“Deep blue colours the high sky, the country plains lay boundless. As the wind bellows the grass low, cattle and sheep congregate to and fro.” These two lines, taken from a classic Chinese poem written over 1,500 years ago, depict the Mongolian plains as an illustrious estate. Being dubbed the “Horseback Nation,” Mongolians have also been known for their closeness to nature, lively song and dance, peerless archery, and horsemanship skills.
Horse race on Mongolian plateau. Photographer: Tengis Bilegsaikhan
During the Sui and Tang Dynasties, the Mongolians inhabited the primordial forests in Inner Mongolia towards the Ererguna River basins, where they lived hunter-gatherer lifestyles. Here, the Mongolian people lived in ‘yurts,’ similar to the ‘tepees’ of the Native Americans. Accompanying these ‘yurts’ was a nomadic lifestyle of herding and hunting.
In the Mongolian language, Mongolia means “eternal fire.”
Monoglian yurt, photographer: Adagio
Mongolian yurts. Photographer: Hons084
Migration Following 840 AD
In 840 AD, the Uighur Empire was defeated by a Northern nation. The Uighurs migrated from the heart of the Mongolian Plateau and settled in the South. After the Uighurs left, the Mongolian ancestors left the primordial forests and moved to the heart of the Mongolian Plateau. Since then, the Mongolian people became nomadic tribes resulting in significant changes in lifestyle.
Mongol herdsmen carrying lassos. Photograph: Yvette Borup Andrews
Mongolian Ethnic Attire
Mongolians like to wear wide, calf-length gowns with buttons down their right sides, called ‘del;’ these robes feature long, wide sleeves and high collars. A matching belt around the waist serves for both form and function – the bearer looks stylish while gaining valuable back support during long horse rides. Inlaid decorations are commonly found in the hems, sleeve openings, and collars.
Mongolian men prefer blue and brown, while women typically choose a wider palette of red, pink, green, and sky blue. Perhaps reflective of an outgoing temperament, Mongolian women choose colours that are often bright and bold.
Naadam officials stand for a photo in Ugtaal Soum, Mongolia. Photographer: Taylor Weidman / The Vanishing Cultures Project
Unique headpieces are another source of joy in a Mongolian woman’s wardrobe. These headpieces vary by the lady’s age, region, and social status. Many Mongolian hats contain custom decorations made from red coral, agate, or turquoise.
Mongol women beside a yurt. Photographer: Yvette Borup Andrews
Every year, Mongolians hold a midsummer festival known as the ‘Nadaam.’ Wrestling, horse riding, and archery competitions, singing and dancing are all part of this tradition, a display of friendship between tribes and a prayer for a prosperous year.
Naadam ceremony, Ulan Bator, Mongolia, 11 July 2006
Traditional Mongolian wrestling outside Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Mongolian man takes aim with his bow and arrow. Photographer: Kyle Taylor
The feel of Mongolian dance is sprightly, bubbling with energy and enthusiasm. These dances emphasize big movements of the arms coordinated with the wrists and shoulders. Mongolian dances often feature bowls, wine cups, and even bundles of chopsticks as dance props.
Mongolian bowl dance. Courtesy to Shen Yun Performing Arts
The Mongolian ethnicity is known for its affinity to horses, so the traditional dance of this nomadic group is replete with movements of the horse. Steps resembling a horse’s leisurely gallop, jumps imitating a horse rearing up, horse riding, and cowboy-esque way of life, are all inspiration for impressive movements. The Mongolians also highly revere the eagle, and the large arm movements immediately recall the bird’s awesome wingspan stretching out in the boundless sky.
With horses galloping on the vast plateau and eagles flying in the sky, people feel closer to nature living on the Mongolian Plateau. Gazing out towards the vast grasslands with white clouds overhead, listening to the sprightly beat of nature, feeling deeply sentimental and lost, it’s vast natural landscape beckons the question – where are we really from?