Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Nowadays Nomads

Foreigners describe Mongolia as the stifling heat of the Gobi desert, or as the coolness and a freshness of the endless steppes. Mongolia is located at the confluence of the Siberian taiga, the Central Asian dry steppe and world’s second-largest desert, the Gobi. As Mongolian poet D.Natsagdorj wrote in “My Native Land”:

...The high crowns of snowcapped mountains shining from star

…Mountains and passes-the source of metals and stone

Ancient structures and ruins of towns and fortresses

…The oceans of sand desert that are dominate the South

The land of open steppes full of fantastic mirages…

Known as “the land of blue sky”, Mongolia enjoys 250 sunny days a year. The steppe economy’s herds produce food, clothing, housing and fuel, and also transport. The demand for external trade and competition for the best pastures has caused numerous wars down the centuries, as the nomads had keep searching for fresh grassland in order to survive. To facilitate their search, they developed new techniques for moving around, and improved their weaponry.

Mongolian armies’ conquests in the 13th century were based on the art of shooting from horseback; speed was a decisive factor of the victories. There was also a double system of communications throughout the country-the post-stations-for carrying official travelers. This system, much admired by Europeans since the Middle Ages, was hated by the Mongols. Horses had to be provided, somebody had to ride with the message, or to escort the traveler from one station to the next, and bring back the horses. This was world first communication network. The empire of Genghis Khan, who ruled half of the medieval world, could be termed the origin of globalization, and his global network system an archetype of the information-oriented mind.

Nomads, who spend most their life out in the steppe, need to understand much about the microclimate, fauna, soil, and the beneficial influence of water. Some 800 years ago, the great Mongolian “Zasak Law” established the world’s first protected areas and levied heavy fines for logging, grazing or tilling these places. Unfortunatelly, some modern Mongols have lost that respect for nature. The nomads lived in harmony with the ecosystem for thousands of years, giving modern people the tools to live an environmentally friendly life.

Today, public opinion is divided into two camps. From one, nationalistic slogans urge: “Let Mongols remain as Mongols”. This group emphasises the “purity” of Mongolian nomadic heritage and argues against blind acceptance of “westernization”. Modernizers conversely argue that Mongolia needs to abandon its nomadic identity in order to be competitive in the twenty-first century. Should the Mongols seek to retain every aspect of their nomadic tradition, as seems to be the trend nowadays, they run the risk of turning into “living museum exhibits”.

The “living museum exhibits” of Mongolia include: one third of population, who lead a nomadic style and retain their traditional dwellings. Their “three manly sports”, inherited from their military and tribal past, are horse-racing, wrestling, archery. Other features are the practice of shamanism, and the many Buddhist temples and monasteries. You can also visit museums such as the Museum of natural history, which includes a complete dinosaur skeleton and eggs excavated in the Gobi. The Zanabazar museum of Fine art focuses on on religious paintings and sculptures from prehistoric times up to the beginning of the 20th century. In the State Central Library, ancient sutras and old manuscripts with precious stones are exhibited, and the Choichin Lama Monastery Museum has108 masks used for ritual Tsam dancing.

Mongolia is an isolated Buddhist country located at the meeting point of Orthodox Christian, Islamic and Oriental Confucian civilisation and sandwiched between the two giant neighbours-China and Russia. For centuries Mongolians have striven to maintain their identity, relying on horses for transportation and shamans for guidance. The highest nomadic virtue has been knowledge of travel and readiness to face new challenges. This demands simplification of possessions, skillful collection of information and speed. By contrast, close-minded people did not know how wide the world was. Horizontal, open thinking is taking root in modern society. With the world connected via the Internet, and virtually everyone becoming nomads, cellular phones and laptops have already mass-produced cavalry archers in cyber space, with horses replaced by the Internet. Urban nomads who surf the Internet and the “mobile perspective” can potentially become a part of the mindset of all human beings. Nowadays, with money and information thrown around at the speed of light, borders have less meaning. Civilization lives in a digitalized world, and it is truly a new nomadic period.

The Bridge November 2004

2 comments:

Б. Тэлмэн : said...

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ganga said...

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