I would describe the Mongolian people that I met as quite spiritual, with a close connection to nature, animals and the land. In this way I believe they are similar to the Native American tribes of the USA. I started to realize that all indigenous civilizations probably held similar beliefs.
I learned that horses are a national treasure and highly respected, some Mongolians are against mining (despite Mongolia’s rich natural resources) and have a deep and unbreakable connection to the nomadic way of life.
As I understand there is no official religion Mongolia, as can be understood given the great Socialist influence on the country from the former Soviet Union. In fact,many of the nomadic tribes across Central Asia saw their culture and traditions suppressed and some say ” destroyed” during the Stalin era of the Soviet union. This includes the prohibition of speaking native languages and practicing any form of religion or spirituality.
Most Mongolians, like my host family, are Buddhist, yet also have beliefs based on the traditional “shamanistic” way of the ancient Mongols. A small shrine as the one pictured here is a standard component of the Mongolian “Ger“ (traditional hut/dwelling).
What I interpreted to be superstitions, may have actually been parts of the old Shamanistic beliefs. On one (of a few) occasions, I was told that I had placed the saddle upside down in its storage place in the Ger. Not only do the saddles have to occupy a certain place in the Ger, but they must be placed “right side up.”It took me a few times to figure out which side was which because the saddle looked very symmetric to me 😛
On another occasion I had casually lay my baseball style hat down on the bed during a work break. It was upside down as well, as in this drawing. Durukh, my host, asked me to turn it “right side up.”
So there were many things that I had to “culturally” try to figure out, which was a challenge because I had no Mongolian language skills with which to ask questions. But actually, having this challenge of communication somehow made the experience more enjoyable!
As I continued onward in my travel I pondered how a people can “afford” to be religious or spiritual. I admired the uncompromising attitude that Durukh and Biyambai had when it came to these beliefs, and to me this affirmed that they had a some level of personal integrity. Before and after visiting some ‘non secular’ (where there is no separation between government and religion ) countries, and observing the overpopulation and competition for resources, I realized that there comes a point where survival supersedes any kind of personal belief.
So ,yes, this blog post represents how travel can open your mind to thought and understand the world and its people a bit better. If any of you are knowledgeable about Mongolian religion/beliefs and would like to explain the experiences I had about the saddle and hat, PLEASE COMMENT and we can all learn something from you!
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