Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Week 8: The Mongols


To talk about the Mongolian culture one have to understand the distinction between the country of Mongolia which bordered with Russian an China, and the Mongolian ethnic group who live in some parts of China, and Russian, but mainly in Mongolia. I will present the geographical description of Mongolia because 94.9% of its population is Mongol. Today around 20% of its total population spend 1.25$ per day, 12% have access to internet, 30% are nomadic or semi-nomadic, and a few people has access to essential service like clean water. The climate is dry and sunny with very different temperature in the same day in any season. In spring there are many sandstorms. During summer rains mainly occur, and the average temperature is 65 °F. It is usual to snow during fall. Winter are harsh with some snow (-13°F). Mongolia is known as the country of the “Blue Sky” because it has an estimate of 240 of sunny days. Mongolia is very diverse and unique on its flora and fauna because it has different natural regions from mountain forest near the cold Siberian border and the arid Central Asian. Its land surface consist in  grassland and shrubs 52%, forest 15%, and desert vegetation 32%Also Mongolia has a huge fauna with more than 400 species of birds, and its rivers and lakes have around 380 species of offish. Among all its animal kingdom on can find exotic spices like snow leopard, Argali and Ibex.


Mongols have been developed physical adaptations to maintain homeostasis and survive. They had to overcome the environmental stress of windy and snowy climes and low temperatures. First they developed epicanthic folds around their eyes for protection, so Mongols have a natural eyes protection against the wind and snow.  The second physical adaptation that Mongols show is their small bodies. Mongols can keep their body heat easier than Africans because their bodies are smaller, so warm blood can travel fast through the body to keep them warm.
The cultural adaptations of traditional Mongolian culture are simple to identify: nomadic lifestyle, pastoralism and use of horses. First, there is their nomadic lifestyle. When they had a unexpected disaster in their territory, they could establish easily in a new place, and live peacefully. Because of their nomadic lifestyle, they develop another cultural adaptation called pastoralism. Pastoralism consists in take advantage of grasses. Mongols have not been living in a proper area for agriculture, so they have been using the grass around them to feed their animals. A third cultural adaptation is their use of horses. Mongols have been training horses for centuries. The use horses was an important factor to won their wars, and they them to travel long distance like when Mongols move out to a new place.


The main language used by Mongols is Mongolian that is part of the Ual - Altaic language family where Kazakh, Turkish, Korean and Finnish are included. One of the characteristic of Mongolian language is that it has a lot of vowels (compared to other languages), and it makes difficult to foreigners to heard the difference between sounds. Mongolian has a written system which has a long history, and the creation of its written system reflects how great the Mongolian Empire was.   In 1204 Genghis Khan ordered the creation for the Mongolian written system. One can see that when a society became big and complex, it needs written system to have order and control. Moving one, one can find interesting facts in Mongolian language; for example, even though Mongolian, Korean and Japanese are very different language, they have a similar grammar structure. The other interesting fact about Mongolian language is that it has more than 2 million words.

Gender role 

Mongolian culture has a division between its two genders. Men typically are in charge of military, political care of animal’s matters. On other hand, women in the Mongol culture are mainly in charge of housework and childcare. Mongolian women can enjoy of a high social status because fertility is more important than virginity for the society. Historically men seem to have more important importance, but women have an important a crucial role. It is common to a man to get married to an older woman, so he can get advances by her wisdom. If a man did not listen to her wife’s advices, he would be label as immature.
There are some activities that both gender share. For example, in making and breaking camps or caring of some animals, and sometimes woman receive military training to fight with men. However, there is not a crossover gender in all activities because men are always expecting to hunt and fight in wars, but never do housework. Young learn the genders role by the examples of the adults. There is not a specific age when they became a boy or a girl become adult, but they started to help their parents with small duties like caring small animal, cooking and cleaning the house.
I am not sure if Williamson will be very welcome in the Mongolian culture because topic of intersexed people is new for me. I would say that if an intersexed child will be rise as a normally child, and then the parents will decide if the teen should have duties of a woman or men


The main food items of Mongolian culture are meat of mutton, beef and goat, and milk with other daily products from those animals. Traditional Mongolian diet is provided by its livestock, so the products are available throughout the whole year.  Children only do animal caring with small animals when they became teenager boys are allow to hunt and work with big animals, and girls help their mother by cleaning and cooking. Men are mainly responsible for livestock, and women for housework. Traditional Mongolian diet had to change over time because it lack of iodine, so Mongolian diet has adopted vegetables, pasta and rice. Globalization has helped them to get easier access to the products that they do not have.

Economic systems:
Economic activity in Mongolia culture is traditionally based on herding of animals, livestock and the product derived from them. In the old Mongolia the economic system was basically on trade animals and daily products for goods that they did not have. People did not show great labor specialization because they were more a warrior culture. On other hand, today Mongolia export Cooper, apparel, livestock, cashmere, wool, hides, fluorspar coal and another nonferrous metals to China, Canada, UK and U.S. Mongolian’ import are mainly flue, machinery, equipment, chemicals, foodstuffs, cars which are from Russia, China, and Japan. Also Mongolia has many mineral deposits, but most of them still unexploited Mongolia economy is very depending on its two giants neighbors Russia and China, and unfortunately Mongolia do not have adequate ways of transportation to connect North and South. 

The traditional Mongol culture is monogamous, and it allows people get married with their relatives. A man can marry his sister, but just from his father’s side. Also, even a man can get married his father’s wife if the father dies. In the old Mongol culture marriage was an agreement between the families involved where proximity and social stratum played and important role. It was common that the groom had to pay a dowry of livestock, jewelry, and clothing, so it shows that the women had an importance in the culture because fertility has an important place. Mongolian culture had patrilineal system, so the new couple would move to the groom’s family camp, but a bride still in contact with her family. I am not sure if traditional Mongolian culture allow homosexuality, but in Mongolia homosexually was illegal especially during the time of the Soviet Union, and in 2002 it was legalized.

