The ultimate packing list for Mongolia…..possibly….
March 18, 2015
Focus on Mongolia – March News
April 2, 2015

Right then. Have you seen the Tale of the Weeping Camel? In case the answer is no, it is a 2003 German documentary drama which was released internationally in 2004. The movie was directed and written by Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni. The plot is about a family of nomadic herders in the Gobi Desert trying to save the life of a Bactrian camel calf after it was rejected by its mother.

In Bulgan, a small community in Omnogobi Aimag that holds the Thousand Camel Festival


Now another leap. Have you heard of the UNESCO  Intangible Cultural Heritage List? Basically, UNESCO has begun to document the world’s Intangible Cultural Heritage which includes:

traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.


These are the current listings. Included on the Mongolian list are knucklebone shooting, the traditional Biyelgee dance, the Naadam festival,  and the Morin Khuur (horse-head fiddle).



In Bulgan, a small community in Omnogobi Aimag that holds the Thousand Camel Festival
So. Why the blog post? Mongolia has requested that the coaxing ritual for camel calves will be included in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. UNESCO are meeting in Namibia between November 30 and December 4 this year for the 10th Session.
 
What is the ‘coaxing ritual for camel calves?’ Well, for those of you who haven’t seen the Tale of the Weeping Camel….

 

In Bulgan, a small community in Omnogobi Aimag that holds the Thousand Camel Festival
Spring in Mongolia is a hard time of year – especially in the Gobi. Mother animals give birth to their young in a harsh and dusty environment and there is a big risk of losing a mother or a calf.
Mongols have a variety of rituals relating to husbandry in traditional Mongolian society. One of them is a chanting ritual for a new-born baby animal and its mother. To chant is to stimulate, through the use of special words and melody, the adopting of a baby animal to its mother. 
There are different gestures, melodies and chanting techniques for the five types of livestock in Mongolia. 
Coaxing (Ингэнд Ботго Авахуулах – commonly known as khuuslukh) a camel is a ritual for a mother who rejects her baby; or for adopting an orphan baby to another female who has lost her baby, because only a suckling mother will have milk. 
Most herdswomen engage in techniques and methods of coaxing, but these techniques and methods aren’t enough sometimes.  A specialist musician is brought in (often with a Morin Khuur – horse head fiddle). The mother is tied close to the calf, and the musician will begin their monotone song ‘khuus’ or lullaby. 
A mother camel will typically bite, savage or spit at her calf at the beginning of the ritual. The coaxer can change their melody, depending on the mother’s behavioural reaction. When a mother camel is being coaxed into accepting a rejected or orphan calf, it is said to break into tears at the gentle sound of  the ‘khuus’ and this is when they start to accept the calf.
It is not necessarily a common occurrence as female Bactrian camels give birth just once in March or April after a gestation period of 14 to 15 months. 
In Bulgan, a small community in Omnogobi Aimag that holds the Thousand Camel Festival
According to the Info Mongolia website, in 2013, the livestock population in Mongolia had reached 45 million. The lowest population of the ‘five snouts’  was camels at 322 thousand (2,620,000 horses, 2,908,000 cattle/yaks, 20 million-plus sheep and over 19 million goats). 
 
All the images in this post were taken by Turuu back in early March when he visited the Tumen Temee (Thousand Camel) Festival held each year in Bulgan in Omnogobi Aimag. The camel festival is an annual celebration held in the southern Gobi organised by a local NGO to help protect the domestic Bactrian camel and the essential role it plays in the lives of Mongolia’s herders. 
 
As you can see, not only do camels remain important to herder’s in Mongolia but so does the culture surrounding them including now the Ингэнд Ботго Авахуулах.
 
(There are also wild camels in Mongolia (Camelus Ferus). There is a world population of approximately 1000  with around 600 in the Gobi Desert in north-west China and around 800 in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia (yes, I know it adds up to more than 1000!). The Wild Camel Protection Foundation (WCPF) is the only charity in the world with a specific mission to save this remarkable creature and its pristine desert environment from extinction and destruction. This is one of the projects that Eternal Landscapes supports. In fact, I’m going to a talk by the founder John Hare tomorrow – but that will be a later blog post.)
 
Anyway. If you would like to learn more about the lives of camel herders in Mongolia or of the work of WCPF then please get in touch!
 
 
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