human life, matters of nature and society, eternal themes such as heaven, earth, water and love. Performances and compositions of Urtiin duu are closely linked to the pastoral way of life of the Mongolian nomads on their ancestral grasslands. The meaning of the word eternal is called the song of the longitude. A long folk song is associated with important celebrations and festivities plays a distinct and honored role in Mongolian society. It is performed at weddings, the inauguration of a new home, the birth of a child, the branding of foals and other social events celebrated by Mongolia’s nomadic communities. Urtiin duu can also be heard at the Naadam, a festival featuring wrestling, archery, and horse racing competitions. A rich variety of regional styles has been preserved until today, and performances, as well as contemporary compositions, still play a major role in the social and cultural life of nomads living in Mongolia. Many famous long song singers are from the south Gobi because of the vast open land it echoes the melody.

Traditional music of the Morin khuur

Morin khuur also known as the horse-headed fiddle is a Mongolian traditional bowed two-stringed musical instrument. Inscribed in 2008 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (originally proclaimed in 2003). From early times Mongolians worship horses and cult in the flag and include in the song and music. The fiddle’s significance extends beyond its function as a musical instrument, for it was traditionally an integral part of rituals and everyday activities of the Mongolian nomads. Even now, most families have Morin khuur musical instruments in their homes and displayed in a respectful part of the home.

 

The design of the morin khuur is closely linked to the all-important cult of the horse. The instrument’s hollow trapezoid-shaped body is attached to a long fretless neck bearing a carved horse head at its extremity. Just below the head, two tuning pegs jut out like ears from either side of the neck. The soundboard is covered with animal skin, and the strings and bow are made of male horsehair. The instrument’s characteristic sound is produced by sliding or stroking the bow against the two strings. Common techniques include multiple stroking by the right hand and a variety of left-hand fingering. It is mainly played in solo but sometimes accompanies dances, long songs (urtiin duu), mythical tales, ceremonies and everyday tasks related to horses. To this day, the morin khuur repertory has retained some tunes (tatlaga) specifically intended to tame animals. Owing to the simultaneous presence of a main tone and overtones, morin khuur music has always been difficult to transcribe using standard notation. It has been transmitted orally from master to apprentice for many generations. 

Over the past forty years, most Mongolians have settled in urban centers, far from the morin khuur’s historical and spiritual context. Moreover, the tuning of the instrument is often adapted to the technical requirements of stage performance, resulting in higher and louder sounds that erase many timbral subtleties. Fortunately, surviving herding communities in southern Mongolia have managed to preserve many aspects of morin khuur playing along with related rituals and customs.

Khuumii originated in western Mongolia, in the Altai mountains where it has high mountains and rapid stream rivers. The performer imitates sounds of nature, simultaneously emitting two distinct vocal sounds: along with a continuous drone, the singer produces a melody of harmonics. Khuumii literally means pharynx, and it is believed to have been learned from birds, whose spirits are central to shamanic practices. The multitude of Khuumii techniques in Mongolia are grouped within two main styles: the kharkhiraa (deep Khuumii) and isgeree  Khuumii (whistled Khuumii). In kharkhiraa the singer sings a drone in a normal voice, while emphasizing the undertone or subharmonic one octave below. In isgeree Khuumii, it is the overtones above the fundamental note of the drone that are emphasized, creating a higher-pitched whistle. In both cases, the drone is produced with very taut vocal cords, and the melody is created by modulating the size and shape of the mouth cavity, opening and closing the lips and moving the tongue. Khuumii is performed by Mongolian nomads in a variety of social occasions, from grand state ceremonies to festive household events. Khuumii is also sung during herding, and inside the yurt to lull babies to sleep. Traditionally, Khuumii is transmitted orally from bearer to learner, or via master-to-apprentice.

Mongolian traditional art of Khuumii-throat singing

Traditional Music of the Tsuur String Instrument

Tsuur music is based on a combination of instrumental and vocal performance – a blending of sounds created simultaneously by both the musical instrument and the human throat. Tsuur music has an inseparable connection to the Uriankhai Mongolians of the Altai Region, and remains an integral part of their daily life. Its origins lie in an ancient practice of worshipping nature and its guardian spirits by emulating natural sounds. The Tsuur is a vertical pipe-shaped wooden wind instrument with three finger holes. Simultaneously touching the mouthpiece of the pipe with one’s front teeth and applying one’s throat produces a unique timbre comprising a clear and gentle whistling sound and a drone. The Tsuur is traditionally played to ensure success for hunts, for benign weather, as a benediction for safe journeys or for weddings and other festivities. The music reflects one’s inner feelings when travelling alone, connects a human to nature, and serves as a performing art. The Tsuur tradition has faded over recent decades as a consequence of negligence and animosity toward folk customs and religious faith, leaving many locales with no Tsuur performer and no families possessing a Tsuur. The forty known pieces preserved among the Uriankhai Mongolians are transmitted exclusively through the memory of successive generations – a feature making this art highly vulnerable to the risk of disappearing.

Inscribed in 2009 on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding National Centre for the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Inscribed in 2010 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

National Commission for UNESCO.

Mongol Biyelgee, Mongolian traditional folk dance

The Mongol Biyelgee – Mongolian Traditional Folk Dance is performed by dancers from different ethnic groups in the Khovd and Uvs provinces of Mongolia. Regarded as the original forebear of Mongolian national dances, Biyelgee dances embody and originate from the nomadic way of life. Biyelgee dances are typically confined to the small space inside the ger (nomadic dwelling) and are performed while half sitting or cross-legged. Hand, shoulder and leg movements express aspects of Mongol lifestyle including household labor, customs, and traditions, as well as spiritual characteristics tied to different ethnic groups. Biyelgee dancers wear clothing and accessories featuring color combinations, artistic patterns, embroidery, knitting, quilting and leather techniques, and gold and silver jewelry specific to their ethnic group and community. The dances play a significant role in family and community events such as feasts, celebrations, weddings, and labor-related practices, simultaneously expressing distinct ethnic identities and promoting family unity and mutual understanding among different Mongolian ethnic groups. Traditionally, Mongol Biyelgee is transmitted to younger generations through apprenticeships or home-tutoring within the family, clan or neighborhood. Today, the majority of transmitters of Biyelgee dance are elderly, and their numbers are decreasing. The inherent diversity of Mongol Biyelgee is also under threat as there remain very few representatives of the distinct forms of Biyelgee from different ethnic groups.

Folk long song performance technique of Limbe performances - Circular Breathing

The Limbe is a side-blown flute of hardwood or bamboo, traditionally used to perform Mongolian folk long songs. Through the use of circular breathing, Limbe performers are able to produce the continuous, wide-ranging melodies characteristic of the long song. Players breathe in through the nose while simultaneously blowing out through the mouth, using air stored in their cheeks to play the flute without interruption. Single stanzas of folk long songs last approximately four to five minutes. A single song consists of three to five or more stanzas, which requires the performance of the flute to continue uninterrupted for twelve to twenty-five minutes. Traditional training methods used to acquire this technique include continuously blowing at a candle flame without extinguishing it and blowing through a straw into a glass of water. Limbe playing is characterized by euphonious melodies, melisma, hidden tunes and skillful and delicate movements of the fingers and tongue. The small number of bearers of the element has become a cause for concern with a considerable decrease in groups and individual practitioners. This has been caused in part by the predominance of international musical forms and training systems. At present, the frequency and extent of this traditional element’s practice are unstable with only fourteen Limbe practitioners remaining.

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