Mongolian culture has a patrilineal descent system so they traced descent from fathers to sons, and it shows that men control the wealth and power of households. The maternal side of a family had less importance than the paternal side. A husband is the highest authority in his household, but his wife is a big support for him because she gives him advices and consolation. Inheritance is just given to the sons, and the youngest one receives the biggest part than the others.

Social organization

Mongolian social organization has change over the time, but it has always been stratified. Mongolian society used to be divided in hierarchy families, clans, tribes, confederations, and in social classes such as nobility, herders, artisans and slaves existed. The distinctions amount the social classes were clothing, headdresses, jewelry, and horse-blankets. The actual Mongolian society is divided by social classes which are structured by economic status. In old and actual Mongolian culture has been existing mobility, so individual can get a higher or lower position.

Political structure
Today in Mongolia the political power is divided in its Executive power, Legislative power and Judiciary power. Mongols elect a president every 4 years, and the president have to share his executive power with a prime minister. The legislative power is a unicameral parliament which is made of 76 representatives who are elected by the people, and this power is in charge to pass and change laws. In the judicial branch consist in a chief judge and 12 subordinate judges who interpret the Mongolian constitution. Today the government is trying to reduce every expression of violence, and especially domestic violence which is very common.

Belief Systems

Mongolian culture used to be shamanism, but then it adopted Tibetan Buddhism which does not have any God, so it is neither monotheistic nor polytheistic. However, when a person accomplishes the goal of becoming a Buddha, he is considering as a deity. Buddhism was originated in 5th century on India. The is unclear how Mongols adopted Buddhism, but Mongols started to have sympathy for Buddhism when in 1240 the Mongolian prince Konton with his Forces entered to the Tibet, and met with  the Tibetan Buddhist master Sakya Pandita. Also, other factors that have could influenced the adoption of Buddhism are the similarities between Tibetan and Mongol culture like both culture were Nomadic pastoralism, and their geography and cultural distance to Chinese culture.
Buddhism is one of the major world religions. It is based on the principles of non-violence, loving and kindness for all living things, peace, tolerance and compassion.  Also, encourages human to live as the Buddha masters by reach a state of peace. After the decline of the Yuan Dynasty, the Mongolian culture stated to suffer foreign and internal wars. Mongols started to see life vain and sorrowful, but Buddhism brought internal pace stability to them. Tradition Mongolian culture will not function without its religion becose it has become part of it.


Artwork: Mongolian culture present painting and sculpture, and both of them had religions and decoration purpose. The primitive Mongolian paintings were made in rock, and Mongolian nomadic used for informative purpose

Music Mongols used music to express their love for their houses and the nature around them, so they use music for entertainment. The Mongolian traditional instruments are horse-head fiddle, tovshuur, shudrag, and Khuuchir.

Performance: Mongolian culture has been showed interest for dancing, and it first performances were about shamanism, and tell relevant battle and events


Mongolian culture has been affected by many cultures through the time from my point of view a positive change was the adoption of Buddhism and a negative impact would be its interaction with the Soviet Union. Mongolian culture used to practice shamanism, and because of its interaction with the Tibet, the adopted Buddhism as its main religion. I do not have anything against shamanism, and I respect people who practice it. However, I think that Buddhism is great religion, and we can learn something from its ideas of no-violence and peace. The interaction of Mongolia with the Soviet Union had a negative impact for Mongolian culture. Communism always seeks to destroy and remove the culture of the country, and one example of it was the destruction of many Buddhist temples, and the murder of many monks in Mongolia.

Mongolian culture is in risk of lost their cultural identity because its government is not making enforce to preserve it. Every year Mongolia is becoming more and industrialized country.
Mongolian culture used to be a huge empire with an important role in Asia, but today it does not have a relevant role in the modern world. Mongols play an important role to Russia and China because they have a trade line.



  1. Great opening section and good discussion on adaptations and language.

    You wander a bit when talking about economy. Remember we are talking about the culture of the Mongols here, not the nation of Mongolia, so this needed to focus on the economic system of the cultural groups, not the economy of the country of Mongolia. This applies to your political discussion as well.

    Good catch on the influence on the Soviet Union on the issue of homosexuality. Good note on cultural change influences. It is interesting to see how the culture changes again after the influence is removed.

    Great section on spirituality and your section on culture change was well done.

  2. One additional comment: The Mongols are known historically as being a warring culture. Take Genghis Khan, for example. I notice that you didn't mention this in your discussion of violence, even though this was a key trait of the culture at one point. Has this changed in modern populations or does it still play a role?

  3. I really liked your post, especially the section about gender roles. It's really interesting that men like to marry older, fertile women. It seems like in our culture,people prefer women who aren't old or don't have many children. Perhaps marrying their widowed step-mothers is acceptable partially because they find older women attractive.

  4. I really enjoyed your post and learning about the Mongols. I especially enjoyed the sections on gender roles, marriage, and your concluding paragraph. I found the gender roles fascinating and how men can marry their sisters or even their father's wife. Your post was really interesting.

  5. It was hard to made distinction between Mongolian Culture and Mongolia, and I thought that Mongolia would be like the actual Mongolian culture because most of the people there are Mongols.

    Certainly in the old Mongolian culture violence was very common. The Mongolian Empire killed thousands of people in China, Persia, Russia, Hungary and Eastern Europe. Genghis Khan created a empire bigger Rome Empire.I think Mongolian culture has become less violence because of the adoption of Buddhism and its weak military forces.